Charles W. Milliken | The Daily Telegram
The term “fascist,” a favorite term of opprobrium since the Second World War, seems to be more popular than ever. Chiefly, a fascist is someone with whom you have a strong political distaste and, these days, is employed by the Democratic left to smear Republicans (racist being another favorite).
So what exactly is a fascist?
Fascism had its roots in the late 19th century and came officially to power in 1920s Italy under Mussolini. The two decades after World War I were fraught with economic and political turmoil, making fertile ground for political opportunists to “do something.” The decades leading up to the First World War were characterized by the salad days of capitalism — free trade, democratic political systems, the ending of unfree economic arrangements such as slavery, serfdom and other forms of peonage. The gold standard supplied sound money with inflation a nonissue. As a result, economies were booming, wealth was expanding geometrically and modern times had arrived with a bang. Optimism was in the air people breathed. Naturally, as always, the fruits of success were unequally distributed, just as talent, intelligence and ambition are always unequally distributed.
Gun shots in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, put paid to all of that. Carnage toppled empires, not to mention the capitalist order. Depression, unrest, a Carthaginian peace imposed upon Germany, Italy feeling cheated out of what it thought was a just disposition of the spoils, and so forth paved the way for the other “isms” — socialism, communism and fascism.
Since the United States, a late-comer to the slaughter, emerged relatively unscathed, we waited another decade before falling into the same mess during the Great Depression. Communism emerged first in Russia. Various forms of socialism spread in much of Europe. Mussolini, an ardent socialist, switched to fascism, thinking it was more apt for Italy, and likely to be more politically successful for him. It came to be officially called fascism since Mussolini adopted the “fasces,” a symbol of power and authority from ancient Rome. Mussolini saw himself as leading Italy to a new Roman Empire. (If you want an example of fascism in this country during that time, look on the back of a “Mercury” dime, which featured a fasces. For some reason that got dropped in 1945.)
All the noncapitalist “isms” had several things in common, which is why it is so difficult to precisely define them. Fascism is an especially ill-defined term. All involve a powerful state, heavy regulations on economic and political arrangements, leading to some form of utopian end game. Two of the three — socialism being somewhat of an exception — involve a strict delineation of classes and groups in society, with the bad and/or inferior groups to be suppressed in favor of the ruling classes. They are expressly nationalist (Italy, Germany, Russia, China), violent in their methods, and all believe individuals simply cannot be left alone to run their own lives. State purpose supersedes all else, personified by a strong leader, almost always a dictator. The attraction for the survivors is a sense of controlled well-being, pride in being part of a bigger movement, sacrifice in the service of a greater good, and the satisfaction of revenge on those who caused the alleged problems in the first place. Besides, Mussolini made the trains run on time.
So now we come to those “semi-fascist” Republicans, to quote President Joe Biden. Republicans usually advocate for lower taxes, fewer regulations, capitalist methods of economic relations and maximal personal freedom. These would not be considered typical fascist ideas. Although President Donald Trump is routinely vilified as a want-to-be-dictator, it occurs to me that his Democratic bookends in the presidency seemed to be much more active with “phone and pen” in signing hundreds of executive orders, many with profound consequences affecting virtually every American. Republicans tend to be visibly patriotic. Is that now a bad thing? Democrats were visibly patriotic when I grew up.
Fascists always personally smear and vilify their opponents. You might ask yourself who now is more aligned with fascism.
Charles Milliken is a professor emeritus after 22 years of teaching economics and related subjects at Siena Heights University. He can be reached at [email protected].