Fascism by the numbers

As a follow-up to my recent post Is It Too Late to Stop Fascism in the US?, I worked from the definition of fascism proposed by Robert Paxton.

There are several other definitions of fascism, many of which are listed on the Wikipedia entry Definitions of Fascism. I’ve decided to go through the definitions that include specific lists of criteria and see which of them the United States fits.

I’ve made the case before that when Ronald Reagan signed the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Officials Act, he was quietly declaring martial law and creating a police state (and that the US has never really lived up to its liberal democratic ideals). I’m sure those with more knowledge of the right-wing populist movement of the 70s that culminated in Reagan’s election and with the Reagan administration itself could make the case that fascism, under many standard definitions, actually started then. I have more knowledge of the conteporary politics, so I’m focused mostly on the actions of the Bush administration, and to a lesser extent, the Obama administration.

I should also note that by the definition many of the pro-capitalist right wing definitions of fascism, which essentially equate fascism with the left, the entire world is fascist and the US was has been fascist at least since the New Deal. Still, I focus here on elements from contemporary America. For the most part, I’m considering business interests (especially Wall Street), right wing media (especially Fox News and talk radio pundits), the “Tea Party” Movement, the Republican Party, and to a lesser extent the Democratic Party to be one loosely connected coalition (even though some of them often fight amongst themselves).

John T. Flynn’s list

1. Anti-capitalist, but with capitalist features;

Mostly missing (though there are some anti-capitalist elements. Change it to “anti-socialist, but with socialist features” and then we’ve got a match. I think this is fair because 1) What we’re seeing is NOT an authentic capitalist movement, at least as Flynn would define it 2) Mussolini used the terms “state capitalism” and “state socialism” interchangeably.

2. Economic demand management…

3. …through budget deficits

Check and check.

4. Direct economic planning, reconciled with partial economic autonomy through corporatism


5. Militarism and imperialism


6. Suspension of rule of law.


Stanley G. Payne’s itemized list of characteristics of fascism

the creation of an authoritarian state


a regulated, state-integrated economic sector


fascist symbolism

Recursive definition.


This is less obviously a “Check” than it seems. During the 20s and 30s, “liberalism” more likely meant what today we’d call libertarianism or individualism (though social liberalism was already beginning). But, still, check.




Missing. Mostly because this round of fascism is in the guise of conservatism.

Umberto Ecco’s list

“The Cult of Tradition”


“The Cult of Action for Action’s Sake”


This one is confusing, but Wikipedia helpfully clarifies: “This, says Eco, is connected with anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, and often manifests in attacks on modern culture and science.”

Check Check and Check.

“Disagreement is Treason”

Check and check.

“Fear of Difference”

Check, check, check

“Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class”


“Obsession With a plot”

Check and check

“Pacifism is Trafficking With the Enemy” because “Life is Permanent Warfare”

Check and check.

“Contempt for the Weak”

I’m not even sure where to begin with this one. Check.

“Selective Populism”





Here are the characters from above that fit modern America:

Economic demand management through budget deficits
Direct economic planning, reconciled with partial economic autonomy through corporatism
Militarism and imperialism
Suspension of rule of law
the creation of an authoritarian state
a regulated, state-integrated economic sector
The Cult of Tradition
The Cult of Action for Action’s Sake (along with anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, and attacks on modern culture and science).
Disagreement is Treason
Fear of Difference
Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class
Obsession With a plot
Pacifism is Trafficking With the Enemy” because “Life is Permanent Warfare
Contempt for the Weak
Selective Populism

Here are the missing characteristics:

Anti-capitalist, but with capitalist features
fascist symbolism (technicality, due to recursive definition)


  1. Awesome rundown. Especially powerful thanks to your links supporting each assertion. This is good stuff.

  2. I think it’s dangerous to equate Reagan with fascism. If you do that, there’s no qualitative difference between the Reagan movement and Hitler, or the fascist movement that is coming on the horizon. All authoritarian, right-wing governments are NOT fascism. I would urge you and everyone else to read Trotsky’s work on the matter. In particular, pay attention to his discussion of the dangers of saying that all right-wing authoritarian governments are “fascist” and how that disarms people fighting fascism.

    The Reagan movement certainly was ultra-rightist, but to characterize it as “fascist” is oversimplistic and dangerous. I’d even say that it’s the ideological and sociological seed of what we face now. But it’s NOT the thing itself.

  3. Nick – you’re right that there’s a danger in calling all ultra-right authoritarian governments “fascist” is problematic and dangerous (I’m sticking with “police state” to describe America from Reagan’s election up to TARP).

    Re: comparing Reagan to Hitler – how many black people were killed or imprisoned thanks to Reagan’s militarized drug war? Maybe not as many Jews as under Hitler in Germany, and not in the same circumstances (Reagan at least had to justify their imprisonment as being for drugs, not merely for “being black”), but it’s grim enough that I think the comparison of Reagan to fascist leaders is at not wildly disproportionate.

  4. FWIW, the missing “smoking gun” for the Reagan administration may be the extreme “nation above all else” mentality, at least at the top of the pyramid. This is missing now under the Obama administration as well. But if you look to right-wing media leaders, like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, it’s more present.

    Does anyone have a name for this more emergent form of fascism-esque political system?

  5. Sorry Klint, I don’t have an erudite comment to add to the conversation. I think you did a fantastic job writing it all out and taking the time to get it right.

  6. The imperial eagle, used by both the Italian Fascists and the Nazi party, are part of American political symbolism. As is the Fasces, source of the name fascism.

  7. One thing to remember though…If we were living under any of the historical regimes that we’ve been discussing, we wouldn’t be having this conversation unless it was in whispers in someone’s basement. Fascism may be on its way, but it isn’t here yet. You’ll know when it is truly here. Someone will knock on your door and tell you. Which is not to say that anything is OK, just that the ship is not yet completely underwater. Just keep trying to push back, keep communicating, and, as the saying goes, keep your powder dry.

  8. I don’t think we are living under fascism, I just think that all the component elements are in play.

    We have the nitroglycerin mixed… don’t jostle it.

  9. Bill – I don’t think the big “They” need to stop people like us from talking on the Internet about what we think of them. Noise is the new censorship.

    See also




  10. On the subject of “fascist imagery” I think the Gadsden flag qualifies: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gadsden_flag

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