John Scotus

John Scotus

28-08-2022

06:26

My own definition of fascism was developed when I began to study pre-War Japan and realized that none of the definitions of fascism that I had seen in American academia made any sense at all or matched pre-War Japan, Nazi Germany, or Mussolini's Italy.

This is in part because whether they realize it or not, most people who offer up definitions of fascism do so based on Marxist economic theory or try to map it to the traditional western left-right political spectrum. Both of these approaches are wrong.

Before I give my definition of fascism, let me offer a few quick notes. First, fascism is not a political ideology per se, but more of a sensibility and an aesthetic than anything else.

Second, while fascists easily recognize, appreciate, and understand the goals and motivations of other fascists, often aligning themselves with them, non-fascists most often find themselves completely perplexed.

Just watch Chaplin's speech at the end of "The Great Dictator" and try to match what he gives as Hitler's motivations to anything Hitler had ever said by 1940. It can't be done.

Third, while right-wingers seem attracted to fascism, it is not inherently conservative in any meaningful sense. For example, the traditional conservative position in Germany in 1932 would have been for Kaiser Wilhelm or his son to reestablish the monarchy,

and in fact the German Crown Prince initially supported Hitler because he assumed Hitler would put him on the thrown. But the German Crown Prince misunderstood Hitler even more than Chaplin did.

So what are the hallmarks of fascism, then, speaking of it as a sentiment, rather than an ideology?

First, fascists draw their inspiration from an ethno-nationalist myth of some glorious past where their people were great in terms of culture, wealth, and military power.

However, fascists see their people as being in decline because of the polluting influence of "outsiders," either inside or outside their nation. There is nearly always a heavy racial component to this, along with with feeling that they are under siege.

The prime fascist goals, then, are to reclaim this mythical past glory and to purify society of the cultural (and most often racial) pollution from outsiders. These two often go hand in hand.

Second, fascists nearly always have a zero-sum worldview. This is an important point, because many people equate fascism with capitalism run wild, but the basis of capitalism is the idea that wealth is grown and not taken.

For example, the whole basis of the Nazi economy was the idea of taking the wealth of others through conquest, confiscation of any items of possible worth (including hair and gold teeth), and slave labor.

This is the ultimate outworking of a zero-sum worldview, but economic analyses of their policies show that if the Nazi goal was to profit from other countries and the Jews, they chose the most unprofitable ways to do so.

Any true capitalist would have done better. To illustrate, the Japanese government used a zero-sum worldview to justify invading and occupying all of Asia during World War 2, but only succeeded in running Japan and every other country in Asia into the ground.

Ironically, after the War, Japan achieved all of their pre-War economic aims through peaceful trade. It turns out that fascists make really terrible capitalists.

To sum up, fascists think that they only way to succeed is to take from others, and that the success that anyone else may enjoy necessarily comes at their expense. This is the zero-sum worldview.

Third, fascists are inherently elitists. They see the whole world in terms of a pecking order and want to be on top. In terms of polity, this means the idea that the elite have the right to rule, and democracy is a joke.

And while the common people are heralded by the leadership, they are also held in complete contempt and constantly lied to. Marxism, with its ideology of egalitarianism and internationalist mindset is viewed as the biggest threat to society.

Yet, "Marxism" is never defined. It becomes the big bugbear, the catchall term for anything the fascist leaders dislike. In Nazi Germany, and to a surprising extent among Japanese fascists, it also became code-word for "Jews."

Fourth, fascists are enamored with raw power for its own sake. Uniforms, military paraphernalia, increasingly more powerful weapons, cults of masculinity (often bordering on the homoerotic) are fairly common fascist motifs.

While raw power is used by the fascists to achieve their goals, it is often untethered from any legitimate purpose. For example, do the police exist to bring law and order (if so, then why didn't they arrest Hitler after the Night of Long Knives?), or to control?

The ability to control others and make them do as you wish through threats and coercion is the most basic exercise of raw power there is. Yet, many societal and governmental goals can be achieved just as well if not better without any threat or coercion.

However, fascists leaders want to control others more than anything else in the world, and often use "law and order" as their prime excuse.

Finally, while in communists countries the state takes ownership of companies, in fascist countries the state allows and encourages private ownership, but finds ways to force companies to bend to its will and support its policies.

It is worth recalling that totalitarianism was first defined by Mussolini: "Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State." So a fascist state allows private enterprise and even civil society, to an extent, but wants total control over it.

I've primarily described Nazi Germany, pre-War Japan, and Italy under Mussolini (to a lesser extent, perhaps). I'll leave it to you to decide if any of this fits any political leaders in America at present.

(If you are interested in other definitions of fascism, I recommend Wikipedia's rundown. My own definition is closest to that of Ian Kershaw's. Umberto Eco's definition is also interesting.

(One issue is that most definitions of fascism exclude pre-War Japan and sometimes even Nazi Germany from their definitions. To me, this misses the plot completely. All three Axis powers were clearly fascist in nature. You have to look at their commonalities to understand it.)

(On this last point, and on the difficulty of defining fascism in general, Orwell perhaps said it best, "But still, when we apply the term β€˜Fascism’ to Germany or Japan or Mussolini's Italy, we know broadly what we mean.")

(Regarding the thread above, to be sure communists also subscribe wholeheartedly to a zero-sum worldview, and one can say that their class grievances are quite similar to the ethno-nationalist grievances of the fascists,

but their rhetoric and appeal is completely different and they have completely different victims, even if, in the end their systems look surprisingly alike.)


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