Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Another note on fascism

I'm swamped with work today and won't have time to finish my planned post on fascism till tomorrow. In the meantime, I thought I'd offer some thoughts from my very old friend John McKay, who dropped an e-mail responding to yesterday's post:

Defining Fascism is a very slippery business. I spent most of a graduate seminar a decade ago studying and dissecting this question. There is no agreed upon and authoritative one-sentence definition for Fascism. In fact, fighting over one is a still-healthy cottage industry that provides employment for plenty of historians and political scientists. My own take on it is to emphasize two points that lead to this slipperiness.

The first is a point you already made: Fascism is mostly reactive in nature. It is more defined by what it is against than by what it is. First and foremost, it is anti-liberal. This is not necessarily the same thing as being conservative. We too often define political positions as a scale between two polar opposites, when reality is broader and sloppier than that. So, while Fascism is a thing of the right, it is not just extremism beyond normal conservatism. Next, it is anti-pluralist, which usually means nationalist, racist, and/or unilateralist. Fascists don't like to share.

Second, it is not just one thing. There have been many forms of Fascism. The popular image of Fascism is simply Nazism. Some scholars debate whether Nazism is one variety of Fascism or a separate (though related) phenomenon. I lean toward the variety school. During its heyday in the thirties, there were scores of Fascist parties in over a dozen countries. These evolved from earlier political movements and some survive in successor movements. The use of pronouns like proto-, post-, and neo- helps a little in sorting them out, but only a little. One reason for its persistence is its mutability. Most political societies can produce a fascism.

John, of course, is right about all this. We'll get into more detail tomorrow.

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