What Fascism & Totalitarianism Actually Look Like

In the weeks before the US Congress passed major healthcare reform, select members of the political right (from "the base" on up to the leadership) repeated the claim that the Obama administration was turning America into a fascist/totalitarian/Maoist/Nazi state. The language was inflammatory and reckless, and it deeply trivialized the past. Now, it's time for a little reality check. This is what fascism & totalitarianism actually look like. It looks like prison camps, torture, starvation, the bleakest of bleak conditions, and mass death, running into the millions. And take note: there's not much healthcare going to the uninsured in this world (nor a strident political opposition, I can assure you). This wartime documentary, Death Mills (above), comes from the great director Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard). It was intended to educate Germans about the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime. But, apparently it still has educational value for Congressmen, pundits and tea partiers today. Unless, of course, these folks were just being cynical all along.

For those who opposed the healthcare plan intelligently and civilly, don't take offense. This is not about healthcare per se. It's about intellectual honesty ... or at least setting the historical record straight.

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Comments (17)
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  • Nick says:

    Not sure the teabagger comment was necessary. I come to this website to get away from talking-head soundbites.

  • Brian says:

    Agreed. The whole “reality check” entry was unnecessary here. Do your venting on a political site please.

  • Mac says:

    If you want to “a little reality check”,look back at how these movements started,not at how they ended….if you want to set the historical record straight.

  • Band It says:

    Totalitarian states function the best, when they are able to keep single person from joining others to change inequity.

    That is what in America happens everytime, when it is said, that it is a communist idea, when peaple that are weak alone, try come together to becom a far more powerfull companionship.

    It is a lie, when it is said, is freedom if everybody has to able to find his own luck/economical success. It is the same techinque used by Gestapo or Stasi.

    By the way: America agreed to accept mass-murder as weapon in a war, when they killed Milions, when the bombed German uns Japanese cities. So the crime is ‘qualitywise’ on the same level as the mass-murder crime by the nazis. (Not only Zimbardo proved, that this kind of event is a special nazi thing)

    The Nazis killed onlky because of their religion, the americans killed peaople, just because they were living in that city.

  • Speedmaster says:

    The difference is one of degree rather than kind.

  • Nate says:

    The above commenters’ comments seem to suggest that

    a) any criticism (even if trenchant and valid) of the rhetoric of, say, the Tea Party, is automatically a talking head soundbite, and

    b)Said criticism is nothing but venting that belongs on a “political site,” (probably one that is very soundbitey.)

    I find both of these assumptions problematic.

  • 1000Sunny says:

    Hello from Germany,

    actually this documentary shows the end. This is, why we don’t recognize the beginnings. And as children are abduced from their parents in order to prevent home-education and open-education and the base rights are eliminated for parents and children.
    In two months I will emmigrate from germany, because it starts again. And again: All cheer and applaude.

  • 1000Sunny says:

    btw: if your want to know about facism and nationalism read “conditions of liberty” from Ernest Gellner

  • cc says:

    “The Nazis killed onlky because of their religion, the americans killed peaople, just because they were living in that city”
    Wow – very smart observation. 20 million plus Russians died, who would thought they were all Jewish.
    BAND IT – whe need to send you to a Re-education Camp.

  • Dan Colman says:


    If you see November’s elections (the referendum on the healthcare plan) get suspended, then you may be onto something. But I suspect that you’ll see voters get to have their say, which is all part of the normal push and pull of democracy.


    This wasn’t a commentary on healthcare per se. This was a commentary on the uses and abuses of history. That’s fair game for an education blog don’t you think?


  • 1000Sunny says:

    Hi Dan,

    there are good youtube-Videos about the Milgram experiment. That shows something about facism that helps to better recognize it. Facism is pretty decent nowadays.

  • john e says:

    Fascism is actually better defined as corporatism (at least that is what Mussolini created and he is generally regarded as the one who coined the term, fascism), which is a seamless blending of state and business; not all that different from what we see today among many industrialized nations.

    And fascist movements today are much more subtle than the Italian (and others) tactics. Due to experiments like Milgram’s and others, those who are interested in blending state and business don’t need jack boots, machine pistols et al. In fact, these are considered to be outmoded (and not very effective because they consume significant resources). The preferred method is through the use of propaganda and the manipulation of social reinforcement systems. In short, the best way to introduce fascism into a society is to convince the population that they want it, without them knowing exactly what it is they are getting.

    I would recommend, Friendly Fascism by Bertram Gross as a good text on this.

  • 1000Sunny says:

    Thank you.
    There is another interesting video-series about strategies on social control:

  • James Parker says:

    It is my understanding that as a free people we have always had the choice to have or have not a health care policy.

    Under the current government leadership I have been told that I no longer have that choice, to have or have not.

    So that means to me that I have lost my freedon.

    I much prefer my freedom and will oppose all that are intent to remove it.

  • DH says:

    James, The last time I looked the democrats won popular elections across the board in 08, and the majority party just voted for the healthcare bill that it campaigned on. Since when do public opinion polls (which change from day to day) determine policy in Washington? Bush always said that he didn’t govern by opinion polls. Remember that? And now the democrats are handling things in the exact same way. What you’re seeing is democracy, as it was created by the American constitution. If you don’t like it, vote how you want in November. Or let the Supreme court take a look and see if it agrees with you. That’s the system.


  • Bruce says:

    If we’re going to mention the inflammatory rhetoric around the healthcare debate, a balanced, historical view would discuss other controversial subjects in the past where the “socialism/communism” or “fascism/totalitarian/Nazi” cards were also played. For example, during the Bush II administration similar rhetoric was used regarding Guantanamo, the war in Iraq, and domestic surveillance. I know, because I used it myself on occasion.

    I don’t think this is the time or place to debate the merits of such rhetoric from either side, but noting the use of these terms in current and past political debate is acceptable.

  • Mass manipulation? I would rather cite 911 as the perfect example. How many brain-washed Americans still believe that Osama Bin Laden et al did it?

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