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Fascism And Democracy Essay, Research Paper
How is it that in a country such as the United States, with a population of 260 million, people generally embrace the democratic way? What would drive millions of people to follow a fascist dictator? No one can answer these questions with absolute certainty. They are both complicated and yet very simple. In its crudest formulation, when a collective has the same belief system, then an ideology is formed. People have always tried to understand what factors, economic and social, would drive a group or nation to subscribe to a particular ideology.
This essay will discuss and critique two of the more prominent and influential political ideologies: Fascism, particularly Nazism, and Democracy. These ideologies are among the better-known ideologies of the 20th century. They exist because people have allowed them to grow, notwithstanding any party or group leader\’s charisma or abilities. To identify the circumstances that would cause or lead a person or collective to follow a particular ideology, one must be able to identify the facts, theories, and origins of the said ideologies. To study the principles of Fascism, one must inherently study the contrasting principles of Democracy. All information found within this paper is derived from the text Contemporary Political Ideologies – 6th edition, T.A. group materials and lecture materials.
Fascism is defined as \”an authoritarian political system opposed to democracy and liberalism.\”1 However, this definition doesn\’t completely convey much information to the average person. For the masses, one could attempt to define Fascism as a country with one political party whose goals and interests are achieved by manipulating its people. It is also known as a cult of violence which is rooted in the notion that violence is an appropriate means to maintain control. Fascism can be correlated to an army forever on the march, unconcerned about its destination or purpose2. The best example of the application of this ideology would be the German National Socialists (\”Hitler\’s Nazis\”).
Fascism and fascist ideologies, for the most part came to light in Italy in the early 1920\’s. No two types of fascism have ever been the same. Past fascist dictactors have always had their own goals and means in mind and adopted their practices accordingly. For example, Mussolini and Hitler, perhaps the 2 most renowned fascist dictators of the century, had totally different interests. Hitler felt justified to commit genocide to attain his goals but Mussolini did not particularily approve this practice. In Germany, Adolf Hitler took Facist ideology one step further by manipulating its theories to his own benefit and incorporating tactics to manipulate the people. He called it National Socialism. It seems then, that in order for an ideology such as Fascism to gain a foothold within a nation, that nation first has to be weak. Germany was humiliated at the end of World War I and consequently by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. In addition, its economy was floundering.
The main body of German society at the time was the middle class. Naturally, for anyone to achieve power, they would need the support of this majority. Therefore, catering to the fears and hopes of that mass was needed for the movement to gain and preserve momentum. This is the strategy that Hitler pursued. By winning the hearts of the majority of Germany\’s middle class, he had his mass movement and achieved power. How then, did one man manage to convey his ideology to the masses?
The use of propaganda and force used by the German Nazis enabled the coveyance and obedience of the message to the population. At its roots, German Nazism is allergic to enlightenment, modernity, liberalism, parliamentary government, and individualism. The whole notion of enlightenment meant change; letting go of the past; replacing the ignorance of the past with truth based on reason and doubt. To illustrate this perspective, reference should be made to the following analogy: \”The world is flat because the King says so\” vs. \”The world is round based on a set of proven facts.\” For a long time, man put his faith in the King\’s word.
Enlightenment meant free thought and individuality. To the Fascist state, the above concepts are to be suppressed at all costs and measures such as a secret/thought police were implemented to control thought and preserve the status quo. Modernity signified breaking from the past and realizing the progressive individual. Modernity also meant change, particularly change from the German way and traditions. The Fascist ideology depended on the people clinging onto the past in order to survive. To preserve the German way, it was theorized that he had to go beyond the German borders and inflict this philosophy on the rest of the world. With that, expansionism of Nazi Fascism took its place in history.
When studying the Fascist principles and Hitler\’s Nazis, one discovers the Volk or folk or people. The notion of Volk has deep roots, best summed up by Paul Legarde, who stated that \”I live with every breath in a past that never was and which is the only future I crave.\”3 To the German people in times of such desperation, the notion of Volk meant to have a direction. It meant that there was hope to be as they were before they were defeated at war, humiliated and economically destoyed. They would eventually be able to regain their status as a strong nation. Hitler used this desperation to his advantage.
In addition, any ideology which promoted individualism and systems such as parliamentary government represented the West. To this end, Hitler thought that having more than one political party was a waste of time. Political inner-fighting between the political parties, in such circumstances, meant that the party in power would only be focusing on staying in power rather than focusing on the people. Individualism and Liberalism consequently conveyed a meaning which the Nazis despised. There was no such concept as individual freedoms. A few examples of doctrines which flow from the Hitler\’s Fascist philosophy are: anti-semitism; anti-trade unions; anti-political parties; anti-communism; and, anti-parliamentary government. It may be crude perhaps, but possibly, the only freedom people enjoyed under Hitler was the freedom to obey or die.
Democracy established its roots in 450-350 B.C. in Greece4. Contemporary Democracy can be traced back to the 16th century. Democracy can be defined as \”government by the people or their elected representatives.\”5 However, Democracy encompases much more than the definition states.
John Locke presented four major cardinal concepts of Democracy: equality; individual rights and freedoms, including property; government based on consent of the governed; and, limitations upon the state.6 In 1776, Adam Smith in his work, Wealth of Nations, spoke of the \”economic man\”, driven by twin impulses: to satisfy pleasure and avoid pain.7 Here, the principles of enlightenment are embraced.
In order for one to be enlightened, one must realize the three components of enlightenment: reason, the individual and sovereingty. Reason is doubt sought to be proven by a theory, as illustrated in the proverb \”I think therefore I am.\” By testing the theory, you get an answer, thereby realizing reason. Then, the individual becomes autonomous and is allowed free choice. Next, sovereignty or loyalty to the nation is attained. The fact that the people can vote and choose people to represent their interests and to represent their nation shows that they are seen as individuals with individual freedoms. Arguably, you can extrapolate from this that the power of the nation is then held by the majority of the population.
When we speak of individuals and freedoms together, we come up with a new term called Liberalism, described by the person seeking individual freedoms. Liberalism protects the individual from the government. However, the government sets limits on the individual, who in turn, must live within the guidelines of the law. It allows the individual the freedom to think, speak, associate, and express ideas. It also values the individual more than it does the State. Put in the most simplistic terms, Liberalism, for the most part, is anti-State.
A liberal person in a democratic society usually meets a set of criteria: they are engaged in the pursuit of freedoms and rights; they have an opinion as to what the government in power should be doing; and, they seek economic freedom. Although the first two criteria are straight-forward, essentially, economic freedom is the freedom to buy, sell, produce, grow, and trade in a market with no borders. This allows the individual to adjust his/her social status based on their success.
Liberalism favours individual freedoms such as dignity, life, the right to vote and decide what government to elect, the freedom to produce and consume, buy/sell through an open market, all to satisfy their own wants and needs. All people are equal and free under this ideology. However, if one person attains riches through buying and selling etc., and climbs the social ranks, and another person sweats his/her life away and struggles to maintain a middle or low-class standing, how could this equate to equality? The answer could be that Democracy and Liberalism allow individuals to accomplish things in proportion to their abilities.
Economic freedom is also known as Capitalism. As well, it is commonplace for Capitalism and Democacy to go hand in hand. Capitalism was about challenging the old ways, to open the borders and allow everyone a chance at each other\’s businesses. \”Let us do, let us pass\” was the expression of the time. One can easily envision the traders and the jobbers of the time yearning for a piece of their neighbour\’s market. Disliked by the Church, Aristocracy, and the Monarchy, Capitalism appealed to the majority and expressed the interests of the middle class. In so doing, it established individualism and individual freedoms for the people. Capitalism was also accepted by the peasants, the working man, and to all who sought equality, freedom and fairness.
This progression brought with it the rapid growth of industry and technology. As a result, the capitalist and democratic countries\’ economies flourished, bringing about population growth, transportation improvements, and infrastructure growth to bring cities closer togther. In so doing, this created new trade markets and consequently transfer of information and the creation of a global economy.
If a person had no prior knowledge of the history, origins, or facts of the ideologies of Fascism or Democracy, they could come to the conclusion that in times of political/social unrest, national depression, the nation becomes weak and seeks change. This change can quite possibly be achieved through extreme measures, as seen throughout the course of history. In such circumstances, the individual might think: \”Something is very wrong with the current system. Someone should be blamed for this misfortune. We as a nation need to do something about it to better our lives.\” This train of thought is an example of the birth of Fascist ideology.
Conversely, it then seems that when times change, people are more educated, national spirit grows, and then individual rights become the priority. All will be focused, therefore, on the individual\’s needs: \”What can I do for myself, to make my life better?\” Now, the realisation and application of democracy and capitalism become more prevalent. The trend is then to embrace liberalism and seek to protects the individual from the unrestricted power vested in a dictator. This train of thought is an example of the surfacing of the Democratic ideology. As well, certain facets of society will then shift to conservatism, in which there is manifested a desire to preserve the country\’s institutions against change and innovation. Liberalism and conservatism can obviously co-exist in a democratic society. However, Liberalism would be quickly eliminated in a Fascist society.
For instance, in Hitler\’s grand scheme, the State–namely himself, would control everything. He would therefore administer and shape every facet of everyday life in his expansionist and conservationist world. He and his police would control schools, economies and probably even morals. Liberals on the other hand do not interfere with the individual. It is up to the individual to determine the nature of the schools, economies, and other institutions. The state would then protect the individual following that choice. Democracy thus threatened the Fascist Nazis because it is an expression of freedom and people were free to question and challenge their government.
Essentially, there can be a finite number of ideologies but an infinite application of those ideologies by the individual who decides to embrace one over the other. In times of dire need, people will generally embrace the ideology which will best preserve their interests.
The collective can dictate what the population\’s priorities will be and a path will be set to attain those priorities. However, special note should highlight that it is inherent in man\’s nature to pursue the ideology which will satisfy his own wants and needs over those of his nature. Despite any outside coersion, people have generally grouped together and allowed a particular ideology to prevail if it succeeds in addressing their modus operandi at the relevant time. If you appeal to this basic human trait, you will most likely be able to shape a widely-accepted ideology.
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