June 19, 2005

Careful with that F-word


“Religious fascism.”

One of the mantras you hear invoked from time to time is “words mean something.” But they obviously don’t. When intelligent men can make such a specious observation you realize that “fascism” has ceased to mean anything at all, and exists now as an all-purpose slur, a tar-soaked brush to slap on anything you don’t like.

echoing Orwell,

The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable."
The Orwell is more concise, but then, he was kind of a fiend for brevity like that. Anyway, I like the "tar-soaked brush" bit in the Lileks version.

Nothing ever really changes. Nothing.

Something about the best writing telling you what you already know comes to mind here, too. (Yes, yes, I know in the original quote the subject is "books," not "writing," but--look, just go bury your head in Canterbury Tales until you calm down a little, you sorry lit geek. I am trying to paraphrase here; do you mind?)

It's a little depressing if you think about it--50, no, 60 years later, and "fascist" still means "something not desirable" to more people than not.

I don't know how you fix that, either, except maybe by laughing loud and long at every frenzied hyperbolist who tries to fling the "fascist" label at you with his, uh, tar-soaked brush.

Works for me, anyway.

Posted by Ilyka at June 19, 2005 02:03 AM in hell is other people

Why do we need the word to change back? Aside from the fact that I don't know of a single case of that ever happening, there's nothing wrong with a word changing meaning. And for a word which designates something specific to change to encompass something broader is very common. Other common changes which nobody seems to have a problem with:

man - used to mean "person", now means a male person.
butcher - used to mean a purveyor of goat meat, now refers to any kind of meat.
dog - used to refer to a specific kind of canine, now refers to all types.

So is it really hyperbole anymore when someone uses the word in that way? At what point does it cease to be hyperbole and start to be accepted as the new meaning of the word? Because, let's face it, the original meaning isn't very useful to us these days unless we write history books for a living.

Posted by: sansioy at June 19, 2005 02:36 AM

See, it wasn't really lit geeks I needed to look out for; it was aspiring linguists!

You're such a pisser sometimes, you know that?

Look: I want the word to revert to its original meaning simply because you can't discuss politics sanely so long as inflammatory terms like "Nazi," "fascist," "plantation," etc., are being thrown around with only the most tenuous connection to their original, very concrete meanings.

There's also a little issue of disrespect that annoys me: It's disrespectful to real survivors of the Holocaust (and the memories of its millions of victims who did not survive) when, for example, PETA calls slaughtering cows a "holocaust."

I'm not sure I'd mind the erosion of the original meaning of "fascist" nearly so much if it would just take on a discrete NEW meaning--but it hasn't. As both men I've excerpted have noted, it's just shorthand for "someone whose politics I abhor." It does not actually MEAN anything, anymore than "motherfucker" means "someone who fucks moms." That's fine for "motherfucker," but as long as we've got plenty of all-purpose, I-hate-you-and-all-you-stand-for words like that (and last I looked, we do, and they make up a sizeable chunk of my own vocabulary), why, exactly, do we need to go papering over the traditional meaning of words like "fascist?"

Posted by: ilyka at June 19, 2005 07:08 AM

To me, a fascist government punishes you for your thoughts. I suppose I generally define a fascist state as more right wing. I would define Stalinism as totalitarianist, while I'd define Hitlerism as fascist. That's just the terminology I was brought up with; you could easily say the distinctions are meaningless.

Of course, Hitler and Stalin were probably the two most evil men in history. I once read a National Review article (years ago, in the print edition, so, sorry, no link) that said Hitler was probably more evil, because he killed mostly because of race, whereas Stalin killed mostly because of, well, it's hard to know why Stalin killed, but it wasn't generally because you were born of a certain race.

I hate George W. Bush. I think he is the worst president in history. He lied us into a war we cannot win. He took our country from being greatly sympathized into being universally despised. He doesn't seem to do anything except cowtow to his corporate cronies and the religious right. I don't think he is worthy to sit in the same chair as such great presidents as Lincoln, Truman, or Eisenhower.

But is he a fascist? No, he is just a cowardly politian in my book.

P.S. Since this comment will probably have the effect of me being banned from commenting here ever again, I would like to say I love ilyka very much, and her dad is extremely cool. I'm not actually very liberal; I just really hate W (as well as Cheney and Rumsfeld). The living person I hate the most (so we can eliminate Hitler and Stalin, as well as Genghis Khan) is Ann Coulter, and I apologize to Ilyka for comparing her to her in some of my drunken rants (I know she hates her too). In the end, Ilyka is not that conservative (she's more pro-gay marriage than I am), and I'm not that liberal. We just each have issues that we feel passionate about, and it blinds us to how much we actually agree about.

Posted by: mark at June 20, 2005 08:44 AM

Since this comment will probably have the effect of me being banned

There, there, dear, let's do try not to be a melodramatic jackass. If I ban you for hating George Bush, I've got to ban my brother. Pretty soon I've banned half my loved ones, and then where would I be?

Posted by: ilyka at June 20, 2005 05:22 PM

Umm, just another god-damned fascist?

Posted by: Seb at June 20, 2005 09:27 PM