Robert O.Paxton: the questions to ask today
Defining fascism functionally, together with distinguishing clearly among successive stages, also helps us answer the burning question of this moment: can fascism still exist today?
After ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, the rise of exclusionary nationalisms in postcommunist Eastern Europe, the „skinhead“ phenomenon in Britain, Germany, Scandinavia, and Italy, and the election of Mirko Tremaglia, a veteran of the Republic of Salò, as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Italian Parliament during the Berlusconi government, it would be hard to answer „no“ to that question.
New functional equivalents of fascism would probably work best,…clad in the maimstream patriotic dress of their own place and time. An authentically popular fascism in the United States would be pious and anti-Black; in Western Europe, secular and antisemitic; or more probably, these days, anti-islamic; in Russia and Eastern Europe, religious, antisemitic and slavophile.
It is wiser to pay attention to the functions fulfilled by new movements of an analogous type, to the circumstances that could open a space to them, and to the potential conservative eltite allies ready to try to coopt them rather than look for echoes of the rhetoric, the programs, or the aesthetic preferences of the protofascists of the last fin de siècle.
The right questions to ask of today’s neo- or protofascisms are:
– Are they becoming rooted as parties that represent major interests and feelings and wield major influence on the political scene?
– Is the economic or constitutional system in a state of blockage apparently insoluble by existing authorities?
– Is a rapid political mobilization threatening to escape the control of traditional elites, to the point where they would be tempted to look for tough helpers in order to stay in charge?
– It is by answering those kinds of questions, grounded in a proper historical understanding of the processes at work in past fascisms, and not by checking the color of the shirts or seeking traces of the rhetoric of the national-syndicalist dissidents of the opening of the twentieth century, that we may be able to recognize our own day’s functional equivalents of fascism.
(Source: Robert O. Paxton, The Five Stages of Fascism, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 70, No. 1. (Mar., 1998), pp. 1-23, The University of Chicago Press: http://w3.salemstate.edu/~cmauriello/pdfEuropean/Paxton_Five%20Stages%20of%20Fascism.pdf = http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0022-2801%28199803%2970%3A1%3C1%3ATFSOF%3E2.0.CO%3B2-3)