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Toni Morrison’s Ten Steps Towards Fascism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2022

In a convocation address delivered at Howard University in March 1995, Toni Morrison noted that before fascist movements arrive at a “final solution” (the euphemism used by Nazi leaders to refer to the mass murder of Jews), there are preceding steps that they use to advance their agenda. From an excerpt of that speech published in The Journal of Negro Education:

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.

Morrison then continued, listing the pathway to fascism in ten steps:

  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.

As I have said before, you can see many of these steps playing out right now in America, orchestrated by a revitalized and emboldened right-wing movement that has captured the Republican Party. Jason Stanley, a scholar of fascism, recently wrote of Morrison’s speech:

Morrison’s interest was not in fascist demagogues or fascist regimes. It was rather in “forces interested in fascist solutions to national problems”. The procedures she described were methods to normalize such solutions, to “construct an internal enemy”, isolate, demonize and criminalize it and sympathizers to its ideology and their allies, and, using the media, provide the illusion of power and influence to one’s supporters.

Morrison saw, in the history of US racism, fascist practices — ones that could enable a fascist social and political movement in the United States.

Writing in the era of the “super-predator” myth (a Newsweek headline the next year read, “Superpredators: Should we cage the new breed of vicious kids?”), Morrison unflinchingly read fascism into the practices of US racism. Twenty-five years later, those “forces interested in fascist solutions to national problems” are closer than ever to winning a multi-decade national fight.

See also Umberto Eco’s 14 Features of Eternal Fascism and Fighting Authoritarianism: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century. (via jason stanley)