Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Is "Fascism" A Useful Word?

This is something I ought to be good at blogging about owing to my background in political theory.  Nevertheless, it was a long time ago and in fact I'm fully aware that I'm not very well-informed in this particular area.

I was thinking yesterday as I wrote about "nice", "silly" and "gay", that there was another word which tends to be used pejoratively.  I'm certainly no fan of the ideology it reflects, but merely using it as a catch-all label for political views you don't like means the loss of a useful word in the same way as people often claim has happened to the word "gay".  This word is of course "fascist", and in its pejorative usage can be replaced by "totalitarian" and "authoritarian", words which again have different meanings from each other.

What I mean when I say "fascism" is the ideology centred on the idea that the sole duty of the individual is to the state or the nation.  This is not necessarily the meaning employed by other people.  Some people would restrict it further to the Italian political movement of the 1920s and '30s, and rather strangely, some would even exclude Nazism from it.

As such, fascism is the opposite of anarchism and therefore more or less the opposite of what I believe politically.  I believe that there can be no duty to the government as such because consent to government is always coercive.  That's not what I'm talking about here though.

There's also a grey area here because of the distinction or otherwise between the state and the nation.  For instance, the Roma and the Jews have been nations for millenia but have also been stateless.  Those examples also indicate the discomfort the label "fascist" might cause others if applied to particular people.

The word fascism is derived from the idea of the fasces, a symbolic bundle of sticks used by the Romans to express the idea that a weak group of people bound together becomes strong and can overcome outsiders to that group, an idea which is clearly quite fascistic.

There are two other aspects to this which concern me though:  capitalism and history.  Regarding the first, it's not so much capitalism as the drift towards monopolies found within it, but even so, although it may not feel quite as rabidly nasty as fascism, capitalism in that form might be just as harmful in the long run.  I want to emphasise though that I mean it in that form.  I'm not talking about private enterprise and small scale business here but global corporations, although the question arises of how the former wouldn't turn into the latter.  Looking at it that way, it looks to me that fascism, evil though it might be, mainly has poorer PR than capitalism.

Turning to history, whereas I'm aware that the nation state is a historical thing, it also seems to me that if the regimes generally seen as fascist were transported back in time to any point in recorded history before the nineteenth century, they wouldn't seem that out of place and would just be another flavour of government among various forms of what we would now see as extreme nationalism and jingoism.  This seems to mean either that my perception of the past is distorted or that the features of fascism are not so much exceptional as just politics as usual and par for the course.  Considering how strongly freedom and democracy are attacked, this makes the likes of liberalism, social democracy and socialism start to look like brief blips in history which are rapidly becoming things of the past.

If that's so, we don't really need a word for fascism.  Fascism is just the norm.  The exceptions, now mere historical details, were social justice, egalitarianism and the idea of providing for and helping the oppressed, weak and vulnerable.  All of that stuff was just a brief interlude in what Orwell called something like "a jackboot stamping on a face forever".