REGISTRATION - Bette’s ‘Speakeasy’ with Ruth Ben-Ghiat
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Among the silver linings of being on the frontline of the information war and the battle for democracy are the allies we make along the way.
I was just another Ruth Ben-Ghiat devotee when her weekly Lucid chat was zoom raided. I unfortunately have experience with infiltration by online abusers and haters-for-hire and was able to help her shore up security, and she assembled a small team who are among the most treasured people in my life — each doing amazing things to help defend democracy in its time of need.
I always tell Ruth that my most important job isn’t on my resume — it’s helping to protect her. She is a national treasure.
Those of you who join her weekly meetings already know the invaluable service she is providing by holding her informative discussions. She created the template that I used to launch my substack and has inspired so many of us as we do all we can to fight the good fight on behalf of truth and democracy.
I promised Bette Dangerous would be an anti-fascist fanzine, and these pages are filled with quotes from Ruth to better understand the war at hand and how we win. She is not only America’s foremost scholar of Italian fascism she is brilliant in her analysis of what makes strongmen and strongwoman tick.
So many lessons from Ruth are etched in mind as tools to be a more effective warrior.
The strongmen come to power to hide their corruption
We can’t memory hole the coup
Once a country gets a thirst for authoritarianism it’s very hard to quench
The walk-back is a propaganda tool
Strongmen are brutal and amoral individuals
There are dozens of other lines but those are among the ones I default to daily.
As with every ‘Speakeasy’, I ask my members to join our guest’s substack — Lucid.Substack.com — and to buy our guest’s books to support their work. Many of you already have ‘Strongmen — Mussolini to the Present’ but you can also support by buying the audio version or give her book as a gift to a friend to help grow our beautiful, informed, empathetic global community of active democracy participants.
Here is an excerpt:
Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s latest book, Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present, details the precise moment in time when fascism was born.
“World War One was this cataclysmic change,” she told Byline Times. “Multiple empires fell, including the Russian Empire, the Hapsburg Empire, the Ottoman Empire. It created death on a scale no one had seen before. It created wounds no one had seen before because of new weapons.”
In addition, the Great War led to a profound crisis in maleness.
“It created this entire class of men who were damaged, many were killed, and it created this huge crisis of masculinity,” she said. “So fascist rulers came up during this crisis period of unrest and instability in their individual countries and Italy was first. They had this ‘right versus left’ civil strife, and Mussolini appears. And he’s milking this strife, but he’s also saying ‘I can fix it. I can bring order’. And that’s why he got invited into power.”
For Ben-Ghiat, Hitler followed the same pattern a decade later – bootstrapping his way to power using the same post-war dynamics with the addition of economic fears brought about by the Great Depression. Fear is a common tool for manipulation by the well-trained fascist.
“One of the patterns in history is these men are very good at using fear as a way to present themselves as saviours,” she said. “So they manufacture enemies… they present themselves as protectors, and defenders and they become like anchors. This has worked over and over again.”
In her book, the historian reveals patterns that authoritarians have in common and, by doing so, demystifies their allure. Most come to power to obscure their corruption. Truth becomes their mortal enemy and their anger is weaponised.
“Strongmen are brutal and amoral individuals,” she said. “Their anger serves them to get to power, many already had criminal records, and had years of experience in bullying people, or worse, and then intimidation and violence are essential to their exercise of power. They also use their anger as a weapon in their inner circles, making sure no one wants to upset them.”
A history professor at New York University who specialises in Italian studies, Ben-Ghiat became fascinated with the history of fascist movements as a young girl living in southern California.
“I grew up in an area where a lot of anti-Nazi refugees had settled, such as Thomas Mann, and that’s how I got interested a long time ago,” she explained. “I lived in Italy and studied fascism and, when Trump came on the scene, I decided to turn my expertise to looking at America.”
What she found was a garden variety authoritarian selling fear of a “socialist apocalypse” and rebooting old racist tropes. Strongmen is the first book to put Donald Trump in the historical context of 100 years of authoritarians. Looking back at his 2016 presidential campaign, Ben-Ghiat believes his “lock her up” rhetoric in relation to Hillary Clinton was a big authoritarian tell on multiple levels.
“First, the sexism, that a woman who was daring to try to be President should be locked up, so she’s safely controlled,” she said. “And the other thing is it was a sign that Trump was allowing the [Republication Party] to drift further away from democracy and into an kind of authoritarian political culture where, if someone doesn’t agree with you, you don’t respect their opinion. They become a political enemy.”
I recommend you read the entire article as a refresher course for our ‘Speakeasy’.
If you are not yet a member, and wish to participate in our events, please join us as I have extended our half-off discount through the weekend.
Looking so forward to seeing you in the squares as we get the opportunity to hear from Ruth in a more intimate setting, and I get the opportunity to mine the intellect of a great friend.
Truly, we are blessed.
Bette Dangerous is a reader-funded magazine. Thank you to all monthly, annual, and founding members. Thank you as well to all those who support my work with your generous coffee tips and who buy my ebooks. Some of you prefer making subsidizing donations via venmo, and it’s always greatly appreciated. If you wish to gift a membership, you can do so by donating to the ko-fi or venmo accounts, and indicate it’s for a gift, or do so here.
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We just have to see that the battle for democracy is broader. It's deeper.—David Pepper
I need people to see they're on the frontline. Wherever you live, if you’re doing this work, you are the frontline.—David Pepper
The message should be a fair deal… fairness everywhere.—Martin Sheil
“I say a silent prayer of thanksgiving as I walk upon the earth.”-Audrey Peterman.
“May the viral hope for truth and humanity wash away the chaos of these years.”-S.C., Bette community member
“Something Sacred never dies in almost all of us, who can hear the invitation of Truth…”-words from a Bette Dangerous community member
“Nothing but blue skies from now on…”-Irving Berlin
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