Of all the unanswered questions of our time, perhaps the most important is: ‘What is Fascism?’I would simply add that the use of the word 'Fascist' is (still) an excuse for not thinking, not defining and not engaging. It is like the use of 'fundamentalist' or 'bigot' - it is something 'everyone' (except those on the receiving end) knows is supposed to excite our disapproval. As Orwell put it, "even the people who recklessly fling the word ‘Fascist’ in every direction attach at any rate an emotional significance to it " (my emphasis).
In this country if you ask the average thinking person to define Fascism, he usually answers by pointing to the German and Italian régimes. But this is very unsatisfactory, because even the major Fascist states differ from one another a good deal in structure and ideology.
Learned controversies, reverberating for years on end in American magazines, have not even been able to determine whether or not Fascism is a form of capitalism.
It is in internal politics that this word has lost the last vestige of meaning.
... as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley's broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.
But Fascism is also a political and economic system. Why, then, cannot we have a clear and generally accepted definition of it? Alas! we shall not get one — not yet, anyway. To say why would take too long, but basically it is because it is impossible to define Fascism satisfactorily without making admissions which neither the Fascists themselves, nor the Conservatives, nor Socialists of any colour, are willing to make. All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword.
'Fascist' is, in short, a boo word and as such, it appeals to the mass instinct inside each one of us. It contributes nothing, however, to our understanding of the real issues.
9 June 2009
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