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In my story democracy crumbles in a nation, replaced by a powerful dictatorship. Our world has been invaded by servants of the elder god, Nyalathotep. Governments have been fighting back for years, only delaying the inevitable loss of our species. The only one successfully holding its own and representing some bastion of safety is this single country boasting a popular and charismatic leader. The problem is that it is an authoritarian, fascist dictatorship, in which civil rights are suppressed somewhat and the state has most of the power.

I want to show the downfall of this democracy and the rise of this fascist dictatorship. This story is about the transition and how the nation becomes so battered that it is forced to make this change, similar to the imperium of man from the grimdark Warhammer 40k franchise. However, that series only looks at the ramifications of an eternal war against the approaching darkness, rather than the journey to that point. This is a challenge, as most readers would have a problem with any positive portrayal of a fascist nation, and would have a hard time believing that the loss of civil rights ( freedom of expression, thought, etc) is ever necessary.

How could I improve the story so that readers would be able to suspend their disbelief?

  • Can you define "successful" in this context? Is it more likable, more viable or more beneficial? – Alexander Jul 17 at 19:20
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    In addition to being too broad and off-topic, you want to write a pro-fascist book. Sorry, but as a German I am horrified that this is something that apparently has become acceptable again? – PoorYorick Jul 17 at 21:28
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    @NOTP question was edited. – Incognito Jul 17 at 22:04
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    You have to convince the readers of your point. Somehow you need to make this argument and find what supports it. I have no idea how - making that argument is your job. You're asking what to write, which makes your question off topic. And you're asking what to write to support an argument most of us would disagree with. Writing something others disagree with is part of how democracy works, go ahead. (Irony intended.) Asking us to write it for you? That's a bit strange. – Galastel Jul 17 at 22:23
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    Incognito, there's a good question lurking here, but you need to edit it to make it on-topic. Delete "how can I portray" - that's asking what to write - and ask about what techniques or approaches can be used to enable the exploration of something distasteful - in this case fascism, but it could equally be paedophilia (think Lolita - how did Nabokov structure his story?) or some other odious subject told from or sympathetic to the practitioner's POV. – Chappo Jul 18 at 1:23
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Successful in the sense that it is the only viable solution. In this world, democracy has failed as an institution, with the various powers unable to come together in unity and oppose the invaders.

That seems highly improbable; it seems you are saying that people that believe in "democracy" would rather die by alien invasion than fight. In WW II, millions of men and women from democracies went to fight totalitarianism before it reached their lands. It isn't like "democracy" is incapable of ordering people into the armies and into battle under threat of death, and it isn't like "democracy" means people are unwilling to sacrifice all their comforts in the face of an existential threat.

Democracy only means the people decide their fate, and faced with extinction they will vote to fight like hell and elect leaders and give them breathtaking powers to do just that.

If anything, the risk of the existential threat will make citizens accede to what is effectively totalitarian rule, at least long enough to ensure their own survival: America and the UK did that in WW II, with forced drafts, forced realignment of commercial companies to military providers, forced rationing for the war effort, and all sorts of mandates and powers allowed to the politicians and military.

that the only way to push back against an elder god's forces is to sacrifice our ideals, (freedom, justice, civil rights, etc,) for safety.

Freedom and civil rights and even "justice" will be sacrificed in a democracy if there truly is an existential threat; at least to the extent it can be shown to matter to fight. That is real human psychology and it has played out many times in otherwise free societies.

It is generally not necessary to sacrifice all freedoms, say like dating whom you choose, or getting together to play Gin Rummy, or outlawing cursing. It would be near impossible to justify such social controls as benefiting the war.

You are free to write it how you want, but the premise sounds completely implausible to me. Reducing freedoms in the face of an existential emergency is plausible; making actual totalitarianism the "best" option is not, and I see no fictional way to make it remotely plausible.

I am writing a response to help you avoid writing a story that I don't think will work.

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Q. How to portray the downfall of [SYSTEM]?

A. Show it.

There are basically two steps:

  • first some worldbuilding
  • second the writing

A note on worldbuilding.

I'll just say: before even showing it, and before thinking of what could possibly replace it, you need to clarify to yourself what is the logical believable series of events that would bring an end to an otherwise existing and self-supporting [SYSTEM]. We have a great worldbuilding.SE site, which has dealt with similar questions in the past.

Writing.

Treat it like you would treat a hero's journey. The hero is the entire system, and it is about to encounter a (wanted or unwanted) call to change, and resolve it for the better or worse. The interesting fact in this case is that the measure of change is not relative to the end-point, which is revealed in the last chapters, but it is relative to the low-point of the journey, which could be an inter-phase between the two perceived stable states. The difference between the starting point and the low point is what drives your story, and what will justify the choice of the final state both in your plot and to the reader.

What to show depends on your worldbuilding.

Some notes

Tropes are always at play. It may not be your case, but depicting a romantic view of a fascist world just for the sake of it, or because it sounds cool, may be one of the shallowest tropes of these last 100 years. It should suffice to correctly portray the horror of the denial of basic rights, the diffuse violence and the murders to make any sane reader wishing to depart from such a setting. And I am not even mentioning the amount of pointless bureaucracy that you would have come across in the daily life.

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There are dozens of ways to handle this. The question for you is, how do you want to compare democracy to fascism? Is efficiency the key metric? Is resilience to changing conditions the key metric? How about personal freedom and growth? Compliance with moral and religious teachings? Do you believe that absolute power corrupts absolutely? Or perhaps you believe that the end justifies the means? I could go on but you should see where I am going. You have to pick a viewpoint and marshal the arguments both pro and con around that viewpoint. Otherwise you are signing up to write a multi-volume tome on political theory. I am guessing that is not what you want to do.

There are many books that would provide the political science, philosophical, and moral arguments that would serve as useful background. I am not going to list any because I think that you would be well served to do your own research. Your viewpoint of choice will be sharpened by grinding through the material.

Once you have chosen your viewpoint, the question is how to expose the pros and cons. What I would want to do is show rather than tell. Take an issue such as the use of biological weapons. Build a scenario that compares the reaction of the democratic process to the fascist process. Create a situation where the fascist process will work better than the democratic process. Draw intelligent, well-meaning characters in both processes. Show them working (or failing to work) their way through the process. Mourn for the losers. Celebrate the winners, but note in passing that the winners have paid a price for their victory. The biological weapons killed the aliens but at the cost of millions of human lives. Make the page bleed. Make the survivors haunted.

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Ironically, you have a better chance of making this sympathetic if you include the flaws, failures and downfalls. Nothing turns people off more than feeling like they're being spoonfed something nasty.

A lot depends on your story arc and narrative line --what you've described is only the setting. If I were writing this, I'd likely center it around a) the charismatic leader himself, b) people in his inner circle or c) a resistance group loyal to the old government. In any of the scenarios, I'd start with the protagonists holding democratic values and ideals, and slowly shedding or losing them in the face of harsh realities and pragmatic necessities. You'll want the reader to really deeply feel the loss of freedoms, and yet at the same time understand why they are being sacrificed. I could see a particularly compelling storyline contrasting the dictator's loss/sacrifice of personal relationships and freedoms with his gain of official power.

I, Claudius is a good example of a story featuring a democrat who becomes a reluctant dictator --the old BBC miniseries is excellent. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress depicts a revolutionary cabal forced to sacrifice some of their most cherished values and freedoms in the name of their society's survival --I think it's a particularly effective story arc because Heinlein's own sympathies are so libertarian. And then read Plato's Republic for an astute psychological study of governments ranging from benevolent dictatorship to tyranny.

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If you wan't to portray a distasteful concept in a way tolerable to the reader, you need to make sure it's a conflict for the characters the reader is supposed to relate to:

A: Look at what we've become. We are slaves!

B: No. We are survivors. Xe showed us how to survive!

A: But we've murdered innocents!

B: We've purged treachery! We did what we had to do!

...

B: ...listen. It's either this or defeat. Them or us.

A: It's wrong.

B: Nyalathotep doesn't give a f#*:k about what's wrong.

B: Just do your damn job.

Even if you don't wan't your story to be about a crusade against fascism you need to make sure that there are at least small acts of rebellion. Something heavy on the shoulders of your characters. Even if inconsequential to the story, it's important to characterize their moral compass. It's not about glorification. It's about drawing a line. The point where it becomes too much.

Sweat running through her forehead, her gun pointed at the thief. He cried helplessly. Dammit. Why is this happening on my shift?

A: The penalty for theft is death. Are you stupid?

B: Please don't kill me. I'll leave and never come back. Just please don't shoot me.

A: Stealing from the Party's Granary is stealing from your own people!

B: ...my child is sick. We are starving.

F#{[k! F#{[k! F#{[k!

A: Get out of here!

He stared in disbelief, fear in his eyes. Hardly moving.

A: Are you deaf?! GET OUT, RUN! If I catch you here again I'll shoot you and your baby.

B: Thank you so m...

A: RUN you miserable bastard!

  • Disclaimer: not a native English speaker. Sorry if something doesn't make a lot of sense. – armatita Jul 26 at 14:47
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I'm wondering whether your dilemma is perhaps the result of two problems, each of which can be tackled.

Have you researched what fascism actually means? Your description of the rebel country as "boasting a popular and charismatic leader [in] an authoritarian, fascist dictatorship, in which civil rights are suppressed somewhat and the state has most of the power" suggests that you're using the term quite loosely, perhaps based on popular (mis)conceptions.

Fascism is by definition "authoritarian" (= "dictatorship" and "state has most of the power") and anti-liberal (= civil rights suppressed). But "anti-liberal authoritarian dictatorship" also describes other totalitarian regimes (think modern China, North Korea, the old USSR, Cambodia under Pol Pot, or even religious totalitarian states in the Middle East). Why do you need to specify that the particular model is fascism? Are you simply combining "charismatic leader" with "dictatorship" and coming up with an image of Adolf Hitler?

The Leader

This leads to the first problem: both you and your readers may be distracted by the leader and the risk of associating that leader with Hitler. This may be greatly limiting your ability to explore a more nuanced and intriguing scenario, and it is also likely to limit (or even destroy) your readers' willingness to accept the premise that this dictatorship is a justifiable solution.

Solution 1: ditch Hitler as your model (whether conscious or not) and consciously construct a different leader. Are they power-mad, or is their motive more altruistic? Are they the embodiment of Orwell's Big Brother, or more like the Philippines' tough leader Rodrigo Duterte, or the more ambiguous Trevor Goodchild, or even King Arthur? Does the leader enjoy mass popular support, or do they maintain power purely through military might? Do they have a clear and unshakable sense of mission (or even divine selection and duty), or do they have nagging doubts about their role?

The State

Secondly, there's the issue of fascism itself. Since most readers will associate fascism with Nazi Germany, there will be a powerful antipathy towards anything you write that appears to offer a justification for fascism in your novel.

Are you sure you understand the difference between fascism and other political regimes? It may well be that your rebel country's government shares some elements with fascism: certainly the authoritarian control, and perhaps an ultranationalism rooted in romanticism and myths of superiority vs decline. On the other hand, your rebel country might not really be fascist at all: for example, is the dictatorship defined by its overt opposition to liberalism, communism and conservatism, or does it lack such a clear "negation" motive?

Let's say (for argument) that you do have a good understanding of what fascism really means, and you want to explore its underpinnings via your novel. The problem is that the more obvious the connection is between your rebel state and fascism, the more likely it is that your readers will demand that you portray this rebel state and its leadership entirely negatively.

Solution 2: Explore some of the fascist underpinnings of your rebel state but at the same time distance it from anything resembling Nazism. This is undoubtably tricky, but it's certainly possible.

For example, your state might have willingly accepted a wartime footing where every effort is towards the national defence: well, that could easily remind us of the state of affairs in the Allied countries in WWII. Political dissent is seen as unpatriotic, and the government legislates a Patriot Act. There are panels set up to root out unpatriotic dissenters (a la McCarthy era). But the state of emergency is deepening, and parliament has become paralysed: the only solution is to set aside the Constitution and reimpose strong law and order....

You can see how the above trajectory delivers the downfall (well, "temporary suspension") of democracy, without necessarily seeming like fascism. Indeed, there are plenty of examples in the last 30 years of democracies being suspended or elections becoming shams.

Fascism is deeply rooted in romanticism: a once mighty nation has run off the rails, and needs a firm hand to restore national pride and economic might. It's also deeply rooted in a belief in militarism or in the value of brute force, which can be closely connected to stereotypes of patriarchal power. You can look to explore these elements in a way that connects with more modern paradigms rather than harking back to Nazism.

Bottom line: fascism is popularly despised, so any exploration of its underpinnings will only be acceptable if you avoid any overt connection to it.

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    Please don't answer questions that you vote to close. – a CVn Jul 18 at 10:53

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