Top image: A man makes a slashing motion across his throat toward counter-protesters as he marches with neo-Nazis and other rascist groups during the ‘Unite the Right’ rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Second image: White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the ‘alt-right’ with body armor and combat weapons evacuate comrades who were pepper sprayed after the ‘Unite the Right’ rally was declared a unlawful gathering by Virginia State Police.
We at Just Security are supposed to be off the grid this week, but after spending too much time watching footage of Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville and the White House’s response to it, I, like many Americans, worry that the threat-posed by fascism within the United States only going to get worse. I watched organized Nazi and other racist groups, supervised by men wearing Secret Service-style earpieces and escorted by men with assault-style rifles (as well as those earpieces) fight as cohesive units that have been rehearsing for Saturday’s battles. (It’s worth noting that in addition to bringing their own paramilitary escorts, dubbed “peacekeepers,” they also sometimes resisted police who were attempting to disperse them.) Since fascism’s rise only appears to be accelerating, I want to briefly resurface to share several books that I’ve read, or are on my reading list, that are sadly appropriate reading for where we are now. Perhaps you’ve already read these books, or know the truths they contain, but someone you know hasn’t, and should.
Sinclair Lewis’ classic 1936 novel on how a populist presidential candidate brings fascism to the United States. At moments throughout 2017, I’ve found myself feeling like we’re eerily using parts of this fiction as our national playbook. Often described as described as “not much of a novel” but nonetheless Lewis’ “best work”. The author himself labelled the book as “propaganda for only one thing: American democracy”, which he penned in just a few months amidst a rise in public support for populist, authoritarian ideas and figures — including Nazism — in a United States wracked by the Great Depression.
Jane Jacobs had a fantastic ability to spot broad patterns in numerous small data-points across society to identify truths that often escaped trained experts and technocrats who focused only on their individual areas of study or narrow and commonly accepted metrics. While she is best-known for doing this in her 1961 work, Death and Life of Great American Cities, she used this talent in 2005 to write her final book, an alarm about what she saw as warning signs that the liberal, western order may be in peril. While not nearly as in-depth as Death and Life, the idea behind her underlying message — that societies don’t always march forward in progress, instead they can, and many times have, slid backwards after centuries of progress — is worth reading about in times like these.
Erik Larson’s account of the experience of Bill Dodd, the U.S. ambassador to Germany between 1933 and 1937, and his family while they watched Hitler consolidate his rule after being democratically elected as Chancellor of Germany. A terrifying look at a Western democracy’s descent into authoritarian fascist rule and of warnings ignored.
George Packer’s fantastic walk through all of the different places and experiences in America where it has become increasingly hard to get by since the 1970s. A portrait of a country on the economic edge, the type of edge that breeds an anxiety which too often brings out the worst in our fellow humans.
I’ve only just cracked Richard Maxwell Brown’s look at often race-driven mass violence and vigilantism in the United States over the centuries, but it seems apt reading given that the last weekend’s event may unfortunately be only the beginning of some very difficult times.
Michelle Alexander’s look at how the American criminal justice system is simply the latest, “redesigned” version of the U.S.’s age-old system of racial control, veiled under the notion of colorblindness.
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