What is fascism? That question is hotly debated and massive in scope. Many would argue that efforts to find a definitive answer to it are destined to fail and counter-productive. But just the act of asking ourselves this question very thoroughly will allow us to understand fascism better. And we will be able to say confidently what fascism is not. In 1964, in the context of a U.S. Supreme Court decision about whether or not to ban pornography, Justice Potter Stewart declared himself unable to define that concept but added that ‘I know it when I see it’. In a similar spirit, this series of articles seeks give the reader all the necessary information so that they will be able to recognize fascism ‘when they see it’.
The emergence of the internet as space in which worldviews are shaped has made such an awareness more necessary than ever. False information is easily circulated and distributed to large amounts of people. Social media platforms and the algorithms underlying them aid the evolution of echo-chambers in which confirmation bias and cumulative radicalization flourish. While the internet enables us to connect with each other and communicate instantaneously over great distances, these benefits have come at the cost of real human interactions and genuine interpersonal relationships. The resulting process of social atomization has left people sad and frustrated, and thus vulnerable to the appeal of destructive political demagoguery.
Because of this, accounts which portray fascism as primarily a ‘state’-phenomenon are not fully instructive. Fascism appears unique, exotic and distant if it is said to consist chiefly of a set of policies devised and implemented by a small group of men in uniforms. This series acknowledges the roles of states and individual politicians in realizing fascism, without which an adequate historicization of the concept would be impossible. But, ultimately, fascism is not consigned to history, and that is because it is a condition of the human mind. To demystify fascism, we must also look at it as also a psychological phenomenon.
This series will begin by discussing historical incarnations of fascism and then ask whether it is sensible to make general assertions about ‘fascism’ as a theoretical concept based on commonalities between these incarnations. It poses the question of if and when fascism can be said to have ‘begun’ and ‘ended’. The middle part of this series discusses how and why fascism might appeal to the individual. In so doing, it hopes to dispel common misconceptions about the fascist mindset while also highlighting underexplored aspects thereof. This series’ final part is dedicated to discussing the implications of digitalization for fascism. That discussion will combine a survey of internet fascism with an analysis of how fascist strategies exploit structural features of the internet and digital media more broadly.
Unfortunately, it seems as though internet fascists aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Thus this series will receive regular updates exposing them and their strategies even after its historical and theoretical groundwork has been laid.