5 Qualities of Fascism: Is the US Anywhere Close?

There is one specific condition for fascism to take hold in the United States.

The word "fascism" is a favorite insult for many, especially in light of the current political climate. If you aren’t already calling them Hitler, tying whoever you oppose to fascism is a great hyperbolic second. Most of the time, however, the word is not used correctly, ignoring historical precedent and the specific conditions that need to exist for a country to go fascist. 


Fascists originally hail from Italy, where Mussolini founded the National Fascist Party in 1919-1921, on the heels of World War I. In fact, the word “fascism” comes from "fasces" or "fascio littorio" - a bunch of rods tied around an axe, an ancient Roman symbol of the magistrate's authority, which could be used for corporal and capital punishment.

Fascio Littorio

What needs to happen in a country for it to become fascist?

1. Fascism thrives in militaristic societies. World War I caused a tremendous militarization of a number of countries. Nations like Italy and Germany saw the need to be able to quickly mobilize millions of people to fight wars and provide economic support. 

2. Fascists reject liberal democracy, which is basically a representative kind of government where elections are free and competitive, powers between different government branches are separated, and people have more or less equal rights, freedoms and protections under the law.  

3. Fascists, on the other hand, prefer totalitarian one-party rule, led by a strong leader (your favorite dictator). This allows the fascist country to have unparalleled national unity of purpose, a very ordered society, generally ready for armed conflict. Such a society is also poised to respond quickly to economic measures, especially in time of difficulties. A fascist country will likely isolate itself, blaming the international economic order for its troubles. 

Mussolini and Hitler

4. What is important to note is that many scholars do not regard fascism to be a solely right-wing or left-wing affliction. It may have elements of both sides of the spectrum. Mussolini himself described fascism as a movement that would strike "against the backwardness of the right and the destructiveness of the left".   

According to the British historian Roger Griffin, fascist societies of the 20th century also exhibited such components as "a rebirth myth, populist ultra-nationalism and the myth of decadence." Essentially, fascism promises that radical, nationalist politics will pull a nation out of decadence into a period of renewal.

Coming on the heels of the military and economic humiliation suffered by Germany in World War I, followed by the hedonism of the Weimar Republic, one can imagine the appeal held by the narrative that Germans were actually a nation of superior Aryan people, with supposed ancient roots. All they needed to do was to weed out the members of society that caused their country to rot from the inside, and they were sure to assume their rightful place as the leaders of the world.

German Nazi activist Horst Wessel (1907 - 1930, left) at the head of a parade of S.A. stormtroopers, or 'brownshirts', in Nuremberg, Germany, 1929. This photo is from a series of collectable images published in Germany during the Nazi period, entitled 'Deutschland Erwacht' (Germany Awakes). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Can fascism come back to Europe in this day and age? Certainly, there are a number of European ultra-nationalist parties that made significant political gains, often sporting racist, anti-semitic, anti-immigrant, and isolationist agendas. These include the National Front in France, Jobbik Party in Hungary, Golden Dawn in Greece, and the Freedom Party in Austria, whose candidate Norbert Hofer is in position to become the country’s President in the current elections.

 

Here’s a chart that shows the rise of ultra-nationalist politics across Europe:

The rise of such parties can be seen as a response to the threats posed by Islamic terrorism and as an extension of economic issues facing European society, with growing inequalities between members of the shaky European Union. It is unlikely, however, that the changes European ultra-nationalists might effect in their countries would result in authoritarian one-party states. An anti-immigration stance is not in itself fascism.  

What about the United States? What would it take for the great bastion of democracy to turn to the dark side? Some feel anxiety listening to the promise to make America great again, which clearly states a need for rebirth so America could attain its lost mythological status. Others are getting ready for a tyrannical government, which would take away their guns and money and abolish their religion. While both parties often invoke fascism in partisan name-calling, the strong position of the state within fascism would go against the grain of the American Republican party, while the social restrictions would be anathema to the Democrats. Fascism is likely the ultimate "outsider" dogma.

Can an outsider channel the anger felt by millions at the supposed failings of the “establishment” and proclaim himself or herself the one authority on all national decisions? It’s hard to fathom the possibility of checks and balances built into the American government to be so easily circumventable. But there is one way that fascism can take hold in the U.S.

5. The ultimate circumstance when people are willing to give up on their ideals is being in a state of great fear for their safety.

This fear has not yet reached its peak and hopefully never will. Scenarios under which some form of fascism could infect the US would include a cataclysmic world war or perhaps more likely - a much more serious terrorist event, like an attack with a nuclear weapon. This could be followed by a severe economic downturn like the Great Depression, and then people might be willing to give up their rights to a strongman.

Thankfully, these conditions are not present in our current world, and we have to hope and work hard so that our institutions can withstand even the gravest threats. Right now, it seems impossible that the kind of militarization, total control of mass media, and social homogeneity fascism requires would ever come to exist in the United States. Still, never say never. History often moves quicker than we can grasp.

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

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  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
  • Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
  • These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.

Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.