What is Fascism? And Are You A Fascist?
We studied the rise of fascism in our Ethics class, and it was fascinating and slightly scary. As we learnt about the typical components of fascism, I could see similar traits in society today—things that I consider to be new and modern, are key traits of fascism, and can be seen through history. I will explain what fascism is. You can ask yourself whether you would be considered a fascist.
Some key historical figures were fascists, and their legacy was not a good one: Hitler, Mussolini, Mosely. Therefore today, only the most extreme groups want the label ‘fascist.’ But if we examine what fascism is and does, you will see trends in politics today, and this is worrying. We should notice the signs, and ask where it might lead and whether we want to go there. Perhaps if people had seen fascism in Hitler, Mussolini, Mosely, their grip would have been loosened before it grew too strong.
Fascism grows when there is hardship: a country in an economic slump, a group of people that feels a loss of status, a society recovering from an unexpected hardship. From these troubles, a strong leader can emerge and people want to follow, they want to believe that there is a simple cause to their problem and a simple answer. They want to belong to something. Fascism always seems to have a charismatic leader, someone who leads from the front and demands loyalty. The focus of the ideology tends to be on the leader. When the current leader goes, the group tends to disintegrate.
Jason Stanley (author of How Fascism Works) has defined fascism using some key points. They’re useful, so I will list them below and you can decide which ones you can see in society today. Just remember, a fascist does not have to be an angry little man with a funny moustache—the new face of fascism strives to be polite and acceptable.
- A Great Mythical Past. A fascist leader will talk about how things used to be better. ‘In the 1970s, we had true family values.’ ‘We used to be able to govern the country properly.’ They ignore all the problems that were actually in the past, and focus on a mythical ideal, longing to return to that era.
- Propaganda. A fascist leader will promote their own message and say that any alternative view is a lie. Apparently, Hitler and Mussolini both did this, saying that things reported in newspapers were untrue, telling the population that their opponents were liars. The idea of accusing the media of ‘fake news’ goes way back in time. (Scary, huh?)
- Anti-Intellectualism. Fascist leaders appeal to people with limited education, the speeches are not necessarily clever (because truth doesn’t matter) and they appeal directly to emotions. They therefore dislike and try to discredit academics (because they will offer a counter view, or question the authenticity of the claims being made). Education is therefore sneered at, experts are shunned, people are told to ‘think for themselves’ which really means, ‘don’t question what I am telling you and don’t listen to someone who might have studied this issue.’ (I think we should be wary of people who tell us ‘the experts don’t know what they’re talking about.’ In my experience the ‘experts’ usually know more than the rest of us!)
- Unreality. This is another interesting one—apparently fascist leaders tend to love conspiracy theories. They always have an enemy who is trying to sabotage them, talk of subterfuge is encouraged, they want people to be paranoid.
- Hierarchy. Fascist leaders always have a dominant group of loyal followers, those who are ‘true to the leader.’ Anyone who questions the general message is eyed with suspicion, and removed from the ‘inner group.’ As stated earlier, everything focusses on the leader.
- Victimhood. Fascist groups always state that they are the victims of another group—they have been oppressed, or made poor, or cheated—and this has been caused by a definable ‘other.’ (Hitler blamed the Jews, gay people and Roma, but other groups held to blame over the years have been black people, feminists, immigrants. I wonder whether in the near future, ‘white males’ will be added to the list—people who can be blamed for whatever has gone wrong.)
- Law and Order. Fascists declare that they want a return to law and order, and the group against them are the criminals. The ‘other’ people are the ones to blame for crime, for stealing, for rape, for drugs, for violence.
- Anti-Decadence. Fascists claim that the moral fibre of society is under threat (blaming the ‘other’ group). Only they, and their followers, have good morals; the rest of civilisation belong in Sodom and Gomorrah.
- Work Ethic. Fascists claim that the ‘other’ group are lazy, mere parasites of society. Fascists claim they are hard-working, deserving of better. (Hence the ‘Work will make you free’ motto above the gate at Auschwitz.)
- Nationalism. Fascists promote great nationalism, and shun other nations. They strive to make their country ‘great again’ and nothing else matters. They will wave the flag, wear a uniform, and march. This gives a great sense of belonging to the followers of fascism, they feel part of something, a renewed sense of pride and purpose.
There are variations of the definition of fascism, but I have listed the key ones that seem to arise regularly. We need to be wise, to notice the signs and not be fooled by a great speech or a charismatic leader. Sometimes the truth is mundane and unpopular, but it’s still the truth. As I said in my previous blog, if we view people of the past as more evil than us, if we refuse to acknowledge some of the same elements in society today (in us!) then we are doomed to make the same mistakes.
Thanks for reading. Be wise.
Love, Anne x
In my next blog, I will tell you about my trip to Malta (a slightly sunnier topic!)
My novel Counting Stars looks at a future world where politics have gone wrong. It makes an interesting Christmas gift. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Counting-Stars-glimpse-around-corner-ebook/dp/B01GA99KTG/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2YPNXFCK3U6SV&keywords=counting+stars+diary+by+anne+e+thompson&qid=1668419853&sprefix=ounting+stars+diary+by+anne+e+thompson%2Caps%2C81&sr=8-1