On claims of Fascism

It is commonplace to warn of Fascism. Here is ex-Secretary of Labor Robert Reich on Twitter two days ago:

I have my doubts about the accuracy of these comparisons. Consider the following interview with a historian of Hitler’s first 100 days:

To put it somewhat bluntly:  If fascism was offensive and future-oriented, and basically confident and optimistic, right-wing populism today is defensive, embattled and nostalgic. Back then, fascism and Nazism attracted young people, students and intellectuals in a way that right-wing populism today simply does not. In Germany in 1933, the most National Socialist institution was the university.

Authoritarianism today is not the ideological competitor Fascism was, nor can it call upon the paramilitary violence common to that period.

This might seem pedantic niggling in light of Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, but if the label fails basic historical tests it ends up legitimizing Trump’s outrages by making the accusations seem hysterical. It also distracts attention from the real risks, like a close election being litigated in a stacked judicial system.


I remain an optimist about the strength of US democratic institutions and culture – as creaking as they are today. We are not yet in Weimar Germany. I hope I don’t live to regret my optimism.

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