Attribution of Fascism

I began writing this article on Saturday, December 10, 2016; I finished the next morning, Istanbul time. I wrote the first three paragraphs last. The planned breakfast did take place, quite pleasantly. The death toll in the bombing rose to 39. No matter how much I read drafts of my articles, I usually want to make changes after they are published. I made one such change visible in the first paragraph. After a friend left some comments, I made some other small changes. Again these are visible. Last I heard, the policy on Diaspora* is that published posts cannot be edited at all, because there should never be any question about which version of a post any resulting comments refer to. WordPress is not so strict, and in future I may just remove all signs of editing. There may not be any point in doing this in an essay that does not say everything that seemed worth saying at the time of writing. Better perhaps to leave the signs of work in progress. In any case, I shall retain access to the older versions.

Everything changes so fast, at least when one has an internet connection and a Twitter feed. As I try to wrap up this essay, I learn of a bombing outside a football stadium not too far from us here in Istanbul. Deaths are said to be in the teens, mostly of police officers. Twenty-nine persons are said to have died, all but two being police officers. Turkey has been in a state of emergency since the summer. Rescue vehicles had trouble getting through the normal traffic. The nearest hospitals are not operational.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump and his would-be appointees are called treasonous; but it is mainly liberals and lefties who are saying this. Russia was the big enemy when it was Communist; now some Republicans do not seem too concerned with its hold over Trump, while Democrats are reinventing the Red Scare.

If I hadn’t hooked up the internet connection, I would just be looking forward to a breakfast with friends later this morning, over on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. I expect this event to happen as planned, despite the bombing.

Now I just want to think a little bit about what fascism means, historically. It does seem to me that if Donald Trump has any ideology at all, it is fascism. Fascism is the doctrine that will guide his Presidency, if he is allowed to assume it. What this means is the main subject of this essay.


Also to be addressed is the question of my qualifications for saying such things. The short answer is that I have none in particular; but at least I shall be considering the words of some published sources, whose authority can be evaluated by the reader. One of these sources is George Orwell, born in 1903, who wrote in 1946, in Politics and the English Language,

The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies something not desirable.

Donald Trump represents something not desirable. One might say more. The Trump phenomenon is a kind of disease. However, the metaphor is misleading. Diseases have precise definitions; but fascism is not something to be identified by consulting a checklist.

Fascism checklists are going around. One by Umberto Eco is popular: I found it most succinctly presented on the blog We Hunted the Mammoth (whose title is an ironic allusion to a man who thinks women owe him something because of what other men accomplished in the past). Born in 1932, Eco lived through the fall of the original fascism: he ought to be able to recognize it. But he died this year, and a checklist is not a substitute for a person’s whole understanding.

I recall an incident in For Whom the Bell Tolls, whose author was born in 1899. An illiterate guerrilla is asked to mark down every fascist vehicle that passes by, but the marks fail to convey the crucial information of the type and condition of each vehicle.

If I have not remembered the scene quite correctly, be it known that I read Hemingway’s novel about thirty years ago. I do remember it well enough to understand an allusion by my grandfather Kenneth Crawford, born in Wisconsin in 1902. Like Hemingway, he was a war correspondent; unlike Hemingway, apparently, he did make it ashore with the troops on D-Day. Experiencing too closely an Allied bombardment of the Nazis in France, he soon ran into Hemingway and told him, You’re right, the earth does move! Wikipedia suggests currently that the allusion is to what is now a cultural cliché.

Born in 1889 in England, R. G. Collingwood was in Spain in 1931, when the Second Spanish Republic was founded. He saw

revolutionary movements everywhere going on. They were being conducted in the most orderly fashion. My friends and I never saw or heard of a single act of violence, or a single piece of evidence that such acts had been done. In one town we watched what we took for a religious festival, at which children in white were singing while their elders looked on, respectfully interested and perfectly quiet. Later, in a wine-shop, with the wireless relaying evensong from Canterbury cathedral, we asked our fellow drinkers what the festival was. Festival? said they. That was the Revolution.

This is from Collingwood’s Autobiography, whose preface is dated 1938. When Collingwood was in Spain, English newspapers were portraying the revolution as a violent affair.

The whole of An Autobiography is worth reading on the subject of Fascism, history, philosophy, and life. One point is easily summed up. Like democracy, Fascism is founded on the institution of private property. But whereas democracy aims at the good of a whole country, Fascism wants only the good of the capitalist class. Here Fascism agrees with Socialism in making a class distinction; but Socialism seeks the good of the working class. Unlike the capitalist class, the working class is not exclusive: everybody can and even should be a member. Thus socialism can be open about its aims; Fascism cannot.

Fascism was not capable of honesty. Essentially an attempt to fight Socialism with its own weapons, it was always inconsistent with itself. There was once a very able and distinguished philosopher who was converted to Fascism. As a philosopher, that was the end of him. No one could embrace a creed so fundamentally muddle-headed and remain capable of clear thinking.

That philosopher was Giovanni Gentile, according to James Connelly in Metaphysics, Method and Politics: The Political Philosophy of R. G. Collingwood (Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, 2003). This is one of two books on Collingwood that I requested from the publisher in return for reading another philosophy manuscript. Connelly says Collingwood carried on learning from Gentile long after Gentile’s conversion to fascism (p. 48). A footnote cites a writer on Gentile who detects his influence not only in Collingwood’s Speculum Mentis of 1924, but also in New Leviathan (1942), which the dying Collingwood wrote by way of contributing to the fight against the Nazis. Nonetheless, here are more of Collingwood’s words on Fascism in An Autobiography:

After the War the democratic system was threatened by two powerful rivals. There were two elements in that system, one of which was inherited by each rival. On a Lockian basis of private property the democratic tradition had erected a system of representative institutions designed to promote the good of the nation as a whole. But there existed, on paper since Marx formulated it, and in terms of political fact since the Russian revolution, a system having the same end but a different starting-point. The Socialists (I use the term as implying Marxian Socialism) agreed with the democratic tradition in aiming at social and economic betterment for the entire people, but proposed to achieve this aim through the public ownership of ‘means of production’. Then came Fascism in Italy and National Socialism in Germany, which agreed with the democratic tradition in making private property their first principle; but in order to preserve it they abandoned, not only the political institutions of democratic government, but also the aim of social and economic betterment upon which those institutions had been directed.

It does appear that Donald Trump is abandoning promises he made in order to be elected. Or perhaps draining the swamp is too vague to be considered as a promise. Building a wall or imprisoning Hillary Clinton are not promises that Trump ought to try and keep. Trump is apparently abandoning the political institutions of democratic government, if only in the sense of not caring to learn about them in the first place.

What then is to be done? Fascism does not lead inevitably to gas chambers. The Fascists in Spain could not be defeated militarily; but they could be waited out, as I recall from the account of Howard Zinn in his 1990 book Declarations of Independence. This was one of the books of mine in my mother’s house in Virginia that I could not keep after her death. After Franco’s death, Spain went back to being a democracy. Even Americans younger than I can remember having to live through Ronald Reagan’s Presidency; they may say that Trump’s Presidency can be lived through as well.

There’s no telling what can happen until it does. As a young person in the Reagan years, I experienced the terror of an imagined nuclear war. The war did not happen. But the fear had been real. In The Closing of the American Mind of 1987 (another book that I could not keep), Allan Bloom belittled the fear. He suggested (as I understood him) that the fear was normal adolescent anxiety about sex and love, having nothing to do with global politics.

And yet now that I am middle-aged, the old fear returns. Perhaps it should never have left, since the missles were still there; but Hillary Clinton was right to emphasize, A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.

To the old fear, Trump adds another: climate change. Since his election I happened to read an article in Esquire from July 7, 2015: When the End of Human Civilization Is Your Day Job: Among many climate scientists, gloom has set in. Things are worse than we think, but they can’t really talk about it. I was as depressed as I could remember ever being, for a day or so. Evidently I had a way of putting concerns out of mind though; the depression went away. And yet it hovers in the background, as a willfully ignorant man plans to allow other willfully ignorant men to burn what they want and spew forth what poisons they want.

The question may return that I raised at the beginning. Who am I to say that anthropogenic climate change is real?

After first being elected President of the United States, Barack Obama asserted,

Few challenges facing America and the world are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear.

The Cato Institute denied this. The denial is available from the Institute as a pdf file, but has been republished elsewhere in html. There are more than a hundred signatories, described collectively as scientists. I met one of them in Istanbul recently and enjoyed talking to him about various things. Only after several chats did he happen to reveal that he was a climate change skeptic. Professionally he was, like me, a mathematician. On the Cato Institute letter, his university affiliation is given, but not his specialty. I think this omission is unethical. To call us scientists is not wrong; but in a discussion of climate change, I don’t think the mathematician should presume to hold the authority of a scientist as such.

I am not sure what authority a professional political commentator like Michael Kinsley has. His column in the Washington Post on December 9, 2016, is called Donald Trump is actually a fascist. Considering first-hand accounts of Fascism like Collingwood’s, I think the assertion of Kinsley’s title is correct. Kinsley explains that Trump is a fascist,

in the sense of somebody who sincerely believes that the toxic combination of strong government and strong corporations should run the nation and the world…

The game has several names: Corporate statism is one. In Europe, they call it dirigisme. Those two other words for it—Nazism and fascism—are now beyond all respectability. It means, roughly, combining the power of the state with the power of corporations. At its mildest, it is intrusive regulations on business about parental leave and such. At its most toxic, it is concentration camps.

I would object mainly to the use of the word toxic, which used to be simply was once a somewhat technical synonym for poisonous, but is now used now where noxious would do just fine.

It is perhaps misleading to connect concentration camps to fascism, unless one points out that the American ideology of freedom can also produce such camps, or internment camps if you prefer, be they for Native Americans or Japanese Americans. Meanwhile, for the groups that Trump has attacked, or that his people disdain, I’m not sure, but perhaps the realistic fear would be of deportations, banning of abortion, and revocation of marriage rights, along with more murders by police.

A few weeks ago, I read a series of tweets by a woman from Iran, now in the United States, who explained how ordinary life, for most people, is not that different under a dictatorship. The United States may now only be coming to be like most of the rest of the world. Even if that it is only the best-case scenario, I might suggest as an expat that the scenario is not so bad. I do not suggest it, but one might do it so, with appropriate qualifications. If things were really bad, then I would be unable or unwilling to express myself as I am now. Meanwhile, the Higher Education Council has approved my university contract for another year. At least I have paid the tax for it, as requested by the Council. At the bank where I did this, workers were methodically counting and wrapping great stacks of fifty-pound notes.


  1. Posted December 11, 2016 at 5:24 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Republicans in Congress are quite upset about the intelligence findings that Russia tried to throw the election to Trump, and are planning extensive hearings.

    • Posted December 11, 2016 at 5:34 pm | Permalink | Reply

      So what does Gentile’s continuing influence on Collingwood, after Gentile’s conversion say to you about Collingwood’s writing in that period?
      Also the name I was expecting to see instead of Gentile was Heidegger.

      • Posted December 12, 2016 at 4:06 am | Permalink

        Nothing, since Connelly himself does not seem too concerned with spelling out what that influence is. But it is interesting that in An Autobiography Collingwood condemns the “realists” in part for rejecting the German philosophical influence found in the school of T. H. Green.

    • Posted December 12, 2016 at 3:58 am | Permalink | Reply

      I am glad to know that not all Republicans are of the mind of Trump. I tried to add an appropriate qualification to the text. When writing originally, I could not make a definitive summary of events of the previous 24 hours; I mainly wanted to recognize that things are happening fast.

  2. Posted December 11, 2016 at 5:37 pm | Permalink | Reply
  3. Arianne .
    Posted December 12, 2016 at 10:41 am | Permalink | Reply

    Naturally, I thought of you when I heard of the bombing outside the succor stadium. So glad for you to mention it and that you weren’t nearby. I agree with you on the USPE. Sigh Arianne

One Trackback

  1. By Fascism as Abetted by Realism « Polytropy on October 10, 2017 at 10:07 am

    […] Donald Trump was newly elected as President of the United States, I was moved to write here “Attribution of Fascism,” and one of my sources was Collingwood’s autobiography. Now I want to make available […]

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