Here is a challenge: Define fascism without reference to a historical event or proper noun.
It’s harder than it seems. Most people associate fascism with European dictatorships of the 1920s and ’30s. That is with good reason: those were the first fascist regimes.
The term itself originated in Italy to describe the political philosophy of Benito Mussolini, who borrowed from the Italian word fascio, literally meaning “bundle” (usually of rods or sticks). Mussolini used the term to mean a group of people who are stronger together than individually, such as how a bundle of sticks bound together is much more difficult to snap than any individual stick.
While most fascist regimes had racial or nationalist elements, it was not racism or nationalism that defined them; there have been plenty of racist or nationalist governing structures that do not merit the label “fascism.” Rather, the necessary ingredient for fascism is the state’s total domination of all aspects of life, including economic life.
Mussolini defined “fascism” as “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.” Consistent with this, the American Heritage Dictionary includes in its definition of fascism “a capitalist economy subject to stringent governmental controls.” By hook or by crook, and many times using violence, a fascist government will brook no dissent and will enlist all of the country’s institutions to further its ends.
During the Trump administration, the left took every opportunity to falsely claim that fascism was descending upon the land. But anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear knew those claims were outlandish.
There was plenty “outside the State” and “against the State” during the Trump administration (he is still banned on all major social media platforms, for example) and plenty of dissent. There were plenty of institutions that explicitly declared themselves in opposition to the aims of the government.
Nothing Outside of or Against the Regime
Fully cognizant of George Orwell’s quip that “Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable,’” I am becoming concerned that what many claimed to be happening under the Trump administration is becoming reality under the Biden administration.
I do not make that statement lightly. But events over the past several weeks suggest that the Biden administration, in concert with powerful American institutions, is working to ensure that there is nothing outside of or against the official government line.
Last month White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki admitted the administration works closely with Facebook and other social media companies to identify posts it deems objectionable. While Psaki claimed the White House does not “take anything down” or “block anything,” there would be no reason for the White House to point out these statements if not in the hope of social media platforms taking action against posts contrary to the government’s preferred narrative.
Also, more news continues to come out about how the Biden administration is coordinating with private businesses to further its agenda. According to Politico, the White House is “back channeling” with various media organizations about COVID coverage, particularly arguing that the media’s focus on breakthrough infections of people who have already been vaccinated undermines the administration’s efforts to get more people vaccinated. Relatedly, the New York Times has reported the administration “continues to pressure private companies to introduce coronavirus vaccine mandates to help the U.S. raise its inoculation rates.”
Using Private Businesses to Implement Policy
Regardless of what anyone thinks of the wisdom of the administration’s policies, it should be concerning to all to have the White House directly involved in the operations of private companies. This is especially true when the White House’s focus is on heavily regulated companies, such as broadcast networks. Those are the companies least likely to be able to resist government requests, which always carry the implicit terms of, “Nice business you got there; it would be a shame if anything happened to it.”
It is all the more troubling that the White House is leaning on private companies to do that which the federal government cannot do itself, namely censoring individuals from expressing opinions contrary to the government’s preferred message, and mandating that everyone in America take a certain medicine. This should concern everyone because once you have endorsed the idea that the federal government can and should use private businesses as a tool to implement policy it cannot establish through legal means, there is no limiting principle. Should the government “pressure private companies” to not hire women who have had abortions? Not hire anyone who supported Trump?
It is not enough to claim the administration is doing this only in response to the COVID emergency. Washington is full of programs that were instituted in response to an “emergency” that has well since passed. This fusion of government goals and private action will just find a new problem to solve. Today it is COVID. Tomorrow it will be climate change or systemic racism.
You do not need to take my word for it: in just the past few days the administration announced “goals” for the adoption of electric vehicles in the United States (why it is the federal government’s business to set “goals” for consumer behavior was left unsaid). Standing there right behind the administration were the largest automakers in the country, cheering on the policy so long as there were sufficient government-funded “investments” and “consumer incentives” (read: subsidies). This hand-in-glove cooperation between big government and big business is exactly the kind of “corporatism” that was an essential feature of fascist states of the past.
Erasing the line between government and private enterprise. Ensuring only government-approved messages are heard. Squashing dissent. Intruding government into every aspect of our lives. The Biden administration’s actions are nothing less than creeping fascism.
I pray that the administration, and the American people, recognize this and change course before it is too late.