I had a discussion recently about the “protests” designed to prevent conservatives from speaking on college campuses; specifically the Berkeley riots that shut down Milo Yiannopoulis’ scheduled talk, but there have been many others as is well known.
I contended that the tactics of the “blackshirts” at Berkeley were fascistic tactics. My opponent scoffed at that notion saying, “Armed leftists are fascists. Right.”
This is partly a question of what it means to be a fascist. Does “fascism” refer to the tactics used, or to the underlying goals? Fascism is generally understood to be nationalistic, whereas leftism is supposed to be internationalistic, as in, “Workers of the world, unite!”
But clearly nationalism doesn’t complete the definition of “fascism”. For one thing the original fascists, in Italy and then Germany, were socialists, which is a leftist ideology. Each of those regimes was also characterized by a “centralized, autocratic government“, whereas the modern, American right favors de-centralized government.
But I think what stands uppermost in people’s minds when thinking of the fascism of Germany and Italy is their “forcible suppression of opposition“. This is what is most commonly meant when one is accused of acting like a fascist, for example when police officers in riot gear are criticized for using overly aggressive tactics for purposes of crowd control. When “fascism” is used to criticize behavior, that’s generally what is meant. It may be a fair critique of the Trump administration that it has nationalistic sentiments, but so far as I can tell it has not engaged in fascistic tactics in the form of forcible suppression of opposition. (They couldn’t even push through the travel ban, for pete’s sake.)
I’m not sure what is bad about nationalism per se, though maybe someone can enlighten me. To me it seems the problem with German and Italian nationalism was the way it was implemented, with violent suppression of opposition. And of course, the fact that nationalism was conflated with racism in the notion that the only true German was an “Aryan” German. To the extent that anyone asserts that the only true American is a white American, I condemn that notion unequivocally. But to the extent that “nationalism” simply means “loyalty and devotion to one’s own nation above all others”, I’m all for it in Americans, and fully expect it (and respect it) in citizens of other nations. In my view promoting nationalistic sentiments through persuasion and the democratic process is not fascistic.
Whereas the “protests” are primarily about forcible suppression of ideas. Such force is justified on the ground that the ideas being expressed are wrong (see last sentence of linked article).
This is what the Inquisition is purported to have done. The difference is that the Inquisition would give you a trial in which you could defend yourself, before pronouncing you a heretic and forbidding you to express your ideas in public. Whereas the “protesters” go directly to the suppression of ideas, often using violent and destructive tactics. This fits the definition of fascism as well as anything in modern American life.
[EDIT: I was reading an article on the Crisis magazine website and came across this:
“According to Jonah Goldberg writing in National Review, ‘Seemingly every day there’s another story of a college campus caving into the notion that free speech and unhappy facts are racist.’ Radio and television political commentary are also popular venues for the new Inquisitors who zealously search out these sinners and brand them guilty of crimes against society. At least medieval heretics were given a trial.”
For the record, I said it first! : ) ]