Philosopher Jason Stanley says when fascist leaders tell lies to convince the public of a false reality, it doesn’t matter whether or not they believe what they assert.
“In the case of fascism, it’s kind of difficult to make a distinction between ideology and tactics,” Stanley said. “It doesn’t really matter whether you believe the things you say because it’s about using the things you say to come to power.”
Stanley spoke on “Propaganda and Anti-Intellectualism” at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 27 in Benton Hall as part of the Humanities Center’s Altman Lecture Series, themed this year around “Truth and Lies.” Stanley’s lecture was co-sponsored by the department of philosophy’s Harris Lecture Fund.
As the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, Stanley has published five books, including “How Propaganda Works” and the recently released “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.” Additionally, Stanley has written op-eds in The New York Times and Washington Post, and has been published in Germany’s Die Ziet and Italy’s II Manifesto.
Stanley prefaced his lecture by citing philosophers Plato, W.E.B. Du Bois and Hannah Arendt.
“There are many features of fascism that we find all the way back in the history of philosophy,” Stanley said. “Prosimicus declares that it’s all about winning, that the correct view is that power rules and the strongest person sets the rules and anyone else is a fool.”
Stanley said fascism and communism exist at two ends of a spectrum, each with their own faults. In societies that operate in the middle of the spectrum, leaders are often accused of being extremists.
“Just like it’s wrong to say Elizabeth Warren is a communist because she has some features of a communist, it is completely wrong to say that social conservatives are fascists, or classic conservatives’ positions are fascist,” Stanley said.
Stanley said a healthy democracy requires both social conservatives and liberal democrats, progressives and libertarians.
“It requires all of those things because some solutions require a free-market,” Stanley said. “Other solutions will require state intervention and we won’t know unless we have all of those people arguing.”
Although communist regimes vary widely, Stanley said their leaders all share a common set of tactics to reach and maintain power over the populace.
First, they promote a “mythic past,” when life was simple and the country was great, followed by a call to crack down on corruption. Both the press and universities are then lampooned, while the leader promotes conspiracy theories in their place.
Stanley cited birtherism and pizzagate as examples of conspiracies that the press were accused of covering up, implying that the press was under liberal control. If and when the press relented and reported on these conspiracies, it expanded the reach and purposed legitimacy of these theories’ claims.
Next, Stanley said the fascist leader promotes group hierarchy by pointing out minorities as lazy, stupid and violent, while simultaneously claiming victimhood for the majority group whose dominance is threatened.
Finally, Stanley said that fascism demonizes cities as decadent “dens of iniquity,” home to lazy bankers and homosexuals, and where people of different races and religions intermingle. In contrast, rural people are praised for their purity and work ethic, much like how Adolf Hitler described his hometown in the first chapter of “Mein Kampf.”
Ending the lecture on a more optimistic note, Stanley returned to Plato, who said the fight between fascism and freedom is ongoing.
“It’s a battle to recognize each other as fellow human beings and not just ‘us and them,’ separated by artificial categories,” Stanley said. “It’s a battle that we will continue to fight and continue to win.”