Someone on social media said I had “fascist leanings” a few days ago, which sort of made me laugh, but then I sobered up and realized that he really meant the use of the word, but he was using the term completely incorrectly.
It’s sort of remarkable that we use that term “fascism” all the time these days, but we have no idea what it means. Yes, this term is omnipresent these days, shouted by furious young people on college campuses, on the floor of the Irish Senate, and used just about daily at the Huffington Post. If we’re going to use a word that much and use it against people on social media I think we really ought to know what it means.
“You will find that there is almost no set of people- certainly no political party or organized body of any kind- which has not been denounced as Fascist during the past ten years.”
You hear the word, but it really isn’t used to mean a specific system of government or economics. It’s more of a way of saying we disagree with whatever the other person is saying. It’s like shouting “racist” at anyone who disagreed, no matter how briefly, with President Obama or like little kids screaming “doodoohead” on the playground.
When Orwell wrote his essay in 1944, much of the free world had declared war against fascism, but even then, most people didn’t have a firm definition of who or what was fascist. Why?
Primarily because, then as today, the definition of fascism has been perverted to suit the agenda of the moment to such an extent that Orwell wrote,
The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies something not desirable.
But fascism had a meaning when it was first used. Benito Mussolini founded the Fascist Party in Italy and invented the word himself. Mussolini was THE fascist, and his essay, the Doctrine of Fascism, lays the definition out. Here is one excerpt:
“Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State.”
In other words, individualists (for example libertarians with anarchist leanings) are not fascists because we strenuously oppose collectivism and the State, things THE Fascist strongly believed in.
Historian Martin Kitchen explains that fascist totalitarianism incorporates six main features:
- an over-reaching ideology
- a single political party
- a state terror apparatus
- a government-controlled media
- a monopoly on arms
- a centrally-directed economy
Anyone who has read my blog knows that I don’t hold with any of those concepts.
So, how did it come to mean nothing? Yes, the answer is found in history.
The American progressives of the 1920s and 30s liked fascism a lot! Rexford Guy Tugwell, one of the chief architects of the New Deal (which is the foundation of modern “liberalism”) remarked that fascism, “[is] the cleanest, neatest most efficiently operating piece of social machinery I’ve ever seen. It makes me envious.” In fact, at the time the New Deal was underway, the radical left thought this was America’s own experiment with fascism and they were quite excited about it. This was going to remake their world as they though it should be. Go back up to those six features. American progressives had read Mussolini’s essay and they subscribed to its ideals. We have to remember that Mussolini hadn’t yet gained a reputation as a butcher, so “for the radicals of the twenties the whiff from Italy carried no foul ideological order.” (John Patrick Diggins). It just seemed like the best way to put the “right people” in control of society.
Once Mussolini and Hitler’s reputations began to change, fascism’s American admirers worried for their own reputation, so they began cursing anyone on their political right with the questionable label of “fascist”. That mostly worked. Historian John Lukacs remarks “the overall application of ‘fascism’ to all right-wing, and strongly anti-communist parties and practices and phenomena was very useful for international communist and left-wing rhetoric and practice.” Since communism has mostly disappeared from the world state in the last 20 years, today’s progressives have shifted their animosity to American conservatives and brand anyone who doesn’t agree with them as a “fascist” because this sometimes results in those who disagree with them being too flummoxed to answer their foolish arguments.
The attempts to liken American conservatives to fascists, then and now, have gone to some absurd lengths. Economic liberty is even deplored as fascist, with Marxist ideologues like Leon Trotsky insisting that capitalism is the same thing as fascism and that Marxism must stand opposed to it.
Although the outward trappings of Communism have mostly faded, it really isn’t historically accurate to ignore the deep influence marxism has had on today’s liberals.
A more modern example comes from Brian W. Kulik:
“We live in a democracy, after all, and is that not the very antithesis of fascism? But even democracy is not without its limitations. We may have a choice of what car to buy and what designer clothes to purchase, but we have little choice but to be a consumer.”
To a committed Marxist-influenced social liberal, even freedom is fascist because it is protected by the law. The Doctrine of Fascism, however, clarifies itself on the issue, “It is not the people who make the state but the state that makes the people.” The free market does not make that claim. In fact, it’s entirely opposed to such a sentiment.
Of course, democracy is not free market capitalism, as Kulik seems to suggest. Hitler’s rise was completely democratic, but Hitler’s Germany was an engine of national socialism, not capitalism.
What the left refuses to talk about is that corporatism and capitalism are not the same thing. Corporations (called corporazioni, in fascist Italy) weren’t and still aren’t creations of individuals. In Mussolini’s Italy, they were creations of the fascist state itself. Mussolini wanted a “return to the guilds.” He opposed private companies. The Doctrine of Fascism says:
“We are, in other words, a state which controls all forces acting in nature. We control political forces, we control moral forces, we control economic forces, therefore we are a full-blown Corporative state.”
There is no escaping the historical fondness progressive economists have had for fascism. Mussolini liked them a lot too:
“Fascism entirely agrees with Mr. Maynard Keynes, despite the latter’s prominent position as a Liberal. In fact, Mr. Keynes’ excellent little book, The End of Laissez-Faire (1926) might, so far as it goes, serve as a useful introduction to fascist economics. There is scarcely anything to object to in it and there is much to applaud.”
Leftists who are not focused on economics simply have a tendency to conflate America’s right, or La Pen’s National Front, or British conservatives, with what was once, in 1933, known as “the right,” simply because they bear the same moniker. This is an illusory correlation akin to thinking today’s liberals have something in common with the classical liberals of early America. Co-opting a title or having it pinned on you doesn’t mean you share the same values.
Fascism shares an extricable relationship with statism, which could also be called “collectivism”, so it cannot rightfully be applied to people who focus on reducing state interventions in favor of individual liberty. Seeing the benefits of capitalism is not the same thing as being a fascist.
It is regrettable then that the word “fascism” continues to be applied to those who oppose fascist systems like American Republicans and conservative. If you did a bit, you find the real meaning and learn that the American right, particularly libertarians, are the antithesis of fascists.