ICDG Fascism Panel Discussion

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Is it fair to use the term “fascism” to describe populist movements?

What is fascism? Do we throw the term “fascism” around too lightly? Do the right-wing movements around the world today deserve to be called “fascist?” These are a few of the questions that a panel of three professors, hosted by the Informed Citizens Discussion Groups, discussed last Wednesday, April 19.

Drs. David Chappell, Kathleen Tipler and Mitchell Smith began the discussion by defining fascism, a term that is not simple to pin down. The panel mentioned several recent events and elections and decisions, particularly in Turkey and France. Does Turkish President Erdogan count as a “fascist?” What about right-wing French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen? Though these leaders display some of the characteristics of fascism, Chappell and especially Smith argued that we must be very careful about whom we label “fascist.”

I was surprised to find out that fascism is not a broad term, but a rather narrow one that really only applies to political movements in Germany and Italy in the 1920s and 30s. Smith and Chappell argued that its definition is too specific to encompass much else, and that because we have so few historical examples of fascism, it is unfair to use the term to describe many political movements at all.

I was surprised to find out that fascism is not a broad term, but a rather narrow one that really only applies to political movements in Germany and Italy in the 1920s and 30s. Smith and Chappell argued that its definition is too specific to encompass much else, and that because we have so few historical examples of fascism, it is unfair to use the term to describe many political movements at all. I partially agree with Smith and Chappell that we must be careful to be precise with our language, since fascism is not a simple matter. I also partially agree with Tipler – the term “fascism” is a helpful one to mention to describe some of the characteristics of current political movements around the world.

Woody Guthrie famously put the message “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar. This slogan represents the anti-fascist ferment of the 1960s, as the panel mentioned.

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