The face of 21st century fascism

24 02 2022

Fascism, as defined by those who study it, typically includes three key elements: a perception of deep historical grievance and/or a belief that the modern world is in some way irredeemably decadent; a desire for vengeance and/or national, collective, and/or historical ‘rebirth’ (‘palingenesis’ is the scholarly word for that); and submission of individual will to collective will, often though not always embodied in a cult of the leader or ruler. Modern fascism, as we saw last century, is also industrialized and technological; it mass produces its victims.

The first two elements have become more and more obvious in Putinist Russia. Putin has built on a deep sense of historical grievance, and his desire to rebuild Russia in all its former “glory” has been often articulated, not least in his speeches this past week. Up until yesterday, however, Putin’s fascism (like Trump’s) has been debated, but generally not admitted.

Fascism’s presence, since the end of the second world war, has seemed mostly individual — with lone killers committing mass murder in Oslo, Christchurch, El Paso, and elsewhere — or small-scale and cellular, with neo-Nazis found everywhere, from the US to Germany, France, Ukraine, and beyond, but nowhere near attaining power. (Whether ISIS and its kin in the Muslim world qualify as forms of fascism has also been debated, without clear resolution.)

Putin’s decision to use the second largest military in the world to achieve his palingenetic goals in ways that threaten millions of people has, I believe, changed the landscape of contemporary fascism. Many fascists and ultra-rightists have looked to Putin as a potential savior of the world against liberalism, globalism, and western “decadence.” The war in Ukraine can now be seen as Putin’s decisive response. That he claims he is “denazifying” Ukraine is, of course, completely consistent with fascism’s predilection for the “big lie.”

We now see the face of 21st century fascism: deeply aggrieved, cold and calculating, and starkly technological. This is our new world.



One response

25 02 2022
Bron Taylor

Well said

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