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No, It’s Not Fascism

Recently Whole Foods CEO John Mackey raised eyebrows when he referred to the Affordable Care Act as “fascist economics,” a comment for which he later expressed regret. Mackey wasn’t the first person to use that word, of course. Indeed, over the past four years, it’s been more common to hear people on the right describe President Obama’s policies as “fascistic” than as “communist,” although some seem to use the terms interchangeably, which is ironic considering that the two systems once fought a bitter war against each other. Michael Ledeen, though, reminds his fellow conservatives of what fascism actually means:

There are many varieties of fascism, but the principal elements are:

  • A single party dictatorship, headed by a charismatic leader.
  • A politics of enthusiasm, involving the masses in ritual public celebration, and direct exchanges between the leader and his followers en masse.
  • Hypernationalism, or, in the Nazi case, racism, based on the claim that the nation or race is unique, superior, and entitled to play a major role in world affairs.
  • The aforementioned “corporate state” in which private property is legitimate, but the state dictates its proper use.

Fascism was created by the generation that fought, and died in historically unprecedented numbers, in the First World War.  It was very much a war ideology:  the post-war world, they insisted, must not be governed by the effete and corrupt ruling classes of the past, but by those who had demonstrated courage and virtue in the trenches.  The elevation of war heroes to national  leadership was seen as a guarantee that future generations would be shaped by the best the nation (or, in the case of the Third Reich, the race) could offer, and they vowed to fight, and destroy, those who had opposed the war, and sapped the nation’s virility thereafter.

As they extended their control over their countries, the fascists bragged of having created a new polity, a totalitarian state that controlled everything and everybody.  Fascists’ heroic virtues were incarnated in a charismatic leader.  Mussolini’s mass appeal was remarkable — you can see it in the monster crowds that gathered under his balcony in Piazza Venezia — as was Hitler’s, and that of others, from Romania to Spain (the charismatic leader there was not Franco, but Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falange).  It was common to speak of such leaders as “men of destiny,” world-historical individuals who had imposed their will on history and would reshape the world.

It’s hard to imagine our current leaders speaking in this sort of language.  The very idea of bringing war heroes to domestic power is anathema to them.  President Obama ran on a promise to end our involvement in Middle East wars, and, in his Second Inaugural Address, boasted of fulfilling his pledge.  Fascists don’t change the world by “leading from behind.”  They take charge in front of the troops.

Nor is there much in the way of hypernationalism in our current crop of leaders.  We’ve rarely had much in the way of traditional nationalism in America;  we’re patriots, we celebrate the American dream, but we don’t believe in a unique “people” or “race,” destined to impose its will on the rest of the world.

No doubt there are American political activists who would like their side to totally dominate the country’s affairs, as we can hear in recent calls for Obama to “destroy” the Republican Party once and for all. But it is hard to imagine a mass movement in this country based on an open call for a totalitarian state.

Charismatic leaders are not unique to fascism, and we have had many political leaders, including Obama, who are inspirational orators and who produce crowd behavior — such as the “jumpers” who rallied to Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign — that is reminiscent of the fascist masses.  But we are a long way from the cult of personality that dominated Italy and Germany in the fascist epoch.

Ledeen is, of course, correct. Conservatives who accuse Obama of “fascism” typically latch on to one element, his public charisma and the fact that, even after four years of a weak economy, long term unemployment and disappointments about unmet campaign promises, he still remains highly popular, most especially among his core supporters. But, that’s not fascism. We’ve had President’s like that — FDR, JFK, Ronald Reagan — and they weren’t fascists either. When conservatives apply the label of fascism to things such as this, they demonstrate not only that they are being highly, indeed irrationally, partisan, but they’re also insulting the memory of the people who have actually lived and suffered under fascist regimes. Applying to simple political disagreements in a democratic republic displays a detachment from reality that should cause one to doubt anything else the user has to say.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    Well said.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  2. Gustopher says:

    I like when conservatives use the word “fascism” to describe Obama. It’s a pretty clear signal that the person talking is an idiot, and should be ignored.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 29 Thumb down 1

  3. C. Clavin says:

    Here, here.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  4. C. Clavin says:

    Or is it; Hear, Hear.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  5. Rob in CT says:

    Fascism, for lots of folks, just means something they don’t like.

    There are things about our country where I can see a faint resemblence (militaristic “patriotism” + corporatism), but this is easily taken too far by people who don’t really know what they’re talking about.

    Similarly, you get people accusing bog-standard American liberals of communism (e.g., Florack). They see, at most, a faint echo and blow it up such that their neighbor is a Stalinist. Oy.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  6. Nikki says:

    The 14 defining characteristics of fascism. I think it’s pretty clear to see where certain political parties fall.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  7. Moosebreath says:

    Quite right. It’s as silly when either side does it (and has been done more by the left than the right in my political lifetime).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  8. wr says:

    The reason Republicans call Obama “fascist” has nothing to do with O’s policies and popularity.

    It’s because it’s the word hippies used to call Nixon.

    And yes, the hippies were wrong, too. But “fascism” became the stand-in for “everything we hate about the current government.”

    And because lefties once called a right winger a fascist, now the righties get to call Obama the same thing.

    It’s like when JayTeanian calls Democrats racists for policies that help minorities. He doesn’t really know what the word means, or he doesn’t care — it was thrown at his side once, so he’s hurling it back.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  9. rudderpedals says:

    This ship was last seen leaving port with Jonah Goldberg on board.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  10. deathcar2000 says:

    Well I found this article to be both facist and communist. This must be were all the Reds meet to stir up the working leaches against The Job Creators. Rabble rousers, the lot of you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  11. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Does “fascist economics” = “fascism?” And FYI the fact that fascists and communists fought each other is a red herring and adds no real irony to what’s not even from the get-go ironic. Hitler hated the Bolsheviks because they mainly were slavs (racial issues) and because they were competitors for a state-centered economy, upon which the economic underpinnings of national socialism were based. They might not literally be coterminous systems, but they’re not too far apart. Speaking of which, communists have fought other communists; doesn’t mean they were any different. Pol Pot’s Cambodia vs. Ho Chi Mihn’s Vietnam.

    But that’s all nitpicking and only is because today I have too much time to kill.

    That aside, obviously someone has to be the sober adult at the table, so when a guy like Mackey engages in needless hyperbole it adds nothing of value, especially given the nature of the media-academe cabal and the inevitable high dudgeon mode reactions. Besides, Obamacare slightly is less fascist than it is socialist, although at various levels those are indeed flip sides of the same coin.

    Ultimately if I had to label Obama I would say “cunning, skilled, ruthless and somewhat lucky politician,” and if I had to label Obamacare I would say “arguably the worst and ironically the most self-defeating piece of federal legislation in history.”

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 23

  12. Dave Schuler says:

    I agree with Orwell: fascism is a term that has become completely meaningless. It’s just an epithet, hurled against people you don’t like.

    The literal meaning is just a political group. “Fascist economics” means whatever people think it means.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  13. matt bernius says:

    BTW, I’ve always found it somewhat ironic that the people who attack Obama as fascistic typically belong to the Cult of Reagan with a devotion that… wait for it… borders on fascistic.

    @Dave Schuler and, as has been pointed out numerous times, Johan Goldberg’s contribution to the topic provides one of the best demonstrations of Orwell’s point.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  14. mantis says:

    some seem to use the terms interchangeably, which is ironic considering that the two systems once fought a bitter war against each other.

    Indeed, Mussolini’s movement was directly and explicitly in opposition to the socialists.

    Dimwitted people are frequently duped by those who find them useful into thinking that the Nazis, and therefore fascism, is actually socialist in nature because of the presence of the word “socialist” in the party’s full name. It’s false, revisionist history meant to tar modern liberals as Nazis, and it is employed on the right with astonishing frequency.

    My guess is while he may be a good CEO, but his knowledge of history and politics is shallow at best, and his knowledge of current policy such as the ACA is atrocious, gleaned wholly no doubt from right wing propaganda. Mackey should shut his mouth and worry about opening new stores that sell overpriced packaging that may or may not contain food and organic produce at three times the price of the local farmers market.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 0

  15. mantis says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Obamacare slightly is less fascist than it is socialist, although at various levels those are indeed flip sides of the same coin.

    Ladies and gentlemen, a perfect example of the dimwitted dupes of which I speak.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 1

  16. matt bernius says:

    @mantis:

    Dimwitted people are frequently duped by those who find them useful into thinking that the Nazis, and therefore fascism, is actually socialist in nature because of the presence of the word “socialist” in the party’s full name. It’s false, revisionist history meant to tar modern liberals as Nazis, and it is employed on the right with astonishing frequency.

    As has been pointed out before, this sort of logic is akin to suggesting that looking at The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) or Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) will tell us something important about how democracies should function (or that either can serve as a definitive link between Communism and Democracy or Fascism and Democracy).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  17. C. Clavin says:

    Someone needs to explain to me how a program (not an entitlement) that pushes 30M new customers to private sector companies is socialist or fascist.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    My wife grew up in Franco’s Spain (born 1959) She could teach us all a few things about Fascism.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  19. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    if I had to label Obamacare I would say “arguably the worst and ironically the most self-defeating piece of federal legislation in history.”

    Yeah, forget about the Fugitive Slave Act and all those other ones, definitely the worst legislation is the one enacted to help the uninsured and bring down health care costs. For sure.

    Tsar, do you ever first say out loud or look in a mirror before you write this drivel? If you did, you might discover how utterly idiotic you sound and look.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Someone needs to explain to me how a program (not an entitlement) that pushes 30M new customers to private sector companies is socialist or fascist.

    They could call it “corporate cronyism” but they don’t. Why is that?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  21. Rob in CT says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Because lefties call it that, and they are against whatever lefties are saying, updated daily.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  22. Rafer Janders says:

    Conservatives who accuse Obama of “fascism” typically latch on to one element, his public charisma

    What’s hilarious to me about this is that Obama is not that charismatic. Bill Clinton? Now there’s charisma. I’ve been in rooms with Clinton and every eye turns to him as if by magic. But Obama, while charming on a personal level, has a pretty cool public persona. He really doesn’t possess much in the way of fiery charisma.

    Once again, Republicans see only what’s in their imagination and not what exists in reality.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  23. Franklin says:

    A single party dictatorship, headed by a charismatic leader.

    No superdestroyer to tell us that this is exactly where we’re heading? For shame …

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  24. grumpy realist says:

    Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism” is the best argument for a mandatory theses defense, coupled with the use of the guillotine if the so-called “researcher” doesn’t make it. Goldberg doesn’t even know German or Italian, and thinks that he’s produced a scholarly work on Fascism? Please.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Because lefties call it that, and they are against whatever lefties are saying, updated daily.

    DOOOHHHHH! Of course! They are in favor of all things corporate!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. Rob in CT says:

    What’s hilarious to me about this is that Obama is not that charismatic

    Yeah, that’s absolutely my impression too. I’ve never really gotten claims (left or right) that he’s particularly gifted with charisma. He’s a successful politician despite his CHA rating, IMO. He rolled something like a 15 there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  27. Dave Schuler says:

    @Rob in CT:

    I wonder what the unit of measure for charisma is? The rasputin? 1 rasputin = 10 decirasputins = 100 centirasputins = 1,000 microsputins? If Bill Clinton is 9 decirasputins does that make Mitt Romney 5 microrasputins?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  28. gVOR08 says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Because lefties call it that, and they are against whatever lefties are saying, updated daily.

    Don’t tell anyone, especially Tsar, but I got word from the Central Committee yesterday that our next big collectivist campaign will be to prohibit people from jumping off bridges.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  29. grumpy realist says:

    @Dave Schuler: I think we’ve got to go to the picorasputin level for Romney….maybe even the femto level….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. Rick Almeida says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Goldberg doesn’t even know German or Italian, and thinks that he’s produced a scholarly work on Fascism?

    Well, one can think whatever one likes…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  31. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    This concept may be your greatest contribution to political science. Stephen should weigh in. This could be a thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  32. An Interested Party says:

    But that’s all nitpicking and only is because today I have too much time to kill.

    Oh? That’s so nice of them to give you extra computer time while they’re cleaning your padded cell…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  33. bill says:

    i wonder if the sandal wearing granola heads will rebel against whole foods? nah, too much good food there!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  34. Kylopod says:

    @Rafer Janders: I think you are defining charisma too narrowly. Charisma doesn’t have to be “fiery”–and even you must realize that, otherwise your use of the phrase “fiery charisma” would be redundant. Charisma is simply a quality of having a kind of magnetic appeal to others. The kind of awe-inspired reaction to Obama after his 2004 convention speech and throughout his first presidential campaign suggests charisma, whether you were able to see it or not.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  35. Rafer Janders says:

    @Kylopod:

    Charisma is simply a quality of having a kind of magnetic appeal to others.

    Absolutely. But Obama doesn’t have that.

    The kind of awe-inspired reaction to Obama after his 2004 convention speech and throughout his first presidential campaign suggests charisma, whether you were able to see it or not.

    Not really, because (a) it wasn’t really that “awe-inspired”, and (b) it suggests a fascination with the concept of the first African-American politician to have a shot at the presidency as much as it did with Obama as a person. He’s appealing, affable, charming, lots of things — but he’s not very charismatic. People are not drawn to him on a personal level the way they are with genuinely charismatic individuals.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  36. JohnMcC says:

    Seems like a good excuse to pull out one of my favorite quotes. Sinclair Lewis: “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  37. Rick Almeida says:

    @bill:

    i wonder if the sandal wearing granola heads will rebel against whole foods? nah, too much good food there!

    Every true “sandal wearing granola head” is a locavore who at best reluctantly shops at Trader Joe’s and avoids Whole Paycheck, which is always full of yuppies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  38. al-Ameda says:

    You know, the real, actual, authentic 1933-1945 fascism was horrific, and in no way compares to our political culture today. That may come as news to about 100 million Americans.

    Sometime in the not-so-distant future, a lot of otherwise smart and (presumably) sensible people (like John Mackey), are going to look back and (hopefully, but not likely) be ashamed and embarrassed that they characterized Obama and/or his policies as “fascist.” Historians are going document just how unhinged about half the country became upon the election of our first Black President.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  39. al-Ameda says:

    @bill:

    i wonder if the sandal wearing granola heads will rebel against whole foods? nah, too much good food there!

    Bill, the 70’s ended a few decades ago, update your stereotypes. Your stereotypical 70s being could not afford Whole Foods.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  40. al-Ameda says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Someone needs to explain to me how a program (not an entitlement) that pushes 30M new customers to private sector companies is socialist or fascist.

    Okay, I’m here to help: It’s fascist because the Black President proposed it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  41. al-Ameda says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I wonder what the unit of measure for charisma is? The rasputin? 1 rasputin = 10 decirasputins = 100 centirasputins = 1,000 microsputins? If Bill Clinton is 9 decirasputins does that make Mitt Romney 5 microrasputins?

    Dave, you and Nate Silver should collaborate on this. Present a paper at the American Political Science Association.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  42. Moosebreath says:

    And on the other end of the political scale, there’s a GOP Representative accusing Obama of following the Soviet Constitution.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  43. Rick DeMent says:

    When I think of a charismatic politician I think of Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagen, not so much Obama.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  44. rudderpedals says:

    Following on to Rob in CT, I’m not at all disappointed with the lower charisma roll when it was made up by the pairing of a tremendous INT roll and lawful-good alignment. The man is effective.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  45. dennis says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Ultimately if I had to label Obama I would say “cunning, skilled, ruthless and somewhat lucky politician,” and if I had to label Obamacare I would say “arguably the worst and ironically the most self-defeating piece of federal legislation in history.”

    Twenty-two dislikes. Hmm… I wonder if we knee-jerk negate any and every thing Tsar Nic says. I’d have to agree with his assessment of the ACA. I, personally, would rather see a public, taxpayer-paid healthcare option, not the health insurance option that is the ACA. Will it bring in more people under the insurance umbrella? Sure, by pseudo-force. But all this does, really, is fill the coffers of the insurance companies, greedy bastards that they are.

    I know TN says some disagreeable things a lot of the time. But I’m not so sure this one rates 22 thumbs down.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  46. mantis says:

    @dennis:

    I know TN says some disagreeable things a lot of the time. But I’m not so sure this one rates 22 thumbs down.

    So give him a thumbs up then.

    Personally, even though I don’t pay any attention to the comment ratings, I would not be giving a gold star to someone who writes something this amazingly stupid:

    Besides, Obamacare slightly is less fascist than it is socialist, although at various levels those are indeed flip sides of the same coin.

    YMMV

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  47. Anderson says:

    @Eric the OTB Lurker: I was thinking Smoot-Hawley belonged in there somewhere, too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  48. dennis says:

    @mantis:

    Maybe I don’t clarify myself well. I believe the ACA is better than status quo, but I also believe we can and should have done better by adopting universal healthcare. I was also wondering if we knee-jerk disagree with people just because of who they are, without considering if they have a valid point. Granted, TN does have history . . .

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  49. Jacob Gabel says:

    I was tortured for almost 3 years by the FBI and their friends only
    because 85 years old man, Roland, H Sibens(chicago)now he is 88, convinced them that I
    am a terrorist. I was tortured for working on my prosthetic legs in
    the basement. I done absolutely nothing illegal or wrong. They thought
    that in theory it is possible to hide bomb in them. They saw an
    opportunity to get famous, so they were trying to torture me till I
    sign their insane story. They tortured me using more than 100
    different torturing methods and trust to me waterboarding is not how
    they torture nowadays. I dont know where to find justice.

    I think that after 9/11 things got out of control. Freedom fighters
    became tyrants. In 1945, most Germans had an opportunity to learn about Nazis death
    camps. I hope that one day American citizens will get chance to learn about people
    like me, who were tortured with no reason for years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  50. Pete Best says:

    @Gustopher: So Obama’s NDAA and drone strikes aren’t fascistic?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0