Throughout most of my life the word I have heard the word ‘fascist’ used pretty damn widely. Consuela (my Tejana maid here in the teepee on the Sidlaws) has the gall to use it of me frequently, much to my irritation. It really does sour my Earl Grey tea! Where I get to hear the word most widely nowadays, however, is surprisingly in the mouths of the new right, the alt-right, and so on, usually in the form of a scornful denial. “Those liberal leftie elite types call us ‘fascists’,” they scoff, declaring themselves to be ‘nationalists’ or some such. “We’re just regular Joes who have had enough!”
Do they have a point? I mean, do they? (Consuela, who was reading over my shoulder as I type, just harrumphed and stalked off. I can hear her in the kitchen, rattling those pots and pans.) In matters of dispute my first stop is always the Oxford English Dictionary, because it records meanings as neutrally as possible. The first definition it offers is one of historical precision:
a. Usu. with capital initial. A nationalist political movement that controlled the government of Italy from 1922 to 1943 under the leadership of Benito Mussolini (1883–1945); the principles or ideology of the fascisti.
So far so good. Modern America, Britain, wherever, isn’t Italy 1922-1943. The OED offers, with that definition, the following note of historical commentary:
The movement grew out of the nationalist fasci which became prominent at the end of the First World War (1914–18), esp. with the formation of the militantly anti-communist and anti-socialist Fasci di Combattimento by Mussolini in 1919. After the formation of a coherently organized Fascist party in 1921, Mussolini became prime minister in 1922, leading to the eventual establishment of a totalitarian Fascist state.
The OED goes on with a slightly broader definition:
gen. An authoritarian and nationalistic system of government and social organization which emerged after the end of the First World War in 1918, and became a prominent force in European politics during the 1920s and 1930s, most notably in Italy and Germany; (later also) an extreme right-wing political ideology based on the principles underlying this system. Freq. with capital initial.
Again there is a footnote to that definition:
Fascism originated in Italy as an anti-communist and nationalist movement (see sense 1a). In the 1920s and, particularly, the 1930s, political parties and groups were founded on the Italian model in numerous countries, including Britain, Brazil, France, Hungary, Romania, Spain, and above all Germany (see, e.g., Falange n., Iron Guard n. at iron adj. Special uses 2, Nazism n.). These parties typically opposed socialism and liberalism (as well as communism) and advocated ultranationalistic policies, usually espousing ethnocentric ideas of racial superiority, esp. anti-Semitism. Where such parties came to power, as in Italy and Germany, they characteristically formed totalitarian dictatorships, giving special status to a charismatic leader (cf. Duce n., Führer n.) and often pursuing an aggressively militaristic foreign policy. After the defeat of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in the Second World War (1939–45), Fascism ceased to be a significant political force, although subsequently (chiefly from the 1970s) a number of extreme right-wing nationalist parties have been founded in Europe and elsewhere on similar principles (cf. neo-fascism n., neo-Nazism n.).
The OED offers an extended definition, based largely on usage:
In extended use (depreciative).
a. Any form of behaviour perceived as autocratic, intolerant, or oppressive; esp. the advocacy of a particular viewpoint or practice in a manner that seeks to enforce conformity.
That’s the way Consuela uses it of me, I gather. Wholly inappropriate! I must speak to her about it and make her stop. The OED definitions direct to another page which defines ‘neo-fascism’:
A new or revived form of fascism.
Now, the purpose of this little post is not to be pedantic. Pedantry is the point of view which insists, not without accuracy, that General Franco wasn’t a fascist, but was instead an ultra-conservative in a specifically Spanish context. Nor is its purpose to complain about the term’s over-use – it has been applied to attitudes to food, fashion, the political left, the ecology, and probably even the sport of netball for all I know. But I do want to make a few observations which you can refer back to the next time you hear someone of the neo/alt-right object to being called a ‘fascist’.
- You don’t need all the Hugo Boss uniforms when existent, acceptable uniforms of your country are already impressive enough.* You don’t need uniforms at all, in a world where people are already impressed by a suit and tie.
- You don’t need to adopt a swastika banner or Roman fasces when your national flag is already revered almost as an icon of worship.
- You don’t need to instil false patriotism when your basic population is already taught from an early age to be patriotic.
- You don’t need to build up military power when your country is already one of the most militarily powerful in the world. In fact you can even promise to back off on your foreign policy, to become more isolationist, if it happens to be politically expedient at the time.
- You don’t need to instigate a totalitarian dictatorship when you can subvert and use a system.** In fact you can use that system very effectively at the same time as you curse your opponents for being part of it.
- You don’t need to be particularly anti-socialist or anti-communist, when that oppositional position has already been indoctrinated into your population for decades beforehand.
- You don’t need to be particularly anti-Semitic or any kind of racial supremacist, if it comes to that, as long as you use the right language to the right people at the right time. Play your cards right, and you can even have Semitic allies.
- It’s all about power, whether the aim is the establishment of a thousand-year Reich or treating the USA as a computer game.
- You don’t need to woo big business to your side when big business is already on your side. In fact you can get away with castigating lobbyists and Wall Street, so long as you don’t actually tinker too much with their influence.
- You don’t need to re-invent the Gestapo when your country already has a fully-functioning investigation bureau.
- You don’t need a charismatic leader, but it sure helps!
- In short, you don’t need to step like a goose and honk like a goose to have goose DNA.
I would like to add a little about Christianity in a neo-fascist context. Just this:
Christianity is supposed to be prophetic. When it loses its prophetic power it should not seek pharisaic power. It should not resort to flooding the temple of temporal power with its lawgivers – it should be on its knees praying. About that much I will be dogmatic.
(How did Consuela know I just typed the words “I will be dogmatic”? She has just yelled “Fascist!” at me from the kitchen!)
*No slur is intended on the dress uniform of the US Marine Corps; it is simply shown here to illustrate a point. It is rather impressive, though, you must admit!
**In the early 1980s there was a neo-liberal coup worldwide, facilitated by national governments; the political leaders who started the ball rolling may have gone, but the power-base they facilitated remains intact.