So everyone is a fascist. Voices on the right apply the term to leftists rioting in the streets demanding the results of a democratic election be reversed or to those burning university campuses in protest over free speech. The Left affixes the label to anyone who supports vetting to remove jihadists from the immigrant population or who opposes the sheltering of foreign felons. But what is fascism, exactly?
The answer is surprisingly difficult to discover. It’s one of those “When you ask me not what fascism is, I know. But when you ask me what fascism is, I know not” concepts. Scanning Kevin Passmore’s Fascism, A Very Short Introduction seeking a “very brief” definition we find, “scholars doubt the usefulness of a definition of fascism, even if it was possible to agree on one.” It is a strange undertaking, to write a book about a phenomenon one cannot even define. But Professor Passmore is hardly alone in his confusion.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary has: “a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such 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.” Let’s compare that with socialism: “Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.” From this we might suppose that both fascism and socialism are economically collectivist but that the two can be distinguished because the latter neglects to rule by dictate, enforce strict social regimentation or suppress opposition (as Webster says, the “racist” requirement is optional, otherwise Mussolini could not be said to be a fascist) and it is not necessarily nationalistic.
But how can government administer the economic life of a country without directing every aspect of life (“social regimentation”) since economic considerations permeate every aspect? For instance, your pay check would have to be set according to governmental guidelines to control inflation and to ensure a just equalitarianism, wouldn’t it? This would go a long way towards dictating your life choices. Also, little Johnny would not be able to go to university to be an engineer because the economy has enough of those already; your diet would have to comply with regulations because a bad diet would affect healthcare costs (no more 24oz Cokes); media messaging would be controlled to ensure consumer demand is directed at the products and services conducive to the regime’s economic success, etcetera.
Further, the socialist, like the fascist, would have to suppress opposition in order to enact his utopian vision. That’s why the socialists on campus are rioting after all—to silence dissenting voices. It’s why they demand “safe spaces”. It’s why Christian bakers and florists have to be put out of business and why Mr. Trump cannot be allowed to be President.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s “It would be wonderful if we were able to give this man (Obama) all of the power that he needs to pass the things he needs to pass” demonstrates the leftist believer’s affinity to the fascist in longing for a “dictatorial leader” with the sovereign power to implement his program unimpeded by democracy. Similarly, Progressive (and autocratic) Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau envies tyrants like Fidel (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/27/justin-trudeau-ridiculed-over-praise-of-remarkable-fidel-castro) and the Communist Chinese government (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8wQrM5jTWc) for their ability to get things done, pronto. Collectivist aspiration, whether fascist or socialist, cannot tolerate dissent any more than an army general can allow it in his chain of command.
So we are left with the national angle to distinguish the two. Wikipedia agrees: “Fascism is a form of radical authoritarian nationalism that came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe.” Apparently, in order to achieve Utopia, fascists are driven to establish an authoritarian regime within the confines of one nation (hence the term National Socialism), whereas socialist aspirations entail the enslavement of the whole planet. Fascism is merely socialism writ on a smaller, national, scale. Hooray! We’ve nailed a definition.
But this won’t do, either. Hitler saw the “nation” as encompassing the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, the Scandinavian countries, northern Italy, western Czechoslovakia, etcetera—all the domains of the “German folk”—not merely Germany the country. He also realized that the German nation needed to be economically independent and that this would compel the seizure of other countries. Once the volk had digested these new lands, and they had become more prosperous under Aryan rule (inevitable, since Aryans constitute the fount of human progress), the nation would be obliged to expand further, to accommodate its happy growing population. Historically, some fascist parties were international in character (even Mussolini talked of “universal fascism”). Passmore comments that “Fascism is now being studied as a ‘transnational’ phenomenon…”
After a while, attempts to distinguish socialism from fascism remind one of the old Soviet dissident joke: “Capitalism is where man exploits man, whereas in communism it’s the other way round.”
Socialism and fascism: the same beast adorned in different vestments? Leftists will no doubt reject that conclusion. They will point out that the socialists resisted the Nazis’ rise (Rosa Luxemburg). But then, so did many of the Right. And people on both sides of the political divide supported their policies too. Indeed, what modern lefty university student, upon reviewing the Nazi 25 point platform of 1920—with its call for equal rights, guaranteed employment, welfare, free education, nanny statism (not to mention the ever popular race politics and suppression of dissident opinion)—not go off Wandervogeling with the troop?
Even if we toss everyman’s signature attribute of fascism, racism, back into the mix, we can prise no separation from socialism. In his book, Professor Passmore acknowledges that left-wing movements have often nurtured racism, but he chooses to disqualify them from being considered fascist out-of-hand (“the history of left-wing racism lies outside the scope of this book”).
Incidentally, this dogmatic pronouncement (that only ring-wingers are fascists) lands some surprising persons in the camp of the Right. For instance, one time Communist, pro-same-sex-marriage, pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia, pro-recreational drugs, anti-Christian, homosexual Dutch sociology professor Pim Fortuyn transmogrifies into a “far-right leader” because Fortuyn warned about the dangers of unassimilated Muslim immigrants to Dutch women’s rights and to the physical safety of homosexuals. Homosexuals fleeing Holland would be classified as far right-wing Islamophobes, racists and possible fascists too, one supposes. It shows how arbitrary the terms “right-wing”, “Islamophobe”, and, yes, “fascist” have become.
The befuddlement in defining political philosophy isn’t limited to fascism either. We have the oxymoronic “Social Democrats” (in Sweden) and “Progressive Conservatives” (in Ontario, Canada) for instance. I’m reminded of Rousas Rushdoony’s analysis of Mussolini’s insight into human nature: “Men were practical atheists while practicing churchmen. They defended the free market while seeking socialistic subsidies. They championed freedom while asking for a benevolent slavery. They wanted socialism with freedom, religion without the responsibilities of faith, and private property with all the imagined benefits of socialism. The meaning of such a desire is fascism.”
Or you could just call it “socialism”, plain and simple; Bernie Sanders does.
As an aside: In 2002 a pro-Islamic environmentalist, animals rights activist, and vegan (oh so Progressive) pumped five bullets into Fortuyn’s head, neck and chest to stop him from spreading paranoia about Islamists and the Progressive moralists who shield them (and to prevent Fortuyn from being democratically elected, “like Hitler”). Two years later, Fortuyn’s friend, filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, was similarly cured of his “irrational fear of Islam” when he was shot, stabbed, and nearly beheaded by the son of a Muslim immigrant. Their murders were hardly aberrant occurrences since roughly 20,000 are murdered each year in the name of Islam. Despite the thirty thousand Islamist terrorist attacks conducted since 2001, the Left believes the existence of Islamist violence to be a fabrication of rightists, who are unvaryingly Islamophobic and racist (and doubtless sleep with a copy of Mein Kampf under the pillow, to boot).
Yes, how nebulous “fascist” has become. Now it is merely a brush to tar one’s opponents with Nazism.
But must we also descend to the boorish name-calling tactics of the Left? I think not.
Pass more notes that one distinguishing feature of historical fascists is that they referred to themselves as fascists.
Why not apply that guideline across the board? In the case of fascism and socialism, since there is so little to choose between the two, let’s call those who want to be called socialists “socialists” and leave the fascist tag for those who accept it gladly.
For socialism has resulted in the murder of tens of millions over the last century, dwarfing the body count of self-proclaimed fascists. That repression is a hallmark of socialism is obvious in countries like the Soviet Russia or China. But even in territories where soft “democratic” socialism rules, like Sweden (I covered Sweden’s descent here), the citizens experience an increasing freedom deficit as the political elite dismantle institutions which interfere with their ability to rule (family and church being the greatest inhibitors). And, needless to say, barbarism is the destiny of the totalitarian state.
So it behoves freedom-loving Americans to publish the goals and bloody history of this abomination—to our children, through our media. “Socialism” must be rendered a dirty word in our lexicon again, a self-referent for the, at once, historically illiterate and morally degenerate (how else to describe students parading their Che Guevara tee shirts around town, or a President and Prime Minister hobnobbing with Castro or gushing over the Communist Chinese government’s efficiency?).
If supporters of the Democratic Party, and of Bernie Sanders in particular, want to carry the banner of an ideology that has inspired the murders of more people than all others combined, and brutalized and impoverished the life experience of countless others, we should applaud their transparency. Instead of calling them “fascists”—a term they themselves would reject—let’s call them “socialists”. There can be no more damning epithet than that.
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