What the Heck is Fascism?

The word “fascism” gets thrown around a lot these days. Often, when someone uses the word, they use it incorrectly. The truth is, most people don’t actually know what the word “fascism” means. They often use the word to describe someone or something they don’t like, but “fascism” has an actual definition. And in many cases, that definition is much different than what people think it is.

At it’s most basic, Dictionary.com defines “fascism” as:

  1. (sometimes initial capital lettera governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.
  2. (sometimes initial capital letterthe philosophy, principles, or methods of fascism.
  3. (initial capital lettera political movement that employs the principles and methods of fascism, especially the one established by Mussolini in Italy 1922–43.

Writer Robert Paxton, in his 2004 book, The Anatomy of Fascism, defines “fascism” like this:

“Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood 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.”

In the The United States Holocaust Museum, a poster hangs on the wall listing fourteen signs of fascism. Those fourteen signs are:

  1. Powerful and continuing nationalism
  2. Disdain for human rights
  3. Identification of enemies as a unifying cause
  4. Supremacy of the military
  5. Rampant sexism
  6. Controlled mass media
  7. Obsession with national security
  8. Religion and government intertwined
  9. Corporate power protected
  10. Labor power suppressed
  11. Disdain for intellectuals and the arts
  12. Obsession with crime and punishment
  13. Rampant cronyism and corruption
  14. Fraudulent elections

The following video gives a bit more insight into each of the fourteen signs of fascism:

Hitler and Mussolini are the two most well known fascists, but not every fascist leader is as bad or well known as the big two. In fact, fascism should be thought of as a spectrum. Hitler and Mussolini would be on one end of the spectrum, while fascist leaders like Joseph Stalin in Russia, Francisco Franco in Spain, and Silvio Berlusconi in Italy are sprinkled throughout the rest. Likewise, men like Vladimir Putin in Russia and Victor Orban in Hungary, both of whom are currently leading fascist regimes, are also on the fascist spectrum.

While the severity of the fascism may be slightly different, many of the tactics being used are the same. For instance, HItler and Mussolini wore military uniforms, while Putin and Orban wear expensive, tailored business suits, but regardless of their dress, they all marginalize “others” (Jews, gays, racial and ethnic minorities); they all preach a gospel of nationalism, often called “patriotism”; they all use the power of the church to promote their agendas; they all are corrupt, holding themselves and their cronies as above the law; and they all turn to violence to keep citizens in check and encourage loyalty to the cause.

In the United States, fascism is on the rise. I won’t name names. I’ll leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions. To determine who is showing fascistic (or authoritarian) tendencies, ask these questions:

  • Is the political leader or party pushing a nationalist agenda? Do they support “American Exceptionalism,” the idea that the United States is better and/or more favored by God than other nations? Do they distinguish “true Americans” from others, even though those others are also citizens of the United States? Do they often wrap themselves in the flag, even while pushing for unconstitutional, anti-democratic laws?
  • Is the political leader or party advocating for taking away rights citizens have enjoyed for years? Are they targeting certain groups, such as women or racial minorities, in their quest to reign in the rights enjoyed by Americans?
  • Is the political leader or party targeting certain individuals or groups, referring to them as “enemies of the state” or “not true Americans?” Does their quest to target and dehumanize these groups or individuals become party orthodoxy?
  • Does the political leader or party elevate the military (and, often, military veterans), to a special status in society? Do they claim special rights and privileges for the military, not because of who they are or their behavior, but solely based of their association to the military? Do they pay lip service to military members, often while simultaneously reducing their military benefits?
  • Does the political leader or party threaten or resort to violence to achieve their aims? Are they unusually outspoken about violence (or perceived violence) when perpetrated by their political enemies, but forgiving, even supportive, when done by their political supporters? Do they view the military and police as existing to carry out their political agenda and to thwart their opponents agenda?
  • Does the political leader or party favor males over females? Do they grant more legal authority or agency to men than woman? Do they view woman as second class citizens, not deserving of the same rights as men?
  • Does the political leader or party favor certain mass media platforms over all others. Do they have a symbiotic relationship with certain platforms, amplifying messages of one another? Do they try to control or discount the work being done by those platforms they don’t favor? Do they refer to certain platforms as “enemies of the state” while elevating their preferred platform?
  • Does the political leader or party use national security as a pretext for any number of measures that reduce the freedoms citizens have traditionally enjoyed. Do they view all interactions and behaviors through the lens of national security? Does national security trump all other considerations?
  • Does the political leader or party intermingle their religious beliefs with their politics? Do they ignore the separation of church and state, instead supporting laws based on their personal religious beliefs? Do their politics reflect a favored religious doctrine, often dismissing or marginalizing other religious doctrines.
  • Does the political leader or party use a rhetoric of grievance, portraying themselves or their supporters as victims of their political opponent’s “radical agenda?” Do they view their position as one of righting past wrongs? Do they exaggerate past slights, either real or imagined? Do they focus on retribution for their supporters rather than working for justice for all Americans?
  • Does the political leader or party give special rights and privileges to corporate entities? Do they push an agenda favorable to corporations, often in exchange for campaign donations? Do they treat corporations as individuals, granting to them the same (or expanded) rights traditionally enjoyed by individuals? Do they expect (and usually get) support or silent loyalty from these corporations?
  • Does the political leader or party favor corporations over individual workers? Do they make it easier for corporations to fire or mistreat workers? Do they oppose collective bargaining agreements designed to improve worker pay and safety? Do they support eliminating regulations designed to improve working conditions and safety for workers?
  • Does the political leader or party oppose or ignore expertise? Do they rely on opinions from political fellow travelers rather than researchers and academics? Do they oppose government financial support for the arts? Do they hold a liberal arts education in low regard? Do they support a ban on books that they don’t like? Do they view diversity in art and opinion as a threat to their world view?
  • Does the political leader or party hold themselves out as being tough on crime? Do they often support locking people up without due process and advocate “throwing away the key?” Is their “go to” strategy for behavior they don’t like to criminalize it? Is their obsession with crime and punishment usually reserved for people not like them?
  • Does the political leader or party use their power and position to punish their enemies and benefit their supporters? Do they view their position as a means to help their friends? Do they use their position or power to enrich themselves and their friends?
  • Does the political leader or party try to inappropriately influence elections, either through inviting in foreign involvement or suppressing voting rights? Do they work to undermine the public’s trust in elections, telling lies about election integrity? If they lose an election, is their default position to claim election fraud rather than accepting the will of the voters?

The answers to these questions will tell you if a politician or political party is embracing fascist behavior and ideology. Unlike in Mussolini’s time, it’s no longer fashionable for a politician or political party to admit that they are fascist. Even so, fascists give away the game through their behavior and rhetoric. Ask the questions if you want to know the truth.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *