Monday, January 14, 2008

Could you define that please?

I do love my dictionary, but in this case, it is not much help.
Oxford Shorter, Vol.1, 1972 ed.)
[It. fascista, f. fascio bundle .] 1 One of a body of Italian nationalists organized in 1919 under Benito M. to oppose Bolshevism. Hence Fascism, their principle and organization.

But perhaps it is a hint that Oxford treats the word so literally. The word as it is commonly used at protests and as it is commonly flung at pro-lifers, and its actual definition seem to bear little relation to each other. Oxford's blandness actually supports my theory that the vocalization of the word is not actually the same thing as speaking a word at all; it is not a vocal representation of a real thing, but an incantation.

Let us suss it out a bit.

It comes, of course, from the Latin fasces for a ceremonial "bundle of rods with axe in the middle carried by lictor before high magistrate; ensigns of authority." (Oxford Concise) Carrying much the same symbolic meaning as the Mace in Parliament.

Wiki gives us:
The traditional Roman fasces consisted of a bundle of birch rods tied together with a red ribbon as a cylinder to include an axe amongst the rods. Symbolic interpretation of the fasces suggests that the rods represent the authority to punish citizens whereas the axe represents the authority to execute them...

So, it is much like the mace, that was there to remind of the authority of the state to whack you on the head if you misbehaved in the House.

Oxford Concise (1938...therefore and just as the word is gaining public currency and the world is starting to think that war with fascism is inevitable) gives us: "Principles and organization of the patriotic and anti-communist movement in Italy started during the great war, culminating in the virtual dictatorship of Signor Mussolini, and imitated by fascist or black shirt assocations in other countries."

Now Wiki, (bless em) gives us a more modern sense:
Fascism is an authoritarian political ideology (generally tied to a mass movement) that considers individual and social interests subordinate to the interests of the state or party. Fascists seek to forge a type of national unity, usually based on (but not limited to) ethnic, cultural, racial, religious attributes. The key attribute is intolerance of others: other religions, languages, political views, economic systems, cultural practices, etc. Various scholars attribute different characteristics to fascism, but the following elements are usually seen as its integral parts: nationalism, statism, militarism, totalitarianism, anti-communism, corporatism, populism, collectivism, and opposition to political and economic liberalism.

But the word "authoritarian" is relative (and let's not get started on "liberalism"). A lot depends upon whom one stands next to. To an anarchist (if there is such a thing) any state with a police force is a police state. Are pro-lifers fascists because we want abortion to be made illegal? Perhaps, but only if we are being called so by people who believe that totally unbridled anarchy is the same thing as freedom. Freedom to kill the innocent is not what I would call one of those best construed to create a just society.

But there's a little hint too. I am a fascist, but only when the word is being used by someone who thinks I am. It certainly is looking like the word as it is usually used, does not represent any real thing.

But that list of characteristics is interesting isn't it? Because of course, we usually think in rather simplistic left/right terms and fascism is Right with communism being Left. When we write about politics, we usually ascribe things like collectivism exclusively to the Left. But as we have been seeing more and more, those divisions, which are after all 200 years old, are becoming less helpful. The Left, as we used to identify it, is now getting itself bound more closely with big business (which should probably, in this age of multinational and transnational corporatism, be re-named something like "huge business" or "gargantuan business"). But business interests used to be associated mostly with the Right.

Well, we're getting into areas now that I don't know enough about to write anything very intelligent. But the word, or perhaps we should call it an 'unword', fascist seems to be going, along with everything else, in some interesting and unexpected directions.

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