David Frum

01.23.13

Quit Calling Everything Fascism!

Michael Ledeen, a great scholar of fascism, administers a useful corrective to those conservatives (like Whole Foods CEO John Mackey) who apply the term too promiscuously.

There are many varieties of fascism, but the principal elements are:

–A single party dictatorship, headed by a charismatic leader;

–A politics of enthusiasm, involving the masses in ritual public celebration, and direct exchanges between the leader and his followers en masse;

–Hypernationalism, or, in the Nazi case, racism, based on the claim that the nation or race is unique, superior, and entitled to play a major role in world affairs;

–The aforementioned “corporate state” in which private property is legitimate, but the state dictates its proper use.

Fascism was created by the generation that fought, and died in historically unprecedented numbers, in the First World War. It was very much a war ideology: the post-war world, they insisted, must not be governed by the effete and corrupt ruling classes of the past, but by those who had demonstrated courage and virtue in the trenches. The elevation of war heroes to national leadership was seen as a guarantee that future generations would be shaped by the best the nation (or, in the case of the Third Reich, the race) could offer, and they vowed to fight, and destroy, those who had opposed the war, and sapped the nation’s virility thereafter.

It’s hard to imagine our current leaders speaking in this sort of language. The very idea of bringing war heroes to domestic power is anathema to them. President Obama ran on a promise to end our involvement in Middle East wars, and, in his Second Inaugural Address, boasted of fulfilling his pledge. Fascists don’t change the world by “leading from behind.” They take charge in front of the troops.

If you want examples of contemporary fascism, the easiest place to start is radical Islamists who openly call for totalitarian rule by men chosen by God, and invoke jihad in the “war against the infidel.” No wonder their predecessors in the 1920s and 1930s were inspired by Mussolini and Hitler. And no wonder they despise Obama, who they view as a weakling, a loser, and a pushover.