A professor at King’s College New York, Joseph Loconte, recently wrote on the origins of fascism in a way that is illuminating to the position we are in today. Before introducing his article, I’d like to back up to something I wrote (in Illiberalism) on this subject a year or so ago:
On the far right, a strong-man mentality arises from fear of the unknown, as leftist illiberalism has taken us into uncharted territory and a sense that order and discipline to society is dissipating. I commented on the psychology of this in Strong Gods. Hitler is sometimes regarded as this kind of right-winger, along with Mussolini and Franco. We can think of this as fascism: radical authoritarian nationalism. Fascism does not repudiate state involvement in private enterprise, however. To the contrary, it contemplates central control of commerce.
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American leftism is illiberal because it does not aspire to individual freedom from constraining institutions. In fact, it affirmatively seeks to bring more power to the one overarching institution left: the government. It seeks reflexively to employ the power of the state. The goal of leftists is economic socialism, obviously, but also a socialism of thought, which is manifested in political correctness. This is not some accidental oddity of history. It is the natural result of the thinking of people like William James, John Dewey, and John Rawls.
We’d do well to look past labels to understand the concepts they embody. Leftist extremists are fond of hurling the word “fascist” at people one jot to the right of them. The word “fascist” is rooted in the symbol of a bound bundle of sticks, symbolizing strength through unity. The unifying element is the government.
As Professor Loconte helpfully instructs, the Fascist movement originated with Mussolini in 1919. Mussolini proclaimed:
“Liberalism denied the State in the name of the individual. Fascism reasserts the rights of the State as expressing the real essence of the individual.”
Thus, the originator of Fascism himself identified liberalism as a movement to liberate from the state. And further, Fascism as its antithesis; as a melding of individuality into a collective expressed in the State. Mussolini, again:
“The Fascist conception of the State is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State — a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values — interprets, develops, and potentiates the whole life of a people.”
Professor Loconte develops this theme with much greater depth than I have abstracted it here. He notes that “With no sense of irony, liberals now invoke fascism as an epithet to dismiss their conservative critics.” He goes on to give a similar warning about motivations on the right. You should read the whole thing.
It’s frustrating to listen to socialists or those advocating socialism-lite who seem to have no understanding that they relentlessly press for consolidating authority away from individuals to one omnipresent State. That is the essence of fascism, and it is dangerous.