Is It Fascism Yet?
What is fascism?
For maybe the first time since World War II, the word “fascism” has entered the popular lexicon. For years, relegated to poorly thought out anarchist screeds, or used by punks to describe any sort of authority at all, “fascism” has once again entered the mainstream. Donald Trump’s candidacy and election has put the word on more tongues since figures like Mussolini and Hitler actually ran fascist governments. Bolstered by “alt-right” figures such as Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos, it would appear to many that fascism is an immediate threat, and many have already mobilized with this in mind.
Is fascism right around the corner for America? Probably not…but just because the future is not called fascism does not make it any less dangerous. It could be argued that America’s current obsession with the term could be obscuring equally dangerous futures. While everyone is arguing about fascism, is it possible that something just as bad could slip by undetected?
So, what is fascism? Firstly, it is important to look at the definitions given by the coiner of the term, Benito Mussolini…
“Fascism, the more it considers and observes the future and the development of humanity quite apart from political considerations of the moment, believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace.
…above all Fascism denies that class-war can be the preponderant force in the transformation of society…
After Socialism, Fascism combats the whole complex system of democratic ideology, and repudiates it, whether in its theoretical premises or in its practical application. Fascism denies that the majority, by the simple fact that it is a majority, can direct human society…
The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State…
For Fascism, the growth of empire, that is to say the expansion of the nation, is an essential manifestation of vitality, and its opposite a sign of decadence.”
Is Trump fascist?
While there are some obvious parallels to the ideas propagating around Trump currently, to call Trump a fascist would not quite be accurate. Trump, while still as much of a warmonger as every other president, does not praise a state of eternal war as the fascist does. He does not place socialism or communism at the forefront of his enemies, instead opting for a vaguer enemy of “terrorism”. While definitely attacking the current democratic structure and practices, Trump does not go as far as to attack the idea of democracy. He does not place the state above everything, and as a businessman, at times even expresses interest in limiting the state.
By Mussolini’s standards, Trump would absolutely not be a fascist. Trump’s politics include a definite measure of authoritarianism, backed by a populist racism, but he is not a fascist. This is a point that many of those throwing around the word “fascist” today might concede, but only so that they can point at figures surrounding and promoting Trump’s politics. The “alt-right” has been conflated with fascism for almost as long as “alt-right” has been a term. People like Richard Spencer, Steve Bannon, and Milo Yiannopoulos receive the “fascist” label almost as much as Trump does.
Is the alt-right fascist?
There are likely many in the alt-right that harbor fascist ideas, however to call the alt-right fascist is another mistake. Fascism is very open in its ideas. The alt-right likes to hide their agendas, and often backtracks on their own ideology when called out for it. Some alt-righters will deny the concept of fascism when confronted…others will even go as far as to say that their ideas are not racist. The alt-right hides behind disingenuous terms like “race-realism” or “cultural libertarianism”, or pretends that it is just another form of American conservatism. Some may still even cling to the label of Republican. Those who are currently called fascist will object to the term, and direct the accusation in other directions, but in the end, to be called a fascist is exactly what these types want.
The alt-right knows it is not actually fascist, regardless of any fascist influence. In fact, when people like Bannon or Spencer evoke the ideas of Julius Evola, they are demonstrating just how not fascist they are. An authoritarian monarchist like Evola would have scoffed at the populism of fascism. The alt-right, and the president they lay claim to, is not so much a unified ideology as one that picks and chooses from the authoritarian ideologies of past. It is a nebulous grouping of anti-democracy, monarchy, fascism, racism, and all other sorts of reaction. While their critics focus on the false label of “fascism”, the alt-right is laughing at all the other authoritarian ideology that goes by unnoticed or unannounced.
Because of their opponents’ focus on fascism, it is possible for the alt-right to deflect accusations in other directions. “I’m not a fascist, I simply prefer a strong state” or “I’m not a fascist, I’m a race-realist” are easy defensive options, as they are largely true. When using “fascism” as a blanket term, it is extremely easy for the alt-right to sidestep any accusations of fascism. Milo Yiannopoulos is a great example of how this is accomplished…
“If white privilege is a thing, why are people working so hard to be black? All of the award shows and cultural events favor black culture…
Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy…
Black Lives Matter is the culmination of racial divide. They’re nothing more than the last socially acceptable hate group in America.”
None of these Milo quotes are particularly fascist. They might qualify as racist or sexist, but there is nothing about them that makes them fascist. When called out as a fascist, it is easy for Yiannopoulos to dodge the accusations of fascism, because he isn’t advocating for fascism. He is really just advocating extremely authoritarian ideas, and hoping that his opponents call it fascism. By attempting to play the “fascism” card, the left, and anyone opposed to the alt-right, is really just playing into the alt-right’s hand. The alt-right wants to be called fascist. Being called a specific ideology which existed only for a few decades in the 20th century provides them with an easy out. It obscures the trove of other awful ideologies than both Trump and the alt-right draw from, and it makes those using the word “fascism” factually wrong.
What is to be done?
While fascism was a very outward ideology that concretely stated its aims, and at times even its racism, the authoritarian ideology of the future seeks to constantly obscure its goals. The characteristic brutal honesty of fascism has disappeared, and has been replaced with endless layers of clever redirection. Racism has been replaced by “race-realism”. Sexism has been replaced with an aversion to feminism. White supremacy has been replaced with “white nationalism”. Calling people out for authoritarian behavior is being met with reversed claims. The idea that silencing fascists is itself a fascist act is beginning to gain more and more traction.
The authoritarians of our current day have laid out a maze of smoke and mirrors, and their opposition has played right into it, by focusing on the term “fascism”. The left and anti-fascists have almost shot themselves in the foot by declaring “No platform for fascists”. Does that mean that “race-realists” get a platform? Does that mean that monarchists get a platform? Fascism is too niche of a term, and its specificity has become a boon to those who are being identified with it. Instead of a general “No platform for authoritarians”, those who would oppose Trump and the alt-right are left throwing punches at something that isn’t there, and being laughed at in the process.
Is it fascism yet? No. Will it ever be fascism? Probably not. Fascism was a specific ideology that while influential now, no longer actually exists. It comes from a time where ideologies operated openly. Now, we live in a time where even the most insidious of ideologies can be rationalized by using the correct buzzwords and tactics. Fascism is not the enemy…coercive authority is. Whether that authority wants to coerce people via a specific Italian-bred ideology, or if it wants to operate behind thinly veiled racism is of no consequence.
To truly oppose the alt-right and Trump, the opposition needs to get rid of “fascism” as a dirty word, and start directly opposing the smokescreens that the alt-right puts up. The terms that the alt-right uses to obscure their racism, sexism, and reaction need to be brought into the open, and then opposed. Instead of fighting ghosts of German and Italian dictatorships, the tangible populace that has no problem being influenced by them must be fought. Outside of a few fringe groups, fascism no longer exists. What does exist is a growing population of people that are growing more and more emboldened into outright authoritarian behavior due to the success of Trump and the alt-right. What exists is the continuing normalization of bigotry and xenophobia, all under the guise of democracy and the “American Dream”. In order to be truly opposed, this behavior must be called out for what it is, and not labeled as something that it is not.