What Is Fascism?

Regime of the Colonels in Greece, circa 1960
Regime of the Colonels in Greece, circa 1960

Slowly, over the last year, it’s become okay to use the “F-word” in public discussion again. Former presidential candidates, newspaper columnists and academics are asking if we are dealing with a fascist movement in America.

Years of austerity, high unemployment and general degradation, mostly imposed by outsiders (the European Central Bank, Wall Street) have incubated fascism throughout of Europe. Poland, now under authoritarian control of the Law and Justice Party (PiS) and Hungary, under Orban, can no longer be called western-style democracies. Golden Dawn in Greece, the Front National in France, the True Finns in Finland and others are gaining in influence. Ukrainians are honoring fallen members of the Waffen SS.

These populist, nationalist movements are blaming outsiders and immigrants and advocating increased authoritarian methods. Some openly identify with fascism.

In May, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gave up on forming a centrist government coalition and made partnership with nationalist and religious fundamentalists on the far right. The defense minister resigned in protest and former P.M. Barak warned that “the seeds of fascism” were being planted. Israeli politics are colorful. But what did he mean? There is no single answer. In part, you know fascism when you see it.

Every successful fascist movement has been homegrown and in some way unique to that country. During World War II, the Germans tried to export their fascism by force and it never took hold.

Although the Germans originally copied many aspects of Italian fascist (for years, Hitler worshiped Mussolini like a schoolboy), the Nazis had made significant modifications by the time they took power in 1933. Nazism is the German version of fascism, and it only took hold in Germany. The biggest difference between Nazism and vanilla fascism is the heavy Nazi emphasis on race and anti-Semitism (the concept of “untermenshen,” or sub-humans).

Before the war, if a Jew almost anywhere in Europe converted to Christianity, they were welcomed without controversy. But the Nazis would not allow the error of being born wrong to be erased. Let’s be thankful that their early labeling of atomic physics as “Jewish science” later cost them the bomb and the war.

Not all nationalists are fascists and not all fascists are Nazis; we can have an intelligent conversation about fascism in America without resorting to images of popular politicians made up as Hitler.

In fascism, there is passionate ultra-nationalism. Loyalties must be subordinated to the nation. Corporate rights are protected and labor unions are suppressed. Media and the press are reigned in, controlled. Standard stuff.

But the secret sauce of fascism is a vision of rebirth following some kind of defeat or decline; the group has been victimized, justifying action against enemies. There is a dread of further decline under the corrosive effects of individualism, liberalism, class conflict and alien influences.

The leader alone can fulfill the group’s destiny. There is a secret alliance between the movement and the elite who provide funding. Eventually, doctrine reflects the desires of the elite.

This country is undergoing changes to its economy and its place in the world that some Americans aren’t taking well. We’ve set up the most effective surveillance state ever known, torn up the Bill of Rights and trained people not to care. America is one good shock from taking a leap.

Michael MillerMichael Miller (mmillercolumn@gmail.com) has worked in state and local government. He lives in New Hyde Park. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the publisher or Anton Media Group.

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