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For the purposes of this article, fascism will be treated as a politicized and revolutionary form of ultranationalism bent on mobilizing all remaining "healthy" social and political energies to resist the perceived onslaught of decadence so as to achieve the goal of a regenerated national community. It is a project that involves the rebirth (palingenesis) of both the political system and the social and moral culture that underpins it.

In discussing fascism's place within the history of ideas two basic issues must be addressed: first its genesis as a new "generic" political force that emerged at a particular point in the evolution of Western society, and second the various ideological components that it subsumes in the individual permutations it forms, in particular in national and political contexts. It will then be possible to offer some observations about fascism's evolution since 1945, one that has led some of its contemporary variants to be arguably of more interest to the history of ideas than to conventional political analysis.

The Origins of Generic Fascism

The ideological core of fascism postulated here contains one timeless component that cannot be said to have a historical source as such, while the other component originates in a relatively specific time and place within the history of ideas. The vision of rebirth, of palingenesis, of a new cycle of regeneration and renewal growing out of what appeared to be an irreversible linear process of decay, dissolution, or death, appears to be an archetype of human mythopoeia, manifesting itself, for example, as much in the Christian faith in the Resurrection of Christ and of all true believers as in the Hindu cosmology, which computes in mathematical detail the universe's infinite cycle of creation and destruction.

Ultranationalism, on the other hand, could only appear in countries where populist notions of sovereignty as the inherent property of a national community had already firmly established themselves. Fascism was able to emerge as a modern political ideology only after nationalism had arisen as a major ideological force in an increasingly secular Europeanized world where the foundations of traditional social systems (tribal, feudal, or absolutist) had been extensively eroded. In the wake of the French Revolution, several variants were formulated by intensely patriotic ideologues who imagined the nation as a supraindividual community subject to organic processes such as decay and growth and destined to rise to greatness. Though such a concept of the nation had already been formulated in the early nineteenth century by Germans such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte (17621814) and Ernst Arndt (17691860), it was the widespread obsession in fin-de-siècle Europe with the degeneracy of liberal civilization and its urgent need for moral regeneration that first made possible the conjuncture of palingenetic myth with ultranationalism that together formed the ideal climate within which fascism was incubated.

A major contributing factor in the evolution of organic conceptions of the nation was the rise of cultural, biological, and political racism, Aryan theory, and anti-Semitism in eighteenth-and nineteenth-century Europe. These had no single source, but drew both on the widespread and highly diverse preconceptions about race first articulated by such figures as Johann Gottfried von Herder (17441803), Joseph-Arthur de Gobineau (18161882), Robert Knox (17981862), Richard Wagner (18131883), Cesare Lombroso (18361909), Ernst Haeckel (18341919), Herbert Spencer (18201903), Vacher de Lapouge (18541936), Houston Chamberlain, (18551927), and Friedrich Nietzsche (18441900), as well as on currents of humanistic, scientific, and scientistic thought such as national histories, philology, physical and cultural anthropology, criminology, sociology, genetics, demography, eugenics, Social Darwinism, and vitalism. Once blended in with ultranationalism and palingenetic myth, racism could provide a pseudoscientific (scientistic) rationale to the myth that a nation in decline can only fulfill its transcendent historical mission once purged of forces allegedly compromising the "purity of the race" (for example, materialism, individualism, cosmopolitanism, immorality, miscegenation, "alien" ideological elements, or some combination of these).

It was in the first decade of the twentieth century that artists and cultural commentators such as the numerous writers of völkisch literature in Germany, Charles Maurras (18681952) and Maurice Barrès (18621923) in France, Giovanni Papini (18811956) and Gabriele D'Annunzio (18631938) in Italy, and Nicolae Iorga (18711940) in Romania provided poetic or theoretical expression to the importance of reawakening the national soul from the debilitating slumber induced by liberal modernity. Some attempts to turn these ideas into political movements were made before World War I, notably by Maurras' Action Française (1897), the Pan-German League (18861914) under Heinrich Class (18681953), the Christian Social Party (18931938) founded by the Austrian anti-Semite Karl Lueger (18441910), and the Italian Nationalist Association (19101923). But it was the shattering impact of the "Great War" itself that transformed marginalized and essentially cultural movements for national rebirth into political formations with a serious revolutionary strategy based on a blend of populist rally for change, a democratic party, and an extra-parliamentary paramilitary movement. It was the war that simultaneously nationalized the masses subjectively while creating localized pockets of objective political, social, and economic upheaval in many European countries, not least the collapse of the Hohenzollern, Habsburg, and Romanov dynasties and the Russian Revolution itself, that were indispensable for new forms of revolutionary nationalism to thrive. The first of these new "militia parties" to seize power was Fascism, which conquered the Italian state in two stages, 19221925 (when Mussolini was head of state) and 19251929 (when he established a dictatorship), and it is from this movement and regime that the generic term takes its name. Since the 1920s, fascist has been applied by historians, political commentators, and activists to a number of dictatorial regimes that emerged in interwar Europe and in the wider Europeanized world, notably in Latin America. However, significant differences of opinion persist between experts about which regimes are embraced by the term, the inclusion of the Third Reich being especially contentious.

An Overview of the "Fascist Epoch"

The period 19181945 has become widely known as "the fascist epoch." Certainly by the autumn of 1941, after the recent triumph of Francisco Franco (18921975) in the Spanish Civil War (19361939) and the apparently inexorable success of Adolf Hitler's (18891945) Blitzkrieg in France, Scandinavia, and Poland, and with victory in Soviet Russia seemingly imminent, there were good grounds for this, however problematic the phrase may have become for later historians. By this time Benito Mussolini's (18831945) Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF) and Hitler's Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP, whose core ideology correspond closely to the generic definition given above) had created the templates of organization and style for revolutionary nationalists to emulate all over the Europeanized world. Even democracies as stable as Switzerland, Denmark, and Iceland, or new nations still confident in their future such as the United States and Australia, hosted minute fascist parties attempting in vain to emulate the performance of mass revolutionary movements. More significant (though safely contained) fascist movements developed where the structural conditions of crisis were sufficiently strong, notably in Finland, France, Hungary, Romania, Brazil, Chile, and South Africa, and some abortive fascist movements achieved prominence under Nazi occupation, notably Vidkun Quisling's Nasjonal Samling in Norway, Léon Degrelle's Rex in Belgium, and (in 1944) Ferenc Szálasi's "Hungarist" Arrow Cross movement. Thus José Streel, a leading spokesman of the collaborationist Belgian Rex movement, had not succumbed to delusions of grandeur when he asserted in 1942 that, whether it was called "fascism," "national socialism," or "the new order," "a new force" able to "synthesize the needs of the age" was "everywhere at work giving birth to the revolution of the twentieth century" (quoted in Griffin, 1995, p. 206).

In the final analysis the fascist assault on modern history was abortive. Only two fascisms managed to conquer state power and attempt to turn their revolutionary vision into reality, and eventually both met with crushing military defeat having failed to realize their revolutionary objectives. All other fascisms were successfully marginalized by liberal democracies or fended off by conservative authoritarian states by being either crushed or absorbed. It was nevertheless a tribute to the degree to which fascism had come to be associated with the future of civilization by the 1930s that a number of authoritarian states modeled themselves on the style of fascism.

A number of other authoritarian states chose to simulate the "real thing" by such ploys as organizing "from above" nationwide single parties, youth movements, and other mass organizations, proliferating nationalistic symbols, declaring the inauguration of new eras in the life of the nation or the creation of "new states," staging theatrical political events, and engineering phony leader cults. This pattern was most prominent in Franquist Spain (19381975), Antonio de Oliveira Salazar's Estado Novo in Portugal (19261974), Philippe Pétain's Vichy France (19401944), Ion Antonescu's National Legionary State in Romania (19401941), Ioannis Metaxas's dictatorship in Greece (19361940), Karlis Ulmanis' authoritarian Latvia (19341940), and Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya's authoritarian state in Hungary (19191944). It was equally a sign of the times that the ultimate victor was liberalism (or liberal capitalism), apparently the weakest of them all.

Spain and Portugal progressively defascistized themselves once the tide of war started to turn against the Axis powers. Once parafascism is taken into account and with the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that interwar Europe was dominated not by fascism at all, but by a titanic struggle between liberalism, conservatism, communism, and fascism, in which fascism, which at one point looked like carrying all before it, eventually came off worst.

Non-European Fascisms

Traditionally, comparative fascist studies have focused almost exclusively on fascism as a European phenomenon. However, it should be noted that, while the emphasis on the totalitarian bid of fascism to create a new type of society distinguishes it from conservative regimes, whether traditionalist or military, there were in the "fascist epoch" a small number of non-European countries that hosted attempts to emulate the achievements of revolutionary nationalism in Italy and Germany. The most important examples are the Ossewabrandwag and the Greyshirts in South Africa, the National Socialist Movement (MNS) in Chile, and the Brazilian Integralist Action (AIB) movement that arose under Getúlio Vargas's dictatorship in Brazil (19371945). All of them suffered the fate of most of their European counterparts by being marginalized or crushed.

Breaking with the European pattern, two military dictatorships seem to have made a genuine bid to fascistize the nation from above rather than using fascism as a means of generating mass conformism and passivity: Chiang Kai-shek's (18871975) nationalist regime in China, eventually overwhelmed by Japanese imperialism, and the military dictatorship of the Grupo de Oficiales Unidos (GOU) in Argentina (19431946). GOU created a legacy that Juan Péron would build on after the war during his rule (19461955), which was in ideological and organizational terms an eclectic blend of political elements of which fascism was only a muted part.

It should also be noted that the most highly developed, dynamic, and destructive parafascist nation of all arguably emerged not in Europe but when imperial Japan entered its most totalitarian and expansionist phase between 1937 and 1945. Despite its alliance with Italian Fascism and German Nazism, it carried out its aggressive scheme of territorial expansion under a divine emperor and with its feudal social system intact rather than under a charismatic "new man" in a "reborn" nation. Nor did the defeat of Italy in 1943 and then of Germany in 1945 cause it to relent in the radicalness of its prosecution of the war, a fact that underlines the need to recognize that fascism by no means has a monopoly of right-wing totalitarian violence.

The Diversity of Individual Fascisms

We now turn to the second aspect of fascism that impinges on the history of ideas, its ideological constituents. A central premise behind the definition applied in this article is that fascism is to be treated on a par with the other major political "isms" of the modern age, such as liberalism and socialism, as an ideology in its own right with its own agenda for creating the ideal society. A corollary of this is that it can be conceived for analytic purposes as a cluster of core ("ineliminable") ideological components, which we have identified here with just two components: the conception of the people as an organic organism, and a palingenetic concept of history that envisages national decay giving way imminently or eventually to a process of regeneration and renewal. This core can become associated in particular times and places with many varied and even conflicting secondary ("adjacent" or "peripheral") concepts, with the result that fascism is externalized itself in a wide range of specific manifestations shaped by particular conjunctures of historical forces.

Another implication of this approach is that it is futile to search for the sources of generic fascism in the work of a particular thinker, such as Georges Sorel's thesis of the primacy of myth, Ernst Haeckel's organicism, Vilfredo Pareto's theory of the circulation of elites, Friedrich Nietzsche's calls for a new breed of superman, or Oswald Spengler's scheme of the decline and "Caesarist" renewal of the West, however much they may have influenced individual ideologues or movements. For the same reason it is fallacious to see all forms of fascism drawing on the same currents of thought or driven by the same process, such as Social Darwinism, eugenics, corporatism, Marxist revisionism, modernization, or antimodernity, let alone to attribute it to generic forces such as "irrationalism," "capitalism," or "moral decline," which have minimal heuristic value as explanatory concepts.

In fact, one of fascism's outstanding traits is its eclecticism, the propensity of its numerous individual variants to accommodate or synthesize ideological components from a wide range of sources taken from any part of the left-right spectrum. Italian Fascism, for example, merged elements of right-wing politics (nationalism, imperialism, authoritarianism) with left-wing syndicalist claims of creating social justice and abolishing class conflict, and the cult of the Roman past with elements of the Futurist cult of hypermodernity. It also attracted a number of former Marxists in Italy and Germany, hosted left-wing and right-wing variants of corporatist theory, and accommodated currents of philosophical idealism and technocratic modernism; clerical Fascism and neopaganism; cultural racism (which treated patriotic Italian Jews as full members of the re-born Italy, although a more "biological" current eventually led to the adoption of anti-Semitic race laws); and the full spectrum of aesthetics from neoclassicism to futurism, from anti-cosmopolitan ruralism to international modernism. Even Nazism was far from homogeneous ideologically, embracing ruralist and technocratic visions of the new order, varying degrees of paganism and accommodation with Christianity, several varieties of racism, an anticapitalist ("Strasserite") current, and even a strand of promodernist aesthetics. Fascism's animus against communism and the degenerative impact of liberalism on the organic national community nevertheless makes it sensible to locate fascism within the tradition of right-wing politics rather than simply "beyond" left and right (as it sometimes claims to be).

Fascism can also manifest itself in a variety of organizational forms. It does not necessarily take the form of a properly constituted movement, let alone a full-fledged party-political movement, and has only twice formed a regime. This is why attempts to elaborate or extend the fascist minimum identified here (for example, by adding such elements as para-militarism, the leader principle, corporatism, or territorial expansionism) severely restrict its heuristic value.


Once we move from the synoptic panorama of the whole fascist epoch to consider individual fascisms in close-up, the heterogeneity of their fascist ideology emphasized here soon becomes apparent. The sense of national identity promoted by Italian Fascism, for example, was originally little more than an antiliberal version of heightened patriotism, which attempted to present the current generation as heirs of the same genius that had created the Roman Empire, the Roman Catholic Church, and the artistic and scientific Renaissance. Partly because of the powerful presence of organized Christianity in social life, "modern" biological or eugenic concepts of racial purity were relegated to a subordinate position, even if they were implicit in the demographic campaign and in the laws against miscegenation introduced in the wake of the colonization of Ethiopia. Certainly an Italian equivalent of the Nazi "euthanasia" campaign to cleanse the national community of its "hereditarily ill" was unthinkable, and though a current of anti-Semitism existed in Fascism independently of Nazism, when anti-Semitic race and citizenship laws were eventually introduced in 1938 declaring the Italians to be of Aryan stock they were widely experienced as both un-Italian and un-Fascist.

Long before coming to power, Nazism was notorious for disseminating a vision of the national community based on a concept of race that included cultural, Social Darwinian, and eugenic components. As a result, decadence was considered at least partly the product of racial decay, which in turn meant that the nation had to be purged of both ideological and physical enemies before it could be reborn. It followed from the same racial concept of the nation that its boundaries "naturally" extended to cover the whole geopolitical area in which ethnic Germans constituted a majority, and ensured that the Third Reich's plans for territorial conquest were based on a hierarchical conception of racial superiority and inferiority familiar from European imperialism overseas, but never applied before to peoples in mainland Europe.

If the abortive fascist movements are taken into account, yet more permutations of the nationalist myth come into view. The Romanian Iron Guard was viscerally anti-Semitic, elaborated its own myth of Romanian racial purity, and planned to set up an anthropological institute to build up a database on the variegated racial makeup of those living on Romanian soil. Yet its outstanding feature was its stress on the importance of Romanian Orthodox Christianity as an indicator of national and cultural identity. Other fascisms that, in contrast to the overtly neopagan Fascism and Nazism, incorporated local versions of Christianity into their concept of national belonging were the Spanish Falange, the Finnish Isänmaallinen Kansanliike (Patriotic People's Movement), and the Afrikaner Ossewabrandwag.

A different permutation of fascist racial myth again is exhibited by the ABI (the Brazilian Integralist Action), whose membership grew to 200,000 before it was outlawed by Getúlio Vargas's parafascist military regime. This highly original permutation of fascism attributed the national genius and potential for rebirth not to any one of the many ethnic groups that make up modern Brazil, but to its unique blend of peoples and cultures, a concept that precluded the pursuit of racial purity through eugenic or exterminatory policies. This avenue was also barred by the powerful presence of Catholicism in Brazil's social and political culture, though it is significant that the ABI developed an elaborate form of "political religion" for its meetings and rallies. It is also consistent with the ABI's essentially pagan conception of renewal that its leader, Plìnio Salgado, published his philosophy of history according to which his movement was leading Brazilians into the "fourth era of humanity."


Although Marxists have always seen fascism as driven by a crisis of the capitalist economic system and the rise of socialism, and some non-Marxist experts identify interwar fascism with corporatism, the truth is predictably more complex. The relationship between fascism and finance capital, big business, or the bourgeoisie is far from straightforward, and there were currents within Nazism and Fascism that were anticapitalist to the extent that they took seriously the idea of a "national socialism." Contemporary fascism contains currents that are, at least on paper, extremely hostile to (Jewish, U.S., globalizing, corporate) capitalism, notably the New Right, Third Positionism, and National Bolshevism, and some prominent "Strasserite" Third Positionists, striving to develop a stance beyond both capitalism and communism, currently use fascist as a pejorative term for national revolutionaries not prepared to reject capitalism.

As for corporatism, only Italian Fascism attempted to install a corporatist state, which failed in practice to fulfill the ideals of any of the rival theories of corporatism that jostled for position under Mussolini. These included a "left-wing" syndicalist current, an authoritarian nationalist strand, and a version promoted by Catholics encouraged to do so by the Catholic Church, which saw in corporatism a way of mitigating the evils of unbridled materialism and individualism. However, such was the appeal of a "third way" between laissez-faire capitalism and the Soviet planned economy that the British Union of Fascists adopted the theory of the corporatist state, and a number of interwar fascisms (e.g., in Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Brazil, and Chile) advocated a fusion of nationalism with the power of organized labor, whether it was termed "national syndicalism" or "national socialism." It should also be pointed out that the parafascist states (both Catholic countries) of Salazar and Franco retained corporatist elements in their economic systems well into the postwar period, and during the 1940s these achieved some degree of success, though at the cost of organized labor, which was forced to forfeit much of its political and economic power.

On the other hand, Nazi Germany rejected the idea of the corporatist state except in the sphere of cultural production. Nevertheless, in tune with the spirit of the age, which favored the strong state and the planned economy, the Third Reich ruthlessly applied the principle of the primacy of politics over economics that legitimized unlimited state intervention in the running of the economy. It should be added that the British strand of one of the most consistently anticapitalist forms of postwar fascism, namely Third Positionism, attempted in the 1990s to resuscitate one of the interwar "alternative" economic theories, namely distributionism, but with no prospect of practical application to date, and that many contemporary fascisms are influenced by radical Green critiques of the unsustainability of the global economy.


Fascism's relationship with modern culture is even more resistant to generalizations than its economics. One of the more unusual features of Brazil's AIB was that its ideology grew out of currents of Latin American cultural theory developed by an intelligentsia influenced by European modernism and the "revolt against positivism." In this it had parallels with Italian Fascism, which hosted a number of currents of modernism, notably futurism, whose artists believed that the innovative dynamic or conceptual dimension of their style expressed the energy that was creating the New Italy. At the same time it was possible for the experimental, anarchic, taboo-breaking thrust of modernism to be seen as embodiments of the very decadence that it was fascism's mission to banish from modern life. As a result, fascism also attracted support from those who looked to a revitalized neoclassicism, vernacular, or ruralist art to create the iconic statements of healthy values that were to be an integral part of the reborn nation. Under Mussolini both interpretations of modernism coexisted and a rich variety of aesthetics resulted. Rather than promote an official Fascist style, the regime was content to be associated with creativity under all its aspects, a principle known as "hegemonic pluralism."

In stark contrast to Brazil and Italy, in 1935 Nazi Germany launched a campaign to purge Germany of modernism, henceforth officially declared the expression of cultural and biological degeneracy. Yet even here a campaign had been fought to have expressionism classified as Aryan, and a number of artists with highly modernist temperaments, notably Gottfried Benn and Ernst Jünger, were initially attracted to the regime. The diverse subject matter of some Nazi painting, which included motorway bridges, sporting events, factories, bombing raids, and battle scenes, also underlines the need to avoid simplistic generalizations about the antimodernity of fascism or the longing to return to the idylls of peasant existence allegedly at the heart of Nazi art. It is also significant that the Nazis paid even more attention to encouraging a "healthy" national cinema industry than the Italian Fascists, hardly the sign of a compulsive anti-modernity. While some films under both regimes were overtly propagandistic, the majority were made without direct state interference and dealt with the emotional and social comedies and dramas of modern Italian and German existence against the backcloth of the new order. By endorsing the values, normalcy, and modernity of fascist society they bear witness to the way the power of the film to create an aesthetic illusion of wholeness was seamlessly adapted to the new societies, thereby contributing to the routinization of the fascist revolution in the experience of "ordinary" Italians and Germans.


The architecture of the two regimes reflected their different relationships to modernism. Despite a marked tendency toward monumentalism and the increasing use of neoclassicism for many civic buildings by the late 1930s, Fascist architects worked in a number of styles, some of them deeply indebted to the international modernism of the day. Its protagonists saw the bold use of steel and glass as reflecting the future-oriented, hypermodern dynamic of the New Italy, its urge to throw off the dead weight of tradition. This was unthinkable in Nazi Germany, where the Bauhaus was considered the symbol of "cultural Bolshevism," and the prescribed style for civic buildings was a Spartan neoclassicism whose symmetry, lack of ornament, and gargantuan proportions supposedly evoked the "purity" and heroic "will to construct" of the Aryan.

However, the Third Reich's retention of elements of modernism for such projects as bridges, factories, high-density holiday accommodation, and power stations, as well as the fact that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe tendered an unashamedly modernist design for the Dresden Bank before leaving Nazi Germany for the United States, invites a more complex reaction to its state architecture than simply dismissing it as philistine reaction. Rather, its neoclassicism is to be seen as the expression of the aesthetic correlation to the eugenics and "racial hygiene" applied in social and demographic policy. The austere, lifeless pseudoclassical buildings and sculptures whose aesthetics it determined betoken not a nostalgia for a bygone age, but the belief in the ongoing rebirth of the German people from the quagmire of Weimar decadence. They embody in permanent plastic form the presence of "eternal values."

The anthropological revolution.

When considering individual spheres of art it is important to bear in mind that art for fascists was no longer to be a separate sphere of human endeavor remote from the mainstream of political and social life in the same category as leisure or sport and prey to the forces of commercialization. For the cultural theorists of Fascism, Nazism, the British Union of Fascists, the Falange, the Iron Guard, or the AIB, whatever their stance on modernism, realism, or the celebration of rural life, art was meant to express the uncorrupted soul of the people, and made manifest the health or decadence of the entire culture. They assumed that just as the chaos and commercialism of modern art reflected the current decadence of the West, so the regenerated nation would spontaneously produce an artistic renaissance. This would come about once artists were no longer concerned with "self-expression," innovation, or experimentation; their reunion with their people and nation naturally ensured that each sculpture, film, novel, musical composition, or building expressed the values of the new age.

Art was only one of the spheres of social activity that were supposed to contribute to this ethos of palingenesis. Schools, universities, youth and leisure organizations, mass rallies, news-reels, newspapers, sporting events, national holidays, local festivals, the organization of work, business, and industry, in fact any context in which the public sphere impinged on the private became sites for the further integration of the individual into the national community. In this sense the deepest level of the fascist revolution was not political or military, but cultural. As long as fascism remained a genuinely charismatic force in Italy and Germany it was not a revolution simply imposed on society, but was fed by the spontaneous enthusiasm of many thousands of creative individuals who wanted to contribute to the transformation. This interpretation is fully consistent with recent theories of totalitarianism that place an emphasis on its bid to bring about an anthropological revolution, and on seeing the political religion that it institutes not as an exercise in collective brainwashing but as a means to transform society's political and moral culture.

This attempted anthropological revolution had particular implications for women. True to the spirit of an age that had recently experienced World War I, the interwar fascist image of the new man embraced elements of the archetypal warrior and knight, and the celebration of militarism, war, and the new order was pervaded by values that would now be recognized as male chauvinist. The corollary of this was that fascism was hostile to feminism as a force that destroyed the "natural" roles dictated by biology, and both Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany introduced legislation to remove women from the workplace, criminalize abortion, encourage big families, and glorify motherhood and domestic functions as the true vocation of women. The demographic campaign in both countries was backed up by antenatal, maternity, and childcare services that anticipated some of the best practice of the modern welfare state.

However, it is erroneous to dismiss such measures as proof of fascism's reactionary bid to turn the clock back to traditional family values. The creation of mass organizations for women of all ages and social categories, including auxiliary units for those drawn to life in the armed services, were symptomatic of an attempt to free the female population from the constraints of domesticity and motivate it into playing an active, if subordinate, role within the new national community on a par with the Soviet mobilization of women. A physically and morally healthy motherhood was celebrated as a key element in the triumph over decadence and the regeneration of the nation. A "new woman" would arise to assist the "new man" in his heroic revolutionary task. It might also be pointed out that the stereotype of women destined to breed new members of the national community is no more degrading than the stereotype that declared the destiny of men lay in their readiness to kill and be sacrificed for the sake of the new order.

A far more terrible fate than that which befell female members of the Nazi national community awaited the millions of those, male and female, adult and children, who were excluded from it on grounds of hereditary illness, asocial behavior, or membership of an inferior race, and thus were subjected to sterilization, enslavement, torture, experimentation, or extermination. It was in the fanatical persecution and mass elimination of "life unworthy of life" and "subhumans" by the Third Reich under the cover of World War II that fascism's archaic palingenetic logic of "cathartic destruction" reveals its most chilling potential for impacting on modern history.

The Survival Strategies of Postwar Fascism

The ideological definition of fascism adopted in this article leads to an interpretation of its development that sees the defeat of the Axis powers not as putting an end to fascism, but forcing it to adopt new strategies to survive in a political environment no longer characterized by the upheaval and crises that were the precondition for Fascism and Nazism to take the form of mass movements producing spectacular displays of charismatic politics. The Allied victory over fascism inaugurated the sustained recovery of liberal capitalism, which eventually outlived the state socialist experiment in creating a new order conducted by the Soviet Union and its satellites. The massive loss of life caused by World War II and the horrors committed by the Third Reich and imperial Japan in the alliance with Fascism utterly discredited the rhetoric of militarism, ultranationalism, imperialism, and new orders for all but a small, highly marginalized minority of fanatics. The mass constituency of potential trans-class support for revolutionary brands of nationalism simply evaporated (although it reemerged quickly in the chaotic conditions of post-Soviet Russia).

In such conditions any attempts to emulate the PNF or NSDAP were doomed to have even more pathetic results than those achieved by the many abortive movements in the "fascist epoch." Even the most successful postwar fascist party, Italy's Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), had to dissociate itself from any paramilitary activity and strictly abide by the democratic "rules of the game." This strategy put it in the position to emerge from the political ghetto reconstituted as the Alleanza Nazionale in 1994, though only after it had renounced any attachment to its revolutionary and totalitarian past.

Meanwhile, faced by the almost complete disappearance of its natural interwar habitat, "real" fascism demonstrated a remarkable capacity for adaptation. While at the level of the general public, xenophobia and anxieties over the erosion of national identity in some countries found an outlet in a new type of party, the right-wing populist party embodied in JeanMarie Le Pen's National Front and Jörg Haider's Austrian Freedom Party, intransigent national revolutionaries could follow several tactics to keep the revolutionary vision alive. One was to concentrate on forming small cadres of fanatics dedicated to "the cause," some of whom in the 1970s and 1980s carried out a series of terroristic outrages in pursuit of what was known as the "Strategy of Tension" designed to bring down the Italian state.

A second tactic was for fascists to abandon narrow nationalism and place their concern with the decadence of society in a wider geocultural context, whether that of the white or Aryan race, or of Europe, conceived as a federation of cultural homogeneous nations or ethnies. A third was to withdraw from the political sphere altogether and concentrate on civic space, the realm of ideas and culture, thus turning fascism into a largely "metapolitical" force, made up not of full-fledged movements, but of numerous atomized formations known collectively as the "groupuscular right." An outstanding example of this is the pan-European vision of rebirth advocated (in conflicting terms) by the European New Right and by Third Positionism. The latter still has not abandoned political activism and the use of violence in theory (or rather in rhetoric), even if the transition to a new era has by implication been indefinitely postponed, leaving a few stoic spiritual warriors to resist the forces of cultural suicide true to the principle of "leaderless resistance." The logical consequence of this process of extreme atomization is the type of "lone wolf" terrorist act committed by Timothy McVeigh (in Oklahoma) or David Copeland (the London nail bomber), both of whom internalized and acted on the fascist critique of the state without belonging to any formal organization.

The Struggle for "Cultural Hegemony"

The most sophisticated incarnation of fascism in the "postfascist" epoch is the New Right. This is an umbrella term for a movement with a local base in a number of European countries but important international linkages, and consists of both groupuscules and some high-profile cultural think tanks such as GRECE in France and networks of associations such as Thule-Netz in Germany. In Russia a particularly influential form of the New Right is known as "Euroasianism." In it the fascist attack on the degeneracy of liberalism as an increasingly globalized cultural and economic system combined with the call for an entirely new order has been thoroughly "metapoliticized," while the ultranationalist nostalgia for roots and organic ethnic communities has undergone extensive "Europeanization."

Many scholars, and certainly New Right intellectuals themselves, would strenuously disagree that an ideology that operates purely in the realm of ideas and has abandoned belligerent nationalism and racism can be classified as a form of fascism at all. However, the French New Right, which under the aegis of the extraordinarily prolific Alain de Benoist (b. 1943) pioneered the international movement, demonstrably grew out of a fascist milieu that by the mid-1960s despaired of seizing power through conventional political or violent means. Moreover, the war against decadence and longings for rebirth, which were the hallmarks of interwar fascism, can still be shown to form the ideological core of the sophisticated discourse of cultural criticism it has evolved since then, even if the palingenesis of the organic cultures and communities of Europe is no longer imminent.

By dedicating itself exclusively to the struggle to win "cultural hegemony" (a tactic known as "right-wing Gramscism"), the New Right has been able to exert influence on right-wing populism and neofascist activism at one stage removed. This it does by providing elaborate ideological critiques of the prevailing "system," as well as disseminating a subtle form of "differentialist" racism that preaches not racial superiority but the value of all cultures and the need to preserve them from the corrosive effects of multiculturalism, mass immigration, egalitarianism, and the "leveling" of society by cultural globalization.

The Conservative Revolution

In adapting itself so thoroughly to the prolonged "interregnum" before the next "rebirth," New Right fascism has systematically shed every external aspect of its interwar manifestations. There is no hint of charismatic leader, paramilitarism, expansionist imperialism, or theatrical politics. Yet fascism's ideological nucleus remains intact: the longing for a new order based on the restoration of organic communities, the defeat of liberalism, the transcendence of communism, materialism, chaos, and decadence, remains intact. It is no coincidence if the New Right draws extensively on the same ideologues of the Conservative Revolution, notably Friedrich Nietzsche, Ernst Jünger (18951998), Carl Schmitt (18881985), and Martin Heidegger (18891976), that helped prepare the way for the Nazis' war on Enlightenment values, even if one of the pioneers of the New Right, Armin Mohler (19202003), was careful to dissociate them from Nazism by calling them "the Trotskyites of the German Revolution" (Hitler being its Stalin).

Some thinkers of the New Right have also been influenced by the "Traditionalist" philosophy of history elaborated by the Italian "philosopher" Julius Evola (18981974), which posits a Hindu-like cycle of rebirth and decadence shaping human history. In his canonical diagnoses of the postwar world (which also influenced both "black" terrorism of the Strategy of Tension and contemporary Third Positionism) Fascism and Nazism are indicted with failing to inaugurate the process of rebirth, with the result that those with a sense of higher values are now condemned to stay faithful to the cause of a higher metapolitical order with no immediate prospect of inaugurating the new age. Another fruitful source of inspiration of the New Right crusade against the "decadent" Judeo-Christian, materialist, U.S.-dominated West are carefully edited liberal and far left critiques of the "totalitarianism" and metaphysical vacuousness of contemporary capitalist society. In the New Right, fascism has in a sense returned to its fin-de-siècle roots as a current of radical cultural criticism lacking any concrete political vehicle or clear strategy for gaining power other than that of taking over what one of their main spokesmen, Pierre Krebs, calls "the laboratories of thinking" (quoted in Griffin, 1995, p. 349).

The Future of Fascism

Fascists of any denomination are not alone in believing that deep structural problems threaten the sustainability of the present "hegemonic system" in the West, notably escalating ecological and resources crises, and the demographic explosion in the "two-thirds world" (often called the "third world," even though in terms of population it is far bigger than the first world). Nor can it be denied that mass immigration and globalization pose threats to established national and cultural identities. There will thus be no shortage of empirical data to convince those with a fascist mind-set that we live in an age of decadence and that "our" only hope lies, sooner or later, in a total palingenesis capable of pioneering a new type of modernity while preserving ethnic roots, cultural identity, and belonging. Given the unusual capacity of fascism for eclecticism and adaptation, it seems likely that, at least in its metapoliticized, internationalized, and groupuscularized permutations, it will continue to thrive as a permanent, though marginalized and ineffectual, part of the political and social subculture of civic society throughout an increasingly Europeanized (or Americanized) world. It will thus continue to generate a steady flow of fresh ideological specimens to occupy political scientists and historians of ideas for the foreseeable future.

See also Authoritarianism ; Communism ; Eugenics ; Nationalism ; Propaganda ; Race and Racism ; Social Darwinism .


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Davies, Peter, and Derek Lynch. Fascism and the Far Right. London: Routledge, 2002.

Drake, Richard. The Revolutionary Mystique and Terrorism in Contemporary Italy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.

Gentile, Emilio. The Sacralization of Politics in Fascist Italy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Griffin, Roger. "Interregnum or Endgame? The Radical Right in the 'Post-fascist' Era." In Reassessing Political Ideologies: The Durability of Dissent, edited by Michael Freeden. New York: Routledge, 2001.

Griffin, Roger, ed. Fascism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Kallis, Aristotle A., ed. The Fascism Reader. London: Routledge, 2002.

Larsen, Stein, ed. Fascism outside Europe: The European Impulse against Domestic Conditions in the Diffusion of Global Fascism.. New York: Columbia University Press; Boulder, Colo.: Social Sciences Monographs, 2001.

Mosse, George L. Fascist Revolution: Toward a General Theory of Fascism. New York: Fertig, 1999.

Paxton, Robert O. The Anatomy of Fascism. New York: Knopf, 2004.

Payne, Stanley G. A History of Fascism, 19141945. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.

Sternhell, Zeev. "Fascist Ideology." In Fascism: A Reader's Guide: Analyses, Interpretations, Bibliography, edited by Walter Laqueur. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

Taylor, Brandon, and Wilfried van der Will, eds. The Nazification of Art: Art, Design, Music, Architecture, and Film in the Third Reich. Winchester, U.K.: Winchester Press, 1990.

Roger Griffin

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Historical development

The fascist regime–ideal and reality




“Fascism” is used primarily to identify the political system by which Italy was ruled from 1922 to 1945. It is also used to identify a prototype of totalitarianism and is applied to variations of political systems thought to parallel the Italian one.

Historical development

Historically, fascism has its origins in the crisis of Italian parliamentary institutions. This crisis was caused in large part by a failure in the process of adjustment of the traditional parliamentary parties to new mass parties. It occurred at a moment of intensified difficulties caused by World War I, as deep economic and social upheavals were complicated by an upsurge of nationalism and the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Thus, the combination of the weakness of the liberal ruling class, the revolutionary aspirations of the working classes, the extremism of patriotism, the dissatisfaction with the 1919 peace settlements, the psychological dislocation of war veterans, the fears of property-owning classes, and the political role played by the army and the crown produced, four years after the armistice of 1918, the episode known as the March on Rome and the beginnings of a 23-year dictatorship of the Fascist party under the leadership of Mussolini.

As fascism sought, not without difficulty but with final success, to organize itself for the seizure of power, the clash of different ideological trends and the contradictions that were to mark its entire life stood out clearly. In the beginning, fascism showed a strong socialist inspiration. Many of the leaders had come to fascism from socialist and syndicalist movements, but they had differentiated themselves from orthodox socialists by maintaining an aggressive nationalistic attitude that had caused them to favor Italy’s intervention in World War I, to be against what they described as the “unjust” peace settlements, and to support the political adventure of D’Annunzio’s seizure of Fiume. Mussolini backed the occupation of the factories by the workers as part of a revolutionary program intended to give to the industrial working classes the political role they did not have. But, by playing on the themes of national grandeur and power, he was also enlisting the support of nationalistic activists, who thought in terms of territorial expansion and colonialism.

By the end of 1920, however, nationalism rather than socialism was providing the main driving force of fascism. The government of the time, headed by the liberal leader Giovanni Giolitti, rightly thought that a specific revolutionary danger did not exist and that prudent handling of the situation would lead, as it did, to a peaceful resolution of that particular conflict. But Italy’s middle classes, the landowners, the business world, the army, and the crown saw in fascism the militant movement that, properly led, could make Italy safe from the Marxist peril. In 1921/1922 the original, and small, fascist movement was swamped by hundreds of thousands of new members, most of them of middle-class provenance, while it received subsidies from industrial quarters and weapons from the military establishment.

Fascism reoriented itself along fresh lines, with policies that stressed, above all, the need to restore the authority of the state at home and abroad. The state was conceived as the defender of law and order and as the unyielding supporter of the national interest in foreign affairs. The younger party members were organized into blackshirted squads that proceeded to destroy the physical structure and to liquidate the leadership of socialism and communism, which by then had become the chief targets.

When, after the 1919 elections, Giolitti failed to reach agreement with either the Socialists or the Christian Democrats, he imagined that fascism would see Italy through the political impasse by taming these two mass parties and that in the end liberalism would return to power. Liberal Italy greeted October 28, 1922, the day of the fascist seizure of power, as the beginning of an interlude that would stabilize political life, restore the authority of the state, and prepare the return to tradition shortly afterward.

The second period in the history of fascism goes from 1922 to 1925. In the course of these three years the fascist regime sought to answer a number of questions about its own direction and purpose. After the bloody violence of the preceding two years, these years appeared mild enough on the surface, and some of the liberal leaders even thought that their forecasts would be realized. Laissez-faire was the prevailing economic policy. Parties and the press seemed to function almost normally. The word “totalitarian” had not yet been invented.

But the inherent logic of the system was already at work. First, the blackshirted army had not been dissolved, and the dualism typical of a totalitarian state was born, with two sets of institutions–one answerable to the government, the other to the Fascist party. Second, the use of violence accepted as normal since 1922 could not be given up. Force was still the foundation of the regime. One after the other, the voices of the opposition were stilled. The climax was the murder of Matteotti, the Socialist party leader. For the old ruling class, this proved to be the final test of its sense of responsibility and its understanding of the nature of the modern political process. In the summer of 1924 the crown might still have succeeded in obtaining Mussolini’s resignation. The advice it received was that no change should be attempted. The Vatican joined in this appraisal when it drove Luigi Sturzo, the leader of the Christian democratic movement, into exile.

In 1925, exploiting this extraordinary vote of confidence, fascism built the totalitarian structure. The press was silenced or taken over. All parties were abolished except the Fascist party. Constitutional changes were begun that created the unique figure of the leader embodying in his person the sum total of power.

The next ten years, from 1925 to 1935, represented a period of both practical consolidation and theoretical doctrinal development. With power safely in his hands, Mussolini began to consider the problem of the place of fascism in history. Fascism had been criticized as being a naked, pragmatic movement. It was necessary to acquire ideas and to develop an overview on the nature of man and of nations that could promise the recognition of fascism as one of the important revolutionary movements of the twentieth century.

The enemies were identified with great precision. Marxism still was the foremost opponent. But liberalism became another enemy to be fought. Showing little regard for those who had put him in office, Mussolini began to cultivate the ideas that led by 1927 to the labor charter, by 1930/1931 to the beginnings of the corporate state, and by 1934 to the establishment of the corporations themselves.

Some of these economic ideas did provide a certain amount of lively discussion at the time among those whose aim was primarily to find some third way between Marxism and liberalism. The key notions were that (a) the community alone was to have the right to determine what the national interest required; (b) therefore, the conflicting interests of owners, workers, technicians, and the state were to be brought together in a single unit, the corporation, operating under public control; (c) strikes and lockouts were to be forbidden; and (d) the doctrine of the primacy of the politician over the expert was to be abandoned. The divisiveness of politics was to be eliminated by the unity of expertise.

The world-wide depression that had hit the Western world after 1929 facilitated Mussolini’s task. By 1931 the industrial and banking systems of Italy were in serious trouble. The totalitarian regime made possible a quick salvage operation, which placed the key industrial and financial sectors of the country under direct government ownership or control. By 1935 fascism had realized, at least on paper, the goals of a state-controlled society. In its repression of the individual and of social groups, fascism was steadily strengthening and centralizing its power, which was exercised in the name of an ideology that had become a key operational tool in the hands of the new elite.

In its third period, 1935 to 1943, violence and war became the substance of fascism. The first important manifestation of this totalitarian characteristic took place in 1935 with the aggression against Ethiopia, which provided the regime with a testing ground for its military policies, challenged the League of Nations, and furnished German Nazism with evidence of the might of fascist Italy. The second act was played on the battlefields of Spain, where both Nazism and fascism joined hands against republican Spain. Historically, this armed clash was of great significance, for it gave the enemies of Mussolini some idea of their strength and of guerrilla-warfare techniques. The third act was played in 1940, when Mussolini entered World War II on the side of Hitler after the defeat of France. Italy’s defeat came soon, and by 1943 the fascist regime collapsed, as it had begun, through an intervention of the crown.

From 1943 to 1945 the Fascist Social Republic came feebly and fleetingly to life under the control of the Germans. The only point worthy of note is that Mussolini, on the eve of the final collapse and of his own death, tried in a clumsy way to go back to his syndicalist origins and appear as a defender of the proletariat. Industrial plants were now to be turned over to the workers themselves. But it was 1945 and too late.

The fascist regime–ideal and reality

As a movement based on a pragmatic appraisal of the conditions necessary to retain power, fascism was never too preoccupied with the task of a theoretical definition of its own origins and goals. The philosopher Giovanni Gentile sought to link it to Hegelian idealism, the jurist Alfredo Rocco attempted to develop a heavy-handed theory of the state, while Mussolini himself sought to provide the ideology of totalitarianism.

Instruments of power . But the real drive of fascism was in the building of instruments of power and not in the building of theory. Between 1925 and 1939, four main tools of power were developed and refined: charismatic leadership, single-party rule, terror, and economic controls.

Leadership. Around the leader, Benito Mussolini, a series of institutional privileges were built, intended to make his position unchallenged. Constitutionally, he was chief of state and, as such, was placed in a position that was not subordinate to that of the king. Although the monarchy was kept, the Great Council of Fascism had been given certain rights on questions affecting the succession to the throne which placed the monarchy in a dependent position. Politically, the constant rotation in office of Mussolini’s subordinates kept competitors out of the way. Psychologically, the unique position of the leader was carefully maintained by all the devices of communication and propaganda typical of totalitarian states. The identification of fascism with Mussolini was made compulsory in meetings of parliamentary assemblies, of the Fascist party, of economic bodies, of schoolchildren, of every form of group life.

Party rule. The party became a capillary instrument of power going from its highest body, the Great Council of Fascism, which met from time to time to decide major questions of policy, through the secretary of the party and the provincial federations to the thousands of party units, which at the communal level were the daily instruments of propaganda and contact with the country. The party reached out in all directions with its subsidiary organizations, affecting the activities of schoolchildren and the cultural and sport activities of the people. The party became the carrier of the ideology and slogans of the leader, and, more important, the channel through which most of the life of the country had to flow. Jobs, advancement, and preferment had to be cleared in most instances through the party. Membership in the party was, at first, a right belonging to the small elite group that in the pre-1922 days had supported the party’s fight for power; in a second phase which lasted into the early 1930s, membership was made available to all who applied; in a third and final phase, one could become a member only by moving up through the youth organizations that by then had been created. Thus, membership in the Fascist party was reserved at first to the fighters, later to the opportunists, and finally to the perfect citizens of a fascist state nurtured on the ideals of fascism from their most tender age.

Terror. Although between 1925 and 1943 the party was the chief vehicle for the consolidation of the regime, it was no longer the chief instrument of terror, as it had been between 1920 and 1925. “Legalized” repressive functions were carried out by the Special Tribunal for the Safety of the State and by the secret police under the Ministry of the Interior. But from 1943 to 1945, the years of renewed bloody civil war between fascist militias and the resistance groups, the party again undertook the task of meting out summary justice to the increasingly rebellious population and was guilty of massacres that exceeded in scope anything that had been witnessed between 1920 and 1925.

Economic controls. As the pseudo liberalism of the initial years gave way to controls on economic life equaling those on political life, fascism developed two principal instruments of policy. The first was the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction (IRI), which, started in 1931 as an antidepression device, was soon changed into an agency to pursue the military goals that after 1935 became the heart of the dictatorship. Controlling all major financial institutions and nearly all heavy industry through the IRI, the regime transformed it into an ever-expanding industrial complex on which fascist war production plans were based. The second was the corporation, which imposed central controls over all forms of economic activity, including all remaining so-called private activities. Before becoming a “political” tool in 1939, with the establishment of the Chamber of Corporations, the corporation had helped the government control both labor unions and employers’ associations by bringing them all under the rule of a central bureaucracy. The corporations were the best example of a basic tenet of fascist doctrine: the supremacy of the expert over the politician. They were the evidence of the triumph of economics over politics, as parliamentary institutions, made up of representatives of the general interests of the community, were superseded by experts talking the language of economics and technology, given to the hard-headed discussion of facts and not to the empty rhetoric of parliamentarism.

Fascism in operation . All told, this structure represented something new. As Mussolini said, “A party holding ‘totalitarian’ rule over a nation, is a new departure in history. There are no points of reference nor of comparison” ([1932] 1935, p. 36). Later analysts were to agree in large part with this statement and to say that totalitarianism did, indeed, represent a twentieth-century departure in the political evolution of mankind. In addition, the essence of totalitarianism was to be found in a combination of leadership, an ideologically inspired mass party, and violence, and in so total a claim by the ruling group over the lives of the individuals that no separateness, no autonomous legal system, and no group life could survive.

The totalitarian pattern of fascism, however, falls short of this model, in part because Mussolini gave too much weight to the state: “For Fascism the State is absolute, individuals and groups relative. Individuals and groups are admissible insofar as they [cannot attack the state]. … The Fascist state … has a will of its own. For this reason it can be described as ‘ethical’ “([1932] 1935, pp. 37-38). And in article 1 of the labor charter of 1927 the Italian nation was described as an “organism having ends, a life and means superior in power and duration to the single individuals or groups of individuals composing it” (National Fascist Party [1927] 1935, p. 53). These were Hegelian influences that reflected the early role of the idealism of Gentile, whose presence could not be fully reconciled with the nihilism of authentic totalitarianism.

The party itself was one additional field in which fascist totalitarianism did not ring true. The party efforts to maintain ideological coherence, discipline, and a sense of mission were thwarted by the Italian belief in relativism, the spirit of compromise, and the refusal to take ideology seriously. The history of other totalitarian parties has shown that the party purge is of the essence in a totalitarian system. A domesticated totalitarian party, not wracked by fear, not cowed by the brooding image of the leader, but rather reduced to a mere vehicle for the securing of jobs, is no longer a revolutionary movement. The events from 1943 to 1945 showed that the behavior of blackshirted killer squads, the trial and execution of a few high-placed fascist leaders, including Mussolini’s own son-in-law, were evidence only of the extremes of panic to which the surviving fascists were driven under the twin pressures of partisans’ attacks and of German controls. The ease with which the country shed its fascist trimmings showed that in 25 years an effective hard core of fascist militants had not developed.

Hence, terror on a large scale and for preventive or repressive purposes never quite materialized. Fascism suffers by comparison with the apocalyptic liquidations for which Hitler and Stalin will be known to history. Instead of millions, Mussolini had on his conscience only a few tens of thousands of dead, excluding casualties due to direct military action during World War II. The will was lacking. Mussolini’s cynical boasting was nearly always accompanied by a most lively sense of his inadequacy. The assured appearance of the leader on the public square was not matched by equal confidence in his private political activities. He had been a member of a democratic socialist party for too long to forget entirely the habit of doubt and skepticism. Hidden admiration for certain traditional forms of Italian culture stopped him from exercising his powers to the fullest extent. His ignorance made him avoid direct confrontation with established forms of conducting public business, which could therefore continue as before.

Mussolini’s most persistent feeling probably was that of the crisis of the modern capitalistic order. He kept asking certain questions over and over again, without necessarily providing the answers. In 1932 he had asked, “Is this crisis, which has held us in its grip for the past four years ... a crisis ‘within’ the system or ‘of the system?” (1935, p. 10). He felt he could not give an answer then, but in November 1933 he was to say, “Today my answer is: the crisis has sunk so deep into the system that it has become a crisis ‘of’ the system. … We can now assert that the capitalistic mode of production has been superseded” (pp. 10-11). Why is this so? Because by its very size capitalism has turned “into a social phenomenon, and it is precisely at this moment that capitalistic enterprise … falls like a dead weight into the arms of the State” (p. 16).

This is a purely Marxian analysis of the problem (the dominant socialized characteristics of a highly developed capitalistic system, the sudden crisis) up to the point at which the heir of capitalism is not the armed proletariat sitting on the ruins of the institutions of the bourgeois state, but is the “ethical state itself.”

Mussolini tried hard, with the labor charter and the laws on the corporations, to give some unity to the new system. He made large theoretical claims for the corporations, which were to unite workers, owners, experts, the state, and the party and to which powers had been given extending from wage fixing to the regulation of production, the settlement of disputes, the drafting of collective labor contracts, and the prevention of strikes and lockouts.

But in his vaguely socialist dream, he was limited, on the one hand, by his recognition of private property as necessary to the fulfillment of the human personality and, on the other, by the overwhelming bureaucratic complexities of the all-ornothing paper structure of the corporate state, and this made it necessary for him to appoint to the governing boards of the corporations representatives not only of wine but also of vinegar producers, not only of umbrella but also of button manufacturers. The resistance of the property owners who had put Mussolini in power was subtle and stubborn. They saw, in the immense Roman bureaucracy and in a party where the stout of heart and the believers were few, the chance to use the state capitalism of fascism in the same way in which public systems in other countries have been used by anxious capitalists in trouble, that is, as a prop to keep them going until better times.

The easy way out for everybody was military adventure. Again, the final flare-up of the Social Republic in the spring of 1945 is evidence of the decay of a system on the eve of its liquidation. Until then, the vast structure of the production system had been used only to prepare for war and to enable the regime to find overseas the outlets not found at home.


As a phenomenon that, having spread from Italy to other countries, affected the course of history between the two world wars, fascism has been subjected to a 40-year effort at interpretation. The variety of analyses has been correspondingly great, with sharp contrasts among the points of view depending on the time, the interests, and the approaches of those dealing with it.

The fascists themselves, those with a more speculative frame of mind and able to write with some detachment after the event, have tended to see in fascism one phase of the world-wide shifting of the political discourse from multiparty to one-party systems and of the transfer of power from the legislative to the executive, in which violence was discipline and military aggression was reaction to foreign hostility. They still believe that some of the trends and programs foreshadowed by the fascist era should be developed in the future as part of the needs of modern government. Fascism without ideology, war, and concentration camps could find expression in a depoliticized society that would turn its back on the rhetoric of the nineteenth century, but not on deeply felt national sentiments, and seek its way under the guidance of stable and efficient leadership.

The parties in power at the end of World War I, when the crisis began, saw the fascist movement in a different light. To them it was the unavoidable reaction of the “healthier” political forces in the country to the process of disintegration of the community and the constitutional system, caused by forces largely identified with Marxism. Marxism, in its twin embodiment of socialism and communism, loomed as a many-sided assault on the traditional institutions. The infrastructure agencies (cooperatives, peasants’ leagues, trade unions) moved against the state with excessive economic claims and with a systematic onslaught on the processes of production. The authority of the state itself was being weakened by a series of strikes that affected vital public services. Fascism was a reaction of certain social groups, primarily the middle classes and the well-educated urban youth, intended to restore law and order.

But the undermining of the liberal constitutional order was not carried out at this level alone, for at the national political level Marxist parties were acting in alliance with another large and new political formation, the Christian Democratic party. Marxism and Christian democracy as mass parties joined hands here in their attempt to deprive the parliament and cabinet of their traditional roles by imposing rigid programs, which, the liberals thought, were not in keeping with the discussion and compromise typical of a constitutional democracy. Party bosses, who were constitutional “outsiders,” sought to dominate political life. Fascism was to restore the constitutional system through the destruction of mass parties, those intruders which, since 1919, had upset the apple cart. Hence, a dual purpose was attached to fascism: the immediate restoration of normalcy against communist subversion and the long-range return to parliamentary government freed from the obnoxious influence of mass party rule. In brief, fascism was an interlude at the end of which the forward march of liberalism could be resumed.

This view did not survive the events of 1924/1925, when the institutions of totalitarianism were set up and a fuller view of fascism stood revealed. The realization by the liberals of the illiberal realities of single-party dictatorship took place by stages between 1923 and 1925. By then, from Giolitti to Croce, Italian liberalism presented a united antifascist front. But what stood out most clearly was the liberals’ singular attachment to certain constitutional values that ruled out modern variations, chiefly the constitutional transfer of power to mass democratic parties. Liberal elitism was in the end confronted and defeated by brutal and stronger varieties of fascist elitism. The critics of the liberals’ position have pointed out that this was a historical mistake of which they were the first victims.

Many of the spokesmen for the new mass parties, from Sturzo to Tasca, have pointed out that it was the refusal of the old ruling class to come to terms with the new elite emerging from the mass upheavals of postwar Italy that was at the root of the triumph of fascism. Socialists and Christian Democrats, far from seeing in themselves the agents for the destruction of the state, saw in their programs the only hope for a democratic renovation of Italian life and institutions. Their view was that the liberals were the accomplices of fascism in an attempt to stop the normal democratic evolution of a society in rapid transformation.

The Marxists follow orthodox lines. Fascism was the defender of capitalistic society, threatened by the steady widening of the power of the Russian Revolution and of the influence of Marxism in Italy. Fascism was a repressive movement developing along the lines Marx had anticipated for the final phase of bourgeois society.

This understanding of fascism as a class phenomenon, deprived of mystery and uncertainty, simplified the task of the Marxist opposition, which, after 1925, was to be essentially communist opposition. The socialists were no longer an effectively organized force, whereas other Marxist groups, aware of the evolution of Stalinism, had moved toward the center with reformulation of a modern liberal-socialist faith. Through their firm rejection of fascism, the communists were to derive great political benefits after 1945, for they could then identify themselves with one clear alternative in which they claimed to have believed all along. However, the communist interpretation of fascism did run into some difficulties. At the beginning the difficulty lay in the fact that the clear-cut class lines which would have had to be present as capitalism engaged in a supreme attempt at survival were not there at all. Fascism drew mass support from lower middle classes, intellectuals, peasants, and workers. Ten years later the noncapitalistic inclinations of fascism had become apparent, at least in theory, even though the fledgling corporate state was submerged by the requirements of fascist military policy. At this stage, however, the communists could point to war as the logical outcome of a capitalistic-ally inspired tyranny. But at the end the lines were confused once more as fascism tried to revert to one of its ideological roots, socialism. These difficulties, however, did not substantially weaken the appeal of the communist interpretation, because its key element was the condemnation of the bourgeoisie, which it made responsible for fascism. And to this analysis many non-Marxists found it possible to accede. Moreover, the Marxist interpretation had the advantage of appearing to deal seriously with the phenomenon of fascism. Whatever it was, it was not to be taken lightly. It was a phase in the development of certain contemporary societies.

Such views stand a better chance of withstanding the test of history than predominantly literary interpretations, widely accepted at times, of fascism as a bad dream, as an inexplicable and certainly short-lived aberration that would fade away with a return to rational behavior. This caustically ironic attitude was justified perhaps by the frequency with which fascism appeared clothed in grotesque garments or supported policies that, because they were unacceptable on the basis of tradition, could not be sustained. But it suffered from an incomplete analysis of the crisis of Italian society and from a belief that Italian history since 1870 had shown nothing but favorable progress along the lines of modern democracy and that the anarchy prevailing deep in the hearts of so many Italians had been conquered by a growing sense of community.

Related to the bad-dream school was the historical one of fascism as a periodic phenomenon of Italian history. Mussolini was linked to the long series of tyrants, large and small, adventurers, and Machiavellian princes, who for many centuries had dotted the Italian landscape. Italy was the victim of one more manifestation of an endemic disease. A lack of discrimination, a tendency to vague generalizations, and a belief in cyclical recurrence afflicted an account that later could not explain the unprecedented catastrophic events marking the end of fascism and the difficulties that have continued to beset Italy since 1945.


No adequate review of the fascist era, from the point of view of the social scientist, has been undertaken since 1945. The literature has tended to be reminiscent, episodic, and introspective. At best we have detailed narratives of short critical periods in the history of fascism. Slowly, however, general reflections and lines of agreement appear to emerge and suggest some preliminary conclusions.

The first concerns the weakness of Italy’s pre-fascist ruling class, a class whose credit ledger in the years from 1848 to 1922 was certainly not a mean one. But between 1912 and 1922 that class had been guilty of a series of decisions taken outside the liberal constitutional system and against the interests of the country. The Libyan war was a surrender to nationalistic and colonial interests. The parliamentary manipulations of the spring of 1915 had brought the country into World War I under unfavorable conditions and against the inclinations of the country at large. The acceptance of the dismal rhetoric of D’Annunzio as the official ideology of a country at war released the worst aspect of the sentimental patriotism and aggressive nationalism that formed such a large part of the post-1919 crisis. The failure of the machinery of the state and of the administration to maintain order and, worse still, the arming by the government of the Black Shirts were the final evidence of the liquidation of a ruling class that no longer ruled, had no views of what it should do, and was ready to step aside in the hope of recovering the past sometime in the future.

The second is the recognition of the depth of a phenomenon that today is playing a decisive role in the transformation and behavior of social groups, that of anomie. World War I had imposed an altogether excessive and cruel effort upon Italy. The idiocy of generals who sent hundreds of thousands of young men to a useless death, the social upheavals caused by war industries and profiteering, the opening up, under the strains of conflict, of regions that for centuries had been cut off from communication not only with the rest of the world but almost with their neighbors, and the lack of any recognition after 1918 of the seriousness of the problems which peacetime Italy would confront caused an unendurable strain on the weak texture of Italian society. This created large and vague expectations on the part of millions of unemployed and uprooted peasants, war veterans, frontline heroes, and dissatisfied students. Liberal Italy was not prepared to meet them or even to recognize them.

Under such anomic conditions, the appeal of mass movements–Marxism, Christian democracy, fascism–was bound to be great. That of Marxism was notable, even though the Socialist party dated back to the late nineteenth century. Although the theoretical weaknesses of the old warrior had been exposed, its half-hearted revolutionary enthusiasm could not be concealed. The mass appeal of Christian democracy was based on yet untested slogans and on new men, and it quickly gathered strength. But Italian liberalism had lumped Christian democracy together with Marxism. Both were forms of the revolt of upstart political elites against the majesty of the liberal state. The last of the three, fascism made its appearance as something new, promising shelter, food, stability, jobs, and a vigorous political system to those who were looking for such assurances. It had the advantage over Marxism and Christian democracy of being helped by the ruling class and by the weapons placed at its disposal.

Fascism can thus be seen as a mass movement to which an anomic society turned in a period of crisis for reassurance and the promise of satisfaction of essential community needs. But the promise was not kept. Behind the seemingly innovative façade, economic and social stagnation prevailed. Perhaps the most typical fascist law was the one that attempted to stop internal migrations. By freezing population movements, by keeping the peasant on the land, fascism strengthened the anarchism of individuals and acted directly contrary to the needs of the country, preventing the modernization of its ancient, quasi-feudal structures.

Thus, fascism did not resolve the anomic state of Italian society that had made its rise possible in the first place. The process of integration and modernization could start in earnest only after 1945. Among all the industrialized countries of western Europe, Italy is still the one most substantially removed from the conditions of a modern state. This, in part, is the result of the long frost of fascism.

At the same time, however, fascism functioned as if it had understood the new conditions of economic life. Bits of the largely unused machinery and ideas of the corporate state have been retained in post-1945 Italy in such fields as collective bargaining, where national and compulsory uniformities are now imposed. Labor agreements binding even on those who have not participated in their negotiation and massive state intervention in the settlement of labor disputes are part of the practice of republican Italy. Equally significant has been the resurfacing of fascist corporativism, the acceptance of its features in Gaullist France. The controlling factor everywhere is found in the deep malaise of European capitalism, which in its support of monopoly practices, sharp dealings with public authority, secrecy of managerial decisions, and drive for sheltered markets has deepened many of the accepted defects and realized few of the expected promises of the industrial revolution.

Mario Einaudi

[See alsoCaudillismo; Dictatorship; Falangism; National socialism; Socialism.]


Alatbi, Paolo 1956 Le origini del fascismo. Rome: Editori Riuniti.

Deakin, Frederick W. 1962 The Brutal Friendship: Mussolini, Hitler and the Fall of Italian Fascism. New York: Harper; London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Delzell, Charles F. 1961 Mussolini’s Enemies: The Italian Anti-Fascist Resistance. Princeton Univ. Press.

Dorso, Guido 1949 Mussolini alla conquista del potere. Edited by C. Muscetta. Turin: Einaudi.

Felice, Renzo De 1965– Mussolini. Volume 1: II rivo-luzionario, 1883–1920. Turin: Einaudi.

Finer, Herman (1935) 1964 Mussolini’s Italy. Ham-den, Conn.: Shoe String Press.

Gahosci, Aldo 1943 La vita di Carlo Rosselli. 2 vols. Rome: Edizioni “U.”

Gobetti, Piero 1960 Scritti politici. Edited by Paolo Spriano. Turin: Einaudi.

Gramsci, Antonio 1947 Opere. Vol. 1– Turin: Einaudi. → Eleven volumes published up to 1966.

Megaho, Gaudens 1938 Mussolini in the Making. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Mussolini, Benito (1932) 1935 The Doctrine of Fascism. Florence: Vallecchi. → First published in the Enciclopedia italiana. Reprinted in 1942 in Michael Oakeshott (editor), The Social and Economic Doctrines of Contemporary Europe, published by Mac-millan.

Mussolini, Benito 1935 Four Speeches on the Corporate State. Rome: “Laboremus.”

National Fascist Party, Grand Council OF FascisM (1927) 1935 The Labour Charter. Pages 51-62 in Benito Mussolini, Four Speeches on the Corporate State. Rome: “Laboremus.”

Rocco, Alfredo 1926 The Political Doctrine of Fascism. New York and Worcester, Mass.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Rosselli, Carlo (1930) 1945 Socialismo liberale. Rome: Edizioni “U.”

Salvatohelli, Luigi; and Mira, Giovanni (1956) 1962 Storia d’ltalia nel periodo fascista.4th ed. Turin: Einaudi.

Salvemini, Gaetano 1936 Under the Axe of Fascism. New York: Viking; London: Gollancz.

Salvemini, Gaetano 1961 Scritti sul fascismo. Edited by Roberto Vivarelli. Milan: Feltrinelli.

Sturzo, Luigi (1919-1926) 1956-1957 Il Partita Popo-lare Italiano. 3 vols. Bologna: Zanichelli.

Sturzo, Luigi (1926) 1927 Italy and Fascismo. New York: Harcourt; London: Faber & Gwyer. → First published in Italian.

[Tasca, Angelo] 1938 The Rise of Italian Fascism, 1918-1922, by Angelo Rossi [pseud.]. London: Me-thuen. → First published in French in 1938. Translated into Italian in 1950 as Nascita e avvento del fascismo.

Valehi, Nino (1956) 1958 Da Giolitti a Mussolini: Mo-menti della crisi del liheralismo. 4th ed. Florence: Parenti.

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Fascism is a reactionary and revolutionary ideology that emerged across Europe after World War I. Fascism was partially developed in Italy and became fully developed in Germany as a reaction against the unrestrained liberal capitalism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which promoted individualism over communal organization. Fascism as an ideology is anti-Marxist in its militarization of culture, society, and the economy and its rejection of social reforms as a means to create community. As in communism, fascism emphasizes the primacy of the collective unit; however, fascists reject communisms internationalism and instead define the community as a racial group whose passionate, heroic sacrifice for the nation will fulfill its historical destiny.

Fascism also promotes the adulation of a dictatorial figure to act as a strong representative of the Volk (the people) in this process. Fascists argue that true democracy exists only under these specific conditions, thereby creating a myth of volkish communal heroism that relies on militarism for its success. Since fascists think in terms of absolute enemies of the people, they view imperialistic war as an inevitability of the rise of fascism. The goals of war are twofold: first, to resolve land hunger by expanding the nations access to land, natural resources, and labor of native populations and, second, to solve domestic economic and political crisis (usually due to economic depression that causes high unemployment and challenges to the new one-party state). They therefore stress the virtues of a warlike culture: authoritarianism, unity of methods and goals, discipline, and an abhorrence of political dissent. The creation of an active, warlike citizenry is what distinguishes fascist regimes from authoritarian or dictatorial ones.


Fascists solidified their power by stripping citizens of their individual rights and subordinating them to the will of the collective. A single-party political system that used terror, a secret police, and a strong military established a dictatorship controlled by a new social elite representative of the party. The hierarchy differed from that of other social systems in that it was not defined in class terms, but rather in terms of service to the nation. Because of this distinction, fascist states introduced a new form of social mobility that appealed to many citizens. The fascist government also succeeded in co-opting the economic system into the national sphere. Capitalist economics continued in the preservation of private property, though high party officials ensured the alliance between industrial and agricultural sectors and the state. The exploitation of workers in the form of low wages and high production quotas created economic growth, thereby fulfilling the promises of fascist governments to solve the problems of high unemployment caused by economic depression. In these ways, fascists ensured the loyalty of worker, peasant, industrialist, and businessman.

The heavy use of propaganda was another hallmark of fascist politics through its creation of the myth of the volkish leader whose destiny was to resurrect the greatness of the Volk. Films, books, signs, leaflets, and artistic productions attempted to present fascism as a new form of spirituality by espousing the eternal truths of the state through the repetition of slogans and symbols. Organizations such as clubs and youth groups and public displays of nationalism (in the form of parades or rallies) attempted to destroy private and individual identities by exalting a communal one. Censorship stripped intellectuals of their creative freedom and demanded that they produce warrior-peasant art that reflected the racial superiority of the Volk. Additionally, state-sponsored architectural projects embraced themes of sacrifice and national greatness through the construction of its war monuments and government buildings. Because fascism proclaimed to be the mouthpiece of a lost moral system, psychological conversion of the masses was essential to its success.


The roots of fascism can be traced to the political climate of European society before the outbreak of World War I in 1914. At the turn of the twentieth century, the international tensions that would soon lead to war in Europe were already apparent. Most members of the rising bourgeoisie supported their European governments because they greatly benefited from successful nationalist industrial and colonial expansion in the late nineteenth century. The working classes, however, were not benefactors of industrial and colonial growth, and socialist politics were strong across Europe. The rise of minorities middle classesSlavs in the Habsburg Empire and Jews everywhere in Europealso threatened traditional ethnic majorities. Nationalists at this point rejected their liberal roots and became more conservative as nationalism developed into an ideology that protected the rights of the ethnic community over those of the individual. Rightist parties at the turn of the century appealed mostly to the traditional middle and upper classes, those that stood to lose the most through the rise of workers movements and new privileged ethnic groups. Persuading the working classes into rejecting the internationalist foundation of Marxist politics and accepting the nation as a protective body soon became the primary goal of rightist parties in the decades preceding the outbreak of World War I. This development led conservatives to define the nation in ethnic terms. The rise of nationalism as a condemnation of others allowed for the emergence of fascist politics across Europe in the 1920s and 1930s.

Fascism developed into mature political movements in European societies whose citizens experienced a recent, rapid, and intense possibility of social mobility as a result of concentrated industrial growth that threatened to destroy traditional hierarchy in the interwar period. Social anxiety over recent processes of modernity heightened when the United States stock market crashed in 1929 and the Great Depression paralyzed European economies. Fascism became a viable political response for millions of Europeans when their parliamentary systems failed to provide adequate economic relief in the 1930s. The success of fascist politics additionally depended upon the existence of a substantial volkish population, one whose identity could be interpreted as being representative of a greater national entity and used by fascist leaders as a symbol of past, organic national greatness. Therefore, the states that supported fascist politics on a national level in the 1920s and 1930s, mostly in Central and Eastern Europe, sustained substantial agricultural economies at that time. It is also notable that World War I left an unresolved national question, irredentist, colonial, or a high percentage of outsiders within national boundaries, in the countries that became fascist in the interwar periodItaly, Germany, Romania, Hungary, Austria, Croatia, and France. Fascist promises of a return to national greatness resonated with the masses who viewed their economic suffering as a social injustice. France is the exception to this pattern in that its fascist governmentthe Vichy regimeenjoyed very little popular support and was a puppet of the Nazis rather than a legitimate state. Fascism in all of its manifestations can be seen as one response to the social, economic, and political crisis that accompanied the process of modernity in Europe.

The emergence of Italian fascism deserves special attention because of Benito Mussolinis role in fascist ideological development. Mussolini, fascist dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1943, first used the term fascism in 1919 to describe this new political ideology of individual subordination to the ethnic community as a method of attaining national greatness. Mussolini developed this belief in the strength of the community as an active and politically prominent socialist during his youth. Like many socialists, Mussolini was critical of the politics and economics of European liberal capitalism. In Italys case, the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century were years of grave economic crisis, primarily due to its ineffectiveness in industrializing and the weakness and inefficiency of its governments. Italys lack of natural resources perpetuated a largely agricultural economy that was unable to support imperialist expansion, causing international embarrassment in a time when national greatness on the continent was largely defined by the building of empires abroad.

After World War I, Mussolini came to believe that socialist internationalism would only serve to subordinate Italy to more powerful European neighbors who had failed to reward his country adequately for its Allied support during the war and turned to rightist politics. In 1919, Mussolini founded the Fascist Party and defined fascism as a technique for gaining and solidifying power through the use of violent action. Fascism demanded first and foremost the cultivation of military discipline and a fighting spirit in every Italian citizen. Unlike Marxist theory, which believes in an end to the process of history through a democratically based revolution that establishes a communist state, Mussolinis fascism defined history as constant struggle through constant war. The necessity of action required the adulation of a leader who would manage his countrys destiny through acts of war and violence. Complete confidence in the decisions of the leader, Il Duce, as Mussolini referred to himself, needed to be blindly obeyed in order for national goals to be met. Mussolini pointed to Italys weakened economic state after the war as proof that such a leader was necessary for Italian recovery.

In 1922, Mussolinis fascist militia marched on Rome and he became the prime minister of Italy. Between 1922 and 1927, Mussolini concentrated on fascist state-building. The state and the Fascist Party became a single entity that oversaw the alignment of the legislative, executive, and judicial bodies with nationalist goals. Mussolini asked Italians to sacrifice their individual identities in order to establish Italy as the new leader of mankind. He further legitimized his dictatorship by pointing to the rise of fascist parties across Europe as evidence that parliamentarianism and liberal democracy were decadent political and social values and that fascism was indeed the new path of modernity.

What differentiated Italian fascism at this early stage from other young fascist movements across Europe was its rejection of anti-Semitic sentiment. This distinction is mostly due to the lack of a discernable Jewish population in Italy. Instead, Italian exposure to African populations during failed colonial ventures made Africans the targets of Italian racist nationalism during the interwar period. Mussolini integrated this race doctrine into the construction of his dictatorship but never fully developed it. Rather repulsed by the racist program of the National Socialists (Nazis) in Germany, Mussolini instead directed his energies toward imperialist expansion rather than cultivating an ethnically pure Italian state.

Anti-Semitism was the distinguishing feature of mature fascism developed by Adolf Hitler in Germany. Hitlers fusion of race doctrinethe belief in the natural inequality of human races and the superiority of the Teutonic racewith Mussolinis philosophy of power created a particularly virulent and highly destructive form of fascism. The anti-Semitic flavor of Imperial German society laid the foundations for the rise of racist nationalist politics in the interwar period. The increase of Jewish presence in trade, finance, politics, and journalism, particularly in Berlin, around the turn of the twentieth century fueled conspiracy theories about a Jewish infiltration of German society. Hitlers fascist National Socialist Party, begun in 1919 as the German Workers Party, was an anti-Semitic, supra-nationalist political organization whose proclaimed goal was to protect the ethnic German community at all costs. The Nazis succeeded in earning millions of German votes in the late 1920s and early 1930s with its strong repudiation of the Versailles Treaty coupled with messages of moral and economic rebirth through the destruction of Jewish market competition, the annihilation of European Jewry, and territorial expansion. Hitler and the Nazi Party attempted to fulfill the promises of his propaganda through the creation of a totalitarian state in Germany. From 1933 to 1945, the Nazis exercised total control over the German population and conquered much of the European continent. The fascist period of German history was additionally responsible for the deaths of approximately six million Jews and three million Slavs, Roma, homosexuals, political dissidents, and other undesirables during the Holocaust.


It has been difficult for historians, political scientists, psychologists, and sociologists of fascism to agree on a single explanation for the rise of fascism in some countries but not in others. One leading interpretation supports the notion that fascism was an experience unique to certain countries, pointing to some kind of predestination of radical conservative nationalism. The second prominent interpretation is that fascism was a reaction to the failure of European liberalism to make good on its promises of promoting every individuals right to social mobility. This interpretation puts the rise of fascism in an international context of the struggles of European modernity.

SEE ALSO Anti-Semitism; Capitalism; Censorship; Colonialism; Communalism; Great Depression; Hierarchy; Hitler, Adolf; Imperialism; Liberalism; Mussolini, Benito; Nationalism and Nationality; Nazism; Propaganda; Property; Racism; Right Wing


Brady, Robert A. 1971. The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism. New York: Citadel.

De Felice, Renzo. 1977. Interpretations of Fascism. Trans. Brenda Huff Everett. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Falasca-Zamponi, Simonetta. 1997. Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolinis Italy. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Laqueur, Walter. 1996. Fascism: Past, Present, Future. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lubasz, Heinz, ed. 1973. Fascism: Three Major Regimes. New York: Wiley.

Paxton, Robert O. 2004. The Anatomy of Fascism. New York: Knopf.

Payne, Stanley G. 1995. A History of Fascism, 19141945. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Smith, Denis Mack. 1982. Mussolini. New York: Knopf.

Tracey A. Pepper

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fascism (făsh´Ĭzəm), totalitarian philosophy of government that glorifies the state and nation and assigns to the state control over every aspect of national life. The name was first used by the party started by Benito Mussolini, who ruled Italy from 1922 until the Italian defeat in World War II. However, it has also been applied to similar ideologies in other countries, e.g., to National Socialism in Germany and to the regime of Francisco Franco in Spain. The term is derived from the Latin fasces.

Characteristics of Fascist Philosophy

Fascism, especially in its early stages, is obliged to be antitheoretical and frankly opportunistic in order to appeal to many diverse groups. Nevertheless, a few key concepts are basic to it. First and most important is the glorification of the state and the total subordination of the individual to it. The state is defined as an organic whole into which individuals must be absorbed for their own and the state's benefit. This "total state" is absolute in its methods and unlimited by law in its control and direction of its citizens.

A second ruling concept of fascism is embodied in the theory of social Darwinism. The doctrine of survival of the fittest and the necessity of struggle for life is applied by fascists to the life of a nation-state. Peaceful, complacent nations are seen as doomed to fall before more dynamic ones, making struggle and aggressive militarism a leading characteristic of the fascist state. Imperialism is the logical outcome of this dogma.

Another element of fascism is its elitism. Salvation from rule by the mob and the destruction of the existing social order can be effected only by an authoritarian leader who embodies the highest ideals of the nation. This concept of the leader as hero or superman, borrowed in part from the romanticism of Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Carlyle, and Richard Wagner, is closely linked with fascism's rejection of reason and intelligence and its emphasis on vision, creativeness, and "the will."

The Fascist State

Fascism has found adherents in all countries. Its essentially vague and emotional nature facilitates the development of unique national varieties, whose leaders often deny indignantly that they are fascists at all. In its dictatorial methods and in its use of brutal intimidation of the opposition by the militia and the secret police, fascism does not greatly distinguish itself from other despotic and totalitarian regimes. There are particular similarities with the Communist regime in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. However, unlike Communism, fascism abhors the idea of a classless society and sees desirable order only in a state in which each class has its distinct place and function. Representation by classes (i.e., capital, labor, farmers, and professionals) is substituted for representation by parties, and the corporative state is a part of fascist dogma.

Although Mussolini's and Hitler's governments tended to interfere considerably in economic life and to regulate its process, there can be no doubt that despite all restrictions imposed on them, the capitalist and landowning classes were protected by the fascist system, and many favored it as an obstacle to socialization. On the other hand, the state adopted a paternalistic attitude toward labor, improving its conditions in some respects, reducing unemployment through large-scale public works and armament programs, and controlling its leisure time through organized activities.

Many of these features were adopted by the Franco regime in Spain and by quasi-fascist dictators in Latin America (e.g., Juan Perón) and elsewhere. A variation of fascism was the so-called clerico-fascist system set up in Austria under Engelbert Dollfuss. This purported to be based on the social and economic doctrines enunciated by Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI, which, however, were never put into operation.

See totalitarianism.


Origins of Fascism

While socialism (particularly Marxism) came into existence as a clearly formulated theory or program based on a specific interpretation of history, fascism introduced no systematic exposition of its ideology or purpose other than a negative reaction against socialist and democratic egalitarianism. The growth of democratic ideology and popular participation in politics in the 19th cent. was terrifying to some conservative elements in European society, and fascism grew out of the attempt to counter it by forming mass parties based largely on the middle classes and the petty bourgeoisie, exploiting their fear of political domination by the lower classes. Forerunners of fascism, such as Georges Boulanger in France and Adolf Stöker and Karl Lueger in Germany and Austria, in their efforts to gain political power played on people's fears of revolution with its subsequent chaos, anarchy, and general insecurity. They appealed to nationalist sentiments and prejudices, exploited anti-Semitism, and portrayed themselves as champions of law, order, Christian morality, and the sanctity of private property.

Emergence after World War I

The Russian Revolution (1917), the collapse of the Central Powers in 1918, and the disorders caused by Communist attempts to seize power in Germany, Italy, Hungary, and other countries greatly strengthened fascism's appeal to many sections of the European populace. In Italy, particularly, social unrest was combined with nationalist dissatisfaction over the government's failure to reap the promised fruits of victory after World War I. The action of Gabriele D'Annunzio in seizing Fiume (Rijeka) was one manifestation of the discontent existing in Italy. Appealing to the masses and especially to the lower middle class through demagogic promises of order and social justice, the fascists could depend upon support, financial and otherwise, from vested interests, who could not muster such popularity themselves.

Governmental paralysis enabled Mussolini in 1922 to obtain the premiership by a show of force. As leader of his National Fascist party, he presented himself as the strong-armed savior of Italy from anarchy and Communism. Borrowing from Russian Communism a system of party organization based on a strict hierarchy and cells, which became typical of fascism everywhere, he made use of an elite party militia—the Black Shirts—to crush opposition and to maintain his power.

In Germany at about the same time a fascist movement similar to that in Italy steadily gathered strength; it called itself the National Socialist German Workers' party (Nazi party). Its leader, Adolf Hitler, won support from a middle class ruined by inflation, from certain elements of the working class, especially the unemployed, and from discontented war veterans; he also gained the backing of powerful financial interests, to whom he symbolized stability and order. However, it was not until 1933 that Hitler could carry through his plans for making Germany a fascist state and the National Socialists the sole legal party in the country.

The military aggression so inherent in fascist philosophy exploded in the Italian invasion (1935) of Ethiopia, the attack (1936) of the Spanish fascists (Falangists) on their republican government (see Spanish civil war), and Nazi Germany's systematic aggression in Central and Eastern Europe, which finally precipitated (1939) World War II.

Fascism since World War II

The Italian Social Movement (MSI), a minor neofascist party, was formed in Italy in 1946. It won wider support when the pervasive corruption of the governing parties was exposed in the early 1990s, and it became a partner in the conservative government formed after the 1994 elections. In 1995, however, the MSI dissolved itself as it was transformed into a new party headed by former MSI leader Gianfranco Fini and including the majority of former MSI members. Fini's right-wing National Alliance rejected fascist ideology, including anti-Semitism, and embraced democracy as one of its principles and has participated in center-right governing coalitions.

In postwar West Germany, neofascism appeared in the form of the temporary growth of the nationalistic National Democratic party in the mid-1960s. Following German reunification, neo-Nazi groups in the country gained increased prominence, with new members being drawn to the organization as a result of social upheaval and economic dislocation, and the nation experienced an increase in related violence, especially attacks on immigrants and foreigners. Neo-Nazi groups also exist on a small scale in the United States, and right-wing nationalistic movements and parties in countries such as France, Russia, and some republics of the former Yugoslavia have political groups with elements of fascism. For many of these parties, however, ethnic and racial animosity is often more significant than fascist philosophy.


See H. Finer, Mussolini's Italy (1935, repr. 1965); R. Albrecht-Carrié, Italy from Napoleon to Mussolini (1961); H. Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism (rev. ed. 1966); W. Laqueur and G. Mosse, ed., International Fascism (1966); W. Ebenstein, Today's Isms (7th ed. 1973); H. Lubasz, ed., Fascism: Three Major Regimes (1973); O. E. Schuddekopf, Fascism (1973); S. Larsen, ed., Who Were the Fascists? (1981); D. Muhlberger, ed., The Social Basis of European Fascist Movements (1987); G. L. Mosse, The Fascist Revolution: Toward a General Theory of Fascism (1999).

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fascism Originally, the term denoted only the Italian political party founded by Benito Mussolini in the aftermath of World War I, and the state that was created during the 1920s following the party's seizure of power, although in ordinary usage it has since become a generic term used to refer to almost any authoritarian right-wing ideology, political party, or state. It nevertheless retains a certain precision within political sociology. In the latter context, it has come to refer to parties, ideologies, or states that either advocate or embody a typically terroristic domination of a fused state apparatus, within which there is no separation of powers or rule of law, by a single party infused with a frequently racist and always nationalist petit bourgeois ideology. On this basis, the German Nazi (National Socialist) Party founded by Adolf Hitler, the ideology he elaborated, and state that he created after his seizure of power, have become the archetypes of fascism in place of their Italian equivalents. Naturally, there were many variations on the fascist themes current in inter-war Europe, and these are concisely discussed in Eugen Weber , Varieties of Fascism, 1964

Striking as this broadening of reference and change of archetype has been, it has not aroused much controversy, at least in sociological circles. Certainly, it has not provoked nearly as much controversy as that which has raged around the causes and significance of fascism in general, and of its temporary German and Italian successes in particular. It is true that almost all those who have sought to explain the rise of fascism in the inter-war years have regarded it as the product of a crisis associated with some type of transitional process. But what they have signally failed to agree about is the nature of the crises and transitions involved.

For the majority of Weberian sociologists and liberal scholars (such as Ralf Dahrendorf and Reinhard Bendix, addressing the case of Germany, or A. W. Salamone and Frederico Chabod that of Italy) the pertinent transitional process was that which was occurring–or, better, failing to occur–at the level of values. (The general process that is involved here is often referred to as one of modernization.) More concretely, since the chief bearers of the liberal-democratic values that are considered to be appropriate to modern societies were the bourgeoisie and their middle-class allies, such scholars have focused their attention on the failure of these groups to establish their social dominance or keep faith with their values.

Within such an analytical framework it is not surprising that what are typically identified as the ‘fatal crises’ turn out to be essentially political in nature. Thus, in the case of both societies, emphasis is given to the ways in which the legitimacy of what were newly established liberal-democratic regimes was undermined. Among the most important factors cited in this regard are: tensions arising from what were termed in Italy ‘lost territories’; the heavy financial burdens imposed by war reparations (Germany) and the repayment of war loans (Italy); the shared experience of a hyper-inflation which wiped out the savings of the middle classes; the uncertainty and instability that in both cases resulted from the political fragmentation caused by the existence of electoral systems based on proportional representation; and, finally, miscalculations on the part of the bourgeois parties as to the seriousness of the fascist threat.

By contrast, Marxist-inclined writers have traditionally identified the pertinent transition process as an economic one, and have focused instead on the difficulties encountered by both Italy and Germany in making the transition between the competitive and monopoly stages of capitalist development. More recently, they have also stressed the contribution made to these difficulties by the belated passing of absolutism, as for example in the work of Barrington Moore (see his The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, 1966

By far the most sophisticated Marxist analysis is that to be found scattered through the pages of Antonio Gramsci's Prison Notebooks (1929—35)–although, because of the conditions under which Gramsci wrote, his account is not worked out in great empirical detail and is sometimes rather too elusive for contemporary readers. Guided by the particular interpretation of the relative autonomy of politics and ideology that he brought to Marxism with his concept of hegemony, Gramsci formulated a whole series of middle-range concepts (‘passive revolution’, ‘catastrophic equilibrium’, ‘fordism’, and ‘Caesarism’) which he uses to chart and explain the interaction of economic, political and ideological factors in the aetiology of Italian fascism. In the 1970s several structuralist Marxists sought with mixed success both to develop Gramsci's ideas, and to apply them to the German and other cases. Nicos Poulantzas was by far the most ambitious and prominent of these (see his Fascism and Dictatorship, 1970

Many historians as well as sociologists continue to be attracted to the study of fascism, because of its horrific dramatic interest, its implications for the development of civilization, its suitability for comparative study, and feared recurrence. It provides an almost unrivalled opportunity for sociologists and others to investigate some of the most profound and disturbing aspects of the modern world.

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"fascism." A Dictionary of Sociology. . 29 Mar. 2017 <>.

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152. Fascism


the principles and practices of people who worked to dissolve Hitlers dictatorship and fascism.
a member of the German-American Volksbund, a U.S. pro-Nazi organization of the 1930s and 1940s. Bund , n.
the doctrines of the Falange, the fascist party of Spain. Falangist , n.
1 . the tenets of a centralized totalitarian and nationalistic government that strictly controls finance, industry, and commerce, practices rigid censorship and racism, and eliminates opposition through secret police.
2 . such a form of government, as that of Italy under Mussolini. fascist , n. fascistic , adj.
the tenets of German fascism as developed by Adolf Hitler; Nazism. Hitlerite , n., adj.
the German form of fascism, especially that of the National Socialist (German: Nazionalsozialist) Workers party under Adolf Hitler. Nazi , n., adj.
the post-World War II rise of a movement whose principal aim is to incorporate the doctrines of fascism into existing political systems. Neo-Facist , n.
a method of revolution or overthrow involving secret planning, suddenness, and speed, as Hitlers 1938 invasion of Austria. putschist , n.
a member of the Belgian pro-fascist party of the 1930s.

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fascism Political movement founded in Italy by Benito Mussolini (1919), characterized by nationalism, totalitarianism and anti-communism. The term also applied to the regimes of Adolf Hitler in Germany (1933), and Francisco Franco in Spain (1936). A reaction to the Russian Revolution (1917) and the spread of communist influence, the movement based its appeal on the fear of financial instability among the middle-classes and on a wider social discontent. Basic to fascist ideas were glorification of the state and total subordination to its authority; suppression of all political opposition; preservation of a rigid class structure; stern enforcement of law and order; the supremacy of the leader as the embodiment of high ideals; and an aggressive militarism aimed at achieving national greatness. It also typically encouraged racist and xenophobic attitudes and policies. Discredited by defeat in World War II, fascism was insignificant in Western European politics for many years. In recent years, however, far-right nationalist groups re-emerged in many countries. See also national socialism

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fascism an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.

The term Fascism was first used of the totalitarian right-wing nationalist regime of Mussolini in Italy (1922–43), and the regimes of the Nazis in Germany and Franco in Spain were also Fascist. 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.

The name comes from Italian fascismo, from fascio ‘bundle, political group’, from Latin fascis ‘rod’.

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"fascism." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . 29 Mar. 2017 <>.

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fas·cism / ˈfashˌizəm/ (also Fas·cism) • n. an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization. ∎  (in general use) extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practice. DERIVATIVES: fas·cist n. & adj. fa·scis·tic / faˈshistik/ adj.

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"fascism." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 29 Mar. 2017 <>.

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250. Fascism

  1. Cipolla brutal magician, symbol of fascist oppression. [Ger. Lit.: Mario and the Magician ; Haydn & Fuller, 636]
  2. Duce, Il title of Benito Mussolini (18831945), Italian Fascist leader. [Ital. Hist.: Brewer Dictionary ]
  3. Webley, Everard sinister figure leads a growing Fascist movement. [Br. Lit.: Huxley Point Counter Point in Magill I, 760]

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"Fascism." Allusions--Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. . 29 Mar. 2017 <>.

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