Just as George Orwell asked in 1944, so must we now ask: What is fascism?
As a British 30-something, I’ve never known it. I’ve read about it. I know anti-Semitism is often but not always a distinguishing mark. I know it thrives on economic malaise. I know it starts with nationalism. I know it feeds off the beating drums of war. And I know that most fascist leaders are elected. But I don’t know what it feels like to live under it. It’s a virus my body has never encountered, never had to fight off.
What would a fascist government look like today?
Would it build walls and close its borders to ‘others’?
Would it create an internal security apparatus so tight that every element of our lives fell under surveillance? Would it seek to stop dissent by singling out dissenters, targeting independent media, and pushing ‘alternative facts’? Would it force its version of ‘legal’ on judiciaries by firing those who thought it otherwise? Would it, in short, seek to make the power of the executive absolute? And would it then use its military to further its own ends, at home and abroad, a rallying cry to bring the armchair legions in line? All the while, would it invoke the God of love, light and national security in all that it does?
I ask because fascism is essentially revolutionary in nature, and the western world – if nothing else – is in the midst of a revolt. I ask, too, because patriotism and national loyalty are unrivalled motivators of hate.
Here, the vote out of Europe. In the States, Trump’s walls and entry bans. In Israel, the walled-in mentality fed from the top. In Germany, a million immigrants now blamed for all its ills. In France, Le Pen’s anti-Islam argument, which has already seen her win, regardless of whether she ends up in the Élysée Palace. Islamist terrorists, who hate above all else the west’s traditions of coexistence and tolerance, are having a field day.
Finally, and most importantly, I ask because every Holocaust Memorial Day we say ‘never again, never forget’. But we cannot forget something we have never known, never had to fight off. How many Jewish youngsters would know fascism if they saw it? Even if they knew it, would they fight it? Or would they acquiesce, even if their government was as above described? If they’d stand back, head down, what would be their final straw? Would they, say, put up with a ban on public demonstrations against the government, issued in the interests of ‘public order’? Would they go along with the online censure of ‘wrong’ opinion, instigated for the same reasons? Would all be well, so long as Jews and Israel weren’t taking a bashing?
Assuming no fascist government were ever to call itself such, at what point would these Jewish youngsters call it out? Or would they not, if they were doing OK out of it? Would they, in fact, welcome such a government, if its enemies were also their enemies? It would not be unheard of. Britain’s fascist leader Oswald Mosley started his movement with prominent Jewish followers.
I plan to ask these Jewish youngsters what they think fascism looks like today, and what they’d do about it, if the schools will allow me, and I will feedback their answers. Because I can think of few more important things for the community to understand right now.
In the meantime, those who want to refamiliarise themselves with the F-word need look no further than the Jewish experience itself.
But hurry. There is a reason why Hannah Arendt’s 1951 book ‘Origins of Totalitarianism’ has been flying off the shelves of late.