How Fascism Works

The Fascist Society

German dictator Adolf Hitler German dictator Adolf Hitler
German dictator Adolf Hitler announced a declaration of war against the United States to the Reichstag on Dec. 11, 1941. Wikimedia/Used Under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 License

... the [individual] is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone ...

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

While the fascist State is the center of the universe, the primary goal of fascism is social regeneration —the lifting up of a particular group of people. Regeneration is achieved through national unity and a rejection of individualism. This requires the people's initial support. A fascist regime generally gains this support by promoting a series of ideas through the media, public rallies and other forms of propaganda. These ideas include:

  • A nation in crisis: The State is in decline, and it's only getting worse. There are two primary causes for this decline — the variety of racial or ethnic groups in the State, which makes the State "impure" and weakens it; and a conspiracy by certain racial, ethnic or national groups to keep the State down.
  • An idealized past: The State is currently damaged but was once supreme. Fascism aspires toward the renewal of the State and its primary ethnic group to some mythical past era of glory.
  • A need for social change: The people must submit to major changes, a new social structure and way of life in order to achieve a revival.

Fascism arises from poor socio-economic conditions — like those of post-World War I Europe or post-World War II Japan. The countries that were defeated in World War I — including Mussolini's Italy — suffered greatly from the restrictions placed on them after the war. In Germany, a fascist form of government promised a return to a better life and a better position in the world.

In fascism, remember, individuals exist only in relation to the State. The principles of democracy and capitalism, which stemmed from the European Enlightenment of the 18th century, stood in the way of the power of the State. In fascist terms, these trends — based on concepts of individuality, equality and positive self-interest — limited the unity and the drive for survival necessary for social renewal. Mussolini wrote in 1932, "Fascism denies [...] the absurd conventional truth of political equality [...] the myth of 'happiness' and indefinite progress'" [source: Fordham].

By dispelling the idea of happiness, the fascist society is able to constrain its people and convince them to submit for the greater good. People cannot gather without permission, and they can't say anything negative against the State. Instead, they are submerged in an extreme sense of national and ethnic unity. Political youth groups recruit the youngest members of society, teach them about the State and entrust them with its survival and its power. Fascism glorifies youth, which makes sense if you consider the ideal of survival of the fittest — the young are the strongest and the fittest.

State-sponsored rallies and parades dominate social life, national flags and imposing monuments loom over the landscape, and State holidays fill the calendar. These symbols and celebrations have a religious quality. They encourage absolute faith; in the State, not in God. Fascism, in general, is against any religion.

Of course, not all societies aspire to the same goals. How did Mussolini's Fascism differ from Hitler's? How has fascism evolved with the times and changing world conditions? Find out next.