“Fascist” has long been a go-to pejorative to describe political enemies, especially for leftists like myself – I recall using it as a youth against hard libertarians like Mike Harris, even though they bore basically no similarity to fascism beyond the bare fact of being right-wing. But in those days there were very few politicians who had the authoritarianism or nativism characteristic of historical fascism. Today there are more – but it’s still rare for them to call themselves fascists. The word isn’t going to go away, and, it appears, neither are the new more-fascist-like breed of politicians and voters. So it’s probably helpful to think on what historical fascism actually was – the people who once actually called themselves fascists.
I got an education on historical fascism in Lisbon a few years ago, when I visited the Aljube Museum of Resistance and Freedom. The museum was devoted to the dark years 1932-1968 when Antonio de Oliveira Salazar ruled the country, and to the heroic struggles of citizens to fight against his rule – a difficult task when his authoritarianism went as far as the confiscation of typewriters. Salazar had everything I would have considered the hallmarks of fascism: he took dictatorial power over the government with no checks and balances; his não discutimos speech proclaimed there would be no debate over any ideas guiding the country; he had secret police spying on the people to stamp out dissent. None of this surprised me as I read it, until I read one additional thing:
The Fascists opposed Salazar.Continue reading