Tuesday, February 8, 2022

One Fascism or Two?: The Reemergence of "Fascism(s)" in US Higher Education

The Higher Education Inquirer is conducting an extensive investigation of the reemergence of fascism in US higher education.  The examination aims to: define and operationalize the concept of fascism, investigate the roots of American fascism since the 17th century, and chronicle the most important cases of fascism in US higher education today.  As part of a democratic process, we ask readers to be involved in the research and writing of this project.  

Reader Input

Additions and corrections will be made with input from readers of the Higher Education Inquirer.  Please add your comments in the section at the bottom. For those who wish to remain anonymous, you can provide feedback by emailing me at dahnshaulis@gmail.com. 

Definition(s) of Fascism(s)

The word fascism has been used by politicians and American writers on the Left and Right for generations.  It may not be possible to create a consensus of what fascism is, or how it appears in US society. This space is likely to be edited as more comments are received.  

*Laurence W. Britt, the author of Fascism Anyone, described 14 elements of fascism here

*Italian historian Umberto Eco described 14 elements of fascism here.

*Yale professor Jason Stanley explains "How Fascism Works" here.  

Origins of Fascism in US Higher Education 

US higher education was founded on the taking of land from indigenous people, and oppressing people of color for four centuries. Enslaved Africans and their descendants were part of the origin and continuation of elite American schools for two hundred years.  White, Protestant, males from elite backgrounds had most of the higher educational opportunities--and the names of robber barons and tobacco magnates (Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, Duke) became part of the elite pantheon.  Thorstein Veblen and Upton Sinclair provided a great deal of information on this. 

While there has been more democracy at times, people of color, women, and working-class folks have been excluded or discriminated for all of US history.  The federal government (Department of Defense, CIA) and US corporations (particularly federal contractors) have also held great importance in the direction of higher education, servicing their most oppressive anti-democratic, colonial elements.  

In the 21st century, historians Craig Steven Wilder and others dug up the white supremacist roots of elite universities. In a zero-sum game, historically privileged groups and individuals may also feel aggrieved and oppressed when others succeed or are placed ahead of them in line.    

Propagation of Fascism in 2022 (Contemporary Examples in No Particular Order) 

This section will evolve with the help of reader comments.  Here are some preliminary examples of varying importance: 

Role in Mass Surveillance 

"Savage Inequalities" in the K-12 Pipeline 

Hunger, poverty, prostitution, and drug sales among college students 

Sexual assault of college students

Anti-intellectualism in America

Rise of Charlie Kirk, Turning Point USA, Turning Point Action, and Students for Trump  

Turning Point USA's Professor Watchlist

Police State and Strong Military Supported 

Use of Propaganda and Disinformation to Oppress "Minorities" and Empower Big Corporations

Predatory Marketing and Advertising 

Legalization of Hate Speech in US Higher Education 

Book Burning and Censorship in US Society

Role of Corporate Power in Higher Education (e.g. Boards, Endowments, Contracts)

Role of Elite Families in Higher Education (e.g. Walton Family Foundation, Koch Brothers) 

Land Theft Through Gentrification and College Expansion 

Tax Avoidance by Elite Schools to Rob Public Coffers 

Colleges Colluding to Limit Financial Aid 

Role of Higher Education in Educating Reactionary Judges and Politicians

State-Sponsored Think Tanks to Support Elites and Oppress Others (e.g. Liberty Institute at University of Texas)

Bomb Threats Against Historically Black Colleges and Universities

End of Affirmative Action for African Americans but Continued Use of Legacies 

Reduction of Needs Based Grants and Scholarships 

Management Corruption, Robocolleges, and the Loss of Labor Power in US Higher Education 

Expenditure of Elite Endowment Funds to Fund Anti-Democratic Organizations

Role of NCAA Football in Promoting Oppressive Values (No Wages, Poor Safety, Sports Gambling) 

Role of US Universities in Supporting Human Rights Violators (e.g. Russia, People's Republic of China) 

Role of US Universities in Undermining Foreign Efforts in Democratization  

Use of "Credentials" as a Legal Form of Discrimination 

Student Loan Peonage, Declining Social Mobility, and the "Educated Underclass"

Related link: US Higher Education and the Intellectualization of White Supremacy

Related link: UT Austin President Eats Cake in a Pandemic (Austin Longhorn*)

Related link: Coursera IPO Reveals Bleak Future For Global Labor

Related link: Guild Education: Enablers of Anti-Union Corporations and Subprime College Programs

Related link: Maximus, Student Loan Debt, and the Poverty Industrial Complex

Related link: Community Colleges at the Heart of College Meltdown

Related link: The Tragedy of Human Capital Theory in Higher Education (Glen McGhee*)

Related link: Higher Education Inquirer: The Growth of "RoboColleges" and "Robostudents"

Related link: SLABS: The Soylent Green of US Higher Education

Dahn Shaulis

Higher Education Inquirer


  1. Credentialism is making an opening for Fascism because
    Credentials have become the newest form of class domination.
    When progressives argue "college for all" they are espousing the hegemonic superiority of one group over another.

    Eventually those being dominated at the bottom will rebel. Credentialism -- aka College Mania -- is making an opening for fascism. Although the dynamic of this conflict has not been recognized by scholars, populist politicians regularly make it part of their campaign plans.

    Public policy is blind to the fact that improving upward mobility only exacerbates downward mobility for the rest. This is why one highly successful populist once said, "I love the uneducated.

    Repressed workers have nothing to lose by embracing "strong" leaders that recognize their plight.

    1. Glen, so how do we put a stop to this hyper-credentialism and College Mania? It seems like it has only gotten worse as good jobs have become scarcer.

  2. I am so impressed with this site and find it so necessary to continue and expand the debate as to fascism, its implications, its history and the sordid forms it takes within academia and without that I thought to comment.

    Please assure that colleagues in academia and even friends and family receive this important new site. Register and tell your friends to follow/subscribe.

    Please submit your ideas and develop the site so that it might become a part of educational debate, both as to curriculum, testing, anti-racist education, standards as well as educational and social socio/economic policy.

    The years that we will see emerging will indeed force the necessity for thinking about fascism.

    Fascism is a managerial plan for failed capitalism.

    Lest we forget history:

    “In the years of its rise the movement little by little brought the community's attitude toward the teacher around from respect and envy to resentment, from trust and fear to suspicion. The development seems to have been inherent; it needed no planning and had none. As the Nazi emphasis on nonintellectual virtues (patriotism, loyalty, duty, purity, labor, simplicity, "blood," "folkishness") seeped through Germany, elevating the self-esteem of the "little man," the academic profession was pushed from the very center to the very periphery of society. Germany was preparing to cut its own head off. By 1933 at least five of my ten friends (and I think six or seven) looked upon "intellectuals" as unreliable and, among those unreliables, upon the academics as the most insidiously situated.”

    ― Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933–45

    1. Maricata, thank you for the wisdom, guidance, and encouragement. Much of this analysis comes from our conversations over the years. The Higher Education Inquirer needs more readers, writers, and contributors. Have had some very good ones so far...

  3. Americans erroneously believe that universities are the guardians of democracy, equality, and free inquiry. But in fact, they have always been subject to the prejudices of the day.

    In the 1980s, for example, universities refused to recognize gay student groups until the federal courts ruled against them. In the late 19th century, Harvard Law School refused to admit any student who graduated from a Catholic college.

    In the late 19th and 20th centuries, American university leaders espoused eugenics, pure racism. Thomas Leanord's excellent book, Illiberal Reformers, tells the story of racial and ethnic bigotry by American intellectuals, including the president of Stanford University.
    My point is this: American universities are descending into fascism because the academic community is primarily made up of moral cowards who will espouse the popular prejudices of the day.

    1. Richard, you are right about the existence of oppression in US higher education. One of the problems for older (white, male) citizens like me is that we often had greater expectations for the higher education system. We believed higher education was a good thing and would lead to more social justice and greater social mobility. Of course, that was happening while some very questionable things were going on in classrooms, Board rooms, locker rooms, and fraternities.