Fascism Is A Nationalist Aesthetic Movement

Fascism is less about real politics, which is what makes it terrifying.

Frequently, posters here at Outside The Beltway have grappled with the nature of fascism and its relevance for today’s disturbing politics. Is contemporary ultra-right wing politics (the alt-right, populism, white supremacist, Christian dominionism, etc. etc.), in the United States and other countries, at all fascist, fascist-adjacent, or in some other way related to fascism?

Not surprisingly, finding answers is difficult, even if you go back in time to the heyday of fascism in the 20th Century. What connected groups like the Italian Fascists, the German NSDAP, the Romanian Iron Guard, the Spanish Falange, the Croatian Ustaše, and the like? Do some of these even belong on the list, or were they faux-fascists, unfairly branded with the label, or unsuccessfully imitating the real fascists?

Having wrestled with questions about fascism for decades, I can only offer the best answer I’ve found:

Fascism is more of an aesthetic movement, rooted in nationalism and anti-modernism, than a political movement in the normal sense.

Fascism starts with a vision of the way a nation should be, according to its adherents. Not surprisingly, it points in the direction of a mythic past, when the nation was more like whatever it is the believers want their current nation to be. The imagined virility of the German Volk, before the Romans invaded, or of the Romans, in the minds of the Italian Fascists, are the most famous examples. Fascist leaders translate this vision into modern terms, such as the Nazi ideal of Kinder, Küche, Kirche.

This national image, therefore, is inherently reactionary. The modern world, with all of its cosmopolitanism, pluralism, bureaucracy, compromise, and general complexity has taken the nation away from this ideal. Unfortunately, no fascist leader, no matter how absolute their diktats might be, can undo modernity. Therefore, the fascists embrace modern methods, such as mass communications and industrial power, as a tool for returning as much as possible to the greatness of the imagined past, in what one scholar of fascism called “reactionary modernism.” This aspect of fascism is what plants its roots on the political right, where nationalism and distaste for modernity usually reside.

Since contemporary society is the canvas on which the fascists want to paint their vision, appearances matter hugely, even more than results. Torchlight rallies, military parades, gargantuan architecture, statues, propaganda films, flags, uniforms — these aren’t just the trappings of fascism, or a way to impress people into joining the fascist movement. They are what fascists want to accomplish, the realization of a vision of the country they believe should exist, reinforced every time someone participates in a mass gathering, dresses a particular way, or sings a fascist hymn.

Not surprisingly, this leads fascists to be concerned about art. Some fascist movements, such as the Nazis, had very strong opinions about what they didn’t like (“degenerate art”). Other movements focused a bit more on what they did like, such as the Fascists’ fascination with Futurism. In nearly all cases, the art that the fascists promoted to the masses was kitschy. There’s no problem with the vapidity, childishness, or even the silliness of this kind of art. Getting people to think too deeply isn’t the point, as it would be for “higher” art. Instead, the goal is to make the national vision crisper in its details, and reinforce the rightness of it.

If you think that outward appearances are extremely important, even more critical than the reality of what’s actually happening in a society, then you’re not really “political” in the strictest sense of the word. Max Weber, in Politics As A Vocation, emphasized the utilitarian nature of politics: it’s about getting things done. Weber emphasized the difficulties that the vocation of politics imposes, such as the “slow boring of hard boards” that political action often requires, or refusing to get one’s hands dirty when the situation required. He had very acidic things to say about people who denied the responsibilities imposed by a political life, preferring instead to indulge themselves with “sterile excitation” and “romantic sensations.”

Fascists, in contrast, are less concerned about outcomes, in the sense that, say, Conservative and Labour politicians might debate which policies provide the best path towards improving the level of education in the UK. If the image of the nation is vivid and intact, that’s far less important than the national debt, the rate of drug addiction, the quality of health care, or other indicators of political contributions to national well-being.

There are a large number of consequences that follow from replacing normal politics with this national vision. The first is that failure, even catastrophe, doesn’t have the same effect as you would expect, or hope. Supporters of the fascist movement aren’t going to be much dismayed by the failure of their leaders’ decisions. They will provide excuses for why these failures aren’t really failures; if they cannot invent them on their own, their leaders will provide a healthy menu of them from which to select. As long as the national vision is still powerful, still reinforced by others, bungling is less of a problem.

Second, fascism is inherently exclusionary. You either buy into the national vision, or you don’t. Policy debates are pointless exercises, the foolishness chattering that fascists believe will sap the strength or will of the nation.

You either belong in the picture of the imagined nation, or you don’t. Differences of opinion, skin color, religion, or whatever it is that defines you as the Other are not tolerable.

The need to define these Others leads to fascism being fueled by outrage. Fascism depends on negative solidarity, the constant reminder of what defines Us as being better than Them. Fascists have to be angry at someone — the League of Nations, the Jews, the Socialists, whatever — all of the time, to maintain this negative solidarity. The more distorted or even fictional the enemy is, the better for these purposes. Dealing with real people is far harder than raging against cartoon enemies.

As a result, there’s no debating a fascist. One can hope that a particular person’s embrace of fascism might weaken. However, as long as they are speaking the language of fascism, dialog is impossible. Monologue is the only fascist mode of communication, as expressed in its grandest form in mass propaganda.

Given the difficult nature of the question, “What is fascism?” this post is vastly shorter than it might be, and arguably should be. There are many sub-topics, such as the fascist fetish for militarism, or autocratic leadership, that I haven’t addressed at all. Nevertheless, I hope this post begins a good discussion about fascism. At least with this very brief essay, I have described what I think is the core of fascism.

Just as unfortunately, I haven’t really touched at all on whether, according to this description, you can call anyone today a genuine fascist. I can only say, for the moment, that I do believe that fascism is alive and well in the United States today. I may write another post exploring that belief. (Though it won’t be hard, reading this post, to imagine what I might say.)

Fascism never ends well. If fascists are immune to argument and unwilling to look at the bad consequences of their actions, then they will not merely slink away in shame. The calamity of World War II ended most of the “classic” fascist regimes. If fascism is really here and now, then I dearly hope it does not take a catastrophe to arrest and reverse it.

FILED UNDER: History, , , ,
Kingdaddy
About Kingdaddy
Kingdaddy is returning to political blogging after a long hiatus. For several years, he wrote about national security affairs at his blog, Arms and Influence, under the same pseudonym. He currently lives in Colorado, where he is still awestruck at all the natural beauty here. He has a Ph.D in political science that is oddly useful in his day job.

Comments

  1. Joe says:

    I can only say, for the moment, that I do believe that fascism is alive and well in the United States today. I may write another post exploring that belief. (Though it won’t be hard, reading this post, to imagine what I might say.)

    I imagine you would simply end each of your paragraphs with a sentence saying, “For example, . . .”

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  2. James Joyner says:

    Good, concise piece on a complex topic.

    I find little use for trying to label Fascism as either “left-wing” or “right-wing” for the reason you state: it’s not really about policy. The “aesthetic” description hadn’t really occurred to me and I’ll have to think about it more but it strikes me as useful.

    Sadly, this describes a lot of American politics today: “You either buy into the national vision, or you don’t. Policy debates are pointless exercises.” I think it’s more prevalent among various factions calling themselves “conservative,” there’s more than a little bit of that on the (smaller) progressive left.

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  3. Kathy says:

    This is why we should have a means to up-vote a post.

    2
  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Peron, show me a fascist movement that isn’t also a cult of personality.

    The ‘nation’ is almost always, if not always, indistinguishable from the man positioned at its head. Who defined the national ideal in fascist societies? The man – and it’s always a man – leading it. The movement is created by a man, defined by a man, led by a man, and when the man dies, so does the movement.

    The number of people who follow an ideology, or a national vision, is, I believe, minuscule compared to the number of sheep looking for a shepherd.

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  5. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The ‘nation’ is almost always, if not always, indistinguishable from the man positioned at its head. Who defined the national ideal in fascist societies? The man – and it’s always a man – leading it. The movement is created by a man, defined by a man, led by a man, and when the man dies, so does the movement.

    Absolutely: “Fascists always looked to a leader who was bold, decisive, manly, uncompromising and cruel when necessary — because the parlous state of the nation required such qualities.”

    Indeed, I can’t think of a fascist movement that survived the leader. It’s conceivable that Nazism could have survived the loss of Hitler if he had avoided getting trounced in a war.

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  6. Kylopod says:

    @James Joyner:

    I find little use for trying to label Fascism as either “left-wing” or “right-wing” for the reason you state: it’s not really about policy.

    The reason it has traditionally been defined as right-wing is because of its glorification of the past and its belief in hierarchies. Indeed, when Mussolini coined the term, he explicitly defined it as right-wing:

    “We are free to believe that this is the century of authority, a century tending to the ‘right’, a Fascist century.”

    The modern conservative attempt to redefine fascism as left-wing (and it is most definitely a redefinition) focuses on its rejection of capitalism, along with the fact that the Nazis had the word “socialist” in their name, though in practice they violently opposed all actual socialists, and Hitler ultimately crushed the more socialist-friendly version of Nazism being advocated by Strasser.

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  7. drj says:

    I think it is helpful to distinguish between politics as esthetics (which is not unique to the right – cf. the USSR) and fascism which is the right wing interpretation of this particular form of politics.

    Having said that, it is silly not to recognize that fascism is specifically and exclusively right wing: it is, after all, rooted in nationalism and anti-modernism. Kinder, Küche, Kirche wouldn’t work as a left wing slogan.

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  8. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @drj:

    Having said that, it is silly not to recognize that fascism is specifically and exclusively right wing: it is, after all, rooted in nationalism and anti-modernism. Kinder, Küche, Kirche wouldn’t work as a left wing slogan.

    Agreed. +1

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  9. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod: I explicitly rejected the silliness of the “Liberal Fascism” argument a dozen years ago. And I generally reject calling democratically-elected policians “fascist” to begin with.

    I’m making a narrow point about one aspect of fascism.

    1
  10. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod: @drj: Oh, fascism is by definition a right-wing philosophy and communism left-wing. But, in extreme practice, there’s not a hell of a lot of difference between a Hitler and a Stalin. The ideology is a marketing technique, not a governing strategy.

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  11. Kathy says:

    Think of it as totalitarian un-ideological socialism for dummies.

    If you compare Stalin’s USSR with hitler’s Germany, there are far more similarities than differences.

    6
  12. An Interested Party says:

    Indeed, I can’t think of a fascist movement that survived the leader.

    It’ll be nice when Trump is gone from the White House, even though a lot of the damage he has caused will remain…

    But, in extreme practice, there’s not a hell of a lot of difference between a Hitler and a Stalin.

    That makes sense…if you go too far to the left or too far to the right you end up in a bad place…

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  13. James Joyner says:

    @An Interested Party:

    if you go too far to the left or too far to the right you end up in a bad place…

    Yes. I’ve long used an argument stolen from a fellow grad student whose name I’ve forgotten: We view the political spectrum from far left to far right as a line when it’s actually a circle. Far left and far right are, in practice, the same thing rather than polar opposites.

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  14. gVOR08 says:

    In my youth I read a lot of science fiction. A big favorite was Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. Long story short there is a world with a human culture ruled by an elite who have fashioned a Hindu culture with themselves as technologically and genetically enhanced gods at the top. Our hero, Sam, has set out to oppose them by setting himself up as Buddha and establishing Buddhism. Now he needs his Buddhist followers to join him in active rebellion. But they believe the world is an illusion. Why would you revolt against an illusion? Sam preaches a sermon and convinces them that the dreamer of the dream can influence the dream. They can choose to live in a beautiful dream. I haven’t seen my paperbacks since we moved, so no quotes.

    I think, Kingdaddy, that you’re on to something basic here. I have frequently been reminded of Lord of Light over the years because politics often looks like it goes back to aesthetics. I try to be a pragmatist and consequentialist. Deontologists say consequentialism is unworkable because the consequences have to be judged against some deontological standard. As a good pragmatist I reply, yes, and it works. And IIRC Bertrand Russell said the standard is basically aesthetic. I’m a liberal because a world in which a few people are very rich and very privileged while most people are very poor is a pretty ugly dream. Also poorer and less stable than need be.

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  15. Christopher Osborne says:

    @James Joyner: The horseshoe theory

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  16. Kingdaddy says:

    @Kathy: I would argue that Nazism and Soviet communism arrived at the same destination, totalitarianism, from different directions. Nazism wanted to take its Völkisch vision to its ultimate destination, re-making modern Germany, and modern Germans, into something closer to what they believed were their pre-modern Aryan roots. The Soviets had an equally absolute vision, which required creating the New Soviet Man, on top of destroying everything about the social and economic order that preceded communism. Therefore, both had to be totalitarian, because only with total control of thought and deed would these goals be possible. Or, at least, that’s how they saw it.

    Just want to be clear, because you’re a left-wing totalitarian doesn’t make you a “left-wing fascist,” a term which makes no sense in the first place. Stalin may have decided to make appeals to defending the rodina during World War II, but that was just politically expedient for him during the existential crisis of the Nazi invasion. He didn’t catch the fascist bug.

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  17. Kingdaddy says:

    @gVOR08: Great book. I have pictures of when Zelazny visited my family’s bookstore. He was probably the nicest SF writer I met during that period. He was also the most humble.

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  18. JohnSF says:

    My favourite historian of political ideas, J.S. McClelland had one short definition of fascism:

    “…being revolutionary without being Marxist”

    And not a few artists flirted, or even embraced it; in addition to some of the Futurists
    so have the full-on embrace of fascism by d’Annunzio, and the varying degrees of dabbling or accommodation by Pound, Eliot, Yeats, Santayana, Dali etc.
    (I wonder if the Greek neo-fascists of the Golden Dawn appreciate the prehistory of that name.)

    In the context of 20th century Europe, Mclelland argued it was a way to reject “conventional” liberalism (often a.k.a. republicanism) of both the right and democratic left, while also rejecting, or at least greatly modifying, the anti-modernist reactionary right (a.k.a. continental monarchist conservatism).

    Would-be revolutionary dynamism and rejection of “bourgeois” society thus gratifying every fascists inner surly teenager.

    (Though Franco’s Spain and Vichy France both had political basis of alliances of fascists and reactionaries, while Italian and German fascisms continued to disdain older modes of “the right”.)

    Interesting that in the 20th century fascist movements were arguably most powerful in societies where the “national image was most damaged and/or contested, in different ways: German defeat and the failure of the “2nd Reich”; the bitter contentions of republicans and conservatives and leftists in Spain and Italy and the problems of modernity in less industrial peripheries of Europe.

    Another interesting definition, by an English conservative Michael Oakeshott was of fascism as a variation of “teleocracy”.
    A political systematization that sets a goal of an “ideal” society and

    “..which hand over to the arbitrary will of a society’s self-appointed leaders the planning of its entire life…”

    Arguing that in this regard it had similarities to other “belief based” political movements whetere base on political or religous systems.

    1
  19. JohnSF says:

    @gVOR08:
    “He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam.”

  20. James Joyner says:

    @Christopher Osborne: Interesting. The modern usage apparently dates from 2002–seven years after I finished grad school. My grad school colleague proposed the idea circa 1992-3. I don’t remember his name because (1) it was a hell of a long time ago and (2) he dropped out of the program without finishing. As I recall, he was significantly older than me and a retired (enlisted?) soldier.

    1
  21. JohnSF says:

    @gVOR08:

    “He preferred to drop the Maha- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam.”

    Heard the tale of the CIA team extracting US diplomats hiding out in the Canadian embassy using making of a film version of Lord of Light as a cover story?

    2
  22. JohnSF says:

    @gVOR08:
    On Bertrand Russell:
    He emphasised a defining aspect of fascism being irrationalism and “compulsive violence” (in both senses: an overwhelming urge, and a desire to compel).

    His letter to Mosley on why he felt any pretense at dialogue to be pointless:

    “…cruel bigotry, compulsive violence, and the sadistic persecution (which) has characterised the philosophy and practice of fascism.
    I feel obliged to say that the emotional universes we inhabit are so distinct, and in deepest ways opposed, that nothing fruitful or sincere could ever emerge from association between us.”

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  23. Zachriel says:

    Kylopod: The reason it has traditionally been defined as right-wing is because of its glorification of the past and its belief in hierarchies.

    In the case of fascism, it is an absolute hierarchy. Not only is there a sole, absolute leader of the nation, but there is a hierarchy of nations (peoples); the struggle between nations giving meaning and purpose to the people.

    Kylopod: the fact that the Nazis had the word “socialist” in their name, though in practice they violently opposed all actual socialists

    By the mid-1930s Nazis redefined socialism to mean the unity of the people as a racially-based and organized Volksgemeinschaft. It had nothing to do with economic socialism.

    Kingdaddy: I would argue that Nazism and Soviet communism arrived at the same destination, totalitarianism, from different directions.

    With Marxism, dictatorship is the means to egalitarian ends. With fascism, it is the very purpose: Only by unifying under a single, strong leader could the nation achieve its destiny.

    Communists saw the conflict as between classes, a battle to be won leading to universal peace and equality; while fascists saw a struggle as naturally occurring along ethnic and racial lines, the battle being the very purpose of existence. Under communism, people could be theoretically be re-educated, while for Nazis, a Jew could never change.

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  24. JohnSF says:

    A short publication by Bertrand Russell from 1935 The Ancestry of Fascism.

    Well worth a read.
    (Note, while Russell asserts the desirability of socialism, he along with many European socialists regarded the Soviet Bolsheviks as murderous fools)

  25. Kurtz says:

    @James Joyner:

    I found this via Longform dot org a few weeks ago.

    I’m curious about your response to it if you have the time to take a look.

    1
  26. Scott says:

    @gVOR08: Lord of Light is my go-to book when I just want to read for pleasure. Never fails to entertain and make me laugh out loud.

    1
  27. JohnSF says:

    A family anecdote re. relations between the Labour Party and Bolsheviks.
    Maternal grandfather, who was a Labour activist, recalling a conversation with a union leader in the 1920’s.
    Quoting Lenin:

    “I want to support (British Labour Party leader) Henderson in the same way as the rope supports a hanged man”

    Union leader remarks:

    “The Labour Party will p!ss on your political grave, you Bolshevik bastard.”

    1
  28. Scott says:

    I happen to be listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History “Supernova in the East” about the rise of Japan. Japan is often lumped into the Fascist club primarily because they were part of the Axis. That seems to be wrong in my opinion. They are another category altogether. What they were, I’m not sure and am curious what others think. They weren’t like the Europeans (is fascism primarily a Western phenomenon?) and, in fact, although they had a treaty with Germany, the two theaters were pretty independent of each other.

    My other question is about leftist authoritarians like Peron and Chavez. How do they contrast with Fascists and that ideology?

  29. JohnSF says:

    @Scott:
    Fascism is a fuzzy classification; and arguably so by nature due to it’s nationalist basis.
    Fascists might agree that there was a hierarchy of nations; but markedly disagree on who gets to stand on top of the podium.

    I think there is a case for the Japanese government of the 1920’s and 30’s as at least “fascist adjacent”.
    In some ways similar to Franco’s Spain. in attempting to force a consolidation of reactionary conservatism, modernisation, and militaristic nationalism; and rejecting liberal democracy, both variants of socialism, and anti-teleocratic conservatism.
    It also emphasised racial superiority, or at least ethnic purity, dynamism and “historical mission”.
    (Contrast the relative Spanish lack of emphasis on ethnic hierarchies)

    The massive contrast with European fascisms was it’s relative lack of “great leader” focus; arguably the status of the Emperor in Japanese tradition occupied all the ideological space a “leadership cult” would have required.

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  30. JohnSF says:

    @Scott:

    “…although they had a treaty with Germany, the two theaters were pretty independent of each other.”

    re. the disunity of the “Axis”:
    It’s often forgotten, that at one point the UK and France viewed fascist Italy as a possible ally against Nazi Germany; see the Stresa Agreements of 1935.

  31. Kurtz says:

    @JohnSF:

    Arguing that in this regard it had similarities to other “belief based” political movements whetere base on political or religous systems.

    The first thing I thought when reading the OP were some parallels to religion. Particularly views of Muhammad and Jesus as sociopolitical radicals. From this perspective, both of them criticized the corruption of traditional cultural norms.

    I’m not calling those individuals proto-fascists as much as highlighting the power of restorative movements rooted in myth.

    The historiography of The Lost Cause certainly follows this path.

    2
  32. Kathy says:

    @JohnSF:

    It’s often forgotten, that at one point the UK and France viewed fascist Italy as a possible ally against Nazi Germany; see the Stresa Agreements of 1935.

    Given the resources Germany had to expend to save Mussolini’s bacon in Greece, not to mention it delayed the invasion of the USSR, a case can be made that Italy was more valuable to the Allies as part of the Axis.

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  33. JohnSF says:

    @Kurtz:
    Arguably all religious establishments of sufficient power and philosophical coherence have the potential to become “totalizing” political movements.

    But in practice they are usually blocked from doing so; established religion tends to become a “civic activity” dominated by a social elite, while the coercive power becomes dominated by the state, whether monarchic or a co-operation of social elites.

    In neither case are the social/political dominant actors likely to tolerate a religious establishment that act against them.
    Therefore, if any distinct religious establishment exist at all, it is liable to co-operate with the social and political powers, if not merge with them, and become reflexively traditionalist.

    Hence reactionary conservatism (esp. but not exclusively Catholic) in 19th Century Europe.

    At a slight tangent:
    Oakeshott would argue that because, generally speaking, Christianity was subordinated, “other worldly”(due to that subordination) and traditionalist, it had little inclination towards social/political “perfectionism” and of developing a doctrine of political activity to such goals.
    IIRC he regarded Puritanism as having been potentially dangerous due to its intolerance, immoderation and “enthusiasm”. But it was “tamed” by elite dominance and co-option.

    In contrast to Russell’s liberal view that reason was crucial to scepticism and restraint, Oakeshott as a conservative argues that the religious scepticism of pure reason was important to avoid contructing elaborated rationalised structures that could end in totalizing social goals.

    Take your pick.
    🙂

    1
  34. JohnSF says:

    @Kathy:
    True, as things worked out.

    Though in any case by 1937 Mussolini did not fancy being obliged to face off against the Wehrmacht while the French sat on the Maginot Line and the British instituted blockades.

    Mussolini was not only aggravated by UK/French opposition re. Abyssinia, however half-hearted, but also convinced that they were weaker than Germany both materially and morally.

    Though re. Italy as a liability, there is an argument that had Hitler not been so fixated on invading Russia in 1941, Italy’s position could enabled an alternative strategy of expelling the British from the Med. and North Africa, which could have wrecked the entire British Imperial strategy.
    IIRC until Germany invaded Russia, that possibility caused a lot of nervousness in London.

    1
  35. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner: Don’t feel bad about stealing the idea. Your fellow grad student got it from somewhere as I remember the same model being talked about in some philosophy and history classes that I took at universities in the 70s and the 80s both.

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  36. @Kingdaddy:

    I would argue that Nazism and Soviet communism arrived at the same destination, totalitarianism, from different directions.

    Indeed. Totalitarianism is a type of governance that may be filled with differing ideologies (or points of view).

    I agree, as noted above by James and Kathy, that there are some practical similarities to Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany. I am not, however, a fan of either the horseshoe or circle in terms of an ideological spectrum because I think it matters how you get there and focusing only on form doesn’t do that.

    Plus, Franco’s Spain and Mussolini’s Italy (or even proto-fascists like Vargas in Brazil) did not look like either Stalin’s Russia nor Hitler’s Germany. I think getting caught up in Stalin and Hitler overly much can obfuscate our understanding of facsim and of extreme Soviet communism.

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  37. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Zachriel:

    With Marxism, dictatorship is the means to egalitarian ends.

    Which, as is the case of fusion power, are always a decade away.

    “We’re closer now than we’ve ever been.”

  38. @Michael Reynolds:

    Peron

    I am going to be a pedantic political scientists who specialized in Latin America and have to note that Peron was a left-wing (but not especially ideological) populist and not a fascist.

    There. Now I feel better.

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  39. steve says:

    Of note, the hysterical right wing religious conservatives, Trump’s base, as exemplified by Dreher are now claiming that everyone on the left are fascists and promoting totalitarianism.

    Steve

  40. Kurtz says:

    @JohnSF:

    I refuse to pick. 😉

  41. JohnSF says:

    Kingdaddy:

    … what one scholar of fascism called “reactionary modernism.”

    Would that be Jeffrey Herf?

  42. James Joyner says:

    @Kurtz: It starts off fairly basic and goes off in too many directions to profitably analyze. Many of the trends he ascribes to the post-9/11 era started in the Vietnam era. The militarization of police goes back at least to the SWAT movement of the late 1960s and was fetishized in the TV series of the early 1970s. Ditto: Dirty Harry, Walking Tall, Rambo, etc. The Army Jeep was the inspiration for the SUV movement decades ago. Tricked out trucks have been around as long as I can remember. The military HMMWV made it to the civilian market as the Hummer (complete with Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsement) in the early 1990s.

    1
  43. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think getting caught up in Stalin and Hitler overly much can obfuscate our understanding of facsim and of extreme Soviet communism.

    This may be an instance where comparative politics and public intellectualism are in conflict. On the one hand, absolutely: they’re extreme cases and we tend to focus on their atrocities, totally obscuring the intellectual roots behind the movements. On the other, when non-specialists debate whether Donald Trump or some other Western figure is “fascist,” they tend to have someone like Hitler (or, incorrectly, Stalin) in mind.

  44. Zachriel says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Which, as is the case of fusion power, are always a decade away.

    Heh. Fusion power is certainly closer than Marx’s historical imperative.

    Marxism is a utopian (unachievable) vision combined with a belief that the ends (perfect social equality) justify the means (revolution and dictatorship). Such a combination can have a disastrous outcome.

    1
  45. Kathy says:

    @JohnSF:

    True, as things worked out.

    Yes, and it bears pointing out the people living through that history didn’t know how things would work out.

  46. charon says:

    Indeed, I can’t think of a fascist movement that survived the leader.

    9 GOP consultants have different expectations:

    https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/trump-reelection-chances-2020-house-senate-candidates-biden-1024862/

    Trumpism staying in power post-2022 might be more problematical than they think, though – I would be surprised if a 2022 rebound materializes.

  47. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @charon: Will they (as in whoever is looking) find another Trump? Meh… not likely, true enough. Whether the GOP history will continue to bend in the same direction is another question where I’m inclined to answer in the affirmative, though.

  48. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @JohnSF: It’s my belief that, if Hitler had been willing to postpone his assault on the Soviet Union for one more year and had, instead, sent major air and land reinforcements to the Mediterranean, he would’ve seized the Suez Canal in 1942. That would have been a blow from which Great Britain could hardly have recovered. I’m sure, however, that he must have fumed at having to pull Mussolini’s chestnuts out of the fire.

  49. charon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The movement is created by a man, defined by a man, led by a man, and when the man dies, so does the movement.

    You could argue that German and Italian Fascism were ended by WWII military defeat, death of the leader being incidental. I do not see any theoretical reason fascism can’t survive loss of the leader. Malignant narcissists like Hitler, Mussolini characteristically eventually produce disasters for their unworthy followers, the sort of thing that can affect the survival of political systems, also a complicating factor.

    That Rolling Stone piece I linked indicates the never-Trumpers and Jeff Flake types are not going to be welcomed back by the GOP.

  50. mattbernius says:

    Great essay. The only footnote I’d add is that I think it’s critical to see Fascism as something that was enabled through the advent of modern mass media (and modern mechanical and digital reproduction techniques). Which is both why and how aesthetics become so core to it. What’s also striking is how well that has adapted to post-modern media fragmentation and more participatory (social) media platforms.

    Ironically, Walter Benjamin seems to have predicted this in his essay “The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction”:

    Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life. The violation of the masses, whom Fascism, with its Führer cult, forces to their knees, has its counterpart in the violation of an apparatus which is pressed into the production of ritual values.

    Evolving media platforms have done an amazing job at providing the masses with many ways of expressing themselves (whether through Right-Wing Talk Radio or Q-Anon Memes) the world. If anything, they’ve made that an expected part of the formula.

  51. @Michael Reynolds:

    The movement is created by a man, defined by a man, led by a man, and when the man dies, so does the movement

    This probably gets to the heart of some our disagreements. I am not convinced that a man creates these things, but rather that a confluence of events find the man it needs.

    Clearly leadership matters in terms of a host of specifics, but I don’t think, for example, that Hitler himself was enough. It took the defeat in WWI, the broader context of German culture, the failure of Weimar, the Treaty of Versailles, and a host of other events and outcomes to make Hitler viable. And I think it quite possible that if Adolph Hitler had been killed by time travelers as a baby that some other person would have emerged to serve the moment.

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  52. JohnSF says:

    @SC_Birdflyte:
    That was one aspect of it; apparently the other, that worried London, was if the Axis secured the Med, there goes Gibraltar; prospect of Axis bases at the Straits.
    Would make sea and air routes to Africa and Asia untenable.
    And increase pressure on the trans-Atlantic routes.
    Apparently some in CSC staff thought this graver threat to sustained UK warfighting position than air attack or invasion; until Germany widened the war.

  53. @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am going to be a pedantic political scientists who specialized in Latin America and have to note that Peron was a left-wing (but not especially ideological) populist and not a fascist.

    I think this is one of the more polemic issues in political science – after all, Peron had a photo of Mussolini in his desk (together with other from Vargas), was exiled in Francoist Spain, his right-hand man (Lopez Rega) was an ultra-right-winger, and Peronism (like Arab Nationalism – Nasserism, Baathism, etc) was popular in some circles of the European far-right (specially of the “national-revolutionary” or even openly fascist type, who saw in his regime the “third way” against both capitalism and marxism).

    Perhaps the best description was “left-wing fascism”, like Seymour M. Lipset called to Peronism and Getulism.

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  54. JohnSF says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    The historical irony is that it was Hitler’s own conviction that he was the irreplaceable and destined Leader that meant that fascist successors never got got much of a chance.
    His combination of impatience and failure to prepare doomed Nazism, and fascist Italy too, despite it’s initial successes.

  55. @Steven L. Taylor:

    And I think it quite possible that if Adolph Hitler had been killed by time travelers as a baby that some other person would have emerged to serve the moment.

    Perhaps the more close to a real world example as Romanian Iron Guard, who ascended to power (sort of…) after the death of its charismatic leader, Corneliu Codreanu; although not a pure case of fascism, the Nationalist side of the Spanish Civil War, where Franco only becomes the undisputable leader after the deaths of Sanjurjo and Mola.

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  56. @Miguel Madeira: Points taken, especially his exile to Franco’s Spain.

    Still, an important differentiation is that Peron mobilized labor against the old school elites. The “other” was mostly internal (although nationalizing the British railways was certainly an “Argentina for Argentines” move).

    Analytically, his regime fits better as classically populist to me than being fascist.

  57. Zachriel says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: And I think it quite possible that if Adolph Hitler had been killed by time travelers as a baby that some other person would have emerged to serve the moment.

    Never mess with the timeline. You might think that things couldn’t be worse, but imagine a Hitler with a better strategic sense. But megalomaniacs will megalomaniac, so there is that.

    Besides, you don’t have to kill an innocent baby. You just have to show up as a goateed Austrian gentleman strolling with his wife, while A. Hitler is painting on the street, pay more than the asking price, and tell him he has a great future in art.

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  58. Kylopod says:

    @James Joyner:

    I explicitly rejected the silliness of the “Liberal Fascism” argument a dozen years ago. And I generally reject calling democratically-elected policians “fascist” to begin with.

    I know this is a late reply, but I had to think over your response and what you wrote a dozen or so years ago about the “liberal fascism” meme. I’m not sure we’re totally in disagreement, but I didn’t feel your rejection of the “liberal fascism” argument went far enough. I certainly agree that it’s ridiculous to call liberals fascists or fascist-adjacent, and I generally think that’s also true of most American conservatives prior to Trump. However, I still think the placement of all these ideologies on the left-right spectrum isn’t arbitrary and does reflect something about their relationship–and furthermore, that this is something conservative propaganda tries heavily to conceal and distort.

    For instance, while I reject the notion that run-of-the-mill American liberals and progressives are in any way Marxists, I acknowledge there are thematic similarities between liberals and Marxists that neither share with conservatives (or with fascists), which explains why both are identified by the term “left.” Even liberals who identify as “center-left” are still thinking of themselves, in a certain sense, as leaning toward the left on the spectrum.

    It’s that equivalent concession that I don’t often see among conservatives–that they share some ideological space with the far-right, even if they aren’t anywhere near as radical. The “liberal fascism” meme is an attempt to engage in full-on denial of this fact and rewrite the ideological spectrum so that they’ve got no association whatsoever with extremists (as they see it), but that liberals do. In other words, they’re attempting to have their cake and eat it too, making both fascism and socialism to be the radical versions of liberalism. Ironically, this is a rhetorical device that becomes a justification for right-wing extremism, because it essentially implies that you can’t go too far to the right, or at least that doing so is relatively benign–it’s only the left that has to watch out lest it turn fascist or communist.

    In the right-wing echo chamber, I’ve noticed, they tend to conceptualize the left-right spectrum entirely in terms of government control which they equate with loss of personal freedom–and so, to them, moving to the right means more freedom, less government; to the left means the opposite. This requires a heap of blind spots, including overlooking the distinction between economic freedom and personal freedom, failing to grasp that less government doesn’t automatically translate to greater personal freedom, and downplaying those issues in which they come out against personal freedom (such as gay rights).

    This framing enables them to create a false distance between themselves and extremists they don’t want to be associated with. For example, Dinesh D’Souza referred to Richard Spencer as a “progressive”–this despite the fact that D’Souza’s and Spencer’s worldview is remarkably similar. They both constantly tout the superiority of Western culture and disparage persons of color. Spencer is just a tad more explicit about the fact that he views the world in racial terms.

    That’s an extreme example, of course, and D’Souza is one of the most far-right commentators today with any mainstream recognition. But he’s an illustration of the fact that long before Trump, there were a significant number of prominent mainstream conservatives who held beliefs that approached the views of actual neo-fascists, yet part of their propaganda was designed to dissociate themselves from those figures and associate them more with the left. They want to have it both ways, adopting many of the themes of the fascists while trying to dress them up as part of their small-d democratic values, and casting the negative associations entirely on the left through vague rhetorical terms like “identity politics” and “social engineering” that rest on spurious connections.

    That’s why it’s important to understand that the “liberal fascism” meme isn’t just overblown rhetoric–it’s a device for enabling extremism on their own side by transferring the image of it to the other.

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  59. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And I think it quite possible that if Adolph Hitler had been killed by time travelers as a baby that some other person would have emerged to serve the moment.

    Without wishing to trivialize the idea, it’s similar to Peter Frampton’s acknowledgement in an interview that he was not so much a ‘rock legend’ as ‘the guy who happened to be at the front of the line’ when the record producer came by looking for ‘the next big thing.’

  60. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Zachriel:

    Besides, you don’t have to kill an innocent baby. You just have to show up as a goateed Austrian gentleman strolling with his wife, while A. Hitler is painting on the street, pay more than the asking price, and tell him he has a great future in art.

    Good idea, but not quite that simple because A. Hitler does have to have some sort of future in art. To extend my Frampton reference, had it been ME at the front of the line that day, it would have only meant that the record producer would be back the following week. 😉

  61. @Kylopod:

    In the right-wing echo chamber, I’ve noticed, they tend to conceptualize the left-right spectrum entirely in terms of government control which they equate with loss of personal freedom–and so, to them, moving to the right means more freedom, less government; to the left means the opposite. This requires a heap of blind spots, including overlooking the distinction between economic freedom and personal freedom, failing to grasp that less government doesn’t automatically translate to greater personal freedom, and downplaying those issues in which they come out against personal freedom (such as gay rights).

    I think this is largely a result of the nonexistence of a true “throne-and-altar” right-wing in the USA. In Europe (specially in the mainland), where the historical meaning of “right-wing” and “conservatism” was an authoritarian monarchy, supported by an established church and an hereditary aristocracy, perhaps with an economy organized in professional guilds, initially in opposition to liberalism (meaning constitutional government, individual liberty, secularism, equality before the law and free markets), it is difficult to argue that “right-wing = individual freedom”, and it is easy to find similarities between fascism and the old-style conservatism (being both openly antidemocratic, authoritarian, elitist and anti-Enlightenment; contrast with Communists, who claim to be the true democrats instead of anti-democrats).

    In USA, the conservative movement has a smell of the old European conservatism (and the National Review had a tradition of having European reactionaries as writers, combined with some fixation with Francoist Spain, until the point of the brother-in-law of Buckley becoming literally a Carlista – the Spanish equivalent of a Jacobite – or something), but it was only a “smell”, being probably more close to classical liberalism that to traditional conservatism (and never forgetting to say “small government” and “free market” and not only “law and order” and “family values”).

    And a thing that I noticed was that the people in Europe (or at least in Portugal) more prone to say “fascism was left-wing” are usually the same that use “libertário” with the meaning of Rothbard/Rand/Friedman instead of the traditional european meaning (Bakunine/Kropotkine/etc.); my suspiction is that both are a symptoms of to much “americanization”,

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  62. Kylopod says:

    @Miguel Madeira:

    In USA, the conservative movement has a smell of the old European conservatism (and the National Review had a tradition of having European reactionaries as writers, combined with some fixation with Francoist Spain, until the point of the brother-in-law of Buckley becoming literally a Carlista – the Spanish equivalent of a Jacobite – or something), but it was only a “smell”, being probably more close to classical liberalism that to traditional conservatism (and never forgetting to say “small government” and “free market” and not only “law and order” and “family values”).

    I appreciate your thoughtful, informed reply. But I disagree with the above; in fact I think the opposite is true–I think the American conservative movement from Buckley onward is essentially a right-wing reactionary movement dressed up as a classically liberal one. America’s lack of history of an official aristocracy, its narrative of fighting against government oppression that’s woven deeply into its culture, and the radicalism of the Founding documents that conservatives purport to practically worship (it brings to mind the Leo Rosten quip “A conservative is one who admires radicals centuries after they’re dead”) explain why American conservatives feel the need to market themselves in this way, but the framing is inaccurate and essentially fraudulent.

  63. JohnSF says:

    @Miguel Madeira:
    I think you’re onto a significant point here.

    I think this is a crucial part of the difference between European and American politics and political concepts.
    I’ve in the past been known to tease Republicans by telling them that from a European point of view, insofar as they are free marketeers and constitutionalists, they’re not conservatives at all but a weird variety of liberal.

    After the Second World War “traditionalist” conservatism was to a large extent discredited in Continental Europe due to it’s wartime collaboration or prewar failure.

    Hence the rise of the “Modern Right” in Europe: German Christian Democrats, French Gaullist Republicans etc; in some respects closer to British-type conservatism, in others to the legacy of the “Catholic Centre” and French “right-Republicans”. An attempt to combine modernisation with elements of tradition, of free markets with welfare, and liberal legal rights with a regulatory state.

    But even so less “anti-statist” than American “conservative” Republicans (and British Tories too, possibly).
    So we get a lot of American Republicans convinced that Angela Merkel is a “socialist” rather then the mainstream European modern conservative that she is.

    And re. “Americanization”, my current hobby-horse is that the British Conservative Party has been seriously damaged by the influence of the American Republican “conservatism”, growing over the past thirty or so years, compared to it’s lack of serious interest in modern Continental conservativism.
    (Plus other factors: historic continuity as a disincentive to adjustment, the intra-Party trauma of the defenestration of Thatcher, and the toxic influence of the birth/school/politics/finance nexus in London)

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  64. JohnSF says:

    @Kylopod:
    I think the key is that the American Right’s goals of a reactionary response to social change is served in some cases, or camouflaged in others, by adherence to the doctrines of 18th Century “classical” liberalism (when convenient).

    With mid-19th century Sumnerian/Spencerian “survival of the fittest” concepts tacked on.
    Plus “pro-business” corporatism, and the massive influence of politicized religion.

    And, of course, racism.

    It all depends, perhaps on what a conservative is trying to conserve.