Calling somebody a fascist tends to be a great way to end a conversation. First on the Left, and more recently on the Right, the abuse value of this term has been eagerly seized upon. Insofar as such usage merits the attribution of a ‘logic’ it is that of reductio ad absurdum — an argument or position that can be identified as fascist by implication is thereby immediately dismissed. Fascism is analyzed only as far as required to stick the label on the other guy.
Among the reasons to regret this situation is the veil it casts over the triumph of fascism as the decisive historical fact of the 20th century. While the defeat of the core ‘fascist’ axis in the Second World War left the ideology bereft of confident defenders, reducing it to its merely abusive meaning, it also fostered the illusion that the victorious powers were essentially ‘anti-fascist’ — to the point of extreme military exertion. The historical reality, in contrast, is described far more accurately by dramatic convergence upon fascist ideas, from both Left and Right, as exemplified by the ascendency of pragmatic nationalism over radical collectivism in the communist world, and by social-democratic state-managerialism over laissez-faire ‘classical liberalism’ in the West. With calm discussion of this ‘third-position’ formation rendered next to impossible, the crucial attempt to understand its socio-historical specificity is diverted into sterile polemics.
American Arch-Druid John Michael Greer is perhaps sufficiently distanced from predictable Left-Right controversy to make a difference with his three part series of blog posts on the historical reality of fascism. Rather than attack fascism (from the Left) for its residual capitalism, or (from the Right) for its innovative anti-capitalism, Greer prioritizes the philosophical task of a rectification of words:
When George Orwell wrote his tremendous satire on totalitarian politics, 1984, one of the core themes he explored was the debasement of language for political advantage. That habit found its lasting emblem in Orwell’s invented language Newspeak, which was deliberately designed to get in the way of clear thinking. Newspeak remains fictional—well, more or less—but the entire subject of fascism, and indeed the word itself, has gotten tangled up in a net of debased language and incoherent thinking as extreme as anything Orwell put in his novel.
These days, to be more precise, the word “fascism” mostly functions as what S.I. Hayakawa used to call a snarl word — a content-free verbal noise that expresses angry emotions and nothing else. … To get past such stupidities, it’s going to be necessary to take the time to rise up out of the swamp of Newspeak that surrounds the subject of fascism — to reconnect words with their meanings, and political movements with their historical contexts.
Greer’s discussion is so eloquent and penetrating that it would be redundant to repeat it here. It deserves the widest possible careful reading, and subsequent reflection. (Urban Future endorses the entire argument, with only the most marginal reservations on comparatively insignificant points.)
Instead of pointless repetition, a question. Given that history has conspired to make the word ‘fascism’ illegible, and has thus not only obscured the dominant trend in social organization worldwide, but also stripped away all effective antibodies to resurgent movements of classical fascist type, is there any realistic path to a restoration of political lucidity? Is the world doomed to persistent blindness about what it is, and what it might still more dismally become? If there are any grounds for encouragement in this regard, the evidence for them is thin.
Greer’s conclusion seems no less bleak. Approaching it, he comments:
The fascist movements of the 1920s and 1930s were … closely attuned to the hopes and fears of the masses, far more so than either the mainstream parties or the established radical groups of their respective countries. Unlike the imagined “fascism” of modern radical rhetoric, they were an alternative to business as usual, an alternative that positioned itself squarely in the abandoned center of the political discourse of their eras. … Antisemitism and overt militarism were socially acceptable in Germany between the wars; they aren’t socially acceptable in today’s United States, and so they won’t play a role in a neofascist movement of any importance in the American future. What will play such roles, of course, are the tropes and buzzwords that appeal to Americans today, and those may very well include the tropes and buzzwords that appeal most to you.