Fascisms are about crisis, belonging, meltdown
Andrew Lacey completed a first degree in history followed by a postgraduate degree in Library and Information Studies. From 1988 he worked as a professional librarian in a variety of Colleges and Universities, and was College Librarian at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, from 1994 to 2005. He was awarded a Doctorate by the University of Leicester for research on the cult of King Charles I (published by Boydell Press). Moreover, Dr Lacey is dealing with twentieth century European history, notably with fascism, last not least as Tutor for both the University of Oxford Department of Continuing Education and the University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education. And that is where we have interviewed him:
Is there anything comparable between Italian fascism and German national socialism?
Yes, I think they are comparable, apart from the obvious things. I mean, if we begin at the beginning: Mussolini was a great role model for Adolf Hitler. When Hitlers started out on his career in the early Nineteen-Twenties, he looked at Mussolini as a role model: The idea of putting his followers into a uniform, the idea of using sort of quasi-Roman imagery like the standard and all these sort of things, were borrowed from the Italian fascists. And Hitler’s attempted Putsch in Munich in 1923 was directly modelled on Mussolinis famous march on Rome of the previous year. Hitler hoped that he would have his own march on Berlin. So in terms of the style of the movements, I think there is a huge similarity, in terms of the use of parades, the use of the balcony, the speech from the balcony for example, the use of the rally as a way of making people feel that they belong to the movement whilst on their own they might feel powerless, as part of the movemnet they could feel they could move mountains. I think all these things were taken over by Hitler and by the fledgling Nazi Party from Mussolini and from Italian fascism. And let’s not forget that througout the Twenties when he tried to take power, he had a photo of Mussolini on his desk. So he saw Mussolini as the precursor, as somebody both to admire, and as somebody to copy, both in his rhetoric and in his style in his political movement.
What point is there in using terms like „fascist studies“ and „generic fascism“?
Speaking for myself, i find the phrase generic fascism very useful when trying to teach the concept of fascism to students. When we talk about generic fascism we mean: Is there anything common to all movements in Europe, particularly between the wars, that called themselves either fascists or national socialists? A lot of ink has been spilled on this, a lot of books , a lot of articles have been written, trying to grapple with this idea of what is fascism. I mean the word itself does not tell you much about the creed. Unlike socialism or comunism or liberalism, the word fascism does not tell you what they actually believe in.
So, I think, the work particularly of Roger Griffin who coined this phrase „generic fascism“ has been very important. He highlighted two things: extreme nationalism, and the idea of rebirth. And I think if you look at movements across Europe that calls themselves fascist, or nazi or national socialist, they all have that in common, the all have that idea of the nation as the highest good, and they all seek to allow the nation to be reborn through their movement, to achieve its predestined greatness, to achieve its place in the world. Obviously, they all have a lot of differences, as we have talked about, but I think you can reduce all of them to these two fundamental points. They all have a very high view of the nation as an almost mystical and sacred entity, which we should all serve. And they seek through that service, to allow their nation to be reborn, to achieve its what they see as its essential greatness. So I would say it has been very very useful in cutting a path through what can be very very confusing when you like at more than one of these movements in the Nineteentwenties and Thirties. So whether you look at Oswald Moseley in Britain and his British Union of Fascists inthe 30s, or whether you look at the Hungarian Arrow Cross Movement, or you look at Mussolini, or at the National Socialist Movement in Germany, they all at root, at the basis they all have this idea of national rebirth as the essential part of their programme and their aim.
Is there any deep feeling which is adressed by these movements which other movements or more rational enlightened movements have not been able, or are still not able, to adress as efficiently?
The term I would use to use to answer your question is identity. The fascist and nazi movements in Europe talked about identity all the time. I think this is something which is a very deep need within human beings: which is to belong, and it is something that conventional liberal democratic politics often overlook: the need for people to belong. We live in a fragmented world. Capitalism tends to pit man against man in a struggle for existence. Many people feel very isolated, very weak, very insignificant. I think one of the great strengths of fascist movements is that they come along and they claim to be able to offer people a sense of community, a sense of belonging – and a sense of power. The nazis had a motto: you are nothing, Germany is everything. It meant: as an isolated individual, you were weak and powerless, but once you joined the movement, once you took part in the great rallies at Nuremberg, you had power, you could change the world, you could move mountains. So I think identity, the need to belong, the need to feel part of something, and to have power within a movement, is something quite unique to fascism, and is often ignored, or overlooked, or seen as not important, by, as I said, conventional liberal democratic parties.
Is this something universal, felt by all over the world by all nations, or is it something that comes up only in very special times. Is any nation immune against fascism?
I don’t think any nation is immune to fascism. I think fascism tends to emerge, if we look at things historically, in periods of crisis, periods of war, of economic meltdown, of feeling betrayed, and a feeling there is a threat to the soul of the nation, and given the wrong cirumstances, when every society is undergoing strain, economic meltdown, defeat in war, threat of alien influences etc etc., there is the potential for the emergence of potential fascist, neofascist ideas of identity, and belonging, and the nation protection against the alien and all that sort of thing. No, I don’t think any nation is immune from these tendencies. I do think there are some things unique to the 20th century. I think when you look back, when people were more linked to the church or to their local community or to their local lord, these forces could emerge the same way. i think these are the products of the fragmentation of late 19th century society and the catastrophy of the 1st World War. You can’t understand the rise of fascism if you don’t understand the implications of the 1st World War.
(Source: audiorecorded interview 12/01/12 in Cambridge by http://www.faschistensindimmerdieanderen.wordpress.com)