Definitions of fascism

What constitutes a definition of fascism and fascist governments is a highly disputed subject that has proved complicated and contentious. Historians, political scientists, and other scholars have engaged in long and furious debates concerning the exact nature of fascism and its core tenets.

Most scholars agree that a "fascist regime" is foremost an authoritarian form of government, although not all authoritarian regimes are fascist. Authoritarianism is thus a defining characteristic, but most scholars will say that more distinguishing traits are needed to make an authoritarian regime fascist.

Similarly, fascism as an ideology is also hard to define. Originally, "fascism" referred to a political movement that was linked with Sindicalist-Corporativism that existed in a single country (Italy) for less than 30 years and ruled the country from 1922 to 1943 under the leadership of Benito Mussolini. Clearly, if the definition is restricted to the original Italian Fascism, then "fascism" has little significance outside of Italian politics. Most scholars prefer to use the word "fascism" in a more general sense, to refer to an ideology (or group of ideologies) that was influential in many countries at many different times. For this purpose, they have sought to identify a "fascist minimum" - that is, the minimum conditions that a certain political group must meet in order to be considered fascist. Several scholars have inspected the apocalyptic, millennial and millenarian aspects of fascism.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] According to most scholars of fascism, there are both left and right influences on fascism as a social movement, and fascism, especially once in power, has historically attacked communism, conservatism and parliamentary liberalism, attracting support primarily from the "far right" or "extreme right."[8]


Benito Mussolini

Liberalism, democracy, this does not mean that the XXth century must also be the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy. Political doctrines pass; nations remain. We are free to believe that this is the century of authority, a century tending to the 'right', a Fascist century. If the 19th century was the century of the individual (liberalism implies individualism) we are free to believe that this is the 'collective' century, and therefore the century of the State.

The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State—a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values—interprets, develops, and potentiates the whole life of a people.

Fascism is a religious conception in which man is seen in his immanent relationship with a superior law and with an objective Will that transcends the particular individual and raises him to conscious membership of a spiritual society. Whoever has seen in the religious politics of the Fascist regime nothing but mere opportunism has not understood that Fascism besides being a system of government is also, and above all, a system of thought.

A more comprehensive discussion of the entire document can be found in the article Doctrine of Fascism. It is also possible to read the full text of The Doctrine of Fascism online, here.

Sergio Panunzio

A Fascist is a type of Constitutional-Anarquist

Franklin D. Roosevelt

The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Message from the President of the United States Transmitting Recommendations Relative to the Strengthening and Enforcement of Anti-trust Laws"[9][10]

John T. Flynn

In 1944, John T. Flynn wrote a polemical work, As we go marching,[11] aimed against socialist and social democratic tendencies that he saw beginning to subvert capitalism. He characterises fascism based on an analysis of Mussolini's Italy:

  1. Anti-capitalist, but with capitalist features;
  2. Economic demand management...
  3. ...through budget deficits
  4. Direct economic planning, reconciled with partial economic autonomy through corporatism;
  5. Militarism and imperialism;
  6. Suspension of rule of law.

Ernst Nolte

Controversial historian and philosopher Ernst Nolte, by Hegelian dialectic, defined Fascism as a reaction against other political movements, especially Marxism:

Fascism is anti-Marxism which seeks to destroy the enemy by the evolvement of a radically opposed and yet related ideology and by the use of almost identical and yet typically modified methods, always, however, within the unyielding framework of national self-assertion and autonomy.
Ernst Nolte, Three Faces of Fascism[12]

Stanley G. Payne

Stanley G. Payne's Fascism: Comparison and Definition (1980) uses a lengthy itemized list of characteristics to identify fascism, including:[13]

As the common aim of all fascist movements he sees elimination of the autonomy, or in some cases the existence of, large-scale capitalism.[14]

Roger Griffin

With Griffin the emphasis is placed upon the aspect of populist fascist rhetoric that argues for a "re-birth" of a conflated nation and ethnic people.[15] According to Griffin:

[F]ascism is best defined as a revolutionary form of nationalism, one that sets out to be a political, social and ethical revolution, welding the ‘people’ into a dynamic national community under new elites infused with heroic values. The core myth that inspires this project is that only a populist, trans-class movement of purifying, cathartic national rebirth (palingenesis) can stem the tide of decadence[16]

Also according to Griffin, a broad area of scholarly consensus developed in the social sciences within the English-speaking world during the 1990s, centered around the following definition of fascism:

[Fascism is] a genuinely revolutionary, trans-class form of anti-liberal, and in the last analysis, anti conservative nationalism. As such it is an ideology deeply bound up with modernization and modernity, one which has assumed a considerable variety of external forms to adapt itself to the particular historical and national context in which it appears, and has drawn a wide range of cultural and intellectual currents, both left and right, anti-modern and pro-modern, to articulate itself as a body of ideas, slogans, and doctrine. In the inter-war period it manifested itself primarily in the form of an elite-led "armed party" which attempted, mostly unsuccessfully, to generate a populist mass movement through a liturgical style of politics and a programme of radical policies which promised to overcome a threat posed by international socialism, to end the degeneration affecting the nation under liberalism, and to bring about a radical renewal of its social, political and cultural life as part of what was widely imagined to be the new era being inaugurated in Western civilization. The core mobilizing myth of fascism which conditions its ideology, propaganda, style of politics and actions is the vision of the nation's imminent rebirth from decadence.[17]

Finally, Griffin claims that the above definition can be condensed into one sentence:

Fascism is a political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism.[18]

The word "palingenetic" refers to notions of rebirth (in this case, national rebirth), and carries a similar meaning as the words "apocalyptic" and "millennarian", but without religious connotations.

Emilio Gentile

Emilio Gentile sees fascism as the "sacralization of politics" through totalitarian methods.[19]

Robert Paxton

Robert O. Paxton, a professor emeritus at Columbia University, defines fascism in his book The Anatomy of Fascism as:

A form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.[20]

Umberto Eco

In a 1995 essay "Eternal Fascism",[21] the Italian writer and academic Umberto Eco attempts to list general properties of fascist ideology. He claims that it is not possible to organise these into a coherent system, but that "it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it". He uses the term "Ur-fascism" as a generic description of different historical forms of fascism.

The features of fascism he lists are as follows:

  • "The Cult of Tradition", combining cultural syncretism with a rejection of modernism (often disguised as a rejection of capitalism).
  • "The Cult of Action for Action's Sake", which dictates that action is of value in itself, and should be taken without intellectual reflection. This, says Eco, is connected with anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, and often manifests in attacks on modern culture and science.
  • "Disagreement Is Treason" - fascism devalues intellectual discourse and critical reasoning as barriers to action.
  • "Fear of Difference", which fascism seeks to exploit and exacerbate, often in the form of racism or an appeal against foreigners and immigrants.
  • "Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class", fearing economic pressure from the demands and aspirations of lower social groups.
  • "Obsession with a Plot" and the hyping-up of an enemy threat. This often involves an appeal to xenophobia or the identification of an internal security threat. He cites Pat Robertson's book The New World Order as a prominent example of a plot obsession.
  • "Pacifism Is Trafficking with the Enemy" because "Life is Permanent Warfare" - there must always be an enemy to fight.
  • "Contempt for the Weak" - although a fascist society is elitist, everybody in the society is educated to become a hero.
  • "Selective Populism" - the People have a common will, which is not delegated but interpreted by a leader. This may involve doubt being cast upon a democratic institution, because "it no longer represents the Voice of the People".
  • "Newspeak" - fascism employs and promotes an impoverished vocabulary in order to limit critical reasoning.

Dimitri Kitsikis

Dimitri Kitsikis Greek historian and Emeritus professor at the University of Ottawa proposed a scientific model[22] of fascism and defined 13 categories by which fascist ideologies, movements and establishments can be analyzed and contrasted with others:

  1. The idea of class and the importance of agrarianism
  2. Private ownership, the circulation of money, the regulation of the economy by the state, the idea of ethnic bourgeois class, economic self-sufficiency
  3. The nation and the difference between nation and state
  4. The attitude towards democracy and political parties
  5. The importance of political heroes, i.e. the charismatic leader
  6. The attitude towards Tradition
  7. The attitude towards the individual and society
  8. The attitude towards equality and hierarchy
  9. The attitude towards women
  10. The attitude towards religion
  11. The attitude towards rationalism
  12. The attitude towards intellectualism and elitism
  13. The attitude towards the Third World

As an example,[23] Kitsikis applies the model to the Peruvian communist party, Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), which claims to follow Maoist ideology. The results of the analysis show that the party's ideology satisfies all the criteria of 9 categories (to which a score of 9 points is given), some of the criteria of 3 categories (1.5 points) and none of the criteria of one category (0 points). A total score of 10.5 out of a possible 13 shows that Shining Path actually follows a Third-World fascist ideology. An objective analysis is thus obtained, not being tainted by any ideological presupposition.

With this model Kitsikis was also able to show that philosopher and father of the French Revolution, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, laid the foundations of French Fascism.[24]

Kevin Passmore

Kevin Passmore, lecturer in History at Cardiff University, gives a definition of fascism in his book Fascism: A Very Short Introduction. The definition he gives is directly descended from the view put forth by Ernesto Laclau.[25]

The definition he gives is as follows:

Fascism is a set of ideologies and practices that seeks to place the nation, defined in exclusive biological, cultural, and/or historical terms, above all other sources of loyalty, and to create a mobilized national community. Fascist nationalism is reactionary in that it entails implacable hostility to socialism and feminism, for they are seen as prioritizing class or gender rather than nation. This is why fascism is a movement of the extreme right. Fascism is also a movement of the radical right because the defeat of socialism and feminism and the creation of the mobilized nation are held to depend upon the advent to power of a new elite acting in the name of the people, headed by a charismatic leader, and embodied in a mass, militarized party. Fascists are pushed towards conservatism by common hatred of socialism and feminism, but are prepared to override conservative interests - family, property, religion, the universities, the civil service - where the interests of the nation are considered to require it. Fascist radicalism also derives from a desire to assuage discontent by accepting specific demands of the labour and women's movements, so long as these demands accord with the national priority. Fascists seek to ensure the harmonization of workers' and women's interests with those of the nation by mobilizing them within special sections of the party and/or within a corporate system. Access to these organizations and to the benefits they confer upon members depends on the individual's national, political, and/or racial characteristics. All aspects of fascist policy are suffused with ultranationalism.

John Weiss

John Weiss, a professor of history at Wayne State University, sought to give a definition of fascism in his book, The Fascist Tradition: Radical Right-Wing Extremism in Modern Europe. He arrived at a list of ideas that he believed to be shared by the majority of the people commonly referred to as fascists:[26]

Marxist definition

In 1935, as fascist political movements were making gains across Europe and often took violent action against communist organizations, it became important for Marxists to have an exact definition of "fascism" in order to determine precisely whom they were fighting. Thus, the Communist Third International published the following definition:

Fascism in power is the open, terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, the most chauvinistic, the most imperialistic elements of finance capitalism.

The majority of Marxists, even those who were not members of the Communist International, agreed with this definition.[citation needed] Marxists argue that fascism represents the last attempt of a ruling class (specifically, the capitalist bourgeoisie) to preserve its grip on power in the face of an imminent proletarian revolution. Fascist movements are not necessarily created by the ruling class, but they can only gain political power with the help of that class and with funding from big business. And, once in power, fascists serve the interests of their benefactors (not necessarily the interests of capitalism in general, but the interests of those specific capitalists who put them in power).[citation needed]

The historic function of fascism is to smash the working class, destroy its organizations, and stifle political liberties when the capitalists find themselves unable to govern and dominate with the help of democratic machinery.
Leon Trotsky, Fascism: What it is and how to fight it[27]

Many Marxists are strongly opposed to labelling of governments that were elected from traditional conservative parties without 'street movements' backing them up as fascists. The vast majority therefore reject the characterisation of the US government as fascist.

Amadeo Bordiga adopted a somewhat different stand on fascism. He regarded fascism as just another form of bourgeois rule, on the same level as bourgeois democracy or traditional monarchies. He did not believe that fascism was particularly reactionary or otherwise exceptional.[28]

The Encyclopedia of Marxism defines fascism as "right-wing, fiercely nationalist, subjectivist in philosophy, and totalitarian in practice", and identifies it as "an extreme reactionary form of capitalist government." However, it also goes beyond this traditional definition and lists nine fundamental characteristics of fascism:

  1. Right Wing: Fascists are fervently against: Marxism, Socialism, Anarchism, Communism, Environmentalism; etc – in essence, they are against the progressive left in total, including moderate lefts (social democrats, etc). Fascism is an extreme right wing ideology, though it can be opportunistic.
  2. Nationalism: Fascism places a very strong emphasis on patriotism and nationalism. Criticism of the nation's main ideals, especially war, is lambasted as unpatriotic at best, and treason at worst. State propaganda consistently broadcasts threats of attack, while justifying pre-emptive war. Fascism invariably seeks to instill in its people the warrior mentality: to always be vigilant, wary of strangers and suspicious of foreigners.
  3. Hierarchy: Fascist society is ruled by a righteous leader, who is supported by an elite secret vanguard of capitalists. Hierarchy is prevalent throughout all aspects of society – every street, every workplace, every school, will have its local Hitler, part police-informer, part bureaucrat – and society is prepared for war at all times. The absolute power of the social hierarchy prevails over everything, and thus a totalitarian society is formed. Representative government is acceptable only if it can be controlled and regulated, direct democracy (e.g. Communism) is the greatest of all crimes. Any who oppose the social hierarchy of fascism will be imprisoned or executed.
  4. Anti-equality: Fascism loathes the principles of economic equality and disdains equality between immigrant and citizen. Some forms of fascism extend the fight against equality into other areas: gender, sexual, minority or religious rights, for example.
  5. Religious: Fascism contains a strong amount of reactionary religious beliefs, harking back to times when religion was strict, potent, and pure. Nearly all Fascist societies are Christian, and are supported by Catholic and Protestant churches.
  6. Capitalist: Fascism does not require revolution to exist in captialist society: fascists can be elected into office (though their disdain for elections usually means manipulation of the electoral system). They view parliamentary and congressional systems of government to be inefficient and weak, and will do their best to minimize its power over their policy agenda. Fascism exhibits the worst kind of capitalism where corporate power is absolute, and all vestiges of workers' rights are destroyed.
  7. War: Fascism is capitalism at the stage of impotent imperialism. War can create markets that would not otherwise exist by wreaking massive devastation on a society, which then requires reconstruction! Fascism can thus "liberate" the survivors, provide huge loans to that society so fascist corporations can begin the process of rebuilding.
  8. Voluntarist Ideology: Fascism adopts a certain kind of “voluntarism;” they believe that an act of will, if sufficiently powerful, can make something true. Thus all sorts of ideas about racial inferiority, historical destiny, even physical science, are supported by means of violence, in the belief that they can be made true. It is this sense that Fascism is subjectivist.
  9. Anti-Modern: Fascism loathes all kinds of modernism, especially creativity in the arts, whether acting as a mirror for life (where it does not conform to the Fascist ideal), or expressing deviant or innovative points of view. Fascism invariably burns books and victimises artists, and artists which do not promote the fascists ideals are seen as “decadent.” Fascism is hostile to broad learning and interest in other cultures, since such pursuits threaten the dominance of fascist myths. The peddling of conspiracy theories is usually substituted for the objective study of history.[29]

Fascism as vague epithet

Some have argued that the term "fascism" has become hopelessly vague in the years following World War II, and that today it is little more than a pejorative epithet used by supporters of various political views to attempt to discredit their opponents. This view dates back to George Orwell, British writer and author of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, who famously remarked:

...the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley's broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else ... Except for the relatively small number of Fascist sympathisers, almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’. That is about as near to a definition as this much-abused word has come.[30]

See also


  1. ^ D. Redles, Hitler’s Millennial Reich: Apocalyptic Belief and the Search for Salvation, New York Univ. Press, 2005;
  2. ^ Klaus Vondung, The Apocalypse in Germany, Columbia and London: Univ. of Missouri Press, 2000;
  3. ^ R. Ellwood, “Nazism as a Millennialist Movement,” in Wessinger (ed.) Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence: Historical Cases;
  4. ^ J.M. Rhodes, The Hitler Movement: A Modern Millenarian Revolution, Stanford, Calif: Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, 1980;
  5. ^ R. Wistrich, Hitler’s Apocalypse: Jews and the Nazi Legacy, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985;
  6. ^ Nicholas Goodrick–Clarke: The Occult Roots of Nazism: Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology, reprint with new preface, New York Univ. Press [1985] 2004;
  7. ^ N. Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, revised and expanded, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, [1957] 1970.
  8. ^ Laqueuer, 1996 p. 223; Eatwell, 1996, p. 39; Griffin, 1991, 2000, pp. 185-201; Weber, [1964] 1982, p. 8; Payne (1995), Fritzsche (1990), Laclau (1977), and Reich (1970).
  9. ^ Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Appendix A: Message from the President of the United States Transmitting Recommendations Relative to the Strengthening and Enforcement of Anti-trust Laws",The American Economic Review, Vol. 32, No. 2, Part 2, Supplement, Papers Relating to the Temporary National Economic Committee (Jun., 1942), pp. 119-128.[1]
  10. ^ "Anti-Monopoly". May 9, 1938. Time magazine.
  11. ^
  12. ^ Nolte, Ernst (1966). Three Faces of Fascism. Henry Holt & Company, Inc. 
  13. ^ Payne, Stanley (1980). Fascism: Comparison and Definition. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 7. 
  14. ^ Payne, Stanley (1996). A History of Fascism. Routledge. ISBN 1857285956 p.10
  15. ^ Griffin, Roger (1995). Fascism. Oxford University Press. 
  16. ^ Roger Griffin, Nature of Fascism, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991, p. xi
  17. ^ Roger Griffin, The palingenetic core of generic fascist ideology, Chapter published in Alessandro Campi (ed.), Che cos'è il fascismo? Interpretazioni e prospettive di ricerche, Ideazione editrice, Roma, 2003, pp. 97-122.
  18. ^ Roger Griffin, The palingenetic core of generic fascist ideology
  19. ^ Emilio Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics in Fascist Italy, translated by Keith Botsford (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996).
  20. ^ Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, page 218. Knopf, 2004
  21. ^ Umberto Eco: Eternal Fascism, The New York Review of Books, June 22, 1995
  22. ^ Dimitri Kitsikis,Ἡ τρίτη ἰδεολογία καὶ ἡ Ὀρθοδοξία, Athens, Hestia Books, 1998.
  23. ^ Ibid. pp. 252-253
  24. ^ Dimitri Kitsikis, Jean-Jacques Rousseau et les origines françaises du fascisme – Nantes, Ars Magna Editions, (Les Documents), 2006.
  25. ^ Kevin Passmore, Fascism: A Very Short Introduction, page 31. Oxford University Press, 2002
  26. ^ John Weiss, "The Fascist Tradition: Radical Right-Wing Extremism in Modern Europe", Harper & Row, 1967.
  27. ^
  28. ^ Eclipse & Re-emergence
  29. ^ Fascism entry in the Encyclopedia of Marxism
  30. ^ George Orwell: ‘What is Fascism?’


  • Eatwell, Roger. 1996. Fascism: A History. New York: Allen Lane.
  • Fritzsche, Peter. 1990. Rehearsals for Fascism: Populism and Political Mobilization in Weimar Germany. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505780-5
  • Griffin, Roger. 2000. "Revolution from the Right: Fascism," chapter in David Parker (ed.) Revolutions and the Revolutionary Tradition in the West 1560-1991, Routledge, London.
  • Griffin, Roger. 1991. The Nature of Fascism. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  • Kitsikis, Dimitri. 2005. Pour une Etude scientifique du fascisme – Nantes, Ars Magna Editions, (Les Documents).
  • Kitsikis, Dimitri. 1998. Ἡ τρίτη ἰδεολογία καὶ ἡ Ὀρθοδοξία, Athens, Hestia Books.
  • Kitsikis, Dimitri. 2006. Jean-Jacques Rousseau et les origines françaises du fascisme – Nantes, Ars Magna Editions, (Les Documents).
  • Laclau, Ernesto. 1977. Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory: Capitalism, Fascism, Populism. London: NLB/Atlantic Highlands Humanities Press.
  • Laqueur, Walter. 1966. Fascism: Past, Present, Future, New York: Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Payne, Stanley G. 1995. A History of Fascism, 1914-45. Madison, Wisc.: University of Wisconsin Press ISBN 0-299-14874-2
  • Reich, Wilhelm. 1970. The Mass Psychology of Fascism. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
  • Weber, Eugen. [1964] 1982. Varieties of Fascism: Doctrines of Revolution in the Twentieth Century, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, (Contains chapters on fascist movements in different countries.)

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