This writer has long been interested in fascism and fascist movements, what they are, what they are not, and how they gain support in a society. It is not a word that should be used lightly. Most people would be offended to be called a “fascist” and rightfully so. Fascist is a nasty label because fascism is a nasty thing. It is an ugly thing. Like such labels as “communist,” “socialist” or “Marxist,” the word is used as an “attack” word against someone with whom one disagrees. But, as the old saying goes, “if the shoe fits, wear it.”
While fascist movements are authoritarian, not all authoritarian regimes are fascist. Fascism is a very specific type of authoritarianism. Unlike military dictatorships which take power from the “top down,” fascism starts as a mass movement of angry, bitter, white (mostly) men who are looking for something to someone to blame their country’s problems on. Of course, military regimes can have major similarities with fascist regimes in methods.
Fascism employs political bullying, both at the personal and the political level. They threaten their opponents in different ways. Fascist movements also tend to take the focus of off the real cause of their country’s problems and play “the blame game.” Although there was a fair amount of bullying involved (fascists tend to be political bullies), both Hitler and Mussolini came to office by legal, constitutional means.
It is important to remember is that fascism is not the same as socialism, although some conservatives accuse progressives and social democrats of “fascism.” Perhaps people make this mistake because Adolf Hitler called his German fascist movement “National Socialism.” True, the governments of Hitler and Benito Mussolini had a lot of power over different aspects of German and Italian life and society, but the industries and other means of production remained largely in private, for-profit-hands.
Both Mussolini and Hitler hated socialism and considered communists and socialists their biggest enemies. They broke the strong Italian and German labor unions. German industrialists generally supported Hitler, especially those who were part of Germany’s own “military-industrial complex.” In fact, some have said fascism is predatory corporate capitalism’s last-ditch effort to save itself when “nicer” ways such as democracy and legal process get in its way.
Fascism requires populist demagogues who can focus people’s anger on a certain group. Usually, these leaders are sociopaths and narcissists. Fascist leaders, while seeking power, often never say anything of substance but instead hypnotize their followers with platitudes. After all, Hitler and Mussolini really had only one basic message while seeking office: “if you follow me, I can make Germany or Italy ‘great again’”
The European fascists also appealed to strong nationalist chauvinism and hatred of those who were different. Fascist movements thrive on scapegoats. These scapegoats can be chosen based on race, nationality, or religion. Or, in the modern American and European context, immigration status. The scapegoat is falsely blamed for all a nation’s problems and goes through a process of dehumanization. By the way, dehumanization is an important step toward genocide. It is easier to hurt a human being when one thinks of them as less than human.
The Nazis and the Italian Fascists also appealed to conservative Germans and Italians who just wanted a return to the “good old days” when people practiced German or Italian “family values.” Sometimes, they appealed to “Christian” family values. Fascist movements often have religious followers as is the case with modern fascism. Like Islamic extremists, they often use religious explanations for their views and behavior.
Moreover, most fascist leaders have called for false unity and “one big community” where socio-economic differences are ignored. “Unity” is a good thing but false unity is dangerous. In addition, modern fascists are usually not friendly to women. While some women may be involved, for the most part, fascist movements historically have been male-dominated and rather misogynist.
Fascists often make use of the “Big Lie” as the Nazi propagandists called it. After all, it is easier to get smart people to believe a few big lies instead of a lot of little lies. Intelligent people detect little lies. But they will believe even outrageous big lies if they hear the lies from somebody whom they assume to be telling the truth and to know what they are talking about. The advent of internet has made it easier for big lies to be disseminated by modern fascists and fascist movements.
Fascists call even clear evidence of what they are doing as false news and false information. Fascists often attack the press and other media if they make their leader look bad. They threaten the media with closure and when they achieve power, they try to make good on that threat. They focus people’s attention away from real issues and create issues and even emergencies and “crises” in order to mobilize their followers.
For example, shortly after Adolf Hitler became German chancellor, the German Reichstag, or parliament building burned. The Nazis blamed the arson on communists although most historians believe the fire was set by the Nazis themselves. This gave Hitler the chance to demand absolute authority under the “Enabling Act” because of the communist “emergency.”
Those who follow fascist demagogues, today and yesterday, tend to not really understand what the “real” problems are in society or how to solve them. As a result, they lack consciousness of who is really at fault. And so, they accept fascist propaganda as true and accurate. Fascists always are good at shifting the blame from what would be a much more accurate target.
In the 1930s, American writer Sinclair Lewis, during the rise of fascism in Europe, wrote a book titled It Can’t Happen Here. The novel showed how it CAN happen here. It is about a fascist, racist, dictator who comes to power through the electoral process in the Unites States. Everyone should read it.
(Scott Cracraft is a citizen, a taxpayer, and a veteran. He is a resident of Gilford)