Trying To Define “Fascism”

Defining fascism is no easy task, it seems, and we probably won’t get very far in one blog-post, but let us forge on anyway.

This morning, I heard a radio-pundit define “fascism” as a form of government in which the state, the military, and large corporations are closely connected as well as united behind “right-wing” ideas. He claimed Franco’s Spain featured a “fascist” government, and he claimed George W. Bush’s administration revealed significant “fascist” tendencies. The implied definition of “fascism” in his discussion seemed diffuse to me, however, even if his first claim (about Franco’s government) seemed reasonable.

The OED online does not pretend to explore the definitions of fascism with any great precision and goes so far as to assert that the word is [usually] used “loosely” to describe “right-wing authoritarianism.” The examples the OED gives are of great historical interest, however; take a look at a few, if you will:

1921 19th Cent. July 148 The Fascismo was born in the provinces, where the extremistic menace was stronger. 1922 Q. Rev. Jan. 148 A section of the veered completely round to the cause of Fascism. The Fascist terror increased in intensity. 1923 Contemp. Rev. Jan. 44 We do not want Fascismo in this country. Ibid. Nov. 557 Fascism in Germany will never be more than one of several factors. 1925 Weekly Westm. Gaz. 10 Jan. 320/2 The outrages which have been associated with Fascism have gradually alienated much of the support which it won two years ago. 1934 tr. K. Heiden’s National Socialism xvii. 354 The electoral victories all over Europe with which the Labour Parties have replied to German Fascism. 1936 Discovery Dec. 378/1, I have strongly criticised modern education and the methods of handling youth generally as inculcating excessive respect for authority and thereby conducing to the growth of Fascism.

Next I found an essay (online) written by novelist and literary theorist Umberto Eco and first published in the New York Review of Books, 22 June 1995, pp.12-15.

In the essay, Eco lists some characteristics of what he calls “Ur-Fascism”: 1. a cult of tradition. [“Cult” seems to be the operative word, and in Eco’s use, it seems to refer to an uncritical, warped sense of tradition, not to a respect for tradition(s).] 2. This cult of tradition tends, Eco suggests, to be “syncretistic”–to borrow elements, unsystematically, from different traditions. 3. At the same time, Eco argues, fascism is “anti-Modern”: deeply reactionary, anti-intellectual, anti-science, and so on. 4. Ur-Fascism fears “difference” and “diversity” (in culture), he argues. 5. He asserts that fascism [Ur-Fascism] regards disagreement as “treason” and cannot abide sober critique. 6. Fascism features extreme nationalism. 7. It is often obsessed with a “plot,” often an international one, and certainly one toward which right-thinking [so to speak] persons should perpetually feel fear. Eco’s example is Pat Robertson’s book New World Order. 8. Fascism expresses contempt for the “weak” (“weak” as define by fascism, however, so that opposition to war might be viewed as “weak”). 11. Fascism attempts to educate everyone to become (or to want to become) “heroes.” 12. Fascism supports “popular elitism”–oxymoronically. 13. Fascism opposes parliamentary systems. 14. Fascism uses “Newspeak,” Eco argues; it has an “impoverished vocabulary.”

Eco’s list of characteristics at least grounds his view of fascism in particulars, even if it doesn’t provide us with a concise definition.

Roger Griffin and and Matthew Feldman are not more concise than Eco, but they certainly seem to have left few stones (or bundles of sticks) unturned in their multi-volume work from Routledge: Fascism, in the Critical Concepts in Political Science series.


One Response to “Trying To Define “Fascism””

  1. pbrower2a Says:

    My definition: fascism is the revolutionary methods of Bolshevism in the service of reactionary interests.

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