An Introduction to Fascism

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An Introduction to Fascism

Post by Megaleiotha Eirhno » Sun Aug 26, 2018 7:38 pm

Welcome to the first lecture in this course on fascism. Modern uses of the word have come to mistakenly take on a sort of simplistic view that fascists are simply authoritarians--or, as an only slightly more accurate generalization, are a group that seeks to silence another through the use of some sort of power. In our political debates, we tend to throw around the word so lightly that we have forgotten what fascism truly is as a political movement and the evil it represents. When we say that someone is a fascist, we need to understand the danger that that word poses to all who seek in live in a free and fair society. In this course, we will examine what fascism is, how it begins, and how it lives on in the current day. This first lecture will focus primarily on the work of Robert Paxton, breaking down his definition of fascism to clarify many of the modern misconceptions that exist around the word. Let's dive right in.

In Robert Paxton's book The Anatomy of Fascism, he defines fascism in the following way:
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.
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.

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:
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.
In order to get credit for this course towards your degree, you will need to answer one of these prompts:

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.
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Re: An Introduction to Fascism

Post by Khosrow » Tue Aug 28, 2018 2:18 pm

Megaleiotha Eirhno wrote:
Sun Aug 26, 2018 7:38 pm
3. Do you disagree with the idea that fascism is definitionally a conservative movement?
Fascism is by definition a conservative movement due to his strict belief that outside forces threaten to damage the status quo or essential culture of the nation. A modern example of such would be the "brown invasion" idea that is often propagated in the West, Europe in particular. Reactionary, even fascist, politicians repeatedly cry out that the peoples who are coming into their lands are threats to their "way of life" or that they seek to change things. The opposition to this change is purely conservative. The reactionary and conservative nature of fascism itself is explained in the Doctrine of Fascism itself, as written by Mussolini, when he says "fascism is reaction" and "fascism, which did not fear to call itself reactionary... has not today any impediment against declaring itself illiberal and anti-liberal".
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Re: An Introduction to Fascism

Post by Megaleiotha Eirhno » Tue Aug 28, 2018 7:26 pm

Khosrow wrote:
Tue Aug 28, 2018 2:18 pm
Megaleiotha Eirhno wrote:
Sun Aug 26, 2018 7:38 pm
3. Do you disagree with the idea that fascism is definitionally a conservative movement?
Fascism is by definition a conservative movement due to his strict belief that outside forces threaten to damage the status quo or essential culture of the nation. A modern example of such would be the "brown invasion" idea that is often propagated in the West, Europe in particular. Reactionary, even fascist, politicians repeatedly cry out that the peoples who are coming into their lands are threats to their "way of life" or that they seek to change things. The opposition to this change is purely conservative. The reactionary and conservative nature of fascism itself is explained in the Doctrine of Fascism itself, as written by Mussolini, when he says "fascism is reaction" and "fascism, which did not fear to call itself reactionary... has not today any impediment against declaring itself illiberal and anti-liberal".
Do you think that this populist fascism has helped contribute to right-wing victories in various states throughout the West? Would you care to give specific examples?
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Re: An Introduction to Fascism

Post by Sarah » Tue Aug 28, 2018 8:31 pm

Using Paxton’s above mentioned definition of Fascism, I'll take a moment of your time to discuss a point of history proving his definition. The year is 1933, and the setting is Asheville, North Carolina. Silver Legion of America has just been announced publicly by their leader, William Dudley Pelley. Pelley was extremely concerned with the community (community being white Christians) going into decline. In the Legion's heyday, the had approximately 15,000 members. Pelley managed to convince a mining fortune heiress,Jessie Murphy, to give up her land for their cause. The intention being to use the land to create a commune. Pelley even ran for president of the USA, under a third party ticket. I believe the Silver Legion is a great example of Paxton’s definition of Fascism. They exhibited political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, as stated by Paxton. The group also had an atmosphere of a cult of unity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants wanted a “better” future.
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Re: An Introduction to Fascism

Post by Khosrow » Tue Aug 28, 2018 11:18 pm

Megaleiotha Eirhno wrote:
Tue Aug 28, 2018 7:26 pm
Khosrow wrote:
Tue Aug 28, 2018 2:18 pm
Megaleiotha Eirhno wrote:
Sun Aug 26, 2018 7:38 pm
3. Do you disagree with the idea that fascism is definitionally a conservative movement?
Fascism is by definition a conservative movement due to his strict belief that outside forces threaten to damage the status quo or essential culture of the nation. A modern example of such would be the "brown invasion" idea that is often propagated in the West, Europe in particular. Reactionary, even fascist, politicians repeatedly cry out that the peoples who are coming into their lands are threats to their "way of life" or that they seek to change things. The opposition to this change is purely conservative. The reactionary and conservative nature of fascism itself is explained in the Doctrine of Fascism itself, as written by Mussolini, when he says "fascism is reaction" and "fascism, which did not fear to call itself reactionary... has not today any impediment against declaring itself illiberal and anti-liberal".
Do you think that this populist fascism has helped contribute to right-wing victories in various states throughout the West? Would you care to give specific examples?
I do. Maybe not victories but we are definitely seeing a swell in the popularity and power of nominally fascist parties. For instance, in the 2017 German federal election, the AfD, a far right party with open links to extremist groups like Pegida, gained 94 seats where they previously had zero. Or its neighbor, Poland, where the PiS is the ruling party. Major PiS politicians have made statements like "stopping Islamization is my Westerplatte" and another one said that he wanted to be like "Charles the Hammer who stopped the Muslim invasion of Europe in VIII century".
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Re: An Introduction to Fascism

Post by Paulus Augustus » Thu Aug 30, 2018 11:14 am

1. I think that this definition of fascism is mostly true, but I don't think it touches an essence of fascism. I think that I can produce a more accurate definition.
My definition of fascism wrote:A political movement with the aim of establishing what it perceives to be a strong and effective state, by using any means whatsoever.
Fascism is bred out of feeling of weakness and powerlessness, therefore it makes most sense that it would search the opposite--perceived power and efficiency. For those two goals, everything else seems to be sacrificed. Civil and political freedoms, morality, basic principles of justice - the fascist can and does sacrifice all of those for the sake of creating some sort of total state. As such, it should be clear that fascism by itself is neither far-right nor far-left movement. For as in far-left movements equality is taken as a supreme value, and as in far-right movements tradition and morality are those supreme values, fascism values neither. Fascism is however fiercely nationalistic, which is a trait of far-right movements, rather than far-left (though examples of far-left nationalism masquerading as internationalism can be found in the history of the Soviet Union).

Fascist's morality is utilitarian. As such, it is not absolute, but subject to change depending on what is viewed expedient at the moment. Mussolini had no qualms saying that the race "is a feeling, not a reality," only to then in 1938 institute laws that oppressed the Jews based on this non-factor. Hitler had no qualms to denounce the democracy as evil, and yet participate in its processes. Neither would he have any qualms to take the power through non-democratic means. Needless to say, because conservatives want to preserve (conserve) traditional morality as is, having it be utilitarian is not a conservative stance. The fascist support for traditional institutions hinges on his belief whether they are supporting his agenda of creating a total state. As such he can either preserve them somewhat (as happened in Italy) or attempt to dismantle them (as Himmler wanted to happen in Germany).

Reason for the support of some anti-liberal conservatives (being illiberal does not make you a fascist by itself) for fascist parties in XX century should also be clear from the first paragraph. Challenged by the liberals on one side and the communists on another, without support from the more moderate conservatives, they felt weak and powerless, which gave rise to sometimes tacit (see: authoritarian politicians of Weimar, including Hindenburg), sometimes explicit support for fascism (Falangism). Which is why in those countries that either had no significant population of illiberal conservatives (like USA and UK), or were already significantly illiberal and anti-communist (like Poland), the fascism was not successful.
Khosrow wrote:
Tue Aug 28, 2018 11:18 pm
Or its neighbor, Poland, where the PiS is the ruling party. Major PiS politicians have made statements like "stopping Islamization is my Westerplatte" and another one said that he wanted to be like "Charles the Hammer who stopped the Muslim invasion of Europe in VIII century".
On this point, I believe that those two statements are nationalistic and anti-islamic, but not inspired by fascism. Anti-islamic sentiment predates fascism by several centuries. That being said, while Islam should be fair game to criticize and even oppose (like some leftist want to oppose Christianity, or rather its influence on their country), I must unfortunately admit that this is not always the reason for statements like these. There is a hatred of Muslims present in Poland, and these sentences can constitute dogwhistling to the groups that share this hatred.

That being said, fascism is not always the reason for such hatred. Otherwise there would be no hatred present in the human history, 'till fascism, which is obviously untrue.

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Re: An Introduction to Fascism

Post by Khosrow » Thu Aug 30, 2018 3:31 pm

Paulus Gaius Epistre wrote:
Thu Aug 30, 2018 11:14 am
That being said, fascism is not always the reason for such hatred. Otherwise there would be no hatred present in the human history, 'till fascism, which is obviously untrue.
This assumes however that fascistic beliefs only arose with the rise of fascism itself. Which is blatantly untrue. Fascism has existed in some form for millennia. Just like how communistic beliefs didn't only come about with Marx. The Mazdak movement of Iran had plenty of communistic beliefs. Ali, the 4th caliph, explicitly argued the distribution of wealth. This is just like how Ancient Rome could easily be characterized as fascistic. Despite predating Mussolini by over 2 millennia.
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Re: An Introduction to Fascism

Post by Paulus Augustus » Fri Aug 31, 2018 8:27 am

Khosrow wrote:
Thu Aug 30, 2018 3:31 pm
This assumes however that fascistic beliefs only arose with the rise of fascism itself. Which is blatantly untrue. Fascism has existed in some form for millennia. Just like how communistic beliefs didn't only come about with Marx. The Mazdak movement of Iran had plenty of communistic beliefs. Ali, the 4th caliph, explicitly argued the distribution of wealth. This is just like how Ancient Rome could easily be characterized as fascistic. Despite predating Mussolini by over 2 millennia.
I think that it is fair to say that fascism originates from ideas that predate it. Just like certain Christian ideas predate (human) Christ (by being in the Mosaic Law), or certain Islamic ideas predate Mahomet (again, Mosaic Law is somewhat reminiscent of Islamic), or certain Protestant ideas predate Luther (in Wycliffe, Hus), or certain communistic ideas predate Marx (early Christian communities had voluntary redistribution of wealth; example you provided), and so on. But I wouldn't call anyone Christian before Christ, nor Muslim before Mahomet, nor Protestant before Luther, nor socialist or communist before Marx.

In the same sense I wouldn't say that Ancient Rome was fascist (although they used fasces, and served as an inspiration for actual fascism). All of those ideas are capable of existing independently of each other (citizens must serve the state, xenophobia, absolute rule, nationalism), but in an ideology of fascism they are molded together into a particularly ugly mix.

Therefore, I would claim that the hatred of unfamiliar (xenophobia) is not the effect of fascism, but rather its cause. For if xenophobia had no place in history, neither would fascism as we know it; but if fascism had no place in history, xenophobia could still be present.

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Re: An Introduction to Fascism

Post by Megaleiotha Eirhno » Sat Sep 01, 2018 11:30 am

Sarah The Bread wrote:
Tue Aug 28, 2018 8:31 pm
Using Paxton’s above mentioned definition of Fascism, I'll take a moment of your time to discuss a point of history proving his definition. The year is 1933, and the setting is Asheville, North Carolina. Silver Legion of America has just been announced publicly by their leader, William Dudley Pelley. Pelley was extremely concerned with the community (community being white Christians) going into decline. In the Legion's heyday, the had approximately 15,000 members. Pelley managed to convince a mining fortune heiress,Jessie Murphy, to give up her land for their cause. The intention being to use the land to create a commune. Pelley even ran for president of the USA, under a third party ticket. I believe the Silver Legion is a great example of Paxton’s definition of Fascism. They exhibited political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, as stated by Paxton. The group also had an atmosphere of a cult of unity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants wanted a “better” future.
I live too close to Asheville for comfort.

Do you think that this sort of movement has simply fizzled out and died, or continues on in the modern day?

To Paulus' point: The central issue with your definition is that it would catch far too many different sort of ideologies within it. By simply saying that fascists want a strong and effective state through any means possible, you have suddenly made Otto von Bismarck and all other practioners of realpolitik into fascists. There might be legitimate reason to oppose their particular view, but they are not recognizable fascist by any means.

Your later concession that xenophobia is a core source of fascism needs to be incorporated into your definition to make any sense--and then the compulsion or revulsion against outsiders suddenly reveals an insider-outsider divide. This insider-outsider divide then reveals an idea of purity that clings onto a false historic ideal as its source, revealing that such an impulse is once again inherently conservative in nature. That small concession brings you back to my definition of fascism as a specific and verifiable check on what is or is not a fascist movement.

To go back to the PiS: those conservative figures may not actually be fascists themselves, but their rhetoric has been co-opted by fascists in Poland to push for a more radical right-wing agenda. Their success rate is something we can debate, but that does not mean that we can ignore its reality.
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Re: An Introduction to Fascism

Post by Paulus Augustus » Thu Sep 06, 2018 3:09 am

On the contrary, if I were to incorporate xenophobia as key element of fascism, some fascists would be left out of the definition. Not all fascist movements are characterized by xenophobia, viz. Brazilian Integralist Action (note that they were xenophobic elements in that party, but xenophobia is not its defining characteristic).

On another hand, Bismarck does not fall under the definition of fascism. He wanted to make Imperial Germany as efficient as possible. That assumes the monarchist system. Therefore, the question of monarchism in Bismarck is not left open until deciding that it's the most efficient system, it is answered before trying to make Germany "efficient." Meanwhile in fascist ideology, monarchy can be overthrown and abolished in favor of another (fascist) system, if it will increase efficiency.

Fascist parties do not exist in Poland, the closest is nationalist ONR (which is a very small movement).

As an added note, inclusion of xenophobia doesn't exclude Bismarck, if he was to be included under my definition. He pursued policies that persecuted specific nationalities (like Poles). This could easily be labeled as xenophobic and chauvinist.

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