What is Fascism?

An excellent question that is raised by Jonathan Meades on his program about the architecture of Mussolini’s Italy. It seems, as Meades points out, to be a pointless neologism that applies to whatever the forces of anti-fascism believe at any particular time. In many ways, it’s akin to the state’s use of the word extremist, effectively denoting unpopular opinions as beyond the pale. This ironically develops into Orwellian conceptions of a fascist society, where words and thoughts are controlled by the centralised structures of popular culture and statism. Thoughts become unthinkable not by the direct oppression of the state, but through the movements and dynamics of popular political opinion and culture.

In this sense, anything with a hint of traditionalism, paleoconservatism or even libertarian thought increasingly gets characterised as fascist. The ideas of limited or no government and a society constructed around families and homogeneous communities is pushed into the fringes of acceptable opinion. Fundamentally this goes against the actual existing fascism witnessed under Mussolini and Hitler, which believed in a large, coercive state with its tentacles in all areas of life, from culture to economic governance.

Thus fascism is something more along the lines of a reactive force rather than a consistent ideological construct. Its defined by what it opposes and what opposes it. “Fascism, thus, responded to a particular historical situation; and, contrary to leftists influenced by Frankfurt School Marxism as well as neoconservatives like Jonah Goldberg, it is not best viewed as a timeless category. ‘Fascism was a situational rather than a theoretical movement. Unlike the Marxists, fascists did not claim to be teaching a scientific form of socialism held together by historical and economic laws'”[1]. Further, it is built entirely on contradictions. Mussolini was anti-egalitarian, influenced as he was by the ideas of Nietzsche and the Futurists, who saw the great individual, the hero of Greek myth, as the ethos of humanity in its pursuit of individual, subjective goals. However, Mussolini also believed in the heroism of war, something which in many ways comes as a great leveller to society in its most extreme applications. By having everything geared toward the mechanistic production of war for and by the state, individuals are placed in structures which limit their capacity for individual greatness. Modern warfare stopped the idea of the general bravely charging with his troops. Instead conscripts of all sorts are sent to die. War of this kind acts as a barbarian egalitarianism on society.

Nationalism was seen as one pillar of fascistic conception, yet instead of preserving an identity, ethnicity or culture, the war of fascism instead lets it destroy itself. One cannot produce or sustain culture in a state of total war.

So again the question becomes what is fascism. Well it seems to be completely defined by its contradictions. It holds “ideas about ‘redemptive myths’ that would push the masses toward purifying violence but would not end the cycle of decadence and revolution”[2]. War is not about peace, but simply domination of lesser peoples, lesser cultures, lesser beings. No culture need be preserved, but simply its myths need to feed a sense of collective warriorship. This is the reality of fascism. However, the anti-fascists, that group that defines itself as against what it sees as fascism, has completely changed the definition.

Fascism is now a fluid concept, adaptable to a huge range of ideas and concepts that don’t fit into the rigidities of the anti-fascist left’s ideology. Thus UKIP, conservatism, nationalism, a scepticism of immigration and a belief in traditional values all get put under the moniker of fascism. Anti-fascism, much like fascism, defines itself by the concepts it opposes and the contradictions it holds. It talks of peace, yet anti-fascist protestors are happy to engage in violence. It believes in equality, while prizing the rights of ill-defined minorities as above “white, male privilege”, whatever that is. It believes in justice, so long as you fit its ever-changing list of good, moral characteristics, defined through such things as progressivism and multiculturalism.

In the end, both fascism and anti-fascism have become two sides of the same coin, and have thus become completely politically irrelevant. They represent as pointless a division as left and right do on a political spectrum. In answering the original question, we come to the conclusion that movements of fascism and anti-fascism are basically the same. Equally reactive and equally minoritarian in outlook. The real concerns of cultural preservation, economic governance and the creation of political systems are lost in their morass of neologisms, ranging from social justice and multiculturalism to total war and the idea of the great leader. And it means that much of what today is defined as fascism (or its twin sister term, “extremism”) is nothing of the sort.

[1] Gordon, D. Paul Gottfried on Fascism, 2016

[2] Gordon, D. Paul Gottfried on Fascism, 2016


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