Fascism is word that no longer has a useful meaning, mostly because the Left has made it the catchall term for anything they currently oppose. Even adjusting for that, no two academics can agree on a usable definition of fascism. Paul Gottfried, who has studied the subject more than anyone alive today, makes the point that fascism was a lot of different things, even to its advocates. It was an anti-movement, a reaction to and rejection of things like modernity, left-wing radicalism and bourgeois sensibilities of the age.
That’s not a fair rendering of Gottfried’s thoughts on the subject, but it is a useful starting point when thinking about the historical fascism. The book Fascism: The Career of a Concept is an excellent entry point into a topic for those interested in a sober minded history of fascism. An aspect of fascism that rarely gets discussed in the current age is its corporatism. Fascists, particularly Italian fascists, were strongly corporatist. Mussolini saw the state as something like an organism that transcended all institutions.
The most famous expression of this is the line from Mussolini’s Doctrine of Fascism, “everything in the state, nothing against the State, nothing outside the state.” The state not only provides the services expected of government, it provides the spiritual purpose for those in the state. The individual exists only in so far as his interests as an individual correspond with the interests of the state. The state is an organism that transcends individual consciousness such that the individual is entirely defined by his role within it.
This is often used as the description of totalitarianism, but that’s not a very accurate comparison. Bolshevism, for example, was indifferent to the spiritual life of the citizen, only focusing on the political and material life. That’s the striking thing about Italian fascism versus Marxist movements. It attempted to give purpose to the life of the citizen, beyond his material utility. Instead of viewing the citizen as an economic unit, fascism saw the citizen as a heroic part of the great struggle of the state against materialism.
Whiffs of this spiritual appeal can be seen in the modern managerial state. Politics is becoming all consuming. You cannot watch a movie or sporting event without being barraged with messages about “who we are.” Everything is cast as part of the great struggle. Trump sounds like an anachronism, because he talks about bread and butter issues, while the rest of the managerial elite focuses on esoteric topics like “who we are” and “our democracy.” By democracy, they mean the managerial system and culture.
It also shows up in the modern conception of the business enterprise. It’s not enough to have a job. It must give purpose to your life. It must be part of the great struggle that helps you reach your potential in service to the great cause. You see that in this story about a pseudo-company that has forced its employees to embrace vegetarianism. Read about the company and it he sounds like a religious mission. It used to be that businessmen only wanted to make money. Now all of them publish a manifesto and advocate a lifestyle.
It’s why rank and file employees of new style companies like Constant Contact feel the need to moralize from their cubicle. The young women doing this is not merely a bonehead functionary. She sees herself as committed to the cause of the company, which is a holy cause. It is not a place where she performs tasks for money. It is what defines her life as a person. Led by tech, the managerial enterprise is not just an employer to its hired help. It is the defining feature of their lives. Their job is to reach their potential as a person.
The historian Ernst Nolte described one aspect of fascism as “theoretical transcendence” which he called a metapolitical force. Fascism sought to go beyond what exists in this world, toward a new future that was free of the restraints on the human mind. It imagined a world that was free of class, poverty, ignorance and material restraint. That’s what the modern managerial enterprise preaches to its employees and customers. They are not just selling a service. They are changing the world, freeing us from this misery.
The bizarre nature of the modern enterprise, where it describes itself as a mission to change the world, is one result democracy. Democracy obliterates local institutions, leaving the citizen as a stranger to himself and his fellow citizens. The corporation fills this void by providing a structured environment where the employees share an identity and see one another as on the same team. The managerial enterprise becomes both the local community and the church for its people. It’s what provides them purpose and meaning.
The trouble is that a business is first and foremost about making a profit. Social activism keeps running up against the profit motive. Short of state sanctioned monopoly power, the corporate enterprise must compromise its values in order to make a profit. This is why democracy must favor monopoly. You see this with media companies, where the government encourages collusion and combination. You see it with Amazon. Everywhere it operates, it enjoys massive subsidies, as it obliterates all other forms of retail.
This back and forth between the growing cultural power of the corporation, but its greater dependence on the state for protection, results in a merging of the two. Walk around a government campus and you see the trappings of the modern corporations. College presidents now call themselves CEO’s, not because the college has become a business, but because both are now part of the great mission. The line between the state and the private sphere no longer exists, because it can’t exist for both sides to thrive.
This is why gun grabbers, for example, have turned to corporations to advance their agenda. The state failed to ban guns, so now banks, media companies and retail monopolists are stepping in to “solve” the problem. In the not so distant future, you will have the unfettered political right to carry a gun, but no one will sell guns because it is practically impossible. No “private” enterprise will do business with a gun maker or a gun retailer. Individual rights are worthless in a world where there are no individuals.