A BUNDLE OF STICKS
But people throwing these terms around so freely and without care lessen and corrupt their true meaning. It's an easy insult, a thought-free attack that has the immediate intended impact of putting someone on the defense or making them seem bad, like using a racial epithet. You can just use the one word and with it comes a huge amount of baggage and presumed meaning, applicable or not. What happens to the memory and horror of the third Reich if we use it to describe anyone we disagree with or dislike?
In actuality, what most people mean when they use these terms is simply tyranny or dictatorship. Before Hitler, that's what people used. They don't mean specifically the Axis in WW2, they don't really mean that the moderators of the Hello Kitty message boards are actually nazis, but it's a cheap, easy word to attack them for daring to interfere with your activities.
Although Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Falangist Spain were all tyrannies, that was not the defining characteristic of their regimes. The Soviet Union, Idi Amin's Uganda, Napoleon's France, and many other nations were also tyrannical dictatorships. Nazism was a subset of this, not the definition of it. As Montesquieu says, the defining characteristic of a tyranny is fear, fear of the government, control by fear, and fear of an enemy. No government can abuse it's people and maintain power unless they fear it's power more than they hate it's abuse.
A primary enemy is required as well, an enemy that people can turn their anger, frustration, and helpless rage against rather than the government. Not enough food? Jobs scarce? Friends dragged off in the night? It's because of the enemy, they are destroying our crops, blockading our imports and poisoning our food supply so it had to be destroyed for the good of the people. That enemy is damaging our economy, and it's only by the tireless efforts of the beloved leader that we have any jobs at all - more are coming in the 7 year plan. Friends are dragged off in the night because they collaborated with the enemy, because they were the enemy, because they knew about the enemy, and some of them were actually kidnapped by the enemy, cowardly in their disguise as secret police. Blame the enemy; they are the source of all your woes, not the beloved leader.
Propaganda is critical to the success of a tyranny, as in 1984's Ministry of Truth where even history books were rewritten regularly to reflect the changing story from the government. Nothing that contradicts the main story of the tyrant can be allowed, no foreign news can be tolerated, no free exchange of ideas is permitted. In not very many years, people have heard only the one lie by the government so completely and with such little dissent or question that most begin to believe it at least at some level. Without a contrary viewpoint from any source, without any explanation but what the government permits, the official news is difficult to question or even doubt.
Do all these characteristics apply to Nazi Germany? Absolutely - but then, they apply to Soviet Russia, Communist China, and every tyrannical dictatorship since the beginning of human government. This structure was first perfected under Napoleon, although he was not the first to use such devices. The French government had a secret police that was terrifying to the populace, a charismatic leader to rally around, and enemies all about them: hated aristocrats and governments ruled by monarchs. The French news reported only what the government wanted the people to hear, foreign papers and writings were condemned and destroyed, and books were burned that contradicted the regime's viewpoint. And the French on the whole loved Napoleon for it.
When it comes to the fascist governments of WW2, the definitions need to be examined even more closely. Fascism and Nazism are used interchangeably, as if they are two ways of saying the same thing, like car and automobile. But these words have very specific meanings, and it is in understanding those meanings that we learn more about not only tyranny, fascism, nazism, and our past, but today. Using Fascism should mean something specific, not just a catchphrase for "someone exercising authority in a manner I happen to dislike."
Fascism comes from the Roman Fasces, defined at the University of Chicago in this way:
A bundle of rods (often accompanied by an axe, which symbolized power over life-and-death) carried by Roman officials as a symbol of authority. Under the Republic, the consul or praetor when starting on an expedition took his vows on the Capitoline Hill; if acclaimed imperator by his troops he decked his fasces with laurel, and on his return deposited the wreath upon the Capitoline Hill in the place where he had made the vows as a symbol of his successful fulfillment of them.This was a symbol of power, a device that denotes strength and success, authority. There is a 200 year old statue of Washington in Richmond Virginia that has a fasces under his left hand, because it was a historically recognized symbol of authority and leadership. This symbol was borrowed by Hitler's movement and used as the name for their philosophy.
And that is what fascism is, the philosophy behind the Axis, the ideas and worldview that was followed by Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco in their governments. Fascism is distinct from Nazism, which is the economic system used to govern. The Fascist held certain shared specific beliefs about life and the world which were the outgrowth of the intellectualism of the early 20th century. Such leaders as Margaret Sanger,Georges Sorel, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Georg Hegel were instrumental in the formation of fascist ideology, but so were the ideas of Charles Darwin and other late 19th century thinkers.
These thinkers rejected an absolute source of morality and good, rejected a creator God who one is responsible to, and rejected peace as weakness. A better society, they argued, was to be constructed not by liberty governed by virtue, but rather by strength exercised from above. Hegel, for example, argued that the state should create laws, not representatives of the people. He believed that people should sacrifice for the community, that the people as a whole were more important than individual liberties and rights. Hegel also argued that peace brings weakness and corruption in society, and that war brought society strength, purpose, and meaning. Sorel argued that societies without strong leadership willing to use violence would decay and become disorganized. Nietzsche utterly rejected all concepts of morality as weak and meaningless, and considered the "ubermensch" to be the man who understood everything was meaningless and was utterly unrestrained by pity, remorse, morality, or even concerns about life its self. Nietzsche theorized that there were two moral codes: the ruling class (master morality) and the oppressed class (slave morality). Nietzsche believed the ancient empires were developed from the master majority and the religious ideas and views grew out the slave majority.
From this mixture of rejection of morality and peace as weakness and violence and disregard for individual liberty as strength grew the Fascist philosophy. Rulers must be powerful, have no pity, and do what society needs, regardless of the bleating of the sheep. Strength is the most important characteristic, not virtue. The strength to take control, to destroy one's enemies, and to rule for the benefit of the whole. Religion and morality mean weakness, corruption, and failure in Fascism, the people should cling to a veneration of the strong men in their past, to the times when men were men and crushed their enemies without remorse, but faith and organized religion are hallmarks of decay and weakness in a society. Religion protects the weak, the handicapped, and the parts of society that drag the more ambitious down. So it is rejected.
Without a moral code or religion to govern behavior, all that was left was one's iron will to exercise power over others. Since there is no absolute basis all appeal to and try to follow, one is left to one's own devices to do what they feel is best. And under Fascism, all will follow the one strong leader who through violence and exercise of his strength dominates society and leads it to a desired end. Because ultimately, that's what relativism leads to: the most powerful exerting their will over others.
Will to Power this was called, from Nietzsche's writings. It was the concept of having the will to do what one desired and believed would work, which leads to power because one is not hindered by weak morality and concerns for others. For Nietzsche, the will to power was the dominant force in the universe, which all things exerted, whether to act as resistance to others (such as a rock) or as an effort (such as a lion eating a gazelle). This will to power for him explained the dynamic of everything that happened around him, and recognition of it was enlightenment.
Sanger and Darwin, however, represented the bulk of what Hitler did with Fascism in Germany. Darwin's theories of evolution were taken to a rational conclusion by Hitler in the form of a master race. If humans are continually evolving, then there will be a race of humans that is superior to the previous race, a better, more evolved human. This race will supplant previous humanity, and further ought to, because the previous humanity is weaker - and Fascism dictates the weak dominate and rule over the strong. For the good of humanity, Hitler argued, the lesser races should be weeded out - prevented from interbreeding with the master race and thus weakening the evolutionary strain. He wanted to help survival of the fittest along, to shove evolution with his will to power.
Margaret Sanger was one of the major proponents of eugenics, the idea that selective breeding could result in better people. For an example of this taken to extremes, read the Dune books by Frank Herbert. This selective breeding would weed out weaker and lesser traits while encouraging superior ones. For Sanger, this obviously meant darker skin had to go, being an inferior, less-evolved characteristic. Sanger's plan was "apply a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation" to those with "objectionable traits." She likened these people to "human weeds" and wanted to weed the garden of these traits.
Sanger turned to sterilization, abortion, and birth control as answers to this problem. She encouraged the use of abortion among south Europeans, blacks, the mentally retarded, and hispanics especially. But there were more: "illiterates, paupers, unemployables, criminals, prostitutes, dope fiends." Hitler embraced this and called for worldwide eugenics, with a strong leader using these techniques to better society and humanity at large. He saw a genetically pure master race as the hope for the future of the world, a master race unfettered by the weakness of morality and religion, unhindered by the weakness of pity, remorse, or sorrow. A race of supermen - ubermensch - was his goal, and he was willing to do anything to get to that point.
Fascism was the result of taking what was at the time modern cutting edge leftist intellectualism to it's logical end: a pure race ruled by an amoral people who were free to use strength to dominate for the good of mankind. To combat weakness and decay in society, strength and violence were seen as virtues. For the good of humanity, the genetically impure and weak had to be weeded out.
Now that we have clarified what fascism actually means and stands for, we can turn to Nazism. While fascism was the philosophy behind these tyrannies, Nazism was the government used by Germany, the economic system. This is a controversial area, but one that needs to be clearly understood.
The word "Nazi" comes from the official name of the party: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, commonly called the NSDAP or Nazi Party. In English, this is National Socialist German Workers Party, and that name was chosen on purpose. Not only was socialism very popular in Germany at the time - as was Communism, its ideological father - but the Nazi government controlled the economy and business.
Mein Kampf (the best-selling book in many middle eastern countries today - retitled Jihad in most printings as a literal translation of "my struggle") is Hitler's book on what he thought government ought to be like and how he came to these conclusions. In this, Hitler combined his Fascist ideology that great nations come from military power and his racial theories with a socialist economic system. He rejected democracy as weak and embraced a totalitarian state with a strong leader willing to do what was needed for the good of all. He considered states with mixed races impure and inherently weak, while a pure single master race was inherently strong.
Without question, the Nazi government controlled the economy. Permits were required from government for any business endeavor, and the military dictatorship controlled the production of many companies. Most business was directed toward military products, and the result was a hardy economy. Many economists argue that the recovery of the German economy was largely a result of steps taken by the deposed Weimar Republic, confidence among consumers was enormously increased by the rhetoric and patriotic fervor the Nazi government managed to engender which is always a potent force.
The Nazi government did not interfere much with big business such as I.G. Farben, but these companies required government approval for their activities and had to devote much of their efforts toward the war effort. Central government control of the economy and business was the hallmark of the Fascist influenced governments, but at the same time businesses were allowed to function largely unrestrained by regulation and worker's movements.
THE BIG QUESTION
So. Most people see Nazis as right-wing extremists. They say the continuum looks like this:
The idea being that communism is leftist thought taken to an extreme and nazism or fascism is right-wing ideology take to an extreme. But that's not exactly right - in fact at some point I intend to write something that shows that they both end up the same place when taken to an extreme. Communism is the acme of a lot of leftist thought in the early 20th century, but only some leftist thought. Other leftist philosophers of the time were relied upon by Fascism for their basis as I detailed above. Certainly rejection of religion, morality, and a heavy reliance on Darwinism and the socialist economic policies of the Nazi government (as well as Mussolini's Fascist Italian government and Franco's Spanish Falangist) are all leftist ideas.
However, calls to a glorious past, rejection of much modern art and leftist influence in culture, plus the destruction of worker's unions (although unions are a more communist concept than socialist), the embracing of big business at the expense of workers all are radical right wing ideas. Today, extremist right wing thinkers have embraced many nazi concepts, particularly Hitler's racial purity concepts.
Hayek's Road to Serfdom noted the socialist concepts and steps taken by the Nazi government, and certainly the Nazi party and the leaders were open about their socialism. Consider these points from the 25-point Nazi Party platform before they took power:
7. We demand that the state be charged first with providing the opportunity for a livelihood and way of life for the citizens.Hitler and the leaders were clear in stating their allegiance to socialism:
11. Abolition of unearned (work and labour) incomes. Breaking of rent-slavery.
12. In consideration of the monstrous sacrifice in property and blood that each war demands of the people personal enrichment through a war must be designated as a crime against the people. Therefore we demand the total confiscation of all war profits.
13. We demand the nationalization of all (previous) associated industries (trusts).
14. We demand a division of profits of all heavy industries.
15. We demand an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare.
25. For the execution of all of this we demand the formation of a strong central power in the Reich. Unlimited authority of the central parliament over the whole Reich and its organizations in general.
"There is more that binds us to Bolshevism than separates us from it. There is, above all, genuine, revolutionary feeling, which is alive everywhere in Russia except where there are Jewish Marxists. I have always made allowance for this circumstance, and given orders that former Communists are to be admitted to the party at once. The petit bourgeois Social-Democrat and the trade-union boss will never make a National Socialist, but the Communists always will."At Belmont Club, Wretchard has an extensive examination of quotes and ideals of the Nazis in Germany which points to their leftist leaning - especially by today's standards. But then, some of the things the Nazis said sounded very conservative as well.
"We are socialists, we are enemies of today's capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions."
"We are socialists, because we see the social question as a matter of necessity and justice for the very existence of a state for our people, not a question of cheap pity or insulting sentimentality. The worker has a claim to a living standard that corresponds to what he produces."
Ultimately, it's false to call the Nazis either leftist or right-wing. They took what they liked of either movement, and while Fascism is built on leftist ideas of the late 29th and early 20th century, leftist thought does not embrace these concepts so much any more. Certainly violence and strength are rejected for a more Gandhi-influenced philosophy by most leftists today.
The biggest mistake would be to consider nazis and fascists to be right wing extremists at the time. They were nothing of the kind. A similar mistake would be to call President Bush either a fascist or a nazi, as he categorically and clearly rejects almost every single ideal and point these men stood for, argued, and believed in. It is all too often that a lack of historical understanding combines with a mob mentality and sloth that makes calling names replace careful thought to produce ignorance and foolishness. Few times in our history have put this on display as in recent years. And misusing the evil of the fascists in our past, throwing about the words "nazi" and "fascist" without understanding their meaning and importance demeans the memory of what happened, cheapens their meaning, and reduces the horror of what they represent. Such a thing is irresponsible and a deliberate bastardization of language for one's personal ends.
*UPDATE: a few quick points. First, socialism is defined by a strong central government controlling the economy and people's lives as much as possible. Welfare, social security, government regulation of business, and so forth are socialistic in nature.
Second, Nazism is how Germany ran things, the Italians and Spanish had a different take on matters and Japan was not fascist at all (they were merely tyrannical). Spain had the Falangists, which blended fascism with some Roman Catholic Church teachings, while Italy was more pure fascism while neither shared the racist purity theories with the German fascists.