When most Americans think of fascism, their minds go to twentieth-century Germany and World War II. It is easy to believe that fascism is a thing of the past, or something we do not have to worry about anymore.
The hard truth is that the fight against fascism isn’t over. Recent political trends in Europe, for example, have become a cause for concern. If we are to be global citizens and work towards a fairer and more democratic world, we must be knowledgeable about this recent rise in fascism and fight against it.
Fascism is a word that people often use without knowing its exact definition. The Council on Foreign Relations’ “World 101” website defines fascism as a mass political movement that combines nationalism with authoritarianism and values the success and prosperity of the state over the rights of the individual citizens. This contrasts with modern democracies, which value what Americans would call “natural rights”.
Well-known historical examples of fascism include Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. Hitler and Mussolini both relied on ethnocentrism, charismatic legitimacy, and extreme nationalism. In these specific examples, the fascist leaders came to power through democratic elections, and then used their power to topple the institutions of democracy, establishing an all-powerful nation-state.
Though this may seem like a thing of the past, recent events in Italy prove otherwise. Giorgia Meloni, head of the “Brothers of Italy” party, is set to become the first female prime minister in Italy, after winning in the general election. This party was founded in 2012 as a faction of the National Alliance, which is descended from the Italian Social Movement, started by Mussolini’s supporters after World War II.
Meloni became the party leader in 2014, and since then, has aligned herself with many far-right causes, including anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments. In a country where same-sex marriage is still not recognized by law, many gay parents fear their adoption rights will be taken away. Italians and those abroad also have concerns about Meloni’s ethnocentric and conservative view on gender roles and reproductive rights, which manifests itself in pro-natalist policies that hurt immigrant and gender-nonconforming women. These views tie into the fascist ideal that individuals only exist to serve the state.
This is especially concerning considering the unpredictable nature of European politics right now, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, worldwide economic instability, tension within the EU, and debate over immigration. Fascism is not known for staying contained within one country, but for expanding and contaminating surrounding societies.
Meloni has received support from influential politicians in the U.S., including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Sen. Ted Cruz, who have been outspoken about their endorsement of her victory. They share similar ideas about national unity, religion and family, while uniting against the common enemy of leftist politics. Therefore, there may be concern about the consequences of the Italian election here in the United States, and speculation that far-right politicians feel emboldened by these events. It is important that we, in the United States, do not allow this to translate to the implementation of policies here that reflect those in Italy.
This dire situation may seem overwhelming. The instability of global politics and the precariousness of democracy is not something one person can fix. We can, however, learn about the spread of fascism and do our part to fight against it.
There are a variety of actions one can take to minimize the damage done by radical, oppressive politics—mostly involving education and community organization. Active involvement in politics at the local level encourages democracy and, therefore, fights fascism. This might include getting in touch with your local government officials, voting regularly for candidates who are outspoken about protecting democracy or even contacting your representatives in Congress to voice your opinion.
On campus, there are organizations like the Undergraduate Student Government, MASSPIRG and the UMass Boston College Democrats, which encourage political involvement and help students practice engaging in civil discourse. Getting involved on campus can bring students closer to their community, promote issues that are important to them and spread the word about how to protect democracy.
The situation in Italy is concerning. It may seem like it is an infinite distance away from us, but it’s not. We are all global citizens. It is our responsibility to listen, care and, when necessary, act.