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What is Fascism? Essay

Few political terms have been as emotionally saturated as this one. The term is basically a political insult, a charge that has implications of authoritarianism and arbitrary rule. Therefore, getting to a technical definition of the term is very important, and in so doing, one must avoid the emotional content that has so damaged the term. This paper shall deal with not so much as to what Fascism was, but what Fascism is.

There is a sense that Fascism is based on some form of nationalism. The typical regimes called “Fascist” by commentators usually are temporally based in the 1920s and 1930s, and include Hitler’s Germany, the Arrow Cross government in Hungary, the Iron Guard in Romania, Mussolini in Italy and Francisco Franco’s military government in Spain. The problem is that these regimes have as many differences as similarities.

One might be able to extract a few similarities given the above regimes:

A. Generally, these regimes are anti-capitalist, and hold that all economic activity be aimed at strengthening the nation and state.

B. Generally, these governments hold to a specific civilization or culture as worthy of protection. Usually this is an ethnic group, or a more general culture.

C. There is a strong sense of leadership vested in one man or party

D. There is a dire predicament these peoples are in that demands strong leadership and mobilization to defeat.

This is a radically incomplete summary, but shows, in a general way, how these governments, a social ideologies, are related. (Cf. Laquer, “The Essence of Fascism” 13-21)

Franco’s government was clerical based, with a military head. Hitler’s was based on an occult philosophy of Aryanism, being derived from the mentality of the Austrian Thule Society and theosophy. The Iron Guard was populist and civilian. The Arrow Cross was purely military, with no real political agenda other than being anti-Stalinist (Mann, 239 ff.).

Hitler was secular completely, while the Romanian and Spanish national movements were highly religious. Mussolini was an atheist. Franco’s government was not anti-Jewish, in fact, Gen. Franco is responsible for the protection of many Sephardic Jews and their resettlement abroad. Ultimately, Hitler and Franco became enemies. (Mann, 298-305 ff)

There are other, more obscure historical examples of this movement. The Serbian Zbor government under German occupation, and Greek government of Metaxas, the Irish Blue Shirts, and the Portugese state under Salazar. Other than being anti-Marxist (though occasionally speaking of some sort of ethno-socialism), they seem to have no other unifying principle.  What makes the Zbor movement interesting is that it spoke of the centrality of the agrarian life, something not spoken of by Hitler or Mussolini, and only seconded by Romania.(Mann, 261-267)

The ideology of Fascism is occasionally connected to something called “integral nationalism.” This is a view that holds that the ethnic principle, supported by the state, is the primary organizing principle of the state, its legitimacy and its raison d’etre. There is a strong sense that the ethnic idea, often connected to the religious, contains all the ingredients for a popular rule. Rule is based on ethnic tradition, and that tradition is ultimately representative of the population.

There is disconnect between representation and democracy. Democracy often leads to oligarchy, while representative government is the function of tradition, the best of the people’s past. Ut a tradition is based on ethnic heritage, its sufferings and joys, and this, in congealed form, “ideological” form, is the best gage of popular representation. Integralist writer Prof. Matthew Raphael Johnson says this:

class=WordSection2>Human beings must congregate to survive. Within this congregation develop the linguistic and moral codes that primarily serve to preserve the unity of the group from want, foreign attacks and the ravages of nature. The necessity for communication, artistic creation and education, men naturally and spontaneously have created such linguistic and semantic commonalities we now call ethnic groups or tribes.

It is because ethnic groups protect human beings from the dangers of this fallen world that ethnic groups engender loyalty to the point of complete self-sacrifice. Human beings do not die for abstract ideologies; no one ever went into battle because he recently read Rousseau’s First Discourse; no one sacrifices their lives because they computed a statistical analysis that morally justifies it. Men go into battle for faith, home, family and nation. In the 21st century, nothing has changed.

It is here, within the cultural and ethnic complex of hearth and home, where a humanoid can become a man. To be immersed in a body of tradition, of experience and folklore is not the trite exercise found in bourgeois ethnic clubs or Anglo-American conservative journals, but is a historical journey into the reasons why one’s people are here at all; how they survived; how they flourished. (Johnson, Russia np)

I quote this at length because here one has a contemporary philosopher and historian making sense out of an ideology one might have considered “dead” or “indefensible. Rather than speaking of the state or the army, Johnson stresses community, but not an arbitrary set of citizens, but a community that has the marks of a family: it has come together and stays together due to memories of communal suffering.

Another contemporary Integralist writer Gavan Treadoux write this:

class=WordSection4>To the extent that ethnicity is foreign to liberalism, to the extent that ethnic behavior is incomprehensible within the liberal framework, to the extent that liberalism conflicts with the perception of self, the perception of others, and the perception of oneself by others; to that extent, liberalism is simply a failure. Ethnicity is an irreducible social phenomenon in its own right; a wealth of evidence

class=WordSection5>demonstrates is pervasive influence, throughout history, on human society and conduct; moreover, ethnicity appears to be the single most important basis of social organization, of far greater durability and universality than social class.

The fundamental motivator of human behavior is not material self-interest, but ethnic identity; concern for the status of one’s ethnic group, for the well-being of that ethnos in the most intangible sense of myth and culture, for the well-being of the members of that ethnos, as members. This is a statement of fact, and a fact that utterly divorces liberalism from the object of its discourse; it is as if liberalism has an entirely different world in mind (Tredoux, “Ethnicity and Ideology” np)

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What seems to be emerging is a view that the ethnic group is the ultimate principle. It is that entity in social life that can not be reduced to anything else, since individuals and families act the way they do because they derive from ethnic tradition and all that implies. There is nothing outside this ethnic tradition: cuisine, dress, speech, holidays, etc. Since liberalism says that the individual is dominant and the source of value, it must set its face against fascism or integralism.

Oswald Spengler writes this concerning culture:

class=WordSection7>I see, in place of that empty figment of one linear history which can be kept up only by shutting one’s eyes to the overwhelming multitude of the facts, the drama of a number of mighty Cultures, each springing with primitive strength from the soil of a mother-region to which it remains firmly bound throughout its whole life-cycle; each stamping its material, its mankind, in its own image; each having its own idea, its own passions, its own life, will and feeling, its own death (Spengler, 71).

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This is the classic integralist or fascist idea: cultures are organisms, they are born, live and die. They are subject to maturation, old age and illness. They can recover, they might not. It is the strength of the culture idea that matters. If, as Spengler says, there is, in each culture, its “own passions” etc., then there is single group of ideas each culture (Spengler does not speak of ethnicity) that should be represented in the state.

This is what makes a culture a culture, it is an integrated set of unified ideas that come to define and typify a people. It is this that is representative, the “people” are a people only because of this integration. The further unification of a people are its primary defense against enemies both internal and external, often defined in biological terms as “pathogens.”

Another, though lesser known, writer on Integralism is the Ukrainian Dimitro Donstov. Almost unread in the west, he is responsible for many ideas current in Ukrainian debate today. He seems to be one of the “purer” examples of integralism, speaking of Ukraine as if it is a person. But given the condition of Ukraine under Soviet domination (he is writing in 1926), his harsh words make some sense:

class=WordSection9>The basis for a Ukrainian rebirth was a ‘sincere wishing’ and not ‘force, deceit or the ravage of the enemy’ But n order to be victorious the passion of the new idea cannot do without force, deceit and sometimes the ravage of the enemy. . . .To gather society under a banner of one idea is not possible by resolving contradictions, by mixing water with fire, but by gathering all those who support the idea and forcing all others to accept it.

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Elsewhere in his work on nationalism, he writes:

class=WordSection11>What the Ukrainian idea lacks is a wholly new spirit. Our wanderings in the desert are not yet over, because we’ve had a thousand different wills rather than one. A thousand vague thoughts rather than a brilliant one that would unite all of us. For what is a nation if not a gathering of millions of wills around one common ideal, the ideal of the rule of one ethnic group over its territory, which it received largely from its parents, and which, perhaps a little enlarged, bequeathed to its children” (Nationalism, 262-265).

Donstov provides the most satisfying idea of integralism/fascism, since he is completely honest. He is writing in very harsh times, and his words must be understood in context. He seems to speak of integralism as based around, first, an ethnic principle, each different, like Spengler, each as an organic unity. But this is not sufficient.

What is needed also is the will to power. The will of a leadership, or even of a whole people, to take power and throw off the shackles of the foreign power that has enslaved the population. It is likely the case, with the exception of the Arrow Cross, that this is as close to a working definition of Fascism as one can get. It is an ethnic principle, a single idea, an integral whole, gathered around a leader (or leadership) that has the strength and amorality to gain the nation’s independence by any means necessary. Amorality is not something to be proud of, but merely recognized as a necessity under the extrmem situation of foreign domination.

In Hitler’s case, the poverty of Weimar Germany, for Franco, the chaos under the “Republic,” for Romania and Hungary, the threat of a Stalinist invasion, for Ukraine, the hopeless fight against the USSR. In each case, the will to survive must be present. There must be a detestable situation to be fought against, something so severe that the entire nation must be mobilized to fight, and to fight in such a way as to accept sacrifice, to accept the real possibility of death, but to fight nevertheless.


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