mueller41_ALBERTO PIZZOLIAFP via Getty Images_meloni ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images

What Makes a Fascist?

Although far-right politics cannot be equated with fascism, all political belief systems evolve over time and pass through different phases. Parties or regimes exhibiting certain features might not be fascist today; but they could become so in predictable ways.

PRINCETON – Almost exactly a century after Fascist leader Benito Mussolini’s March on Rome and ascent to the Italian premiership, a politician whose party descends from the original Fascists, Giorgia Meloni, has been appointed as Italy’s prime minister. Are we witnessing the return of lower-case fascism – a political phenomenon that has resonated far beyond Italy since 1922?

While there is nothing wrong with asking the question, throwing around the f-word too liberally could make it easier for far-right leaders to claim that since their critics always exaggerate, they also must be inflating the threat to democracy. Predictably, Meloni took great pains to distance herself from fascism in her maiden speech to parliament.

Yet in considering the question of fascism today, one must remember that it has gone through different phases. While there are no fascist regimes in Europe or in the Americas today, there certainly are some parties – including governing ones – that could shift gradually in a more fascist direction.