What is fascism and what is a fascist? I’ll bet that, even among those who are well read in political philosophy and who have occasion to use these words, a very large percentage of people would say that these are characterizations of those from the political right, in fact, the extreme political right. Think Benito Mussolini, for sure, and Adolf Hitler, along with any number of authoritarian rulers of the 20th century.
George Orwell once said, “Those who would change a culture corrupt its language, particularly by hiding the reality of an evil they desire behind a less revealing name”. This observation has probably never been more appropriate than in the use of the word fascism. Two books will completely expose the fallacy and the lies of this mischaracterization. One of them is Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, by Jonah Goldberg; the other is The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left, by Dinesh D’Souza.
I read and reviewed the Goldberg book about ten years ago and the subtitle pretty much sums up its content. He does a brilliant job in fully documenting the history of this word as it applies to the regimes of the 20th century and, more importantly, the degree to which it has been corrupted by the left to disguise policies they desire while condemning the political right for aiding and abetting fascist tendencies. His basic argument is that early 20th century progressivism, the forerunner of the liberalism of today, has its emotional and doctrinal roots in European fascism, which is essentially and has always been an ideology of the left, not the right as the mythology has presented it.
The D’Souza book is more recent and covers much of the same ground, but with a slightly different approach and more of a partisan edge. He starts with identifying the patron saint of fascist philosophy, largely unknown now even to political philosophy students, although he was one of the world’s most influential philosophers of the first half of the 20th century. He was the Italian Giovanni Gentile and, in effect, he is to fascism what Karl Marx is to communism. He was very much a committed socialist who was diametrically opposed to liberal democracy as being “too centered on liberty and personal rights” and therefore selfish. And for Gentile, fascism is a form of socialism, indeed to him its most workable form is the centralized state popular with progressives. In fact, when Mussolini, who converted fascism into an action plan, made his most famous quote, “all is in the state and nothing human exists or has value outside the state”, he was merely paraphrasing Gentile In addition, fascism is also socialism with a national identity, hence, for example, Nazi is a contraction of the term “national socialist”.
D’Souza follows this thread and how it has been manifest in leftist parties, including the U. S. Democratic Party, and their policies and fellow travelers in our elite institutions through the rest of the 20th century to the present day Antifa movement, which, contrary to its name, is arguably the most virulent of fascist elements active today.
Orwell was right: Words matter. The truth matters.