Add This To The Pile

For David Neiwert, who does good work (and especially good work explaining the beliefs and desires and tendencies of the fascistic, if not outright fascist, American right-wing), I copy-out this short essay on the nature of fascism by A.J.P. Taylor. It’s not exactly profound and I don’t agree with all of it, but it is interesting and blessedly brief:


A contribution to a series of articles on The Isms in 1957.

The oddest thing about Fascism nowadays is that even its advocates have to pretend to be ashamed of it. Fascism has become a dirty word, and a speech in its favour can be identified at once by the unfailing phrase: ‘Of course I have no sympathy with Fascism, but…’ We have to make do with less branded words like totalitarianism, authoritarianism, demagogy, and so on. It will save a lot of trouble when Fascism gets back into currency.

Fascism is a disease of democracy or at any rate of the mass-age. Dictatorship alone is not Fascism if it relies simply on force and has no popular backing. Fascism demands a mass-party where a few self-chosen leaders control a body of disciplined followers drawn from the disgruntled elements of society. Here is the starting point of Fascism: a sense of grievance, social, political, national, even personal, it really does not matter what. But the psychology of resentment must be there, and if the resentment is unfounded so much the better. A Fascist party exists to express emotions, not to achieve results. Its programme is a mere rigamarole of high-sounding phrases, and if any of its aims are in fact achieved then others equally irrelevant will have to be botched up. Hence the futility of concession or appeasement to a Fascist party or country. Indeed, concession aggravates the resentment by exposing its irrational bias. Fascism has to be kept on the boil by parades and uniforms. Its demonstrations release pent-up emotions and at the same time generate fresh ones rather as an atomic reactor turns out more power than it consumes. The demonstrations must threaten violence. Later they must apply violence against some element felt to be outside the Fascist community — Jews, Slavs, coloured peoples. The actual choice of the victim has no practical sense. Hatred and persecution are practiced for their own sake.

Fascist leaders are concerned only with power. Usually indeed they claim to be serving some national cause and boast of their patriotism. But this nationalism is not essential and the few avowed survivors of Fascism now present themselves as having been ‘good Europeans’ before NATO and the rest of it were ever thought of. Fascists will use any ideological cover so long as it brings them nearer to dominance over others. What do Fascist leaders do with their power when they get it? Mainly they destroy the obstacles to its unrestricted exercise. Fascists hate the Christian churches, the law courts, the trade unions, not as rivals but simply as brakes. They have nothing to put in the place of these institutions. Fascist law is merely the rule of the stronger. Fascist creeds are a jumble of dark emotions, incoherently expressed. Fascists morals, too, simply provide unlimited sexual gratification for males whose appetites are usually greater than their powers.

Is Fascism necessarily anti-Socialist or even anti-Communist? In the days when Hitler was coming to power much play was made with the idea that Fascism was the last defence of a declining capitalism. As a matter of fact, capitalism seems to get along much better in a sensible democratic community. It is true that the rich retain their riches in a Fascist state and even add to them. Probably the capitalist classes in Germany and Italy are still proportionately better off than their counterparts elsewhere as the result of Fascist rule. But though the capitalists keep their wealth, they lose their power just like everyone else and as individuals they are equally exposed to the irrational tyranny of the Fascist bosses. Many German magnates had time to decide in a concentration camp that they had been ill-advised to finance Hitler.

Other writers turn the analysis upside down and make out that Fascism and Communism are indistinguishable. This is an unnecessary confusion. Fascism sometimes parodies Communism just as it parodies almost everything else, but it lacks the practical economic aims which make Communism a rational, though materialistic, creed. What Fascists like in socialist measures is the power they offer, not the results they produce. Where socialists, let us say, might advocate rationing in order to secure fair shares, Fascists rejoice in the regimentation involved.

A final point is often ignored. Even Fascist leaders cannot be irrational all the time. If they were, they would be certified and locked up before they had started on their political career. Since, by definition, they have no rational principles, they are wholly selfish in their sane moments. There is no example on record of an honest Fascist leader. All of them — Hitler, Mussolini, their followers and imitators without exception — grabbed at wealth as well as power. When you find a political community in which all the leaders are corrupt, you may guess that it is on the way to Fascism. Indeed, Fascists in power (or out of it) plunder on such a gigantic scale that one is tempted to believe that they are rational after all — cheats and swindlers, not psychopaths. But this is wrong. Fascism is the irrational made vocal, and therefore any attempt to reduce it to rational terms defeats itself.

Source: Politicians, Socialism and Historians, pgs 109-111.


Comments: 22


Love ya, Mencken. But “blessedly brief”? I shudder to think of your attractively trimmed foreskin chafing against your knees.


Spoken like a true print journalist, D.A.

Shit, for a blog post, that’s equivalent of a newswire flash.


My version:

Fascists – evil (also see: Wingnuts, embracing)


Umm, descriptions and explanations of fascism tend to be very very long. Some are booklength. Neiwert’s own was done in a series of long posts. So Taylor was indeed brief in doing the particular job at hand.


Yo, Mencken, have you seen this?

I have the full book on the way. I’m curious to see if/how it connects up with Altemeyer’s recent stuff.


A Fascist party exists to express emotions, not to achieve results.

That is an interesting statement. Taylor’s sense that fascism is essentially irrational, and that it feeds itself, is interesting. Like a runaway chain-reaction.

I wonder what Taylor would think of the Neoconservatives, who apparently want to use the energy from a sort of ‘fascist’ reaction that never stops, but who also want to remain rational and untouched by the reaction, ruling from behind the scenes. Or so they are rumored to believe.


Fascists hate the Christian churches, the law courts, the trade unions, not as rivals but simply as brakes. They have nothing to put in the place of these institutions. Fascist law is merely the rule of the stronger. Fascist creeds are a jumble of dark emotions, incoherently expressed. Fascists morals, too, simply provide unlimited sexual gratification for males whose appetites are usually greater than their powers.

This fails to be brief because it neither reports nor argues. Rather, it summarizes in an impressionistic way. I like it though, because it captures the logical and rhetorical confusion we hear from Bush and his upper-level administrators. Just needs to tie these characteristics to the effect of capital in undermining the independence of workers, administrators, journalists and professionals, so this steady slide into a weird American semi-fascism can be explained.

The corporate character of modern authoritarianism is neglected and the anachronistic racism of the Nazis is emphasized when fascism has been discussed, distracting from the specifically American way American fascism can arise.


Fascists hate the Christian churches



Interesting, esp. in its focus on the emotional/psychological aspect. Maybe that’s symtomatic of it’s being published in 1957, but I buy it. To the extent that fascism is implemented and kept in power by “the disgruntled elements of society,” what more basic explanation can there be?

Of course we’re all driven by our psych. needs. But the non-fascist, non-insane (and non-wing-nut) among us harness those needs to values and programs and, with any honesty and sanity at all, are able to modulate our actions based on feedback from the real world. Fascist loons take their inability to do so as “strength” and “indomitable commitment,” etc.

Xenos is right to cite “the corporate character of modern authoritarianism,” but couldn’t you say that the corporate interests make use of the fascist instrument, instead of or along with the party and its leaders?


Yeah, Notorious, I was thinking the same thing. Either Taylor chickened out and failed to call the Catholic Church to account for the Lateran Treaty and the many evils of Pius XII (and the Lutheran Church for collaborating so that it could receive tax revenue from the Reich), or he’d never heard of them, which is difficult to believe.

There’s a mass amnesia about the role of churches in the rise of Fascism, but if you look at the courts of Salazar, Franco, Mussolini, Hitler and Pinochet, you’ll see clergy scurrying around everywhere.


Mr. Wonderful–

Check out Mussolini’s own definition of Fascism. He admired corporate structure deeply.


Well, the fascists don’t care much for independent, free-thinking churches. They get along quite well with organized religion, of course.


Notorious & Doc,

Once upon a time, churches, or more often, individual Christians, busied themselves with feeding, clothing, and housing the poor, gave sanctuary to the desperate, cared for the sick, and generally fulfilled their obligations to their neighbors that Jesus laid out in the parable of the Good Samaritan with the sort of dedication they now reserve for protecting schools from science, and society from sex, feminism, and gays.

Taylor most likely refers to the local congregations by “Christian churches”.


Xenos is right to cite “the corporate character of modern authoritarianism,� but couldn’t you say that the corporate interests make use of the fascist instrument, instead of or along with the party and its leaders?

My argument would be that corporate interests play a critical role in creating and maintaining authoritarian and fascist governments. I can’t remember if this is a trotskyist or maoist argument, or if I have confabulated it out of what little education remained after too many blows to the head on the rugby pitch of my youth.

Specifically, the Walton family and the Mellon family play a role similar to the soft-on-fascism types at Brown Brothers (e.g. Prescott Bush) during WWII, Henry Ford and the heirs of the Singer Sewing Machine fortune (among others) during the 1930s, the German Industrial class in the 1920s, the Mercantalists who supplied the cash and credit to support Absolutist Bourbon monarchy, and the East India Company in driving the politics if Imperialism of Britain.


Fascists hate the Christian churches

Not necessarily. While Hitler’s Nazis harkened back to the pagan German barbarians, and Mussolini’s Fascists to the pagan Roman Empire, other fascists (like Franco in Spain or Milosevic in Serbia) used intolerant Christianity as their vehicle.


On Fascists hating the Christian churches: I think that is pretty accurate. It’s clear that the neocons/rethuglicans of today hate them as an alternative to their own complete control and because they rely on their membership to keep hold of power.

There have been a few mentions of the contempt that the strategists hold for the churchgoers who vote for their candidates: rather than being content to have a reliable source of votes, they want the offering plate *and* the worship transferred to them as well. And that fits into Taylor’s thesis pretty well, I think.

Consider that a true Christian wouldn’t support these monsters and they can hate them for hypocrisy as well. A match made in heaven: on one side, the partner married for strength, on the other for money, and too late they realize they were better off alone.

a different brad

Part of me wants to defend irrationality from becoming the domain of fascists, but that’s a semantic quibble. I guess I’ll simply say let’s remember to distinguish between the irrational and the a-rational.


O.K., maybe it’s over the top, but this stuff about how Fascism exists to propagate irrational hatreds and “dark emotions” really fits quite a few of the rightys perfectly. Creepy


On fascists hating Christian churches, I believe that Mussolini, for instance, wrote that he was OK with churches up until the point where they started to act independent, or got too curious about what his government was doing. Essentially, he was fine with churches as long as they were obedient to his state. I think that this is pretty much how Fasicsts have viewed the Christian churches- it all has to do with whether they will obey and/or actively support the fascist state or not. Fascists have generally seemed to have a rather pragmatic view of religion that way.


Well, aye, I think that’s what Taylor means; it’s not that they’re against these institutions per se, it’s that they should be totally supportive and totally subservient to the Fascist state. This, of course, makes said institutions a hollow shell of what they were, worse than useless because they give the appearance of existing, like a hallucination or a dream of a real institution that a person can have trust in.

His dividing line between fascism and communism is also one which chimes in with my experience and research: how many times have you heard a Republican call fascists left-wing because “they regulated everything”? But as an end in itself, rather than an end to greater social equality.

Hysterical Woman

The problem with comparing Fascism to Communism is that Fascist states don’t seem to last as long. The only long lasting Fascist state I can think of is Spain. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union lasted eighty years. It’s easier to study Communism than Fascism because of that.


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