If one were to continue to propose entries for Milan Kundera’s “A Short Dictionary of Misunderstood Words”, certainly, today, one would need to add FASCISM. It seems to me there must be at least two components in place to have a genuinely fascist government, party, organization or movement. First, and probably most importantly, there must be a desire to rally the citizenry and organize the political realm around the idea of the nation-family: some common racial, or ethnic heritage, some common, natural, language, possibly, within which the cultural inheritance is passed down across the generations. There must be, then, a very rigorous form of nationalism, where the idea of the nation is taken quite literally: nation as a reference to our natus, or birth.
Secondly, fascism relates to the economic reorganization of the nation along the lines of a state capitalism in order to revitalize the productivity of the worker, but also to provide security for that same worker. Ernst Jünger, one of the economic theorists of fascism, argued in ¬The Worker (1932), for instance, that the revitalization of German industry was linked to the revitalization of German men, warrior-men, and thus the strength of Germany itself.
In both cases, what one sees is the nostalgia for roots in the midst of an uncertain, and economically unstable world, where one found one’s identity through conformity to one’s nature, one’s nation, one’s natus. Oswald Spengler’s “conservative revolution” was premised on the politics of natus, against the internationalism of liberalism and Marxism, and for Jünger, freedom was only found in giving oneself over in obedience to serving and protecting one’s natus. In both cases there was a longing for a strong leader who would rally and lead the people in this new nationalism.
From this it ought to be immediately clear that Islam is stridently anti-fascist. The Ummah, the unity of those who submit to God, is a unity of all peoples without regards to race, nation, or ethnicity. Politically speaking mainstream Islam has taken a variety of political forms, but none of them have been fascist: one could point to imperial or monarchical (with roots in the tribal organization) as perhaps the most common.
But of course this is not the way fascism is being used; instead it has been used to focus attention on elements at the Right extreme of Islam: Al-Qaeda, etc. Islamo-fascism: the enemies of liberalism. Now it is true, as already mentioned, that fascism was anti-liberal. Rightists from Spengler to Heidegger saw liberalism as decadent, promoting mediocrity and weakness. But this in and of itself is hardly fascist, it is a position shared by many Rightists. There is an abiding emphasis on the Ummah within Al-Qaeda, bringing together Arabs and Pakistanis and Afghanis and Southeast Asians in a way that is not always seen due to racial tensions that do persist among the various groups. Moreover the criticism of Anglo and Continental governments, the criticism of their decadence, is entirely religious in its basis, not nationalistic, and the same could be said for the criticism that one sees from the militant parties within Islam against certain Middle Eastern governments themselves, especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Finally one must say that there is nearly no economic component to the critique or the ideological thrust of the militants.
The Islamists seem to have two basic goals: the re-establishment of the caliphate and the universal extension of shariah law. With that in mind, one is left to wonder why we do not call them what they are, virulently anti-liberal, imperialistic theocrats, instead of the terribly inaccurate “fascists”.
Is there, then, a rise of fascism today? If so, it must certainly not be where the Anglo and Continental governments have wanted to identify it. There has also been a tendency amongst the Left, following the initial impulses of persons like Michel Foucault, to identify the universal penetration of Anglo and Continental life by the forces of Late Capital, what Adorno would have called the Culture Industry, as fascist because of the surreptitious conformity it evokes in its citizenry, its ability to extend control. But again one must point out the antithetical nature of Late Capitalism, and really one should say Capitalism generally, and fascism, due to its universal aims and its reliance, in cohort with political liberalism, on universal ideas of nature and human nature that unite everyone of all races and creeds under the natural law of rights (and thus competition). Indeed one would have to say that those who oppose the globalizing impulse behind Late Capitalism are indeed the more significant regressive forces, and insofar as those concerned with distributive justice, whether liberal or Leftist, have been willing to accept such arguments within their ranks, they undermine the cause of freedom and equity which they pursue.
Likewise there is a tendency on the Right to identify, rather haphazardly, all liberalism as socialism and all socialism as fascism. One must say, within the American context at any rate, there seems to be no real socialism and certainly no Marxism that is politically effective. No one in the mainstream of American political life is engaged in a critique that points the historicity of the liberal-capitalist complex, nor possesses any sense that Capitalism might collapse under its own success. There is nothing in American politics that suggests that the dominance of Late-Capital and the accumulation of private property ought to be or can be disturbed. There is simply a preservation and management of what is apparently seen as the natural order. Moreover, even if there were a genuine Marxism in this country, one would be forced to point out that no two groups hated each other more than the Marxists and the fascists: Marxism insisted on a universal conception of freedom in which no one could be free unless all were free, while fascist nationalism sought only a local definition of freedom and believed that Marxism undermined the natural order of things. This is why Marxism was able to make common cause with liberalism against fascism in the form of the Popular Front: both Marxism and liberalism, in different ways supported a universal conception of freedom and equity.
One should grant, in passing, one significant point here, to the Right. The economic reforms of the post-depression era, not only in America, but throughout the liberal world, were largely inspired by fascism’s economic success. But one also has to say, knocking on wood, that fascism has no real soil in which to take root in America, as it might in Europe. America for Americans is almost laughable, compared to France for the French, or Germany for Germans. Who would those Americans be? There is no common natus, no common language or culture, around which Americans would be able to rally. This is the cause of Heidegger’s judgment that American’s could never be authentic: they are, by definition, a people without roots. And indeed fascism had far less success and support in the United States than it ever did in Europe.
One might ask then, one last time, whither fascism? Is there any sort of fascist revival going on in the contemporary world? I would suggest that there is though neither in the United States nor in the Islamic world, but once again on the Continent of Europe where it had its appeal to begin with. For many years countries like France and the Netherlands have prided themselves on being bastions of liberalism with a very generous immigration policy built around the Enlightenment ideal of cosmopolitanism. Yet in the wake of the instability in the Middle East and threats of terrorism primarily from Muslim groups and several incidents of violence, one has seen nationalism reasserting itself on the Continent.
The re-emergence of the Right, in the personage of the late Pim Fortuyn, for instance, was a clear sign of tidal change on the once liberal Continent. This was followed in France by the restriction of immigration, vigorous debate on the standards of citizenship, and a highly controversial law which banned religious attire in schools and government offices (while it affected many different groups in minor ways, it was aimed primarily at the elimination of girls wearing hijab to school). Finally, there are new and recent incidents in Germany, which has been suffering under a well publicized resurgence of Neo-Nazism in the public arena. Using a law dating which dated back to the Nazi regime itself, German law enforcement made the decision to arrest a Baptist woman for the crime of home-schooling her children. The mother, who remains under arrest, is now separated from her family; the father took the children and fled to Austria. Nor is the mother's case unique as the German government seems intent to crack down on home-schoolers, many of which are Christian. Meanwhile there was the infamous case of the Moroccan woman who was told that since she was from Morocco she should expect subhuman treatment at the hands of her husband and that German government would not get involved in any extraordinary way.
I would suggest that the real place we need to fear the resurgence of fascism is among our N.A.T.O. neighbors. The debates over immigration, citizenship and identity, the legal decisions that have been made recently in Germany and France are disturbing signs. The motivation in all cases has been a renunciation of liberal values and the demand that the people of the nation conform to some idea of the natural cultural identity of the nation-family and that all forces that run counter to that ideal must be suppressed in this time of crisis. Crisis was always the excuse of Rightists from the time of Oswald Spengler forward.
The mis-identification of fascism does not help us to understand the extreme problems and challenges that are faced in the Islamic world, while at the same time it blinds us to the regressive threats to liberalism much closer to home.