There's one way to protect democracy - send in the fascists

Conservative America is at risk, and this war is a way to enforce the values the Bush camp clings to, writes Norman Mailer. There is a subtext to what the "Bushites" are doing as they prepare for war in Iraq. My hypothesis is that George Bush and many conservatives have come to the conclusion that the only way they can save the United States and get it off its down slope is to become a regime with a greater military presence and drive toward empire. My fear is that we might lose our democracy in the process.

They also expect to bring democracy to the region and believe that in itself will help to diminish terrorism. I expect the opposite will happen: terrorists are not impressed by democracy. They loathe it. They are fundamentalists of the most basic kind. The more successful democracy is in the Near East (not likely in my view), the more terrorism it will generate. It will only make the terrorists more desperate to defeat it. The only outstanding obstacle to the drive toward empire in the Bushite minds is China. Indeed, one of the great fears in the Bush Administration about America's down slope is that the "stem studies" such as science, technology and engineering are all faring poorly in our universities. The number of US PhDs is going down, but the number of Asians obtaining doctorates in those same stem studies is increasing at a great rate. Looking 20 years ahead, the Administration perceives that there will come a time when China will have technology superior to ours. When that time comes, the US might well say to China that "we can work together", we will be as the Romans to you Greeks. You will be our extraordinary, well-cultivated slaves. But don't try to dominate us. That would be your disaster. This is the scenario that some of the brightest neo-conservatives are thinking about. (I use Rome as a metaphor, because metaphors are usually much closer to the truth than facts.)

What has happened, of course, is that the Bushites have run into much more opposition than they thought they would from other countries and among the home population. It may end up that we won't have a war, but a new strategy to contain Iraq and wear Saddam down. If that occurs, Bush is in terrible trouble.

My guess, though, is that, like it or not or want it or not, we are going to go to war because that is the only solution Bush and his people can see. The dire prospect that opens, therefore, is that America is going to become a mega-banana republic where the army will have more and more importance in our lives. It will be an ever greater and greater overlay on the American system. And before it is all over democracy, noble and delicate as it is, may give way. My long experience with human nature - I'm 80 years old now - suggests that it is possible that fascism, not democracy, is the natural state.

Indeed, democracy is the special condition - a condition we will be called upon to defend in the coming years. That will be enormously difficult because the combination of the corporation, the military and the complete investiture of the flag with mass spectator sports has set up a pre-fascist atmosphere in America already.

Norman Mailer, the American novelist and essayist, has just published his latest book, The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing