ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Is the Ghost of Fascism Haunting Political Thought?

The spectre of fascism has continued to haunt political thinking even though original fascism was decisively defeated within a decade. Given the very specific historical conditions in which fascism arose in Europe, whether the term “fascism” significantly applies to more recent forms of authoritarian rule is questionable. Facile reference to the handy historical precedence of European fascism inhibits a genuine understanding of the material conditions that cause authoritarian regimes in the neo-liberal era. More disturbingly, the impressionistic mention of fascism might divert attention from the real issues of resistance to neo-liberalism.

An early version was presented in a forum on fascism organised by ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy) in February 2016. Thanks to Apoorvanand, Shabnam Hashmi, Ananya Vajpeyi, and many others for lively discussion. Thanks as well to Noam Chomsky, Akeel Bilgrami, Justin Podur and the reviewer for EPW for insightful comments on recent versions.

The notion of fascism is frequently used these days to describe the rise of a variety of authoritarian regimes in the current neo-liberal era. The use is not restricted to informal and agitated accounts on social media. Even noted political thinkers are now prone to use the term in the theoretical mode to characterise entire regimes. Notions such as “democratic fascism,” “ur-fascism,” and “Hindutva fascism” are increasingly used by scholars to explain attacks by violent sectarian groups who often perform under right-wing official patronage.1

For instance, an editorial in Economic & Political Weekly propounds virtually a full theory of “semi-fascism.” Proposing an “Indian version of Nazism,” it argues for a politico-economic framework that relates the “pernicious ideology of Hindutva,” the “monstrous inequality in India,” and the effects of “colonialism” (EPW 2017). I share the deep anxiety concerning the disturbing phenomena of pernicious ideology, monstrous inequality, and catastrophic effects of virulent neo-liberal economic policies. However, the question arises whether theoretical uses of the concept of fascism are justified to understand the increasing loss of democratic space in the so-called free world. For the restricted purposes of this article, I will be primarily concerned with some of the prominent recent conceptions of fascism proposed by noted thinkers. It is a study of systematic confusions in the concept of fascism in the recent literature that attempts to understand regimes in the neo-liberal era. In that sense, my goals are critical and polemical.

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Updated On : 23rd Jul, 2018
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