Is it fascism yet? Or does it just walk, look, and sound like a duck? And even if it does, what does that mean?
Every kid knows the “F word” is bad. You’ll get punished if you say it around the wrong people. It’s overused. It’s strong. And people often use it without thinking about what it really means. But sometimes, it’s the only word that seems to fit. These qualities are shared with the other, political “F word.”
The word “fascism” conjures up either 20th-century dictatorships or screaming 60s counterculture radicals unable to have a rational discussion. It’s such an “un-American” word that applying it to America makes you seem like some drooling, wide-eyed conspiracy theorist nut. But Huey Long, Louisiana’s governor hit the nail on the head way back in the 1930s when he said “When Fascism comes to America, it will be draped in the American flag.” Was he just some early hippie freak or a political prophet? When hasn’t Fascism been draped in the local flag? And why should America be any different?
To see if the shoe fits, we need to ask, “What is fascism?” What has it looked like in the past? How is it defined?
According to Webster’s, Fascism is derived from the Italian fascismo, from fascio bundle, fasces, group, from Latin fascis bundle
1 : often capitalized : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition
2 : a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control [early instances of army fascism and brutality — J. W. Aldridge]
According to Mussolini, “Fascism is the convergence of corporations and the state.” It’s a quote that’s seen a lot on the Internet. While this is not exactly what it appears, it is still a useful quote to examine.Fascism had roots as a reasonably populist movement, and what “corporations” referred to in Fascist ideology was actually any social group, such as a church, a township, or a company (not just a business enterprise, as we use the word in America today). The government was logically the umbrella corporation for all of these. So this quote actually sounds more damning of the current situation in the U.S. that it really is.
However, As I understand it, that statement would have sounded good to populist Italians of the 1930s, as good as something like “We live in the greatest democracy in the world, and our freedoms must be protected.” But both statements are fantastic examples of using populist language and concepts to hide a more totalitarian agenda. If you’re interested, Mussolini’s own definition of fascism for an Italian encyclopedia of the day can be found here in the Modern History Sourcebook: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/mussolini-fascism.html
Remember also that fascism in theory and fascism in practice are as similar as communism in theory vs. communism in practice in the USSR. Fascism didn’t have the negative implications that it has now until after Mussolini, Hitler, and others used it as a brutal tool to control their people.
That said, there are still enough similarities between facist countries of the past and some of what is going on today in the United States that it bears examining.
The following is excerpted from “Introducing Fascism and Nazism” (Stuart Hood and Litza Jansz, Icon Books UK, Totem Books USA, 1993, pp 88-89). Take a look for yourself and see what parts of the shoe fits.
Fascist regimes in Italy, Germany, Spain and Japan were superficially varied, drawing on differed histories and traditions. But they had some of the following in common:
1. A political philosophy which was a compound of radical ideas and mysticism, of left-wing sounding slogans and conservative policies.
2. A strong state with a powerful executive which did not require democratic consultation before acting, combined with a hatred of bourgeois democracy.
3. Hatred of Communism and Socialism as political movements based on the idea of class differences and class antagonisms. Against this idea, Fascism aimed to substitute a corporative state that denied a divergence of class interests between capital and labor.
4. The formation of a mass party on paramilitary lines which drew its recruits in part from the discontented and disenfranchised working class.
5. Admiration of power and the deed which found expression in the cult of violence. Training for war and violence gave free rein to sadistic and pathological characteristics.
6. Authoritarian program which emphasized conformity, discipline and submission. Society was militarized and directed by a Messianic leader.
7. The cultivation of irrationality – the impulse was more important than logical thought. Irrationality led to a cult of death – witness the Spanish Fascist slogan: Arriba la Muerte! – Long live Death!
8. Nostalgia for the legendary past. For instance, in Italy’s case, the Roman Empire. In Germany, an appeal to primitive myths of Niblungen. The initials SS were written in Runic letters from Viking times. Japan resurrected the medieval code of the samurai.
9. Aversion to intellectuals whom Fascism accused of undermining the old certainties and traditional values.
10. Fascism claimed to honor the dignity of labor and the role of the peasantry as providers of the staples of life. With this went an idealized picture of rural life – the healthy countryside versus the decadent city.
11. Machismo. Women were relegated to traditional female roles as housewives, servants, nurses and as breeders of “racially pure” warriors for the state war machine.
12. Fascism was frequently subsidized by big industrialists and landowners. 13. Fascism’s electoral support came overwhelmingly from the middle class – in particular the lower middle class affected by economic crisis.
14. Fascism needed scapegoat enemies – “the Other” on whom to focus society’s aggressions and hates.
In a 21st-century America, where corporate interests are a primary driving force, where intolerance for dissenting views is rampant, and media spin by the administration is the norm, does the “F word” finally fit? Maybe, and more in the second definition from Websters, “A tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic and dictatorial control.” But use it conscientiously.
Remember that we are not experiencing mass murders of American citizens by our government. And while there is pressure to conform to “toe the patriotic line,” we still have our freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion.
The United States today may have early elements of what fascism turned into in Italy, Germany, and Japan, but we are not “there yet.” But we should be aware and keep an eye on our liberties, our government, and our democracy.
For further reference, in a similar vein are these 14 characteristics of fascism excerpted from Free Inquiry Magazine, (Volume 23, #2)
1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause – The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
4. Supremacy of the Military – Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
5. Rampant Sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
6. Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
7. Obsession with National Security – Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
8. Religion and Government are Intertwined – Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.
9. Corporate Power is Protected – The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
10. Labor Power is Suppressed – Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts – Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.
12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment – Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption – Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
14.Fraudulent Elections – Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.