The fascists are still coming!
But this time, they're libertarians in deadly sneakers!

I had a pretty good education (at least I like to think I had), and in addition to that, I've read a lot of books about history, including many about the Third Reich. I've studied the origins and rise of both Hitler and Mussolini, and I've read about innumerable fascist and quasi-fascist regimes. The usual stuff like Franco in Spain, Salazar in Portugal, Stroessner in Paraguay, Peron in Argentina (although he was a left/right hybrid), along with some convincing analyses that modern China is actually a fascist, not Communist, state.

But it was under "Bush fascism" that I noticed a steady deterioration in my skills. Not only was I not "getting it" (and failing to recognize the fascism before my very eyes), but a lot of people weren't. I don't know whether to blame Bush entirely for this, but it was during the Bush regime that the definition of fascism seemed to change dramatically, and become infinitely more complicated.

I used to think I knew what fascism was, but the longer Bush was in office, the more the word seemed to take on new meanings. It was as if the word "fascism" had developed an elasticized penumbra, and acquired octopus-like tentacles which reached out and engulfed things which in the old days had not been considered fascism, but which now were. Fascist hegemony was being achieved not by goose-stepping soldiers, but by definitional expansionism -- largely accomplished by computer keyboards.

Quite naively, I resorted to the traditional dictionary definition of fascism:

fascism n. 1. [often cap.] The principles of the Fascisti; also, the movement or government regime embodying those principles.

2. Any program for setting up a centralized autocratic national regime with severely nationalistic policies, exercising regimentation of industry, commerce and finance, rigid censorship, and forcible suppression of opposition.

Webster's New International Dictionary (Second Ed., 1958)

I was soon scolded by the blogosphere's leading proponent of fascist definitional hegemony, who assured me that the definition of fascism was not to be found in any dictionary, but in the writings of Robert Paxton, whose 2005 definition of fascism is considered widely respected:
"A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.''
Notice that the 2005 definition has shifted from the former focus on a style of government to a focus on the thought processes of the people who want to take it over.

Paxton sees fascism not as a type of government but as a mass psychological phenomenon often involving dissent, anarchy, even revolution -- so long as the emotional factors are present. Paxton cites the Ku Klux Klan as an example, not of a fascist government, but as a backlash against legal government:

It may be that the earliest phenomenon that can be functionally related to fascism is American: the Ku Klux Klan. Just after the Civil War, some former Confederate officers, fearing the vote given to African Americans in 1867 by the Radical Reconstructionists, set up a militia to restore an overturned social order. The Klan constituted an alternate civic authority, parallel to the legal state, which, in the eyes of the Klan's founders, no longer defended their community's legitimate interests.

By adopting a uniform (white robe and hood), as well as by their techiques of intimidation and their conviction that violence was justified in the cause of their group's destiny, the first version of the Klan in the defeated American South was arguably a remarkable preview of the way fascist movements were to function in interwar Europe. It should not be surprising, after all, that the most precocious democracies -- the United States and France -- should have generated precocious backlashes against democracy.

Seen this way, fascism need not prevail, and can exist anywhere. Provided, of course, that there's an "obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity," and the "mass-based party of committed nationalist militants." As I posited in another essay, the Nation of Islam would fit this definition. So would the Ayatollah Khomeini's organization. The former became a bit of a joke, while the latter took over the Iranian government.

But what about Bush fascism? Not so neat and tidy, even with the expanded definition. To be accommodating, the term "pseudo fascism" has been proposed. This includes people like Rush Limbaugh ("transmitters" of "eliminationist rhetoric") but not Ward Churchill or Louis Farrakhan, no matter how much they might resemble the Paxton formulation.

Some have noted that there's such a thing as the associational fallacy, and Paxton's book is thoughtfully reviewed here. It's also been pointed out that the motivations behind fascism are often economic

...fascist movements prosper most in conditions of economic dislocation, insecurity, unemployment, loss of hope.
But trying to be reasonable is largely a waste of time with people who want to find fascism in Bush, Republicans, people who are upset about uncontrolled immigration, and Rush Limbaugh.

I finally concluded that Glenn Reynolds was a fascist. Repeatedly.

While I think I made a strong case, it was a bit of a strain, because of the need to pin down the motivating passions, the "palingenetic ultranationalist populism," and the rest of it.

But move over Robert Paxton and David Neiwert! There's a new and emerging definition of fascism which will make everyone's task much, much easier. There's no longer any need to search for signs of eliminationist rhetoric in old posts, or discover cryptic connections to radio talk show hosts.

At long last, it has finally been demonstrated that Science Fiction and libertarianism are the twin evil corporate handmaidens of the new fascism. And don't be fooled by the lack of goose-stepping jackboots! This is fascism for geeks, nerds, and people who prefer to move silently!

Writing in the Philadelphia Weekly, Steven Wells scoops David Neiwert on these damning new facts in an article titled Science Friction -- Libertarianism is corporate fascism:

William Gibson (see A-List, facing page) is the godfather of the cyber-punk genre, which imagines a near-future libertarian wonderland where the corporations have thrown off the shackles of red tape and regulation. The result, inevitably, is a logo-infested fascist hell world where a tiny, super-rich minority live in paranoid enclaves while the rest of humanity languish under a new serfdom.
Have to say, I knew or should have known it would come to that sooner or later. Probably why I've avoided science fiction. Really, sometimes it helps to be an ostrich. But the next part sounded ominous, and it hurt my feelings a little:
There are, of course, those people who argue that giving up all democratic regulation of the same multinational companies that run death squads and support military dictatorships in the Third World doesn't necessarily mean the same thing would happen here. But those people are idiots.
I guess I missed the part where Friedman and Hayek argued that big companies should be freed from having to follow silly government regulations against murder.

But that's only minor carelessness on my part. The main thing I missed is coming:

Gibson's new novel Spook Country is described by super-cool British comics writer Warren Ellis as "dictation from the zeitgeist." It contains lines like "the windows of army surplus stores constitute hymns to male powerlessness." And it features "a thinking man's ninja" who wears Adidas GSG9 sneakers--named after the notoriously hyperviolent real-life German antiterrorist police squad.
Damn! The sneakers! Little did I know, but they're everywhere!
Madly enough, these sneakers exist in real life. Madder still, the aforementioned super-sneakered German antiterrorist squad is featured in Brit writer Garth Ennis' graphic novel Preacher, in which the incredibly handsome eponymous hero carves a scar resembling the opening of a urethra into the bald head of a renegade GSG9 officer.
That's twice now that he's mentioned a type of sneaker I'd never heard of before. My only goal here was to try to follow out the emerging definition of fascism (especially now that Libertarianism has become corporate fascism), and while I know I'm out of my league where it comes to science fiction, now I'm told the future libertarian fascist state will have something to do with sneakers that should not be allowed to exist!

I'm confused. Am I reading him wrong to make the fascist footware connection? I always thought of fascists as being, you know, jackbooted thugs, goosestepping around. Sneakers wouldn't seem quite right for that. But I guess if the Germans are wearing them, well, it must mean... Mean what? He explains:

This dickheaded theme (an oblique, astute and entirely accidental commentary on the nature of both brand loyalty and sneaker fetishism) is revisited in Ennis' current comic creation Chronicles of Wormwood, in which the Antichrist gives a racist bartender a literal dickhead for making rude comments about the African-American Jesus. Wormwood also boasts a God addicted to constantly and frenziedly bashing the bishop (an English slang term for masturbation referencing the similarity between the head of the penis and a bishop's hat). Which explains a lot when you think about it.
I'm a little lost there about how it explains a lot. I'm obviously an idiot, because Wells does not explain it. Do his readers think it's self-apparent? Or is it apparent only when you think about it? I'm thinking about it right now, enough that I Googled the phrase. Yeah, there's a lot of discussion of "bashing the bishop" but not much explanation of what explains "a lot" (which I take to mean a self-apparent religious connection -- maybe masturbation is a way of striking back at the tyranny of religious fascist hypocrisy or something).
Meanwhile Warren Ellis also rocks all things cyber-punky in the comic Black Summer. In the first issue a superhero walks into a presidential press conference covered in blood, and calmly announces he's just offed the leader of the free world for starting an illegal war. And there's also an awesome to-die-for-on-sex-stilts double-page spread where amazing artist Juan Jose Ryp depicts a hot chick on a motorbike taking out an entire GSG9-style pig phalanx with guts, gats and gusto.

There isn't a lot that connects these works other than a distrust of authority, a hatred of corporatism and a storytelling style that blips, zips and fizzes with appropriately dissonant 21st-century brio.

Consider this your August reading list. Class dismissed.

I realize my ignorance is showing, and while I'd like to accept what Wells says on faith, the only consistent point I can understand is that it's all about the fascist footwear -- in the form of the GSG9 sneakers.

So, I had to look. Sure enough, they exist. And as Wells says, they're maddeningly for sale.

Here's a pair:


And they're marked down -- from $159.00 to only $99.00. What's the idea here? An attempt to spread fascism down to the lower classes of libertarians and sci-fi readers?

My reaction is shock and awe. I try to keep abreast of cultural developments and definitions, and I'm very familiar with the traditional goose-stepping fascists in jackboots, as well as the skinhead-style boots with high-contrast laces. But I have to say, I didn't know about the impending fascist takeover of the world by sci-fi readers and libertarians in sneakers! Egad! They're such a nerdy group already that if they wear the GSG9 sneakers, normal people will never be able to hear them coming!

And as they creep in wearing the sneakers, they'll probably attempt by stealth to impose a hideous and cruel system they call "freedom." "Freedom" as I demonstrated earlier, is nothing but code language for structural and cultural violence.

This is even worse than little old ladies in tennis shoes!

MORE: I just Googled GSG9 Fascist sneakers and there are 66 hits, which is ominous enough. But why am I ahead of the guy who scooped the story?

Are they trying to set me up?

Sneaker fascism is scary!

AND MORE: Only because this is a very serious manner and I believe in being extra-thorough, it occurred to me to check the blogosphere's leading shoe expert, the Manolo. And while the Manolo he does not seem to have mentioned fascist sneakers (much less the GSG9 variety), his co-blogger Izzy discovered some Brooks Brothers wing tip boots that might be just the ticket for stylish libertarian corporate fascist types.

MORE: Thanks to the link from Glenn Reynolds, stealthy libertarians in sneakers are silently goosestepping all over this post!

No GSG9 for Glenn, who stomps on women, children, and puppies with an even more tyrannical-looking sneaker called "The Beast" which he brags is "extra deadly." (Another typical example of the mutability of his mobilizing passions.)


I am not surprised that Glenn would employ something more deadly than the deadly GSG9 sneakers. (To a true libertarian fascist, such savage reprisalism and severe overkill are as natural as putting puppies in blenders.)

MORE (08/25/07): I just had a terrible thought. Size 14EE, right?

In numerological terms, 14 equals five. And "E" is the fifth letter of the alphabet, right? So 14+5+5 would be 24, which would be (dare I say it) --


The number of The Beast!

Why did it take me so long to get it? (Must be denial.)

UPDATE (08/26/07): Bill Quick:

I just love it when the left puts it's neofascist wet dreams on record.
Now, while Bill is talking about a left-wing military coup proposal by a Huffington Post writer, the libertarians in fascist sneakers seem to be awfully silent. Might they be waiting in the wings? Sure, Glenn links Ed Morrissey's disapproval of the coup, the fact that he calls it "a new high point" instead of a "new low point" makes me suspect that concealed within the usual "CYA" linking, Glenn might actually be giving a cryptic sort of nod to the dark forces of deadly sneaker opportunism.

You can't be too careful!

MORE: Those who are interested in definitions of fascism should read this post by A Jacksonian.

posted by Eric on 08.24.07 at 03:52 PM


It reminds me of the old saying that Communists are people who have read Marx, and Capitalists are people who understood Marx. I've read plenty of Gibson (and Neal Stevenson, and Phillip Dick) and I think he missed a big component -- the people outside the corporate enclaves are the happy ones in the genre.

As to the "thinking man's ninja" in the GSG9s, all I can say is... wow. WTF did he read? Tito did not strike me as a ninja at any point. Gibson has been writing about various couriers his entire career, and he is just one more in the genre. And he wears GSG9s because they are utilitarian. He wears them in contrast to the guys in matte black tacticool gear. (Meaning, the authentic fascists in the book.)

Phelps   ·  August 24, 2007 5:22 PM

I had Adidas shoes exactly like those except that the stripes were white instead of black. I got them to play that uber-fascist game of softball.

Billy Hollis   ·  August 24, 2007 8:16 PM

As usual, Steely Dan anticipated this:
"Bad sneakers and a pina colada my friend
stompin' on the avenue by Radio City
With a transistor and a
large sum of money to spend..."

BlogDog   ·  August 24, 2007 8:19 PM

It's not just fascist that gets re-defined. Libertarian can mean anything you want it to, never mind that it has a party and a set of beliefs about policies with it. "No, I am a small l" is the response or more likely "how dare you decide what I believe?" Never mind a word has meaning. Christian right is another one - its seems only that fellow at Soxblog has noticed that they really ain't.

Of course, if you re-define words all the time, then no one can argue with you and isn't that the point?

Kevin   ·  August 24, 2007 8:23 PM

Where can I get those shoes in a size 15 (Euro 50)? They're fasctastic!

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater   ·  August 24, 2007 8:30 PM

Remember when "obese" meant "shakes when (s)he laughs, like a bowl full of jelly" instead of "BMI over 24"? And "discrimination" meant you were capable of telling one thing from another?

Beware people who want to rewrite the dictionary. Orwell has already discussed them, and they are doubleplus ungood.

Dr. Ellen   ·  August 24, 2007 9:13 PM

My e-mail to Mr. Wells:

[quote]I think "bashing the Bishop" accurately describes your self-indulgent and indiscriminately ejaculatory writing style.

Another boringly-predictable alt-left-weekly hack with a risibly misplaced sense of superiority. Yawn.

Dave S.   ·  August 24, 2007 9:36 PM

You made my week!

I'm an adidas fan, and like to collect neat adidas shoes. I've never heard of these, and i can get some now!

And i get to be a fascist, to boot?! (ha! pun!)

Hellz yes!

Jay   ·  August 24, 2007 9:56 PM

For a different but interesting take on the definition of fascism (and markedly less tongue-in-cheek than this entire post), I think you should check out "The Mass Psychology of Fascism" by Wilhelm Reich.
According to Reich, and as makes sense to me, fascism is an ideology based on oppression and control. Regimes considered fascist are tyrannical, but rose to power via revolution. How is this possible? The fascist leader appeals to the masses by repressing perfectly natural human desires and behaviors. If he can convince the masses that sexual feelings are wrong and depraved, than the inverse can be done; convincing the masses that the most depraved and evil things are okay.

In an unrelated note, Steve Zissou issued adidas sneakers to the crew of the Belafonte. Wes Anderson must be a fascist, or maybe it's Bill Murray.

The Chad   ·  August 24, 2007 10:08 PM


"A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline,

"Ours is a sick society." Mantra of liberals in the 60s. "It takes a village to raise a child."

"humiliation or victimhood"

Enough said.

"and by compensatory cults of unity,"

Constant unification theme of left/liberalism-- I forget now the favored term.

"energy and purity,"

Save the Earth. Or the whales. Go green. Redeem the planet and ourselves.

" in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist "

OK, nationalist they aren't. But just how that is a redeeming virtue isn't clear. Nor is it clear why this would exclude trans-nationalist forms of totalitarianism, i.e., the Soviets, except arbitarily.

"militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites,"

Not uneasy collaboration. But certainly effective.

"abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.''

Ah, the Netroots!

David Hardy   ·  August 24, 2007 11:05 PM


As much as we all may find this amusing, I would like to gently observe that I didn't recommend Griffin as the authority on fascism (I actually think Roger Griffin better fits that description) but a starting point for a deeper and better understanding of what fascism is and what constitutes it -- his book is a good read and a decent primer for people starting out, and his conclusions largely accord with the growing academic consensus about fascism. I'd also recommend not just Griffin but also Stanley Payne and Walter Laqueur and any number of other actual scholars on the subject, as well as readings like They Thought They Were Free and some of Orwell's fascist critique. Just to help you get beyond a dictionary definition.

I'd also like to gently remind you that my grounding of experience has to do with being a reporter in northern Idaho (near Hayden Lake) and western Montana in the years 1977-1989 and later writing a book on the subject. It was this experience that led me to studying academic work in this field.

David Neiwert   ·  August 24, 2007 11:37 PM

And FWIW: The "libertarianism is fascism" thesis is absurd and poorly grounded, and the lashing you give it is well deserved.

David Neiwert   ·  August 24, 2007 11:39 PM

Sorry, I meant to write that I "didn't recommend Paxton".

David Neiwert   ·  August 25, 2007 12:04 AM

I suspect you're overthinking this. These days, 'fascist' just means 'a big, fat meanie!'

Achillea   ·  August 25, 2007 12:15 AM

Mr. Neiwert--

A deeper and better understanding of Fascism isn't necessary--the concept is well understood, as is the fact that the Western Left has much more in common with fascists than their political opponents.

The attempt to stretch the definition to include the productive citizens of the West is the apparent goal of any re-definition. Such an expansion is a falsehood, not a deeper understanding.

Brett   ·  August 25, 2007 8:30 AM

It is quite common for the nuttier elements to try and turn certain words - like facism, or terrorism - into value judgements . This is from a combination of political and historical ignorance, laziness, and a "the ends justifies the means" attitude.

Not too long ago some Canadian guy I know was arguing that Bush was a terrorist because he "coerced the American people into supporting the illegal war".

He also declared me a "facist war criminal".

Needless to say the conversation did not go too well for him after that.

Tim in PA   ·  August 25, 2007 10:27 AM

Eric, just a small side note: if you've avoided science fiction thus far, then your education is not complete. Scifi literature, far from just the male teenaged escapist space opera many think it is, has addressed great themes, including fascism. In some cases it approaches truly great literature. In fact, I theorize that without science fiction, there would be no sneakers.

RebeccaH   ·  August 25, 2007 12:34 PM

No, no, no, no. You all have it so terribly wrong. (Well, except for Achillea, who got close, but not quite.)

"Fascist" means, in today's highly nuanced and "reality-based" political discourse . . .


No more, no less.

/obligatory apropos Princess Bride quote:


"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

filbert   ·  August 25, 2007 12:42 PM

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