What is Fascism?
We keep hearing the word Fascism thrown around with wild abandon online, social media, and in the news more and more, often describing seemingly opposing philosophies. Apparently, the average person in the US has been confused about this term for decades. Many just think it is something associated with Nazi Germany. In an essay written by George Orwell from 1944, he shares, "One of the social survey organizations in America recently asked this question of a hundred different people, and got answers ranging from ‘pure democracy’ to ‘pure diabolism’. 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."
Orwell explores that part of the reason why fascism seems to apply to so many different social and political viewpoints is that it is notoriously difficult to define due to differing brands of Fascism across the world.
The historian Ernst Nolte argued that fascism was the great “anti” philosophy that united people frightened by social and economic change: anti-Semitic, anti-socialist, anti-feminist, anti-democracy.
The social studies and history teacher Mr. Beat provides a simplistic explanation of fascism as an ideology focusing on the group being more important than individual. Things like diversity, individualism, immigration, and any new ideas that undermine the group regime is a threat to the group. You can watch his short video below.
If you take a look at the comments on Mr. Beat's video, you will see that there are many additions and contradictions to his explanation. A common theme on this topic that will not be waning any time soon.
Now that there has been somewhat of a simplified introduction to this complex subject, let's dig a bit deeper and take look at the Italian philosopher and political commentator Umberto Eco's 14 typical features of fascistic qualities. He writes that these features, “cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.” You will see "Ur-fascism" is used as a generic description of different historical forms of fascism below.
The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”
The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”
The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”
Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”
Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”
Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”
The obsession with a plot. “Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged.”
The enemy is both strong and weak. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”
Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”
Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”
Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”
Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”
Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”
Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”
How did fascism rise in history? Check out this video summary.
Do you see the trend yet? There is a lot more to discuss and we will explore this vast and confusing topic on future posts.