Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Defining Fascism

Here's another word to watch out for: Fascism. A long time ago, as in, in my youth, and while not working for a newspaper, I carelessly referred to a certain politician not of my liking as a "fascist" which brought an instant rebuke from my boss, a rather imperious White Russian refugee. (There's that word again.) So, I try to be a bit careful with the word. Regardless of your political leanings, referring to someone like Osama bin Laden or the al-Sadr clan as fascists seems a stretch of the definition.

The use has been cropping up for a few years, with rightwing bloggers tossing the word around to refer to radical/militant/fundamentalist/angry Muslims who oppose the West, and as a suffix to Islam, as in Islamo-fascist. But in the last few days, members of the administration have been using the word, too, trying to define radicalism Islam in new ways, as well as draw a comparison to the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany in the 1930s as part of their effort to portray the "war on terror" as World War III.
So, how is fascism defined?
Here is what dictionary.com says:
1. (sometimes initial capital letter) a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.
2. (sometimes initial capital letter) the philosophy, principles, or methods of fascism.
3. (initial capital letter) a fascist movement, esp. the one established by Mussolini in Italy 1922–43.

and from answers.com, citing Britannica:

Philosophy of government that stresses the primacy and glory of the state, unquestioning obedience to its leader, subordination of the individual will to the state's authority, and harsh suppression of dissent. Martial virtues are celebrated, while liberal and democratic values are disparaged. Fascism arose during the 1920s and '30s partly out of fear of the rising power of the working classes; it differed from contemporary communism (as practiced under Joseph Stalin) by its protection of business and landowning elites and its preservation of class systems. The leaders of the fascist governments of Italy (1922–43), Germany (1933–45), and Spain (1939–75)-Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, and Francisco Franco-were portrayed to their publics as embodiments of the strength and resolve necessary to rescue their nations from political and economic chaos. Japanese fascists (1936–45) fostered belief in the uniqueness of the Japanese spirit and taught subordination to the state and personal sacrifice.


I wonder if one of our Washington bureau folks will ask Donald Rumsfeld or President Bush to define the word the next time they use it?

2 comments:

John McIntyre said...

The central point is that fascism and communism were twin representatives of 20th-century totalitarianism, with the state exercising supreme control over individuals.

Islamic militants, like some Christian fundamentalists, appear to envision an older form of authoritarianism, the theocratic state. Not the same thing at all, though I doubt that there is widespread enthusiasm about living under either kind of system.

CherylStephens said...

Both the dictionaries and john mcintyre miss the fundamental basis of the "governmental system" that was fascism: the tri-partite philosophy that the three parties could work together to advance civilization and maintain peace and public order:
1. the state (above class interests)
2. capital, or as you wish, business
3. labour represented by unions (unions that subscribed to this theory)

While the use of violence to maintain this system has faded, the theory of government and of the role of the state continues...

And, a dictator is not required to constitute a fascist government. Remember that Hitler's Fascist Party was elected.

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