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Wednesday 8 March 2017

Quotes Worth Saving (21): Robert O. Paxton, 'Defining Fascism'

Robert O. Paxton
The Anatomy of Fascism. London: Penguin Books, 2004.


What is Fascism?

This is certainly a pertinent and timely question to be asking, especially when the phase is 'slung' around so easily on various internet forums, news reports etc.

For many it's use is only as a slur, although one would hope they had some idea of it's origin. In this sense it represents any dictatorial group and is conflated with 'Nazi'. The over-use of this word, especially when misapplied, reduces the word to shock comedy (as in, grammar-nazi). Used most regularly in millennial meme culture, which is a style so bored with its own irony that it ceases to be merely ironic and is instead is something like complicity with consumerist authority. "It's only a meme bro."

I was talking with JJ recently and trying to argue that the right-wing are the only group that can be defined as Fascists. This is obviously incorrect, as was pointed out to me, but it was correct from a purely origin basis. That is, Fascism originated as a right-wing conservative reaction against liberalism and the threat of Marxist sociology. However, I'm starting to think that the old left-right distinction that so determined the 20th century, is no longer of any specific relevance. There is a shift happening in politics along different lines, a reaction to the globalist reach of the conservative neo-liberalism of Thatcher and Reagan. That this reaction is a populist nationalism that is xenophobic and exclusionist isn't a great surprise, but is it a new form of Fascism?

So, let's look at Historian Robert O. Paxton's own definition (below). I can't help but see similarities with various groups and governments currently in the public sphere. Certainly Trump's own MAGA ideology seems to fulfill 7/9, possibly all of them, depending how much further they are allowed to continue (Bannon and the extreme Christian right in American would definitely fulfill all nine if they got their way). Also, Daesh fulfill all nine of Paxton's criteria for Fascism, which is no surprise, as any Theocracy certainly carries an overwhelming thread of Fascism with it. The Brexiteer led fear in the UK, possibly only currently fulfills 4/9, but who knows what the future holds? Norsefire?

  • A sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;
  • The primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether individual or universal, and the subordination of the individual to it;
  • The belief that one's group is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against its enemies both internal and external;
  • Dread of the group's decline under the corrosive effects of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influence;
  • The need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary;
  • The need for authority by natural chiefs (always male), culminating in a national chieftain who alone is capable of incarnating the group's historical destiny;
  • The superiority of the leader's instinct's over abstract and universal reason;
  • The beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group's success;
  • The right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group's prowess within a Darwinian struggle.
(Paxton, 2004, pp.219-220)