Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Fascism Works


A Fascist System
Fascist regimes use violent suppression to maintain control of the State. Mussolini inspects the "Shock Troops" of the Fascist Militia during celebrations in Rome.
Fascist regimes use violent suppression to maintain control of the State. Mussolini inspects the "Shock Troops" of the Fascist Militia during celebrations in Rome.
Keystone/Getty Images

The Fascist State is itself conscious and has itself a will and a personality…

- Mussolini, "Fascism," the Italian Encyclopedia, 1932

Fascism is notoriously difficult to define, because there is no single philosophy of fascism. Mussolini's brand of Fascism (capital "F") is not exactly like Adolf Hitler's brand of fascism (lowercase "f"), which is different from the skinheads' neo-fascist and post-World War II beliefs. Still, there are some core principles that can identify a fascist movement:

  • Survival of the fittest: Some fascist philosophers were influenced by the writings of Charles Darwin and his theory of natural selection. In the context of fascism, the State is only as powerful as its ability to wage wars and win them. The State is thereby selected for survival due to its strength and dominance. Peace is viewed as weakness, aggression as strength. Strength is the ultimate good and ensures the survival of the State.
  • Strict social order: Fascism maintains a strict class structure. In this way, it's the antithesis of communism, which abolishes class distinctions. Fascism believes that clearly divided classes are necessary to avoid any hint of chaos, which is a threat to the State. The State's power depends on the maintenance of a class system in which every person has a definite, unchangeable, specific role in glorifying the state. It's an absolute rejection of humanism and democracy.
  • Authoritarian leadership: The State's interests require a single, charismatic leader with absolute authority. This is the concept of Führerprinzip, "the leadership principle" in German -- that it's necessary to have an all-powerful, heroic leader to maintain the unity and unquestioning submission required by the fascist State. This leader often becomes a symbol of the State.

Fascist regimes are also typically violent. In fascist ideology, the State cannot achieve and maintain power without strict discipline and the complete unity of mind and body. In this way, physical violence is necessary to suppress anyone who stands outside the group and in the way of the State's power. The State's ever-increasing strength is, in effect, the meaning of life.

One might wonder, then, what life is like in a fascist society. How exactly does one live for the glory of the State? We'll learn how in the next section.


More to Explore