In the nineteen sixties the Czechs promoted what they called communism with a human face, until Brezhnev ordered Soviet tanks in. Meanwhile, next door, the Hungarian regime was known as goulash communism: both of these efforts were about making communism more acceptable to the man in the street. Central planning, whose purpose was to make sure that wealth was relatively evenly distributed, carried with it a certain number of restrictions. Communist leaders lessened the limits on freedom of movement for professionals and intellectuals, for whom this was important, leaving the majority of the people satisfied that they would never have to worry about the basics.
Under capitalism, the governing philosophy is that the system does not have to ensure that the basic needs of most citizens are met, however the Christian virtue of charity is admired. As globalization gobbles up the land, minerals and forests of the world, foundations like the Clintons' devote part of their indecent fortunes to helping the victims of their rapacity, making sure children are vaccinated and bed nets supplied, or teaching women how to micro borrow, bringing them into a system which by definition can throw up few winners.[tag]
As the pundits exchange opinions about Secretary Clinton's embarrassing role in her husband's Global Initiative Foundation, they invariably mention the perception that the Clintons feel themselves to be above the law. In reality, they embody the new corporate state in which the wealthy are allowed live high on the hog as long as they make token gestures to the rest of humanity. But while pundits focus on the sale of favors, the larger picture that should also concern us: neo-fascist parties are the popular version of the corporate state. They show that the hundred year old antagonism between Communism and Fascism that gave rise to the Second World War did not end with the defeat of Hitler's Germany and Hirohito's Japan: this struggle will continue until humanity reaches a level of sophistication that renders it moot. The so-called clash of civilizations, though it appears to be about religion, is really about dignity, and dignity is also what the yearning for equity is about.
There appears to be no widespread recognition of the fact that capitalism's human face obscures its rationalization of fascism. Yet the legally elected president of Ukraine could not have been overthrown without the private fascist militias such as Right Sektor, whose leader Dmitri Yaros became the new government's head of security. And without an unspoken acceptance of strong-arm techniques, we would not be witnessing fascism in such theoretically unlikely places as Israel and Norway. Israel was meant to guarantee a home to a people that had been slaughtered en masse because of who they were, and Norway is one of the Scandinavian countries that represent the highest level of civilization attained by humans. Norway has an anti-immigration fascist movement, while some Israelis joined the thugs in the Maidan and recently others called for the death of Palestinians in a yearly march through Jerusalem's remaining Arab neighborhoods.
What is most disturbing about the rise of fascism is not the existence of popular movements, but the use of the legal system to justify it or disguise it. In the late nineteen seventies a county court judge ruled that parading the swastika in Skokie, Illinois, would not constitute a deliberate provocation to the Holocaust survivors who lived there, and that neither the Nazi uniform, nor the printed materials the Nazis intended to distribute as they marched through the town, would 'incite violence'. The United States' legalistic approach to freedom of speech and of expression (as when you express yourself by marching under a Nazi banner") has so thoroughly penetrated the rest of the world that thirty-five years after Skokie it is divided between "I am Charlie's" and "I am not Charlie's". Just as the American Supreme Court's unquestioned authority allowed it to put over the absurd idea that corporations are people, the absolutist definition of free speech has infected intellectuals across the world, who righteously believe they stand between civilization and barbarism. As angry exchanges continue over the Charlie incident, I have not seen any media reports on the non-absolutist definition of free speech that emanates from the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights:
Article 10 -- Freedom of expression
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.- Advertisement -
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
The difference between the European Convention on Human Rights and the First Amendment of the US Bill of Rights is that the latter fails to balance rights with responsibilities: Americans are told that because they are free to act, they are responsible for their own well-being, and herein lies the crucial difference between the American definition of freedom and the legacy of the French Revolution. Why is the legacy of a violent, bloody revolution more nuanced than that of a country that came into being through a war of liberation? Perhaps the difference lies in the emphasis the first American settlers placed on the individual's right to converse with God, as opposed to the commitment of French revolutionaries to human/human solidarity.
The notion of solidarity is immanent in the conflict over Charlie Hebdo's cartoons. As I was writing this, Meet the Press's Chuck Todd talked to the creator of the cartoon Doonesbury, Gary Trudeau, for whom "some Charlie cartoons wandered into the realm of hate speech."
Todd: "Are the victims responsible for the tragedy?"