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The question of what National Socialism actually is tends to be confusing these days for many people. The natural tendency, of course, would be to ask historians (who are the experts about this) what it is. There have been some problems with this approach, though, which is why there is still some confusion over what National Socialism is.
The first problem is that historians are academics and tend to write for other academics, other historians, and are therefore not as easily read and understood by the average public reader.
Another problem is that not even historians are agreed as to what all exactly goes in to making National Socialism what it is. Most historians usually have their own definitions, but these can vary from overly simplistic to incredibly complex definitions.
Finally, in their attempts to discover what National Socialism is, many people revert to those who think they know but actually don't, to those unfortunately uninformed or misinformed individuals with an opinion and little to no evidence. Or they revert to those with an agenda to sell, usually political, such as pundits, who make a lot of money off the topic by selling to people what they want to hear and what they have cherry-picked from a few sources.
I have derived a formula based on my literature review of primary and secondary sources that I believe is not overly simplistic or overly complex.
This formula provides a handy guideline of the essential requirements necessary for a movement to be considered National Socialist, even though it may be a modern version of it, or to help gauge whether a person is promoting Nazi views or can be legitimately termed as a Nazi, even though they may deny it.
The key is to having these core 7 elements. If any one of these elements is missing, they are not National Socialist but something else, such as a simpler form of fascism. These seven spell out the acronym MAUSA³ or MAUSA. Four are core ideas that Nazis promote, and three are core ideas that they fight against. These are all of the essential must-have ideas for someone or for some movement to be considered as Nazi.
2. Authoritarianism (Totalitarian)
4. Social Darwinism
Full Disclosure -- Not All Historians Agree on What Fascism Is Exactly or That a Formula Is Even Possible, Just as Not All Historians Agree That Fascism Still Exists as a Political Force to Be Dealt with Today:
It's important to remember that fascism, just like National Socialism, was only defeated militarily, not ideologically. Once fascism was created as an ideology, it was impossible to put that genie back into a bottle again. Fascist ideas and writings still persist and inspire to this day. So there is no reason to assume that as an ideology it is now dead. The very vibrancy of fascism is so dynamic that it would be naive to consign the vision and goals of fascism to the history books, but that's exactly what some historians are attempting to do.
For example, the historian Jan Hatheway promotes the idea "... that true fascism was a European phenomenon between World War One and World War Two. The use of the term to describe later movements is, in this view, historically incorrect, and one should label them simply as fascistic to avoid confusion over the prewar movements of Hitler and Mussolini. What they have in common is authoritarianism and a preference for oligarchy." Jan Hatheway, The Progressive, "What Is Fascism?" (2022) 34.
Not all historians agree with Hatheway's assessment, though, such as the well-known historian Timothy Snyder in his book On Tyranny and by authoritarianism experts Jason Stanley and Ruth Ben-Ghiat. Also Paul Gilroy stated in his 2019 Holberg Lecture that the “horrors [of fascism] are always much closer to us than we like to imagine.” So there's very much a divide among historians regarding this issue currently.
Other intellectuals have also weighed in on this ongoing debate, such as Paul Street in his book This Happened Here where he argues that "Fascist governments begin as fascist movements. Because of this, it is crucial to impede the advancement of fascist movements before they take power. This preventative measure is increasingly difficult without plain, accurate language." Or with Masha Gessen in the Irish Times where she wrote, "The word 'fascist' is perfectly accurate when applied to Donald Trump." We all know that US president Joe Biden did exactly that on more than one occasion, calling it "semi-fascism." Umberto Eco calls these neo forms of fascism as "Ur-Fascism."
Finally, Anthony DiMaggio writes in his book Rising Fascism in America: It Can Happen Here that "... you're never going to get a carbon copy of the past." The issue is rather that there is "... enough overlap to make comparisons."
Why is it important to have an accurate formula that identifies fascism?
According to Henry Giroux, "Fascism is neither a static nor fixed moment in history, and the forms it takes do not have to imitate earlier historical models. It is an authoritarian ideology and a form of political behavior defined by what [Robert] Paxton calls a series of 'mobilizing passions.' These include an open assault on democracy, the call for a strongman, a contempt for human weakness, an obsession with hyper-masculinity, an aggressive militarism, an appeal to national greatness, a disdain for the feminine, an investment in the language of cultural decline, the disparaging of human rights, the suppression of dissent, a propensity for violence, disdain for intellectuals, a hatred of reason, and fantasies of racial superiority and eliminationist policies aimed at social cleansing.
"The ghost of fascism has to be retrieved from history and restored to a 'proper place in the discussions of the moral and political limits of what is acceptable,' especially at a moment when the crisis of democracy cannot be separated from the crisis of neoliberalism. As a heuristic tool to compare forms of state power, the legacy of fascism offers an opportunity to recognize when authoritarian signposts are on the horizon." (Bold lettering is mine). Henry Giroux, "Neoliberal Fascism and the Echoes of History," 2022.
Primo Levi writes In the Black Hole of Auschwitz that "Every age has its own fascism." Similarly, James Baldwin also says the same in I Am Not Your Negro, "History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise, we literally are criminals." And Jason Stanley is cited in Ruth Ben-Ghiat's article "What Is Fascism?" as saying, “Fascism [is] ‘a political method’ that can appear anytime, anywhere, if conditions are right.” So for a historian to suggest that fascism is dead and gone is the same as saying that history is dead and gone, and nothing could be further from the truth.
It is crucial that a formula for identifying fascism exists because fascists today do not openly acknowledge that they are fascist. They used to. Alt-Right activists agreed amongst themselves by 2016 before the "Unite the Right" rally that they can be far more successful politically by intentionally downplaying and denying their fascist tendencies. And that's exactly what they've been doing. But more importantly, to borrow a phrase from Stephen Eric Bronner, "indeterminate views of [fascism] (whether a ["neo-," a "semi-," or a "proto-"] is added or not) can produce only indeterminate ideas of resistance." (Bold lettering is mine.)
In other words, today's fascists know that if they can create doubt as to what a fascist is, if the fascists of today can't be identified specifically as fascist, then the ability to effectively fight them also goes down significantly. Fascism is fascism. It's not "neo-," "proto-," "semi-" or any other prefix. It's straight up fascism if it meets the MAUSA³ formula. And although historically it is true that history does not repeat itself, it is also true that history does follow patterns, and the pattern for fascism yesterday, today, and tomorrow is clear: MAUSA³ .
I have a BA from Brigham Young University (1997) in English, history, and secondary education. I have a MA from Northern Arizona University (2005) in English. I have taught high school English since 1997 in Arizona, California, and Utah.
I am married and have two kids: a daughter who is currently with Utah State University working on her BS in American Sign Language and a son who is currently a senior in high school. I plan to eventually go to Arizona State University to work on a MA in history with an emphasis on modern central European history.