I know, I know: the word has become an electrifying political pejorative, stripped of substance, and further, it’s so historically freighted and so overused and misused that the word can seem wildly inappropriate if one hopes to speak plainly. But “fascism” does have a precise meaning beyond the optics of swastikas and jack-booted SS men. Fascism is not consigned to a particular place or a specific moment—Europe in the mid-Twentieth Century, for example; fascism is not necessarily the result of a coup or a military putsch, and in fact the most notorious fascist regime in history came to power through a legal and democratic process. It’s long been said that if fascism ever came to America it would come with a familiar face wrapped in an American flag. YIPES!
So, yes, let’s talk about fascism.
Simply put, fascism is a right-wing form of government that opposes liberal democracy, Marxism, socialism, and anarchism, and attempts to forge national unity under an autocratic leader with a totalitarian program advocating stability, law and order, and more and more centralized power, claiming all of this is necessary in order to defend the homeland, and to respond effectively to economic instability. Fascist states attempt to mobilize a mass base through deliberately constructed fear and hatred as they prepare for armed conflict and permanent war by appealing to patriotic nationalism and militarizing all aspects of society. Fascists agitate “popular” movements in the streets, apparently spontaneous but in reality well funded and highly organized, based on bigotry, intolerance, and the threat of violence, all of it fueled by the demonization of targeted, distinct racial, religious, or gendered vulnerable populations and the creation of convenient sacrificial scapegoats who are repeatedly blamed for every social or economic problem people experience. Fascist regimes promote disdain for the arts, for intellectual life, for reason and evidence, as well as deep contempt for the necessary back and forth of serious argument or discussion. And fascist states favor protectionist and interventionist economic policies as they entangle corporations with the state.