58. What is Fascism?

On today’s episode, Connor and Brittany continue their discussion on “isms,” focusing specifically one we hear about a lot these days, “fascism.” The pair dive into what fascism is and why it’s such a threat to individual liberty.

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Here is the transcript of our conversation:

Connor: Hey, Brittany. Hi,

Brittany: Connor.

Connor: We’ve talked before about a lot of these isms, politicalism, and what these different kinds of belief systems, mean. I wanted to continue that conversation today and dive into one of the ones that might be, you know, up there with like communism in terms and crazy, and that is fascism. And just like a lot of words, it feels like a lot of people have these weird definitions or alternative definitions of what fascism actually is. It’s, it’s like socialism, right? Like socialism has an actual definition, it’s a real ideology. And then people claim, oh, socialism is just helping people, right? Like, they just come up with these definitions. Oh, fascism is like anything having to do with Donald Trump. It’s like,

Brittany: Yeah

Connor: No, not really. You know…

Brittany: Not even at all.

Connor: There’s Antifa, which is the group that are antifascists, except they themselves are, you know, pretty fascist. Yep. So it’s, it’s kind of weird when people, you know, repurpose these words or try and change the meaning. So I wanna maybe start by, defining the word and we can talk a little bit more about it. So, you know, fascism is this belief system or this political belief that the state is like all-encompassing, all-powerful, all-embracing, it is everywhere and everything. And by state, I don’t mean, you know, the state of Virginia or the state of Oregon. I mean the state in kind of a more general term. So, some of our readers I know are familiar with the book. I did Lessons from a Lemonade Stand, where we talk a lot about this, for like preteens and teens learning about the state, what it is.

And so I encourage you to go check that book out the state, really, and at least the way, it’s often used in kind of political discourse. And the way, Brittany, you and I are gonna talk about it today, the state is just kind of a general, more general term that refers to the government. That’s kinda the easiest way to think about it. So, fascism is this notion that the government, the state is what’s important. It’s pervasive, meaning that it’s everywhere. Apart from the state, you can’t really have any strong values, any human, a value that what is most important, is the state. It’s the collective. We’ve talked a bit about collectivism, and so these are very related where, fascism is kind of like collectivism where the collective is important, except in this case of fascism. The collective is the state that is the important institution. That is, the reason for existence is to move the state forward. And so why, just talk a bit about it, Brittany. What do you think about fascism when you hear that

Brittany: Word? I think it’s really scary. I know for me, because I was a history major in college, I always think of Italian fascism, which is kind of where the word was born in the 20th century. I mean, it goes back to Roman roots, but I think of it like Nazis, even you could say that Hitler and Nazi is a form of fascism. So I always think of it as, the individual doesn’t matter, like collectivism, you don’t really have that identity, but it’s because the state or the government matters more, right? So, s you kind of lose the individual to the needs of the state, which is very scary.

Connor: And you know, it’s tough when you talk about these isms cuz a lot of them are so related that we talk about collectivism and now fascism. And but you bring up, Italian fascism that, where it kind of got its start. We might talk a little bit about Benito Mussolini, someone you’d wanna look up about this. And, Mussolini in Italy, you know, their, their regime, their state declared itself, totalitarian, which is, a very similar word, to fascist. And if you think of what we’ve described fascism as everything in the state, the state is everything. There’s nothing of value outside of it. You think of totalitarian like a total, That the state is the total, that is the total purpose, the total power. and so, you know, there’s the quote from Mussolini where he says everything in the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state. The state was the centrally planning the economy, you know, it created a new social order. In other words, could boss people around in their individual lives of like how they should act and what they should think. And, so it’s very alarming when you think about maybe the more American tradition where, you know, what mattered was the individual. The government is created by the people. It’s to serve the people. we delegate to the government certain limited powers that is totally at odds with fascism.

Brittany: Totally at odds with fascism. However, the funny thing is, so the word fascism, actually, it’s a symbol. It comes from something, call it fasci, I think is how you would say it.

Connor: Yeah.

Brittany: And it’s, found all over our government though. And that’s what’s funny is even though, even though we are an individualistic system, we still have little pieces of it. So if you look at the house rostrum, that’s what the president will give, like his state of the union address. You’ll actually see this fascist and I’ll explain what it’s to you. I’m gonna read from a book called Richard Mayberry’s, the Fall of Rome, ancient Rome. And I’ll link to this in the show notes, but he talks about this symbol, and I’m gonna ascribe it to you right now. So it’s a bundle of wooden rods bound together by red color bands in ancient Rome the fascist sheet was fixed to a wooden pole with an ax at the top or side, it symbolized the unification of the people under a single government. The axe suggested that what would happen to anyone who didn’t obey the government? So an axe you’d think of like a weapon, right? So, it was kind of this symbology of this is the state is all-knowing is all-powerful. And if you cross us, if you try to step outta line, you’re going to get hurt. So not very, not very comforting.

Connor: Yeah. the bundle of rods all tied together implied that a single rod is weak and you know, doesn’t serve its higher purpose. Whereas when it’s joined together with the other rods bound together in one, then it has strength, then it has unity, then it has a purpose. And, you know, what is the purpose? It’s not to like light a fire or anything else. It’s, oh, let’s put an axe head on top so we can like chop people down who disagree with it is power. And, you’re right. Like we have all this, symbolism and you know, it feels like we need like a, you know, national treasure movie, right?

Brittany: Yes.

Connor: And like what’s on the back of the declaration, it feels like we need one about fascism. Like, oh, look at all this fascist symbology and you know, and Americana here because yeah, you look used to be on the back of the dime. I know, I think there might be some currency where it’s still on there.

Brittany: All over dc. It’s all over DC

Connor: All over. If you go to the Lincoln in Memorial, and he’s sitting on his big chair, if you look at the sides of his chair where his hands are resting, those are fascist as well. Wow. symbolizing that, you know, here’s President Abraham Lincoln using the power of the state to crush dissent. and you know, you better not go against us. What’s That?

Brittany: I said that’s fitting

Connor: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Well, we’ll save that for the Abraham Lincoln episode later on. we’ll give our listeners a few months before we get into the Abraham Lincoln episode. and so, but it’s interesting be as you point out, even in this tradition that we have this American tradition of individual liberty. you definitely still have these elements of the state is supreme, the state has authority. and you know, if you go against us, you’ll kind of get crushed under this, fascist. And so, that is interesting because the Italians, for example, Benita Mussolini didn’t come up with this out of thin air. No. this symbolism had been around for a long time. As you think about that, Brittany, what is, what are the challenges that you see for those of us who care about freedom when our own government here in America has these symbols or has this kind of backdrop of, you know, fascism within our own government?

Brittany: Well, Richard Mayberry, the author who I read from a second ago, he always says something to the extent of every time you see a fascist run the other way, right? Anytime any government would, would even if it’s like, oh, that’s old, that’s outdated. The fact that they would still hold it up is a little bit scary because it means that they value that authority of the state over your individual rights. And so I think it’s pretty telling of the nature of government in general, right? It doesn’t matter how pure government would like to be even our own government, like you said, it started out with the purest of intentions, but it still goes a ride. Like they’ll still maybe try too much to take our power and use their authority to take that power. So I think it’s pretty dangerous. I think that we should probably move away from the symbol altogether.

Connor: Yeah. and it’s one thing to talk about symbols. it’s another thing to talk about actual, you know, laws and policies. And so when we talk about fascism of everything in the state, and the state is what matters. I, think it’s fair to say that in the past several decades, we’ve definitely seen the power of the state in, America significantly increase. I mean, think of the government shutdowns, right? Think of the government saying you’re not allowed to go to church. Hmm. I mean that especially in a country built on like religious freedom and so forth with like the pilgrims and the puritans and, others, that’s kind of crazy to think of the government saying, oh, you’re not allowed to go to church anymore. Oh, your business isn’t essential, so we’re gonna shut you down. And oh, hey, if you try and open your business, we’re gonna send the police and we’re gonna, you know, lock you in jail and we’re gonna find you. I mean, that is a very aggressive increase in the power of the state. And so what I get worried about Britney is that people throw around the word fascism all the time, but in my mind, fascism is more of a mindset in a way, in the sense that it’s like central planning and people who think that the government should be the solution to our problems. And that government has like its own authority, and we should follow the laws unquestioningly because it’s the law, the rule of law. and it’s kind of, these attitudes I feel like are creeping into, us you know, the, citizenry here in America where, you know, we don’t have a fascist government per say but this, perspective or this belief of fascism, this belief that the state is supreme, that you know, oh, you know, if you have an individual concern with wearing masks or a personal health concern, that doesn’t matter because the state says we must, and, you know, we’re part of that, fascist collective, your individual perspective and concerns don’t matter. What matters is what the state has decided. They have the information, they have the experts, you know, they know what’s right, they know what’s best. And so fall in line and do what you’re told because the state says so. And that becomes extremely worrisome to me.

Brittany: Well, that’s what’s so scary about this, is it’s not, even when you first started talking, I thought like, oh, that would be scary. And then I was like, wait a second. That’s already happened. You know it took me a minute to be like, wait, you know, churches are closed down because of COVID, you know, churches were closer. All these things that is happening and you’re not even letting people make their own decisions. You know, it’s possible that somebody going to church during the time of COVID could, catch COVID, but you have to let them make their own decision. And we’re not even letting people do that because we do, we just kind of defer all these decision-making to the state, and that gets extremely problematic because we don’t always know that they have our best interest in mind or that they’re telling the truth, which we’ve talked about in other episodes.

Connor: Yeah. We’ve talked about, you know, things like capitalism, right? Like free markets and individuals making their own choices. And so, you can think of fascism as basically anti-capitalism, right? If you think of capitalism as individuals making choices, anti-capitalism would be individuals not being able to make, their own choices. It’s the state making your choices for you that you are subject to the state, you are controlled by the state, and, only if the state says you can kind of have your own choices or decisions can you actually have them. But, first and foremost, it’s whatever the state’s plan for you is. It’s, we’ve talked, I think before about dystopian fiction, right? Painting this picture of not, a utopia where things are great, but a dystopia where things are awful. And, you definitely see, fascism prevalent there in these, depictions of, you know, a crazy future where, the government controls everything and people have no individuality and you lose so much, right? You lose curiosity, you lose exploration, you lose love. you, you lose spontaneity and, joy. and yet it’s so sad. I see stories all the time. I’m sure you do as well, Brittany, where, you know, someone will write an article on a website or something and they’ll say, Hey, I lived under communism, yes. And now I see it creeping into America, right? Or I escaped, you know, North Korea, and yet you guys are making the same mistakes or whatever. And you know, if you were to ask a person on the street, do you support fascism? They’d be like, well, no way.

Brittany: Of course, not

Connor: Of course, not. Do you like communism? No. Well, of course not.

Brittany: Well, Actually

Connor: More people will start saying yes to that one, unfortunately. But, you know, man on the street, they’re gonna be like, no, fascism is awful. And yet when you look at like the slow creep, when you look at the slow, increase in support, suddenly bit by bit, people start feeling like, well, yeah, the state does have the power and yeah, we should do what the experts say. And yeah, the government is in charge and the president said, so cuz they signed an executive order and shame on you because you’re violating a government order. So you should be criminalized bit by bit. We start to lose our individual out our individuality, our decision to say people should be free to do what they want as long as they don’t harm other people. And it slowly becomes about what the state wants, what the government decides. And we are just kind of like ponds on a chess board right? Like, we can be moved around by other people and we’re just there for the ride. You lose that individuality that I think is so essential to our human happiness.

Brittany: I think there’s one other important thing too to highlight too, is that this is not nowadays, it gets clumped in, you said this in the beginning with this is a right-leaning thing, or this is a conservative or Republican thing. Fascism is found on every side of everything. You can have fascism on any side of the political spectrum. So, I think it’s really important that we make sure that it’s not one side or the other, right? Everybody can be guilty of this if power gets out of hand.

Connor: That’s a great point and a good ending. Note, a warning for us all that no matter our perspective, there’s always that desire to control other people and boss people around and, force people to do our will rather than use persuasion to try and, encourage them to agree with us. So check out the show notes page today. We’ll link to a couple of resources on fascism if you want to learn a little bit more. Total twins.com/podcast. Thanks as always for listening. And Brittany, until next time, we’ll talk to you later.

Brittany: Talk to you next time.

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