Friday 7 July 2023

The history of the word fascism


In 19th century Italy the bundle of rods, fascio, came to symbolise strength through unity, because whilst each independent rod was fragile, as a bundle they were strong. Fascio came to mean union, band or league in the 1870s and was used by groups of revolutionary democrats in Sicily to describe themselves. 

The word had heroic, revolutionary connotations. Young men who demanded Italian intervention in World War I formed fasci and it was to one of these groups, with no party affiliation, that Benito Mussolini belonged.

The Italian fascists had imitators throughout Europe and beyond until the end of the 1939-1945 war. Since then there have been few who use the word of themselves. 

As Douglas Murray said, the need for fascists (by progressives) far outstrips the supply.

Franco remained after 1945 but he strictly speaking was not a fascist. He was supported by three organisations, one of which, the Falange, was. Salazar was not one either, just another right-wing, reactionary Catholic dictator. 

The interview with Stanley Payne in the National Review that I mentioned below quotes Orwell who said "Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’” 

The article goes on:

More than 75 years later, the word remains an all-purpose put-down, to Payne’s annoyance. “It has no valid meaning except as a term of abuse,” he says. “It has no coherent content.” It’s also an anachronism. Payne defines “fascism” with precision: “Fascism was a European nationalist mass movement of the early 20th century that wanted to overthrow the liberal system. It cannot be revived in the terms of the cultural, social, and political structures of modern Western countries.” He allows that in the 21st century, there may be such a thing as “neofascism,” but that it’s much less menacing than its etymology suggests: “The basic rule of thumb is that the more ‘neofascism’ achieves any degree of political significance, the more it becomes more moderate and tries to blend in with something else.” He points to last year’s elections in Italy, where a victorious right-of-center coalition includes a party with distant connections to Italian fascism. “It has gone through such a Darwinian species-change metamorphosis that virtually nothing of the original is still present.”

Although it's very tempting to call modern Western European restrictions of freedom, especially freedom of speech, as fascist it is best not to do so. It encourages the misnamed anti-fascist left. 

Nor are Islamists fascists, nor Brexiteers, nor Donald Trump.

Fascism is best summed up by its creator, Mussolini, in his phrase

“Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.”

This is not the political system in Western Europe now, although it sometimes seems like it is. For example, nowadays groups that hate the state are sometimes protected, encouraged and paid by the state.

 Wikipedia defines fascism thus.

Fascism is a far-right, authoritarian, ultranationalist political ideology and movement, characterized by a dictatorial leader, centralized autocracy, militarism, forcible suppression of opposition, belief in a natural social hierarchy, subordination of individual interests for the perceived good of the nation and race.

I hate all but two of those things: natural social hierarchy, which is an important fact and to be celebrated, and putting the nation before self-interest. They are Christian and conservative principles that Musso incorporated in his creed. 

To quote from an Edwardian poem/hymn that Anglican vicars often refuse to have sung in their churches:

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love.



  1. I have Payne's book Franco's Spain but it is in storage. Left-wing historians of the Franco era detest him. The history of the Spanish Civil War is dominated by people who are firmly on the Republican side, like Helen Graham who has said, “The Spanish Civil War is without doubt the reason I decided to become an historian. I distinctly remember being overwhelmed by the fact that the Republic hadn’t won. How could that possibly be? Naturally you can’t win the war for the Republicans. But you can very usefully spend your live explaining in great, complex detail exactly why they didn’t." In her 'The Spanish Civil War: A Very Short Introduction' (a good book, actually) she does not mention him in her suggestions for further reading, which she really, really should.

  2. I think Islam fits Mussolini's definition perfectly. It _is_ fascism. Islam _is_ the state, it has a claim on regulating absolutely everything, and does not tolerate that anything be outside its norms.

    I am reading "Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah" by Sir Richard Francis Burton. It was written some 160 years ago but I highly recommend it. It is an eye-opener with respect to Muslim mentality, society, education, social intercourse, adherence to religion, and the common people's attitude to "infidels". Not much seems to have changed with respect to this since the book was written.

    1. I read some things of his including his account of his arrival in Somalia where the natives looked in astonishment at white men whom they had never heard of before. Now those men's descendants may live in England.

    2. Can Islam BE the state? How does that work? In Iran the President has much less power than the mullahs, doesn't he? For Sunni Muslims they do not have mullahs or anything equivalent to a priesthood.

    3. I don't know exactly the details of how they (would) implement it. But Islam definitely has a claim of regulating the society as a whole, in all aspects. The law of their ideal state is their holy law, sharia. In my opinion is suffices that sharia be the law of the country to consider that Islam is the state in that country. Historically the first caliphs ruled such Islam-state-fusions and later the Sharifate of Mecca was such an entity. Saudi Arabia today could be this even if the ruling family are not clerics.

      That would be an exam subject in a Political Sciences: argue for and against the proposition that Saudi Arabia is a fascist state.

  3. Reading the Wikipedia article on the Spanish Falange I find it is unclear whether even the Falange was fascist.

    1. Whether or not the Falange is or was fascist the Spanish Cortez in October made it illegal to express approval of it, which sounds fascistic in itself to me. "Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to heal divisions and recognise Spain's history during the 1930s civil war and Franco's dictatorship until his death in 1975" says a Turkish news site. Other media say the same. In fact it is an attempt to reopen divisions for the political benefit of the Spanish left, obviously. It does not seem to be working, as the right-wing party Vox is surging in the polls.