Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The End of America

This is very important.

Talk by Naomi Wolf author of "The End of America: Letter of Warning To A Young Patriot" given October 11, 2007 at Kane Hall on the University of Washington campus.

Interview with Naomi Wolf discussing "The End of America"

Naomi Wolf: Ten steps to closing down an open society

Lately I’ve been listening to the offerings at the Canadian left-wing blog Paulitics: Paul’s Socialist Podcast. The latest episode features feminist author Naomi Wolf offering a distillation of her latest book, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, in which she draws parallels between historical instances of fascism–especially in Europe in the early twentieth century–and proto-fascist tendencies in contemporary America under the Bush Administration. She notes, for example, that the term “sleeper cell” originated in Stalinist Russia as a propaganda term denoting so-called “capitalist terrorists” disguised as good Soviet citizens and hiding among the general population. She also talks about the Bush Administration’s use of the the “no-fly list” against Bush critics, such as Princeton law professor Walter F. Murphy, and even Wolf herself.

Wolf tracks authoritarian trends in Bush America against a ten-step “blueprint,” which she argues was crafted by Mussolini and adopted by leftist and rightist totalitarian regimes throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. She expands upon these steps in this article, but here’s what you need to do in order to close down an open society:

  1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
  2. Create a gulag
  3. Develop a thug caste
  4. Set up an internal surveillance system
  5. Harass citizens’ groups
  6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
  7. Target key individuals
  8. Control the press
  9. Dissent equals treason
  10. Suspend the rule of law

Do you agree with the comparisons Wolf is making between the drift towards fascism in the twentieth century, and America under Bush (or, for that matter, Australia under Howard)? If so, do you think the results of recent elections in the US and Australia (2006 and 2007 respectively) hint at a trend away from proto-fascism in these countries?

More resources:

Alternet interviews Wolf on her new book.

Excerpt from the book dealing with the “no-fly list”

Wolf on The Colbert Report:

Sphere: Related Content


  1. While I'm generally a leftist who wants to agree with Wolf, I'm not sure here which begat which- the desire to investigate how totalitarian regimes started and then - surprise!- seeing a link to present-day America, or looking for a link between the rise of totalitarianism and the current administration. If you're going at it from the second perspective, I'm not sure that's the best thing to do, and I imagine that was the case.

    That said, there ARE some eerie similarities that do raise concerns, especially when it seems that the checks and balances built into the constitution are being ignored (do a quick search on signing statements). THAT causes the most concern, especially because while the American gov't is set up in such a way to explicitly prevent totalitarian rule, when the Executive isn't held to account, it's a bit of a free-for-all. I'm not sure I trust Bushco to weld the power altruistically.

  2. The second is exactly how she got started it seems. Someone kept repeating that the events happening in America is exactly how things started happening in before the rise of Nazi Germany. She ignored it initially but then started reading and saw similarities.

    Is it a predictor? Maybe, maybe not, but I'd rather err on the side of "maybe" and come off as a bit paranoid than be mistaken and in a situation where my rights are gone.

    Her perspective is one that needs to be analyzed. I just got introduced to the ideas Wolf is discussing this morning. However, there are eerie similarities in world history and things which have bothered me since 9/11.

    The worst one being Americans silencing other Americans who have different perspectives on how to handle terrorism and the wars we've gotten into since 9/11. If you disagree with the current government some have gone as far as to call people traitors and that's as un-American as you could be. However, it's encouraged and accepted.

    Now it's seeped into the system. The president can declare an emergency without the legislative branch's approval according to what she's saying. I do have to go and verify that for myself, but, if that's true that's serious. Furthermore, for her to go on a press junket saying it's true when it isn't would have her in hot water very fast.

    Her argument is exactly that re the executive branch. The executive branch is building up more power and also that democracies don't suddenly flip and have people marching in goose-step formation. It's pretty much a gradual progression. Since 9/11 the government has been chipping away at our rights to privacy while preying on a fear of another 9/11 occurring.

    Do I agree with her? I'm not sure. I am, however, very troubled by this current US government and their complete disdain for a balance of power and an open dialogue.

    What she's saying is important enough that I felt the need to blog it so that others can also hear it. I do think a conversation has to start and that people need to look at the issues seriously.

  3. While I would have agreed with Wolf’s argument before 2002, now that I have abandoned the worst parts of my leftist background, I find a major problem with this book and the basic line of reasoning Wolf uses.

    As much as folks drum up this argument that Bush has created a powerful executive that puts us on the path to fascism, history shows us that some of the presidents we admire most had much more control of the operation of government. Both FDR and Lincoln come to mind. There were critics during both their tenures, but the constitution is vague on Article 2 because those who wrote it understood that it should be malleable. During times of war, the executive branch almost always becomes more powerful than the legislative. I don’t see this as a terribly new phenomenon.

    While I criticized aspects of the Patriot Act, the fear that she creates around it are unfounded since our legal system has already found portions of it to be unconstitutional. Bush didn’t reverse their decision or throw out the judges; his administration begrudgingly accepted it. This is hardly the step taking by an impending fascist.

    And her points of argument can be loosely applied to just about any country that is operating in wartime. While fascism is abhorrent, I fear that our creep towards the nanny state is much more troubling and real, and will hurt personal liberty more than the PAtriot Act will. But that may just be my post-socialist self talking.

    Of all the things that can be said about Americans, sympathetic to fascism most are not. The liberal and anarchist spirit is still alive and kicking in the US, and that’s not going to go away in the foreseeable future. America is one of the few western countries that I could easily invasion an armed insurrection against the state if it stepped over the tipping point.

    But the real problem I have with Wolf and her ilk is her distaste for democracy promotion overseas. She has so fully bought into the idea that Bush=evil that she is unable to see the very radical (and I say positive) policy adjustment America has made under his presidency. We supported despots and tyrants in the Middle East during the Cold War, assuming that would make us safer. It clearly did not, and more importantly, it condemned millions of people to totalitarian states and societies. As much as I dislike Bush, I can see that this change in international strategy is a good one. We can not return to an era where we turn our backs on our liberal comrades overseas for expediencies sack.

  4. Thanks for your perspective because, honestly, I want well thought out perspectives that differ. I think my lack of alarm was due to many reasons you set out. Some things have been found unconstitutional. There is even a call from Rice herself to close Guantanamo Bay.

    I've got to disagree with some of what you wrote however.
    There was a democratic movement in Iran in the 1940s and 50s. Then there was a CIA-sponsored coup that overthrew the progressive and nationalist government that had came to power and reinstated the Shah. We didn't support it because we thought we'd get better oil prices under the Shah's regime than with a democracy. I'm sure there might have been other reasons too, but that's at least one time in the past where we didn't support a democracy. Anyway, that all came to a head in 1979 when religious radicals took over. Now look what we have to deal with.

    Again, I think posting it generates a dialogue and gets people talking. Glad you're here for that.

  5. You’re right Jane, we as a country (or our government, or whatever) did not support democratic movements throughout the Cold War like we should have. Our involvement in overthrowing the nationalist government in Iran was just one of the many infractions. We sacrificed democratic movements around the world in the name of anti-communism, and more importantly, the idea that we would be more secure. I do think history has proved that position to be incorrect, as the Middle East was allowed to fester and rot for more than 50 years.

    I guess what I am saying is that as stupid and incompetent as Bush is, as an old lefty, I can respect that he abandoned the idea that we should tolerate dictators for immediate gains. How to rid the world of them is surely a topic that requires debate and insight, but I do think it was the right change to make.

  6. I guess what I am saying is that as stupid and incompetent as Bush is, as an old lefty, I can respect that he abandoned the idea that we should tolerate dictators for immediate gains. How to rid the world of them is surely a topic that requires debate and insight, but I do think it was the right change to make.

    I'm an idealist and I think, yeah, we should have NEVER worked against any democratic movement. We have and now in those countries we're, rightly so, not trusted.

    I'm also not too sure that this war was about over throwing a dictator. As foul as Hussein was, Bush had him targeted even when he was running for president. This I wasn't aware of because I was avoiding Bush's campaign speeches like the plague. However, he always wanted to go into Iraq. 9/11 happened and he 9/11 with Iraq to get public support to do it.

    So, honestly, I don't see where our policies have changed as much as 9/11 gave Bush what he needed to dupe the uninformed American public. I say uninformed because had people just done a wee bit of research on the issue, it was pretty clear Bush was stringing two unrelated issues together and implying that Hussein had something to do with 9/11 when that wasn't true. NOW after invading Iraq we do have a bigger risk of terrorism from Iraq, and that wasn't the case before.

    I think Watts is focusing more on what's happening on US soil moreso than foreign policy.

  7. “I'm an idealist and I think, yeah, we should have NEVER worked against any democratic movement. We have and now in those countries we're, rightly so, not trusted.”

    And it’s why we should also never turn our backs on democratic governments and liberal democrats working against totalitarian states. As inefficient as the Iraqi democratic congress is, it is vastly superior to any strongman that could be there, and I hope that whoever is elected in November will continue to support it in any way it asks of us.

    And you are right that Wolf’s book is mostly about issues on the home front, but I think her view is that “imperial empires” needs to have wars overseas to maintain and justify oppression at home.

    As for the change in Bush policy after 9/11, parts of his administration did change their views on the Middle East, but the neocons like Wolfowitz were most definitely pushing for an overthrow of Saddam for years. I don’t find this a fault in their thinking, or a conspiracy for that matter, just that they were right from the get go. Lots of folks on the left were furious, justifiably, that we not only casually supported him but that we also let him stay in power after the first gulf war. 9/11 just gave the neocons more ammunition to their argument; the problems we let stir were going to hurt us if we didn’t directly confront them.

  8. I have to admit I haven't read her book and I'm probably not going to read her book. However, I did find her 45 minute discussion on her position interesting and worth posting simply because it gets people thinking.

    Well, maybe it just gets you, me and Kim in Daejeon thinking ;) That, however, is better than none.

    At this point, we're in it. We started a war and we're in it. We can't back out now and that's what I tell people who do the "oh, what do we do now?" routine with me on this issue. Well, our country already has the "cut and run" taint from wars we've started in the past, and we can't risk making it worse.

    We went in, screwed up their way of life, their infrastructure, and society and now we've got to help them put it back together. That does mean leaving at some point, but, man, our country is on the hook for a lot of death and destruction.

    That's a shame.

  9. I am sure her book will be hotly debated until the election at least. Wolf does have quite a media presence. I don’t know if you have read her book the Beauty Myth, but I remember liking it back in my university days. It’s been a long time since I read it, and I have changed a bit since then, but I may have to pull it out again and see if it offers any insight into her thinking.

    And I am a firm believer that limited discussion on blogs can be positive in the long run. Lord knows some of the most powerful ideas that have ever walked this earth were born over a cup of coffee!

  10. I'd be a idiot if I didn't know that famous book. I own it and it's somewhere in storage (good God, my things are still in storage...)

    Anyway, that's why I was a bit like "what?" When I heard she'd taken on this topic. Not that going on about feminism, femininity and beauty means you can't talk serious politics...I hope not. I love all that stuff and this blog shows it as it ranges from race, politics, society but then jumps to hair and fashion week ;)

    Still was like "okay, I've got to hear this" and it's not bad. However, I think there are different ways of looking at it. I was alarmed and still am. Her take however made me want to put it out there for others weigh in.


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