According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, fascism is “a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”
The greatest example of fascism is, of course, Nazism in twentieth-century Germany. An autocratic dictator (Adolph Hitler) decided to pursue policies that put Germany first at all costs and then also that put the “Arian race” first so that other non-Arians (primarily Jews) and the handicapped were exterminated. In the process, the individual rights of all Germans were severely curtailed.
Christians should condemn what happened in Nazi Germany and, today, all do. However, at the time it seems that many Christians (or at least those who identified themselves as such) had no trouble going along with the Nazi program. All too often, the cause of nation somehow gets confused with the cause of Christ. This happened in Germany, in part, because it was a “Christian” nation with a national church.
For a Christian assessment of fascism, we need to look at each of the individual components found in the definition above. The first is that of the autocratic leader or dictator. Scripture does not condemn dictators. In fact, in ancient times, almost all leaders were dictators. From Pharaoh to Nebuchadnezzar to Caesar, all had more or less supreme power in their kingdoms. Even the king of Israel had much more power than any leader in a modern democracy, but the king of Israel was supposed to rule with justice according to the Law as God’s representative. In fact, all kings are supposed to rule with justice and will be judged accordingly (Psalm 82). While it may offend modern sensitivities, dictators as such are not condemned in Scripture. However, autocratic dictators are a problem if they refuse to be governed by the law of God and become a law unto themselves.
Christians in modern democracies have tools to oppose out-of-control rulers that ancient Christians probably never imagined—voting, freedom of expression, the right to assemble, etc.—and these tools should be used. Of course, as the definition of fascism above states, a fascist regime is repressive, so individual rights are usually suppressed. The key would be to use these rights while they are still available to prevent fascism from coming to full power.
The second component of fascism to consider is the exaltation of national good above individual rights. Scripture has no direct assessment of individual versus national rights. There is always a balance. At times, men are called to go to war to protect the nation when many of them would rather not. At times, a governmental body can confiscate private property for the public good. In the United States, this cannot be done without due process and compensation for the property. In a fascist regime, private property can be confiscated at will, but this is true of many totalitarian regimes, not just fascist ones. On the other hand, if individual rights are absolutized, the result is anarchy. There must be a balance, and Western democracies have been able to maintain that balance through a system of “checks and balances” between the government and the people and within the government so that no single individual gains too much power.
Fascist regimes also often exalt their own nation above all other nations. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with a nation looking out for its own interests, but when this happens to the detriment of other nations, it runs contrary to Scripture. Philippians 2:3–4 give us the ideal: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” What is said here of the individual would also apply to nations. In a fascist regime, the individual dictator often considers himself to be the embodiment of the nation, so he may confuse his own personal good with that of the nation and its people.
Biblically speaking, it seems that the most odious aspect of fascism is the distinction between “races” and the exaltation of one’s own race above others. There is no biblical basis for these distinctions. First, biologically speaking, there is only one race—the human race with the scientific classification Homo sapiens. The differences we often associate with race such as skin color or the shape of the eye are simply variations with the species. Other distinctions such as food, music, and style of dress are the result of cultural forces. Ultimately, there is no real difference between people—all are made in the image of God, and all have sinned and all must be saved by faith in Christ or they will stand condemned before God. Racism is wrong in every instance and should be resisted by Christians both in the church in in larger society. For this reason, a Christian should have no part in fascist organizations.
With the election of Donald Trump, many fear that the United States is headed into fascism or perhaps that fascist elements within the United States have been emboldened.
The following is neither an endorsement nor a condemnation of President Trump, but hopefully a realistic assessment of the issues. First, many fear that he is just the kind of autocratic leader who would become a dictator. Certainly, President Trump has a strong personality and likes to get things done his way. However, as the first few months of his Presidency have demonstrated, he has been checked on every side. The Supreme Court, the Congress, the Press, and the Public have prevented him from carrying out many of his initiatives. He is far from being a dictator and may have even less power than he initially thought he would.
President Trump has proposed that in all foreign policy we should put America first. This is not necessarily problematic. If by “America first” we mean that we can abuse and exploit the rest of the world, then, of course, it is a problem. But if “America first” means that we have some serious problems threatening the very foundation of our freedoms that must be addressed so that we can then become a strong force for good in the world, then this emphasis is necessary. It is like when you are getting ready for takeoff on an airliner. The person giving the safety instructions always instructs you that, if the oxygen masks deploy, you need to put your mask on first and then help your children or others who may need help. The simple fact is that, if you pass out due to lack of oxygen, you will be able to help no one and will become part of the problem.
A further issue that has led many to think that the United States is headed down the road to fascism is that of immigration. There are many fascist groups within the U.S. that think America is at its best when white Americans are in charge. As we have already mentioned, racism has no place in the life of a Christian. However, any nation has the right to control who enters the country either as a visitor or as an immigrant. If a person wants to “build the wall” to keep Mexicans out because he doesn’t like Mexicans, then that is racist. But if a person wants to “build the wall” so we can screen who enters and maintain security, then it is well within the duty and responsibility of government. To fail to ensure the safety of citizens would be a dereliction of duty.
In the final analysis, fascism is a dangerous movement. There are a number of aspects of it that are troubling to freedom-loving people, and the racial aspect can be condemned on biblical grounds. However, it is unfair to identify political opponents as “fascist” simply because you strongly disagree with their political viewpoints.