The word “fascism” is ubiquitous in today’s headlines and rhetoric. On August 25, 2022, media outlets reported on a speech by American President Joe Biden.
“What we’re seeing now is either the beginning or the death knell of an extreme MAGA philosophy,” Biden told a group of Democratic donors at a private home in Maryland ahead of the rally.” “It’s not just Trump,” he went on, “it’s the entire philosophy that underpins the – I’m going to say something: It’s like semi-fascism.” (boldface added)
International politics is not immune from this modern slur word. Giorgia Meloni – elected in September as the first woman prime minister of Italy – is vilified by this labeling.
Meloni’s opponents portrayed her party as fascist, hoping the movement’s roots would discourage some Italians from supporting it. (boldface added)
Innumerable videos of media coverage allege fascism at the roots of her victory. It takes some investigation to find a more reasoned statement from an opponent of hers, the former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
“Personally, (in these elections) I was against Giorgia Meloni. We grew up together in politics, but we are and will always be rivals,” said Renzi. Still, the senator made it clear that her victory did not pose a risk to Italian democracy or the western alliance. “She’s my rival, we will continue to fight each other, but there is not a risk of fascism in Italy. It is absolutely fake news,” he told CNN. (boldface added)
Fascism is notoriously difficult to define. “Although fascist parties and movements differed significantly from one another, they had many characteristics in common, including extreme militaristic nationalism, contempt for electoral democracy and political and cultural liberalism, a belief in natural social hierarchy and the rule of elites, and the desire to create a Volksgemeinschaft (German: “people’s community”), in which individual interests would be subordinated to the good of the nation.” (boldface added)
When I attended secondary school in the late 1970s, the three political camps went something like this:
Capitalism – private ownership of property
Socialism – public ownership of property
Fascism – um … erm … hmm
Our classroom definition of fascism blended private ownership with government authoritarianism. As a sort of alloy of capitalism and socialism, it proved useful for me to understand fascism as government control and overreach of private business and property. Perhaps this explains why the slur is so effective since it can be pointed in either direction – capitalism or socialism. Yet, this secondary school definition seems inadequate to understand the word’s usage today.
Benito Mussolini wrote, “The Fascist State organizes the nation, but it leaves the individual adequate elbow room. It has curtailed useless or harmful liberties while preserving those which are essential. In such matters the individual cannot be the judge, but the State only.” (boldface added)
Readers of my articles and viewers of my presentations have likely read or heard me say, “My left foot is firmly in my work week and my right foot is firmly in my weekend.” I work for a left-leaning progressive organization; I live and attend church in a rural right-leaning county in upstate New York. As such, I have an interesting vantage point to see what is going on. I propose as a thought experiment the following: From a random group of one hundred regular contacts, I would ask each to identify as one of the following: socialist, capitalist, or fascist. Many hands would raise proudly in self-classification as a socialist, and I suspect an equal number of enthusiastic hands would raise when asked to identify as a capitalist. Nobody in my circle – NOBODY! – would identify themselves as a fascist. It is neither clearly defined nor is it warmly embraced. “Fascist” is nothing more than an ambiguous slur hurled at the other side. So heinous are the crimes committed historically by leaders who would proudly claim to be fascist that this has become the modern slur which nobody wants to have applied to them.
“Fascist parties and movements came to power in several countries between 1922 and 1945: the National Fascist Party (Partito Nazionale Fascista) in Italy, led by Mussolini; the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei), or Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler and representing his National Socialism movement; the Fatherland Front (Vaterländische Front) in Austria, led by Engelbert Dollfuss and supported by the Heimwehr (Home Defense Force), a major right-wing paramilitary organization; the National Union (União Nacional) in Portugal, led by António de Oliveira Salazar (which became fascist after 1936); the Party of Free Believers (Elefterofronoi) in Greece, led by Ioannis Metaxas; the Ustaša (“Insurgence”) in Croatia, led by Ante Pavelić; the National Union (Nasjonal Samling) in Norway, which was in power for only a week—though its leader, Vidkun Quisling, was later made minister president under the German occupation; and the military dictatorship of Admiral Tojo Hideki in Japan.”
Many historians and pundits identify Adolf Hitler as the face of fascism on which, is founded the Nazi (National Socialism) movement. For a clearer understanding of what fascism is, I recommend Gracious Reader that you review the 25-point Program of the NSDAP which stands for the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. In its twenty-five points, you will read ideas and phrases familiar to today’s rhetoric and narratives. While some of these twenty-five points look to the left, others tend toward the right. I do not list them here to save space and draw your attention to one phrase. In point twenty-four (24) we read the following: “our nation will be strongest only if everyone puts the common interest before self-interest.”
That phrase might best capture the heart of fascism – the interest of the nation over the interests of the individual. Fascism requires a homogenization of behavior and beliefs. I will not recount here the horrors experienced by those outside the “norm.” I will point to vaccine mandates and vaccine passports along with social credit scores as disturbing current efforts from authoritarian government leaders as a way of producing this homogenous society. Let’s review three boldface quotes found earlier in this article:
“(I)ndividual interests would be subordinated to the good of the nation.” – Britannica
“(T)he individual cannot be the judge, but the State only.” – Mussolini
“(E)veryone puts the common interest before self-interest.” – Hitler
Last month I talked about the Modern Morality and several of you responded with insightful comments. Thank you! As long as you “do no harm” you are free to do whatever you want. I wonder if this mantra is a modern-day trojan horse in which hides the authoritarian, abusive, and autocratic leaders of today. Is it possible today’s “do what you want as long as you do no harm” becomes tomorrow’s “do what WE tell you to regardless of the harm?” Common interest above self-interest!
I close with this warning from Jesus Christ:
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.