Maybe it shouldn’t annoy me, but the shorthand misuse of the word “fascist” to mean “I disapprove of this, and all other right-thinking people should do so too,” just bugs the shit out of me. For one thing, it’s an end-run around making an argument — just use the appropriate code word and let group think take care of the rest. And, for another, it dilutes and pollutes the actual definition of a word that has real (and odious) meaning of its own.
Take, for example, David Edelstein’s brief review in New York magazine of the Michael Caine movie, Harry Brown. I haven’t seen the movie, but it’s apparently a British version of Death Wish. Edelstein writes:
The chief problem is that Caine makes a grave, soulful vigilante avenger, and first-time director Daniel Barber gives the film a dank, streaky, genuinely unnerving palette. Moral artists have no business making a fascist, reactionary movie this effective. To hell with them.
Again, I haven’t seen the movie, so I have no idea if I’d like it or loathe it, approve or disapprove of its ideas, or find the film ideologically defensible or despicable. What I do know is that tales of private citizens taking the law into their own hands and punishing criminals while evading the police can not be credibly termed “fascist” if that word is to retain any meaning. After all, an important motto of the Fascist regime in Italy was “Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato” (Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State).
Similarly, an official Italian government publication from the 1930s attributed to Benito Mussolini, said:
Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal will of man as a historic entity. …
The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State—a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values—interprets, develops, and potentiates the whole life of a people. …
Bypassing the government’s law-enforcement system as a self-motivated individual to pursue a personal vision of justice very explicitly runs up against the fascist celebration of the omnipotent state.
This doesn’t mean that Harry Brown is a good (or bad) movie or that waging personal war on the neighborhood thugs is necessarily a wise (or terrible) idea. It does mean, though, that it’s damned ignorant to dismiss the movie — or any story celebrating action outside the law — as “fascist.” Harry Brown, good or bad, is about as un-fascist as a movie can be.
And David Edelstein is a lazy reviewer.