So ... What Exactly IS a 'Fascist' - And is Trump one ?

Mussolini - coined the word Fascism and is seen as the epitome of it.
But Fascism is far more than the system he espoused.

What constitutes a definition of Fascism and Fascist Governments has been a complicated and highly disputed subject concerning it's exact nature and its core tenets, debated amongst historians, political scientists, and other scholars since Benito Mussolini first used the term back in 1915. 

We did a TV Round Table on TRT World this week on the Far Right with Dr Paul Jackson, Senior Lecturer in History at The University of Northampton.

Dr Paul Jackson
During the broadcast, Dr Jackson made clear he doesn't think that Donald Trump, or France's Marine Le Pen, or Hungary's Viktor Orban, or many other of the notable names on the Far Right classify as 'Fascist' according to his definition. As a respected scholar we somewhat defer to his view but not fully.

We partially agree - although we maintain that many such figures are using fascist methodologies and pursuing policies which align with various forms of fascism, perhaps less so the classically European version of the 1930's, but more the South American pattern of the 1950s to 1970s, a much less studied area of Authoritarian ideology which should be better known to the general public. Those like Chile's Augusto Pinochet, or Paraguay's Alfredo Stroessner.

Here is Dr Jackson's definition in The Metro last year ...

What defines fascism ?
The combination of deep hostility towards liberal democracy with a revolutionary set of ideas to regenerate a nation or a race, with violence if deemed necessary.
Can you be a fascist in the 21st century ?
Yes, though the defining quality of 21 century fascism is marginalisation. We should not confuse the rise of populists such as Geert Wilders or even Nigel Farage with fascism. Anders Breivik was a fascist.
Is there a set of core beliefs ?
Every variant of fascism is defined by its national context. However, the rejection of an existing current political and cultural mainstream, and the belief in the superiority of one nation above others, are core fascist themes.
What is important to a fascist ?
The idea of regenerating the nation or the race they identify with by fantasising about or even enacting, a political and cultural revolution.
What attracts people to fascist ideas ?
They are usually attracted by a profound rejection of the world around them, which they dismiss as irredeemably corrupt, and turn to fascism as it offers a dramatic alternative way of seeing the world.
Are certain ideas fascist ?
A wide range of ideas have be ‘fascistised’, or turned to fascist ends, over the years. This includes some quite left wing ideas around empowering workers or helping the poor, while concepts from academic subjects such as anthropology and strands of philosophy were used to promote fascist causes in Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy.
Do left-wingers misuse the word ?
Yes, all the time. ‘Fascism’ is often used simply as a term of abuse, a synonym for authoritarian and violent. Yet people driven by fascist ideas want to create the world anew. Unless you recognise this, you won’t really understand the appeal of fascism.
Is Donald Trump fascist ?
Unless he enacts a political revolution and eliminates multi-party democracy in America he is not a fascist. However, fringe cultures in America that are fascist, such as Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute, do feel emboldened by him.

We find this definition interesting but not definitive. It's not the only one, of course. Vox did a good summary back in 2016, and The Conversation covered the issue earlier this year.

The 14 Points

We here at FRW tend to use the famous 14 Points of Fascism, which Dr Jackson may not fully agree with, but as a deliverable 'scale' of pointers, we feel is more easily absorbed as a guide.

In his 1995 essay "Eternal Fascism", author and cultural theorist Umberto Eco listed Fourteen General Properties of Fascist Ideology.

He argues 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".

The Fourteen Properties are as follows:
  1. "The Cult of Tradition", characterized by cultural syncretism, even at the risk of internal contradiction. When all truth has already been revealed by Tradition, no new learning can occur, only further interpretation and refinement.
  2. "The Rejection of modernism", which views the rationalistic development of Western culture since the Enlightenment as a descent into depravity. Eco distinguishes this from a rejection of superficial technological advancement, as many fascist regimes cite their industrial potency as proof of the vitality of their system.
  3. "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.
  4. "Disagreement Is Treason" – Fascism devalues intellectual discourse and critical reasoning as barriers to action, as well as out of fear that such analysis will expose the contradictions embodied in a syncretistic faith.
  5. "Fear of Difference", which fascism seeks to exploit and exacerbate, often in the form of racism or an appeal against foreigners and immigrants.
  6. "Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class", fearing economic pressure from the demands and aspirations of lower social groups.
  7. "Obsession with a Plot" and the hyping-up of an enemy threat. This often combines an appeal to xenophobia with a fear of disloyalty and sabotage from marginalized groups living within the society (such as the German elite's 'fear' of the 1930s Jewish populace's businesses and well-doings; see also anti-Semitism). Eco also cites Pat Robertson's book The New World Order as a prominent example of a plot obsession.
  8. Fascist societies rhetorically cast their enemies as "at the same time too strong and too weak." On the one hand, fascists play up the power of certain disfavored elites to encourage in their followers a sense of grievance and humiliation. On the other hand, fascist leaders point to the decadence of those elites as proof of their ultimate feebleness in the face of an overwhelming popular will.
  9. "Pacifism is Trafficking with the Enemy" because "Life is Permanent Warfare" – there must always be an enemy to fight. Both fascist Germany under Hitler and Italy under Mussolini worked first to organize and clean up their respective countries and then build the war machines that they later intended to and did use, despite Germany being under restrictions of the Versailles treaty to NOT build a military force. This principle leads to a fundamental contradiction within fascism: the incompatibility of ultimate triumph with perpetual war.
  10. "Contempt for the Weak", which is uncomfortably married to a chauvinistic popular elitism, in which every member of society is superior to outsiders by virtue of belonging to the in-group. Eco sees in these attitudes the root of a deep tension in the fundamentally hierarchical structure of fascist polities, as they encourage leaders to despise their underlings, up to the ultimate Leader who holds the whole country in contempt for having allowed him to overtake it by force.
  11. "Everybody is Educated to Become a Hero", which leads to the embrace of a cult of death. As Eco observes, "[t]he Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death."
  12. "Machismo", which sublimates the difficult work of permanent war and heroism into the sexual sphere. Fascists thus hold "both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality."
  13. "Selective Populism" – The People, conceived monolithically, have a Common Will, distinct from and superior to the viewpoint of any individual. As no mass of people can ever be truly unanimous, the Leader holds himself out as the interpreter of the popular will (though truly he dictates it). Fascists use this concept to delegitimize democratic institutions they accuse of "no longer represent[ing] the Voice of the People."
  14. "Newspeak" – Fascism employs and promotes an impoverished vocabulary in order to limit critical reasoning.

This in-depth analysis is complex and requires lots of further research to fully comprehend. It is, for the uninitiated, often simplified to a graphic, thusly:

This is clearly not detailed enough for a direct comparison between different leaders or governments across history, but it is at least a reasonable indicator of the tendenciesto look for.

Whatever label you choose to apply to Donald Trump, he displays many - some say even all - of the 'warning signs' on this list.

This is perhaps not so far-fetched as it seems ...