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We must fight falsehood and evil ideas with truth and better ideas.
- Adlai Stevenson



The Need for Context


David Fasenfest


The recent discussion of fascism has to be put into context ... there seems to be a conflation of manifestations and philosophies at work. That is, we tend to talk about fascism in terms of the various historical variants of a theoretical orientation. It would help to remember that the concept is born in opposition to European enlightenment and the elevation of the individual, against the emergence of "natural rights" in opposition to divine rights of monarchy, and for the purpose of reconstituting the state other than as a democracy of individuals. The alternative vision is one that moves away from monarchy but remains statist. Individuals have rights within the context of some national identity reinforced by notions of obedience and obligation. Where the state under enlightenment served the individual (in opposition to feudal obligation, etc) the fascist state requires that individuals are free so long as it does not conflict with the overriding demands of the state. There are then cultural, quasi-religious, militaristic and other manifestations of a fascist society - that is, the social and economic moments of a political representation.

Then there are historical examples of states that have taken on particular (and historically specific) forms of fascism - Nazi Germany being the pinnacle of "successful" fascist states. But others include a more populist Italian regime, a more monarchist and conservative Japanese state, some lesser forms in the Balkans, clearly at different times and different places Asian and African states, and certainly variations as diverse (as some might argue) as Peronist Argentina (was that a populist military regime, a worker's republic under a strong leader, left-wing disorder, etc?).

The point is that the boundary is fluid and it is easy to confuse fascism and ultra-nationalism, statism and corporatism, militaristic regimes and statist militarism, and etc. Likewise, it is a mistake to equate violence and fascism - especially when some are trying to incorporate a unified argument that the anger of inner city youth, the politically vacuous reaction of post-communist youth without ideological guidance, the dilettante antics of rebellion among middle and upper middle class suburban youth, head banging and slamming rock, the boundary bending nature of counter culture (who retreat into greater shock realms as the threshold of what constitutes shocking behavior is increasingly intense - Wily Coyote in leather and body piercing, the anvils of the road runner replaced first by chain saws and then by greater and greater mayhem). To paraphrase - it ain't all fascism even if it all looks the same.

So, I would caution against looking for fascism under every violent rock or rocker, and concentrate instead on asking what constitutes a force for a particular political change, distinguishing that from the manipulation of culture by existing social orders (I would agree with those who question the use of the term fascism to describe all forms of "successful" capitalism), and identifying what organizational manifestations are behind (rather than appropriating) cultural trends. This is a tall order - but then it is a major undertaking if one sees fascisms behind every special effect, power amplifier, and display of body art.

It is important first to have clearly defined terms, then empirically based information, and finally an attempt to unify the two before embarking on this complex agenda of global analysis of culture as the harbinger (or manifestation) of modern international (or is it global?) fascism.


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