There is no more misused political expletive today than the word "Fascism" or "fascist." President Bush's global war on terrorism is against, in his words, "Islamic fascism." White House press secretary Tony Snow often uses the phrase as a curse word. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has attacked administration critics of seeking to appease "a new type of fascism" without defining the old type. And there is the upcoming book by Jonah Goldberg, "Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton."
So what is "fascism" and where did the name come from? And is it reasonable to give a meaningless political name to a phenomenon -- terrorism?
Back in the last century it became a mark of true liberalism to warn against the imminence of fascism in America. Walter Lippmann, a noted commentator at the time, warned about fascism without defining his terms, or specifying whether he meant Italian, German, Spanish or Peron "fascism." Another commentator at the time said this pernicious system would come to America as "friendly fascism."
To this day, almost eight decades after Benito Mussolini's 1922 march on Rome and establishment of his dictatorship, there is still no definition of fascism. In fact, as Professor Henry Ashby Turner has written: "Anyone who reads many studies of fascism as a multinational problem cannot but be struck by the frequency with which writers who begin by assuming they are dealing with a unitary phenomenon end up with several more or less discrete subcategories. ... The general term fascism is in origin neither analytical nor descriptive."
For George Orwell, author of "1984" and "Animal Farm," the word "fascism" was "almost entirely meaningless." His view: "In conversation, of course, it [fascism] is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, fox-hunting, bull-fighting... Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else."
Unlike Marxism, socialism or communism, which have an immense and significant literature (like Marx's "Das Kapital" or Lenin's multivolume works), fascism as an ideology has no extensive literature, except for an article in the Italian Encyclopedia written by Giovanni Gentile who described himself as a "the philosopher of Fascism," and ghostwrote "A Doctrine of Fascism" for Mussolini.
Just as Nazism had a symbol, the swastika, fascism had its symbol, the traditional fasces, a bundle of birch rods tied together with a red ribbon as a cylinder around an ax and carried during parades in ancient Rome. Unlike the swastika, which covered every German indoor and outdoor space, the fasces weren't used much and rarely seen, not much of a public competitor for the swastika.
Fascism as a form of government has no meaning in today's political market. And adding an adjective like "Islamofascism" doesn't make it so. What the Islamic terrorists are doing is not "fascism," it's terrorism, pure and simple based on their reading of the Koran supported by guest appearances of Osama bin Laden.
Arnold Beichman, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, is a columnist for The Washington Times.
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