Brendan O’Neill Brendan O’Neill

Just because you disagree with someone, it doesn’t make them a ‘fascist’

The worst thing about 2016 — an otherwise bracing year of political upset and oligarchical tears — has been the mainstreaming of the insult ‘fascist’. Anyone who sticks it to the status quo, whether by rejecting the EU or plumbing for Trump over Clinton, risks being smeared with the F-word. Even the normally measured New York Times flirted with the idea that loads of Americans and Europeans might be fascists, or at least facilitators of fascism. Trump’s victory speaks to a possible ‘revival of fascism’, it said, echoing the fears of an army of observers and tweeters who see in Brexit and Trump the stirrings of a kind of Nazism.

The terrifying casualness with which the F-word is now flung about could be glimpsed in the Michael Sheen controversy. Achieving ‘peak luvvie’, Sheen said, in an interview with the Times, that he was cutting back on acting to fight the new ‘demagogic, fascist’ politics. Where is this fascism? Wales, apparently. A Times editor summed it up: ‘The great actor Michael Sheen is quitting acting and going back to Wales to battle the rise of populism and fascism’. So are there Blackshirts in Cardiff? Swarms of Hitler Youth in Merthyr Tydfil? No. These people are talking about Brexit voters. They’re talking about those largely working-class Welsh communities that said ‘Screw you’ to the EU. In the eyes of the snootier sections of society, these people are fascists, or midwives of fascism. Sheen has since clarified his comments. He says he isn’t ditching acting and doesn’t think Welsh Brexiteers are fascists. That’s nice of him. Yet his diagnosis that the west is in the grip of a ‘demagogic, fascist’ politics is one shared by much of the smart set. And they seem not to realise whose footsteps they’re following in. For ‘fascist’ has long been the favoured slur of the authoritarian, especially Stalinist authoritarians.

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