11 Mar 2018          home | subject timeline

Are we becoming more fascist?

This is my response to a lot of negative comments in Politico to a "Big Idea" article by Tyler Cowen, "No, Fascism Can’t Happen Here," an article with 92 comments. I stayed up late reading them, eager to consider what people had to say, but a little annoyed with the bickering.

Here is some bickering of my own. The question whether the United States can become fascist begs the question, what is a fascist?

There were people in Italy from 1919 into the 1940s who called themselves fascists — a name derived from the Italian word, Fascisti, from the Latin fascis, a word describing rods bundled together for strength. Because they called themselves "fascists," it is surely okay to call them fascists. The dictionary on Google does the dictionary thing by describing common usage:

A fascist is a follower of a political philosophy characterized by authoritarian views and a strong central government — and no tolerance for opposing opinions... Under fascist rule, the emphasis is on the group — the nation — with few individual rights.

It's a good description, but common usage or generalizations, as we know, can blur differences too much. In understanding things, I like to look for differences, and there were differences between Mussolini's fascists and Hitler's National Socialists (Nazis). As I see it, we are better off describing Hitler's followers as Nazis and Mussolini's followers as Fascists. Fortunately were don't hear Mussolini's followers being called Nazis.

So are there Americans we can call fascist?

We have people like the guy we can see in a recent video threatening to burn down a leftist bookstore in Berkeley. We've seen Trump encourage his followers to beat or knock the hell out of people creating a disturbance at his rally. We can prefer that people go easy on putting labels on people — fascist, communist, idiot — what have you. But I have to admit that labels are sometimes convenient — including the fascist label. I don't want to be a fussy pedant or see you denied use of the "fascist" label. (I may want to use it myself at times regarding someone in the US.) But it's better, I think, that we know what we are doing?

To continue with my suspicion for labels, we have some who want to label Hitler's National Socialists as leftists. Hitler in 1934 purged those among the National Socialists who were anti-capitalist and believed more in the socialism of National Socialism, and Hitler stayed with his opposition to "Jewish capitalism." But to label Hitler and his Nazis as leftists is a distortion. Labeling the Nazis and Hitler as conservatives is also sloppy thinking. And, as many of us know, labeling people as liberal can be too sloppy and simplistic.

I'm also uncomfortable with putting the fascist label on Putin. If Lenin were alive with his 1917 brain he would be calling Putin a chauvinist, his big word of opprobrium against those supporting Russia's war against Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey. We can also call Putin a BS artist.

As to the question, Can the US become fascist? The US will never become what Italy was from 1919 to the 1940s. Nor will the US ever become Germany in the 1930s. We can doubt that the US is going to give as much of a systematic and widespread license to bully as occurred in fascist Italy or Nazi Germany. Do we have a problem with our democracy? Yes. Are we living in a bourgeois dictatorship already? No. Can a Mussolini-like clown sway, silence and intimidate enough people to create and extend a dictatorship: No. (Nor will we return to what we were in the mid-1800s.) We will continue to some extent with the institutions that our history has given us. We will continue to change – culturally, with diffusions and technological developments.

Copyright © 2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.