In Robert Paxton's book The Anatomy of Fascism, he defines fascism in the following way:
This definition creates four categories of behavior, groups, action, and goals. Under each of these categories, there are two pairs that must be connected in order to properly designate a movement as fascist. First, its behavior must be marked by a major focus on the idea of community decline and a cult of purity. Second, its groups are made up of populist nationalistic militants working in an alliance with powerful conservative groups. Third, its actions are to abandon liberty and instead celebrate redemptive violence. Fourth, its goals are internal cleansing and external expansion.Robert Paxton wrote:Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.
These distinctions are important tools to assist us in pushing back against a tendency to think that fascism is solely about the final state of fascism--that of a totalitarian who rules a nation willing to do horrible things with impunity against outsiders. But that final state is not what fascism is; it is only how it ends. Many fascist movements die off before ever reaching that state. But that does not mean that we should not take every single one of them seriously.
At the root of fascism, present in each of those pairs, is an obsession with some kind of purity. Fascism is fundamentally rooted in a dialectic of good versus evil determined by one's status as inside or outside of the 'pure' group. This purity claims that some are outside and don't belong, and for the good of rest, should be removed. Eventually, in fact, this purity is so good, claim the fascists, that it should be shared with the whole world--or, at least, as much as is feasibly possible.
But I fear I am getting ahead of myself. Let's start with behaviors.
One of the common misconceptions spouted by particular talking heads on the far-right is that fascism is somehow a far-left movement, since Nazis (or National Socialists) supposedly preached socialism. However, fascism is necessarily a far-right movement, as it centered around a definitional conservative belief that there once was some sort of ideal society from which the designated community has departed, and since been in decline. Conservatives see a status quo they want restored, while liberal strive for a new status quo; that is largely what defines the two ideologies across all cultures. There is room for some nuance here, but the fact of the matter is that this perceived decline is due to some change from a previous status quo that conservatives want to preserve, and thus fascism is born out of a necessarily conservative state of being. In fact, because it is a reaction to such changes, it is primarily defined in its beliefs by being anti-leftist, and seeks out a purely anti-leftist existence.
Once this populist anti-left movement is established, traditional conservative elites are co-opted into the movement. In order to preserve their own power, traditional conservatives are forced to accept the influence and power of this anti-left fascists--who are not necessarily conservative in terms of their own values, but instead are simply opposed to anything leftist at all. This dangerous 'the enemy of our enemy is our friend' mentality means that the traditional conservatives tend to eventually lose their voice and any possibility of moral opposition to the power of the fascists--but again, I am getting ahead of myself. This pure fascist group compromises and coopts traditional conservative power to turn it to their own uses.
With this new power, fascists attempt to dismantle previous checks on their own power base in order to silence the opposition with growing violence. Freedom is abandoned in favor of purity, and whoever clings to this freedom rather than the purity of fascist ideology is an enemy of the people. The list of outsiders which first initiate the fascist movement, generally originally to demographic shifts, grows to include these other enemies, so that you can only trust those on the inside, and reject anything from the outside at all.
Once there is power, and a clear delineation of insider and outsider, this power is utilized to enact violence towards the end of purifying the community of any and all outsiders it can cast out. At various stages of its development, a fascist movement may not have enough institutional power to simply silence outsiders, and may genuinely lose various battles. However, its rhetoric will inspire others to continue this violence to the point where some, not acting on behalf of the power base, but instead inspired by it, will enact their own redemptive violence. When more power is granted to the fascist movement and internal outsiders have been sufficiently silenced or otherwise purified, then expansion is the final step.
We will talk more in future lectures about the steps of development of fascism look like, its particular evils, and look at some modern examples. But for now, I want everyone to leave this lecture with my simplified definition of fascism:
In order to get credit for this course towards your degree, you will need to answer one of these prompts:Megaleiotha Eirhno wrote:Fascism is a populist movement that co-opts conservatism to further an agenda of insider purity through any and especially violent means.
1. Do you agree with my definition of fascism? Why or why not?
2. Use history to prove Paxton's definition.
3. Do you disagree with the idea that fascism is definitionally a conservative movement?
4. Write and answer your own question.
5. Debate with another student's question.