Thursday, January 05, 2006

That Hateful Term 'Fascist'

There are few things in public discourse that really get my blood up more than the flinging of labels as a means to demonize and silence one's opponent. Of all the emotive words that can be flung to shut down discourse, the terms "fascist" and "Nazi" are perhaps the most loaded and the most pernicious. I hate the use of these words--deeply, passionately hate their use. I hate their use for the astounding lack of perspective that it beytrays when they are typically employed. I hate their use for the absolute unfairness of the charge.

Fascism is an ideology: a complete social and economic system. It stresses what we would consider to be right wing social values with left wing economic policies. There is usually a component of racism, and there is also usally a beligerent aspect to it. Fascism is extremely authoritarian, and usually dictatorial. Fascist states have existed, and fascist political parties exist now--while certain positions between states and parties may vary, they share generally recognizable features that mark them out as fascist. Fascism is an identifiable thing, and can be defined.

Fascism is not, as has been advanced by some people, merely a "tactic". Others have suggested that fascist policies are secondary to the acquisition of power--this is patently wrong: fascists wish to acquire power to implement their stated policies. A few incidents of political violence by unhinged followers of one political party or another is not fascism. An unpopular law or policy is not fascism. A politician who has the opposite political beliefs from you is probably not a fascist.

America is a free country, and the first amendment guarantees that we can say what we desire--even that someone is a fascist. But when that term is used to shut one's opponent up or to shout them down, when it is used while willfully ignoring the true meaning of the word, when it is used to demonize and dehumanize one's opponenet, then cheapens free speech by shutting down discourse--which, sadly, is all to often the intent in using such a fraught term. Its use simply hardens people's positions, does nothing to convince the opposition of the rectitude of one's opinion, and is almost guaranteed to get an emotional, instead of rational, reply.

The careless flinging of this sort of an unfair and untrue label has got to stop.


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