Reactions to Griffin from Britain

von macchiato

Kevin PassmoreCardiff University:

calls Griffin’s beautifully constructed theoretical edifice (…) the obligatory starting point for anyone interested in generic fascism. (…) Griffin’s ideal type possesses the immense merit of taking seriously what fascists think. (…) I am convinced by his contention that fascism includes the myth of palingenetic renewal, and that movements from which it is absent cannot be seen as fascist. (…I I am all the more convinced because (…) rather than interpret fascism in the light of interests, historians now use anthropological, poststructural, gender and Alltagsgeschichte methods to understand fascism from within. (…) Nevertheless…

The ideal type is a human construct produced under specific conditions, not a Platonic essence, and so we must judge it by its usefulness – its capacity to reveal things that would not otherwise be revealed. (…)

I wonder whether his concept is genuinely ‚historical‘. (…)

Griffin overreaches himself in claiming that the core features of fascism actually explain the histories of individual fascist movements – as if once a regime is named it becomes the name.

We might note that Griffin’s definition eliminates much of what contemporaries and scholars alike would have regarded as essential to fascism – the mass party, rallies, the charismatic leader and corporatism. (…)

A more historical explanation would see attraction to fascism as the product of more specific, but related, issues- from doctor’s belief in eugenic engineering, nationalism and anticommunism, to peasants‘ hostility to urban intellectuals and middlemen and economic difficulties (…)

Fascism is a contested ideology. Yet for Griffin, this contest takes place within strict limits, for it concerns the meaning of the core.(…) A genuinely historical idea of contest has no such limit. (…)

Griffin’s mistake is to suggest that his definition represents the only way to understand the movements he categorises under his heading.(…)

Marxists claim to have discovered the ‚core‘ of fascism in the defence of capitalism, so are open to the same objections as Griffin. (…) Paradoxically, in spite of allegiance to ahistorical premises, Marxists do produce robust answers to specific questions. Mutatis mutandis, Griffin’s approach reveals some important features of fascism, and provides a fertile agenda for research, so long as he does not claim to have identified the ‚core‘ of actual movements or regimes.


Philip J.MorganUniversity of Hull:

Griffin’s article is very consciously addressed to a German audience who, in Griffin’s view, need to be convinced of the value of approaching fascism as a generic phenomenon, or rather Nazism as part of a generic phenomenon called ‚fascism‘.

The parochialism of much of post-war German historiography on Nazism is a characteristic, too, of most of Italian historiography on Italian Fascism. (…) I cannot recall any post-war non-Marxist Italian ‚generic‘ analysts of fascism, except, perhaps for Augusto Del Noce (…). Renzo de Felice (…) only goes as far as attempting to compare Italian Fascism favourably with German Nazism, in order to emphasise that Fascism was the ‚lesser evil‘ and certainly not responsible for nor willingly involved in racial genocide.

There are, of course,good and understandable reasonswhy it is largely the Anglo-Saxon ‚outsiders‘, lacking any direct involvement in these national ‚historians controversies‘, who went for comparative and ‚generic‘ analysis of fascism.

German historians, and not only German historians, will understandably insist that Nazism was incomparable, when a genocidal form of antisemitism became so central to Nazi ideology and practice. But the ‚generics’among us would attempt to connect or subsume anti-semitism to the racism present in various forms in all fascist ideologies, and to wide, if minority, nationalist traditions across European countries which were then radicalised by fascist movements and the two fascist regimes.

As an historian, rather than a social scientist, it is very much against the grain to adopt Griffin’s ‚ideal type‘ conceptualisation of fascism. (…) Historians, i think, usually deduce rather than induce general conclusions from the evidence left by the past. (…) They do not generally start with the assumption, or hypothesis, that there is apattern.(…)

The self-evident danger of the ‚ideal-type‘ abstraction, or distillation, which Griffin adopts, ist that of reification, treating the ‚concept‘ as if it was the ‚real‘ thing. He, certainly, has always insisted that his ‚ideal type‘ definition of fascism is to be regarded as a tool of analysis, a device to enable a better understanding of the ‚real thing‘, and I suppose you should not judge the force of any conceptualisation by the inability or unwillingness of others to use the tool as intended


Roger Eatwell, University of Bath:

There are at least two other competing non-Marxist ‚consensi‘.

First, there are variations on the developmental dictatorship school, which see ‚fascist‘ regimes as a product of specific crises during stages of economic modernisation.

Secondly, there is the liberal historiographical approach, which sees ‚fascism‘ as remarkably mercurial and which rejects the overdetermining elements in any conceptual framework.

Within the latter camp, most historians simply ignore the ‚generic fascism‘ debate.(…)

The best concept is the one which offers the most theoretical insight – otherwise the concept is largely an abstraction. (…) I have argued that a more comprehensive one-sentence definition which can serve as a simple way of identifying fascism is:

An ideology that strives to forge social rebirth based on a holistic-national radical Third Way, though in practice fascism has tended to stress style, especially action and the charismatic leader, more than detailed programme, and to engage in a Manichean demonisation of its enemies. (…)

The ‚fascist minimum‘, therefore, needs to be supplemented by what I term the ‚fascist matrix‘. The point of the matrix is to highlight that instead of simply prioritising key words, we need to ask how fascists conceived such terms, including what they were defined against.

At the heart of fascist thinking was the creation of a new elite of men, who would forge a holistic nation and build a new third way state. (…) central to fascism’s way of thinking was the synthesis of ideas. (…)

Whilst some form of perceived crisisis an important precondition for the rise of the fascism, it is a mistake to see fascism essentially in terms of a one dimensional (wo)man seeking a response to what Griffin terms a ’sense-making crisis‘. (…)

Fascism is essentially a syncretic movement, capable of attracting people for very different reasons. (…) Seeking to reduce fascism to a quest for nationalist rebirth offers some important insights, but it is an unduly essentialist vision.


Aristotle A. Kallis, University of Lancaster:

Clearly, for some ‚fascism‘ is best understood as a „concept“ while for others it remains deeply indebted to its historical and geographical „context„. However fruitful and energetic this exchange might be, it does resemble an often bewildering ‚dialogue of the deaf‘.

There are simply too many ‚fascisms‘ around(…): from the Rumanian Iron Cross‘ mystic Orthodox particularism to the Arrow Cross‘ expansionist (‚Hungarist‘) ‚a-Semitism‘ in Hungary; from the defensive but stubbornly autonomous national identity promoted by the Christian Social State in Austria to the culturally expansive, decidedly universalist vision of romanità espoused by Mussolini’s Fascism after 1928.

It is extremely doubtful that all these variants (radical conservative thought, mimetic ‚fascist‘ movements, autochthonous hyper-nationalist groups, fascist and ‚para-fascist‘ regimes, collaborationist systems, conservative overtures to fascism and vice-versa (as well as Griffin’s post-war „groupuscular“ right) can be effectively accomodated within a single sophisticated definition of ‚fascism‘.

Is this pluralism of styles and objectives evidence of an impasse in the pursuit of a generic definition of ‚fascism‘?(…) It is extremely hard to counter the traditional identification of ‚fascism‘ with inter-war Europe, with Fascist Italy and, for most, National Socialist Germany. (…) I do „find it second nature to operate within fascism as a generic term„, conscious of National Socialism’s pecularities but still unwilling to concede its historical experience to the realm of a dystopia – unaccountable, demonised and inaccessible to comparative historical scrutiny. The Nazi fixation with racial purity and wholeness, with open-ended territorial aggrandisement, extreme bio-social engineering and a particular variant of virulent „eliminationist anti-Semitism“ derived, in my opinion from the same pursuit of a utopia for the reborn Volk and Vaterland that animated very different revolutionary agendas across interwar Europe:

In this respect, it is more accurate to describe fascist ideology as a powerful trend, appealing to the most utopian and extreme nationalist vision and articulating suppressed energies which had previously no place in the conventional political agenda of either conservative or liberal nationalism.

In this sense, fascist originality lay not in the invention of the content of this ideal notion of Fatherland, but rather in the legitimation of its most extreme prescriptions and in the sanctioning of ruthless (activist) determination for attaining it.

In the end, the battle for the ownership of the historiographical product with the label ‚fascism‘ will continue to rage, in the form of another (understated, far less boisterous but more protracted) Historikerstreit. The interwar ‚context‘ will continue to mesmerise historians who seek to capture the „protean“ nature of fascism; for many (though not all) of them post-war articulations will remain insignificant in their political, social and ideological fragmentation as well as (current) inconsequentiality. Griffin’s plea for an awareness of the latters‘ peril remains entirely sensible, a sagacious warning against the sort of complacency that direct comparisons with the interwar period have nurtured, in academic and public circles alike. Whether Griffin’s stretched definition of ‚fascism‘ can promote his (and other’s) quest for consensus in the fray of fascist studies remains an otherwise moot point.


David Baker, University of Warwick:

There can be no doubt that Griffin’s stress on idea typicality, ideology and the concept of of palingenesishas had a major impact on the thinking of a key group of Anglophone scholars – most notably Walter Laqueur, Stanley Payne, and Roger Eatwell. But while Griffin is a synthesiser of this methodology, he was not the founder of its component parts. Nolte was the first to call for the creation of a ‚fascist minimum‘, Payne brought the original ideal type definitional appartus to bear, and Mosse’s 1966 article on the ‚genesis of fascism‘ first emphasised the ‚myth of the new man‘, and of bringing about the ‚moral rebirth‘ of society. Finally, Emilio Gentile was the first to point to the dimension of palingenesis at the heart of fascism (…) in 1975.

Is Griffin’s putative ‚consensus‘ any more than a mere self-fulfilling prophecy? Well, if not a consensus, then at least a convergence of approaches appears to be taking place in international liberal scholarship in comparative fascist studies. But it may not ultimately be based upon his model of revolutionary ultranationalist palingenesis. To end in ‚Griffinesque‘ language, this (…) is a useful exercise in intellectual ’nose blowing‘, clearing the partially blocked epistemological nasal passages of Germanic fascist studies of accumulated conceptual debris. Although we may yet discover that, as in Habermas’s attack on Nolte’s concept of ‚transcendence‘: at this depth of abstraction…all cats are grey.‚ 


(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)