Two weeks ago, I set about to define fascism a bit more clearly than is currently in vogue among certain disgruntled American citizens. Lately, all the wrong people have been throwing around the fascist label in the same way that I imagine they once screamed "booger breath" and "faggot" back when they were pre-pubescent dimwits rather than the adult dimwits they have become.
As is true with most abstractions, fascism is best understood by how its disciples think, speak and behave. You might read 30 definitions and not understand the concept any better than when you started. But once you have a comprehensive sense of the strategies, preoccupations and passions that all fascists seem to have in common, it is difficult to mistake them for anything else.
The elements I have listed below are not mere personality quirks shared by fascists, be they followers of Il Duce and Francisco Franco back in the heyday of fascism, or Augusto Pinochet and Radovan Karadzic in more recent times. These elements are central to what makes a fascist a fascist.
• Ultra-nationalism: Not all nationalists are fascists, but all fascists are nationalists. They don't just love their country, they worship it ... and not in a healthy way, mind you. A fascist can't simply be happy he was born into such-and-such country; he has to make it sound like it was a stroke of divine providence.
And it's not enough that his Fatherland is a swell place to live; he insists it is the best in all of time and space, in every conceivable category from military might to health care, and that no one else even comes close, in spite of evidence to the contrary. In fact, historically speaking, a dedicated fascist might feel that all the other countries were so inherently inferior to his own that the only reasonable international relationship with most of them would eventually involve some sort of invasion, or "Blitzkrieg"--which I believe is German for "Shock and Awe."
• Ethnic arrogance: Fascists always believe that they, whatever ethnicity they happen to be, are better than everyone else. This goes somewhat beyond the arrogance they feel about their homeland's superiority, because even a superior homeland can have inferior people living in it. A good fascist will insist that his country's natural superiority is the result of only one reason, which is the natural superiority of whichever tribal division he happens to belong to. This means that a proper fascist attitude demands that anyone who looks different, speaks differently, thinks differently or has a funny name is more than likely a parasitic scourge, eroding the values that made his country great and draining the nation of resources that God intended for the descendants of his ancestors alone. And sooner or later, a conscientious fascist will insist that his kind take their country back--by whatever means necessary--from those who would lead it into ruination.
• Militarism: Wherever you go in fascist history, you find the leaders are huge fans of martial pomp and the theatrics of war. Something about fancy uniforms, shiny boots and who's got the biggest weapons fascinates them like a monkey with a mirror. Truly, you'd be hard pressed to find many famous fascist leaders who didn't run around dressed up like a Gilbert and Sullivan major general. This explains in part the instinctual liberal mistrust of too much power concentrated in the military, as so many fascist monsters have either emerged from their nation's brass (a la Pinochet and Franco) or elevate the military to a status beyond criticism and rebuke.
One thing is certain: You're unlikely to find a fascist regime without a powerful and often unaccountable military. And remember, to an ardent fascist, there is no such thing as "war crimes."
• Anti-everything-Left: It never fails with fascists; they hate the Left. And invariably, anyone to the left of a fascist is "far Left."
Much has been made by latter-day illiterati of the fact that German fascists named their movement "National Socialism," but the truth is, the National Socialists were dedicated to the eradication of socialism and anything that remotely resembled socialism. Every manifestation of leftist thinking, from free speech to trade unions, from ethnic tolerance to communism, was their mortal enemy.
Even the liberal purists who defended the fascists' right to political expression were doomed. In the fascist ideal, there is room for only one view. I can't tell you what the German equivalent to "love it or leave it" was, but I'm sure they had one.
• A cozy and reciprocal relationship with the economic sector: Being so virulently opposed to any and every display of organized labor or social reform made fascist regimes very attractive to leading industrialists and financiers. (Google "Henry Ford or Prescott Bush + sympathizer") Really, what could be better for production than the absolute powerlessness of workers and a total lack of concern for such leftist nonsense as on-the-job safety and environmental degradation?
Of course, during the war, the fascist business model was taken a step too far, as the Axis war machine relied heavily on slave labor--slightly beyond what even Walmart's board of directors dare to dream. Yet it's hard to deny that the operations of both fascist regimes and major corporations depend on a lot of the same things: i.e. a blind faith in a supreme leader who holds the fate of thousands of underlings in his hands, and an obsession with the "bottom line," no matter what sacrifices need to be made to enhance it.
I am quickly running out of space so I must reduce other fascist traits to but a few words: the reliance on derision and disruption to silence opposing voices; an utter disdain for artists, educators, intellectuals or anyone else with the sense to hold themselves apart from the rabid mob; a willingness to tell any lie, twist any truth or muddy any discussion, all in the pursuit of power; and of course, the never-ending pursuit of power, coupled with a refusal to accept setbacks such as losing an election or the ascendancy of a so-called "inferior race" to positions of leadership.
There are certainly more characteristics inherent in fascism than those I have listed--a proclivity to leave human corpses scattered about the countryside, not least among them--but I have presented you a broad overview of fascism and the mannerisms that define it. I sincerely hope it is useful, for I believe there is coming a time--and soon-- when every thoughtful American is going to have to ask him or herself, "Hmmm, who does this remind me of more?"