Why I am interested in comparative fascist studies

von macchiato

Why am I interested in comparisons between Italian Fascism and German National Socialism, especially if made by English-speaking scholars?

My home town is the only one in the world inhabited by German and Italian speakers in nearly equal percentage. It is located in Italy’s most autonomous province, and it is its only officially trilingual one, with German, Italian and Ladin speakers.

I cannot think of any other comparably affluent corner in Europe where Fascism and Nazism, and their symbols, cause hot controversy around identitarian questions with such persistency, i.e. more than anything else, and up to the present day. From this perspective of 21st Century civic education as I see it, we need to expose ourselves to less ethnocentric and more cosmopolitan ways of looking at both forms of fascism with which they are all too familiar.

With a few notable exceptions, German and Italian scholars tend to refrain, usually for quite different but understandable reasons, from comparing the rise of Italian Fascism and its Duce to the subsequent rise of his most deleterious admirer and Nazi Führer. While generalisations are always improper, I grow more and more convinced that

German and Italian-speaking public discourse civic education and contemporary history teaching in my home province and beyond, need to widen and enrich their comparative perspective, by considering English-speaking „fascist studies“, and their concept of „generic fascism“ too. Up to now, terms like these are mostly ignored in Italo-German public discourse. Apart from their eye-opening hermeneutic potential, I am convinced that they may help furthering dialogue in formerly contested frontier areas.

Italo-German Dialogue in English, rather than only in German or Italian, may be enriching rather than burdening: thus, a linguistically neutral terrain might help German and Italian speakers to face each other sine et studio when dealing with sensitive topics and updating their answers to questions like:

What did their fascisms have in common and what not? What made them uniquely popular for a number of years? What led them into ultimate inhumanity and total defeat? What makes similar ideologies, in spite of their catastrophic failure, still attractive to what kind of fringes of 21st Century European societies?

These are questions on which we need to cast a new light, I think, if we want to make young people re-appreciate open society and parliamentary democracy, and to prevent any authoritarian and racist cults of politically motivated violence and ultranationalist myth of collective rebirth ever coming back, in whatever modern disguise.

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