- His conclusion as I read it is that pseudo-fascism is more appropriately thought of as proto-fascism, and that the sort of pseudo-fascist rhetoric we're seeing so much of these days isn't fundamentally distinct from fascism proper, but is rather an "earlier" form of the same impulse. The distinction to be made, then, is between the fascist mindset and fascism itself, the latter being a product of the fascist mindset + certain circumstances and actions ...
Now, this is all terminology, but I try to reserve the term "proto-fascist" for genuinely fascist entities that put on a mainstream face, e.g., the Patriot movement; the conservative movement, in contrast, simply exhibits and embraces fascist themes but does not really have the violence and totalitarianism that is the real fascist core (and thus is "pseudo fascist"). The problem with this, I argue, is that it creates the conditions -- that is, a populace receptive to these themes -- for the rise, perhaps much further down the road, for a large-scale outbreak of genuine fascism.
I think Robert Paxton's model of five-stage fascism is helpful in this regard, because much of the kind of rhetoric we're talking about is simply first-stage fascism, something we've been dealing with for years. The prospect of it reaching the second stage -- "taking root" -- is not particularly great through traditional means, but could occur if the conservative movement drifts toward proto-fascism, both rhetorically and in terms of their agendas.
- What we have to acknowledge, then, is that this pseudo-fascist/fascist mindset is attacking government and society on the most fundamental level, which is, counterintuitively, also the most vulnerable level. Conservative ideology in its most basic form is marked by a certain natural skepticism towards unorthodox ideas, towards anything that deviates in policy or principle from the status quo. The fascist mindset, it seems to me, is a combination of two impulses: an extreme version of this death grip on the status quo, and an irrational and reductive division of the world into "us" and "them." These two impulses justify and enhance each other, to the point of full-fledged eliminationism. This is dangerous not only in that it has the potential to develop into fascism proper (or at least “isolated” incidents of violence and persecution)—it also threatens the responsiveness of democracy and the fundamental respect for freedom, autonomy, and the intrinsic worth of human beings (regardless of political/philosophical/theological belief). Fascist tendencies and eliminationist rhetoric shouldn’t only worry us because they might result in real violence, though the threat of violence is real. We should also be wary of such mindsets because of the damage they do to the foundations of our society, a society that (like it or not) is designed to function according to a rational morality, not irrational and impenetrable orthodoxy.
This is important to emphasize, because this rhetoric and its spread really does affect us in our personal lives, in our relationships, our work networks. It's really a venom that poisons the community well.
This is why thinking of fascism as a political pathology can be helpful, especially since it has a psychological dimension as well. Psychological pathologies are rarely boiled down to a single trait or behavior; rather, they comprise a constellation of these, and only when a particular combination manifests itself can we identify them as a real pathology. The same applies to a political pathology like fascism: some traits can give us an outline of a given syndrome, but only when all the stars align can we confirm the diagnosis.
I think it's fair to say that the stars have been aligning in an ugly and disturbing fashion in recent years.