Fascism is a far-right, authoritarian, ultranationalist political philosophy. Fascist governments traditionally take the form of a one-party dictatorship led by a single person. Fascism stands in contrast to the principles of democracy, in which the government should work to benefit all of its citizens, and instead views the nation's wealth and success as far more important than the welfare of its citizens. As a result, there are very few individual human rights, if any, at all, under a fascist regime. Fascist regimes often create stark divisions between classes in both society and the economy and use force to suppress opposition and keep the masses under control. Some extreme fascist regimes can also be classified as totalitarian countries.
The characteristics and beliefs of fascism
Fascism is based on the principle that everyone should have complete dedication and allegiance to their home country. For example, when Adolf Hitler came to absolute power, he won the support of the majority of Germans by pushing an ultra-nationalist agenda that insisted Germany was the best country in the entire world (and the Aryan race was a superior "master race"). Other infamous world leaders who adopted the ideologies of fascism include Benito Mussolini of Italy, Juan Peron of Argentina, and Francisco Franco of Spain.
Fascist nations and movements display significant differences from one country to the next. However, they still share several characteristics in addition to their unbridled nationalism. These include a belief that the power of the government overrides all individual liberties, willingness to use violent force to achieve their goals, a belief that certain people groups are superior because of their race or social status and should therefore rule the other groups, and a disdain for democratic and liberal principles that suggest otherwise. Freedom of speech and the voices of the people are not respected in fascist nations, especially when used to express opposition to their leader or country. Fascism emphasizes the importance of corporations, which often creates an even deeper divide between the leaders and the nation's people.
The 15 Best-Known Fascist Leaders and Dictators:
Fascist movements are typically controlled by dictators who seize power through the strength of their rhetoric and charisma. The following list provides several examples, though others not listed could arguably qualify as well:
- Adolf Hitler of Germany
- Benito Mussolini of Italy
- Fumimaro Konoye of Japan
- Engelbert Dollfuß of Austria
- Getúlio Vargas of Brazil
- Ante Pavelić of Croatia
- Pehr Evind Svinhufvud of Finland
- Philippe Pétain of France
- Ioannis Metaxas of Greece
- Ferenc Szálasi of Hungary
- Vidkun Quisling of Norway
- António de Oliveira Salazar of Portugal
- Ion Antonescu of Romania
- Jozef Tisoof Slovakia
- Francisco Franco of Spain
The history of fascism around the world
Fascism swept through central, southern, and eastern Europe from 1919 to 1945. Fascism originated in Italy under the reign of Benito Mussolini, who gained control of Italy in 1922 as the leader of the National Fascist Party and remained in power until his downfall in 1943. Despite his totalitarian power over the people of Italy, Mussolini's leadership during World War II sat poorly with other powerful members of the NFP and he was ultimately given a vote of no confidence by the very officials who had supported him for nearly two decades. He was subsequently removed from office and arrested.
However, Mussolini's success at consolidating power and establishing an authoritative government centered upon himself had already inspired several other fascist movements throughout Europe and the world. This included the movement that led to WWII in the first place: Adolf Hitler and Germany's Nazi party. In fact, Hitler so admired Mussolini that he arranged to have the deposed dictator broken out of prison by Nazi troops. Hitler then installed Mussolini as a puppet ruler, a position from which he continued to promote fascist ideologies until he was recaptured and executed by informal firing squad on April 28, 1945. Hitler himself would die two days later, signaling the end of the most prominent era of fascism.
Fascism had burned brightly in the 1930s and early 1940s, with fascist movements forming in countries all over the world, including Austria, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Sweden, Japan, the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and even the United States. That the U.S. hosted a fascist party might come as a shock to some, but in the late 1930s, multiple pro-German organizations adopted fascist principles. One group, the Silver Legion of America, even fielded a fascist candidate for President on a third-party ticket. After Nazi Germany declared war on the United States in 1941, the group was outlawed. However, fascism continued to hang on elsewhere in the world. There were seemingly endless movements driven by fascist beliefs in Portugal and Spain well into the early 1970s, and South Africa was home to three fascist movements, which lasted until the 1980s.
Fascism in the world today
Today, few political parties openly describe themselves as fascist, and no openly fascist parties are currently in power as of 2022. However, fascism is far from extinct. France's fascist "Front National" won more than 25% of the country's vote in 2014, as did the Danish People's Party in Denmark. Moreover, the ongoing prominence of groups such as the Patriot Front in the United States, Greece's Golden Dawn party, and Hungary's Jobbik testify to the ideology's continued appeal to some individuals. Additionally, smaller-scale fascist movements exist in dozens of countries to this day.
What's more, many modern-day political parties and governments avoid the fascist label but still incorporate fascist ideas into their platforms and strategies. Rhetoric that recalls a time when a country was a great empire but was brought down by certain people enjoying undeserved benefits, or that rejects social programs on the basis that not all citizens deserve them, or that endorses the suppression of certain people's individual rights or civil liberties—violently if necessary—is often rooted in fascist philosophy.
Fascism can be difficult to define and identify. This is partly because it is often modified to meet a specific fascist party's political goals and partly because it has many variations, many of which overlap with and arguably fit better into related ideologies such as socialism. Because of this vague categorization, considerable differences of opinion exist as to which governments qualify as truly fascist and which are instead some other system, such as right-wing dictatorships or authoritarian regimes—which are similar but do not follow fascist ideology.
Most scholars agree that the last purely fascist governments were those that ruled Portugal 1933-1974 and Spain 1936-1975. Both were replaced by democratic governments. However, the question of whether modern countries such as North Korea, Venezuela, Russia, and China should be considered fascist remains a popular topic of debate.
24 Countries That Have Had Fascist Governments:
- Albania: 1939-1943; 1943-1944
- Austria: 1934-1938; 1938-1945
- Chile: 1932-1938
- China: 1932-1945
- Croatia: 1941-1945
- El Salvador: 1931-1944
- France: 1940-1944
- Germany: 1933-1945
- Haiti: 1957-1986
- Hungary 1932-1945
- Iran: 1975-1978 (disupted)
- Italy: 1922-1945
- Japan: 1931-1945
- Lebanon: 1936-1990 (disputed)
- Netherlands: 1923-1945
- Norway: 1942-1945
- Philippines: 1942-1945
- Portugal: 1933-1974
- Romania: 1940-1944
- San Marino: 1923-1943; 1944-1945
- Slovakia: 1939-1945
- Spain: 1936-1975
- South Africa: 1924-1994 (disputed)
- Yugoslavia: 1935-1939; 1941-1945
Fascist organizations in the above nations are noteworthy in that they assumed at least temporary control of their respective countries. However, many additional fascist organizations have existed that fell short of assuming total control but still exerted significant influence on the social and political landscape. The more prominent of these have been added to the table below.