The problem with Fascism is not political.
There's been a lot of debate (well, "debate") lately about whether it's OK to punch Nazis, because apparently that's the kind of world we live in now. Those lovely people in Antifa, of course, say that it is — and, helpfully, define "Nazi" as "anyone I've just punched". Saves a lot of confusion, that. My experience in the mires of the Web tells me that plenty of people who are nowhere near as extreme are still staunchly in the Nazi-punching camp. I despair.
Such people are well-intentioned, of course. Who wants to see the rise of Nazism again? What decent person doesn't wish someone had killed Adolf Hitler in, say, 1928? Surely beating him to death before he really got stuck in would have done the world a favour. Surely.
There are a couple of problems with this. Firstly, and most obviously, punching Nazis isn't a new idea. Some Germans actually thought of it in the 1920s, and gave it a go. In other words, the only reason we're even discussing whether punching Nazis works is that punching Nazis didn't work.
But it's the second problem I want to talk about.
The problem with Nazis was not their antisemitism. It wasn't their economic policy — as a free-marketeer, I'm full of criticisms of it, but nations are often run by people who are wrong. Hundreds of nations had bad economic policy at the time, but most of them were not problems in the way Germany turned out to be. The problem with the Nazis wasn't their social policy, or their nutty racial theories (I say "nutty", but they were shared by rather a lot of the planet's respectable scientists at the time), or even their invention of [shudder] the communal holiday camp. The Nazis could have believed everything they believed and just been bastards. That's not a compliment, but it's not one of history's greatest evils either. Bastards are with us always.
What tipped the Nazis over the edge from bastards to... well, to fucking Nazis was their belief in the rightness of the use of violence against their enemies. Antisemites who use the word "yid", who complain about the International Jewish Conspiracy™, and refuse to have Jews round to dinner are annoying in all sorts of ways, but are not on remotely the same planet as slaughtering six million innocent people.
In the alternative universe where European Jews systematically round up and kill six million innocent Aryans — even Aryans who believe they are the chosen master race and Jews are inferior and the root of all the world's problems — the Aryans aren't the bad guys, and the Jews aren't heroes. That universe's Holocaust is every bit as wrong as our own. The ongoing argument about whether National Socialists were really Socialists is immaterial: what they did would still be evil if done in the name of Liberalism or Conservatism or David Icke's lizard people or preferring The Stones to The Beatles. The underlying reasons don't matter. It's the replacement of civilized argument with violence that matters.
Now, I'm not a pacifist. I'm not anti-war — especially not the war fought to defeat and destroy Nazi Germany. The proud Nazi-punchers like to compare themselves to the Allied forces who stormed Normandy and claim that they're just doing the same thing: using violence against Nazis. Apart from their bizarre aspiration to turn our societies into Omaha Beach, I wonder how far they're willing to strain that logic. If you burn down a house with a family inside, aren't you just doing what the RAF did when they dropped incendiary bombs on German cities? Surely, as long as the parents are on the wrong side, it's OK to incinerate them and their kids. Right?
Well, there are wars and there are wars. War has reasons and it has aims, and it is by them that we must judge it. The aim of the Allies in World War 2 was pretty clear: to prevent the wholesale destruction of European civilization and its replacement with the Fourth Reich, accompanied by the mass slaughter of hundreds of millions of humans. We like to tell ourselves that we fought the Nazis to defeat their ideology, but did we, really? All of their ideology? Well, no, obviously not. The Nazis gave food and shelter to the unemployed and the homeless. They opposed Catholicism. They opposed global trade and Capitalism. They believed private enterprise should work for the good of the community, not for profit. They believed the state should provide healthcare. They controlled food commodity prices through a quota system, just like the EU. The Nazi policy of "creating" employment through massive state-sponsored infrastructure-building schemes is popular with Labour, the Conservatives, and Barack Obama. Antisemitism is, sadly, a bit of a vote-winner these days. Even the improvement of the race via the forced removal from the gene pool of inferior specimens is a horribly popular idea to this day, and involuntary sterilisation of the mentally unfit was state policy in Sweden into the 1970s. You may note that, deplorable though that was, no-one went to war with Sweden over it.
There are people on the Right who delight in producing lists like this to draw attention to the myriad ways in which the Left agree with the Nazis, and thus to imply that the Left are Nazis. I am not one of them. The point I'm making is quite the opposite: that a lot of Nazi policies were actually OK, and that agreeing with them on some of these points is perfectly respectable. I disagree with most of them, but not enough to go to war over. Most of it was just wrong or misguided or inefficient or a matter of opinion, not evil. Most of it. But the small core that was evil, well... it was everything.
The reason we had to fight the Nazis, the reason that they represented an existential threat, was not any one of their preferences within the realm of politics, but their belief about what that realm should encompass, about what politics itself should be. They didn't just reject democracy — which is bad, but not necessarily all that bad. They didn't just reject the principle that the strong have a duty to protect the weak — a principle with less of a historical pedigree than we might like to think. No, they inverted it: they embraced the principle that the strong have a duty to destroy the weak — and, of course, that the good should destroy the bad. Once they'd done that, the definitions they came up with for "strong" and "weak", "good" and "bad" were immaterial: the results were going to be just as evil regardless, and any society they built was going to be a hell. In their early days, it was street brawls; once they got power, it was genocide; but they're just two points on the same continuum: if you start with the principle that the former is right, you're on the path to the latter. Of course their target was the Jews — it's always the Jews — and of course it wasn't only the Jews — it never is. But the Nazis would still have been evil, and it would still have been necessary to destroy them, had they picked on someone else.
If, for instance, they'd taken to the streets to punch Nazis.