The Warning Signs of Fascism

By Scott Ambler

For the most part this article is a summary of Britannica's Fascism article. That article is a detailed, interesting, and valuable read. Unfortunately, because it is so long it can be a challenging read for many people. I've done my best to summarize the article here plus round it out a bit with material from other sources.

Topics covered in this article:

  1. Defining fascism
  2. How to identify a fascist
  3. Fascist characteristics
  4. Strategies fascists use to promote themselves
  5. Further reading

1. Defining Fascism

Let's consider several definitional sources:

From Britannica:

From Merriam-Webster:

From Collins:

From Oxford:


2. How to Identify a Fascist

Here is my advice:

  1. There are no hard and fast rules. Although I provide lists of characteristics in the next two sections, I can't honestly say someone or a movement needs to exhibit X characteristics to positively say that they're fascists. I can say, however, that the more characteristics they exhibit, the greater the chance that they're fascists.
  2. Once it's obvious, it's too late. If you wait for parades of people goosestepping down main street, it's too late. If you wait for people to be wearing swastikas on arm bands, it's too late. If you wait for people to be rounding up groups of other types of people, it's too late.
  3. Look at what they do, not what they say. Fascists will spin stories to try to convince you that they're not fascists, that they're good people just like you. Or they'll claim that what's happening isn't their fault, that "others" got out of hand. Or they simply lie to you and tell you that what you're seeing isn't actually happening, or that others are doing it, not them.
  4. There are two things to look out for: Fascist characteristics and fascist strategies. These are both covered in the next two sections respectively. Both lists are summarized from Britannica's Fascism article. That article is detailed, providing a robust description and historical background. My goal here is to summarize, if you want details then read the detailed article.

3. Fascist Characteristics

The primary characteristics of fascism include:

  1. Opposition to Marxism. Modern fascists try to use socialism as a boogeyman to scare people. This is particularly true in the US.
  2. Opposition to (parliamentary) democracy. You will see this in attempts to make it difficult for people to vote, often under the guise of "preventing voting fraud" even when they cannot produce evidence of fraud.
  3. Opposition to political and cultural liberalism. Fascists will often claim that liberalism undermines traditional values and morality.
  4. Totalitarian ambitions. Fascists want to control all political power and will tell you that only they can set things right.
  5. Conservative economic programs. Historically, very few fascist movements were left or left-centrist, and when they were they were small and short-lived.
  6. Corporatism. Historically the ultimate aim was to destroy labor movements and suppress political dissent. A favorite tool of modern-day fascists is deregulation that results in profits to businesses at the expense of consumers.
  7. Imperialism. 'Nuff said.
  8. Military values. Historically fascists favoured military values such as courage, unquestioning obedience to authority, discipline, and physical strength. They also adapted the outward trappings of military organizations, such as paramilitary uniforms and Roman salutes. We see this today in self-styled "militias."
  9. Volksgemeinschaft. A German word referring to a racially unified and hierarchically organized group in which the interests of individuals are strictly subordinate to those of the nation. They literally tell you that they want to put you under their control, and chances are very good that you won't be invited to the ruling committee.
  10. Leadership principle. The belief that the party and the state should have a single leader with absolute power. Beware claims along the lines of "We need a strong leader with the common sense to fix things."
  11. The "new man." Fascists aimed to transform the ordinary man into the "new man," a "virile" being who would put decadent bourgeoisie, cerebral elites, and "feminine" liberals to shame.
  12. Struggle against decadence. Fascists will define a group of people that are misleading you, that are stealing from you, that are destroying your future. Modern targets are educated "elites" that earn their living through well-paid white collar work rather than "honest" blue collar work that is less well paid.
  13. Extreme nationalism. Fascist ideologues taught that national identity was the foundation of individual identity and should not be corrupted by foreign influences, especially if they were left-wing. Interestingly, modern-day fascist movements are often funded by rich foreigners with the goal to destabilize other countries that they wish to control.
  14. Anti-urbanism. The "elites" live in cities rather than in suburban settings where everyday man lives.
  15. Sexism and misogyny. Fascist movements tend to have strategies around controlling women's bodies, ideas that women must subjugate themselves to their husbands, and that the primary role of women is to have and care for babies.

4. Strategies Fascists Use to Promote Themselves

There are several common strategies that fascists use to promote their movements:

  1. Alleged equality of social status. This is typically not an issue of wealth, but of snobbism. The "educated elites" look down on you and your "common sense".
  2. Mass mobilization. Fascists use mass meetings, including political rallies (often outside of elections), parades, and protests.
  3. Violence. Fascists often react to their opponents with physical force. Modern day fascists will infiltrate protests, often posing as the type of people they themselves oppose, then start trouble with the goal of undermining the people they are posing as.
  4. Scapegoating. Fascists tend to blame their countries' problems on scapegoats. Currently, common scapegoats are immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ+ people, and "educated elites."
  5. Populism. Fascist leaders will claim that they're a man of the people, just an ordinary guy looking out for the little guys like you. This is often a blatant lie as most of these leaders come from multi-generational rich families.
  6. Revolutionary image. Fascists often portray their movements as new and revolutionary, although they're often working from a century-old playbook.
  7. Glorification of youth. The young are strong, idealistic, and have a spirit of self-sacrifice. They are also easily manipulated due to lack of experience and education.
  8. Education as character building (not critical thinking). Fascist educators emphasized character building over intellectual growth, devalued the transmission of information, inculcated blind obedience to authority, and discouraged critical and independent thinking that challenged fascist ideology. They will have a story that there is something wrong with what the "liberal elites" are teaching you, hence they need to ban books and certain subjects (sex education and actual history are two common topics).

5. Further Reading

  1. Fascism: A Warning - Madeleine Albright
  2. Fascism: Britannica
  3. Fascism: Wikipedia
  4. Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda Second Edition - Noam Chomsky
  5. Rising Fascism in America: It Can Happen Here - Anthony R. DiMaggio

6. Related Resources