Toni Morrison Lists the 10 Steps That Lead Countries to Fascism (1995)

Image by Angela Rad­ules­cu, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

The term fas­cism gets thrown around a great deal these days, not always with high regard to con­sis­ten­cy of mean­ing. Much like Orwellian, it now seems often to func­tion pri­mar­i­ly as a label for whichev­er polit­i­cal devel­op­ments the speak­er does­n’t like. Even back in the 1940s, Orwell him­self took to the Tri­bune in an attempt to pin down what had already become a “much-abused word.” Half a cen­tu­ry lat­er, the ques­tion of what fas­cism actu­al­ly is and how exact­ly it works was addressed by anoth­er nov­el­ist, and one of a seem­ing­ly quite dif­fer­ent sen­si­bil­i­ty: Toni Mor­ri­son, author of The Bluest Eye and Beloved.

Fas­cism tends to come along with evo­ca­tion of Nazi Ger­many. In her 1995 Char­ter Day address at Howard Uni­ver­si­ty, Mor­ri­son, too, brought out the specter of Hitler and his “final solu­tion.” But “let us be remind­ed that before there is a final solu­tion, there must be a first solu­tion, a sec­ond one, even a third. The move toward a final solu­tion is not a jump. It takes one step, then anoth­er, then anoth­er.” She pro­ceed­ed to lay out a haunt­ing hypo­thet­i­cal series of such steps as fol­lows:

  1. Con­struct an inter­nal ene­my, as both focus and diver­sion.
  2. Iso­late and demo­nize that ene­my by unleash­ing and pro­tect­ing the utter­ance of overt and cod­ed name-call­ing and ver­bal abuse. Employ ad hominem attacks as legit­i­mate charges against that ene­my.
  3. Enlist and cre­ate sources and dis­trib­u­tors of infor­ma­tion who are will­ing to rein­force the demo­niz­ing process because it is prof­itable, because it grants pow­er and because it works.
  4. Pal­isade all art forms; mon­i­tor, dis­cred­it or expel those that chal­lenge or desta­bi­lize process­es of demo­niza­tion and deifi­ca­tion.
  5. Sub­vert and malign all rep­re­sen­ta­tives of and sym­pa­thiz­ers with this con­struct­ed ene­my.
  6. Solic­it, from among the ene­my, col­lab­o­ra­tors who agree with and can san­i­tize the dis­pos­ses­sion process.
  7. Pathol­o­gize the ene­my in schol­ar­ly and pop­u­lar medi­ums; recy­cle, for exam­ple, sci­en­tif­ic racism and the myths of racial supe­ri­or­i­ty in order to nat­u­ral­ize the pathol­o­gy.
  8. Crim­i­nal­ize the ene­my. Then pre­pare, bud­get for and ratio­nal­ize the build­ing of hold­ing are­nas for the ene­my-espe­cial­ly its males and absolute­ly its chil­dren.
  9. Reward mind­less­ness and apa­thy with mon­u­men­tal­ized enter­tain­ments and with lit­tle plea­sures, tiny seduc­tions, a few min­utes on tele­vi­sion, a few lines in the press, a lit­tle pseu­do-suc­cess, the illu­sion of pow­er and influ­ence, a lit­tle fun, a lit­tle style, a lit­tle con­se­quence.
  10. Main­tain, at all costs, silence.

Like any good sto­ry­teller, Mor­ri­son stokes our imag­i­na­tion while turn­ing us toward an exam­i­na­tion of our own con­di­tion. Over the past quar­ter-cen­tu­ry, many of the ten­den­cies she describes have arguably become more pro­nounced in polit­i­cal and media envi­ron­ments around the world. A 21st-cen­tu­ry read­er may be giv­en par­tic­u­lar pause by step num­ber nine. Since the 1990s, and espe­cial­ly in Mor­rison’s home­land of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, most enter­tain­ments have only grown more mon­u­men­tal, and most plea­sures have only shrunk.

Lat­er in her speech, Mor­ri­son fore­sees a time ahead “when our fears have all been seri­al­ized, our cre­ativ­i­ty cen­sured, our ideas ‘mar­ket-placed,’ our rights sold, our intel­li­gence slo­ga­nized, our strength down­sized, our pri­va­cy auc­tioned; when the the­atri­cal­i­ty, the enter­tain­ment val­ue, the mar­ket­ing of life is com­plete.” Few of us here in 2022, what­ev­er our polit­i­cal per­sua­sion, could argue that her pre­dic­tions were entire­ly unfound­ed. Few­er still have a clear answer to the ques­tion what to do when we “find our­selves liv­ing not in a nation but in a con­sor­tium of indus­tries, and whol­ly unin­tel­li­gi­ble to our­selves except for what we see as through a screen dark­ly.”

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Umber­to Eco Makes a List of the 14 Com­mon Fea­tures of Fas­cism

The Sto­ry of Fas­cism: Rick Steves’ Doc­u­men­tary Helps Us Learn from the Hard Lessons of the 20th Cen­tu­ry

Yale Pro­fes­sor Jason Stan­ley Iden­ti­fies 10 Tac­tics of Fas­cism: The “Cult of the Leader,” Law & Order, Vic­tim­hood and More

Hear Toni Mor­ri­son (RIP) Present Her Nobel Prize Accep­tance Speech on the Rad­i­cal Pow­er of Lan­guage (1993)

Why Should You Read Toni Morrison’s Beloved? An Ani­mat­ed Video Makes the Case

George Orwell Tries to Iden­ti­fy Who Is Real­ly a “Fas­cist” and Define the Mean­ing of This “Much-Abused Word” (1944)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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