From the Desk of Brian Fogarty: Do We Know Fascism When We See It?

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The following is a post from Brian Fogarty, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Saint Catherine University and author of Fascism: Why Not Here? (Potomac Books, 2009). You can follow his blog Politics, Culture, and Everything at befogarty.wordpress.com

A Specter is Haunting Europe: Do we know fascism when we see it?

Reflecting recently on the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union, former Prime Minister Tony Blair lamented the breakdown of center-left/center-right governments throughout Europe. Extremists from both right and left have, he said, “demonized” centrists as “out-of-touch elites” while “making the word ‘expert’ virtually a term of abuse.” At the same time, immigrants have been portrayed as terrorists and mooches, ready to pollute English culture and destroy civilization. This drumbeat has been amplified by hungry news media and especially by social media, to the point that “the political center has lost its power to persuade.”

Blair’s other insight is that the political left and right are beginning to converge—the left railing against bankers while the right promotes xenophobia. Oh, and all of these trends can be seen not only in Britain, but throughout Europe and in the United States.

It happens that these trends are precisely the ones I cautioned about in my book, Fascism: Why Not Here? (Potomac Books, 2009). In it, I defined fascism as a movement that transcends the right/left dichotomy by combining elements of both into a philosophy of radicalism itself: a rejection of the old conventions of politics in favor of bold and even reckless action. The very name of Hitler’s National Socialist party said it all: its platform was based on a cultish nationalism of cultural purity, combined with a socialist ideal of equality and community for all “true” Germans.

I explained in the book that German culture was characterized by five ideologies that made fascism possible: romanticism, populism, nationalism, racism, and authoritarianism. I further explained that the first four run pretty deep in American culture as well, and that under the right conditions of political or economic stress, combined with ineffective government, we could see the rise of a significant fascist movement in America.

When I wrote the book I intended it as a warning, a caution of what could happen if things went horribly bad—massive terror attacks, failed war, economic collapse, that sort of thing. But even in my darkest moments I never thought we would see such a movement begin to coalesce so soon. But here’s Tony Blair describing the very warning signs I cautioned about, and here we also have the major American political parties fracturing over nationalism and populism.

And here also is Donald Trump, whose campaign is aggressively trying to combine his jingoistic nationalism with socialist populism by seeking Bernie Sanders voters. In this effort he is assisted by Paul Manafort, consultant to such dubious notables as Ferdinand Marcos, Jonas Savimbi, Mobutu Sese Seko, and any number of shadowy arms dealers and wannabe dictators.

Blair’s final plea is the “The center must hold.” But a specter is haunting Europe, and this time it isn’t communism, as Karl Marx foretold in his manifesto of 1848. It’s fascism. And it isn’t just Europe.