It is so easy for our brains to make shortcuts. It is a good way to make the complex — and sometimes scary — world more understandable and more reassuring. It is hard to take the time to think about the contingent nature of our world, to admit that it is not necessarily A alone that leads to B.
This is exactly what the readings this week showed me: Humans simplifying complex social, economic and political phenomena with shaky historical parallels in order to serve a certain end goal. But while that goal might be totally legitimate, the problem arise when we confuse the goal and the means. The notion of confusing goal and means was introduced to me through psychologists, who argued that we humans suffer in love because we confuse the goal (to love and be loved) with means (verbal affection, physical affection, gifts, etc). In our context, the goal is a strong liberal democracy, and one of the means we came up with was the eradication of fascism. The problem comes when the eradication of fascism becomes the goal, and the strengthening of liberal democracy is relegated to the backstage.
This is how I made sense of De Grazia, who argued that the victory in 1945 and after was more than just military. Countries had to adapt socially and economically to address the problems fascism claimed it could solve. “Beating” fascism meant not only to win on the battlefield but also to change the environment it thrived in. If there is a “new fascist phenomenon” today, it is because of a failure to implement a proper socio-economic adaptation to our current problems. My point is that we have confused the goal (strong liberal democracy) with the means (eradication of fascism). The means became the goal. Vietnam, Libya and Iraq were all about dealing with the flames of fascist resurrection. The means became the goal.
This confusion is what led so many people into dropping that F bomb so easily. Which is why Finchelstein felt the need to clearly define and differentiate fascism and populism. Though they certainly do have links, they are in the end two different experiences. Finchelstein reminded me of last week’s readings in a certain way. She asserts that one of the main features of fascist regimes is that they replace History with political myth, aiming at serving a specific agenda. Last week we saw how some leaders forge a shared heritage with a white, Christian Europe. While those leaders would fall more into the category of populism rather than fascism, it also shows how those two can be linked. What I also liked about Finchelstein is that she has a view of fascism that is a bit more complex than the other authors, who seem to be limited to Mussolini as one of the only measurements of a fascist state.