Fascism: Characteristics, Pros, Cons and Examples

Can Fascism Occur in a Democracy?

••• Hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the 'alt-right' march down East Market Street toward Emancipation Park during the 'Unite the Right' rally August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Definition: Fascism is an economic system where the government controls the private entities that own the factors of production. The four factors are entrepreneurship, capital goods, natural resources and labor. A central planning authority directs company leaders to work in the national interest.

In fascism, the national interests supersede all other societal needs. It seeks to restore the nation to a former pure and vigorous existence.

It subsumes the private person and business into this vision of the good of the state. In its quest to do so, it is willing to become a "bully," said George Orwell in ""

Fascism uses this nationalism to override individual self-interest. It subjugates the welfare of the general population to achieve imperative social goals. It works with existing social structures, instead of destroying them. It focuses on "internal cleansing and external expansion," according to Professor Robert Paxton in The Anatomy of Fascism. This can justify the use of violence to rid the society of minorities and opponents. 

Fascist movements and regimes are different from military dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. They seek to enlist rather than exclude the masses. They often collapse the distinction between the public and private sphere. It eliminates private sector interests by absorbing them into the public good.

In the words of Robert Ley, the head of the Nazi Labor Office, the only private individual who existed in Nazi Germany was someone asleep. (Source: "," The New York Times, May 2, 2004.)

Fascism derives from the Latin word fasces. It was a tied bundle of rods surrounding an ax and the symbol of ancient Rome.

It meant the individuals in a society should subvert their will for the good of the state.

Seven Characteristics of Fascism

Fascism uses Social Darwinism as its "scientific" base. It legitimizes any studies that support the concept of national characteristics and the superiority of the nation's majority race. The research must support fascism's vision that a strong nation must be homogeneous to avoid decadence. (Source: "" Slate Magazine, April 3, 2017.)

Fascist regimes have these seven characteristics:

  1. Usurption: The state overtakes and merges with corporate power and sometimes the church.
  2. Nationalism: Leaders appeal to a nostalgic wish to return to an earlier golden age. That can include a return to a simple, virtuous pastoral life. 
  3. Militarism: They glorify military strength through propaganda.
  4. Father Figure: The leader assumes the role of the father of the nation. He creates a cult status as a "dauntless ruler beholden to no one." 
  5. Mass Appeal: The leader claims that the people,  manifested as the state , can achieve anything. If they don't succeed, it's because of naysayers, minority groups and sabotageurs.
  6. Government Surveillance: The government takes an active role in suppressing dissent. It rewards people who report on each other.
  1. Persecution: The state violently persecutes minority groups and opponents.

 (Source: "," The Medium, November 18, 2016. "" The Washington Post, October 21, 2016.)


Fascist economies are good at wholly transforming societies to conform to the planner's vision. They have many of the same advantages of any centrally-planned economies. It can mobilize economic resources on a large scale. It executes massive projects and creates industrial power. For example, Russia's centrally-planned economy built up the military might to defeat the Nazis. It then quickly rebuilt its economy after World War II.


The central planning authority cannot get accurate, detailed and timely information about consumers' needs.

That happens naturally in a free market economy. But central planners set wages and prices. They lose the valuable feedback these indicators provide about supply and demand.

As a result, there are often shortages of consumer goods. All production is geared toward those that serve the national interest, like military equipment and public works. To compensate, citizens create a black market to trades the things that the fascist economy doesn't provide. This erodes public trust in the government, creating cynicism and rebellion in the long run.

Fascism either ignores or attacks those who don't aid attainment of the national values. This includes minority groups, the elderly, the developmentally challenged and their caretakers. It attacks groups that it blames for past economic ailments. The others are viewed as extraneous or an unnecessary drag on prosperity. They may be viewed as bad for the genetic pool and sterilized.

Fascism only aids those who align with the national values. They may use their power to rig the system and create additional barriers to entry. This includes laws, educational attainment and capital. In the long term, this can limit diversity and the innovation it creates

Fascism ignores external costs, such as pollution. This makes goods cheaper and more accessible. It also depletes natural resources and lowers the quality of life in the affected areas. 

Difference Between Fascism,Capitalism, Socialism and Communism

AttributeFascism CommunismSocialismCapitalism
Factors of production are owned byIndividualsEveryoneEveryoneIndividuals
Factors of production are valued forNation BuildingUsefulness to peopleUsefulness to peopleProfit
Allocation decided byCentral planCentral planCentral planLaw of supply and demand 
From each according to hisValue to the NationAbilityAbilityMarket decides
To each according to hisNeedContributionIncome, wealth and borrowing ability

Fascism Versus Capitalism

Fascism and capitalism both allow entrepreneurship. The fascist society restricts it to those who contribute to the national interest. Entrepreneurs must follow the orders of the central planners. They can become very profitable. But not because they are in touch with the market. 

Many entrepreneurs are independent-minded. They prefer to take orders from customers, not the government. Fascism could destroy the entrepreneurial spirit, thus limiting innovation. That creates jobs, more tax revenue and higher stock prices. Fascist nations miss this comparative advantage over other countries. For more, see Silicon Valley: America's Innovative Advantage.

Fascism, like capitalism, does not promote equality of opportunity. Those without the proper nutrition, support and education may never make it to the playing field. Society will never benefit from their valuable skills. (Source: "Markets Versus Controls," Brown University.)

Fascism Versus Socialism

In both fascism and socialism, the government rewards companies for their contribution. The difference is that socialist governments own the companies in strategic industries outright. These are usually in oil, gas and other energy-related resources. 

Fascist governments allow private citizens to own them. The state may own some companies, but it is more likely to establish cartels of business within the industries. It hands out contracts, thereby coopting business owners to serve the state.

Fascism Versus Communism

In the past, fascism gained power in countries where communism had also become a threat. Business owners preferred the fascist leader because they thought they could control him. They were more afraid of a communist revolution where they lost all their wealth and power. They underestimated the leader's connection to the general public.

Can Fascism Occur in a Democracy?

Fascist leaders can rise to power through democratic elections. Economist Milton Friedman suggested that democracy can only exist in a capitalistic society. But many countries have had fascist economic components and a democratically-elected government. But Adolf Hitler was elected to power in Germany. He used that position to overthrow his enemies and become a fascist leader.

Fascism grows if three ingredients are in place. First, the nation must be in a severe economic crisis. Second, the people believe that existing institutions and government parties cannot improve the situation. The third ingredient is a sense that the country used to be great. People look to a charismatic leader to restore the nation to greatness. They tolerate the loss of civil liberties if it allows them to regain past glory. (Source: "" Live Science, January 24, 2017.)

Could the United States succumb to fascism? Not without violating the Constitution. First, it protects the rights of minorities from the very persecution that fascists thrive on. It has checks and balances. The fascist leader would have to dissolve Congress and the Judicial branch to attain full power. 

The U.S. Constitution also protects the free market, but that is consistent with fascism. For example:

  • Article I, Section 8 establishes the protection of innovation through copyright.
  • Article I, Sections 9 and 10 protects free enterprise and freedom of choice. It prohibits states from taxing each others' production.
  • Amendment IV prohibits unreasonable government searches and seizures, thereby protecting private property.
  • Amendment V protects the ownership of private property.
  • Amendment XIV prohibits the government from taking property without due process of law.
  • Amendments IX and X limits the government's power to those specifically outlined in Constitution. All other powers not mentioned are conferred to the people.

The Constitution protects capitalism and democracy. But fascism is unlike socialism or communism. It allows business owners to keep their companies. (Source: James Dick, Jeffrey Blais, Peter Moore, "Chapter 1, How Has the Constitution Shaped the Economic System in the United States?" Civics and Government.


Fascism was one of the consequences of World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution and the Great Depression. The war created thousands of angry and disenchanted veterans. They felt the government had betrayed them by sending them into an unnecessary conflict. The revolution in Russia made everyone afraid of the spread of communism. The depression made people desperate for a better life.

The fascist leaders became successful by appealing to the public nationalism. They used violence to intimidate others. They convinced the ruling elite to share power in return for beating the communists. 

Italy. Benito Mussolini first used the word "fascist" in 1919. He was elected, but only by 4,796 votes. The existing government helped him rise to power to fight off the communists. They also wanted to coopt and use his violent militia. Italian fascists believed that since the development of the nation-state was a scientific fact, its preservation ought to be the object of state policy. (Source: "What Is Fascism?" Live Science, January 24, 2017.)

Italy organized private companies into 22 sectors that had Fascist Party members as senior participants. State agencies had shares in many strategic companies. The Instituto Mobiliare controlled the country's credit. (Source: "," Library of Economics and Liberty.)

Germany. Hitler won 37.2 percent of the vote in 1932. Wealthy business owners aided his ascent. In return, they received government contracts and slave labor. Government cartels controlled the finance, manufacturing and agriculture industries. They allowed owners to get rich from the profits, while lowering wages for the workers. (Source: "," Slate.com.)

Spain. ​Francisco Franco ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975. He overthrew the democratically-elected government during the Spanish Civil War. At first, he steered Spain toward economic independence. That didn't help an economy already battered by the civil war and then World War II.  Spain suffered from recession and the growth of a black market. In the 1960s, Franco opened up Spain's markets to free trade and foreign investment. (Source: "," History.com. "," The Economist, May 21, 2009.)

Other fascist regimes were Antonio de Oliveira Salazar in Portugal and Juan Perón in Argentina. Great Britain, France, Hungary had fascist tendencies. These sputtered out before attaining too much power, according to Robert Paxton in the Anatomy of Fascism (Source: "The Original Axis of Evil," The New York Times, May 2, 2004.)