What Brendan O’Neill gets wrong and right about fascism

Caption: You call that a fascist? Mussolini scoffs at you.

I generally like Brendan O’Neill’s writing, and he has been particularly scathing of those who, like Rik from The Young Ones, endlessly shout “FASCIST!” in a kind of left-wing Tourette’s, without any regard for the actual meaning of the term. Quote:

It is probably futile now to argue for the proper use of the word fascism. To rail against the transformation of ‘fascist’ into a casual insult. To insist that fascism doesn’t mean ‘evil’ or ‘illiberal’ or even ‘demagogic’, but rather has a more specific meaning, and a more profound one.

The f-word has been destroyed through overuse, its original sense and power diluted by a million op-eds branding unpleasant politicians ‘fascists’ and by radical marchers hollering ‘fascist scum’ at anyone who irritates them…The word is now used with an ahistoricism and thoughtlessness that are genuinely alarming. And among the upper echelons of society, not merely by scruffy protesters or online blowhards. End of quote.

Which makes it so much the more disappointing when O’Neill proceeds to mis-define fascism so badly. Worse, he does so by referring, not to, say, the very people who founded the fascist doctrine, but to a couple of Communists. Quote:

Fascism, in essence, is a mass, paramilitary movement that acts as a stand-in for normal politics and normal statehood… End of quote.

There are many mass, paramilitary movements, but they have not been fascist. O’Neill is putting things arse-about, here. Fascism had an ideology and articulated doctrines, it had a manifesto. O’Neill ignores all of those, and turns instead to… Leon Trotsky. Which is about as useful as seeking Hitler’s opinions on Zionism. Quote:

As Trotsky put it, fascism occurs when the ‘police and military resources’ of a society, and its parliamentary process, ‘no longer suffice to hold society in a state of equilibrium’…Fascism, basically, is when a society in crisis green-lights civil war or class war as a means of stabilising itself in the longer term…and of course executing anti-Semitic savagery. End of quote.

Cut through the Marxist gobbledegook here, and you’re still no closer to a clear definition of fascism. Worse, the “of course” claim about anti-Semitism is so much baloney. O’Neill is mistakenly lumping fascism together with Nazism. Although the two were related, and (after much mutual suspicion) allied, they were not the same.

Unlike Nazism, fascism is not inherently racist or anti-Semitic. The two pre-eminent theorists of fascism, Gentile and Mussolini, explicitly rejected race as the foundation of national identity. Indeed, Mussolini, like fashionable “progressives” today, even denied the biological basis of race, and called anti-Semitism “stupid”. Jews were members of the Fascist party, and most fascists disapproved of the 1938 race laws.

So, what is fascism? Mussolini succinctly defined fascism as: All within the state. Nothing outside the state. Nothing against the state.

And there it is: Fascism is the apex of statism. The state as religion.

“The keystone of the Fascist doctrine,” wrote Mussolini. “Is its conception of the State…For Fascism the State is absolute, individuals and groups relative. Individuals and groups are admissible in so far as they come within the State.”

Pius XII accurately criticised fascism as “worship of the state”. Fascism rejected Marxism because of its materialism, and classical liberalism, because it puts the individual before the state, and democracy, “which equates a nation to the majority”. Mussolini also clearly distinguished between “Socialism” and “socialism”. Fascism was, instead, the true evolution of “socialism”.

But, despite getting fascism so wrong himself, O’Neill is still right to deride those who also misuse the word as an all-purpose epithet. He’s also right that genuine fascism is still dead.

The left share its passion for violence and authoritarianism, but invest themselves in identity groups rather than the mystical statism of fascism. Islamic supremacists want to violently subsume everything under a state religion, but do not make a religion of the state itself. Bolsanaro is a conservative, militant nationalist, but not a statist. Trump shares almost nothing in common with fascism apart from a predilection for mass rallies. Quote:

Nothing even remotely like [fascism] exists today…It is a fantasy to claim fascism has made a comeback. And it’s a revealing fantasy. When the political and media elites speak of fascism today, what they’re really expressing is fear. Fear of the primal, unpredictable mass of society. Fear of unchecked popular opinion… This is what they mean when they say ‘fascism’. They mean you, me, ordinary people; people who have dared to say that they want to influence politics again following years of being frozen out. When they say fascism, they mean democracy. End of quote.


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Who is Lushington D. Brady?

Well, a pseudonym. Obviously.

But the name Lushington Dalrymple Brady has been chosen carefully. Not only for the sum of its overall mien of seedy gentility, reminiscent perhaps of a slightly disreputable gentlemen of letters, but also for its parts, each of which borrows from the name of a Vandemonian of more-or-less fame (or notoriety) who represents some admirable quality which will hopefully animate the persona of Lushington D. Brady.

To read my previous articles click on my name in blue.

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