What is Fascism?
It might seem strange for a non hierarchical site to include fascism in its wiki, but we aim to be complete. Fascism is an important concept as a mirror image of a healthy culture.
The term fascist is Italian in origin and refers to the 'fascio', a Roman authority symbol consisting of a bunch of fragile sticks tied tightly together for strength. It can be interpreted to mean 'strength through unity'. It is the symbol of those who empower themselves through defensive collective action. The psychology that attends this mindset is one of 'victimhood', 'disempowerment', or 'immanent crisis', it is thus at root a position of insecurity and anxiety. Its core supporters thus often using anxiety as a tool in indoctrination.
The foundational instinct in such anxiety is one of increased control, the anxious person is thus often the control freak, who gives rise to notions of authority and its rationalisation.
Most ideologies have at least a grain of truth to them, and fascism is no exception. The politics of the playground can be one of victimisation and bullying, and one tried and tested solution to this is the mutual protection of the weak in associations. This can be effective if the association is universal and loose, but in real society it is more often local and tight, the gang. The problem here is that the protective gang requires membership, and in contrast non-membership. The very group 'tightness' percieved as necessary for survival precludes a large global alliance and demands cohesion, unity, strong affinity, identity and discipline. Thus in practise more are excluded than included in this set up and gang mentality emerges. Such a mentality is often not only detrimental for obvious reasons but also in that it tends to catalyse the emergence of other rival gangs, which often pose a greater threat to individuals than the original offender (who by then probably has his own gang). The fragmentation into gangs thus creates more insecurity and a feedback loop is created. (The natural alternative is for the individual to defend themselves as individuals, with only mutual solidarity where necessary).
Actual fascism builds on this playground mentality to create large political gangs, such as political parties, subcultures, cults or other ideological factions, and attempts to unite these into more stable abstract confederations such as nations, races and religions. Such Collectivist ideologies despite their apparent complexity are in essence still playground gangs. Complete with the usual gang mentality, notions of identity, rejection of outsiders, internal discipline, power structures and addiction to the use of force. A constant sense of danger and an external threat is required, as well as an ethos of violent heroism, to reinforce the gang addiction.
Fascism is thus rooted in this anxious, security seeking mindset, often accompanied by feelings of inadequacy, sexual impotency, powerlessness or frustration and the compensatory mechanisms that are deployed to counter these. Such limitations may be real but are often self-imposed through repression and suppression. In all cases they are associated with a deep resentment.
From such a basic, habituated psychological foundation whole ideologies emerge in support and propagation of it.
Such ideologies are naturally minimal as they are designed to foster unity and maintain cohesion within a group. They thus reject free, rational arguement, dialogue and any form of critical dissent or scepticism, relying instead on an indoctrinated or hypnotised beliefs, and often on 'established traditions'. There is also a strong emphasis on the non-rational and the instinctual self, and a closely related playing to the mass psychology of the mob, as well as the internal power play within groups for the more egoistic.
This group psychology point is crucial, the mass psychology of the herd energizes the fascist, generating a feeling of being carried along by something more energetic and powerful than their own will, and liberating them from any sense of responsibility.
In a 1995 essay "Eternal Fascism", the Italian writer and academic Umberto Eco attempts to list general properties of fascist ideology. He claims that it is not possible to organise these into a coherent system, but that "it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it". He uses the term "Ur-fascism" as a generic description of different historical forms of fascism (contextualised within fashionable ideologies and zeitgeists, whether conservatism, ecologism, socialism, corporatism, militarism, social darwinism, zionism or religious fundamentalism responding to historical circumstance).
The features of fascism he lists are as follows:
"The Cult of Tradition", combining cultural syncretism with a rejection of modernism (often disguised as a rejection of capitalism).
"The Cult of Action for Action's Sake", which dictates that action is of value in itself, and should be taken without intellectual reflection. This, says Eco, is connected with anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, and often manifests in attacks on modern culture and science.
"Disagreement is Treason" - fascism devalues intellectual discourse and critical reasoning as barriers to action.
"Fear of Difference", which fascism seeks to exploit and exacerbate, often in the form of racism or an appeal against foreigners and immigrants.
"Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class", fearing economic pressure from the demands and aspirations of lower social groups.
"Obsession With a Plot" and the hyping-up of an enemy threat. This often involves an appeal to xenophobia or the identification of an internal security threat. He cites Pat Robertson's book The New World Order as a prominent example of a plot obsession.
"Pacifism is Trafficking With the Enemy" because
"Life is Permanent Warfare" - there must always be an enemy to fight.
"Contempt for the Weak" - although a fascist society is elitist, everybody in the society is educated to become a hero.
"Selective Populism" - the People have a common will, which is not delegated but interpreted by a leader. This may involve doubt being cast upon a democratic institution, because "it no longer represents the Voice of the People".
"Newspeak" - fascism employs and promotes an impoverished vocabulary in order to limit critical reasoning.
An actual fascist movement will typically consist of several historical variants of the ideology, compatable forms will coalesce, often hybridising for the sake of unity, and allied forms will confederate into a Party. Rival, incompatable variants (such as Zionism and Nazism) may adopt brief pragmatic alliances, but ultimately enter into conflict. Thus fascist movements often eventually attack their own.
There are several political positions that while not usually included under the label of fascism none the less share several of its features.
Catholicism - or any exclusive religion demanding faith and unity, with political interests.
Stalinist Communism - a 'left wing' variant of fascism within a Nationalistic Marxist context.
Trotskyist Communism - or any Internationalist variant of the above.
Deep Ecology - ecological thinking can veer dangerously close to fascism with its moral certainty and regard for oneness and 'community'.
Neo-Conservatism - the right wing of indoctrinating Capitalism. Right Globalism
Neo-Liberalism - the moderate wing of indoctrinating Capitalism. Left Globalism.
A difference with these would perhaps be a greater commitment to intellectualisation. Though the arguements are often pseudo-scientific or doctrinal and narrow, and sometimes tend to sophistry. Indoctrination is thus a big part of their methodology.
Some of the influence here could be attributed to viral memetics.
Fascism, Ideology and Viral Memetics
Ideologies emerge from social interaction and discourse, these in turn are rooted in concrete individuals with unique psychologies. However once established ideologies and cultural networks can and do shape the psychology of those exposed to them. This can be through overt or subtle indoctrination or virally. The latter refers to the infectious quality of an idea or meme that appeals to certain psychological needs (actual or artificial).
Therefore Ideological Fascism, or elements of it, can infect any belief system whose proponents are exposed to insecurity or anxiety. Organised fascist networks often deliberately exploit this both personally and socially (e.g. the 'War on Terror').
Moral Aspects of Fascism
If fascism was rooted merely in the 'glamour of evil', as it can be for a minority of sociopathic fantacists, it would never become a mass movement. Effective fascism is therefore a moral doctrine.
Fascist morality consists of a defensive war against 'evil influence', a solidarity of protectiveness, a heroic struggle of the 'good' and 'virtuous' against the 'corrupt' and 'evil', the purification of a contaminated system and the return to a former age of 'peace and harmony'.
It is therefore rooted in moral dualism and self rightiousness. It seeks a peaceful harmony of absolute unity and order, but knows this is impossible, so seethes with hatred and resentment, which it sublimates in an 'eternal war' towards this end. Its limited worldviews lead to naive utopias and compensatory fantasies, which aim to relieve them of their anxieties and frustrations. In many ways it is the 'ethics of the neurotic', a projection of personal disatisfaction and frustration onto the world.
Its most ironic moral aspect is its promotion of perfection, heroism and individual strength within a healthy and unified community. With a parallel contempt for the weak, imperfect and cowardly. Ironic as their very mindset is rooted in personal weakness and insecurity. Fascism is the refuge of the weak (in mind and spirit), the resentful and the neurotic. Its solutions to its 'problems' merely deepening them.
The Politics of the Shadow and Sado-Masochism
The psychology of perfectionism and moral dualism inherent in fascism predisposes it to obsession by the Shadow. Any dualistic, 'good' Ego, will generate a repressed Shadow in the Unconscious Mind. Its position in the subconscious motor of our psychology also means it will be a dominant influence. Everyone with an idealised identity has a Shadow and it will dominate us in proportion to its extensiveness. The fascist Shadow is immense and combined with a seething resentment predisposes towards a Sadistic personality. Such tendencies are either expressed openly in rationalised severity or idealised 'animal cruelty', or in the case of the mild or more 'ethical' individual introverted into self-sadism or Masochism. Often an oscillation between the two may occur. Thus Sado-Masochistic dynamics inform the patterns of domination and submission within the power structures of a fascist group. Behaviour that becomes further habituated by its constant experience. Of course this is true of any authoritarian, hierarchical situation, and is rife in contemporary society, but it is intensified within fascism. The viral meme of fascism often infects via the Shadow.
Note: This Pathological Sado-Masochism should be distinguished from healthy BDSM subcultures, which are ideally attempts to sublimate and disempower the Shadow, liberating the individual from compulsive power relationships. However even this scene is not beyond viral infection and harbours its own fascist subset.
Post-Fascism and Ego-Fascism
The Second World War saw the total defeat and discrediting of organised fascism of the classical kind. Despite this fact, due to contemporary anxieties and repressions, fascism still exists and its more intelligent proponents contantly reinvent it in new forms. Likewise the memes it has unleashed still infect the minds of the vulnerable, and the established Capitalist power elite (far from immune themselves) continue to encourage and deploy fascist groups, both in their own private thugery and as 'useful enemies', as the history of radical Islamism demonstrates (a phenomenon entwined with European fascism).
Perhaps one of the strangest mutant forms of fascism is Ego-Fascism. This is such a variant strain that it is hard to view it in terms of classical fascism at all. Some regard it as merely a contaminated form of Individualism or Egoism. However its proponents are strangely similar to fascists and often closely allied to them. I therefore include them as Ego-Fascists. This type examplifies the heroic individual aspects of fascism and much of its moral crusading. It also inherits its anti-rational and primitivist features, along with a Social Darwinist orientation and a contempt for the weak. However it ostensibly sheds any allegiance to social collectivism in favour of the aggressively, willful individual. It is in a sense a fascistic reaction against classical fascism, though it seeds are as old. In many ways it parallels the rise of the libertarian, far right as opposed to social authoritarians within Conservatism. Despite this appearance it is not that different to more familiar forms of fascism. Its proponents are often just as traditionalist and conformist as any other fascist, as well as reactionary against any social diversity. This inherent conservatism tends to undermine their claims to autonomous individualism, and we see their 'gang' is really an invisible conformism and tribalism, and their nationalism a subtle, cultural imperialism. The hierarchical, power structures of a fascist society are also more subtly internalised within such repressed, neurotic types, and they are essentially little more than parodies of autonomous individuals. The same weak characters, over compensating with fantasies of 'heroic individualism' and outdated patriarchal identities. Such 'individualism' creates its own memes that increasingly infect more authentic attempts at Ethical Egoism.
The alliances that emerge between classical fascists and ego-fascists are as common as they are strange, but perhaps rooted in common culture and shared enemies, much like the individualist and communist wings of the social anarchist movement. And as here there is also mistrust and antipathy alongside attempts to reconcile and hybridize. The traditional fascist solution however is absorbtion. Without leaders the collectivist fascist grouping can be somewhat directionless, or at least unadaptive, its 'collective will' hard to interprete, and its mindless reactiveness not condusive to initiative. Thus the willful, egotist is very useful to 'the Party', as are any hybrid intermediaries. The Ego-Fascist thus has a great admiration for Hitlers and Stalins. Of course too many potential dictators is not good for fascist unity, and so the Ego-Fascist is no stranger to the concentration camp.