On my way through Russia I was increasingly tempted to use the word “fascist” to describe the essence of Putinism. I held back partly because the term is much overused as gratuitous abuse and partly because I knew how offensive it would sound to those whose parents and grandpar-ents had died in their millions to save the world from fascism in what Russians call “the great patriotic war”.
Many political scientists have wrestled with the concept of fascism, trying to clarify its distinguishing features. Authoritarianism is, of course, a defining characteristic; so, too, the elevation of nationalism to the status of a paramount virtue; the manipulation of the electoral system to preserve the outward forms of democracy while strangling its meaning; an intolerance of serious opposition and, crucially, the emergence of a strong leader supported by a powerful vanguard drawn from the business elite or the leaders of “corporate capitalism” or, in Eisen-hower’s phrase, “the military-indus-trial complex”. Putinism has all those characteristics and more.