Historians seem to have a hard time coming up with a definition of Fascism that they can agree on. My suspicion is that a large part of the problem is that many of them come to the table with their mind already made up as to what they expect to find and are just trying to line up enough facts to superficially justify that conclusion and to hell with any inconvenient facts.
One of the more annoying symptoms of this inability to define Fascism in an objective and historically accurate manner is the chorus from the Left in America today that Conservatives and Republicans are somehow Fascists with a political ideology related in some way to that of real Fascists like Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini.
As is often the case, especially when dealing with those on the Left, the truth is often just exactly the opposite. Modern day Democrats have far more in common with classical forms of Fascism than do those depicted as being on the right in America.
The terms “right” and “left” in regards to the political spectrum came from the French Revolution. In the National Assembly in France supporters of the king sat to the president’s right. The supporters of the revolution sat on the left. Although these terms are used in America it has little to do with the origin of the term. The American right has never supported a king or an aristocracy of birth.
Historically the American right has supported the traditional constitutional republic established by the Founders in the 18th century, a democratic form of government which now empowers almost all American adults with a say in their government, and most importantly the idea of inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
A really important point that distinguishes the right from the left in America today is that the right believes in a right to pursue happiness and the left believes that government ought to guarantee it. The right believes that it is important to protect the individual freedom to pursue happiness and left seems to believe that individual freedom should take a back seat to government guaranteeing happiness (or equal outcomes).
Individual freedom doesn’t seem very important to the left in America today. They seem more concerned with guaranteeing the outcome they feel is just and they are not in the least afraid to use the brute force of government to bend society to their will. As will see this is exactly what classical Fascists believed.
The secret of Fascism is symbolized in the ancient Roman symbol of the fasces from which the word “Fascism” comes.
The fasces is a bundle of sticks bound together around an axe. I wrote about this in “The Fascism of the Left Exposed Through Political Correctness”:
“There are at least two important symbols here. First is the idea that a bundle of sticks bound together is much stronger than the individual sticks by themselves. Like sticks in the bundle, people in the political body must be bound by a common ideology. The second is the ax which represents a powerful central authority.
“Strong central authority and a conformity which tolerates little if any dissent are the foundational principles of Fascism (as they are for all radical Leftist ideologies).”
In the two classical and best known forms of Fascism of the 20th century, the German Fascism or Nazism under Adolph Hitler and the Italian Fascism under Benito Mussolini, strong central authority was wielded under a charismatic and larger-than-life dictator. Many Germans and Italians literally worshipped these men as demigods.
Another relevant fact is that both of these men, Hitler and Mussolini, were clearly men of the Left to any extent that they held any principles at all. Probably their highest principle was that of power. They wanted that more than anything else. It is a fact though that Mussolini was a Socialist before he was a Fascist and the principles of Socialism and the power of the state were at the bedrock of his belief system.
It is less clear with Hitler which was more important, the achieving of a Socialist society or ridding the world of the Jews. National Socialism, or as Nazism as most know it, in German is Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei which translated means National-Socialist German Workers‘ Party. It was many of the ideas of Socialism that was used by the Nazis to rally party members.
In the final analysis the real religion and politics of both Hitler and Mussolini was pure and unadulterated power and they would use whatever means were available to get it. They would compromise with anyone if that led to a path that gave them power. But their rhetoric, their language, the ideals they set before the German and Italian people were ideals of the left and not the right.
Now we perhaps know enough to define Fascism. First and foremost it is a political system of strong central authority where everyone is expected to toe the line of what is politically correct in the regime. Dissent is not tolerated. This correlates very well with the Left in America today which wants a big and powerful state and sanctions on those who use “hate speech” defined as anything disagreeable to the Left, anything politically incorrect.
At this point there is very little difference between Fascism and Communism.
Where Fascism in its classical manifestations differed from Communism was in nationalism and ideas of national destiny. The Communist mindset was more of “workers of the world unite!” One thing is certain about both Soviet Communists and German Nazis. They both were responsible for the deaths of millions of human beings.
Contrary to most propaganda from the left, racism is not a central characteristic of Fascism. Italian Fascism was not strongly racist. Genocidal racism was largely unique to Germany. The Italians only cooperated at all with the Germans in rounding up Jews after the Germans invaded Italy in 1943 after Mussolini had been deposed.
Nor is racism a characteristic of the right in America.
In America the one political party with the longest history of racism is the Democratic Party, the political party of the Confederacy, the political party of Jim Crow, the political party of the KKK, and now the political party that uses blacks as a political pawn to try to achieve political power.
The Republican Party is the party of Abraham Lincoln and the abolition of slavery. It was votes by Republicans that were crucial to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in America because so many Democrats voted against it.
Republicans and Conservatives do not support any of the ideas of the real Fascists. If in fact there is one political party in America today that most closely resembles Fascists then that is the Democratic Party and Leftists in general. They support silencing those that disagree with them. They support a strong and powerful central government under a charismatic leader. Again the only thing that keeps them from being out and out foaming at the mouth Fascists is their anti-nationalism.
In summary an accurate definition of the characteristics of Fascism would include:
- A strong central authority headed by a charismatic leader.
- No dissent that would make the “bundle” weaker.
- A strong sense of nationalism and national destiny.
At least two of those are characteristics of the left in America. Arguably only nationalism is a characteristic of the right, but in no way the nationalism of the historical Fascists. To love the principles that one’s country was founded on does not make one a Fascist, especially when those principles speak to individual freedom. It may have taken America a few centuries to more fully implement those principles in regards to race and gender, but it did, and that is America’s glory, not its shame.