One of the most difficult aspects of the writing my dissertation is the political science sandbox that I need to play in a little bit. A great deal of my argument depends on how I define “fascism.” Not too hard, right? I mean, fascism as political ideology and practice has been studied and written about for decades. Surely there is a consensus on the definition, thinks past Macy.
Haha, nope. Lets all point and laugh at Past Macy. She’s so naive and hopeful. Silly girl.
Let me tell you all something: If your understanding of fascism comes from one lecture in a freshman level history class, or some stupid Facebook post your relatives pass around, or from ANYTHING that took you less than a day to read you are wrong. At the very least, you are missing major aspects of the ideology that are essential to understanding why it took hold.
I am in the middle of reading Kevin Passmore’s Fascism: A Very Short Introduction as a way to get a better grasp of the development and definition of fascism as it existed in Europe in the 20th Century. The book is excellent, and I encourage anyone to pick it up if you want a starting place. It’s been very helpful, as is Passmore’s definition. Maddening, but helpful. Passmore defines fascism as “a set of ideologies and practices that seeks to place the nation, defined in exclusive biological, cultural, and/or historical terms, above all other sources of loyalty and to create a mobilized national community.” That’s just the first sentence – the whole definition goes on for 26 more lines. The problem with defining fascism succinctly is that it is at times both revolutionary and reactionary, order and violence, exclusionary and inclusive. Scholars and dictators (and your relatives on Facebook) alike pick and choose which aspects of fascism they need to argue/lead/prove a point about a contemporary world leader at a given time. There is a lot of disagreement and misunderstanding out there.
As a theatre historian, I don’t have the knowledge base of this political, economic, and ideological system to write about it exclusively. Perhaps if I knew exactly what I would be researching for my dissertation back when I was twenty, I would have double majored in PoliSci but it took me a decade just to narrow the FTP to this topic. I don’t have the luxury of spending another decade studying fascism.
Luckily, I don’t really need to. Before purists clutch their pearls, I not writing about actual fascism in my dissertation. I am more concerned with the fear of fascism, it’s specter and American reaction to it. What was it about fascism that terrified some Americans enough to stage this mass protest against it? And why was that staging, that anti-fascist stand, so dangerous? We take for granted that fascism was always the big bad of the geopolitical scene. It’s the ultimate insult, the worst accusation you can throw at politician if you want to undermine his/her agenda. It is the reason Godwin’s Law exists. This wasn’t always the case. In my dissertation, I am looking at the performed fear of fascism on the national stage as it stands against perceived anti-Americanism.
Identity. That’s at the center of this issue for me. How we identify fascists today is very different from the why they self-identified in the 1930s. Just like the way we identify Americans, and enemies, and allies.
The definition is slippery, and hard to nail down. What is more fear-inspiring than an enemy that you can’t fully define?