This essay aims to describe a specific set of behaviors that I will label scientific fascism.
I am aware that the term fascist is overused in contemporary discourse, describing political administrations we don’t like or people we don’t like. It amounts to a slur, devoid of any connection to what fascism has meant politically and historically. I am aware of these concerns and do not take them lightly. I am attempting to describe a modern phenomenon. I do not imagine any goosestepping Nazis. It is also specific to a particular segment of society — individuals engaged in the culture wars. Nevertheless, to the extent that these attitudes and behaviors become more prevalent, this phenomenon has the political consequences of maintaining social inequalities and erasing the experiences of minority groups from public discourse. It is an attack on the modern consensus of multiculturalism and a push for social justice.
I am using this label primarily as a descriptor of people’s actions. I may say people are scientific fascists occasionally for stylistic reasons, but I am ultimately arguing that people practice behaviors that produce scientific fascism. The distinction is important. We must not conflate the consequences of behavior with who someone is.
The scientific fascist adopts as their tools of choice science and reason. The purpose of using these tools is only ever to mount an attack on the ideas underpinning social justice activities. These ideas include “lived experiences”, “safe spaces”, “white fragility”, “heteronormativity”, “systemic racism”, “toxic masculinity” and “microaggressions”, to name a few. This is one of the qualities that separates scientific fascism from scientism. Scientism is an extreme belief in science. Scientific fascists, on the other hand, are using science and reason for the political goal of pushing back social justice activism.
Here is an excerpt from the Oxford Dictionary describing fascism as we currently understand it:
“An authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization…Fascism tends to include a belief in the supremacy of one national or ethnic group, a contempt for democracy, an insistence on obedience to a powerful leader, and a strong demagogic approach.”
In contrast, I offer this definition of scientific fascism:
“Scientific fascism is a body of ideas characterized by the desire to erase the unique experiences of minority groups, obedience to a narrow view of science, and a dismissal of people who disagree as being devoid of reason or intelligence.”
Expressions of Scientific Fascism
I developed this understanding of what scientific fascism is through many interactions on social media, primarily Twitter. I am a sociologist who spends far too much time conversing with people about social issues on social media. Sometimes those conversations are often rewarding, occasionally frustrating, but almost always illuminating. I noticed a subset of unique interlocutors who exhibited distinct behaviors. They were usually anonymous, but their language usage and avatar suggested male. Examples of stock responses are below:
“…the desire to erase the unique experiences of minority groups…”
- “I believe in the Englightenment principles of individual liberty.”
- “Why must you always put people in groups. I am an INDIVIDUAL!”
- “What kind of ‘lived experiences’ do trans folks have? What is an experience if not lived?”
- “All Lives Matter”
Scientific fascists attempt to impose a belief on others that everyone should be treated as individuals. Some take a decontextualized view of the Enlightenment into conversations about individualism. They may argue that they are simply channeling the thought of people like Locke and Kant, who believed a government’s purpose was to preserve individual liberty.
On the one hand, it is perfectly reasonable to focus on the individual. Democracy is built upon this foundation. Moreover, racism, sexism, transphobia, and other social ills are based on people using a person’s group identity negatively.
On the other hand, what if the person wants their racial or gender identity to be taken into account? What if they see themselves as an individual and as a member of a particular group? I am a black man who, if I must say, is profoundly unique. At the same time, I proudly proclaim blackness as a part of my identity. I do not want to be told to reject my identity in favor of a philosophy someone else has adopted.
Likely, the person holding scientifically fascist ideas does not have a salient group identity themselves. This is not true just for the white, heterosexual male. It goes for anyone who, for whatever reason, is simply not interested in the identity groups that characterize modern Western nations (race, gender, sexual orientation). That is their prerogative. The problem is when they try and impose their identity-impoverishment on others.
I have personal experience with this. I am dark-skinned. Being dark-skinned was not a good thing within the black community in which I grew up. The elders during that time placed high values on being light-skinned. Parents would admonish their children to not stay in the sun too long, not for fear of skin cancer, but for fear of being too black. I tweeted about this, and I got responses such as: “Everyone hates their colors. White folks try to get suntans they hate their color too,” or “What about rednecks? They were insulted because of being in the sun too long” or “I grew up pasty white and was picked on.”
These responses illustrated a naivety about colorism, a well-documented phenomenon in non-white communities. This is not so bad, actually. People are unfamiliar with many social science concepts. What I found most disturbing was the resistance to accepting that minority groups have different lives that need to be understood on their terms.
It leads to callousness when someone black or trans brings up issues unique to them, and instead of trying to understand those concerns, a “we are all the same” approach is adopted. Most importantly, if the scientific fascist can reject the claim that experiences are qualitatively different, they can also reject any policies based on group experiences.
“…obedience to a narrow view science…”
- “Sociologists are a bunch of left-wing communists, and you cannot trust their research.”
- “Critical scholarship is a cancer in our society and must be removed from our universities.”
- “These studies departments — women’s studies, queer studies, black studies — they produce no real knowledge.”
- “Critical theory is unfalsifiable.”
The purpose of this language is to discredit the institutions and people traditionally charged with being the arbiters of knowledge. Sociology and the various “studies” departments (Women’s Studies, Queer Studies, Black Studies) produce knowledge that explores marginalized groups’ lives in society.
These departments, especially the “studies” departments, have a primary goal of understanding these groups’ experiences from their point of view. As such, it is methodologically sound to take a qualitative, interpretive approach to research. Research is often in the form of interviews and ethnographies.
This type of knowledge production is held in lower esteem by people who have adopted scientifically fascist ideas. They have a narrow view of science. Science, for them, must conform to a scientific method they learned in high school. This is the process of developing a falsifiable hypothesis, collecting objective numerical data, and then supporting or refuting said hypothesis. Reducing all inquiry to this is naïve and makes it incredibly difficult to generate knowledge about marginalized groups’ social lives.
Even charges of bias are wrongheaded. Just because academics are progressive does not mean the research generated is not valid. A common theme among scientific fascists is an air of superiority. Somehow, they are not biased, but these people they disagree with are.
At the risk of belaboring the point, the scientific fascist is only ever interested in using science to push back against social justice ideas. Within academia, knowledge production is varied. Professors in history, law, business, and theology, just to name a few, use many different approaches to producing knowledge within their field. Scientific fascists are not interested in those fields unless they attempt to speak to the experiences of minority groups.
“…and a dismissal of people who disagree as being devoid of reason or intelligence.”
- “Ibram Kendi is a low IQ individual.”
- “Here are the fallacies in this claim.”
- “Black folk are being told there is racism by liberal elites (but there really isn’t).”
- “The woke are irrational and illogical.”
A person practicing scientific fascism believes that they are smarter than you. They possess a degree of insight and a set of intellectual tools you don’t have. This perception of intellectual superiority is expressed in two forms.
The milder form is to assume other people are deluded, misled, or irrational in some way. They are not living in reality, or a (social justice) worldview has compromised their mental faculties. For example, during the height of the George Floyd protests, I had many conversations with people who would dismiss claims made by black folk of police brutality. The scientific fascist reasoned that the many people protesting are confused into thinking things were about race when in “reality” they were not. I attempted to point to the complexity of the issue, to the documented history of state violence against black folk, the data not captured in police reports, and so on. This was a wasted effort. The arrogance of the scientific fascists prevented them from appreciating the complexity of a situation.
The stronger expression of intellectual superiority is to assume not that someone is mistaken about the nature of things but that they are incorrect and too stupid to realize it. One sees “motte-and-bailey,” “circular reasoning,” “post hoc ergo propter hoc,” or “straw man” used as tools quite often to show how flawed someone’s thinking is.
Finding contradictions and correcting them is what one should do in any intellectual activity. It is essential to examine the assumptions that undergird our conclusions about the world. But for the scientific fascist, the point of identifying the latest fallacy is only ever to erase the experiences of minority groups or push back against ideas supporting egalitarian policies.
It has gotten to the point where the entire enterprise of social justice is considered a fallacy by scientific fascists. All “woke words” are motte-and-baileys to the scientific fascist. In brief, a motte-and-bailey fallacy (cogito ergo sum) is when someone advances two similar positions. One is easy to defend (e.g., gender expressions are socially constructed), and one that is harder to defend (e.g., our masculine and feminine traits have no biological basis). The fallacy is that the arguer will advance the easy to defend position, but assume that the much harder to defend position is still valid.
At the time of this writing, identifying a motte-and-bailey fallacy on social media is more of a fad. But the underlying sentiment, that of having the ability to understand through pure logic things better than others, will continue for some time.
The Consequences of Scientific Fascism
Scientific fascism is a body of ideas characterized by the desire to erase the unique experiences of minority groups, an obedience to a narrow view of science, and a dismissal of people who disagree as being devoid of reason or intelligence. Scientific fascism arose in response to social justice activism and “woke politics”, and is an assault on the intellectual ideas underpinning those politics.
I am using this term primarily as a descriptor of people’s actions. People are practicing scientific fascism. This is an important distinction, as many conflate the actions or consequences of fascism with individual moral behavior. I am not interested in passing moral judgment but to describe this phenomenon and its implications.
The first consequence is the erasure of the experiences of minority groups. If one rejects research focusing on the point of view of minority groups, it can lead to a belief that there is nothing special or unique about being black, a woman, or a trans person. This may fit the political ideology of people who do not have a strong social identity but erases the lives and experiences of those who do. It is antithetical to a multicultural world and is quite dangerous. Once one erases the perspective and history of a group, then one can ignore their unique needs politically.
The second consequence, and what I believe is the primary driver of scientific fascism, is to push back against social justice activities. As a sociologist interested in inequality issues, and a racial minority who has lived inequality, I can say that this is the best time to be a minority in modern Western history. I attribute much of this to political agitation of the type we see today. History has shown us that there has always been pushback with each advance — sometimes from unexpected places. Business leaders denounced the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s and ’60s. Later, Phyllis Schlafly opposed feminism in the 1970s and gained a considerable following in the process.
Scientific fascists are no different in this way. They may be people you are interacting with on social media who proclaim liberal values. They may write in high end online publications like Areo and Quillette. They may be academics or be in business. They may be content creators online. But the ideas they propagate are potentially damaging to minority groups.
The third consequence, and an ironic one, is that the activities of scientific fascists may lead to a reduction in scientific output. One can make an analogy to Nazi-era Germany, where “Jewish Science” was rejected in favor of “Aryan Physics” (see: Serving the Reich: The Struggle for the Soul of Physics under Hitler). For example, the desire to eliminate departments such as Queer Studies will likely reduce the amount of research and knowledge produced about the queer population. Our society will suffer a net loss, and people who identify as queer will be hurt the most.
What To Do?
The first step is to be aware of when you are communicating with someone who is a scientific fascist (practicing scientific fascism). That will determine how to interact with them. A scientific fascist is not interested in you explaining ideas like “heteronormativity”, “systemic racism,” and “toxic masculinity.” Their goal is to debunk these ideas using science, as acceptance would support the political changes they do not want. They are not seeking understanding.
One option is to look for the language of science and reason in the absence of any humanitarian concern for the groups in question. For example, imagine you are discussing an instance of toxic masculinity. If you notice the conversation is only ever focused on the fallacies in research or dispersions are cast on the disciplines that produce the research, and never on the actual people, you are dealing with a scientific fascist.
I find that a good question to ask before leaving the conversation is: “Where did you get your information about toxic masculinity [or another term] from?”
This is more for you than them. Scientific fascists can be very persuasive as objections to social justice ideas can have been collected over time and can then be fired back at you in a cluster. Asking them where they are getting their information from will let you know how much you can trust their information. Suppose you find out that their understanding of these ideas do not come from being in an academic department, being an activist, or reading the actual writings about these issues — in other words gaining an understanding from directly communicating with people in these activities. In that case, it is best to take their communication with a grain of salt.
However, there are always problems with any human activity, and efforts to achieve social justice are no different. Suppose the person responds by detailing first hand accounts, or (presuming honesty) talks about how they have engaged directly with activists or writers. In that case, I suggest taking that person’s views into account.
What you should not do is call them a fascist (or Nazi). This shuts down future conversations, as people believe their view of themselves as a good person is being challenged. In your mind, you might have the less heinous description of fascism that I am using in this essay, which is about the consequences and not the people. But they will have goosestepping Nazis in mind. That person may be on the fence about things, and you may have an opportunity to change their mind. Moreover, calling them fascists will only reinforce their view that these ideas are damaging and hurtful in society.
On this last point, I should take my advice more.