Figuring Out Fascism

 Well, let’s face it, there is a lot of hoopla over this issue.

Most Americans have misconceptions about fascism that overlook the last thirty years of social science by authors such as Roger Griffin, Emilio Gentile, Robert Paxton, and Umberto Eco.

On the Right the theories of Austrian School economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek have created a distorted impression that fascism is a form of socialism—the thesis of the distorted polemic by Jonah Goldberg: “Liberal Fascism.”

On the Left too many belief fascism is rule by large corporations. This, is largely based on a hoax quote falsely attributed to Mussolini equating Italian Fascist corporatist syndicalism with US business corporations. This gets repeated by liberal pundits such as Thom Hartmann.

Visit this specific link on Wikipedia to see a useful article on the different theories.

Mussolini on Fascism

The Doctrine of Fascism – 1932 – Enciclopdia Italiana

The Doctrine of Fascism – 1935 – Ardidta Publishers

More Resources

I am partial to Matthew N. Lyons, What is Fascism? Some general ideological features, November 1, 2000

For an excellent, nuanced, and detailed study of right-wing rhetoric and protofascism in the United States, see David Neiwert. 2003. Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An Exegesis. Online at

I am in the process of compiling a more extensive bibliography that will be linked from this page.

An early effort by me is the introduction of a book by my colleague and friend Russ Bellant, 1988, Old Nazis, the New Right and the Reagan Administration: The Role of Domestic Fascist Networks in the Republican Party and their effect on U.S. Cold War Politics. Cambridge, MA: Political Research Associates. Bellant’s book holds up better than my introduction, but my effort still has value.

See also my study “Terminology: Use with Caution,”  a text that was later revised and published as  Chip Berlet, 2003. “Terminology: Use with Caution.” In Roger Griffin and Matthew Feldman, eds., Fascism, Vol. 5, Critical Concepts in Political Science. New York, NY: Routledge.

What is Fascism?
Some General Ideological Features
by Matthew N. Lyons

Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An exegesis
Part 6: Proto-Fascism in America
by David Neiwert

On Trump, Fascism, and Stale Social Science
by Matthew N. Lyons

Right-wing “populism” is a joke: Poor-bashing, immigrant-hating and a revolting agenda
From Sarah Palin to Pat Buchanan, here’s what it really means when they speak to “the American worker”
by Heather Digby Parton

And this nugget from a past election:

The Buchanan campaign incorporates themes of right Wing Populism, Scapegoating, Reactionary Politics and Fascism
By Chip Berlet, 24 February, 1996

The Buchanan campaign incorporates themes of right wing populism, scapegoating, reactionary politics, and Fascism.

Scapegoating and demagoguery are powerful tools for reactionary backlash movements, and have been used effectively to promote a form of right-wing populism, which channels legitimate anger over declining economic prospects or uncertain social status towards scapegoats that are easy to blame due to the existing currents of racism, sexism, homophobia, and antisemitism flowing through the US social system.

Many people presume that all populist movements are naturally progressive and want to move society to the left, but history teaches us otherwise. In his book “The Populist Persuasion,” Michael Kazin explains how populism is a style of organizing. Populism can move to the left or right. It can be tolerant or intolerant. In her book “Populism,” Margaret Canovan defined two main branches of populism: agrarian and political.

Agrarian populism worldwide has three categories: movements of commodity farmers, movements of subsistence peasants, and movements of intellectuals who wistfully romanticize the hard-working farmers and peasants. Political populism includes not only populist democracy, championed by progressives from the LaFollettes of Wisconsin to Jesse Jackson, but also politicians’ populism, reactionary populism, and populist dictatorship. The latter three antidemocratic forms of populism characterize the movements of Ross Perot, Pat Robertson, and Pat Buchanan, three straight White Christian men trying to ride the same horse.

Peter Fritzsche in “Rehearsals for Fascism: Populism and Political Mobilization in Wiemar Germany” shows that middle-class populists in Wiemar launched bitter attacks against both the government and big business. This populist surge was later harvested by the fascist Nazi movement which parasitized the forms and themes of the reactionary populists and moved their constituencies far to the right through demagoguery and scapegoating.

Matthew N. Lyons

Right-Wing Movements 101