Fascist ideology succeeds when…

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In the past two decades the British academic Roger Eatwell has been a prominent theoretician of generic fascism and a major historian of comparative fascism in Western Europe, exposing major shortcomings of dominant approaches to fascism. This is how Bath University’s Faculty Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences is presented in Comparative Fascist Studies, the most up-to-date neatly-structured compendium for general readers which we have come across yet. Edited by Constantin Iordachi and subtitled New perspectives, it contains brief contributions from a dozen well-known scholars specialising in this field, including Eatwell’s recapitulation of ‚The fascist minimum‘ and the ‚fascist matrix‚. But we are now turning to his classic Fascism. A History, first published in 1995, and revised in 2003.

Unfortunately, Fascist ideology, and the plurality of followers being attracted by it, is often fatally underestimated by high-brow intellectuals of other convictions. fascistensindimmerdieanderen tends to agree with this and most of the other following statements which we have reassembled from various chapters of Roger Eatwells Fascism. A History:

It is easy to understand why fascism is widely seen as little more than a nihilistic, authoritarian and violent movement which is best comprehended in terms of psychology rather that rational thought. It is also easy to see why what is arguably the most influential academic definition of fascism stresses its style (…) or its negations (…) rather than its positive intellectual content. (…) Fascism seems devoid of an intellectual pedigree, little more than a rag-bag of authoritarian and nationalist slogans. All too easy, all too wrong – for in truth fascism was an ideology just like the others.As such, it needs to be identified in terms of a body of ideas (…), to help understand why fascism could have exerted such a fatal appeal to intellectuals as well as to violent activists.

Ideas matter in politics. (…) This does not mean that fascism in practice necessarily mirrored the ideology.(…) Although the fascist style of thought involved clear dangers, it did not necessarily lead to brutal dictatorship and genocidal practice (in the same way that Marxism did not necessarily lead to Joseph Stalin and the Soviet terror).

One of the great strengths of fascism was its syncretic ideology’s ability to be interpreted differently by various groups: it could appeal both to those who sought some form of collective rebirth and to those whose concerns were essentially individualistic, focusing on personal economic interests. But there was no automatic progression from socio-economic change, even mass unemployment and despair, to fascism.

Brief definitions of ideologies have inherent flaws, but perhaps the essence of fascist ideology can best be summed up by combining two ideas.

Fascism was primarily concerned with building, or reviving, the nation. But there have been nationalists who accept liberal rights, or who welcome diversity. The fascist conception of the nation was mor holistic; it sought to overcome divisive differences and to forge a strong sense of shared purpose.

The second part relates more to socio-economic policy. Intellectual fascists were often to term themselves supporters of a ‚Third Way‘, neither left nor right, neither capitalist nor commmunist. It sought to launch a social revolution, albeit one which owed more to the right than left.

Fascist ideology is, therefore, a form of thought which preaches the need for social rebirth in order to forge a holistic-national radical Third Way.

Why did fascism become a mass movement in Italy and Germany, and why did it continue to gather support after coming to power? Conversely, why did fascism fail to become a major force elsewhere? Why did France, which had been a crucial seedbed for proto-fascist ideas before 1914, fail to produce a major inter-war fascist party – though it produced some of the most sophisticated fascist political thinkers?

Although its ideology drew on both left and right, in most Western European countries fascism was successful where the mainstream right was weak. (…) Fascism had to be seen as a continuation of important national traditions, as a force capable of achieving goals,(…).

German nationalism (…) had a strong Romantic tradition, which underpinned an emotive sense of community and a longing for strong leadership. Italian nationalism had a strong liberal strand, but it also had a strong affinity with another aspect of German nationalism: namely, the attempt to forge a united community by linking nationalism to economic progress.

The importance of leadership can be seen clearly by briefly considering the coming to power of Italian and German fascism. Neither Hitler, nor Mussolini especially, commanded anything like a majority in parliament. (…) Both became heads of government partly because of the (…) inability of existing leaders to forge a consensus (…), though in some cases this ineptitude would be better described as a lack of desire to maintain the democratic system.

After coming to power, pragmatism was a strong element in both regimes. (…) This book, aimed essentially at the general reader and student, is based on the assumption that it is necessary to see fascism more as a whole.(…)

Focused study (s…) should help bring out key linking themes, in particular two.

First,(…) there was a common ideological core based on the attempt to create a holistic-national radical Third Way.

And secondly, there were common dynamics in the success and failure of fascism. In particular, it succeeded where it managed to achieve some form of syncretic legitimation – namely the ability of the insurgent party to portray itself as both economically efficacious and a legitimate part of the national tradition, and the willingness of Establishment elites to accord to fascism an important element of support.

The fascist tradition remains very much alive and kicking– both literally and metaphorically. (…) this is primarily a political history, which should serve both as a vehicle of instruction and warning.

(Sources: 1.Constantin Iordachi (ed.): Comparative Fascist Studies. New Perspectives, Routledge, Abingdon, 2010, 2. Robert Eatwell: Fascism, A History, Vintage, London, 1996, pp. xix-xxiv, 6-12, 24-29, 63-68)

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