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What is Fascism?

Michael Anissimov
Updated May 23, 2024
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Fascism is a form of government that was popular between 1919 and 1945, but became taboo after the Holocaust and the defeat of the Axis powers in 1945. Since 1945, few groups have applied the term to themselves, and the term has become a universal epithet for anything bad. In 2005, scholar Richard Griffiths stated that the word is the most "misused, and over-used term of our times." In particular, fascism is frequently considered synonymous with white power, though many non-white and racially mixed countries have had fascist governments at one time or another, including Brazil, Mexico, Japan, and Zaire.

In its original meaning, "fascism" referred to the Italian Fascists under Benito Mussolini. The authoritative document on this topic is "The Doctrine of Fascism," which appeared as the entry for the term in the Italian Encyclopedia published in 1932. The author was listed as Mussolini, but the more likely author is the philosopher Giovanni Gentile, who helped Mussolini formulate his political philosophy.

The defining features of the philosophy are nationalism (including economic nationalism), corporatism (including economic planning), totalitarianism (including dictatorship and social interventionism), and militarism. According to the Doctrine of Fascism, "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." The philosophy is summarized by the mottos "Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State," "Believe, Obey, Fight," "The book and the musket — make the perfect Fascist," and "War is to man as motherhood is to woman."

During its heydey, fascism was marketed as the "Third Position" between communism and capitalism. In Italy, its symbol was a bundle of rods tied around an axe, which symbolized the solidarity and strength of the state. The word "fascist" comes from the Italian word fascio, which means a bundle or union. These regimes respect power above all else, and rise to political prominence through bullying, threats, and torture.

Most everyone is aware that fascism is a bad political system, but not everyone knows exactly what the system even is, and consensus on the central elements of the philosophy was not even reached among scholars until the 1990s. To understand why fascism is bad, one must first understand what exactly it is. This is a wide scholarly topic, and there are several other interesting examples of it outside of the Axis powers during WWII.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated Historical Index contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.
Discussion Comments
By rey112 — On Nov 18, 2014

I have been studying Fascism for quiet a while, and I have been very interested in the subject. However, I disagree with the idea that fascism is evil. Like all forms of government, it has its pluses and minuses.

Those who say that Fascism and Nazism are the same have a very poor understanding of Fascism. The biggest mistake people make is consider Fascism to be racist, when in reality, until 1938 and the German influence, Italy did not favor the race ideology as Germany did. Nazism is the most extreme form of Fascism and should not be allowed to grow, as is happening in Greece with the Golden Dawn.

Franco of Spain and Estado Novo were both Nationalist and Fascist states that had little interest in outside conquest like Germany. Italy was robbed from their victory after World War I and I support their invasion of Africa. After all, they did more fighting than the Americans and were left in the back of the room betraying their ally, Germany.

Fascism is not evil, but Nazism is the wickedest thing you can summon to this world as they see everyone except their people of their nation as filth. Educate yourselves.

By anon354864 — On Nov 11, 2013

Fascism is socialism in bed with bureaucratic 'crony' business. Gee, that's the USA today. Note that Mussolini and Hitler were both Socialists. Indeed, "Nazi" stood for National Socialism, The National Socialist Party. Yep.

By jessiwan — On Oct 26, 2013

OK, correct me if I am wrong, but I believe I read somewhere that under a Fascist government, businesses that do not perform some sort of public good will be banned, such as the porn industry. I thought I was very impressed by this when I first read it.

This article stinks. I feel like the author is trying very hard to convince the readers that fascism is bad, except he can't really articulate why either. He just keeps associating fascism with Nazism and hopes that everybody else will be automatically swayed to his side and agree with him mindlessly that fascism is bad.

By anon339343 — On Jun 22, 2013

The term Facism was coined in the 20th century, but its demeanor of totalitariansm, militarism, corporatism, brainwashing and absolute power over everything and everyone comes from the year 3000 BC. -- and still counting.

By anon333192 — On May 03, 2013

Fascism is capitalism in a three piece suit. Americans often don't understand fascism because their empty, illusory representative democracy is actually much closer to a form of fascism than anything resembling an actual people's government/servant government. And good luck attempting to get brainwashed Americans to understand that.

By anon330123 — On Apr 14, 2013

The US is far from a fascist regime. We are most definitely headed for the miry pit of socialism or somewhere between socialism and communism, thanks to all the swelled misguided friends we have in DC.

By anon292471 — On Sep 20, 2012

Fascism is so confused within itself. Fascists don't know what they want. They want to mind their own business and focus on their country. Then, they want to destroy their enemies. They want everything to be 100 percent government powered.

They call a fascist country a state so when they say state power they mean what we would call federal power. They want all federal power, but people not to be dependent. What? Just accept the fact these people don't know what they want.

By anon231116 — On Nov 22, 2011

Fascism a bad word? Stands for anything negative?

Someone down the street puts garbage on the street

but it isn't in a bag; that is bad. Fascism means more

than that. But the statement was in Google results.

So I understand. I understand.

By anon198925 — On Jul 21, 2011

@anon130440: It takes a lot to stay on top.

By anon163255 — On Mar 27, 2011

I believe america made the decision maybe because other powerful and developed countries in the world do not want to take the responsibility of looking after other small and developing countries needs in terms development.

That is why america is known as the world's police because they care about events that happen around the world and the people.

By anon161563 — On Mar 20, 2011

I still don't understand the term fascism. Is it just a nationalist totalitarian leader but over the top, if you get me?

By anon156512 — On Feb 27, 2011

@anon155775: I think, critically, that you are a fascist.

By anon155775 — On Feb 24, 2011

@Tina: Using critical thinking instead of parroting the lib line might help you in the long run. Liberalism is a pathology.

By anon155603 — On Feb 24, 2011

America is far from fascism because everyone still has control over what goes in and what goes out in regards to small or big business or the economy. Why? Because as an individual, I have the power to not only vote, but influence other people as well.

So, if a business is bad then you inform others and not buy their products.

Your best friend can be your worst enemy. Conformity kills.

By anon150387 — On Feb 07, 2011

I think it is pretty ironic how Israel is fascist.

By anon136869 — On Dec 24, 2010

Fascism is anti-humanism. Fascism and nazism are the same. The state with vertical structure of power is fascism.

By anon130440 — On Nov 28, 2010

Wow, by this definition, America seems rather fascist. Does anyone agree? We "rise to political prominence through bullying, threats, and torture". Land of the free and home of the 'my way or the highway' school of thought? We Americans are proud to be American and yet we are not completely blind to the flaws our "leaders" seem determined to force upon the world. --Tina

By anon45636 — On Sep 18, 2009


Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated Historical Index contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology...
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