Sunday 12 August 2012

What is fascism?


The definition must be reasonably close to popular usage, yet precise enough to distinguish fascism as a twentieth century phenomenon.

Here is my suggestion - alternatives are invited:

Fascism is a form of government characterized by explicit anti-egalitarian ideals, and with a non-monarchical head of state.


A fascist state is an anti-egalitarian republic.

(Where republic denotes that the head of state is not a monarch, and that the state is not intrinsically religious.)

Thus fascism is a reaction - defined more by what it is not, than what it is - a reaction 1. against the egalitarianism of the mainstream left; and a reaction 2. against the divinely-ordained monarchy and/or 'theocracy' (rule by priests) of the traditional (religious) Right.

The Nationalism, which has been a very obvious feature of some fascisms, is therefore regarded as a second-order phenomenon - essentially a means for creating social cohesion: replacing on the one hand religious cohesion, and on the other hand the egalitarian ideology of Leftism.



Crosbie said...

Corollary: our only choices are from the following: nominal egalitarianism, monarchy, or facism.

There are no other choices.

Is that correct?

Crosbie said...

On my to-read list is Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism. The thesis seems to be that National Socialism, as a system of government, did not actually exist. Instead, Nazi-era Germany was mere anarchy.

Aside from the fact that more or less no-one actually desires fascism, is it possible it is an illusory choice? Having now read your 'Thought Prison', I wonder if your fascism-of-the-NCOs could govern at all without religion, or hatred-of-religion to sustain it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crosbie - "our only choices are from the following: nominal egalitarianism, monarchy, or facism"

- yes, as pure forms

- however in the real world there are mixed forms and transitional form where society is moving in one or another direction.

I don't think Nazi Germany was anarchy - in fact that is nonsense. However it was intrinsically unstable and would inevitably have either collapsed or changed to another form. However, that criticism also applies to all existing Western Goevrments, and has indeed applied for a long time - all are unstable, all are collapsing and. or changing.

"fascism-of-the-NCOs could govern at all without religion, or hatred-of-religion to sustain it."

- certainly cohesion in needed, and if posuitive factors (religion, nationalism) is lacking then cohesion inevitably comes mostly from hatred.

Rod Carvalho said...

Orwell on Fascism (1944):

"It will be seen that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley's broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.

Yet underneath all this mess there does lie a kind of buried meaning. To begin with, it is clear that there are very great differences, some of them easy to point out and not easy to explain away, between the rĂ©gimes called Fascist and those called democratic. Secondly, if ‘Fascist’ means ‘in sympathy with Hitler’, some of the accusations I have listed above are obviously very much more justified than others. Thirdly, even the people who recklessly fling the word ‘Fascist’ in every direction attach at any rate an emotional significance to it. By ‘Fascism’ they mean, roughly speaking, something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working-class. Except for the relatively small number of Fascist sympathizers, almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’. That is about as near to a definition as this much-abused word has come.

But Fascism is also a political and economic system. Why, then, cannot we have a clear and generally accepted definition of it? Alas! we shall not get one — not yet, anyway. To say why would take too long, but basically it is because it is impossible to define Fascism satisfactorily without making admissions which neither the Fascists themselves, nor the Conservatives, nor Socialists of any colour, are willing to make. All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword."

dearieme said...

Not even close, because you get nowhere near the socialistic-nationalistic ideas that Mussolini espoused.

You need to include corporatism somehow - what Tony Blair, that amateur fascist, called "big tent". So companies, arms of the state (no separation of powers between those arms of course), trade unions, Boy Scouts, Churches, every damn thing, are to act together for the benefit of The Nation, as directed by Il Duce.

In everyday speech, "fascist" means the same as "racist" i.e. someone who's winning an argument with a leftie.

sykes.1 said...

I have to disagree. Fascism, Naziism and Communism are all forms of totalitarian socialism.

The stated domestic policies of the Fascists and Nazis were clearly socialist. State ownership of the means of production ceased being a defining characteristic of socialism around WWI. Modern western socialists prefer to use regulation and coordination of industry. This is what the Nazis and Fascists did. Musollini also talked about syndicalism as a means of managing various sectors of the economy, but it was never implemented.

As to egalitarianism, all left movements starting with the French Revolution state egalitarianism as a goal (even the Nazis as far as the Aryans were concerned), but in practice all socialisms are hieratical and authoritarian. This includes the so-called parliamentary socialism the prevails in Western Europe.

fnn said...

Thus fascism is a reaction - defined more by what it is not, than what it is - a reaction 1. against the egalitarianism of the mainstream left; and a reaction 2. against the divinely-ordained monarchy and/or 'theocracy' (rule by priests) of the traditional (religious) Right.

I don't understand the second point. When fascism emerged the traditional religious right had already been pushed to the margins by liberalism and various forms of socialism-except in undeveloped places like Spain where fascism made accommodations with religious conservatives.

B322 said...

Does this make early American republic fascist? Or was the early American republic merely non-egalitarian, rather than anti-egalitarian?

I am curious about this because I have outlined a couple of political systems that are explicitly anti-fascist, anti-egalitarian, and non-monarchical in character. (Looking at one of them, I see you were the first commenter, prior to a couple of neo-cameralists.)

As to the non-monarchical part, I considered allowing regions to be headed by monarchs in some of the systems, like the 19th Century German Empire without the Kaiser.

Bruce Charlton said...

@RC - thanks for the Orwell quote. However it doesn't clarify things for me, I'm afraid.

@d - I was trying to fit Spain into it - which was not especially nationalist.

s1 - but fascism was explicitly anti-communist wherever it got power. There has to be a difference.

fnn - but Spain is one of the main examples, and surely has to be accommodated? If Franco had ruled as a King, anointed by the church, then Spain would not have been fascist but a traditional state - and it probably would still be going today. (Of course Spain was not as clear cut as Italy or Germany, due to the close partnership with the church).

OdE - "was the early American republic merely non-egalitarian, rather than anti-egalitarian?" - yes, that's what I would say. Fascism is a reaction against communism/ egalitarianism and cannot pre-date communism/ egalitarianism.

Crosbie said...

As I understand it, Franco ruled Spain as Regent to the King of Spain. He may have been a only a nominal monarchist, but perhaps nominal is what counts here? The we can put Franco in the 'monarchical' box.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crosbie - come come, you don't really believe Franco was a monarch do you? Franco was the military dictator.

Of course, monarchy only counts if the monarch actually rules - I mean, England is *supposedly* a divine monarchy, and has many of the legal forms; but the monarch hasn't ruled since 1688.

Rod Carvalho said...

Although I lack a solid background in History, I will try to present a hypothesis. Criticism is welcome.

In order to begin to understand Fascism, one must view it in its historical context. Thanks to the Enlightenment (or maybe not!), in Europe the idea of God had been eroded and discredited. Therefore, divine right monarchy lost its legitimacy, and once a political system loses its legitimacy, changes happen. The emergent egalitarianism thus became an attractive alternative. The error was assuming that destroying formal power would lead to a scenario in which everyone has equal actual power.

The French and Polish monarchies were finished in the late 18th century. The Russian monarchy was over in 1917. Imperial Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were abolished in 1918. Something had to fill that void. American capitalism was an alternative in which a lot of power was in the hands of rich industrialists. Russian Bolshevism was using the egalitarian and internationalist rhetoric to expand the Russian Empire beyond what the tsars were capable of. After WWI Europe was traumatized and under ideological siege.

A reaction was to be expected, but monarchy was no longer a credible political system. To attain stability, leaders needed to restore order and sovereignty, while under the siege of both internationalist capitalists and internationalist socialists. Thus, Fascism emerged. The formula was no longer God (for God was no longer fashionable), but Nationalism. The goals were harmony, efficiency, strength, and cohesion. Note that Mussolini rose to power in the exact same month the White Army was defeated in Russia. And Italy had "won" WWI, so Fascism was clearly not a result of defeat in WWI, as so many people love to claim, but a reaction against internationalism.

If a country depends on foreign corporations for weapons, oil and gas, food, raw materials, machinery, etc, then is that country truly sovereign according to the 19th century definition of sovereignty? I believe that a fear of loss of sovereignty was one of the main catalysts of the reactionary movements of the 1920s and 1930s. I may be wrong, of course.

Alf said...

In response to the title question "What is Fascism?, Sir Oswald Mosley, perhaps, would have responded thusly: "Fascism is not merely a political philosophy, it is a conception of life".

B322 said...

I am leaning toward sykes.1's position. Communism, fascism, and the various socialisms are different from one another in degree and in rhetorical clothing, not in their basic essence. I have no desire to figure out the difference between Hitler and Lenin/Stalin because I'm not sure there would have been much difference in the eyes of people who were living under those regimes. They were just learning to write different sorts of essays as teenagers.

A fascist state is an anti-egalitarian republic.

It applies to the Soviet Union's reality but not it's rhetoric. Thus most Communists, and all Communists who were in power, were crypto-fascists. Orwell is different in that that when he figured that out he altered his world view, rather than simply holding that rhetoric is more real than reality as most leftists do.

JP said...

I don't agree that Fascism was anti-egalitarian. Fascists had explicit anti-Communist ideals, but that is not the same thing. Fascist egalitarian ideals were organized around race and nation rather than class. Germans were all supposed to be racial comrades. Yes, the Nazis had a vanguard party and a supreme leader, but then so did the USSR.

Nazism would still have existed even if the Reds had lost the Russian Civil War, and Russia was a "White" non-Communist state. This is because Nazism was not merely a reaction to Communism but also a nationalist reaction to Versailles. Nazism might well not have existed, or gained power in Germany, if the Soviet Union existed BUT the Allies did not impose the punitive conditions of Versailles (including especially the territorial provisions).

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - I was assuming fascism would have to include Italy and Spain - neither were organized around race, and Spain was not particularly nationalist.

But I think they were all very explicitly inegalitarian, with a positive value put on military-style hierarchies of power. This was part of the greater 'realism' shown by fascism compared with communism.

Bruce Charlton said...

What is interesting above the post and its comments is that

1. A precise definition of fascism excludes one or more of the mains examples.

2. A definition of fascism which includes the major examples also includes many other types of non-religious Right (or react-against communist semi-left) government.

Number 2 is of course the way that 'fascist' has been used by the Left since the mid-1960s - indeed they usually include all non-egalitarian left governments in the 'fascist' category, even monarchies and theocracies.

dearieme said...

The "main examples" are a mixed bag.

Franco's coalition included fascists (the Falange) but also non-fascists. Hitler's Nazis had Jew-hating as a major part of their beliefs, which was no part of Mussolini's fascism. So even someone who tried in good faith (i.e. not a Lefty) would have a hard job summarising experience.

nk said...

Some of the 'fascists' regimes were also modernizers on a grand scale.
This holds especially for Germany and Italy.

The italian fascisms had ties to the 'futurists' which were the most modern artists around the WW I - at least that is what they thought.

The nationalsozialimus in germany enlarged welfare, built highways and started the motorization of the populace (Volkswagen). It even forced boys - and girls ! - in its political organizations.

Bruce Charlton said...

@nk - quite true, as things worked out.

But when National Socialism first emerged it attracted quite a few anti-modern agrarian reactionaries such as Heidegger (or in England the novelist Henry Williamson).

Heidegger was disappointed by how things turned-out under the Nazis - not because of the Holocaust, but because of the modernization!