Of all the unanswered questions of our time, declared George Orwell in 1944, ‘perhaps the most important is: What Is Fascism?’. Madeleine Albright, who served as US Ambassador to the United Nations and as American Secretary of State, has an answer – not as an explanation of the past, but as an omen for the present.
After World War II, Fascism fell out of favour: it became an insult to be traded. But the momentum for democracy that swept the world when the Berlin Wall fell has gone into reverse. In many countries, economic, technological, and cultural factors are weakening the political centre and empowering the extremes of right and left. And the current geopolitical scene – whether in Washington or Moscow, Beijing or Ankara – makes many of us recall defunct regimes which also used sophisticated propaganda techniques, whose ‘natural’ leaders also employed crisis-speak and grand gestures, who privileged feelings over ideas, who excluded and demonized Others, who aroused popular enthusiasm in the service of illiberal, exclusionary and expansionist national agendas.
The twentieth century was defined by the clash between democracy and fascism, a struggle that created uncertainty about the survival of human freedom and left countless millions dead. Who would wish to repeat such horrors? Can we not safely forget them? But those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.
As Madeleine Albright argues, Fascism not only endured through the course of the twentieth century, but presents a more virulent threat to international peace and justice now than at any time since 1945.