Fascist is an emotionally charged word. The dust hadn’t even settled over Europe before the word was being banded around as an insult to describe everything from an unpopular politician to a belligerent and domineering person.
In fact, the third definition for “fascist” is “someone who is dictatorial or has extreme right-wing views.” Fascism was much more than that, though, and Fascism — when capitalized — is a specific ideology that describes almost to a “T” the modern American right-wing.
So exactly how is the American right-wing Fascist? Well, let’s count the ways:
1. Ethno-Mythic Nationalism And A Teleological National Narrative
At the core of historical Fascism was the Nation and the concept of the Nation — not the government, the Nation. You see, right-wingers make this distinction when they say, “I love my country, but hate the government.” This entity, the country, the nation, was and still is seen as the embodiment of a series of ideals. When someone says, “I’m proud to be an American,” they’re saying that they’re proud to be tied in some way to the embodiment of the ideals the United States represents.
Placing this embodiment on a pedestal above others like it is called “nationalism.”
Fascism dialed this up to eleven, and in Fascism, one capitalizes the “n” in Nation.
Ultranationalism was a feature of Fascism, but there was more to it. Fascism coupled ultranationalism with a quest for “moral purity” and extreme xenophobia. To the Fascist, the Nation is sick, and their scapegoat population is making it sick. These aliens and outsiders are not adopting our ways. They’re undermining our values as a Nation, and to make the Nation better, we have to get rid of them.
Being an actual entity burdened with a capital letter, the Nation needs a past. Fascism was a backwards-looking ideology, and looked to the past as a way to define national identity. This is why the Nazis used Younger Futhark runes; the core of the völkisch movement was all about tying the national identity to a much older, and more mythic, past. The Third Reich was just the latest reich in German history, according to Nazi historiographers; the First Reich was the Holy Roman Empire, and Hitler and his Nazi allies were attempting, at least in part, to reclaim the glory of Charlemagne.
It happened in Italy, too. Mussolini, after all, drew “parallels” between his movement and Imperial Rome.
Actual historical figures and events were infused with a mythic resonance in Fascism, turning them into mythical entities that embodied the nation while stripping them of their humanity or moral ambiguity.
Right-wingers in the United States are incredibly sensitive about any criticism towards the United States for this reason. Criticism “divides” the United States, it somehow “weakens” the United States. We can’t teach our history of genocide, slavery and imperialism, because anything that makes the nation look bad is anti-American.
Finally, there was a forward-looking element to Fascism — the idea that the Nation is destined to triumph over adversity and purify itself, attaining its position as “The Best” again, like it had in the mythic past. This was the teleological national narrative — the nation is destined for greatness by decree of some mythic entity, be it God or otherwise . . . under the proper guiding hand, of course.
2. Imperialistic Values
Fascism was all about traditional values. As I noted above, Fascism sought to establish a sort of “moral purity” in the Nation; to this end, they got hung up on sex. A lot. The Nazis had an infamous history with sex and, being far too generous, questionable sexual ethics. For instance, the Nazis declared that homosexuality could be treated.
The Nazis went so far as to argue homosexuality was morally deviant because gay people couldn’t have children. Yes, that should sound familiar, too.
In both Italian Fascism and Nazism, the role of a woman was that of a mother, in the home, raising children. To a Fascist, proper moral hygiene, in the form of traditional values, was just as important as racial hygiene.
Italian Fascism condemned pornography, prostitution and all forms of birth control except the condom; does this sound familiar? Mussolini went so far as to say, “war is to the man what maternity is to the woman.”
This, of course, brings us to our next point: how militaristic Fascism was.
Fascism was very militaristic and it promoted action. It invoked the revolutionary rhetoric of Marx and Lenin, but it directed it to a new place: the battlefield against other nations who were weaker and less morally pure — for instance, nation-building adventures in the Middle East with the expressed intent of spreading “American values.”
3. Rejecting International Socialism And Liberal Capitalism And Embracing Economic Racism
This one will make a lot of people do a spit take, but Fascism rejected both communism and capitalism. So does the American right-wing.
Fascism supported the accumulation of material wealth and power, but it rejected materialism. Fascism’s heritage as an ideological cancer that branched off socialism is visible here; it supported state ownership of certain things, like the military, while maintaining private ownership of other things. Despite this support for state ownership of some things, there was an emphasis on privatization under Fascism nonetheless, so long as the private enterprises kept the National good in mind (meaning that Mussolini would, in no way, have tolerated Walmart. So yay, Mussolini?).
That they came from socialism does not mean they were socialist, however. For instance, Fascists brutally subjugated organized labor.
As Fascism was militaristic, military spending shot through the roof during Fascist leadership, and the act of cutting military spending was seen as National suicide and weakening the Nation, as a writer for Herman Cain demonstrates here.
Fascism also supported social programs, but not for reasons of egalitarianism. They did it to ease problems affecting the Nation and the race, not because they genuinely wanted to lift people out of poverty. For that, there was Social Darwinism.
We see this in the present, as well. White GOP voters are among the largest beneficiaries of government welfare spending, but they’re also its loudest opponents. It’s not because they want to hurt themselves, but because they want to hinder the others who they feel don’t deserve it. It’s part of the Southern Strategy, and the Southern Strategy boils down to two things: the racial hygiene and moral purity of the Nation. And free blacks, immigrants, and others are neither racially hygienic nor morally pure to these people.
4. Simplicity Of ‘Morally Pure’ Knowledge And A Will To Act
The Nazis are known for burning books. These books were called “un-German,” degenerate, and were seen as a threat to moral purity.
The Nazis also banned the teaching of evolution, since it was likewise a threat to moral purity, and erased previous history that posed a threat to their new mythic, teleological national narrative.
In Italian Fascism, there was a division between “passive,” and therefore bad, intellectualism and “active,” or good, intellectualism. Concrete thinking, simplicity of terms and a diminishing value of the abstract were all features of Italian Fascism.
These are all features of the American right-wing, too. Their economic positions — the return to the gold standard, the demand for a flat tax, and others — all show a simplicity of thinking coupled with a determination to act that perfectly illustrates the anti-intellectualism of Italian Fascism. Any appeal to “common sense” is also going to be an appeal to the simplistic thinking that favors the Fascist mindset.
Knowledge, to the Fascist, is something that’s supposed to be “useful,” not abstract. And it’s not supposed to be something that hurts the Nation, either.
Fascism and religion had a complicated — to say the very least — relationship. Trying to map the religion of Nazi Germany is an act of futility; here be madness. We know it was some type of Christianity. Fascist Italy was little better, although it did start with a warm relationship towards the Catholic Church.
However, there is a very strong undercurrent of theocratic fascism in the American right-wing. This theocratic fascism, however, overlaps with the other areas that I mentioned above: It concerns itself with moral purity, and it concerns itself with traditional gender roles. It infuses mythic nationalism with Christianity, and it makes the teleological narrative a divinely inspired one.
Strip aside the Christian trappings, and it’s the same Fascism. You can do the same thing with “Islamic Fascism” — pull aside the distorted references to the Koran, the abused text, and you’ll find a very familiar looking ideology. This is why it can be hard to tell the difference between the two sometimes. Fascism, some have argued, is it’s own religion — a political religion.
And people have made the same argument about the Tea Party, as well. So is that a coincidence?
Well, at this point, I think I’ll let you decide.
Feature image via Flickr