Fascism is a political system based on a strong leader, state control, and being very proud of one’s country and race. It took over in a few European countries and climaxed with World War II, the largest conflict in human history. These days, there are few people who follow this ideology. However, as political discourse is shifting to the right, we should take another look at why people are drawn to fascism.
So, why is fascism so appealing? This was a question history students in Cubberley High School, California, asked their teacher, Ron Jones, in 1967. The class just couldn’t understand why the Germans elected someone as despicable as Adolf Hitler. Unable to answer, Jones decided that the best way to explain the appeal was to show them. He taught his students a lesson they would never forget by incorporating fascist principles into his teaching.
Experimenting with Fascism
On the first day of the experiment, Jones introduced strict rules into his classroom to create a sense of discipline. Students had to be sitting before the bell, standing to answer questions, and begin each sentence with ‘Mr Jones’. You would think that such unnecessary regulations would be met by strong opposition, especially from teenagers. This was not the case. Not only were the students completely complicit with these rules, but they became more motivated than ever before.
On day two, Jones named this movement the ‘Third Wave Movement’, introduced a salute, and told his class to do it whenever they saw each other, even outside the history lesson; they all complied. By the third day, students who didn’t even take history attended the class because they wanted to join the movement. Jones created initiation tests and gave members jobs like preventing people from outside the movement entering the classroom. Unexpectedly, students began reporting to Jones when other members weren’t complying with the rules. Membership increased from thirty to two hundred.
At this point, Jones realized that things were beginning to get out of hand. He told the members that the Third Wave was a nationwide campaign and that tomorrow on the television, a presidential candidate who was part of the movement would reveal himself. The next day, the students gathered in Jones’ room in front of a screen, only for Jones to announce that they were all part of a fascist experiment and were behaving exactly as the Germans did in the 1940s. Jones then played a video of the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels to drive home his point. He named the experiment the Third Wave Experiment after the movement.
Conclusions and Solutions
To answer the question, fascism rises because it appeals to two of the strongest elements of human nature: community and competitiveness. One of the most mysterious aspects of the human condition is that compared to other animals, we have a stronger desire to cooperate with each other and compete against each other at the same time. Fascism creates a sense of belonging by emphasizing a group’s superior morality and discipline, which Jones did by introducing a strict code of conduct. However, it also creates a dislike against those who are outside the group, showcased by members reporting to Jones that some people weren’t following all the rules.
But how did these students go from hating Nazism to supporting fascism in just five days? In my opinion, the issue lies in free speech (or lack thereof). Society told these students that fascism was wrong, but never explained why. That would involve fascist ideology being presented to them, which was considered harmful, even if only as a devil’s advocate. Consequently, when Jones exposed genuine fascist ideology to them, they became completely infatuated with it. Simultaneously, they condemned Nazism in a staggering show of doublethink that would make Orwell turn in his grave.
If we want to stop countries implementing extremist policies, we should debate ideas that we disagree with rather than shy away from them. After all:
‘I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself’ — Oscar Wilde.