Major EWEnt sparking off debate

von macchiato

Roger Griffin’s agenda-setting claim on what he calls a new consensus in Anglophone fascist studies, concerning the centrality of palingenetic ultra-nationalism to the ineliminable definitional fascist minimum, has evolved considerably over the years, in depth as well as in width. This certainly has to do with the wealth of criticism his original approach has provoked.

The richest though compact insight into the relevant academic debate between Roger Griffin and his critics which we have come across is contained in a bilingual 2004 edition of EWE, Erwägen Wissen EthikDeliberation Knowledge Ethics („Streitforum für Erwägungskultur“). The debate therein, prompted by Roger Griffin’s Hauptartikel on Fascism’s new faces (and new facelessness) in the ‚post-fascist‘ epoch, has been termed by himself a major event in my own evolution as a theoretician and historian of fascism.

In tune with our specific research interest, we have to leave aside the post-fascist epoch for now, as well as Ernst Nolte’s and other some German speakers‘ reactions to Griffin’s remarks on what he calls the clear inadequacy of accounting for the enormity of the Third Reich’s crimes against humanity using explanatory frameworks based exclusively on Germany-centred historical reconstruction devoid of a comparative perspective (…): When German and Austrian professional historians and social scientists, and hence the whole educational industry that depends on them, ignore the relevance of comparable fascist studies to illuminating ‚what actually happened‘ in Europe between 1933 and 1945 they create a narrowly Nazi-centred view of the Third Reich.

Our research interest redirects us towards Anglophone reactions and evolutions of Griffin’s general approach. Before quoting quite a number of them, in order to appreciate the style diversity and impact of EWE’S lively though specialized debate, here follows an example of the Themenführer’s own prompt first „concessions“, consisting, in his words, in a radical modification (…) to the taxonomy suggested by my original thesis, namely that a distinction be drawn between fascism as a political generic concept and fascism as a historiographical term:

For historiographical purposes, features as the leader cult, uniformed paramilitarism, tecniques of social engeneering and domination (…) could be ‚reinstated‘ as definitional traits of fascism, along with its national rebirth ‚core‘. (…) bringing out the contrast between the atemporal, ahistorical (static/abstract) ideal-typical definitions that lexicographers and political scientists construct for nomothetic purposes and the type of working definitions, already impregnated with historical specificity, which serve historians in idiographic contexts. (…)

Conscious of the risk of sounding arrogant again, Griffin cannot resist diagnosing a ‚déformation professionelle‘ commonly encountered among historians. As scholars trained to work idiographically on events in terms of their uniqueness, it is temperamentally difficult for them to empathize with the nomothetic perspective of the social scientist or the lexicographer and are naturally wary of generalizing (…).

Yet all generic terms in politics are defined in ’static‘, ‚abstract‘, ‚ahistorical‘ terms,(…) all of which are used, consciously or not, as ideal types.(…) The act of definition of generic terms involves the necessity of excluding all historically specific elements as long as they are not identified (through an act of of idealizing abstraction) as definitional core, or what Michael Freeden calls the ‚ineliminable‘ core.


(Source: EWE, Erwägen Wissen Ethik – Deliberation Knowledge Ethicsvormals „Ethik und Sozialwissenschaften“ EuS, Streitforum für Erwägungskultur, herausgegeben von Frank Benseler, Bettina Blanck, Reinhard Keil-Slawik, Werner Loh, Jg.15/2004, Heft 3, Lucius & Lucius Verlagsgesellschaft, Stuttgart 2004)