Form of far-right, authoritarian ultranationalism
Fascism (/ˈfæʃɪzəm/) is a form of far-right, authoritarianultranationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and of the economy which came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe. The first fascist movements emerged in Italy during World War I, before spreading to other European countries. Opposed to liberalism, Marxism, and anarchism, fascism is placed on the far right within the traditional left–right spectrum.
Fascists saw World War I as a revolution that brought massive changes to the nature of war, society, the state, and technology. The advent of total war and the total mass mobilization of society had broken down the distinction between civilians and combatants. A "military citizenship" arose in which all citizens were involved with the military in some manner during the war. The war had resulted in the rise of a powerful state capable of mobilizing millions of people to serve on the front lines and providing economic production and logistics to support them, as well as having unprecedented authority to intervene in the lives of citizens.
Fascists believe that liberal democracy is obsolete and regard the complete mobilization of society under a totalitarianone-party state as necessary to prepare a nation for armed conflict and to respond effectively to economic difficulties. Such a state is led by a strong leader—such as a dictator and a martial government composed of the members of the governing fascist party—to forge national unity and maintain a stable and orderly society. Fascism rejects assertions that violence is automatically negative in nature and views political violence, war, and imperialism as means that can achieve national rejuvenation. Fascists advocate a mixed economy, with the principal goal of achieving autarky (national economic self-sufficiency) through protectionist and interventionist economic policies.
Since the end of World War II in 1945, few parties have openly described themselves as fascist, and the term is instead now usually used pejoratively by political opponents. The descriptions neo-fascist or post-fascist are sometimes applied more formally to describe parties of the far right with ideologies similar to, or rooted in, 20th-century fascist movements.
The Italian term fascismo is derived from fascio meaning "a bundle of sticks", ultimately from the Latin word fasces. This was the name given to political organizations in Italy known as fasci, groups similar to guilds or syndicates. According to Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini's own account, the Fasces of Revolutionary Action were founded in Italy in 1915. In 1919, Mussolini founded the Italian Fasces of Combat in Milan, which became the National Fascist Party two years later. The Fascists came to associate the term with the ancient Roman fasces or fascio littorio—a bundle of rods tied around an axe, an ancient Roman symbol of the authority of the civic magistrate carried by his lictors, which could be used for corporal and capital punishment at his command.
The symbolism of the fasces suggested strength through unity: a single rod is easily broken, while the bundle is difficult to break. Similar symbols were developed by different fascist movements: for example, the Falange symbol is five arrows joined together by a yoke.
Historians, political scientists, and other scholars have long debated the exact nature of fascism. Each group described as fascist has at least some unique elements, and many definitions of fascism have been criticized as either too wide or narrow.
According to many scholars, fascism – especially once in power – has historically attacked communism, conservatism, and parliamentary liberalism, attracting support primarily from the far-right.
One common definition of the term, frequently cited by reliable sources as a standard definition, is that of historian Stanley G. Payne. He focuses on three concepts:
- the "fascist negations": anti-liberalism, anti-communism, and anti-conservatism;
- "fascist goals": the creation of a nationalist dictatorship to regulate economic structure and to transform social relations within a modern, self-determined culture, and the expansion of the nation into an empire; and
- "fascist style": a political aesthetic of romantic symbolism, mass mobilization, a positive view of violence, and promotion of masculinity, youth, and charismatic authoritarian leadership.
Professor Jason Stanley, in his book How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, observed that "The leader proposes that only he can solve it and all of his political opponents are enemies or traitors." Stanley says recent global events, including the pandemic and the protests, have substantiated his concern about how fascist rhetoric is showing up in politics and policies around the world.
Historian John Lukacs argues that there is no such thing as generic fascism. He claims that Nazism and communism are essentially manifestations of populism and that states such as Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy are more different than similar.
Roger Griffin describes fascism as "a genus of political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populistultranationalism". Griffin describes the ideology as having three core components: "(i) the rebirth myth, (ii) populist ultra-nationalism, and (iii) the myth of decadence". In Griffin's view, fascism is "a genuinely revolutionary, trans-class form of anti-liberal, and in the last analysis, anti-conservative nationalism" built on a complex range of theoretical and cultural influences. He distinguishes an inter-war period in which it manifested itself in elite-led but populist "armed party" politics opposing socialism and liberalism and promising radical politics to rescue the nation from decadence. In Against the Fascist Creep, Alexander Reid Ross writes regarding Griffin's view:
Following the Cold War and shifts in fascist organizing techniques, a number of scholars have moved toward the minimalist "new consensus" refined by Roger Griffin: "the mythic core" of fascism is "a populist form of palingenetic ultranationalism." That means that fascism is an ideology that draws on old, ancient, and even arcane myths of racial, cultural, ethnic, and national origins to develop a plan for the "new man."
Indeed, Griffin himself explored this 'mythic' or 'eliminable' core of fascism with his concept of post-fascism to explore the continuation of Nazism in the modern era. Additionally, other historians have applied this minimalist core to explore proto-fascist movements.
Cas Mudde and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser argue that although fascism "flirted with populism ... in an attempt to generate mass support", it is better seen as an elitist ideology. They cite in particular its exaltation of the Leader, the race, and the state, rather than the people. They see populism as a "thin-centered ideology" with a "restricted morphology" which necessarily becomes attached to "thick-centered" ideologies such as fascism, liberalism, or socialism. Thus populism can be found as an aspect of many specific ideologies, without necessarily being a defining characteristic of those ideologies. They refer to the combination of populism, authoritarianism and ultranationalism as "a marriage of convenience."
Robert Paxton says that:
[Fascism is] a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.
Roger Eatwell defines fascism as "an ideology that strives to forge social rebirth based on a holistic-national radical Third Way", while Walter Laqueur sees the core tenets of fascism as "self-evident: nationalism; Social Darwinism; racialism, the need for leadership, a new aristocracy, and obedience; and the negation of the ideals of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution."
Racism was a key feature of German fascism, for which the Holocaust was a high priority. According to the historiography of genocide, "In dealing with the Holocaust, it is the consensus of historians that Nazi Germany targeted Jews as a race, not as a religious group."Umberto Eco, Kevin Passmore, John Weiss, Ian Adams, and Moyra Grant stress racism as a characteristic component of German fascism. Historian Robert Soucy stated that "Hitler envisioned the ideal German society as a Volksgemeinschaft, a racially unified and hierarchically organized body in which the interests of individuals would be strictly subordinate to those of the nation, or Volk." Fascist philosophies vary by application, but remain distinct by one theoretical commonality: all traditionally fall into the far-right sector of any political spectrum, catalyzed by afflicted class identities over conventional social inequities.
Position in the political spectrum
Most scholars place fascism on the far right of the political spectrum. Such scholarship focuses on its social conservatism and its authoritarian means of opposing egalitarianism. Roderick Stackelberg places fascism—including Nazism, which he says is "a radical variant of fascism"—on the political right by explaining: "The more a person deems absolute equality among all people to be a desirable condition, the further left he or she will be on the ideological spectrum. The more a person considers inequality to be unavoidable or even desirable, the further to the right he or she will be".
Fascism's origins, however, are complex and include many seemingly contradictory viewpoints, ultimately centered around a mythos of national rebirth from decadence. Fascism was founded during World War I by Italian national syndicalists who drew upon both left-wing organizational tactics and right-wing political views.
Italian Fascism gravitated to the right in the early 1920s. A major element of fascist ideology that has been deemed to be far-right is its stated goal to promote the right of a supposedly superior people to dominate, while purging society of supposedly inferior elements.
In the 1920s, the Italian Fascists described their ideology as right-wing in the political program The Doctrine of Fascism, stating: "We are free to believe that this is the century of authority, a century tending to the 'right,' a fascist century". Mussolini stated that fascism's position on the political spectrum was not a serious issue for fascists: "Fascism, sitting on the right, could also have sat on the mountain of the center ... These words in any case do not have a fixed and unchanged meaning: they do have a variable subject to location, time and spirit. We don't give a damn about these empty terminologies and we despise those who are terrorized by these words".
Major Italian groups politically on the right, especially rich landowners and big business, feared an uprising by groups on the left such as sharecroppers and labour unions. They welcomed Fascism and supported its violent suppression of opponents on the left. The accommodation of the political right into the Italian Fascist movement in the early 1920s created internal factions within the movement. The "Fascist left" included Michele Bianchi, Giuseppe Bottai, Angelo Oliviero Olivetti, Sergio Panunzio, and Edmondo Rossoni, who were committed to advancing national syndicalism as a replacement for parliamentary liberalism in order to modernize the economy and advance the interests of workers and the common people. The "Fascist right" included members of the paramilitary Squadristi and former members of the Italian Nationalist Association (ANI). The Squadristi wanted to establish Fascism as a complete dictatorship, while the former ANI members, including Alfredo Rocco, sought to institute an authoritarian corporatist state to replace the liberal state in Italy while retaining the existing elites. Upon accommodating the political right, there arose a group of monarchist fascists who sought to use fascism to create an absolute monarchy under King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy.
After the fall of the Fascist regime in Italy, when King Victor Emmanuel III forced Mussolini to resign as head of government and placed him under arrest in 1943, Mussolini was rescued by German forces. While continuing to rely on Germany for support, Mussolini and the remaining loyal Fascists founded the Italian Social Republic with Mussolini as head of state. Mussolini sought to re-radicalize Italian Fascism, declaring that the Fascist state had been overthrown because Italian Fascism had been subverted by Italian conservatives and the bourgeoisie. Then the new Fascist government proposed the creation of workers' councils and profit-sharing in industry, although the German authorities, who effectively controlled northern Italy at this point, ignored these measures and did not seek to enforce them.
A number of post-World War II fascist movements described themselves as a "third position" outside the traditional political spectrum. Spanish Falangist leader José Antonio Primo de Rivera said: "[B]asically the Right stands for the maintenance of an economic structure, albeit an unjust one, while the Left stands for the attempt to subvert that economic structure, even though the subversion thereof would entail the destruction of much that was worthwhile".
"Fascist" as a pejorative
The term "fascist" has been used as a pejorative, regarding varying movements across the far right of the political spectrum.George Orwell wrote in 1944 that "the word 'Fascism' is almost entirely meaningless ... almost any English person would accept 'bully' as a synonym for 'Fascist'".
Despite fascist movements' history of anti-communism, communist states have sometimes been referred to as "fascist", typically as an insult. For example, it has been applied to Marxist-Leninist regimes in Cuba under Fidel Castro and Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh. Chinese Marxists used the term to denounce the Soviet Union during the Sino-Soviet Split, and likewise the Soviets used the term to denounce Chinese Marxists and social democracy (coining a new term in "social fascism").
In the United States, Herbert Matthews of The New York Times asked in 1946: "Should we now place Stalinist Russia in the same category as Hitlerite Germany? Should we say that she is Fascist?".J. Edgar Hoover, longtime FBI director and ardent anti-communist, wrote extensively of "Red Fascism". The Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s was sometimes called "fascist". Historian Peter Amann states that, "Undeniably, the Klan had some traits in common with European fascism—chauvinism, racism, a mystique of violence, an affirmation of a certain kind of archaic traditionalism—yet their differences were fundamental....[the KKK] never envisioned a change of political or economic system."
Professor Richard Griffiths of the University of Wales wrote in 2005 that "fascism" is the "most misused, and over-used word, of our times". "Fascist" is sometimes applied to post-World War II organizations and ways of thinking that academics more commonly term "neo-fascist".
Georges Valois, founder of the first non-Italian fascist party Faisceau, claimed the roots of fascism stemmed from the late 18th century Jacobin movement, seeing in its totalitarian nature a foreshadowing of the fascist state. Historian George Mosse similarly analyzed fascism as an inheritor of the mass ideology and civil religion of the French Revolution, as well as a result of the brutalization of societies in 1914–1918.
Historians such as Irene Collins and Howard C Payne see Napoleon III, who ran a 'police state' and suppressed the media, as a forerunner of fascism. According to David Thomson, the Italian Risorgimento of 1871 led to the 'nemesis of fascism'. William L Shirer sees a continuity from the views of Fichte and Hegel, through Bismarck, to Hitler; Robert Gerwarth speaks of a 'direct line' from Bismarck to Hitler.Julian Dierkes sees fascism as a 'particularly violent form of imperialism'.
Fin de siècle era and the fusion of Maurrasism with Sorelianism (1880–1914)
The historian Zeev Sternhell has traced the ideological roots of fascism back to the 1880s and in particular to the fin de siècle theme of that time. The theme was based on a revolt against materialism, rationalism, positivism, bourgeois society and democracy. The fin-de-siècle generation supported emotionalism, irrationalism, subjectivism and vitalism. They regarded civilization as being in crisis, requiring a massive and total solution. Their intellectual school considered the individual as only one part of the larger collectivity, which should not be viewed as a numerical sum of atomized individuals. They condemned the rationalistic individualism of liberal society and the dissolution of social links in bourgeois society.
The fin-de-siècle outlook was influenced by various intellectual developments, including Darwinianbiology; Wagnerian aesthetics; Arthur de Gobineau's racialism; Gustave Le Bon's psychology; and the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Henri Bergson.Social Darwinism, which gained widespread acceptance, made no distinction between physical and social life, and viewed the human condition as being an unceasing struggle to achieve the survival of the fittest. Social Darwinism challenged positivism's claim of deliberate and rational choice as the determining behaviour of humans, with social Darwinism focusing on heredity, race, and environment. Social Darwinism's emphasis on biogroup identity and the role of organic relations within societies fostered the legitimacy and appeal of nationalism. New theories of social and political psychology also rejected the notion of human behaviour being governed by rational choice and instead claimed that emotion was more influential in political issues than reason. Nietzsche's argument that "God is dead" coincided with his attack on the "herd mentality" of Christianity, democracy and modern collectivism; his concept of the übermensch; and his advocacy of the will to power as a primordial instinct, were major influences upon many of the fin-de-siècle generation. Bergson's claim of the existence of an "élan vital" or vital instinct centred upon free choice and rejected the processes of materialism and determinism; this challenged Marxism.
Gaetano Mosca in his work The Ruling Class (1896) developed the theory that claims that in all societies an "organized minority" will dominate and rule over the "disorganized majority". Mosca claims that there are only two classes in society, "the governing" (the organized minority) and "the governed" (the disorganized majority). He claims that the organized nature of the organized minority makes it irresistible to any individual of the disorganized majority.
French nationalist and reactionary monarchist Charles Maurras influenced fascism. Maurras promoted what he called integral nationalism, which called for the organic unity of a nation and Maurras insisted that a powerful monarch was an ideal leader of a nation. Maurras distrusted what he considered the democratic mystification of the popular will that created an impersonal collective subject. He claimed that a powerful monarch was a personified sovereign who could exercise authority to unite a nation's people. Maurras' integral nationalism was idealized by fascists, but modified into a modernized revolutionary form that was devoid of Maurras' monarchism.
French revolutionary syndicalist Georges Sorel promoted the legitimacy of political violence in his work Reflections on Violence (1908) and other works in which he advocated radical syndicalist action to achieve a revolution to overthrow capitalism and the bourgeoisie through a general strike. In Reflections on Violence, Sorel emphasized need for a revolutionary political religion. Also in his work The Illusions of Progress, Sorel denounced democracy as reactionary, saying "nothing is more aristocratic than democracy". By 1909 after the failure of a syndicalist general strike in France, Sorel and his supporters left the radical left and went to the radical right, where they sought to merge militant Catholicism and French patriotism with their views—advocating anti-republican Christian French patriots as ideal revolutionaries. Initially Sorel had officially been a revisionist of Marxism, but by 1910 announced his abandonment of socialist literature and claimed in 1914, using an aphorism of Benedetto Croce that "socialism is dead" because of the "decomposition of Marxism". Sorel became a supporter of reactionary Maurrassian nationalism beginning in 1909 that influenced his works. Maurras held interest in merging his nationalist ideals with Soreliansyndicalism as a means to confront democracy. Maurras stated "a socialism liberated from the democratic and cosmopolitan element fits nationalism well as a well made glove fits a beautiful hand".
The fusion of Maurrassian nationalism and Sorelian syndicalism influenced radical Italian nationalist Enrico Corradini. Corradini spoke of the need for a nationalist-syndicalist movement, led by elitist aristocrats and anti-democrats who shared a revolutionary syndicalist commitment to direct action and a willingness to fight. Corradini spoke of Italy as being a "proletarian nation" that needed to pursue imperialism in order to challenge the "plutocratic" French and British. Corradini's views were part of a wider set of perceptions within the right-wing Italian Nationalist Association (ANI), which claimed that Italy's economic backwardness was caused by corruption in its political class, liberalism, and division caused by "ignoble socialism". The ANI held ties and influence among conservatives, Catholics and the business community. Italian national syndicalists held a common set of principles: the rejection of bourgeois values, democracy, liberalism, Marxism, internationalism and pacifism; and the promotion of heroism, vitalism and violence. The ANI claimed that liberal democracy was no longer compatible with the modern world, and advocated a strong state and imperialism, claiming that humans are naturally predatory and that nations were in a constant struggle, in which only the strongest could survive.
Futurism was both an artistic-cultural movement and initially a political movement in Italy led by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti who founded the Futurist Manifesto (1908), that championed the causes of modernism, action, and political violence as necessary elements of politics while denouncing liberalism and parliamentary politics. Marinetti rejected conventional democracy based on majority rule and egalitarianism, for a new form of democracy, promoting what he described in his work "The Futurist Conception of Democracy" as the following: "We are therefore able to give the directions to create and to dismantle to numbers, to quantity, to the mass, for with us number, quantity and mass will never be—as they are in Germany and Russia—the number, quantity and mass of mediocre men, incapable and indecisive".
Futurism influenced fascism in its emphasis on recognizing the virile nature of violent action and war as being necessities of modern civilization. Marinetti promoted the need of physical training of young men, saying that in male education, gymnastics should take precedence over books, and he advocated segregation of the genders on this matter, in that womanly sensibility must not enter men's education whom Marinetti claimed must be "lively, bellicose, muscular and violently dynamic".