The federal government is rife with fascism… from the Justice Department to tax collection, and across the the river to the Pentagon, the signs of fascism abound.

I am not referring to government polices – but rather to architecture. Federal buildings throughout Washington, and across the country, are decorated with “fasces” – the bundle of rods with an axe that Benito Mussolini adopted for his political movement. As I describe in an essay in the current issue of City Journal, while fasces had long been a motif in neoclassical architecture, most of the federal fasces were put in places in the 1920s and 1930s, at a time Fascism had fully appropriated the symbol. Thus the fasces boom of the interwar years could only be a conscious nod to Il Duce – which is not surprising, as he was widely regarded as “the top,” as Cole Porter put it.

You always knew there was something fascist about tax enforcement...
You always knew there was something fascist about tax enforcement…

What is surprising, as I discuss in the essay, is the fasces were not taken down during the war, and have not become controversial since them. This is in sharp contrast to the ongoing disputes over public religious displays, Confederate flags, Indian mascots, and other public imagery that persists long after the vogue that gave rise to it:

The fasces have survived not just the Second World War but also, thus far, the Culture Wars. Perhaps their quiet persistence suggests that we need not always take offense at, or seek to purge, public symbols of outmoded or discredited political ideas. Such symbols may even have value for us today as historical reminders: lessons in humility, carved in stone.

(For those interested, I’ve previously written about other forgotten aspects of our public buildings, discussing the Establishment Clause issues with the National Cathedral.)