The word fascism is often used loosely to describe individuals and organizations with which one strongly disagrees or of which one strongly disapproves. As such, the word is similar to many other strong pejoratives - like racist, bigot, extremist, or divisive - in that it is often applied in indiscriminate ways. It is -- at times -- simply a way to issue a wholesale condemnation (much like calling someone “another Hitler”).
Also “fascist” is often used to assert that someone seeks power that is both total and unjust, and as such seeks to destroy “freedom.” Thus Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act led some to label Obama a fascist. Why? Because they saw, or wanted others to see, that law as a total government takeover of some kind and as a fundamental threat to liberty.
Historically, on the other hand, the word fascist has more often referred to a right wing belief system that elevates service to family and nation as more valuable than any individual life, that defines nation and group in ethnic terms, that declares blood ties to be the basis of citizenship and nation, and that declares all major problems to be caused by the pollution to family, blood, and nation that has (supposedly) been introduced by a group that is both inferior and fundamentally alien to the nation. Fascism is often considered to be a right-wing ideology because historically fascists -- like many other conservatives -- have typically dismissed critiques of undemocratic economic structures as unfounded and instead asserted that life would again be grand, meaningful, and fulfilling if authority and nation were respected, if the “correct” family structure were maintained, and if the influence of infiltrators were eliminated.
Fascism was popular during the 1920s and 1930s in Europe and the United States, during which time it was constructed around viciously anti-semitic narratives that declared Jews to be a threat to civilization, the family, and high moral values. Scholars of the period usually see those movements as intensely nostalgic (as having made up fables of a glorious past that could be regained if the pollution were removed). Many scholars consider fascism to have been popular between the World Wars because many working class and middle class people were intensely anxious about the future, thanks to (1) the aftermath of World War I and (2) the the elimination of many people’s personal independence at the hands of the rise of modern large-corporation, oligopoly-dominated economies. And some argue that the Fascist movement was led by -- and/or supported by -- captains of industry who wanted to turn citizens away from communism and socialism by naming Jews (often at the forefront of leftist movements) as the enemy of all that is good (God, Family, Country...and capitalism). In the second decade of the twenty-first century fascism of the kind described above is enjoying a resurgence within many right-wing nationalist political parties,. with immigrants and/or Muslims now the groups that are most frequently named as the evil villains.
Of course almost no one calls themselves a fascist these days (though some groups do). Instead the word functions, as was said above, as a means to totally denounce a person or group. Interestingly, and ironically, the total denunciation of people can be said in itself to be a fundamental fascist idea!
So…. Is Barack Obama a fascist? Or is it instead fascist to call him a fascist?
Roger Griffin, Werner Loh, Andreas Umland, eds.Fascism Past and Present, West and East: An International Debate on Concepts and Cases in the Comparative Study of the Extreme Right. Stuttgart: Ibidem Verlag, 2006.
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