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II. Studies of Fascism
A. Political Spectrum
III. Ideological Precursors of Fascist Theory
B. Georges Sorel and Revolutionary Syndicalism
D. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Futurism
E. Giovanni Gentile and Actual Idealism
F. Biological Determinism
IV. Historical Context
A. Benito Mussolini
B. Adolf Hitler
VI. Other Fascist Movements
The Great War, also known as World War I or the “war to end all wars,” brought the concept of total war to the battlefield, unleashing unprecedented destruction and leaving millions of victims in its wake. After such devastation, it might have been reasonable to expect those affected to be pacified by a feeling of war weariness, but instead we saw the rise of a political ideology whose followers advocated perpetual conflict. Fascism is a quasi-religious political ideology that is anticommunist, antiliberal, anticapitalist, anti-intellectual, antipositivist, anti-internationalist, anti-Christian, anticonservative, antirationalistic, antiproletarian, antibourgeois, anti-individualistic, and antidemocratic (E. Gentile, 2003, 2004; G. Gentile, 2002; Gregor, 2001; Ioanid, 2005; Laqueur, 1996; Lederer, 1937; Schuman, 1934; Sternhell, Sznajder, &Asheri, 1994; Szaz, 1963; Wellhofer, 2003).
Although it may appear that the above litany of negations encompasses everything, fascism demanded cultural and ideological unity among all within the nation by forcing the creation of a new society, a new way of thinking, and a new man. Thus it was a totalitarian ideology. It was fiercely nationalist and jingoistic once in power, employing myth in order to stimulate nationalist fervor among its followers and seeking to eliminate all political opposition through violence.
Fascism came in different forms. The two most prominent were in fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Fascist parties arose in other places, as well, but did not achieve the same success as the National Fascist Party in Italy and the National Socialist German Worker’s Party or Nazi (short for National Socialist) Party did.
II. Studies of Fascism
Fascism has been widely researched by both political scientists and historians. From 1945 until the mid-1960s, the traditional approach to studying fascism tended to focus on its negative aspects and treat fascism as a trivial, reactionary ideology without its own historic uniqueness or substance (E. Gentile, 2005). Beginning in the mid-1960s and until the 1970s, empirical studies of fascism began generating new scholarly work that stressed fascism’s revolutionary, as opposed to its reactionary, characteristics (Griffin, 2005).
Emilio Gentile (2005) calls this phase of studying fascism the first period of renewal among three periods of renewal in the research. Empirical work began informing theory that replaced the traditional cursory interpretations of fascism. One of the first and most important scholars contributing to a more objective study of fascism was George L. Mosse, a Jewish intellectual who had suffered Nazi persecution himself (E. Gentile, 2005). There is not much disagreement over what fascism is not, but this new, more objective approach to studying fascism demanded that scholars also define what it is, its appeal, and how it defines man and society (Linz, 1976). As a result, many scholars have attempted a definition of fascism, without consensus, but their attention to detail and precision is indicative of the change in the scholarly work.
In the 1980s, studies of fascism focused less on theory and more on the history of singular fascist movements, their politics, organization, and institutions. Differences among these regimes led some scholars to question whether a general theory of fascism was even appropriate. In the 1990s, a partial consensus began to emerge about the basic nature of fascism, along with a greater focus on fascist culture and ideology (E. Gentile, 2005). Sometimes expanding on previous literature, these studies covered class, civil society, and even rational choice perspectives (Wellhofer, 2003). In addition, the literature has become more compatible as the various studies began working from similar conceptual frameworks (Griffin, 2005), allowing for greater cooperation among scholars studying the fascist phenomenon.
A. Political Spectrum
Fascists were hostile to parties on the left, center, and right but most commonly, although not always, allied with those on the radical authoritarian right (Payne, 1995). Although it is common to place fascism on the right, there are differences among scholars, and even among fascists themselves, as to where fascism actually lies on the political spectrum.
On the economic political spectrum, fascism was not on the right. Capitalist-style competition was seen as destructive to the unity of the nation. Although some free market policies were not rejected outright, the ability of the state to interfere in economics with impunity and its increasing need for the war effort lead some to equate fascist government with Communist Soviet government (Lederer, 1937).
However, fascism also rejected socialism. Benito Mussolini wrote, “The socialists ask, ‘what is our program?’ Our program is to smash the skulls of the socialists” (Laqueur, 1996, p. 50). Whereas fascists claim that socialism accentuates class warfare and therefore a type of economic civil war within the state, fascism’s aim is to reinforce class solidarity to strengthen the state (Laqueur, 1996). The difficulty with classifying fascism on the political axis arises because the ideology does not fit neatly into any category. Instead fascism sought to create a new culture and ideology independent from others (Payne, 1995), with the goal of replacing them all; hence its fierce opposition to all other ideological competitors.
III. Ideological Precursors of Fascist Theory
In the 20th century, several developments contributed to power that ideologies could exert. Bracher (1984) explains that never before in history did the legitimacy of a political system feel such a need to justify its existence intellectually. Never had this justification had such sophisticated communications equipment at its disposal and never had regimes been so capable of manipulating public opinion.
Several strands of consciously irrational and illiberal political thought and historical trends contributed to the formulation of fascist thought. This research paper explores those ideological as well as cultural evolutions, their reasoning, and their prejudices. In so doing, much of the most important aspects of fascism are covered. Names of some of the people whose ideas led to fascist thought are mentioned although the list is by no means exhaustive. In addition, it should be noted that some of the people mentioned here, had they lived long enough, may not have actually approved of fascism and all that is associated with it.
Nationalist movements rejected rationalist thought, perceiving that it blunted nationalist sentiment with its atomization of society into individuals and cosmopolitan ideas. It was emotion and instinct that constituted reality, truth, and beauty, not rational thought. The nationalist believed that rationalism would ultimately destroy national activity (Sternhell et al., 1994).
The French politician Maurice Barres was one of the first to use the term national socialism. He believed that only emotion had real value and that real thought took place on the level of the unconscious. Therefore, attacking the unconscious with rationality divested the national organism of its substance. As a consequence, the welfare of the nation depended on the energy of the people. Rationalism and concepts of individualism were like a virus and would therefore contaminate the concept of the nation. The nation requires unity, and therefore a Marxist, liberal, proletarian, or bourgeois movement is antithetical to the idea of a nation. Enrico Corradini would later apply Barres’s ideas and in 1910 would use the term national socialism to define Italian nationalism (Sternhell et al., 1994).
The reaction to natural rights theories and intellectualism took place in Germany in the forms of nationalism and romanticism. One of the best known German romantic nationalists was Johann Gottlieb Fichte. At the beginning of the 19th century, he argued for an independent German state and spoke of the cultural superiority of the German people. In contrast to social contract theory, the romantic nationalists saw the state as a living organism that survived through its national idea. The belief of Fichte and others was that a national consciousness had emerged from the concept of empire and the longing for an empire and that patriotism, no longer toward kingdoms but toward a German nation, became a historical force (Szaz, 1963).
National romanticism and the desire for the unification of German-speaking peoples in Europe was later expanded on by Ernst Moritz Arndt to incorporate Prussian concepts of duty and a national will to power in order to create a unified people. This thought spread across Germany, with philosophers, writers, and educators introducing the concept of the German volk, or people, power with increasing popular support in Germany from the late 19th century until World War II (Szaz, 1963).
Pan-Germanism, in fact, influenced the war aims of German parties on both the right and the left during World War I. The nationalist ideas and racial beliefs of the superiority of the German people were intensely indoctrinated into the German army as well (Holborn, 1964). These concepts and ideas would later facilitate and influence Nazi empowerment, as well as Nazism.
B. Georges Sorel and Revolutionary Syndicalism
At the beginning of the 20th century, Marxists in France and Italy began questioning whether the theories of Marx were an actual reflection of reality. Proletarian revolutions were not occurring in countries where industrialization was most effective, in direct contradiction to what Marx had predicted. This realization of the failure of classic Marxism led to a split into two directions among European Marxists. In 1905, the Socialist Party formed and encompassed most socialists. The Socialist Party accepted the liberal democratic norms prevalent in Western European countries, with the objective of eventually changing the economic system through the democratic process (Sternhell et al., 1994).
Georges Sorel was a Marxist theoretician who represented another, more radical school of thought in the bifurcation of the European Marxists. Sorel did not reject capitalism and saw no difference between capitalist and Marxist economics. He believed that capitalism produced tensions between the classes that would lead to an all-out violent class struggle, which he advocated and which had been prognosticated by Marx. The problem according to Sorel was democracy. When conflict occurred between the proletariat and bourgeois classes, the democratic process allowed for compromise to diffuse the situation. If the democratic system could be destroyed, then the proletariat could be broken away from its alliance with the democratic socialists. Realizing this, the Sorelians advocated the theory of revolutionary syndicalism (Sternhell et al., 1994).
Besides the beliefs in the role of the market as an origin of tensions and overthrow of the democratic system, Georges Sorel introduced the doctrine of social myth into the syndicalist movement. Sorel believed that one of the advantages of introducing myth into politics was that myths were not subject to scientific criticism, and therefore doubt could not easily be introduced into the minds of the followers. In this sense, Sorel referred to Christianity and its use of the Second Coming as an effective myth. So he proposed the myth of the general strike, believing it an update of Marx’s revolution of the proletariat (Cohen, 1962). In this myth, the syndicates, or trade unions, would be the standard-bearers of Marx’s revolution.
However, when the proletariat refused its role as the standard-bearer of the revolution, the Sorelians passed this task on to the entire nation. The result was a fusion, in both France and Italy, of the revolutionary syndicalists and the nationalists. The addition of nationalism contributed the cult of a strong authority to the syndicalist ideas. The revolutionary syndicalists were among the founders of Italian fascism and included Benito Mussolini (Sternhell et al., 1994).
Totalitarianism is the result of a revolutionary political movement’s securing itself as the sole power in the nation and then proceeding to conquer society, seeking to politicize all existence according to its ideology. To accomplish this, the totalitarian regime would need to portray itself as a type of political religion through deifying the secular entity. This effort is facilitated through the use of myths (E. Gentile, 2005). The regime’s justification to exist, therefore, could not be challenged because the myth provided an indisputable and indefinite source of legitimacy.
Myths were often extracted from history. Mussolini spoke of the return to the glory of the Roman Empire, and Hitler introduced the idea of the Third Reich as a new thousand-year empire (Koehl, 1960). In Italy, before the Fascists came to power, myth was already being employed. The Black Shirt militias were formed into units using terminology and organization based on those of the ancient Roman Empire (Payne, 1995).
Nazism’s chief intellectuals, Alfred Rosenberg and Heinrich Himmler (head of the Schutzstaffel, or SS, which was the Nazi Party’s personal and politically influential guard), as well as many national socialist historians, began using the history of the Teutonic Order, a small band of Germanic knights who had fought in the Crusades and existed for centuries in Germany. The importance of the Order in Nazi propaganda was its elitism. Only those dedicated and subordinate to a higher purpose, an idea not revealed to them, could be part of this Order. Rosenberg summoned the National Socialist German Worker’s Party to be the German Order serving an “unknown god.” Likewise, Himmler instilled into the SS a type of piety and worship of nature. On their belt buckles he had written, “My Honor Is Loyalty” (quoted in Koehl, 1960, p. 924).
In the 1850s, intellectuals in Germany began turning to the mystic racist idea of the superiority of the Nordic race in order to give themselves a belief in the future of the German nation, which at the time still had not formed, to the disenchantment of the nationalists (Szaz, 1963). Nordic superiority was the most heavily used myth in Nazi thought, replacing rationalism with racist mysticism. Racism and anti-intellectualism were the dominant tone, as exemplified by one of the Nazis’ favorite slogans, “We think with our blood” (quoted in Schuman, 1934, p. 211).
The use of irrational thought and mysticism by fascist movements does not deny that fascism has its own rationality. Fascism linked irrationality with rationality in the same way that religion links its supernatural ideas with its organizational institutions (Griffin, 2005). So the use of myth was a way of turning fascism into a political religion that its adherents would embrace in every way, politically, socially, economically, and spiritually.
D. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Futurism
Founded by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, futurism was an art movement as well as a political movement. Futurism’s political ideology was a form of radical nationalism advocated by young militant intellectuals in Italy. They embraced modern technology, youth, and violence and believed in man’s dominance over nature. Futurists despised everything old, whether political or artistic, and sought its destruction. War was glorified, and their aggressive nationalism sought a greater Italy through the process of a cultural revolution and the development of a “New State” and a “New Man.” Their political ideology often contradicted itself, though. Although virulently imperialist and supporting a militarist nation-state, they also praised cosmopolitanism and individualism, as well as libertarianism (E. Gentile, 2003).
Although the lack of coherence may have made their ideology harder to incorporate into fascism, Sternhell et al. (1994) posits that the common denominator among them, the revolutionary syndicalists, and the nationalists was their desire to destroy the dominant culture and replace it.
E. Giovanni Gentile and Actual Idealism
In 1921, Mussolini had written that fascism needed “a body of doctrine” if it were not to self-destruct (Gregor 2001, p. 33). According to Gregor (2001), the Italian intellectual Giovanni Gentile’s actual idealism or actualism was such a doctrine, which G. Gentile, with the approval of Mussolini, infused into fascism. Actualism reiterated some of the themes expressed by the different ideological strands that led to fascism. For one, war was considered essential for the purpose of uniting the nation through shedding blood together. G. Gentile (1932/2002) wrote that during World War I, it was essential that Italy enter the war, and that it did not matter whether Italy had entered on the side of Germany or against it.
G. Gentile (1932/2002) defines fascism as a totalitarian ideology that does not concern itself only with politics but also with the thought and will of the nation. Individuals were social creatures, not isolated individuals having inalienable rights. Liberty exists only through the authority of the state and is manifested only as the liberty of the state rather than the individual. Therefore the state was not the result of a social contract but was instead a fundamental part of human life. It was the social essence of individuals who shared a nationally defined consciousness (Gregor, 2001).
For the state to best represent the collective consensus of all citizens, the economy must reject the unbridled competition of capitalism, as well as the class conflict of socialism. Instead, G. Gentile (1932/2002) advocates a corporative nation wherein the state associates workers of a particular category with others in the same category into a type of union. However, these unions are not to work against one another but are rather to work harmoniously together as one national economic organism.
G. Gentile (1932/2002), an educated person himself as a professor of philosophy, reinforced anti-intellectualism in fascism. He wrote that the first among those who needed to be defeated included authors, cultivators of literature, and other academics, all of whom he called intellectuals. He opposed these intellectuals, not because he denied science, but rather because scientists believed the world existed independent of the mind. One of the tenets of actualism was that reality was only what was perceived by the mind and was therefore dependent on it. Gentile therefore rejects the positivist interpretation of the world and called it a “disease of reason” (quoted in Gregor, 2001, p. 28).
F. Biological Determinism
Although Italian Fascism and Nazism were similar in many respects, the German fascists succeeded in carrying out these principles more thoroughly. Mussolini, in order to justify Italian imperialism in Africa, championed the state as creating the nation. Hitler, in order to justify its claim to German-speaking areas in France and Czechoslovakia, claimed that the German nation was superior and that the state was its instrument (Cohen, 1962). But the main point of divergence between them was in the Nazis’ biological determinism.
Linguistic and anthropological studies of the 19th century had revealed similarities in the languages of the people of Europe and central Asia. The assumption was that these languages had originated from a yet unknown common ancestor referred to by scholars as the Aryans. Many theories were developed to explain this finding, but that of the French count Arthur de Gobineau was to be the most significant for the development of Nazi biological determinism. Gobineau argued that Aryans had once been superior to all other races. However, they intermarried with various other races, diluting their purity and causing them to lose their superiority. Aryan blood was superior enough among the nations of northwest Europe, with Germany being the purest of all. While most of Europe gave no credence to this idea, it was embraced by Germany (Baradat, 1991).
Among those who embraced the Aryan myth was Gobineau’s friend Richard Wagner, a very influential German composer in the mid-19th century. Wagner contributed to nationalism in Germany by emphasizing the concept of the dynamic character of a nation, or its life-force of dynamism, and insisted on racism in politics and the teaching of anti-Semitism. In addition, Wagner introduced the idea of the king as a type of superhuman. From this perspective, the king spoke for the people, and therefore any constitutional limits on the king’s power were interpreted as a humiliation or lack of confidence. In his last essay, perhaps disenchanted with the leaders of his day, Wagner had his idyllic superhuman ruler become a future leader who would unite the people, rejuvenate the national culture, and restore purity to the Aryan race (Szaz, 1963).
Houston Stewart Chamberlain, an intellectual and the nephew of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, was a staunch advocate of Wagner’s ideas and married Wagner’s daughter Eva. He continued where Wagner left off. He claimed that the Aryan race had actually created all the other races but that their advances were negated through interbreeding. The only two exceptions were the German, who was Aryan and represented good, and the Jew, representing evil. Chamberlain concluded that if the Germans could remain racially pure, they would demonstrate their superiority by eventually conquering the world. This idea was extolled by Kaiser Wilhelm II, who then befriended Chamberlain, and by Hitler, who would incorporate Chamberlain’s theories as the basis of Nazism (Baradat, 1991).
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche also had a significant influence on Hitler’s thought. Nietzsche’s theme that “might makes right” had an impact on Hitler. Nietzsche, in his writings, undertook a full assault on Christian and democratic values, which in his view protected the weak, thus preventing the eventual production of supermen. Szaz (1963) says that this denial of Christian morals by Nietzsche would relax the moral restrictions against the atrocities that occurred during World War II.
Hitler divided the world’s people into three categories. The culture-creating race was the Aryans and included the English, Dutch, Scandinavians, and Germans, with the Germans being the most pure. All cultural achievements were the products of the Aryan peoples, and Hitler said that if the Nordic Germans were taken away, then all that would be left would be the “dance of apes.” The second category was the culture-bearing races, which included the Asians, Latinos, and Slavs. According to Hitler, they could not create culture but could preserve it if they remained uncorrupted by inferior races. The culture-destroying races included Gypsies, Negroes, and Jews. They were responsible for the decline of civilizations and so, according to Hitler, deserved to die (Baradat, 1991).
Anti-Semitic legislation was eventually passed in Italy in order to convince Germany of its dedication to their alliance. According to Gregor (2001), Mussolini undertook an effort to make some form of racism and anti-Semitism a part of Italian Fascism in the summer 1938. However, Italian Fascism, unlike Nazism, did not contain any inherent racism. Fascism upheld the ideal of the nation-state even if its history and culture were multiracial. Italy’s Jewish community had been there since Roman times. So to be racist against Jews would attack the history of Italy. There were in fact a number of Italian Fascist Jews, and their numbers were greater than their ratio in the population. But an alliance with Hitler’s Germany was necessary if Italy was to achieve its foreign policy goals. However, racist policies were not adopted wholeheartedly in Italy, as Fascist officials would intervene on behalf of the protection of Jews in many cases and the Italian military command even provided protection to Jews as well.
IV. Historical Context
Fascist movements were anticapitalist movements in that they sought to reshape the capitalist economic order into one that still sought economic growth while eliminating the tensions between employer and employee caused by industrialization and exacerbated by dire economic prospects after World War I (Fletcher, 1979). Private property was still allowed, but the democratic framework within which it operated was eliminated and placed under state control to preclude private enterprise from contradicting the wishes of the state (Cole, 1941). Fascism’s goal in doing so was to rectify what it saw as capitalism’s fragmentation of society into self-interested individuals and antagonistic groups that it believed dehumanized people’s relationships (Sternhell et al., 1994).
History showed that fascist movements were successful only in democratic societies, where they were allowed to roam freely and spread their ideas. When they tried to form inside an authoritarian regime, they were always crushed. Where they were successful, their success was due to a lack of support for the democratic regime (Laqueur, 1996). In most democratic regimes, fascists formed only fringe parties and never gained real influence. The two countries where they did find success and power were Italy and Germany.
Italy experienced rapid economic growth at the beginning of the 20th century, along with increasing nationalism and a desire for empire. The government, headed by Givoanni Giolitti, responded to this sentiment by invading and capturing Libya from the Turkish Empire. However, this conquest failed to quench the nationalists’ imperial thirst (Payne, 1995). This thirst for imperial possessions determined which side Italy would fight on in World War I. It fought with the side that it felt would grant it the greatest amount of territory. But after the war was over and the Allies had won, Italians felt that they had not been compensated adequately for the alliance. The result was that the nationalists began to denounce the political leaders who accepted the Allies’ terms and labeled the victorious outcome of the war the “truncated victory” (Payne, 1995).
The trenches of World War I tied down millions of soldiers in stationary combat for long periods of time. A camaraderie and collective consciousness developed and was made more potent by the shared suffering (Payne, 1995). After the war, these veterans would return home to find few prospects. The process of modernization had been accompanied with instability, unemployment, and inflation, which plagued many European countries. The Italian kingdom was in a state of malaise, with massive social and economic problems (Baradat, 1991), as well as opportunity for those willing to exploit it. Although developed in France, it was in Italy where the revolutionary syndicalists became a significant political force. In 1914, the revolutionary syndicalists, nationalists, and futurists found the perfect setting to allow them to transform their ideologies into a historical force (Sternhell et al., 1994).
Germany was in bad shape following World War I, both economically and socially. People rejected the peace that had long existed since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the liberal cultural synthesis, and Germany’s contemporary leadership. Political life became brutalized, and the government increased its control over society while curtailing civil liberties. Fueling this was rampant hyperinflation and chaotic social conditions, at the same time that the inception of mass media allowed those with extreme solutions an outlet for their ideas (Payne, 1995). The Nazi party blamed all Germany’s woes on the Jews. The reasons for Germany’s loss in World War I were also the Jews’ fault because, according to the Nazis, they were responsible for the establishment of parliamentary democracy and what Nazis called the “Jew republic” of the “November criminals” of 1918. The signing of the Treaty of Versailles was seen as a stab in the back of the German military. Likewise, all of Germany’s problems following the armistice were attributed to the Jews (Schuman, 1934).
The Treaty of Versailles had unjustly assigned Germany all the blame for the war and sought excessive punitive actions in the form of territorial concessions and inordinate reparations. Like Italy, Germany experienced very high unemployment and inflation. The difficulty of the Weimar Republic in solving these problems led many to turn to extreme political movements such as the Nazis. An incipient economic recovery was rudely interrupted by the Great Depression, which struck in 1929, bringing about the conditions for the collapse of the democratic regime (Baradat, 1991).
All fascist movements required a charismatic leader and developed a cult-like following of that leader. Mario Palmieri lays out “The Hero as Leader” in his work The Philosophy of Fascism (cited in Cohen, 1962). He defines the hero as he who can rediscover the greatest of truths. The true hero will be sincere and courageous and will believe in his own destiny. Palmieri adds that in addition to the virtuous human traits above, the hero will possess a mystic power of intuition that enables him to obtain immediate knowledge of the truth. According to Palmieri, Mussolini was the hero and expressed what was in everyone’s hearts, but only in the role of supreme leader would he be able to change the world (cited in Cohen, 1962).
Palmieri’s Nazi counterpart in defining the role of the leader can be found in theoretician Ernst R. Huber. Huber explained that the true will of the people could not be given by democratic means but could be conveyed only through the Fuhrer. The Fuhrer’s will is not his individual will, according to Huber, but rather the collective will of the nation, which is embodied within the Fuhrer. The state therefore has no inherent authority but rather derives its authority from the Fuhrer to apply the national will. The Fuhrer has no political constraints, but Huber asserts that he is not self-seeking and will exist to apply the true will of the people (Cohen, 1962).
A. Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini was born in 1883 to a mother who was a schoolteacher and a blacksmith father who was also a Socialist. He was named after Benito Juarez, the former Mexican president. He violently assaulted fellow students on several occasions but later became an elementary school teacher. While staying in Switzerland, he became a Socialist and would later write for different Socialist papers, eventually becoming the editor of Avanti (Forward), the Socialists’ official newspaper. He became one of the top leaders of the Socialist Party at the age of 29 (Payne, 1995).
Although he was a Socialist, Mussolini rejected egalitarianism and was heavily influenced by the theories of Georges Sorel. Most significantly, Sorel’s writings inculcated in Mussolini the idea that great historical events were set in motion by the initiative and leadership of small groups of people. Seeing the widespread war fever that overtook many European nations at the beginning of World War I, Mussolini noticed the appeal of nationalism and opportunistically went against the Socialist stance of neutrality by asserting that Italy should enter the war. This action cost him the editorship of Avanti and his membership in the Socialist party. Mussolini would again act on opportunism when a secret pact with the Allies to grant Italy territorial concessions for joining the war effort was not honored. The resulting confusion and postwar social, political, and economic turmoil gave Mussolini the opportunity to found the Fascist Party (Cohen, 1962).
Unable to meet with much success at the polls, Mussolini began brazenly promoting the idea that he would take the government over by force. On October 27, 1922, although outnumbered and inferior in strength to the police, an army of thousands of profascists began marching on Rome. The Fascists took over many of the police stations without having to use much violence even though Mussolini’s Black Shirts, who were thugs who used intimidation and violence in the name of the Fascist Party, were ready to use terrorism. The chances they would succeed in a coup against the government were unlikely, and the army was ready to fight the Black Shirts if the King requested.
Armed with clubs, the Fascists arrived outside of the city on October 28. However, King Victor Emmanuel refused to act against Mussolini and instead invited him to lead a new parliamentary coalition. King Emmanuel could have easily stopped Mussolini, but for some reason did not. Perhaps he did not have the courage to act. Or maybe he believed that fascism was a good direction for the country to go. Whatever the reasoning, this decision placed Mussolini in control of Italy’s destiny and made fascism a historically significant ideology in the world (Payne, 1995).
Mussolini (1968) wrote down his ideas on fascism some time after taking power. In 1935, he wrote that liberalism had arisen as a reaction to absolutism but had outlived its function once the state became the expression and will of the people. Liberalism, according to Mussolini, tried erroneously to elevate the importance of the individual over the state, but it was the state that expressed the true conscience of the individual. Mussolini proclaimed that it was his job to reassert the right of the state.
Mussolini (1968) explains that by following the spiritual attitude of fascism, one will see the common bond of tradition and mission of the nation and of the individual, which will suppress one’s instinct to live, thus allowing one to break free from the constraints of time and space through self-sacrifice. By renouncing self-interest through death itself, one can accomplish a spiritual existence. So if the followers of fascism are willing to sacrifice themselves for the cause, they can achieve a kind of immortality, giving the ideology a religious zeal.
B. Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was born to a minor customs official and developed a strong sense of German nationalism at a young age. At first trying to become an artist, Hitler went to Vienna in 1906 but experienced only rejection by the city’s leading art schools (Baradat, 1991). While in Vienna, Hitler encountered the ideas of pan-Germanism from Georg von Schonerer and the Christian Social movement under Vienna’s Mayor Karl Lueger, which gave him his first encounter with anti-Semitism, as well as its popularity. Hitler delved deeper into theoretical anti-Semitism by reading pamphlets that were created by a former monk called Lanz von Liebenfels. Hitler most likely read Wagner’s racist writings as well (Holborn, 1964).
After suffering a poison gas attack as a soldier in World War I and sitting out the rest of the war, Hitler joined other Germans claiming that Germany had not lost the war but rather had been betrayed by a Jewish conspiracy. He later joined the Nazi party, which had only six other members at the time, but this small group became the core of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party. He quickly rose to the leadership position of the party as everyone recognized him as having leadership qualities. After attracting new members, including some important military people, Hitler was inspired by Mussolini’s March on Rome to attempt his own coup, which failed. The Beer Hall Putsch, as it was called, resulted in his imprisonment, but because of powerful sympathetic allies, he ended up serving only a year in prison (Baradat, 1991).
While imprisoned, Hitler (1939) wrote his ideology down in Mein Kampf (My Struggle). Mostly it is an extremely long rant. However, the ideas broached in it form the basis of Nazi thought. In Mein Kampf, Hitler chides Jews with numerous invectives. He details his encounter with Jews in Vienna and how he went from seeing them as equals to uncovering their conspiracies in the form of both Zionism and liberalism and eventually having nothing but vitriol for them. Hitler explained that the world will be ruled either by liberal democracy, wherein the numerically superior races would reign, or by the law of natural distribution, whereby the most brutal nation would reign supreme through war, which Hitler would set out to initiate once in power.
One of the fundamentals of his thinking was the idea that life was an eternal struggle in order to dominate others. Hitler said that only force rules and that humanitarianism was nonsense. Struggle was the prerequisite needed for human development and progress (Cohen, 1962). Hitler declared that it is not people who move history but rather races that do. Using Gobineau’s theories on race, Hitler proclaims that the German people must purify themselves by eliminating inferior races. The Nordic, or Aryan, race is the most superior, and therefore the greatest application of resources should be used to enhance the breeding of this race. If agriculture cannot sustain that effort, then Hitler argues that this is a justification for expelling inferior races from German lands through war or even annihilation (Holborn, 1964).
Hitler believed that his own ideology possessed the principles for rebuilding Germany and establishing its supremacy, as opposed to liberal democracy’s principles, which he viewed as weak. But before this struggle could be undertaken abroad, it first had to be won in Germany. This required the defeat of liberalism, socialism, and communism, as well as the implementation of a totalitarian ideology immune to foreign propaganda (Holborn, 1964).
The Great Depression gave the Nazis increasing influence as voters became disillusioned by the failures and indecisiveness of their political leaders. Believing they could control Hitler, conservative politicians persuaded president Paul von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as chancellor. However, Hitler outmaneuvered them by having the Nazis burn down the parliament building, blaming the communists, and arresting his main opponents before the elections, resulting in Nazi dominance of the Reichstag. When von Hindenburg died the following year, Hitler took power and outlawed all opposition (Baradat, 1991).
Hitler had a profound contempt of generals, the bourgeoisie, and professors. None of these groups ever merited the same hatred as his hatred of Jews, though. Although anti-Semitism was popular in Germany, his was genuine and not just the result of opportunism. During the anti- Jewish pogroms of April 1, 1933, and November 8–9, 1938, known as Kristallnacht (Crystal Night), or the Night of the Broken Glass, the violence was carried out in public. However, even when violence against Jews would not be popular, as would be the case with extermination camps, Hitler was not swayed. He ordered the extermination of European Jewry in 1942 anyway, but in secret in order to avoid the likely disapproval of the German people (Holborn, 1964). At that fateful meeting in Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin, on January 20, 1942, 14 people, half of whom had PhDs, met, and the “final solution” to the Jewish problem was proposed: After using them for their labor skills, they should be eliminated (Chodoff, 1997). So commenced the Holocaust, Hitler’s infamous legacy.
VI. Other Fascist Movements
A problem with generic definitions is that the essence of fascist movements is national, not international, and therefore national differences among the fascist movements of different nations are unavoidable. So questions arise as to whether these differences disqualify a movement from being considered fascist. This research paper avoids the debates over whether these movements are actually fascist and presents instead a cursory introduction to other movements that are most commonly thought of as being fascist.
Imperial Japan during World War II did not have a single mass party, no dictator seized power, and no totalitarian ideology became dominant, and therefore it was very different than the Fascists of Europe. The New Order Movement, which failed to gain power, was a fascist movement in Japan, however. Its reforms were modeled on the institutions of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany and sought to build an economically strong Japan while at the same time eliminating the tensions of industrialization, as fascists had tried to do through the corporative economic system (Fletcher, 1979).
During World War II, many fascist movements sprang up across Europe. Among these were the Arrow Cross in Austria-Hungary, the Falange in Spain, and the Rexists in Belgium (Laqueur, 1996). A tactic that all these movements had in common was violence. They all used terrorism from below when out of power and terrorism from above once in power. Almost always, this violence was carried out collectively rather than by individuals. When in opposition, they would organize gangs in order to break up their adversaries’ assemblies by beating them up or sometimes killing them (Laqueur, 1996).
One fascist movement that heavily relied on violence and mysticism was the Iron Guard in Romania, or Legion of the Archangel Michael, known also as the Legionary Movement. It employed a brutally intense cult of death against its adversaries. Its founder, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, believed that the nation constituted all Romanians, alive, dead, and those yet to be born. Followers believed that their mission was God’s secret will, which was organically fused with the nation, the state, the king, and the Legionary Movement. This destiny had to be protected from any outside influence, physical or cultural (Ioanid, 2005).
The skinheads, despite their apparent admiration for Adolf Hitler, the swastika, and the Nazis, are not considered a fascist movement. Their dress, music, and tastes are a mix of different cultures, in contradiction to Fascist nationalist doctrine. Laqueur (1996) says that they do not have the knowledge, motivation, or discipline to be considered of any use to neofascist elements.
Contemporary established fascist parties appear to have little in common with those of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in that they observe the democratic rules and norms. However, Laqueur (1996) warns that this is because they are all relatively weak and so must be cautious in the face of strong regimes, but that such may not be the case if they were to gain power.
Fascism and National Socialism developed from several ideological trends: nationalism, Revolutionary Syndicalism, Futurism, Actualism, and in the case of Nazi Germany, biological determinism. What these ideologies had in common was that they despised the atomization of society into individuals, brought about by liberal democratization and capitalist-led modernization, and they extolled the concept of the organic nation-state in order to establish more cohesive collective ties among people. These ideologies maintained that an integration of all society would produce these results, but all nonconformist elements had to be co-opted or exterminated. In the case of the racist policies of Nazi Germany, the former was not an option for inferior races.
Fascists believed that liberal democracy was weak and would never accomplish these goals, so they advocated a totalitarian government headed by a strong leader. World War I had desensitized much of Europe to extreme violence, and the Great Depression had left the masses economically insecure. Moreover, the young liberal democracies in Germany and Italy proved ineffective at solving these problems. Economically, politically, and spiritually, Italians and Germans were seeking salvation, and so the Fascist and Nazi parties filled the vacuum. Mussolini and Hitler also brought with them their violent plans for war, with grave consequences for the rest of the world.
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