The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Lisa Williams at Learning the Lessons of Nixon educated herself on the definition of fascism earlier tonight. She comes to the conclusion, with help from the Columbia Encyclopedia's entry, that fascism is less a developed ideology than a reactive force and, in her words, a "disease of government".

I left a comment in response, which, upon re-reading, I decided I liked enough to reproduce here:

The other main defining factor in fascism, as a governing ideology, is the primacy of the state within political, social, economic and even cultural spheres. You find this in other ideologies, especially in Marx's dictatorship of the proletariat, but in fascism it's an enshrined end unto itself. That, along with a foundation in irrationalism and rejection of 18th- and 19th-Century Enlightenment ideals, is the true defining characteristic of fascism. Other aspects, like the requirement of a Leader figure and opposition to an alien "other", grow out of this.

I've always found the outward manifestations of fascist governing to be the most fascinating thing--the symbolism and especially the physical monuments. The Autobahn, for instance, was built as a testimonial to the ability of a fascist state to create the biggest and best of anything.

It's not the easiest text to go through, but I found The Goebbels Diaries to be an excellent resource for gaining insight behind fascist thinking.

I've been amused in the past by the offhand use of the term "fascism" toward the most ridiculous things. Most memorable was in college, when some stoner friends would label the security guards that for not allowing them to smoke out in the public lounges...

Not bad. Not the tightest definition--I especially should have mentioned something about how the corporative state concept fits into this--but good enough. Nothing like some good old-fashioned political theory! I miss it so from my college days.

This being a Presidential election year, a lot of extremist rhetoric gets tossed out there in the heat of battle. "Fascism" will be one among many, and one among many to be wildly misused (as evidenced by Lisa's original reason for wondering about its definition). That's politics! As down and dirty as it gets, all political stripes will employ their short memories after Election Day and get back to working together (how's that for cockeyed optimism?).

I originally wanted to entitle this post "Fascism For Dummies", to play off the popular "For Dummies" series of instructional books. I reconsidered, as I didn't want to imply that Lisa was a dummy for her intellectual exercise. It still would have been a good headline, though.