Present-Day Fascism Sans Mussolini and Hitler

By Beichman, Arnold | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 21, 1996 | Go to article overview

Present-Day Fascism Sans Mussolini and Hitler


Beichman, Arnold, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The term "fascism" has become such an indiscriminate term of abuse in political and cultural discourse that it has lost almost all meaning. For example, Michael Kinsley, normally an intelligent political observer, calls critics of his view of cyberspace journalism "fascists." The Wall Street Journal's liberal-in-chief, Al Hunt, a few years ago temper-tantrumed that Mona Charen's criticism of Hillary Rodham Clinton was comparable to "the far-right American Spectator kind of neo-fascist hit nonsense."

Mr. Kinsley and Mr. Hunt would be among the first to object if some target of opportunity were mistakenly called a communist or a neo-communist or if someone refered to the Nation as a communist magazine. They would anathematize such an accuser as guilty of redbaiting, although there is no similarly pejorative category for Mr. Kingsley or Mr. Hunt as "fascist-baiters."

Or take the European Parliament. In September 1994, at the insistence of the socialist bloc, it undertook an investigation into the "rise of fascism and racism in Europe." Why the probe when the last "fascist" dictatorships - Greece, Spain and Portugal - had disappeared a decade earlier? The final report showed that alarm about European fascism was wildly exaggerated even if the concern about racism was justified. But you can always find a responsive audience when you cry "fascism."

Such was the case in the 1930s when Josef Stalin introduced the big-lie phrase "social fascism" to characterize the Social Democratic Party. He thereby justified both his attack against democratic socialists and the communist refusal to form a united front against the imminent triumph of Nazism.

Aware of how widespread the misuse of the term "fascism" is, the eminent historian Walter Laqueur has surveyed the European scene, both historically and as it exists today. He argues that Greece, Spain and Portugal were not fascist states at all but rather traditional military dictatorships - authoritarian, yes, but not totalitarian. The proof is that with the passing of the Greek colonels, Francisco Franco and Antonio Salazar, the transition to democracy was relatively easy compared, say, with that in Russia.

Mr. Laqueur finds that fascism, as a movement of protest and discontent, is not making a comeback. That there are right-wing extremists galore in Europe and the United States is obvious, but their chance of success is slight. Witness the latest failure: Vladimir Zhirinovsky in Russia's presidential race. Mr. Laqueur, however, cautions against complacency; parties of the extreme right are among the strongest in France, Italy, Austria and Russia.

Today there are many "fascisms," as Mr. …

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