Defining fascism has always been a difficulty as it is connected to very dark moments in history. When it is used to describe present events or personalities, one is confronted with the risk of mistaking it with populism in the majority of the cases. Historians have been arguing about the origins and the exact definition of fascism for years, but everyone agrees on the fact that fascism is not a unique concept or an ideology but rather events that happened at a certain time in Italy and Germany , and that these events started as a reaction to modernity. Distinctive places are given to Mussolini’s fascism and Hitler’s Nazi regime in Gilbert Allardyce’s article, who highlights the differences in their respective goals in regard to military, stage in modernization and racial position. Corroborating these variations between Italy and Germany, Robert Paxton describes how fascism was manufactured in both countries and how historians interpreted them over the years that followed their fall.
These distinctions are critical to be able to unequivocally describe the rise of new populist movements in today’s Europe and America. When one looks at the multiplication of right-wing movements in the European landscape or the recent election of Donald Trump in America, it has been pretty clear that people have been eager to describe them as fascism. The Vox in an article from Dylan Matthews in May 2019, synthetized the differences between fascism and populism with the example of Trump. By using scholarly documentation such as Paxton’s book on The Anatomy of Fascism, the emphasis is put on the individualistic personality of Trump whereas fascism is about collective interest. However, ambiguity can be detected in the violence that surrounds fascism and populism. As far-right movements take advantage of populist leaders to demonstrate their ideas with violence, it could be easy to assimilate populism and fascism. But, the web article and scholarly articles explain that the violence present during fascist Italy or Nazi Germany had underlined motives in a battle against capitalism and represented a proletarian violence which is far from being the case in Trump’s America. Regardless, the public promptly described such violent acts as part of fascism.
The choice of words is crucial in politics as it may lead to the misuse and the misunderstanding of what a seemingly emergent power can be. As explained by Allardyce, fascism is multi-faceted, but it should not be confused with populism.
Gilbert Allardyce, “What Fascism Is Not: Thoughts on the Deflation of a Concept,” American Historical Review 84 (1979): 367-98.
Dylan Matthews, “I Asked 5 Fascism Experts if Trump whether Trump is a fascist. This is what they said” Vox May 19, 2016 https://www.vox.com/policy-andpolitics/2015/12/10/9886152/donald-trump-fascism
Robert Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York, 2004), pp 3-23