14

Related to Why are we closing questions for being susceptible to opinion on a site about politics? but focused on a broader question raised by it.

We have this question about Donald Trump, which is seeking to apply the term "fascist" to him. The problem is nobody can agree what that means and every given answer actually mentions this


Fizz (quoting this paper) - Conclusion: Historically, no. In modern terms, maybe?

Since the 1960s, scholars have debated whether to embrace expansive or restrictive definitions of fascism, where to place it on the traditional “left/right” political spectrum, and how to explain its relationship to other movements, such as socialism, liberalism, and conservatism. Much of the disagreement reflects differences of methodological focus.

Lag - Conclusion: Yes

In Orwell's essay, What is Facism?, he remarked that in normal use the word is "almost entirely meaningless" and "degrade[d] to the level of a swearword".

But there is a "buried meaning" understood by even those people who "recklessly fling the word ‘Fascist’ in every direction": "By 'Fascism' they mean, roughly speaking, something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working-class."

Peter - Conclusion: No, but he's headed that way

Fascism is a rather loosely defined term, and is often used to describe regimes that have reached the goal, rather than parties or people that are still in the process of working towards it. Aspiring fascist movements rarely announce their ultimate goals of dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, strong regimentation of society and of the economy.

Ted Wrigley - Conclusion: Kinda, sorta, maybe?

Let's be clear up front that the term 'fascist' is problematic in discussions of this sort. Most people use the term merely as a term of derision for anyone who uses their power in an illegitimate or unpleasant way: e.g., a fascist boss, a fascist cop, a fascist bank. While it is possible to give a reasonably factual definition of the term 'fascism' — at least in the same general sense that we can define terms like 'conservative' or 'liberal' — it is difficult to use the word in public without an assortment of knee-jerk responses from people who only know the pejorative sense.

Michael B - (question asker) Conclusion: No

There's no easy quote, but he has to spend 1/3 of his answer telling us what he thinks Fascism is (and he does a good job of that, citing multiple sources) before attempting an answer.


Is this an acceptable type of question?

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    Does this answer your question? Why are we closing questions for being susceptible to opinion on a site about politics? I'm not really seeing how your question is broader that the other one. More like the other way around. You answer to that other question is pretty much the same as your question here. – SX welcomes ageist gossip Feb 26 at 19:54
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    @Fizz We really need a canonical for this going forward. He wants to know if his question can be kept open. A principled question aimed at the heart of the matter is necessary to prevent others from doing the same – Machavity Feb 26 at 20:03
  • Note that in Germany, a court recently found that a prominent right-wing politician Bernd Höcke (leader of the Thuringian AdD, a far, far right party) can be called a fascist.A little later, the AfD tried to call the left-wing politician Simone Oldenburg fascist. Courts ruled this to be illegal since she is not, in fact, fascist. – Polygnome Mar 1 at 23:05
  • I don't know why the rest of the world has a problem determining when someone is fascist, but as a german, that strikes me as very odd. Then on the other hand we don't use the term lightly to the point where its meaning might have become eroded. – Polygnome Mar 1 at 23:05
18

No, we should not allow this.

When we post questions about the political positions of individual people, then we should do so by asking for actual positions on specific issues. We should not ask whether or not abstract labels apply. Why?

  1. Abstract labels almost always include a positive or negative connotation. "Fascist" is a label with an especially negative connotation. Our goal is to inform people, not convince them of our views. So applying labels with strong connotations should be avoided on this website.
  2. Abstract labels are interpreted differently by different people. It doesn't tell us as much about the political views of the person as it tells us about the political views of the person applying that label.

More useful questions you could ask instead are:

  • What is [politician]'s view about [specific issue]?
  • What political actions has [politician] taken in the past regarding [issue]?
  • How did [politician] justify their actions/inaction on [issue] in public statements?
  • What do polls say about what [demographic] thinks about [politician]? (please make clear that you are not looking for anecdotal answers. "My friend is a [demographic] and he says..." is not a useful answer)
  • Does [politician] self-identify as a [Fascist|Communist|Anarchist|Liberal|Conservative|Extremist|Centrist|Whateverist]? (please explicitly ask about direct quotes)

That way you leave the judgment call about whether or not an abstract label applies to them to the reader.

Update: I now decided to delete the question which incited this debate, because:

  • All the upvoted answers on this meta-question state that we should not allow this question.
  • There are no comments below these answers which speak out against the arguments made in these answers.
  • Only one answer says it should stay, and that answer is heavily downvoted and received critical comments.
  • Closing the question proved to be inefficient, because it already got closed and reopened by community votes twice.
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    How many comments on this metaQ&A are deleted? Don't they count as well? Does +11-5 on meta with low participation trump +22-19 on main with high participation? Within what timeframe is "consensus" declared? If closing is 'ineffecient', because community moderation reversed that decision, twice! the solution is to allow abuse of rude flags and mod-deletion rule the site? Based on metaAs from the same people that lost the community close? Seems to me that having rules for that at the ready and laid out would be an advantage over this arbitration? – LаngLаngС Feb 28 at 11:07
  • @LаngLаngС If you want to know exactly how many comments got deleted: There are currently 3 deleted comments on the answers here, all on the answers by Michael_B and all deleted by their author. There are further 3 deleted comments on the question. One was a suggestion to the author to move a part of the question to a self-answer and one of the author notifying the user that they did that. I deleted both because they are now obsolete. The third comment was deleted by its author. – Philipp Feb 28 at 12:14
  • @LаngLаngС Oh, and there is also an undeleted comment on an answer which was deleted by the author of that answer. That comment also spoke out against such questions. – Philipp Feb 28 at 12:22
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    @LаngLаngС Regarding your criticism about my decision: The reason why we have moderators on Stack Exchange instead of relying only on self-moderation through the community is because there are situations where the community self-administration processes fail. In that case it's up to the moderators to do the right thing, even against the voting behavior of the community. What is "the right thing" to do? Debating that is what meta is for. – Philipp Feb 28 at 12:43
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    Seems I forgot that I must have refrained from posting a comment written then. I criticise mainly that "the right thing" is much less defined than even "fascism". You acted out what your personal preference on that was all along, you had skin in the game. "What meta is for" is an empty declaration if '&what follows' is nowhere defined with clear rules. The reasons given pro deletion in this thread are weak and some plain wrong, more: the process for 'what's consensus' seems adhoc, variable, entirely. That should change. – LаngLаngС Feb 28 at 12:55
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    That question was not rude/abusive. Tons of people on the left have described him as one—it is fair to ask if they’re exaggerating. Didn’t work super well with the Q&A format, though. – Stormblessed Feb 28 at 15:16
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    Indeed it would be nice if you could update this with addressing: why deleted, instead of bounty removal, or closing, and why rude/abusive kicked in. Was the 100penalty avoidable (especially since it was apparently used to censor away a question, normal users blocked from doing so by other means because of the bounty)? Deleted also suggests that you personally think question is uterly unsalvagable? – LаngLаngС Feb 28 at 15:27
7

My problem is broader than this one question. Fascism is ill-defined for our purposes here. I tend to think Jonah Goldberg got it right when he said

In short, “fascist” is a modern word for “heretic,” branding an individual worthy of excommunication from the body politic. The left uses other words—“racist,” “sexist,” “homophobe,” “christianist”—for similar purposes, but these words have less elastic meanings. Fascism, however, is the gift that keeps on giving. George Orwell noted this tendency as early as 1946 in his famous essay “Politics and the English Language”: “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.”

If this question is fair game then we should be able to ask if any modern politician is a fascist because, sooner or later, someone will toss out the label as a way to malign an opposing person. Exhibit A is Donald Trump labeling Nancy Pelosi a fascist

“It’s a fascist statement, it’s a disgraceful statement. I call her ‘Nervous Nancy,’ she’s a nervous wreck,” Trump said during a call-in interview on “Fox & Friends.”

I could ask a dozen questions right now about various political figures who have all been called "fascist" by someone.

I suggest we make this the policy going forward:

  1. Attempts to apply the word to a current politician are off-topic because the word has no widely accepted definition and is often tossed about as a political slur. For our purposes here, a politician is considered current if they are in office, are running for office, or have been either within the past two years. Questions falling into this category could be closed as opinion based.
  2. Discussions about the generic meaning of the word "fascist" is on-topic. It is still a political word. Discussions can mention current usages, but only for context.
  3. Discussions about historical fascists (i.e. Benito Mussolini) and their views are on-topic.
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5

The real problem is that there are two radically different definitions of the word:

  1. political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) 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

  2. a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control early instances of army fascism and brutality— J. W. Aldridge

Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fascism

Which makes limits the usefulness of the word. Is it a question of Nationalism or a question of dictatorial power restricting individual rights? People that believe fascism means definition 2 will be greatly offended when definition 1 believers use the word to apply to a politician they like. Failure to share a common set of facts and definitions is the source of many flamewars on the Internet.

IMHO, the word should be avoided as ambiguous. Instead, questions should be asked that have definitive non-opinion based answers using words that have an agreed upon meanings.

Definitions matter: OP should change the title to use a less ambiguous word.

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Politics is naturally contentious, and people are naturally going to ask contentious questions. The way to deal with a contentious question is not to delete it — because then we strip the heart out of political discourse — but temper the question and explore it analytically.

The term 'Fascism' is not difficult to define: it's a form of nationalism that takes an ethnic identity as its primary focus, and that seeks to promote the prestige and welfare of that ethnic identity above all others. There is more room for debate around the specific features of fascism — there are a few features that seem to occur in every form of fascism, and others that correlate with it but aren't quite universal — but that kind of variety is natural and unproblematic. The problem with the term is that (post 1930s) no person or group that is factually fascist per the definition is willing to accept the term 'fascist', because doing so would reduce the prestige of their group. When we confront a fascist as a fascist, s'he will always strike back with that juvenile "I'm not a fasicst, you're a fascist" routine that we all know and love so well. But the way to address juvenile behavior like that is to stick to the definition and not take offense.

  • It's impossible to tell whether a question like this is asked maliciously or in good faith, at least unless the question-asker does something further to demonstrate bad faith.
  • It is an important question, in the sense that it would be useful for people to know the answer, be it 'yes' or 'no'.
  • It is something that should be discussed, preferably in a calm and civil manner.

Closing a question of this sort merely because it has a troublesome word does not serve the interests of the site or the interests of the people who read it. We're here to educate, not to officiate, and certainly not to sanitize politics.

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    So, you're saying that the definition quoted from a dictionary here is wrong? It defines it as "exalt[ing] nation and often race" (emphasis mine), and specifically cites autocratic/dictatorial tendencies as part of fascism. Do you have a source for your definition? --------- More generally, this debate over what the definition actually is is the reason that the question wasn't answerable as written. – Bobson Mar 1 at 16:06
  • @Bobson: It's not a wrong definition, simply a variant. A nation in political science jargon is a culturally cohesive unit (as opposed to a state, which is a territorially defined unit). Cultural cohesion is closely related to ethnic identity: both invoke the 'people like me' attitude. And the autocratic/dictatorial/authoritarian aspect is a common characteristic; I left it out because I think it's secondary — I prefer keeping things simple — but that's not too much of an issue. – Ted Wrigley Mar 1 at 16:24
  • @Bobson: This is the way you end these kinds of debates: by bringing things together on central points and not sweating bullets over secondary disputes. If a discussion like this continues, people will come to a common agreement on the term if they are being reasonable. if someone is not being reasonable, s'he will eventually put that on full display, and definition will stand as reasonable in contrast. – Ted Wrigley Mar 1 at 16:29
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The conclusion of the Delete faction seems to be that one must not apply the term “fascist” to a modern political figure. They also have stated reasons to argue in favor of that point.

To me that is an answer to the question "Is X a fascist". An answer that none of the actual 5 answers contradict, and most if not all of them support (albeit coming from various different angles, and thus covering the topic far better than this brief meta discussion does).

And because the Delete faction has an answer to the original question, that's their reason to delete it as rude/abusive? I expect a proper Q/A site to be better than that.

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    The problem is that there's no rational way to choose a "correct" answer between them, because they each provide their own definition and show why it does or doesn't apply. Either the OP will choose the one they like best (which means it's an opinion-based question) or there is no right answer (which means it's too broad). A revised version which provided a specific definition of "fascist" would be answerable, but for the most part, the OP would be able to apply that definition themselves, and so that form of the question is unlikely to be in good faith. – Bobson Mar 1 at 16:00
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    I tried to write a revised version here which would have the very clear "No there isn't a definition, so there's no yes/no answer" answer as the only valid one, but the OP didn't take me up on it. – Bobson Mar 1 at 16:01
-9

The premise of your question is wrong.

You wrote:

Should we allow questions where we are attempting to apply the term "fascist" to a modern political figure?

and this:

We have this question about Donald Trump, which is seeking to apply the term "fascist" to him.

Both statements miss the point entirely.

Here's the fact:

  • A former POTUS (not "we" or any other arbitrary individual), but a former president, characterized another POTUS as a fascist.

My question is based on that fact (with similar allegations from other prominent and influential people to illustrate that President Obama's characterization is not unique).

In the way you framed your question – saying that "we are attempting" to portray somebody in a horrible way – of course I would agree that such questions would be problematic.

But if we cannot ask a question on this site about a POTUS characterizing another POTUS (which is often done to sway public opinion), so that we can attempt to surface facts and truth, then what's the point of this site?

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    Again, the term "fascist" in this context has no accepted meaning. As you yourself noted, Trump is not behaving like Mussolini or even a petty dictator. So what did Obama, Kaine or Clinton mean by that? Trump called Pelosi a fascist for being critical of his administration. It's fairly clear, they are each operating from a standard that deviates from any historical context. Unless you can directly ask them, or somehow read their minds, any answer is pure speculation. – Machavity Feb 27 at 16:39
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    Wrong again, my friend. There are established and respected definitions of fascism (see the dictionaries and encyclopedias). Besides, even if you were correct, a lack of clear meaning requires more discussion, not less. This is an area where Politics.SE can play a leadership role for the general public. – Michael Benjamin Feb 27 at 16:49
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    @Michael_B - "requires more discussion, not less". From our help page: "If your motivation for asking the question is “I would like to participate in a discussion about ______”, then you should not be asking here." This is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum. – Bobson Feb 27 at 22:15
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    Also, you might want to fact check yourself a bit more: "which is done to sway public opinion" - Assuming that we take Kaine at his word, Obama said it in a private phone call that someone involved (Kaine) later repeated four years later. That's about as far from doing something to sway public opinion as you can be without not saying anything at all - at least on Obama's part. Kaine's motives, on the other hand, are valid to question. – Bobson Feb 27 at 22:31
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    I read and consider all the feedback I receive on this site. I believe most of it to be constructive and in good faith. My Q&A style (which tends to involve extensive research, tends to be longer than the average post, and aims to be canonical), is clearly not welcome on this site. This methodology does very well on Stack Overflow, as you can see on my activity page there. But it does very poorly here (4 of my 5 questions were deleted, and so were several of my answers). – Michael Benjamin Feb 27 at 23:18
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    Too many people don't take the question at face value and feel the need to speculate about the authors motivation. I can tell you first hand, all of the reasons given for closing and deleting my questions (e.g., not in good faith, an attempt to slander or discredit, etc.) were false. – Michael Benjamin Feb 27 at 23:21
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    The most glaring example was my question about Donald Trump and fascism. When I posted it, I was roundly accused of "obviously" wanting to trash Donald Trump as a fascist. But my answer went in the opposite direction. Like I said, too many people on this site (and especially the moderator Phillip) think they're good mind-readers. They're not. They're just censors shutting down viewpoints and opinions they don't like. – Michael Benjamin Feb 27 at 23:25
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    So I'm just going to quietly exit. Maybe I'll try posting on Medium, and see how it goes there. Good luck and best wishes to all of you. – Michael Benjamin Feb 27 at 23:26
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    @Michael_B That's a real shame. You do make good contributions. Hopefully some time away will help if you ever decide to come back. – Machavity Feb 28 at 0:58

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