What is fascism anyway?

Over August, one word was thrust back into the spotlight: Fascist.

Much of it had to do with the political-ideological violence we saw play out in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Berkeley, California.

But what the heck is fascism anyway?

Well, if you ask people who put themselves on a right vs. left ideological spectrum, it’s either A) a “left wing” ideology because Hitler’s political party had “socialist” in the name, or B) a “right wing” ideology because it was based on nationalism of the sort that built upon demonizing segments of the populations based on either race (like Hitler with Jews) or ideology (like Franco and Mussolini with communists).

Often, if something doesn’t fit decently into this established political paradigm, it’s called either “centrist” or “moderate.”

If there’s one thing that fascism isn’t, it’s definitely neither “moderate” or “centrist” in its views.

But, if you ask your typical black-clad Antifa person, fascists not only include racists, but capitalists, “liberal appeasers,” Democrats, Republicans and pretty much anyone that isn’t lock step with their views.

So, you can see why there’s so much confusion as to what fascism actually is.

And, of course, I wouldn’t be writing this column if I didn’t want to clarify some of that confusion. Admittedly, that would probably have to take a book instead of the 600 or so words I have to do it here.

If you’re going to define fascism, then it probably helps to examine what three most well-known fascist leaders had in common. These leaders are Adolph Hitler of Nazi Germany, Benito Mussolini of Italy and Francisco Franco of Spain.

So, what do they all have in common?

One defining feature the three men shared is that they were the poster boys for a nationalist and authoritarian regime. Fascism, while nationalistic, also has a cult of personality at its heart built around a single leader that tells their supporters what they want to hear. In the case of Germany and Italy, it was the promise of a return to glory days of empires and expansion to become the mightiest powers in the world.

Even today, the spiritual descendants of the big three fascist regimes rely more on the praising of Hitler, Mussolini and Franco than they do the actual nuts and bolts of their governments.

So, let’s talk about nationalism, which we must not confuse it with patriotism. Patriotism is serving one’s country and doing their part to make it a better place and a good neighbor on the global stage. Nationalism, on the other hand, focuses on power and a narrow definition of identity as well as a disconnect from the rest of the world as a whole, at least politically.

This identity is one that lifts a particular segment of the population as the “true nation” so to speak. Essentially, it says “if you have our ancestry and belief, you’re a true member of this nation.”

That’s related to the fact that fascism also picks enemies to build that sense of identity on. Mussolini and Franco built their careers on anti-communism, while Hitler targeted Jews as well as communists, often identifying them as one and the same (a practice still held by white nationalists). It was by either creating fear, in the case of communists, or stoking resentment, as the case with Jews, that the men eventually got a nation behind them and what was essentially a blank check to be dictators with almost no restrictions. Not only was it enemies from within that they focused on, but the enemies they perceived all around them.

It was building upon this that they began to assert their idea of greatness, which from Italy and Germany was expansion of territory. This expansion drove everything for those regimes: daily life, entertainment and the economy.

For this, they needed a powerful military. Not only a powerful military, but one that was essentially lifted to the status of defining what the state was about.

When you think Nazis, you imagine someone with a uniform, not a suit, right? That was intentional and by design, thanks to the Nazi’s propaganda.

To build this military, the fascist leaders turned to the country’s wealthiest members, who also gained under the regimes despite “socialist” being in the names. In fascist states, it was private-government cooperation that kept things going, with often the private sector having the bigger pull.

In Germany and Italy, cartels determined many aspects of commerce, finance, agriculture and manufacturing, and made decisions according to what would further the state’s power.

A cartel is an association of manufacturers or suppliers with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition. The countries’ business elite were able to maintain property and increase their wealth. I guess you could call it “state-capitalism.”

So if you ask me, the elements of fascism are: nationalism, scapegoating, a “great” totalitarian leader, militarism and a complacent, if not cooperative, private sector.

In a 1944 essay entitled “What is Fascism” George Orwell said “In this country if you ask the average thinking person to define Fascism, he usually answers by pointing to the German and Italian régimes. But this is very unsatisfactory, because even the major Fascist states differ from one another a good deal in structure and ideology.”

So, when I write this, take it with a grain of salt. Because fascism seems to be a word that often means what whoever is speaking it wants it to mean.

Originally printed in the Batesville Daily Guard.
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