If I hear one more person call someone a fascist, I am going to scream. I am going to scream because fascism means something very specific. It doesn’t mean I don’t like your politics. It especially doesn’t mean you dislike universal healthcare or libertarian policies. When the word fascism is applied willy-nilly, it leaves aside a troubling history for a cheap political shot, and these days, everyone on the right and the left is guilty of using this word erroneously and stripping it of its meaning. And one thing you don’t want to do is strip this powerful word of its meaning, because when you do encounter fascism, you’re going to want to be sure everyone knows you mean what you say you mean.
At its most basic, fascism is a political system marked by extreme nationalism and authoritarianism. This goes beyond your basic flag-waving and allegience-pledging and places the be all and end all in national identity. This identity can be defined by ancestry, culture, and/or blood. Fascists maintain national identity through authoritarian practices. Fascists are willing to purge those who do not fit in with that identity. Fascism as a system has no problem with violence.
Fascists hate everything. They are anti-liberal, anti-conservative, anti-democratic, anti-communist, anti-individualist, and anti-capitalist, among many other anti-whatsits, which is probably why people have so much fun calling anyone who is against something a fascist. Remember, fascism is extreme. Someone who is generally against government interference or who dislikes capitalist practices is not a fascist. Of course, someone who combines their dislike of any of these things with extreme nationalism might be playing along the borders of this troublesome ideology.
Where fascism gets confusing, and why everyone is probably so willing to call everyone else a fascist, is because it is neither to the right nor to the left. As we learned in our discussion of liberalism, right and left mean very different things when you’re living in a generally liberal country than if you are living in a country that has a few more ideologies in play. Indeed, many fascists have enjoyed a certain vagueness when it came to their positions so as to encourage as many followers as possible. But if you just remember that fascism is extreme nationalism that is violent and authoritarian, you’ll be safe.
Fascism did its worst work in the mid-twentieth century. And it’s because of that fact that we have to understand that fascism carries with it some serious evil. Fascism is over-used in a way that disregards the history of violence associated with it. So the next time you want to call your crazy conservative uncle a fascist because he doesn’t support single-payor insurance, pause and think a moment, because more than likely, he’s not fascist.
I’ve come to the end of all of the major ideologies for Fun with Political Theory, but I’m always happy to explain new things. Let me know if you’ve got more ideas for Fun with Political Theory in the comments.