Fascism’s Many Faces
I stated in my book, A Celebration Society, that fascism is the ascendant ideology of the 21st century. I also pointed out that fascism usually arises from within democracies, which it then, when successful, usurps and demolishes.
I look at most of the world’s strongmen as either fascists or would-be fascists. (Mussolini started out as a real socialist, not the national socialist kind, and later morphed into a softer version of Hitler.)
Many have objected to this argument. They say, “you’re lumping together ideologies that oppose and often detest each other, such as communists with national socialists, and both of those with some who call themselves freedom-loving national patriots.
I would argue that the above are opposites only on a superficial level. Their identities are different. But they share far more important characteristics than they have differences.
Consider Hitler and Stalin, by way of example. (I will examine more recent examples later.)
I submit that, though one was Nazi and the other Communist, Hitler had a lot more in common with Stalin than either did with Churchill or with Roosevelt.
For example, all fascists use The Other to create and strengthen a national identity.
Some fascists use Jews as the other. Some use immigrants. Some (typically communists) use capitalists. Some use blacks. Some use “degenerates”. Some (Mr. Putin’s type) even use “fascists” as the other.
All fascists use words, facts, truth, and reasoning as tools — to be twisted and even ignored when they don’t serve the fascists’ agenda and narrative.
Fascists seek to repose power in the hands of a single national (and nationalist) leader. They happily manipulate, change and if necessary ignore the norms and laws of the society in which they come to power.
Fascists like and often express support for the idea of “leader for life”, even when their nation’s constitution expressly forbids that.
You can see this in Putin, Xi, and Putin’s American cult. Bolsonaro was another, but he couldn’t quite grasp the levers of power strongly enough to prevent another election. (Sometimes it takes a few elections to completely subvert a democracy. Hitler failed miserably in his first attempt. Had he won the war, there would never have been another election in Germany or in many other places.)
All fascists take an X-first approach, where X is their country and, especially, the “true” citizens of that country.
All fascists seek to glorify and restore a lost past, a halcyon time which they and their followers reimagine into something it never was.
And yes, fascists can certainly hate each other when they don’t align on narrative or national identity — or simply when it serves to whip followers into a frenzy.
I fully expect Xi to turn on Russia when Russia loses to Ukraine. That will be the ideal time for Xi’s nationalistic aspirations to be served by annexing large tracts of resource-bearing Russian territory, probably via the artifice of loaning Russia the money needed for reparations. (“We’re not invading, we’re securing our collateral.”)
Viewed from the lens of substance rather than superficial labels (labels which are used by fascists as tools; nothing more), fascism looks like the most robust ideology on the planet. It provides simple, albeit simplistic, solutions to life’s great problems. In this time of exponentially accelerating automation, many well-paid workers will soon lose their jobs and become either unemployable or only able to get minimum wage jobs.
Such people will be desperate for solutions. If democracies are too short-sighted to adopt a universal basic income (UBI), and Basic Income Australia’s MOUBI is the only viable and sustainable example of which I am aware, they will remain vulnerable to the siren songs of fascists.
The classic defense against fascism has long been held to be information. If people are aware they are being manipulated, it becomes harder to do. However, with the rise of deep fakes, and social media curating news and information into echo chambers designed to fan the flames of outrage, it is becoming almost impossible for most of us to distinguish fact from fiction.
We will increasingly need a third way apart from democracy and fascism. In A Celebration Society, I proposed the creation of a model scientific evolutionary society — an anti-utopia, if you will — based on systems of sustainable technological abundance. It has been well-received. Other such models are also possible.