Thursday, March 17, 2005

Redefining 'Fascism'

This very interesting article traces the historical development of the definition of the "other F-word", the one that's on everybody's lips more and more often these days. The one we thought we had left behind 60 years ago. That one.

Many thanks to the excellent Australian blog Bush Out (by gandhi) for this link. Please pay it a visit and see for yourself. I think you'll understand why I like it so much.

Some day I may write a piece on the destruction of culture through the abuse of language. Maybe tomorrow but not today. For the moment, please just have a look at this:
The meaning of many words changes over time, and it is that development that I seek to trace with dictionaries of varied vintage. For instance, neither my 1913 nor my 1933 editions of Webster’s New International Dictionary even recognizes “fascism.” A more pedestrian 1940 Webster’s defines “Fascisti” in flattering terms as an Italian reform party created “to oppose all radical and revolutionary movements.”

In the wake of the Second World War, Webster’s New Twentieth Century Unabridged Dictionary of 1954 finally defined fascism as “any centralized system of government which [sic] exercises absolute control over industry, commerce, and finance, and which [sic] advocates strongly nationalistic policies, imposes strict censorship, and suppresses all opposition.” By 1980, Webster’s New World Dictionary had further refined fascism as a “rigid one-party dictatorship” evincing “belligerent nationalism, racism, and militarism.” Webster’s Third International Dictionary, published in 1993, goes into even greater detail about “severely nationalistic policies,” “regimentation of industry, commerce, and finance,” “rigid censorship,” and “forcible suppression of opposition.”

How interesting that American dictionaries initially greeted fascism as a positive reform movement. How perfectly typical that those same dictionaries turned hostile to the word immediately after our war with two fascist states.

The frightening part of the evolving definition of fascism is the need to add adjectives and details in order to maintain the pejorative flavor of the word without reflecting on the United States Government. As our country became more nationalistic, fascism had to be credited with “belligerent” nationalism; as the Republican Party became more dominant and intolerant of opposition, the fascist tendency to one-party suppression of opposition had to become the “forcible” suppression of opposition. Similarly, the most recent pre-George W. Bush definition of “totalitarianism” was “centralized control by an autocratic ruler or hierarchy regarded as infallible.”

Now the United States imposes its will with an undeniably belligerent nationalism. Now we see an alliance between government and big business that grows increasingly hostile to the working classes. Now we hear a constant clamor from the right to abridge the First Amendment. Now we are embarked on a new wave of militarism that permeates our colleges and our high schools. Now we have a president who refuses to acknowledge a mistake, and whose reverent followers view his word as law. What hurdles will the next dictionary have to leap in order to distinguish between fascism, totalitarianism, and our own government.
You can read the entire article here.