Fascism In Our Midst
Fascism -- that corporate-sponsored, totalitarian scourge of the 20th century -- derives its name from fasces lictoriae, Latin for "bundles of lictors." In ancient Rome, these fasces lictoriae were a symbol of power and authority (imperium) and were carried by guardians called lictors before a magistrate (in a number and size corresponding to his rank) in any one of a range of different of public ceremonies and inspections.
Below is a picture of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, who served as Roman consul once in 460 BC and then "served" twice as dictator of Rome (in 458 BC and again in 439 BC). We named the city of Cincinnati, Ohio after this guy:
The fasces are made of wooden rods tied together as a cylinder around an axe. The symbolism of the fasces is that of strength through unity. The rods symbolize the power of the state to punish, and the axes represent the power to decapitate.
OK. Interesting history lesson, you might say. What's the point?
The point is that Roman fasces, and the thirst for totalitarian rule, hardly died out when Rome fell 1,500 years ago. The Roman fasces continue -- even today -- to pop up in some of the most unexpected places. Consider, for example, the logo of the Knights of Columbus:
Knights of Columbus: Power to One, Fascism for All
Of course, astute observers will hardly be surprised by this, as the Knights of Columbus operates out of that bastion of American patriotism, New Haven, CT (home to such pro-American institutions like Skull&Bones and Yale University).
Another interesting place we can find the Roman fasces is on the French Passport:
France adopted the Roman fasces as a national
symbol during the Fourth Republic (1946-1958)
That wannabe Masons and/or the French use the fasces as a symbol is perhaps interesting, but for our purposes it's also somewhat trite. What's more important for us is to explore where and how the Roman fasces are used here in our own American Republic.
First let's have a close look at the lowly U.S. dime:
Roman fasces on U.S. "Mercury" dime
OK.. "E Pluribus Num" I can understand and appreciate.. "out of many, one." When managed sanely, the benefits of Union are legion. But remember the fasces too are meant to symbolize "strength through unity."
It's important to note that the fasces only appears on the backs of so-called "Mercury" dimes, issued between 1916 and 1945. If you look for them on today's dime, you'll probably be disappointed. Today's modern "Roosevelt" dimes bear an image of a torch, an olive branch and an oak branch on the reverse. Nevertheless, the prescence of the Roman fasces on any U.S. dime is (perhaps) somewhat disconcerting.
Next, let's take a stroll down into the U.S. Capitol Building, and visit the House of Representatives chamber:
Whoa! Now if you're like me, you need to see that at least one more time!
U.S. Flag flanked by Roman fasces in the House of Reps
We'll return to the significance of fasces hanging in the U.S. Capitol Building in just a moment, but first let's continue our tour through D.C. and stop next at the imposing Lincoln Memorial:
Roman fasces on the front of Lincoln's chair
Look carefully at the arms of the chair that Lincoln's sitting in.. Those aren't library books he's got in there(!) They're (once again) Roman fasces. Seems that even ol' Honest Abe couldn't escape being remembered by history as a fascist tyrant.
Now, granted, John Wilkes Booth is reported to have shouted "Sic semper tyrannis!" ("Thus always to tyrants!".. with a - perhaps ironic? - Latin twist) as he shot Lincoln, but let's be reasonable. Lincoln ruled the United States during the most serious state of national emergency (the Civil War) this country has ever known -- when at times the U.S. Congress didn't even exist -- and yet in spite of all these challenges, Lincoln found it necessary to issue only three (count 'em, three!) Executive Orders during his entire administration. Compare this to the 3,500+ EOs issued by the Communist Franklin D. Roosevelt, or even to the 1,000+ EOs issued by his Communist cousin Teddy Roosevelt.. Now who's calling who a fascist dictator?
.. imho, Lincoln is being framed by his less-than-honest successors as being something that he wasn't, but now I'm sliding off topic (for now) ..
Let's return now to the U.S. Capitol Building. Scroll back up to the first photo I posted from the U.S. House of Representatives, the one that's in black-and-white. Notice the big staff that's just to the left of the fasces? The one with the big soaring eagle on the top? It's called The Mace, and it's the symbol of the U.S. Congress' Office of the Sergeant at Arms. The Sergeant at Arms places the Mace on a pedastal at the Speaker's right each time the House convenes.
The Mace is used by the British and Australian partliaments in a similar fashion.
Now, have a look at this popular stamp issued by the Third Reich:
Deutschland (und Italien) ueber alles!
Front and center, we see our two favorite fascist politicians, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. To the left we see (once again!) the now-so-familiar Roman fasces. But wait! What's that on the right? Could it be... why, yes! it is! It's the same Mace that's used by the Sergeant of Arms in the U.S. Congress(!), capped off with an eagle and everything!
Who says we don't have Nazis running our government?
Some homework questions for the advanced student:
- When did the fasces first appear on the U.S. dime?
- When did the fasces first start hanging in the U.S. Congress?
- Who built the Lincoln Memorial?