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Fascism Undefined

October 20, 2009

The BBC Magazine recently published an article about the difficulties of defining a fascist, a term that I have long argued has been ignored, largely because we would have to realize that fascism is by no means dead.  Not even in America.

[One] problem in refining a “fascist” label is that the stated ideology of the Italian fascists and the German Nazis often did not marry up completely with the political policies they pursued.

I would agree with the BBC’s assessment insofar as any formal definition for a school of thought that has persisted for more than 70 years would be difficult to define in a few short words.  However, I think one problem of definition that the BBC did admit to is more telling:

Broadly speaking, in political discourse, it is a “boo word”, a term used more for purposes of condemnation than precise categorisation. The Nazis were bad, and in this view their ideology was fundamentally linked to fascism, meaning that fascism is fundamentally bad.

“It is a useful political weapon to say a modern political movement is like fascism,” says Mr Passmore.

It is because people have this gut-check reaction to the word, automatically sure that it is the closest thing to a political curse word (perhaps after “Nazi” or–egad–“Communist”), and essentially an epithet rather than a set of political beliefs that could be legitimately, and in fact is widely, held by patriotic Americans.  In fact, I’d say that most people who self-identify as “patriotic Americans” are likely to be fascist, according to a more precise politico-philosophic definition.  For example, Robert O. Paxton has described fascism as:

a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

Does that sound like anyone you know?  Does that sound like the majority of what’s left of the Republican Party (hell, they’re even called the Grand Old Party)?  The reason fascism is hard to honestly define is precisely that: we would have to call each other fascists, and that’s a reality that liberals who believe in the individual as the central political unit don’t want to face.

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