“Echoes of Fascism”

From this week’s readings, it is clear that there have been many attempts to define fascism, and there are varying ways of defining, or not defining this term. To summarize the relationship between the three terms, fascism, populism, and authoritarianism: authoritarian regimes are not necessarily fascist, but fascist regimes are authoritarian, and fascism ‘morphed’ into populism over time. Federico Finchelstein makes an important distinction that populism is a form of democracy, but fascism is a form of dictatorship.

Gilbert Allardyce, Federico Finchelstein, Dylan Matthews, all make it clear that fascism existed at a very certain time in history, and Robert Paxton describes the ‘necessary conditions’ for fascism very well. A re-occurring comment in the readings was that the term ‘fascism’ has been thrown around very lightly and loosely in modern times. However, if we examine the core elements of fascism, it is clear that fascism does not exist today. That being said, I support Paxton’s statement that “echoes of fascism” can be seen in Donald Trump’s themes, particularly the idea of ‘national regeneration.’ One of the main differences between fascism, and in this case Trump (or more broadly, the structure of today’s society), is the focus on community versus the individual.

Jumping back to Finchelstein’s argument: “fascism and populism, while linked in history, belong to different contexts and became very different historical global experiences,” partially because of how our society is structured. As Matthews highlights, fascism is anti-individualist, and Trump is an arch-individualist. I do not think that in the present day, especially considering the lack of Paxton’s prerequisites for fascism, that you could unite an entire citizenry behind one idea. In some part, this is due to technology and how we consume information and news. The majority of digital information is curated to the individual, and this isolates us from one another. The rise of all things digital has created a very different time and environment, and one could hope that fascism could not rise again. That being said, I would like to pose the following question:

Considering that information, or at least information filtering, is controlled by a few big companies, and that the likes of Cambridge Analytica was able to influence elections, could a form of information control give rise to true fascism once again?

To start answering this question, I think it is important to examine Paxton’s definition of “fascism,” which appear as necessary conditions for fascism. One of Paxton’s conditions is a “sense of overwhelming crisis,” whether real or imagined it is realistic for this to be a reality soon (climate crisis, “migration crisis,” “refugee crisis”). Another one of Paxton’s conditions is the need for “authority by natural chiefs.”  This is becoming apparent, especially in the USA. Joel Westheimer (University of Ottawa) conducted a study that concluded that 48% of millennials in the USA thought that good governance requires a strong leader that does not need to consult with congress or courts. While Trump may be a right-wing populist, the idea that strong leaders do not need to consult with congress and courts may be a departure from democracy and consequently a departure from populism. What about the other factors of fascism (as Paxton defines them), is there evidence of their existence today that may suggest that fascism was not just confined to one point in history and may reemerge?

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