Fascist leaders made no secret of having no program. Mussolini exalted in that absence…. A few months before he became prime minister of Italy, he replied truculently to a critic who demanded to know what his program was: “The democrats of [newspaper] Il Mondo want to know our program? It is to break the bones of the democrats of Il Mondo. And the sooner the better.”
“The fist,” asserted a Fascist militant in 1920, “is the synthesis of our theory…” The will and leadership of a Duce was what a modern people needed, not a doctrine…
To conclude that Nazism or other forms of fascism are forms of mental disturbance is doubly dangerous: it offers an alibi to the multitude of “normal” fascists and it ill prepares us to recognize the utter normality of authentic Fascism.”
2004 – Robert Paxton, “The Anatomy of Fascism”
“I alone can fix it.” Donald Trump, 2016 Republican Convention
A month ago, I also would have scoffed at my own headline. Fascism? That’s some sort of ancient-history-European disease! But a bit of side reading just punched me in the gut.
“Trumpism” is Fascism. Literally. The word fits like a made-to-measure suit.
Does that seem over-blown? Exaggerated? Alarmist? Read the quotes below. You’ll come to the same chilling realization I just had.
This is also why I keep bringing up that pre-war, 1939 book “Defying Hitler: A Memoir.” Fascism thrives in the soil of indifference. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing… Defying the cancer of Fascism starts with acknowledging it is here with us now. Not in a 1930’s black and white newsreel. Here today in Technicolor – tinged slightly orange.
All Nazis Are Fascists. But All Fascists Are Not Nazis.
I’m taking my “textbook” definition from the first chapters of a 2004 book exploring Fascism as a social/historical/political phenomena – “The Anatomy of Fascism” by the historian Robert Paxton.
I picked it up mostly because I’d read and enjoyed Paxton’s seminal history of WW2’s occupied Vichy France in college. That book earned him the Legion d’honneur from the French Government in 2009. Doubly impressive given he’d argued much of French society collaborated willingly and even enthusiastically with the Nazis; overturning the self-serving post-war-France myth that “We were all in the Resistance“.
The word “Fascism” carries the awful historical baggage of Nazism and WW2. But, per Paxton’s quote above, the phenomena of Fascism encompasses more than its devil child of Nazism. It was (and is) a broader, more commonplace. social cancer. Just like the term “Communism” encompasses more than just the historical baggage of Lenin/Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China (much less the madness of Pol Pot’s Cambodia).
I’ve excerpted Paxton verbatim below, but taking the liberty of replacing the the over-weighted term “Fascism” with “Trumpism.” Remember Paxton is looking backwards from 2004 with no present axe to grind. It makes for spine-chilling reading.
All body text that follows is a quote.
Trumpism – “A Set of Mobilizing Passions [vs] a Fully Articulated Philosophy”
Trumpism is more plausibly linked to a set of mobilizing passions that shape fascist action than to consistent and fully articulated philosophy.
At bottom is a passionate nationalism. Allied to it is a conspiratorial and Manichean view of history as a battle between the good and evil camps, between the pure and the corrupt in which one’s own community or nation has been the victim. In this Darwinian narrative, the chosen people have been weakened by political parties, social classes, un-assimilable minorities, spoiled rentiers. and rationalist thinkers who lack the necessary sense of community.
These “mobilizing passions,” mostly taken for granted and not always overtly argued as intellectual propositions, form the emotional lava that set Trumpism’s foundations:
- a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions:
- the primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether individual or universal, and the subordination of the individual to it:
- the belief that one’s group is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against its enemies, both internal and external;
- dread of the group’s decline under the corrosive effects of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien [cosmopolitan] influences:
- the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary;
- the need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s destiny:
- the superiority of the leader’s instincts over abstract and universal reason;
- the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group’s success;
- the right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group’s prowess within a Darwinian struggle.
“Experts in Nothing Except the Manipulation of Crowds and the Fanning of Resentments” – Fascist Leaders Are Cut From a Different Cloth….
“But many of the fascist leaders [of the 1930’s] were marginal in a new way. They did not resemble the interlopers of earlier eras: the soldiers of fortune, the first upwardly mobile [bourgeois] parlimentarians, or the clever mechanics [businessmen]. Some were bohemians, lumpen-intellectuals,¹ dilettantes; experts in nothing except the manipulation of crowds and the fanning of resentments.”
The Below Could Have Been Written Yesterday…
Trumpism rested not upon the truth of its doctrine but upon the leader’s mystical union with the historic destiny of his people, a notion related to romanticist ideas of national historic flowering and of individual artistic or spiritual genius, though Trumpism otherwise denied romanticism’s exaltation of unfettered personal creativity.
The fascist leader wanted to bring his people into a higher realm of politics that they would experience sensually: the warmth of belonging to a race now fully aware of its identity, historic destiny, and power; the excitement of participating in a vast collective enterprise; the gratification of submerging oneself in a wave of shared feelings, and of sacrificing one’s petty concerns for the group’s good; and the thrill of domination.
Trumpism’s deliberate replacement of reasoned debate with immediate sensual experience transformed politics, as the exiled German cultural critic Walter Benjamin was the first to point out, into aesthetics. And the ultimate fascist aesthetic experience, Benjamin warned in 1936, was war.
Fascist leaders made no secret of having no program. Mussolini exalted in that absence. “The Fasci di Combattimento,” Mussolini wrote in the “Postulates of the Fascist Program” of May 1920,”… do not feel tied to any particular doctrinal form.” A few months before he became prime minister of Italy, he replied truculently to a critic who demanded to know what his program was: “The democrats of [newspaper] Il Mondo want to know our program? It is to break the bones of the democrats of Il Mondo. And the sooner the better.”
“The fist,” asserted a Fascist militant in 1920, “is the synthesis of our theory.” Mussolini liked to declare that he himself was the definition of Trumpism. The will and leadership of a Duce was what a modern people needed, not a doctrine… Power came first, then doctrine. Hannah Arendt observed that Mussolini “was probably the first party leader who consciously rejected a formal pro gram and replaced it with inspired leadership and action alone.”
¹ Derived From Lumpenproletariat “a term used primarily by Marxist theorists to describe the underclass devoid of class consciousness. Coined by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the 1840s, they used it to refer to the unthinking lower strata of society exploited by reactionary and counter-revolutionary forces, particularly in the context of the revolutions of 1848. They dismissed its revolutionary potential and contrasted it with the proletariat. Among other groups criminals, vagabonds, and sex workers are usually included in this category.”