Monday, October 20, 2008

Fascism


Tony from Traverse City, Michigan, asks about the origin of the word fascism. It turns out to be only a little bit better than a stick in the eye.

Fascist comes from the Latin word fasces, a bundle of sticks. It was a symbol of the power of Roman magistrates, whose duty was to preserve and dispense justice.

A bundle of rods was tied tightly around an axe and carried before the magistrate by his Lictors. They acted as his bodyguards and as instruments of justice: they could beat an offender with rods if the magistrate so ordered, or they could behead the most serious perpetrators.

There was also a symbolic value to the fasces. They stood for strength through unity. You could easily snap a single rod, but a bound bundle was impervious. So, too, the Roman Republic -- a tightly-bound alliance of citizens and allies -- could face its enemies with confidence and power.

In time, the concept degenerated into the dark side of power: oppression, use of sheer force to impose will, and a system that crushed state-defined decadent individuals and organizations in order to promote a new national purity.

In our day, it has sometimes been watered down to become a synonym for a bully.


SIDEBAR: 14 characteristics of fascism



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