Questions are surfacing around the globe about a revival of fascism — generally defined as a governmental system that asserts complete power and emphasizes aggressive nationalism and often racism, says The New York Times.
In places like Russia and Turkey, leaders like Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan employ strongman tactics. In Austria, a nationalist candidate came within three-tenths of a percentage point of becoming the first far-right head of state to be elected in Europe since World War II.
In Hungary, an authoritarian government has clamped down on the news media and put up razor wire fences to keep migrants out. There are worries that Poland may do the same. Traditional parties in France, Germany, Greece and elsewhere have been challenged by nationalist movements amid an economic crisis and waves of migrants. In Israel, fascism analogies by a former prime minister and a top general have again inflamed the longtime debate about the occupation of Palestinian territories.
“The crash of 2008 showed how globalization creates losers as well as winners,” says Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “In many countries, middle-class wages are stagnant and politics has become a battle over a shrinking pie. Populists have replaced contests between left and right with a struggle between cosmopolitan elites and angry nativists.”
“On a world level, the situation that affects many countries is economic stagnation and the arrival of immigrants,” says Robert O. Paxton, a professor emeritus at Columbia University and one of the most prominent scholars of fascism. “That’s a one-two punch that democratic governments are having enormous trouble in meeting.”
Roger Eatwell, a professor at the University of Bath, in England, calls what’s happening “illiberal democracy,” a form of government that keeps the trappings of democracy without the reality.
“Elections are seen as important to legitimizing regimes,” he says, but instead of imposing one-party rule, as in the past, today’s authoritarians “use a variety of devices to control and/or manipulate the media, intimidate opponents” and so on.
Lilia Shevtsova, a political analyst in Moscow, says neo-fascism in liberal societies in the West stems from crisis or dysfunction while in illiberal countries like Russia and Turkey it reflects an attempt to fill the void left by the failure of Western notions to catch on.
The problem, she says, is that “the Western political leadership at the moment is too weak to fight the tide.”