“[T]he authority of the State must absolutely, I repeat absolutely, be re-established in Sicily. If the laws still in force hinder you, this will be no problem, as we will draw up new laws.” — B. Mussolini

I first realized how insidious a process fascism could be — and I mean the word literally: more, much more, in a moment — when I discovered the propensity of some “conservatives” to defend/rehabilitate the far-right Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, who managed to shock even Heinrich Himmler with his bloodthirstiness. Greatly misunderstood, they said. Kept his country out of the Second World War. Not a member of the Axis. Just…a conservative, really.

Time was, I used to blog about the fuzzy distinctions between the politics of certain types of conservative and openly neo-fascist or even neo-Nazi movements. I gave up — there were just too many examples. In any case, here’s what our own David Frum had to say in response to the neo-Francoists.

Now Don Martin is the first national journalist to use the f-word in relation to Stephen Harper. And needless to say there has been much finger-wagging from the chattering classes.

But to begin with, let’s stop confusing fascism with the Holocaust, or even anti-Semitism. Fascism is a top-down corporate state that is supposed to work “organically,” but as history indicates, police and paramilitary thugs are on hand to intimidate and control in order to make that “organic” thing happen. In Mussolini’s model, labour was supposed to be part of this universal harmony; in practice, it was reorganized into nationwide company unions with few rights and little or no independence from the state.

The militarization of the state goes hand in hand with fascist statism in general, which relies upon patriotism and national triumphalism to replace the notion of class solidarity. Filippo Marinetti, one of the founders of Italian fascism and co-author of The Futurist Manifesto, was clear: the new revolutionaries would “destroy the museums, the libraries, every type of acade….We will glorify war — the world’s only hygiene — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman.”

Now, we can make superficial comparisons — Conservative heavyweight Jason Kenney’s evident hatred for the Roma, for example, comes to mind, along with his designation of Hungary, notorious these days for its semi-official anti-Roma and anti-Semitic policies, as a “safe” country, clearing the way for the deportation of desperate refugees back to their persecutors. His admiration for a pro-Nazi Croatian war criminal could be just a quirk, of course, like former Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ rather-too-obvious taste for cruelty. One really should avoid the f-word to describe a whole government simply because it is home to a few sketchy individuals. Right?

But just as these comparisons by themselves prove nothing, let us beware of the superficial distinctions that will inevitably be drawn by the bien-pensants among the punderati. No, we still have civil rights, if somewhat eroded; we continue to have a robust court system that has rebuffed many of Harper’s more egregious moves; independent labour unions continue to survive and even flourish; there is a dissident—if not very dissident — press; and we are not, as the luckless Italians and Germans once were, being governed under some sort of never-ending state of emergency.

But fascism doesn’t happen overnight. Like the proverbial frogs in a pot, people gradually get used to what was once unimaginable. Authoritarian tendencies show themselves in not only the institutions of governance, but in its style and what one might term its affect. Parliamentary conventions are ripped apart. The opposition has no real power, and even the right to speak and debate becomes heavily circumscribed. Lively political discourse, a vital element of democracy, is replaced by crude insults, bluster, intimidation and a low discursive style that any student of history will easily recognize. Democratic accountability gives way to what is effectively one-man rule, and a leadership cult emerges, aided by the Leader’s narcissism.

So we should take a look at the Harper government’s policy and direction as a whole. We might begin with its hyper-surveillance of Canadian citizens and the media, including a relentless push to engage in warrantless surveillance of on-line activity.

Just as worrying, much of this activity is coordinated directly between industry and government. Representatives of Big Oil, the National Energy Board, CSIS, the RCMP, and CSEC, all sitting down together to strategize against environmentalists? A tinfoil-hat delusion, one might think, except that it’s been happening. In true corporatist fashion, representatives of what amounts to an interlocking directorate of government, state apparatuses and industry have literally been meeting in one room. In addition, oversight watchdogs have been stymied at every turn, and some of them are seemingly in the bag.

This misuse of state apparatuses by Harper is, in fact, becoming a virtual hallmark of his regime. In addition to all of this spying and strategizing by government and big business, we should not forget the misuse of the nominally arms-length Canada Revenue Agency to go after progressive charities and think-tanks, in order to cripple their operations; nor a concerted attempt to do the same thing to weaken Canada’s independent labour unions. The muzzling of scientists and artists, the destruction or suppression of data—which can almost always be counted upon to run counter to narrow ideology — are also highlights of the Harper regime. This “bringing into line” of people and institutions is hardly unknown in history.

The Harper government’s use of the yappy SUN media as its unofficial state propagandist — which may be curbed somewhat after its recent acquisition by Postmedia — should also be noted. The Toronto Sun called for the mass-murder of Tamil refugees, and SunTV broadcast a hateful racist rant: once unthinkable, this sort of thing is now an all-too-common feature of what passes these days for political commentary. Consider them trial balloons for a, er, non-traditional kind of politics.

Then there is the appeal to militarism: the huge and stupid expenditures on commemorating the War of 1812, when Canada didn’t even exist. The wars that Harper, from the safety of 22 Sussex Drive, has involved us in, to a baying chorus of media commentators and editorialists. In sickening fashion, he even has the temerity to ape his betters — the ones whose lives are actually being put at risk.

Add current efforts to remove Canadian citizenship without appeal, and the latest move to appropriate media commentary for its own (mis)uses, and the government is offering us a nauseating political stew indeed. “Flirting with fascism?” Looks more like heavy petting from here.

We should keep in mind, however, that there is nothing inevitable about fascism or any other political revolution. It is possible to recognize the early signs of a slide into statism and autocracy, and do something about it. But, like alcoholism, the first step is to accept and admit the problem. No one will be prancing around with swastika armbands or building gas chambers: and there’s no need for a coup d’état when first-past-the-post, new electoral laws, unpunished electoral fraud, and the extraordinary powers of a Canadian Prime Minister are more than sufficient. The foundations are already laid for a person of malign intent—and perhaps I might be forgiven for detecting just that in our current PM.

Stephen Lautens put the matter well earlier this week, to hoots of derision, of course, from the usual suspects. I prefer Maurice Ogden’s take on Pastor Niemöller, myself: “I did no more than you let me do,” says the Hangman, laying waste, unopposed, to an entire town.

Don’t let him. Time, I think, for an uprising of the premature anti-fascists.