Thursday, May 27, 2010

What is Fascism?

I'm finally starting Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism" and so far it's much like "The 5,000 Year Leap" in that I wish I could simply reprint the entire thing for everyone to read. If you have any interest, get a copy. I had taken for granted that I knew what fascism is until I read the first few pages.
Stanley G. Payne, considered by many to be the leading living scholar of fascism, wrote in 1995, "At the end of the twentieth century fascism remains probably the vaguest of the major political terms." There are even serious scholars who argue that Nazism wasn't fascist, that fascism doesn't exist at all, or that it is primarily a secular religion (this is my view*). "[P]ut simply," writes Gilbert Allardyce, "we have agreed to use the word without agreeing on how to define it."

And yet even though scholars admit that the nature of fascism is vague, complicated and open to wildly divergent interpretations, many modern liberals and leftists act as if they know exactly what fascism is. What's more, they see it everywhere--except when they look in the mirror. Indeed, the left wields the term like a cudgel to beat opponents from the public square like seditious pamphleteers. After all, no one has to take a fascist seriously. You're under no obligation to listen to a fascist's arguments or concern yourself with his feelings or rights. It's why Al Gore and many other environmentalists are so quick to compare global-warming skeptics to Holocaust deniers. Once such an association takes hold, there's no reason to give such people the time of day.

In short, "fascist" is a modern word for "heretic," branding an individual worthy of excommunication from the body politic. The left uses other words--"racist," "sexist," "homophobe," "christianist"--for similar purposes, but these words have less elastic meanings. Fascism, however, is the gift that keeps on giving. George Orwell noted this tendency as early as 1946 in his famous essay "Politics and the English Language": "The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies 'something not desirable.'"
*Jonah Goldberg's, that is. He may persuade me to agree.

No comments: