Living Under Fascism
A sermon by Davidson Loehr
7 November 2004
First UU Church of Austin
4700 Grover Ave., Austin, TX 78756
This is usually the Veterans Day service. I had planned to devote the prayer to veterans because, as a Vietnam veteran, veterans are very dear to me.
But there will, unfortunately, be many more chances to address the plight of our soldiers and our veterans. This week I, and many here, grieve for the pain of Cathy Harrington over the murder of her daughter just six days ago.
Today, let us pray that all who suffer may find some peace. May all parents, relatives and friends of lost or dead children find light at the end of their dark and fearful tunnels.
May those who terrify and endanger us and our children be brought to justice.
And may we once again find or create that necessary but fragile web of interrelatedness which alone can give us both safety lines and safety nets as we go – whether bravely or timidly – into our future.
SERMON: Living Under Fascism
You may wonder why anyone would try to use the word “fascism” in a serious discussion of where America is today. It sounds like cheap name-calling, or melodramatic allusion to a slew of old war movies. But I am serious. I don’t mean it as name-calling at all. I mean to persuade you that the style of governing into which America has slid is most accurately described as fascism, and that the necessary implications of this fact are rightly regarded as terrifying. That’s what I am about here. And even if I don’t persuade you, I hope to raise the level of your thinking about who and where we are now, to add some nuance and perhaps some useful insights.
The word comes from the Latin word “Fasces,” denoting a bundle of sticks tied together. The individual sticks represented citizens, and the bundle represented the state. The message of this metaphor was that it was the bundle that was significant, not the individual sticks. If it sounds un-American, it’s worth knowing that the Roman Fasces appear on the wall behind the Speaker’s podium in the chamber of the US House of Representatives.
Still, it’s an unlikely word. When most people hear the word “fascism” they may think of the racism and anti-Semitism of Mussolini and Hitler. It is true that the use of force and the scapegoating of fringe groups are part of every fascism. But there was also an economic dimension of fascism, known in Europe during the 1920s and ’30s as “corporatism,” which was an essential ingredient of Mussolini’s and Hitler’s tyrannies. So-called corporatism was adopted in Italy and Germany during the 1930s and was held up as a model by quite a few intellectuals and policy makers in the United States and Europe.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago (in “The Corporation Will Eat Your Soul”), Fortune magazine ran a cover story on Mussolini in 1934, praising his fascism for its ability to break worker unions, disempower workers and transfer huge sums of money to those who controlled the money rather than those who earned it.
Few Americans are aware of or can recall how so many Americans and Europeans viewed economic fascism as the wave of the future during the 1930s. Yet reviewing our past may help shed light on our present, and point the way to a better future. So I want to begin by looking back to the last time fascism posed a serious threat to America.