What exactly is Fascism?

Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from HowStuffWorks.com.

Josh Clark: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark.

Chuck Bryant: Fascist.

Josh Clark: Josh Clark, fascist, that's exactly what I was going to say, too. I was going to say, Chuck, you're always calling me a Fascist pig.

Chuck Bryant: Not true.

Josh Clark: Yes it is. Anyway, that's Charles W. Chuck Bryant.

Chuck Bryant: Hello.

Josh Clark: We're doing a podcast on Fascism today.

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: And as I was saying, Chuck is always calling me a fascist pig, but I don't know that that's necessarily accurate after I read this article, How Fascism Works.

Chuck Bryant: Well, you should stop giving speeches from your balcony above Atlanta.

Josh Clark: Shaking my hand, parting my hair to the side a little bit.

Chuck Bryant: And take down all the posters of you all over the place.

Josh Clark: Never. Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: You want to talk about fascism?

Chuck Bryant: Let's do it.

Josh Clark: Okay. So did you know - I was surprised to find this out - Benito Mussolini was the guy who actually created, pretty much created fascism. He definitely coined the term.

Chuck Bryant: Yes, he did.

Josh Clark: And this concept of fascism was drawn upon from ancient Roman techniques.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Military techniques.

Chuck Bryant: Plato.

Josh Clark: Plato, yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Nietzsche.

Josh Clark: Sure.

Chuck Bryant: Machiavelli.

Josh Clark: Of course, and I was surprised to find this out because he ended up strung up by his ankles with his throat slit, people kicking him in the head. He'd fall down after he was dead and they'd string him back up.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it didn't work out too well.

Josh Clark: No, it didn't. And really, he was kind of Hitler's lackey, really.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: I was surprised to find he was the guy who started fascism, but by God, he did.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, apparently he was a socialist until he got a hold of Nietzsche and then he was like whoa, this is where it's at.

Josh Clark: Yeah, Nietzsche has screwed a lot of stuff up in this world. I like him, personally, but you've got to take the guy with a grain of salt, you know.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: So as far back as what, 1922, Mussolini was starting to ruminate on fascism, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: What is it, Chuck? People throw this word around like its awesome or sweet or LOL. Have you noticed people use LOL to a ridiculous degree these days?

Chuck Bryant: No, but I do know that fascism is, I think - I can't remember who it was, but someone said it's the most misused word of our times.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: And I believe it.

Josh Clark: Or incredible.

Chuck Bryant: Right. But you hear Bush is a fascist, Obama's a fascist, Nancy Pelosi's a fascist, Dick Cheney's a fascist. None of them are fascists.

Josh Clark: All right.

Chuck Bryant: We're not going to debate that here.

Josh Clark: I though that was a nice sprinkling of liberals and conservatives in there though.

Chuck Bryant: I should throw in a Tea Party member to cover all my bases. Josh, it comes from the word, fascicule, Italian, meaning bundle.

Josh Clark: You're not going to say it with an accent?

Chuck Bryant: Fascicule.

Josh Clark: Nice.

Chuck Bryant: Then previously the Latin root, fasces or fasces.

Josh Clark: I take it as fasces.

Chuck Bryant: Fasces, and that is a bundle of sticks tied to a single ax and that kind of says it all.

Josh Clark: It is. It's pretty much; again, Mussolini has a master stroke. This is a perfect descriptor of what fascism is.

Chuck Bryant: The state is the ax.

Josh Clark: Yeah, which can chop and crush?

Chuck Bryant: And the people are the sticks.

Josh Clark: And the people are the bundle of sticks that support the head.

Chuck Bryant: Right, or break.

Josh Clark: Depending. Fascism has a tendency to push people to the breaking point, doesn't it?

Chuck Bryant: I would say so.

Josh Clark: Although, fascism also kind of brings out the absolute worst and conformists in human beings, as well.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: So fascism is basically the opposite of democracy. The whole point is the state. There is no individualism.

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: There is no -

Chuck Bryant: No capitalism, really.

Josh Clark: No, no, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's communist.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And actually communism and fascism are opposite sides of the coin.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: To a lot of - at least economically.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, yeah.

Josh Clark: Right, 'cause with communism, it's -

Chuck Bryant: One social class.

Josh Clark: Right, and with fascism, there are very distinct social classes that you cannot get out of.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, if you're in a social class under fascism, then be prepared to stay there.

Josh Clark: Right and another defining characteristic of fascism is that the whole point of the state is war.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: It's based on natural selection, Darwinian evolution.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: Where the state's entire existence is to wage and win war, and it's survival of the fittest. So everybody is out there waging war.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And if you lose, well then you are naturally selected. You're absorbed by another state. You're conquered. You're subjugated. And the state that did the subjugating was selected as the fittest. It was the strongest. So the entire point of the state is to wage war.

Chuck Bryant: Imperialism, baby.

Josh Clark: Yeah, it's pretty rotten stuff, really. And Mussolini put it that, "War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the people's who have the courage to meet it."

Chuck Bryant: Right, what a jerk. But you know it was a rallying point. People got into it for a while.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and how? You wonder how can some guy come along and say you have no individualism. Everything your mommy told you about how great and unique you are and your little snowflake is wrong, and your entire purpose in life is to support the glory of the state, which is going to go wage war, indiscriminately. How do people get duped into this? How do they follow along?

Chuck Bryant: I'll tell you how, buddy.

Josh Clark: Okay.

Chuck Bryant: One thing that fascists preyed on, and we say preyed because it's not strictly defined. Fascism isn't really around any more, although there are tendencies in smaller groups. But as far as big time governments, it's gone. But one thing they do, they take a nation in crisis. For instance, let's say Europe, after World War I. And they say we can return our country to its former glory. All you have to do is buy into it. So people have got to buy into it at first. It can't be done with the iron fist, initially.

Josh Clark: Right, and the way they buy into it is the people are already suffering, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: So a lot of people blame the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I for eventually leading to World War II. There was a lot of restriction placed on the losing nations. Their normal working class people in countries like Germany suffered tremendously. And they had to repay, to rebuild nations that they went to war with. And there was no trust, whatsoever.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: So it was kind of a bad treaty, actually. But it did set the stage for fascism, right?

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: So you've got the people who are suffering and you're saying you've got to buy into it. What are they buying into?

Chuck Bryant: Well, they're buying into the state and only the state. And everything you do is for the good of the state.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: That pretty much sums it up.

Josh Clark: And a lot of times, it's based on some sort of idealized past, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, yeah.

Josh Clark: Which, again, after World War I, that made it easy because this nation, like Germany, was suffering tremendously. And so they were saying well we used to be great, we need to reclaim our superiority.

Chuck Bryant: Right, even if they weren't great, it doesn't matter.

Josh Clark: No, because -

Chuck Bryant: [Inaudible] as long as they buy into it.

Josh Clark: Right, yeah, like the 50s.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: And also, there tends to be one ethnic group that is singled out as the important one and everything else is being - every other group is dragging this one group down and they need to be dealt with.

Chuck Bryant: The master race, in the case of Germany, for sure.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and that's where we come to the difference between the capital F and the lowercase F, right, as far as fascism goes.

Chuck Bryant: I didn't know this. Apparently Mussolini's is capitalized and Hitler's is not.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: And he was probably pretty angry about that.

Josh Clark: I would think so, too.

Chuck Bryant: He wanted a capital F.

Josh Clark: Yeah, he got angry a lot. Mussolini's fascism was largely based on going and waging war, just for the hell of it, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: Just to show the glory of the state. Hitler's conquests actually had a method to the madness, right?

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: His was basically based on furthering the Aryan race through conquests.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. I've got a cool quote for you.

Josh Clark: All right.

Chuck Bryant: This Italian fascist philosopher, who knew? Oddly enough his name is Giovanni Genteel. He says, "Mankind only progresses through division and progress is achieved through the clash and victory of one side over another."

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: So basically you can't progress unless you are dividing people and conquering. So there you have it.

Josh Clark: That's what my dad always said.

Chuck Bryant: And his name is Genteel.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Or Genteel.

Josh Clark: Nice. Thanks, Chuck. I was looking forward to this one because I knew that you'd bust the Italian accent out.

Chuck Bryant: Well, you know, it's in my blood.

Josh Clark: There's another characteristic that we didn't mention, and it's authoritarian leadership, right?

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: You've got Mussolini. You've got Hitler. They had these cults of personalities surrounding them.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's really important.

Josh Clark: And they come to embody the state, right, so you can pretty much interchangeably say everything you're doing is for the glory of Germany or everything you're doing is for the glory of Hitler. They're pretty much interchangeable.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's why they had their flags and their posters all over the place.

Josh Clark: Right, which they loved their posters.

Chuck Bryant: They do or did.

Josh Clark: There's also a tremendous amount of violence in these societies, as well.

Chuck Bryant: You can't have war without violence.

Josh Clark: You can't have - well not only that, it's not - domestically, you also had violence. So in addition to say Hitler's process of the final solution where he's furthering the Aryan race by murdering anybody who is not a member of it, there's also - there's domestic violence for anyone who speaks out, any resistance movements, anything like that, they're going to be crushed.

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: You're not supposed to wage war, indiscriminately, for the glory of the state. You're really not supposed to turn on your own people.

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: Right?

Chuck Bryant: Frowned upon.

Josh Clark: Most decidedly. So what's life like if you are one of those people who would have passed the Milgram experiment with flying colors and are just waving flags and happy as can be to see Mussolini's Il Duce car driving past.

Chuck Bryant: Well, it's not a very happy place because Mussolini flat out rejected what he called the myth of happiness.

Josh Clark: Yeah, he did, didn't he?

Chuck Bryant: And it's not a good place if you're a woman because the only thing you are, under a fascism regime as a woman, is a little fascist maker. They don't want you working or anything. They want you making little fascists.

Josh Clark: And the youth are accentuated in this society.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, survival of the fittest.

Josh Clark: It is survival of the fittest, but also the youth make the best soldiers.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And they're also the leaders of tomorrow, so if you indoctrinate them throughout their lifetimes, beginning at an early age, they're going to have the same ideals.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Right?

Chuck Bryant: It's also not very good if you're gay.

Josh Clark: No, it's not.

Chuck Bryant: Because aside from Hitler and the gang thinking it's like mass perversion, it's also you can't make little fascists.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: So that was no good.

Josh Clark: I didn't know that. Is that why homosexuals were targeted so much?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, sure.

Josh Clark: Under Hitler and Mussolini?

Chuck Bryant: Well, for both those reasons. They thought it was perverse and then you can't make baby fascists, so what good are you.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: But Hitler thought it could be cured. Mussolini just outlawed it, all together.

Josh Clark: There's also lots of rallies, parades.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: Like you said, posters everywhere. It's ubiquitous, the sentiment of fascism, everything for the state and the leader. They're everywhere you go. So if you're 16, 17 and you're courting, you're going to go to a state parade.

Chuck Bryant: Fun.

Josh Clark: State holiday. They tend to take on a religious quality, right, because there's no religion but nationalism.

Chuck Bryant: Well yeah, that's a little tricky because they reject religion in a lot of ways, but in the article, it pointed out Mussolini, in Italy, clearly cannot reject Catholicism because that's where it's rooted. So he would kind of use the church to his advantage when it worked for him.

Josh Clark: And Hitler did a lot the same as well, right?

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: Yeah. He was a protector of the church.

Chuck Bryant: Right, so they say.

Josh Clark: God, these guys were crazy. Luckily, this whole - this fascism didn't take off all that well.

Chuck Bryant: No, it tried.

Josh Clark: It basically had a pretty short run, 1918 to 1945 was the height of it, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's not very long.

Josh Clark: This is where you find the fascist states in Germany, Italy. Romania had one, pretty much.

Chuck Bryant: Yes, Spain sort of did.

Josh Clark: Spain did, yeah, when Franco led the revolution, he was colluding with the fascists, but they apparently weren't organized enough or widespread enough to really come on as the functioning government. So he just took on, he adopted some of their fascist values in Spain.

Chuck Bryant: You know what? I think one of the coolest things is why it didn't work out was the reason it shouldn't work out is people started to say wait a minute, genocide probably isn't a very cool thing to do. And violence and mass murder, we're kind of bad guys now, and I don't know if I like that.

Josh Clark: Right, we're sick of the shock troops.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, exactly.

Josh Clark: Just cracking our skulls for smiling because happiness is a myth, an absurd myth, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yes, and so after World War II, the chaos is gone, which they depend on that kind of chaos to rally the people.

Josh Clark: Right and fascism was seen, even before World War II or during World War II, as leading the world to war. These guys were just conquering nations, like going out and invading other nations that were nearby for whatever reason. And they had to be stopped, which is why World War II, I think, is viewed as such a positive war. They were such clear mind bogglingly distinct bad guys.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, yeah.

Josh Clark: Right?

Chuck Bryant: The world was at risk.

Josh Clark: The rest of the world was like we're going to take you down, and they did and fought well together. It was, as far as wars go, a pretty great war.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, we're not war guys, obviously, the kind of wars we wage today. But back then, I think I would have grabbed my musket. No wait, probably not a musket.

Josh Clark: You would have been really in trouble had you gone to the front lines of World War II with a musket.

Chuck Bryant: I would have grabbed my bolt action rifle, and I would have gone for Hitler.

Josh Cla rk: And won, yeah.

Chuck Bryant: I would have tried to.

Josh Clark: Yeah, I love Inglorious Bastards.

Chuck Bryant: I was just about to say that. I just saw it again this weekend.

Josh Clark: Yeah, that's a good movie.

Chuck Bryant: Awesome movie.

Josh Clark: Unfortunately, fascism didn't completely go away. Like you said, there are small pockets of movements around the world, right?

Chuck Bryant: Are we going to talk about skinheads?

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: These putzes? They're just stupid.

Josh Clark: I don't think we should give them any air time, whatsoever.

Chuck Bryant: Because you know what, there are such small pockets of morons out there that embrace this kind of thing these days, it's just silly.

Josh Clark: There is some neo-fascist sentiment that I found surprising. It's called Love of Difference.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Which is basically just racial separation, but with a different spin on it, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, they say being different is really great. That's why you shouldn't mix races.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: Not because one's better. We just like being different.

Josh Clark: Right, and being white.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, so those are kinder, gentler fascists, I guess.

Josh Clark: And there are. There's some markers that you can find in some governments. See if you can guess which ones we're talking about, governments that have anti-immigration laws.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: That's a check. Small progressive limitations on civil rights in the name of giving a democratic country greater security!

Chuck Bryant: Check.

Josh Clark: Isolationist foreign policy.

Chuck Bryant: No comment.

Josh Clark: And government intervention in the means of production to secure the state from shortages and economic downturns.

Chuck Bryant: Definitely no comment. Creepy!

Josh Clark: Yeah, so that's fascism, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: And it's still around here or there. I don't think that there is any pure form of government, is there?

Chuck Bryant: No, but like we said, there are these pockets of morons that embrace neo-Nazi's, that kind of thing. But I shouldn't completely dismiss them because they do act out in violent ways at times, Oklahoma City, obviously.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: So I don't want to make light of that. They do bad things.

Josh Clark: London had some bombings in 1999. I was thinking about that. London is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. It's a very progressive city. And it had bombings. It has bombings, sometimes.

Chuck Bryant: I know.

Josh Clark: That's pretty nuts.

Chuck Bryant: It is.

Josh Clark: Okay. So that's fascism. You want to learn more, see some creepy pictures of people smiling and waving flags as Mussolini passes by, and if you love to look at Hitler and hate him, you can find pictures of him in this fascist article, by typing fascism in the handy search bar at HowStuffWorks.com. So I guess it's listener mail time, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yes indeed, Josh.

Josh Clark: I feel dirty.

Chuck Bryant: Yes, Josh, I'm going to call this one, "How could we not mention Boba Fett." That's what we're going to call it. We heard from quite a few people on this in the bounty hunter episode because we failed to mention Boba Fett, who was arguably the coolest bounty hunter.

Josh Clark: He drove a Vette.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, did he? I didn't know that.

Josh Clark: Haven't you ever heard Fett's Vette?

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: [Inaudible], I'll send it to you.Chuck Bryant: So this is from our pal, Aaron, AC. He writes in a lot and he's a regular. I just got done listening to the latest joint, How Bounty Hunters Work and I'm appalled, appalled because I did not hear a single mention of Boba Fett, and then he types WA. Yeah, okay, so maybe he's fictional, allegedly. But come on, that's no excuse. During the ninja podcast, I sat through what seemed like ten minutes of you guys, (Josh), geeking out hard on the dossier credentials of action figures. So I know that's not it. So come on, how about a shout out for Boba. I think he deserves it. Dog and his mulleted militia ain't got nothing on the Fett man. And I would agree.

Josh Clark: I would too.

Chuck Bryant: So we did mention Boba Fett. We wanted to acknowledge that. And he also says, "Speaking of Boba Fett, in honor of his anticlimactic afterthought of a death scene in Jedi, I'd like to offer a podcast suggestion, "How the Wilhelm Scream Works." Have you ever heard of this?

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: I'd never heard of it either. But it is awesome. It was this scream that a sound engineer recorded for a movie, in I think the 1940s. Man dies by alligator was what it was called. And it has since been used, the exact clip, in over 200 movies since then. It's like an in joke with sound engineers.

Josh Clark: Really?

Chuck Bryant: The Wilhelm scream, I can't believe I never heard of it. So he asked if we can play one, and I think, Jeri, we can probably rustle up a Wilhelm scream.

Josh Clark: Should we play one now?

Chuck Bryant: It sounds a little something like this.

Josh Clark: I can't wait to hear what that sounds like.

Chuck Bryant: It's really funny, actually. And after you hear it, you notice, oh wow, I've heard that before.

Josh Clark: I hope I do.

Chuck Bryant: So thank you, Aaron.

Josh Clark: I'm going crazy here. It just played and I still don't know what it sounds like.

Chuck Bryant: We just want to thank Aaron for educating me on a movie thing. I can't believe I didn't know this popular movie thing.

Josh Clark: Nice.

Chuck Bryant: I think Jeri knew it.

Josh Clark: Nice.

Chuck Bryant: And now you know.

Josh Clark: I do, and knowing is half the battle.

Chuck Bryant: That's right.

Josh Clark: If you have any obscure movie archania, actually archania of any variety, we're always very interested in that. Wrap it up in an e-mail, spank it on the bottom and send it to StuffPodcast@HowStuffWorks.com.Announcer: For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit HowStuffWorks.com. Want more How Stuff Works? Check out our blogs on the HowStuffWorks.com home page.