(as a word) has been destroyed through overuse,"writes British journalist
Brendan O'Neill in an editorial for Spike,February
20, 2017, "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."
isn't only irked by excitable left or liberal 'social justice warriors' flaunting this word. He writes that those on the right too are now likely to
scream "fascist" at leftists. "Liberal fascist" is one such slur often used by
those on the right to describe activists from the left. Ironically, according
to British author Stuart Jeffries, the expression 'liberal fascism' was first
used by the famous writer H.G. Wells, who was a self-professed socialist.
more curious is the fact that Wells, when he first used it in 1932, did not
utter it as a slur. According to P. Coupland (in the October 2000 issue of
Journal of Contemporary History) Wells, after becoming disillusioned by socialism
and parliamentary democracy, contemplated the need to create a "liberal
Fascisti for enlightened Nazis."
in mind that, in 1932, fascism as an ideology was mushrooming in Italy and
Germany and wasn't seen as the monstrous idea that it would eventually become
during and after World War II. In fact, it was supported by large numbers of
people in Europe and the US, especially during the intense economic crises of
the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Wells was considering the creation of an 'enlightened fascism' which he
described as "liberal fascism". But as the horrors of fascist regimes in
Germany and Italy became common knowledge during and soon after the War, the
expression "liberal fascism" quietly mutated to mean something entirely
decades, it remained on the fringes of post-World War political discourse,
mostly uttered by lesser-known right-wing American politicians to denounce
civil rights groups, advocates of the welfare state, and the progressive wing
of the Democratic Party.
was rescued from the fringe and placed in the mainstream by Jonah Goldberg's
2009 book Liberal Fascism. The book was largely controversial for being overtly
binary in its understanding of ideologies, but it sold well.
though its thesis, that fascism was historically a product of failed leftists,
was panned by critics as being rather dodgy, this isn't what was picked up by
Goldberg's admirers. Instead, it was the fact that the term liberal fascist had
gone mainstream is what excited right-wing commentators the most.
They began to
use it to mean extreme liberalism as opposed to the meaning Goldberg was
ambitiously trying to furnish. This was also when one saw a number of Pakistani
TV anchors and even the current PM of Pakistan use it, mainly to lambast those
who were asking for military action against religious insurgents.
Political Ideologies, the political theorist Paul Wetherly writes that, with
the defeat and collapse of 'classical fascism' in the 1940s, ideologues and
politicians still sympathetic to the idea watered down the more demagogic and
violent aspects inherent in the fascism of Hitler's and Mussolini's regimes.
replaced these with extreme positions on immigration and what Wetherly calls "cultural differentiation". To disassociate themselves from the more malevolent
and abhorrent doctrines of classical fascism, post-WWII fascist groups not only
eliminated the word fascist from their names, but also agreed that no race or
culture was superior to the other.
example, after the war, groups such as the British Union of Fascists became
simply the British Union. Wetherly writes that, even though they were not
preaching the superiority of one race over the other anymore, they pointed out
(through the 'cultural differentiation' argument) that cultural diversity is
best served if cultures remain delimited and were not swamped by
to Wetherly, such groups can still be called fascist. But he echoes the
concerns of various political scientists who lament that the word fascist when
used as casually as it is these days is actually trivialising the destructive
phenomenon that it became. They believe that 'historical fascism' or the one
that rose in Europe in the early 20th century was too atrocious an idea to be
turned into a hasty buzzword to insult a political or ideological opponent.
various populist politicians have been labelled as fascists by their
detractors. These include US President Donald Trump, Indian PM Narendra Modi,
British PM Boris Johnson, Philippine PM Rodrigo Duterte, Brazilian President
Jair Bolsonaro, Hungarian PM Viktor Orban and even Pakistani PM Imran Khan.
are these leaders really fascist? In 1998, Colombia University's Professor
Robert Paxton - one of the most respected authorities on the study of fascism - defined fascism as "a form of political practice distinctive to the 20th
century that arouses popular enthusiasm by sophisticated propaganda techniques
for an anti-liberal, anti-socialist, violently exclusionary and expansionist
The Anatomy of Fascism, Paxton explains that, for fascism to take root, certain
complex and even drastic economic and political conditions are required. Recent
commentators in this respect point out that the electoral rise of the mentioned
populists across the world is a drastic development, but their regimes are
simply populist with certain mild fascistic features.
as the historian Andrew Gawthrope recently wrote in The Guardian, the
current lot of populists in Asia, Europe, South America and the US may not be
fascists in the classical sense, but these leaders are surely bordering on the
many hazardous tendencies of classical fascism and this should be treated as a
Today's mainstream populists may
never be able to become the next Hitler or Mussolini. Yet it cannot be ruled
out that, had 20th-century conditions been present today, these same leaders
would not have hesitated to become authentic fascists.