A Re-Evalution of Laurence Britt

11:05 AM Justin Bread 0 Comments


In 2003, Laurence W. Britt published a brief article on protofascist movements and how they might appear in America. Within weeks, an extensively rewritten version appeared on a popular far-right Libertarian forum, and then quickly picked up and propagated on various conspiracy-minded websites.

This second version bolstered Britt's credentials from Xerox/Mobil business executive and novelist, to doctor of political science. Britt never claimed to be a doctor in his article on protofascism, but it seems he was simply the victim of conspiracy theorists, 9/11 Truthers, and anti-Semites/Holocaust-deniers who wanted to build the case that then-President George W. Bush was establishing a fascist regime in America. The now infamous Britt list continues to be propagated online, and has been used as ammunition against former-President Barack Obama and current-President Donald Trump.

Fascism Anyone?

The Council for Secular Humanism, in their Spring 2003 issue of Free Inquiry, published an article by Laurence W. Britt on characteristics of the Fascist/protofascist model. This version, titled "Fascism Anyone?," appeared on SecularHumanism.org at the time. When reading LWB's article, it notably differentiates itself from the Dr. LB article with it's first few paragraphs which adds a few qualifiers to the fourteen points he provides.

Britt's introduction repeatedly differentiated between Naziism, Fascism and Protofascist regimes. He also notes that all these regimes he listed were not directly linked ideologically, and even pointed out that this was the view many scholars held.

"Both the original German and Italian models and the later protofascist regimes show remarkably similar characteristics. Although many scholars question any direct connection among these regimes, few can dispute their visual similarities."
He includes four additional dictatorships which he once again identifies as protofascist regimes.

For the purpose of this perspective, I will consider the following regimes: Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia. To be sure, they constitute a mixed bag of national identities, cultures, developmental levels, and history. But they all followed the fascist or protofascist model in obtaining, expanding, and maintaining power.
Britt explicitly noted that these countries all had a wide range of histories but did not have any direct link or ideology. At the end of his article, he adds that Websters defines "protofascism" as a "political movement or regime tending toward or imitating Fascism." This is significant because its a flat rejection of the notion that Britt's article was a list of "defining characteristics."  Britt makes it absolutely clear that the regimes he cited were not related to Fascism in any way. They only loosely resembled fascism.

This is problematic because Mussolini's Fascist movement itself can be identified as a proto-Bolshevik or proto-Communist regime based on that loose definition. Mussolini's Fascism started out as an imitator of Lenin's Bolshevik movement in Russia, and likewise Hitler's NSDAP imitated Mussolini. This doesn't come close to defining or clarifying what Fascism was. Britt's list can easily be applied to both Lenin and Stalin's Soviet Union and can indirectly lead to the idea that somehow National Socialist Germany was no different than Soviet Communism.

Dr. Lawrence Britt

Weeks after Britt's article was published, a drastically modified version began circulating online. The "Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism" was quickly posted to a well known conspiracy-minded website. In the early 2000's, Rense.com compiled stories from across the web ranging from Holocaust denial and 9/11 conspiracies to UFO stories or monitoring Chemtrails. Jeff Rense also hosted his own radio show where he interviewed various conspiracy theorists. Among them, Alex Jones, who's own radio show aired alongside Rense for a while until Rense quit the broadcast network in 2009.

According to Rense.com, Britt's list was posted on May 8th, 2003, and although it credited the list to Free Inquiry, it actually cited a Libertarian forum (thread #642109) as its source. Using Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, it shows that Liberty Forum was generally a right-wing Libertarian forum. Browsing the forum shows occasional anti-semitism and conspiracy theories, but overall seemed to be largely opposed to the PATRIOT Act and the Iraq War. It's likely the modified Britt list was seen as proof that the Bush Administration was showing characteristics of a fascist regime.

The list Rense acquired from LibertyForum does not resemble Britt's "Fascism Anyone?" article in any way. It was extensively rewritten and much of Britt's qualifying arguments were entirely deleted. The first five paragraphs that Britt used to provide context to his article were replaced with a single sentence falsely promoting Britt as a doctor. Some versions identify "Dr." Britt as a political scientist. It also implies that Britt believed the Suharto regime in Indonesia, and also the Pinochet regime in Chile, were Fascist regimes. This does not reflect what Britt had written in "Fascism Anyone?" where he labeled them as protofascist regimes.

Britt Interview

In December, 2004, Laurence Britt was interviewed by the Rochester City Newspaper. He stated definitively that the United States was not a fascist regime, and also noted that many of the points were not actually realized, even in Bush's America.

City: Looking at the world right now, do you consider the US a fascist state?
Britt: No. By definition it's a democracy. My article is a cautionary tale. This is what I've researched; this is what I've seen; this is what's happened in the past. You can draw your own conclusions: No, this has nothing to do with the United States; or, there are some disquieting trends here that we certainly have to be aware of, and the powers that be exhibit many of these characteristics, and we'd better damn well be careful.
He was interviewed on a variety of subjects but was also given a chance to further explain the fourteen points. The first characteristic from his article states:

1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism. From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins, the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this nationalism. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that often bordered on xenophobia.
The rewritten Britt list shows a drastic difference.

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays. 
Britt elaborated on this in his interview.

City: In your first characteristic of fascism, "Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism," you mention displaying the flag. I was surprised to see a large one on your porch.
Britt: I put a flag up on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Flag Day, and Veterans Day. I don't have it up all the time. There's nothing wrong with pride, it's when pride moves into hubris.
Britt's use of "hubris" differentiates basic flag-waving nationalism from excessive nationalism, or, as the Marxists called it, nationalist "Chauvinism." The Marxists used the term to describe Fascist nationalism as an excessive pride or excessive loyalty to the nation. Britt's article uses qualifiers like "fervor" and "frenzy," but the fake Britt List whittles it down to flag pins and flag paraphernalia (i.e. harmless flag waving). This shows that Britt's analysis is far more sobering and clear-eyed than the fake Britt List would have us believe.

Defining Fascism

Britt's article should not be viewed as a definitive analysis of Fascism. He makes it clear that he was simply looking for vague resemblances, not "defining characteristics."

When trying to understand fascism, you have to look for the differences and also try to understand the underlying ideology. Actualized Fascism (Naziism, Falangism, Italian Fascism) overtly adopted ideas and theories from across the political spectrum. Fascist corporatism resembles the corporatist policies of the Second International Marxists. Falangism resembles Sorel's Marxist syndicalism (Sorel hated the Second International). Stalin, Roosevelt, and Hitler had concentration camps. Racism and sexism were the norm in the 1920's. It doesn't make sense to try to define fascism based on characteristics that were common in Communist and Liberal Democratic nations. It only blurs the differences.

What made Fascism unique was the Totalitarian, Corporatist State. The Labor Unions, the Employers and the State were merged into one cohesive unit to manage the economy or coordinate production. Free market capitalism doesn't advocate this, Liberalism doesn't advocate this, and Marxist Communism doesn't advocate this. Political parties were replaced with Worker/Employer corporations. The State mandated worker rights and collective bargaining, and mandated employer rights and collective bargaining as well. In the 70+ years since Fascism was abolished, no State or nation has ever embraced these ideas. Even some neo-Fascist groups have distanced themselves from corporatism entirely.

Sources

Laurence W. Britt interview. December 8, 2004. Rochester City Newspaper.

The original Britt article via Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. May 16, 2003. Council for Secular Humanism.

Rense's revised version of the Britt article. Dated May 23, 2003. Cites Liberty Forum.

Liberty Forum via Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. May 26, 2003.

"June, 2004" by Laurence W. Britt

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