What is Fascism? The Comprehensive Guide to Fascism, and where we Have Seen it in History

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With the rise of political divisiveness in America, we have also seen a rise in ad hominem argument strategies that are designed to silence opposing viewpoints by claiming an individual is “Fascist” (which, ironically, is a principle of fascism itself).  At an Antifa rally, an often-violent group which claims to be against fascist principles, several brief interviews of protesters were conducted asking them to define the term Fascism [1].  Only a single person even attempted to provide a definition of the term, and even in this case, was not entirely specific or even necessarily accurate.  So, what is fascism?  Let’s take a look at a few key fundamental principles of a fascist ruling country.

Elements of Fascism

There are four key elements of a fascist ruling country.  

  I.   Suppression of opposing viewpoints and political affiliations.
          II.   Prioritizes the state over the individual. 
          III.   Supreme levels of nationalism usually based around an individuals’ personal identity (race, ethnicity, religious background, etc.).
          IV.   The abolishment of previous governing systems, often democratic, in exchange for an authoritative or totalitarian system.


There are of course many other concepts that go into a fascist governing country, but these are the most critical points to analyze when understanding what fascism really is. 

The Rise of Nazi Germany

Nazi Germany is perhaps the most infamous fascist regime in history.  Considering the fact that there was a democratic system in Germany before the rise of the Nazi party, the Weimar Republic (Established after WWI, 1918), how did fascism find its way permeating throughout the country only a few years after the new democratic system was adopted?   Before analyzing the four elements of fascism in practice by Germany circa 1933, let me provide some brief context of events that lead to the rise of the NSDAP, or the German Nazi party:

In 1919, less than a year after the Treaty of Versailles was signed, marking the end of WWI, 30-year-old Adolf Hitler joined the German Workers’ Party.  By the following year, he had become the head of the party, and had its name changed to Nationalsozialistiche Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers’ Party), also known as NSDAP.  This would later become and be recognized as the Nazi Party.  [2]

In November of 1923, 2,000 members of the Nazi Party, led by Hitler himself, attempted a coup called the Beer Hall Putsch to gain power in Munich.  The attempt failed, and Hitler was arrested 2 days following the conclusion of the coup, and was charged with treason, and was sentenced five years in jail, though was released after serving only nine months.  Upon his release, Hitler decided that he would try to seek power legally through elections.  Considering his trial was highly reported throughout the world, many people were familiar with the ideas he stood for.  [3]

Fast forward to 1932, 230 members of the Nazi Party won positions in the Reichstag (Weimar Republic’s legislator) in the 1932 elections.  This meant that the Nazi Party held more seats than any other single party [4].  The following year, in 1933, Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany.

Fascism in Practice, Nazi Germany

          I.     Suppression of opposing viewpoints and political affiliations.

In the United States, the First Amendment grants a unique right to all citizens, one which many countries throughout the world refuse to ratify into law.  That right is the freedom of speech.  This right allows us to say anything we want, so long as it does not threaten another individual or group of people.  Whether we agree, disagree, or fall anywhere in between, we have the right to express our opinions under the First Amendment.  The idea of competing values and opinions which exist in any society that recognizes the First Amendment or its principles, however, is highly problematic for a government that wants to impose a fascist ruling.

In July of 1933, the same year Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany, he had all political parties banned, except of course the NSDAP (Nazi Party).  The idea of unification in Germany meant that everyone had to be on the same page, and there could be no room for resistance.  After taking the first step of banning political opposition, the second step was to enforce it.  In the years 1933-1939, several tens of thousands of Germans are thought to have been sentenced for “political crimes” [5].  Many of the sentenced were sent to and imprisoned in concentration camps.  These camps were built immediately following Hitler’s victory in the 1933 election.

          II.     Prioritizes the state over the individual. 

The first set of words written in the Constitution of the United States preamble set the standard for the entire US government system:  We the people.  The US Constitution sets up a government, a government whose prime purpose is to protect and ensure the natural rights of all US citizens.  Some countries, however, do not prioritize the people or the individual, nor do they protect the peoples’ natural rights in many cases.  They prioritize the state.  

Not only did the Nazi Party believe that individualism was “egotistic”, but they placed the value of a person on his/her membership to a racial community [5].  As high school student Hans B. from Swabia (southern Germany) said in a letter to his sister circa 1935, “In our nation priority is not on the individual or what benefits him, but the collective group.” This is nearly word for word the definition of collectivism.  By eliminating individualism from society, the Nazi’s were able to unify many people under their supremely nationalistic beliefs, which increases the power of the state, and leads directly to the next element:

          III.     Supreme levels of nationalism usually based around an individuals’ personal identity.

The Nazi Party is most famous for, aside from ruling Germany during World War II, its brutal concentration camps and treatment of Jewish people.  In 1935, a set of Nuremberg Laws were enacted in Germany, which set the standards for citizenship based on ancestry.  If your heritage was more than 1/8 Jewish, you would only have partial belonging to the “German race”, and any more than ½ Jewish heritage meant that you were not approved for any citizenship and were considered “belonging to the Jewish race and community” [6].  In the very beginning of the Nuremberg Laws, the first statement proclaimed: 

“Moved by the understanding that purity of German blood is the essential condition for the continued existence of the German people…”

Laws like these of course resulted in genocide, and the killing of several millions of people, many of whom were Jewish.  Hitler also wanted to “exclude minorities and people that he deemed unfit to match his ideal country”, and even had Germans with mental, and physical disabilities sterilized [2].  All of the above demonstrates the idea that both Hitler, and the Nazi Party desired the “purity of German blood” through its citizens, and actively took legal action to forward these ideas.  

          IV.     The abolishment of previous governing systems, often democratic, in exchange for an authoritative or totalitarian system.

In 1918, the Weimar Republic was established in Germany.  This was a representative democracy put in place after World War I with goals of giving power to the people, much like the American democracy we have today.  In 1934, over a year after Hitler was elected Chancellor, there was a referendum that was intended to approve of Hitler having “supreme power”.  Hitler then became the Fuhrer of Germany, or the “leader and chancellor”, which was approved by a 90% majority vote, noting that there was supposedly voter intimidation tactics used.  

Many argue that Hitler’s rule of Nazi Germany was not merely authoritative, but totalitarian, which gives unlimited power the state/dictator.  Considering the extent that Hitler ruled aspects of life like political opposition, religious freedom, and free press, none of which were even slightly allowed under his ruling, the argument can certainly be made that Nazi Germany was totalitarian.  Regardless of what you choose to classify it as, authoritative or totalitarian, it is certain that Hitler ruled with near, if not full ultimate power over Germany.  

Conclusion

The idea that modern America is moving towards a fascist governing system is false.  As of the writing of this article, not a single one of the 4 elements listed above are present in the United States, nor is it likely that they emerge any time soon.  It is important to realize what fascism really is, and how the world has seen it in the past, so that we can stop accusing each other of being fascists, and understand what proposals are actually being made.  Real fascism is a dangerous system for the entire world, is responsible for countless millions of deaths, and certainly has no place in any even slightly moral community. 


Referenced Sources:

[1] Phillips, Cabot. “VIDEO: ‘Anti-Fascist’ Protesters Struggle to Define ‘Fascism’.” Campus Reform, www.campusreform.org/?ID=10345
​[2] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/fascism-1 [3] “Beer Hall Putsch.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 May 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beer_Hall_Putsch
[4] “July 1932 German Federal Election.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Feb. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/July_1932_German_federal_election 
[5] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/political-prisoners 
[6] “Nuremberg Laws.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuremberg_Laws#CITEREFNuremberg_Laws1935
Article Picture: https://allthatsinteresting.com/nazi-rise-to-power