The redoubtable Geoff Nunberg has investigated the word fascist in his latest “Fresh Air” commentary and has interesting things to say about the reasons it gets used very differently in American and Europe. (Via Uncle Jazzbeau’s Gallimaufrey.)


  1. “That lower-case use of the word began with the sixties radicals, who borrowed it from the international left,” writes Nunberg.
    How, and why, then, did the “international left” come to use it as an emblematic derogatory word for their political enemies? Why indeed, if fascism was soft and nazism tough – why not use “nazis” instead?
    I’m speculating here a bit, but I think the Soviet propaganda might have something to do with it. The Soviets used “fascist” a lot – but “nazi” much more seldom. The nazi armies, for example, are usually instead referred to as “gitlerovskie vojska” – hitlerite armies.
    Since nazism was short for “national socialim”, it might be that Soviet propaganda machinery actively choose not to use a word which contained “socialism” (or at least had a connection to it) as their number one derogatory.
    Fascism – from Italien fasces – did not desecrate socialism in the same way.

  2. Makes sense. Also, “nazism” was more specific to Germany, whereas “fascism” was appropriated by right-wingers in other countries besides Italy.

  3. Do we not consider Franco the template for fascism? The only reason I can think of for not doing so is embarrassment that he basically got away with it.
    And this side of the Atlantic the Ashcroft/Cheney regime is referred to as “fascist” by persons who mean it in precisely the Yoorpean sense, which Mr Nunberg doesn’t really discuss. (Curious readers might like to try Umberto Eco’s checklist).
    It probably isn’t needless to say that I consider such accusations premature at the very least, although I wouldn’t like to choose between them and Mr Nunberg’s blithe assurance that it really couldn’t happen “here” for foolishness.

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