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What is Fascism?

- Its core tenets include extreme nationalism, militarism, and the supremacy of the nation and its authoritarian leader over individual rights, with a strong emphasis on ethnic and cultural identity.

What is Fascism?

Fascism is a mass political movement that originated in early 20th-century Europe. Its core tenets include extreme nationalism, militarism, and the supremacy of the nation and its authoritarian leader over individual rights, with a strong emphasis on ethnic and cultural identity. Incorporating a 'cult of personality' around the leader, it utilizes mass media and propaganda for popular mobilization and seeks total control over all aspects of public and private life.

Often characterized by alliances with conservatives and partnerships designed to dominate institutions, fascism has spurred radical reforms, incited ethnic violence, and even genocide throughout history. This doctrine can be traced back to Benito Mussolini, founder of the Fascist Party and Italy's authoritarian ruler for over two decades. Since Mussolini's rise and fall, fascism has evolved and adapted to various geopolitical circumstances, a phenomenon epitomized by the 'bundled nation' symbol of ancient Rome, from which the term 'fascism' was derived.

The Origins of Fascism

Fascism traces its roots back to Ancient Rome. Fasci or 'fasces,' a wooden bundle of rods that communicated power and jurisdiction, were carried by lictors, or traditional Roman magistrates. But modern fascism began in earnest with the formation of the Fasci Italiani Combattimento (Italian Combat Squad) in Milan, 1919, by former journalist and war veteran Benito Mussolini. Disillusioned by what he perceived as democracy's failure, Mussolini concluded that change would only come about through violent authoritarianism.

Fascism, evolving from 'fasci' or 'fasces' - a symbol of power and jurisdiction in ancient Rome - took form as a modern political ideology under Benito Mussolini. Following the formation of the Fasci Italiani Combattimento (Italian Combat Squad) in Milan in 1919, this trend bloomed under Mussolini, a war veteran turned journalist. Struck by the perceived defects in democratic systems, Mussolini held a firm belief that an authoritarian approach was necessary to implement the much-needed change in society. His ideology echoed the ethos of extreme nationalism and militarism, symbolizing the 'bundled nation' - an aggregate of people united under a supreme leader, embodying a cult of personality, ready to mobilize for the greater good of their nation, even at the cost of individual rights. Mussolini's rise marked the emergence of fascist regimes, which cast a long shadow on global democratic backsliding, inviting arguments about the tension between the liberty of parties in democracies and the totalitarian tendencies often associated with dictatorships.

Characteristics of Fascist Regimes

Fascist regimes and their conservative values have been marked by a dismissal of democratic norms, aggressive suppression of political dissent, and the execution of radical reforms to exercise total control over society. They have often sought to shape traditional cultural values through mass media propaganda alongside a 'cult of personality' around the leader. Integral to such regimes is the culture of militaristic nationalism, with violence considered not only inevitable but beneficial.

To better comprehend fascist regimes, we must delve further into how they operate. The pillars of such regimes are built on the rejection of democratic norms, thus promoting an atmosphere of 'us versus them'. Complementing this ideology is the uncompromising suppression of political dissent, as fascists seek to ensure the populace adheres to the regime's doctrine without question. This is often achieved through the implementation of radical reforms, aiming for rigorous control, not just over public and political realms, but also permeating into the private life of its citizens. These reforms often carry a destructive spectrum, epitomized by the infamous 'Night of the Long Knives' during Nazi Germany, a purge that solidified Hitler's hold on power by eliminating potential threats.

Fascist regimes often employ mass media and propaganda to permeate and shape cultural norms to their favor, incorporating a range of tools from print, radio and tv, to modern internet platforms. Employing these mediums, they relentlessly promote a 'cult of personality' around the leader, positioning them as a semi-divine figure, a messiah for the people entrusted to lead the nation to strength and glory. This narrative helps the regime to attach the loyalty of the populace to the leader and, thus, the regime, as was witnessed in Benito Mussolini's Italy and Adolf Hitler's Germany where their larger-than-life images were impeccably rendered through effective propaganda machinery.

A vital tenet of these regimes is militaristic nationalism, as embodied by the 'March on Rome', the paramilitary event that marked Mussolini's ascension to power. The belief in inevitable violence as an instrument of change and advancement, is disconcertingly considered beneficial within such political ideologies. The force of this belief is underlined by the frequency and intensity of the militaristic on-the-ground mobilization and the commitment to wars and invasions.\n\nIn the final analysis, while the pall of fascism's extreme nationalism and radical policies looms large over our contemporary political landscape, it's critical to remember the cost upon societies dominated by this ideology. As we chart the course of our future in these uncertain times, it is pivotal to draw lessons from the historical impacts of such divisive ideologies.

The Rise of Fascist Leaders

Fascist leaders tend to emerge out of periods of economic instability, disillusionment, and social turmoil, establishing legitimacy as a political party, and gaining power through right-wing partnerships. Many fascist regimes have used this power to dominate institutions and rewrite laws to consolidate power, fostering fear through intimidation and oppression. Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor of history at New York University, provides a framework for understanding the rise and fall of fascist leaders, dividing it into five stages, each critical to establishing and maintaining totalitarian control.

Fascism in Italy and Mussolini's Party

Benito Mussolini's rise to power in Italy marked the advent of fascism as a political ideology. In the wake of the Russian Revolution and fear of communism, Mussolini, a former socialist, founded the National Fascist Party. Backed by the squadrists, armed terrorists, Mussolini used the fear of communism to advance his political agenda, including gaining the partnership of conservatives. Ultimately, his party executed radical reforms establishing a totalitarian regime. Mussolini's rule was marked by violent oppression, widespread censorship, and a suppression of political freedom and civil liberties. Despite initial alliances, Mussolini's regime was ultimately defeated as part of the wider defeat of the Axis powers in World War II.

As a testament to the distress brought by post World War I economic and social turmoil, Benito Mussolini capitalized on these instabilities to carve a path for his rise to power. His journey began as a prominent socialist, yet the changing political landscape and the fear stirred by the Russian Revolution and communism prompted Mussolini to institute the National Fascist Party. Backed by 'squadrists' or paramilitary groups, Mussolini's regime thrived on terror, armament, and the exploitation of anti-communist sentiments as a political tool.

His alliance with conservative groups was instrumental in implementing an over-arching framework that embraced the principles of extreme nationalism, militarism and authoritarian rule, leading to the foundation of a totalitarian regime. His tenure, while marked by radical reforms and a relentless contraction of individual rights and civil liberties, bolstered his strong hold over Italy. It was an era of oppressive violence, widespread censorship, and a clampdown on political freedom. Fascism under Mussolini became an ethos that centered on one leader, one party and one nation, serving as a case study for other extremist ideologies to succeed.

Despite his early strategic alliances and initial success, Mussolini's reign was not impervious to downfall. The defeat of the Axis powers in World War II marked the end of Mussolini's totalitarian regime, as the advent of fascism was followed by its fall. Today, Mussolini's rule serves as a stark reminder of the oppressive, brutal and suppressive nature of extreme ideologies, highlighting the need to preserve democratic values and civil liberties while promoting national unity and peace.

Fascism in Germany and the Nazi Party

Structured on similar principles as its Italian counterpart, the Nazi party in Germany under Adolf Hitler epitomized fascism's rise in the region. Hitler's charisma and nationalist rhetoric allowed him to secure broad public support, suppress political dissent, and orchestrate one of history's most horrific genocides against the Jewish population.

Following in the footsteps of Mussolini's Italy, fascist ideologies found fertile ground in Germany under the Nazi party, led by the notorious Adolf Hitler. Fascism, in its German iteration, reinforced principles of extreme nationalism, supremacy, and the suspension of individual rights under the authoritarian rule. In this atmosphere of political unrest amplified by the aftermath of the First World War and the Great Depression, Hitler's charismatic leadership and skillful exploitation of nationalist rhetoric garnered him considerable public support. He artfully maneuvered this backing to enable an unwavering repression of political dissent, ensuring a landscape where the Nazi party could rise unopposed.

Nonetheless, Hitler's pièce de résistance was his orchestration of one of humanity's most chilling chapters – the Holocaust, an act of genocide that sought the systematic extermination of millions of Jews. In this unprecedented act of violence, Hitler demonstrated the horrific extremes to which fascist doctrines could go, as he applied the principles of ethnic supremacy and extreme nationalism within the framework of the Nazi party. The atrocities committed not only underscored the catastrophic implications of such extremist viewpoints but also serve as a grim reminder of the dire need to protect democratic values, safeguard individual rights and promote peace in the face of rising extremism.

Fascism in Spain and the Falange

In Spain, the fascist movement was spearheaded by Admiral Tojo Hideki's Falange party. Founded on the belief in supremacy and extreme nationalism, Falange was characterized by its authoritarian ruler, a brutal military dictatorship, and a close alliance with Hitler and Mussolini during World War II.

The Falange party under Admiral Tojo Hideki was the harbinger of fascism in Spain, a notion founded on beliefs of supremacy and uncompromising nationalism. The party's character was pervasively authoritarian, reflecting Hideki's strict military dictatorship. Hideki's rule was marred by the repression of political dissent and the imposition of uncompromisingly autocratic control, a common trait observed in fascist regimes worldwide.

Hideki's alliance with fascist leaders of the era like Hitler and Mussolini during World War II denotes the transnational nature of fascism, crossing boundaries and employing shared ideologies. This alliance was not merely symbolic but also instrumental in fostering exchange of totalitarian strategies and consolidation of their respective powers. The global impact of these alliances and their catalytic role in igniting World War II underscores fascism's far-reaching implications on world history and politics. Furthermore, the study of these alliances provides us valuable insight into the inner workings of fascist regimes and dictatorships.

The repression of individual rights, suppression of political dissent, and manipulation of mass media and propaganda to mold public opinion are defining characteristics of fascist regimes. An essential element in their functioning was the 'cult of personality' developed around the leader, a tactic that Hideki, much like his counterparts Hitler and Mussolini, employed effectively. The cult served a dual purpose - it rallied the masses behind a demigod-like figure while also acting as a unifying symbol for national identity and pride. It is noteworthy that such trends are not relegated to the past but are still witnessed today, albeit in different forms and contexts, reminding us of the persisting shadows of fascism in contemporary world politics.

Fascism in Other European Countries

While Fascism found its roots in Italy, it would soon penetrate several European countries, manifesting in various political movements such as the Fatherland Front of Austria, the Iron Guard of Romania, and the British Union of Fascists. Regardless of their unique characteristics, they all shared fascism's core tenets: extreme nationalism, suppression of political dissent, and militaristic nationalism.

While Italy was the birthplace of fascism, this political ideology was not confined within her borders. It spread its roots across various European countries, assuming different forms and adopting unique characteristics. Notable among these are the Fatherland Front of Austria, the Iron Guard of Romania, and the British Union of Fascists. Despite each drawing from distinct cultural and political contexts, they universally gravitated toward the core tenets of fascism: extreme nationalism and militaristic nationalism, buttressed by the suppression of political dissent. These movements exhibited attributes that were in line with fascist regimes; they created an 'us versus them' narrative, developed militaristic cultures and supplanted democratic norms with autocratic alternatives.

In Austria, the Fatherland Front served as a facade for the dictatorial regime of Engelbert Dollfuss, who shrouded his authoritarian rule under the 'Ständestaat' model. This regime borrowed heavily from fascist ideologies, downplaying democracy and emphasizing Croatian nationalism and corporatism.

Meanwhile, the Iron Guard in Romania was marked by its violent methods and mystical Christian extremism. Led by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, this movement embraced a unique form of fascism that romanticized death and sacrifice for the nation while attributing its struggles to perceived enemies, primarily communism and minorities.

On the other hand, the British Union of Fascists, under Sir Oswald Mosley, projected a more polished and modern image. Its fascism focused more on hyper-nationalism and economic revival while downplaying the violent elements associated with other fascist movements. This party was never able to achieve significant political success but serves as a stark reminder of the allure of fascism even in strong democracies.

Certainly, these movements were marked by differences in the strategies applied, the level of operational success achieved, and the contexts defining their existence. Nevertheless, their shared bedrock on extreme nationalism, the suppression of political dissent, and militaristic nationalism remains a powerful reminder of fascism's insidious capacity to adapt to different political climates and cultural contexts.

Neofascist Groups after World War II

Despite the defeat of fascist regimes after World War II, echoes of fascism have persisted. Elements of the ideology can be identified in neofascist groups that emerged in the post-war era. Across Europe and beyond, these movements have manipulated nationalist sentiment, exploited fear, and capitalized upon a perceived decline in traditional values to affect political change.

In the post-WWII era, it became clear that while the notorious fascist regimes had been dismantled, the seeds of fascism had not been entirely eradicated. Echoes of this ideology persisted, taking root within neo-fascist groups that began to sprout across Europe and beyond. These groups, emerging from the ashes of fallen dictatorships, were characterized by a chilling familiarity – they perpetuated the lethal blend of extreme nationalism, supremacy, and militarism that defined their historical counterparts. Leveraging these ideologies, they manipulated nationalist sentiment to their advantage. By exploiting common fears and perceived threats to traditional values, these groups aimed to induce societal polarization, feeding off the division they created to affect political change and reshape societal norms in their image.

These neo-fascist movements represented an alarming reminder that the ideologies underpinning fascist regimes were neither relegated to history books nor confined to certain geographies. They highlighted the disturbing potential for such ideologies to adapt and re-emerge, even in the aftermath of their devastating impacts during the 20th-century's darkest hours.

Fascism Imitators in the Americas

In the Americas, Latin Americans imitated European fascists, notable examples being the Revolutionary Union in Peru and the Brazilian Integralist Action Party. Similar movements existed in the United States too, such as the German-American Bund and the Ku Klux Klan which leveraged white supremacy and extreme nationalism for their ends.

Fascism's influence extended notably across the Americas as well. In Latin America, the imprints of European fascism were palpable in numerous political movements, with the Revolutionary Union in Peru and the Brazilian Integralist Action Party being two prime examples. These groups, although structurally different, showcased similar facets including a heightened sense of nationalism, a rigid authoritarian structure, and a grave disregard for democratic values. Such influences were not just limited to Latin America. In the United States, entities such as the German-American Bund and the Ku Klux Klan too modeled certain fascist principles.

They weaponized supremacist ideologies and intense nationalism to further their objectives and gain momentum. The Bund, born out of the white ethnic communities in America, sought to propagate German culture and the Nazi cause, while the Ku Klux Klan, rooted in hateful white supremacist ideologies, resorted to violence and terror to assert their dominance over racial and religious minorities. Their actions serve as a stark reminder of the pervasive and insidious nature of fascist ideologies and the necessity to actively oppose such movements in the interest of preserving democracy and social harmony.

Fascism as an Economic System

Often viewed as socialism with a capitalist veneer, fascism sought control indirectly through domination of nominally private owners. In this framework, fascism embodied corporatism, where political representation was based on trade and industry rather than traditional party affiliation. A controversial subject is the influence of fascist economic policies on the New Deal, with some view the New Deal as having features of the corporative state.

The economic axis of fascism has often fueled debates among scholars, usually distilled down to the axiom: socialism with a capitalist facade. This paradoxical economic paradigm manifested itself through fascism's unique strategy of control, which was discreet yet pervasive, imposed indirectly through the domination of private owners who were, merely in name, autonomous.

Fascism championed a unique socio-economic framework known as 'corporatism', a system in which political representation was dictated by trade and industry affiliations rather than traditional party associations. Absorbing elements from both socialism and capitalism, fascist corporatism sought to create a harmonious national body ('corpus'), thereby resolving class tensions and economic disparities. This was propagated as a third alternative to the class-based struggle inherent in capitalist democracies and Marxist socialism, underlining the fascist ethos of national unity and collective good.

Often a bone of contention among historians is the impression left by fascist economic policies on the New Deal rolled out by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the United States, post the Great Depression of the 1930s. Some argue that certain aspects of the New Deal, primarily its economic interventionism and labor-industry mediation initiatives, draw parallels with features of the corporative state. While it remains disputed, this debate underscores fascism's nuanced economic strategies and the far-reaching influence it had on global economic thinking, reaffirming the need to understand and critique this complex politico-economic ideology in the backdrop of history.

Nationalism and Racialism in Fascism

Extreme nationalism and racial supremacy are defining features of fascism. It is fundamentally a populist ideology which upholds the nation and the race above all else, often leading to policies of racial segregation, and in its most extreme form, ethnic cleansing.

Extreme nationalism under the lens of fascism is not just an elevation of national ideals but a strict adherence to hypertrophy of the state, where national interests supersede individual aspirations and liberties. It revered the nation as an organic community bound by natural laws, historical identity, and cultural ethos. The glorification extends to the race, with fascist beliefs often espousing theories of racial purity, superiority, and dominance. In its most chilling avatar, it justifies racial segregation and discrimination under the guise of preserving racial integrity and superiority. This aspect of fascism was grotesquely manifested in policies like the Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany, resulting in ethnic cleansing through mass genocides - a form of racial discrimination at its most repugnant and diabolic extreme.

In essence, fascism promotes the idea of unity and purity of the nation and race at the cost of diversity and tolerance. This concept of extreme nationalism and racial supremacy has been manipulated by populist leaders who mobilize the masses via fearmongering and divisiveness, often targeting minorities and branded 'others' as threats to national identity. Central to this strategy is a rhetoric that weaponizes fear, insecurity, and cultural abandonment, tactics that have cropped up repeatedly in contemporary political landscape - a grim echo of historical fascism.

Corporatism in Fascism

Mussolini's fascist Italy distinctly embraced 'corporatism', a system where socio-economic groups (like workers and employers) were organized into 'corporate' units existing within the state's structure. This theoretically harmonious structure aimed to resolve class conflict through state intervention, though in practice it solidified state control over the economy and society.

Stepping into the intricate labyrinth of corporatism in fascist Italy, one encounters a political system where socio-economic groups including workers and employers were categorized into 'corporate' entities, embedded within the state's structure. This system, hailed as a harmonious construct, fostered an illusion of societal unity and integration. Its theoretical premise was in resolving class conflict via the instrumental role of state intervention. This included policies aimed at bridging the gap between employers and employees, diminishing class antagonisms, and fostering an atmosphere of cooperative partnership. This type of corporatism in theory was expected to best serve the national interest, prioritizing state supremacy while ensuring economic stability and progress. However, in practice, it essentially fortified state control, empowering the government with a firm grip over both private sector and societal dynamics.

By manipulating the levers of economic control, fascism under Mussolini was able to maintain a posture of private ownership. Yet, this was a mere facade, hiding the reality of an economy indirectly controlled by the state - a characteristic feature of fascist economies. The 'corporate state' then was not an arena for free-market capitalism, but rather a subtly controlled economic landscape that sought obedient compliance from corporations, curtailing any threats to the fascist regime. It was through this complex interplay of control that Mussolini's fascism was able to solidify its hold over Italy's economy and society, emphasizing the integral role of corporatism in the fascist state.

Loose Usage of the Term Fascism

The term 'fascism' is sometimes used loosely to describe authoritarian or dictatorial behavior, but its historical and cultural specificities should not be overlooked. It's important to be mindful of the times when its usage may be more hyperbolic than accurate.

In contemporary discourse, the term 'fascism' tends to be thrown around quite loosely, often employed as a catch-all term for any authoritarian or dictatorial behavior or regimes. This broad usage, while serving to highlight aspects of repressive regimes or authoritative actions, has the potential to obscure the unique historical and cultural features that distinguish fascism as a specific political ideology. It is essential that the term not be misused to an extent that dilutes its actual gravity and historical relevance.

Fascism, in its true sense, is not merely any dictatorial behavior. It represents an intricate mix of intense nationalism, suppression of political dissent, subversion of democratic processes, and subjugation of individual rights in favor of the supremacy of race or nation. Therefore, while critiquing oppressive behavior or regimes, one must be discerning to ensure the term 'fascism' is utilized in a manner that reflects its historically significant connotations accurately. This aids in fostering informed dialogues and stances regarding the term and the ideology it represents.

Does Fascism Exist Today?

While traditional fascism doesn't exist in the same form as it did in the 20th century, traces of it can still be found. Neo-fascist groups have spawned worldwide, espousing many of the same beliefs as their historical predecessors. From civil unrest to democratic backsliding, the specter of fascism continues to haunt the modern political landscape.

In the contemporary landscape, the ghost of fascism looms in nuanced manifestations, quietly permeating societies worldwide. Fascism as we knew it in the 20th-century might not exist today, but it has undoubtedly left an indelible imprint on political ecosystems. Around the world, neo-fascist groups have surfaced, imbued with many tenets that trace back to historical fascism. From the rhetoric of 'us versus them' and policies of ethnic supremacy, to methods of mass mobilization and subjugation of individual liberties, these groups rekindle ideologies once propagated by Mussolini and his like.

Global trends of civil unrest, democratic backsliding and increasing ethno-nationalistic sentiments further mirror the specter of fascism. In societies characterized by diverging inequalities, rising xenophobia, and political disillusionment, echoes of fascist ideologies find fertile ground to grow anew. Far-right movements across Europe, ethnocentric policies in Asia, and racially divisive politics in the Americas, for instance, all underscore this form of ideological resurgence. Furthermore, the rapid digital dissemination of ideas, manipulation of information, and the uncritical consumption of media often serve as catalysts, amplifying these ideologies.

Recognizing and acknowledging the continued existence of fascist ideologies, albeit in new forms, is critical for societies today. It is paramount to promote dialogue, nurture democracy, respect all shades of opinions, celebrate diversity and uphold individual rights in the face of such divisions. The lessons of history serve to remind us that underestimating the capacity for such ideologies to insidiate into our socio-political fabric could catalyze a treacherous slide into authoritarianism. The specter of fascism continues to haunt our world, primarily lurking within the shadows, ready to capitalize on seeds of division, discontent, and fear.


Fascism, which once brought the world to the brink of destruction, remains a political ideology that we must understand and guard against. Its evolution, from the rise of Benito Mussolini to contemporary neo-fascist movements, serves as a reminder of the destructive potential of extremism. It serves as a reminder of history's recurrent patterns and the importance of defending democratic values.

Understanding and thwarting the rising tide of fascism requires an acute awareness of its origin, evolution, and defining characteristics. From its ideological birth during the early 20th century in Europe, under the leadership of political figures such as Benito Mussolini, to the contemporary manifestations of neo-fascist movements, fascism's enduring presence cannot be underestimated. By positioning the nation and its leader as paramount, this political philosophy centers on extreme nationalism and militarism, promoting supremacy over individual freedoms and intellectual diversity. Its dangerous tenets have perpetuated violence, spurred radical reforms, and jeopardized the foundational principles of democracies.

In the face of this political extremism, it becomes critical for societies to champion the values that fascism seeks to undermine: political liberty, civil liberties, and respect for diversity. Ultimately, understanding fascism is not merely about apprehending historical events and figures—it extends to recognizing the echoes of this ideology in today's political dynamics. This recognition further lends to critical interventions aimed at preserving democratic principles, safeguarding individual rights, and fostering a political atmosphere immune to the discord sown by such extreme ideologies. Therefore, the knowledge of fascism's destructive potential serves as a potent reminder of the importance of relentless vigilance in defending democratic values amid increasingly polarized political landscapes.


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