The term “fascist” gets tossed around a lot in our political discourse. Rarely is it used to describe someone who adheres to the political philosophy of fascism. Mostly it’s used as an epithet against those with an opposing political viewpoint. Democrats call Republicans “fascists” while Republicans call Democrats “fascists.” Barack Obama is called a “fascist.” Mitt Romney was called a “fascist.” George W. Bush was called a “fascist.” Even Ron Paul has been called a “fascist”!
The confusion surrounding this term arises from the fact that, unlike other political philosophies, fascism is not clearly-defined. Most other ideologies have manifestos that outline their political tenants. Communism has The Communist Manifesto. Nazism has Mein Kampf. Capitalism has The Wealth of Nations. But fascism has no such founding document. Because of this, its tenets have long been debated by historians and sociologists.
During the Bush administration, an article began circulating the internet called “The Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism.” This article is attributed to political scientist Dr. Lawrence Britt who allegedly studied various fascist regimes and discovered 14 common characteristics among them.
Because of its vast distribution on the internet, the title of the article varies from “14 Points” to “14 Marks,” and the phrasing of the characteristics themselves also varies. But the 14 are usually listed as follows:
1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism.Although this article has been frequently shared and cited on the internet as a definition of fascism, it should not be considered a credible analysis of the ideology. The 14 characteristics are extremely vague and they easily apply to non-fascist countries. Indeed, if we take the first characteristic, “Powerful and Continuing Nationalism,” at face value, then every country is guilty of fascism, as people of all countries exhibit some level of national pride. Showing love for one’s country is not isolated to fascists.
2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights.
3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause.
4. Supremacy of the Military.
5. Rampant Sexism.
6. Controlled Mass Media.
7. Obsession with National Security.
8. Religion and Government are Intertwined.
9. Corporate Power is Protected.
10. Labor Power is Suppressed.
11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts.
12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment.
13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption.
14. Fraudulent Elections.
Furthermore, the author who wrote the article does not exist. If Dr. Lawrence Britt were a credible authority on political science, he clearly would have published more than one article on the subject; yet a simple Google search of his name only retrieves variations of his one article and nothing else. No biography of him exists, not even a Wikipedia article!
This is because Dr. Lawrence Britt’s real name is “Laurence Britt,” and he is not a doctor, but a novelist. He only published one novel, June, 2004, and aside from that, his one and only article was published in the May 2004 edition of Free Inquiry Magazine.
As About.com contributor Tom Head explains in his piece on the matter: “This op-ed was forwarded around from inbox to inbox, and readers eventually began putting a ‘Dr.’ in front of his name and referring to him as a political scientist who had compiled the fascism inventory independently of the Bush administration. He had not done so, and had never claimed to do so. The article was, and had always been intended to be, an argument against the Bush administration.”
However, while Britt is not a real political scientist, and his article is not a real credible source, a real historical analysis of fascism was compiled nearly 60 years prior to Britt’s piece.
In 1944, John T. Flynn published As We Go Marching. Unlike “Dr.” Britt, Flynn was a well-renowned journalist and political commentator who wrote for publications such as The New Republic, Harper's Magazine, and Collier's Weekly. (Also unlike Britt: he has a Wikipedia article! Flynn: 1, Britt: 0.)
In his book, Flynn analyzed the fascist regimes of Hitler and Mussolini and listed eight common characteristics between them. His “Eight Marks of Fascism” are as follows:
Point 1. The government is totalitarian because it acknowledges no restraint on its powers.Aside from offering a comprehensive historical analysis on fascism, Flynn’s book also served as a critique of FDR’s New Deal policies, which Flynn feared were similar to the policies of the fascist regimes overseas.
Point 2. Government is a de facto dictatorship based on the leadership principle.
Point 3. Government administers a capitalist system with an immense bureaucracy.
Point 4. Producers are organized into cartels in the way of syndicalism.
Point 5. Economic planning is based on the principle of autarky.
Point 6. Government sustains economic life through spending and borrowing.
Point 7. Militarism is a mainstay of government spending.
Point 8. Military spending has imperialist aims.
His book is recommended for anyone curious about the history and ideology of fascism. An e-book version can be downloaded from the Mises Institute.
Those who don't have the time to read an entire book can read Lew Rockwell’s article “The Fascist Threat.” In it, Rockwell alludes to Flynn’s “Eight Marks” to provide a condensed analysis of fascism while also offering a scathing critique of the Bush and Obama administrations.
Both pieces are highly recommended to those who wish to understand fascism and what implications it has today.
Because if you insist on calling other people "fascist," it's best that you understand what the word and the ideology behind it means; otherwise, you might as well be calling them "doo-doo heads."