A lot of commentators who don’t know better, and a few
who do, are talking about a pan-Atlantic rise in “fascism,”
citing recent popular resistance to the internationalism
and trans-nationlism which has been in vogue among
some elites in Western nations increasingly since the end
of World War II.
It is especially being applied by some to the stated policies
of the new president of the United States, Donald Trump.
This application seems to me outrageously misplaced.
Fascism was an early 20th century movement that arose first
in Italy, then in Germany, and finally in Spain. The leaders of
these countries, including Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler
and Francisco Franco, were self-proclaimed fascists. They
were each dictators who took and kept power under the
rationalization that a corporate state ruled by them should
dominate all aspects of public and private life with no
accountability and no recourse by individual citizens or
democratically elected representative institutions.
Freedom, rule by law, social and religious tolerance did not
exist in the fascist state. Fascist parties also existed at the
same time in other European nations, and when the Axis
Powers overran virtually the entire continent, these fascists
were placed in power. The result was the murder, persecution,
brutal violence and suffering targeting hundreds of millions of
civilians, especially in the period from 1939 to 1945.
There was also a fascist movement in Great Britain,
especially among its aristocratic class, and in the United
States, but they had no sizable following and at the outbreak
of war, they collapsed. They have not reappeared except for
tiny groups that are shunned by almost everyone today.
That was genuine and historical fascism. Any use of the word
that does not fit those descriptions is pure propaganda.
Nationalism, on the other hand, is an historical phenomenon
which has existed in various forms as long as there have been
modern societies and nation states. It is a movement which
prizes national identity and sovereignty. It can be misused if
it distorts democratic principles, but it can be applied in
positive and constructive ways if it enhances national pride
and accomplishment in democratic capitalist states.
Another movement that arose in the early 20th century was
totalitarian communism. Like fascism, it was in practice
intensely centralized, undemocratic and dictatorial. The
Soviet Union was the first example of this movement to
form a viable state. It existed from about 1918 through 1990.
The other major communist nation is China. This state was
created in 1949, following a revolution, and continues to the
present time. It did, after 50 years of rigid Marxism, adopt
quasi-capitalist economic practices while at the same time
maintaining non-democratic central government political
controls. Between 1945 and the late 1980s, the Soviet Union
imposed communist governments in the European nations
its army had overrun at the end of World War II, including
Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania,
Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the former
Yugoslavia. Each of these nations abandoned communism
when the Soviet Union imploded and collapsed.
Fascist and communist states managed, in only a few decades,
to murder more than a hundred million persons in cold blood,
with the worst acts of this depravity done under the direct
orders of Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Mao Tse Tung.
Nationalism has historically been a widespread and pragmatic
point of view in virtually all democratic states, and was the
compelling norm for virtually all nation states in the
pre-democratic world before the the 18th century. One of the
natural and enduring characteristics of nationalism, in
addition to pride in language, culture and history, is the
notion of national sovereignty.
A nineteenth century movement of a utopian planet arose
with the notion of dissolving all national borders, and the
creation of a universal government on earth. First steps in
this direction were taken in the formation of the League of
Nations (which soon failed) and the United Nations (which is
in the process of failing). On the other hand, steps to
advance cooperative economic activity, primarily global trade,
have led to the creation of the European Union, various trade
organizations, international treaties, worldwide economic
institutions such as the World Bank and the International
These financial and trade entities have been more successful,
albeit controversial, and have endured because they are not
primarily in conflict with the principal of national sovereignty.
But when they do, they begin to fail.
President Donald Trump’s “nationalist” philosophy is in
direct line with that of those who founded this nation. It is
not anti-internationalist, nor is it anti-global trade. It is, on
the other hand, a re-assertion of U.S. national interests in its
military and economic relationships, something that was
clearly weakening in recent years. (Egregious examples
include proposals to cede U.S. sovereignty to questionable
It was the sovereignty issue which provoked the Brexit vote in
the United Kingdom, and which fuels the euroskeptic movement
throughout Europe. Although Charles DeGaulle supported the
European Common Market, he was no less bitterly opposed to
the loss of French sovereignty under the goals of what became
the European Union than are the euroskeptics of today.
In some distant and yet unimaginable world society, national
borders might finally disappear, but in the world we know now,
and the one we might foresee to an horizon of time, the utopian
notion of world government and the abolition of nation states is
nothing less than an open invitation to global totalitarianism and
the return to the depravities of new fascisms, new communisms,
and new terrorisms.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.