[D-G] 'fascism'

Jeremy Livingston jeremy.livingston at gmail.com
Sat Feb 19 15:37:50 PST 2005

Here is a concept I've invented. Let's see what it can do here. It's
called 'iterative etymology'. I want to use it to help us be clear
about what we're talking about, without slowing down too much.

Words change their senses over time. They start off covering a
semantic area, and that area morphs by following vectors thrust into
it by other pressures. I'm imagining it like a weather system on those
computer views of the country that they show during the evening
weather report: a big mass of white that moves, spins, spins off,
breaking up or assembling.

Sometimes the system ends up covering so much territory, or splits up
to cover two areas that are so far apart, that we can't be sure that
we're talking about the same thing when we use a word. Political words
are under the most pressure, so they probably get distorted the worst.

Iterative etymology means we track the meaning of the word we're using
through its history to understand why we're using it in the particular
way we are, and how that is different from the way someone else is
using it. Because this is an evolutionary process, no sense is
privileged in its own right (though there may be other considerations
as to why I or you or we might not want to use a word in a certain
sense). We track a word's history by taking more or less arbitrary
slices, or iterations, in the progression of meaning over time.

So let's do 'fascism'. This word is interesting because it has a
relatively short history. Also although its original meaning was
relatively precise, it very quickly exploded into a full-blown
semantic tornado (and 'democracy' has been keeping pace).

First iteration: 'Fascismo', from the symbol of the fasces (the axe
and rods). Mussolini's name for his own economic-political doctrine.
Economic interests (labor, industry, commerce) will be organized into
incorporated monopoly institutions and syndicates, the "corporations";
and these corporations will negotiate the terms of their interactions
collectively. Disputes will be mediated by the state. This
organization is effected in the name of the glory of the nation. The
state's primary concern will be to ensure its capacity to project its
nation's interests into the business of other nations; the purest form
of this is outright imperialism, effected through conquest. Fascism is
socialistic (and anti-market), totalitarian (and anti-liberal),
collectivistic (and anti-individualistic), power-fetishizing (and
anti-democratic), and nationalistic (and anti-communist). There are
racist overtones.

Sound about right?

Second iteration: Fascism is not just Mussolini's regime, but also
contemporary regimes that followed the same model of domestic
organization and international relations -- Nazi Germany, the Empire
of Japan. These regimes were all allied to one another, which makes
the classification more convenient. These were all violent
totalitarian national socialist doctrines. At this iteration, fascism
becomes associated with explicit and systematic racism, especially
anti-Semitism. They are also all characterized by the support they
received from militant reactionary segments of the population.
However, they are also characterized by the support they drew from
progressives, who were enchanted with its mystical romanticism
(witness, for example, Nazi success among environmentalists and what
we would today call "deep ecologists", and among animal rights
activists or "anti-vivisectionists" who protested kosher rites on
grounds of cruelty).

>From here, of course, multiple iterations are possible. One would be
to simply use 'fascism' as a synonym for any political doctrine we
didn't like (and 'democracy' for the one we do like); I hope that's
not what we're doing here. Deleuze and Guattari deserve more credit
than that. Or we could use the word like, say, someone like Boyd Rice
uses it: 'fascist' is his way of preventing his own identity from
being sucked into an indiscriminate "equality" that 'democracy' or
'socialism' can come to represent. Another tack would be to focus on
the actual economic and political structures proposed by Mussolini; on
this iteration, liberal democracies have been skirting fascism for a
hundred years (America especially), not by any totalitarian impetus
but because Fascist economics appeals to 'common sense'.

On the other hand, we could focus on the totalitarianism, and on
fascism's appeal to violent reactionaries. This seems to be Deleuze &
Guattari's preferred usage.

Third Iteration: Fascism is a reactionary romanticism; it bubbles up
out of common sentiments and prejudices, and seeks to impose itself on
everyone as the grand natural schema of society. It is fueled by the
common sense of self-superiority, by solipsistic moral judgment and
self-righteousness, and the desire for control (or fear of lacking
control). On this understanding, fascism is not so much a political
way of life as an attitude with respect to politics or society: there
is a fascism proper to the nation-state, there is a 'democratic
fascism', a fascism of Communism, etc.

I think this is Deleuze and Guattari's meaning. Note, however, that
this makes it impossible to use "fascism" as a slur: As soon as we do
it, as soon as we entitle ourselves to dismiss what someone has to say
by accusing them of being 'fascist', we ourselves become the fascists:
we are the ones who are making the self-righteous pronouncement,

Fascism is moral absolutism. It doesn't matter whether this absolutism
is in the name of a progressive or conservative agenda, in the name of
egalitarian democracy, in the name of some socialism or other, or the
name of any of the issues that have been complicated or implicated in
these problems. What matters is not even so much what you are saying,
but how you think about what you are saying, what place in you it
comes from.

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