Politicians, as George Orwell pointed out to us, are particularly adept at draining meaning from language and refilling words with emotional rather than cognitive content. Careful writers of all political persuasions, perhaps especially conservatives, protest the debasement of language by our leaders and public figures. The process has become so ubiquitous that many, if not most, people do not notice that the words they hear or read mean something other than what the dictionary informs us. Therefore, President Bush can call members of Islamic terrorist organizations fascists, and neither he nor most of his listeners recognize any irony in his name-calling. Fortunately, President Bush's misuse of language in referring to Islamic fascists has not escaped attention by some in the popular press. See Georgie Ann Geyer's August 16, 2006 column,
"With Twist of Words Bush Gets It Wrong Again." It is a service to the reading public for journalists such as Ms. Geyer to call attention to the debasement of political terms by leaders who should, but who may not, know better.
Perhaps more than most political terms, the word fascist lends itself to imprecise use. This is because -- unlike most modern ideologies such as communism, socialism, or laissez faire capitalism which have a recognizable set of intellectual constructs that define their core beliefs and to some extent direct or predict their economic or political behaviors fascism at its core substitutes emotional beliefs for intellectual principles. Whereas communism or capitalism have universally applicable principles, such as public ownership of the means of production or a reliance upon the power of private property within a free market economy as the means to a well ordered polity, fascism takes a form that varies according nature and history of the national culture in which it arises. In the 20th Century, nations with widely differing cultures and political structures have been subject to fascist governments. Germany, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Portugal, Croatia and a few other nations have each had a version of fascist government, but the commonalities that make them fascist are not immediately apparent in a survey of their cultural, economic, or institutional structures under fascist regimes. Reading books by German fascists (Hitler, Rosenberg) or by Italian fascists (Mussolini, Gentile), or reading the speeches of Franco, Salazar, or Peron will not immediately provide one with an understanding of fascism as an ideology, or even suggest that there are enough common elements among these national movements to categorize them together on any basis at all.
A number of scholars have addressed the problems of defining fascism as a political theory and have achieved some success, albeit at a rather abstract level. For instance, Umberto Eco, the prolific Italian jack-of-all-trades intellectual, identified 14 points that mark fascism in a 1995 article entitled, "Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt" (New York Review of Books, 22 June 1995). Additionally, in 2002, political scientist Laurence Britt outlined the essentials of fascism in "14 Points of Fascism," for the Project for the Old American Century (http://www.oldamericancentury.org/14pts.htm). Despite the coincidence of finding 14 points of commonality that define fascism, the two articles do not completely catalog the same traits. Nevertheless, taken together they bring a great deal of coherence to the study of fascism as a political movement, if not a coherent ideology.
1) A cult of tradition marks fascist governments. National history is selectively presented to emphasize traits that support the myth of a nation's superiority or special status in history.
2) Fascist governments reject modernism and rationality, although they embrace the instrumentality of technology. Fascist regimes are marked by irrationality, anti-intellectualism, and emotion.
3) Fascist governments value action for action's sake. Another manifestation of irrationality and emotion over reason, fascist behavior often favors unilateral action (often violent) over diplomacy or consensus.
5) A fear of diversity or difference within the nation is created and exploited by fascist regimes.
6) Fascist governments usually draw on social frustration of groups or classes of citizens that feel themselves to be politically humiliated or threatened by internal social groups above or below their class, or by external forces.
7) Hyper- nationalism marks the fascist state. Often this is reinforced by government propaganda which makes the populace feel beleaguered or the intended victims of international plots.
8) Fascist governments often appear humiliated by the wealth, force, power or prestige of their enemies.
9) Fascists present a world view that individual and national life is a permanent struggle, and that war is the only acceptable means of asserting, establishing, and preserving the superiority of the fascist state.
10) Fascism relies on a form of elitism, which is a hallmark of reactionary societies, that hold the weak in contempt.
11) Fascist regimes celebrate the Hero. Everyone is trained to be a hero, and to lead a heroic life, the culmination of which is a heroic death. Heroic death becomes something of a cult, tied to militarism, nationalism, struggle, and an irrational will to power.
12) The will-to-power which is a hallmark of fascism leads to an exaggerated masculinity or machismo which is marked by a disdain for women, intolerance and condemnation of non-standard sexual habits. Homosexuality, chastity, abortion, promiscuity, sex outside of heterosexual marriage, and so on are suppressed as crimes against the state or as crimes against nature.
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