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Islamo-Fascism III: How to measure Fascism


Previously, we saw that no two experts seem to agree on the precise definition of fascism. The only formal definition of fascism, by a fascist, is the encyclopedia article by Mussolini (actually co-written or ghost written by Giovanni Gentile), The Doctrine of Fascism. As we noted, a 1921 note appended to that article shows that Mussolini had first coined the term, gathered a movement, and then set about formulating a philosophy that would justify whatever he was going to do. Reading Mussolini's article, and likewise a subsequent article he wrote, "In Germany: Fascism" we find his "philosophy" of fascism is a lot of repetitive, bombastic and sometimes contradictory bumf. The only clear ideas that seem to emerge are that the individual is subordinate to the state, that spiritual "idealism," consisting of action, struggle and death cult, are superior to "materialism."

Mussolini wrote:

Thus many of the practical expressions of Fascism such as party organization, system of education, and discipline can only be understood when considered in relation to its general attitude toward life: a spiritual attitude. Fascism sees in the world not only those superficial, material aspects in which man appears as an individual, standing by himself, self-centered, subject to natural law, which instinctively urges him toward a life of selfish momentary pleasure; it sees not only the individual but the nation and the country; individuals and generations bound together by a moral law, with common traditions and a mission which suppressing the instinct for life closed in a brief circle of pleasure, builds up a higher life, founded on duty, a life free from the limitations of time and space, in which the individual, by self-sacrifice, the renunciation of self-interest, by death itself, can achieve that purely spiritual existence in which his value as a man consists.

This looks quite a bit like Islamist glorification of the Ouma and the Shahid. However, it does not encompass all of Fascism, nor might it be true of all Fascist regimes.

Several different regimes are encompassed under the rubric of "Fascism" by different authors. Germany under Hitler and Italy under Mussolini are always included. But additional regimes, with quite different origins and different formal philosophies and policies, are also called "Fascist:" Spain under Francisco Franco, Japan under Hideki Tojo and Peron under Argentina are the most common candidates. All these countries had more or less authoritarian regimes and personality cults. In Japan, the cult was directed toward the emperor. Fascist Germany, Italy and Japan had imperialist ambitions and started wars; the others did not. German Fascism had racial superiority as a central tenet. In Italy, the superiority of Italians was a less pronounced theme. Japanese believed in their superiority, but no such doctrines were evident in Spain or Argentina. Hitler's brand of Fascism had no use for religion, but Spanish Fascism was closely allied with the Catholic Church. As for Italy, Mussolini wrote:

The Fascist State is not indifferent to religious phenomena in general nor does it maintain an attitude of indifference to Roman Catholicism, the special, positive religion of Italians...The Fascist State sees in religion one of the deepest of spiritual manifestations and for this reason it not only respects religion but defends and protects it.

This was perhaps more honored in the breach than in the fulfillment.

The ideologies of the various "Fascist" regimes in fact differed, and the ways in which they came to power were different. In Japan there was Emperor worship; Hideki Tojo was appointed prime minister in the normal way. Nazism centered around the personality of Hitler, but Hitler came to power at first through a democratic process. The German and Italian regimes rested on the support of an odd alliance of a militant lumpenproletariat and failed petit- bourgoisie with large families of industrialists and aristocrats. Support of the traditional army came later to Hitler, and was shaky and conditional. The Japanese and Spanish regimes drew their support from the army along with rich industrialists and land owners. Franco was also supported by the Catholic Church.

Since there is no agreed definition of Fascism, and Fascist regimes differed, perhaps the best way to decide if a movement or regime is Fascist is to make a list of defining characteristics and then determine the extent to which different regimes conform to those characteristics. Here is one such list:

A Fascism Scale

- Leadership Principle - absolute rule by an individual
- Group is superior to and more important than the individual
- Own group is superior to other groups
- Veneration of heroic traditions and (sometimes mythical) bygone days (eg: Romans, Norse sagas, Samurai, imperial Spain)
- Struggle and death are glorious - cult of heroism
- Cult of action and activism
- Frustration: sense of collective injustice inflicted by foreign enemies.
- Militarist expansionism - World or regional domination is a central goal
- Political repression: Suppression of liberty and intellectual life
- Racism

This list was derived from the discussion by Michael Burleigh (see previous post), from an article by Umberto Eco: Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt, and from other sources. Any scale of Fascist characteristics would have to include approximately the above list. Some additional ones such as sloganeering ("newspeak") or populism might be added, but these are really characteristics of all demagogues.

Hitler's Germany would get 10 out of 10 in the above scale. Mussolini's Italy would get at least nine out of ten; racism was not a strong feature of Italian Fascism. Franco's Spain would get only 6 to 8 in the above scale. Spain was not expansionist and not particularly racist or activist.

Radical Islamism, like classical Fascism, takes various forms. We can exclude "Islamism" as it is evolving in Turkey, and perhaps also the Muslim Brotherhood, which has renounced violence, and concentrate on radical forms of Islamist ideology.

The extreme forms of Islamism found in Iran and Al-Qaeda have all or almost all of the above characteristics, and several more that were also found in Fascism. One may object that the "collective" in Islamism is the "Islamic ouma" rather than the individual state, but this is a quibble. The ouma is a nationalist concept in a way, certainly as valid as the Arabic ouma of pan-Arab nationalism, which was also divorced from the individual state.

The "leadership principle" of Adolph Hitler and the unquestioned leadership of Il Duce in Italy are paralleled and institutionalized in Iran by the concept of the Marj Al Faqi. The Marj is in theory "The Supreme Leader," and literally the teacher to be imitated, who is supposed to be the substitute (Khalifa) for the hidden 12th Imam. The Marj Al Faqi solved the formal conceptual problem of succession in such regimes. In that, they differ from the Fascist Germany, Italy and Spain, which were supposedly strictly one-man shows. Der Fuhrer, El Caudillo and Il Duce provided personal reasons why they, and they alone should be followed. They were "the greatest." German children learned that "Adolf Hitler is the greatest German of all times." That is a tough act to follow. There was no ideological reason given to follow a successor, and it is hard to imagine what Nazism, Fascism or Phalangism could be without them. The "Supreme Leader" however, is now being challenged by a different supreme leader, President Ahmadinejad, who may be using the Pasdaran and Basij revolutionary troops as a power base to, in effect, stage a Fscist coup within a more or less Fascist regime.

In practice, "absolute rule" is usually rule by an small group of powerful men. Even Hitler, who usually got his way, took advice and changed his mind on issues such as the economy, persecution of minoirities such as Romany people and euthenasia of chronically ill persons. Iran is certainly not a one man show, because the characteristics of such regimes are shaped in part by the personalities of their leaders. When Khomeini was alive, the Iranian revolution was much more of a one man show. However, the essentials did not change since then, just as much about the USSR remained the same after the demise of Stalin. Similarly, there is little doubt that Osama Bin Laden takes advice of others in Al Qaeda, but it would be ludicrous to pretend that this is democracy. Upon the demise of Bin laden, a different autocrat will be nominated.

Fascism and Islamism have a similar "phenotype." However, a chair and dog both have four legs. Shared characteristics are usually not enough to classify two things as the same. Strikingly, Stalinist communism shared every one of the characteristics of Fascism listed above, though it had a totally different ideological rationale and class basis. Like Fascism and Stalinism, radical Islamism has some real "issues." All three movements claim or claimed to support the "underdog" and demand "justice" in the face of real and imagined injustices. In all three cases, the proposed cure is far worse than the disease. All three cases have their apologists who claim or claimed that we must understand the "underlying causes." In all three cases, solving the "issues" and "understanding the causes" would not be enough to remove the threat. "Understanding" the reasons for German discontent or appeasing Hitler did not stop the Nazi menace. Cooperating with the USSR and understanding the needs of workers was not sufficient to beat Stalinism. Withdrawal of European colonialists from Asia would not have stopped Japanese imperial ambitions.

What we call a movement or regime doesn't matter. What matters is understanding what it is and why it came about, and whether or not it is dangerous. "Fascism" did not need to be called something else in order for people to understand, eventually, that it was dangerous and evil. Stalinist Communism was eventually rejected as well. "Radical Islamism," as practiced in Iran or as proposed by Osama Bin Laden, should be rejected by civilized people who love liberty and hope for progress for the same reasons, whether it is more like Stalinism or more like Fascism or an entirely different sort of barbaric repressive rule.

This leads us to the question of why and how the horrific dictatorships of the twentieth century arose, and what their origin might have in common with Islamism - a question to be explored in the last article in this series.

Ami Isseroff
Previous articles in this series:
Islamo-Fascism I: What Bush said, and why it is objectionable

Islamo-Fascism II: What some experts say

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Replies: 3 comments

Fascism is the way of organizing and maintaining control of the economic structure of a nation by power elites within the nation supported by power-elite beneficiaries outside the borders of the nation. All of the trappings as defined are simply the elements of the method to retain absolute control of the economy through government organization, religious and educational institutions, extreme nationalism and patriotism, and the military organization to enforce the rules and promote the actions (generally, war) that ensure the flow of assets/money up through the mesh of the government into the coffers of controlling power elites. Hitler, the puppet leader of Germany and the "1000 Year Reich" were never expected to last as money-makers as long as they in fact did.

Posted by Nachum Meyers @ 10/09/2006 05:07 PM CST

The American people are increasingly asking the question, Is Bush turning America into a Fascist Totalitarian Country?

Large scale spying, torture, and the invasion of other countries under false pretenses, are not something that the majority of Americans will accept. There is a growing movement for the impeachment (removal) of Bush.

Posted by ) Vision Eagle ( @ 10/12/2006 09:53 PM CST

Yes, it is interesting to measure the Bush regime against Ami's list. Clearly it's not fascist or the midterm elections would not be proceeding as they are, however the degree of co-incidence is striking.

Posted by Spike @ 11/08/2006 03:50 PM CST

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