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How the Shadows of Fascism Falls Unseen: The Dangers of Ignorance – Part 13

If we can’t define Fascism, how can we identify it and oppose it?

Kevin Passmore

In the previous article, we tried to understand what makes it difficult to call out Fascism as Fascism. And it’s not an easy answer to find. 

In the 1920s Fascism used to be a lot of activism. But it was never an ideology – Had it been an ideology it would have got a definition. But only a series of actions; which was first adopted and practiced by Mussolini of Italy. The struggle in Italy was such that encouraged Mussolini to take some actions to gain, concentrate and retain power. 

As a socialist, in his early political career, Mussolini was aligned with women’s suffrage, social reform, anti-clericalism etc. Later when his priorities changed gradually, his policies transformed and his early-stage ideals became invalid. He transformed himself and his regime into autocratic. 

The struggle was different in Germany and Hitler brought his personal beliefs of anti-semitism into the chaotic principles of Fascism. And it became Nazism. 

Then it was adopted by the authoritarian leaders In Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Romania, Hungary and so on. 

As quoted in Fascism: A Very Short Introduction by Kevin Passmore “In 1925, there were as many as 45 groups in different countries that called themselves Fascists” – all having their own versions. 

As each nation has its own flavor of Fascism, it becomes a little perplexing to define distinctly what is Fascism.

They all, including the modern day dictators, display the following common characteristics not exactly in the same order:

  • Charismatic leadership: They all want to be hailed by the population as supreme leaders and concentrate power in the hands of one or a few
  • Anti-liberalism: They do not believe in universal brotherhood, and equality at least not within their national boundaries.
  • Ultra nationalism: They all believe that their nation offered the most sophisticated civilization to the world and its people are from a superior race or they deserve to live in a better world not corrupted by liberal values
  • Dehumanizing minorities: A particular group of people are targeted for the miseries faced by the nation

The idea of defining Fascism or identifying its scope or pattern is a futile intellectual exercise. Rather it’s a series of actions orchestrated by authoritarian leaders to retain their supremacy and power. 

What Mussolini needed in Italy in the 1920s is different from what Erdogan of Turkey or Trump in the US or Modi in India would want in the post-pandemic world. 

It has become easy to be an authoritarian leader in today’s world. When the masses are belabored and economically weakened they look up to a strong leader. 

So the only requirement in modern day to become a supreme leader is the cult of personality.  The rise of economic inequality and eroding trust in institutions are catalysts that work in favor of these authoritarian leaders.

With flamboyance, these leaders can polarize the society, endanger its equilibrium and still walk free without being pointed fingers as a Fascist. 


Because Fascism is poorly defined. 

As Ortega Y Gasset, a Spanish Philosopher says, ‘Fascism is A, not A.’

Because it works both for and against ideals. It calls for order but encourages violence in the society. It talks high of patriarchal society but also wants to empower women. It calls for nationalism but silences compatriot critics. 

One of the modern day examples is in the US. The cult followers of Trump consider themselves as Christians but harbor antagonism, anger and fear creating a divisive environment; they believe their leader can make their country great again despite being a liar, a misogynist, and a fraudulent businessman. 

How do we define this behavior?

The more we look for a definition for Fascism to call it Fascism the more we are ignoring its fatal symptoms and side effects. We are concerned about the nomenclature of a killer disease. 

The more we focus on labeling something as fascism, the less we are doing to address the underlying causes of fascism. We are more concerned with giving it a name than we are with stopping it.

If it is against the universal liberal values, then let’s label it as Fascism and call it out. Because under liberal values we are all equal, unique and have equal rights for life. 

To be continued..

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