The Anchoress has an excellent post up on the dangers of fascism and the ease with which many fall prey to fanaticism.
I never wanted to use the word “fascism” for the troubling conformity of mind and manner which was driving me from the left, because it is such an ugly word, fraught with so much dreadful recent history. But then, fascism is not really a 20th century phenomenon, is it? It is a mindset as old as sin itself, and any group of people - on the left or the right - can fall into a habit of conformity which mutates into an expectation of particulars and standards which may then be exploited. Fall out of step with “der party” and you can suddenly find your fortunes reversed. Criticize the wrong person, and you may “never work in this town again.” Fascism is really not about right or left - it is about suppression of individual thought and the stomping on of singular expression. It is about stripping the humanity from the “other side,” both by labeling them and by shunning them, until they will do anything to belong “somewhere.”
I see it on the left in internet political forums which delete any message which does not conform to the group-hate, or when certain politicians are reckoned “beyond criticism” and go untouched and unscathed by circumstances and history. I see it on the right, too, when I watch conservatives move “beyond” real and reasonable criticism, to actively throwing their own president under a bus because he is not conforming enough to the group-think; I see it when those conservatives seem on the brink of saying to many of their co-ideologues, “just let us do the thinking here, you rubes.”
The dangerous slide into fascism is something every movement needs to guard against. It can happen so easily, and so imperceptibly. First there is an idea, and people gather around it. Then some people embrace it with fervor. Then some clutch it to their breasts and pretend it fills a deep gash within them, an aching void. Zealots begin to move the idea left or right, and they always have their followers, for whom “the idea’s” progression into exclusivity and regimentation seems “only natural.” For them, “the idea” becomes a religion. For some, it becomes a goddess. For all too many, an idea is not merely a thought and a thing, it is a malleable, amorphous catch-all which can consume any matter, distort it and regurgitate it into something altogether different, and still call it “the idea.”
Hence, a classical liberal “idea” of human rights, personal dignity, open-mindedness and respectfulness has been consumed and distorted, and it is regurgitated 40 years later into something still called “liberal,” which looks nothing like the name. In fact it resembles another, very different, much less noble “idea,” one which we keep trying to battle back.
Fascism exists wherever people lose sight of other people as people, and begin to think of them as “them,” as “votes,” as “bodies,” as “numbers,” as “the people who do not count,” or (as Rob Reiner once declared about conservatives) as ones who “deserve to be marginalized, because they’re so wrong.”
Fascism can be take hold in a country or a church, or even in a neighborhood. It is the curse of every race, the scourge of every creed, no matter how sincere, it is the dementor of every movement.