Few political doctrines lend themselves to definitions as brief as Benito Mussolini’s summation of fascism. “Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato,” he said: “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.”
A key development in my own political awakening was the realization that Mussolini’s dream is the end state toward which all schemes of coercive government inexorably pull the societies they afflict.
My first real clue to this insight came in late 1990 when I was subjected to a sudden and compelling incentive to gain some understanding of the politics of the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular. When you’re preparing to go somewhere and help impose “your” state’s will on a piece of real estate and the people living there, it makes sense to know your enemy.
The reference of choice on the subject was the then-new Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq by Kanan Makiya, a/k/a Samir al-Khalil. Makiya describes in chilling detail the politicization of Iraqi society as dictated by Ba’athist ideology.
The most disturbing part of that politicization isn’t colonization by the state, in fits and and starts, of every significant function of society. That, as I’ve pointed out, is the natural behavioral arc of any state.
It isn’t the pervasive police presence or the ever more intensive surveillance of the population. Those are inevitable side effects of state growth — resistance, actual or potential, must be nipped in the bud.
Nor is it even the marginalization or liquidation — the euphemism of choice for mass murder — of population segments which are either inconvenient to the regime or which make convenient scapegoats to bring other population segments “into line.” As horrible as that may be, it’s part and parcel of realpolitik … the only variables being the scale and the particular identities of the victims.
While all of these things are horrifying, they pale in comparison to the sense of normalcy which seems to settle over the captive society.
Pronouncements which would once have been treated as an affront to decency and honor are first grudgingly accommodated, then fade into the background noise. Impositions which would once have been accurately described as atrocities become part of the workaday routine — ignored, or at best viewed with aplomb. Those atrocities which can’t be so routinized are greeted with abject fear rather than justified outrage.
Keep that in mind when you hear the President of the United States joke about bringing his remote control murder “Predator drone” program home for domestic use. Think about it every time you join a queue to take your shoes off and submit to wanding or scanning before you’re allowed to travel. Remember it every time the smirking state functionary of the moment refuses to name or punish a uniformed or badge-bearing murderer.
Society’s soul dies long before its body goes, and control of the shambling, cooperative husk that remains is the state’s raison d’etre.