“Fascist” used to mean something — and it still does, to serious people (who are so few). I’ll quote a dictionary definition of fascism: “a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.”
After the war (World War II), the Left seized the word “fascist” and applied it to people who were the opposite of fascist: who favored democracy, pluralism, individual freedom, the rule of law, property rights, the separation of powers, free enterprise, etc. I, for example (who am a classical liberal, like you, probably), am called a fascist all the time. Martin Luther King, in his Nobel lecture, called Barry Goldwater a fascist — Barry Goldwater, who was a decentralizer, not a centralizer, if there ever was one.
“Liberal” used to mean something too, and that meaning was a far cry from “McGovernite.” Liberals were distrustful of state power, wanting to curb it. They emphasized individual freedoms. They pressed for free trade. They were opponents of collectivism, in its many manifestations. They prized freedom of conscience. But the Left seized the word “liberal” too — and before you knew it, the New York Times was referring to Angela Davis as “ultra-liberal.”
Davis, remember, was the vice-presidential nominee of the Communist party.
In some parts of the world, they continue to use “liberal” in the old way. This confuses some Americans. Our media had a ticklish time with John Howard — the “right-wing,” “warmongering,” Bush-supporting prime minister of Australia, who was leader of the Liberal party. In Europe, the Left denounces Reagan-style people as “neo-liberals” or “hyper-liberals” — which would make someone like Barbra Streisand dizzy.
“Neocon” used to mean something, something fairly solid. Michael Harrington applied it to Irving Kristol. The neoconservatives were people who had crossed over from the left side of our spectrum for two reasons, essentially: They were skeptical of the efficacy of social-welfare programs, and they wanted to stand up to the Soviet Union in the manner of John Kennedy and previous Democrats. In time, however, “neocon” came to mean — well, what “fascist” means. It means, “I know you’re not on the left, and I hate you.”
Which brings me to the word “Zionist.” This, too, meant something, and this, too, has been twisted and uglified and otherwise abused. I had a piece on this subject in a recent National Review, and it is available on the website today: “The Z-Word: When people say ‘Zionist,’ what do they mean?”
Sure, words evolve, we all accept that. But sometimes they evolve stupidly, viciously, and unfortunately.