Faschisten sind immer die anderen

comparative fascist studies on Italy and Germany

Disorder, Decline, Deadlock – the variables of success

According to the American historian and political scientist Robert O. Paxton, fascist success depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of a liberal state, whose inadequacies seems to condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock.

Every fascist movement that has rooted itself successfully as a major political contender, thereby approaching power, has betrayed its initial antibourgeois and anticapitalist program.The processses to be examined later include the breakdown of democratic regimes and the success of fascist movements in assembling new, broad catch-all parties that attract a mass following across classes and hence seem attractive allies to conservatives looking for ways to perpetuate their shalen rule…Their political successes come at the cost of the first ideological programs. Demonstrating their contempt for doctrine, successfully rooted fascist parties do not annul or amend their early programs. They simply ignore them…The two apprentices learned …by trial and error. Their adaptations to the available space undermine any effort to portray historical fascism as the consistent expression of one coherent ideology.

Which characteristics distinguished Germany and Italy, where fascism took power, from countries such as France and Britain, where fascist movements were highly visible but remained marginal? We need to recall that fascism has never so far taken power by a coup d’etat, deploying the weight of its militants in the streets. Fascist power by coup is hardly conceivable in a modern state. Fascism cannot appeal to the street without risking a confrontation with future allies -the army and the police- without whom it will not be able to pursue its expansionist goals. Indeed, fascist coup attempts have commonly led to military dictatorship rather than to fascist power (as in Romania in December 1941). The only route to power available to fascists passes through cooperation with conservative elites.

IT:È questa, e non quella del golpe, la strada maestra per arrivare al potere, e per mantenerlo: la cooperazione dei fascisti con le elites conservatrici, che devono ambedue comportarsi da „poteri flessibili“ più che da „poteri forti“…

The most important variables, therefore, are the conservative elites‘ willingness to work with the fascists (along with a reciprocal flexibility) andthe depth of the crisis that induces them to cooperate.

Neither Hitler nor Mussolini took the helm by force, even if they used force earlier to destabilize the liberal regime and later to transform their governments into dictatorships. Each was invited to take office as head of government by a head of state in the legitimate exercise of his official functions, on the advice of his conservative counselors, under quite precise circumstances:

A deadlock of constitutional government (produced in part by the polarization that the fascists abetted); conservative leaders who felt threatened by the loss of their capacity to keep the population under control at a moment of massive popular mobilization; an advancing Left; and conservative leaders who refused to work with that Left and who felt unable to continue to govern against the Left without further reinforcement.

IT: Storicamente, i leader fascisti che arrivano al potere, sono condannati a governare in associazione con le stesse elites conservatrici che hanno loro aperto le porte. Ne consegue una lotta a quattro tra il leader, il suo partito (con le più diverse richieste dei militanti), gli apparati dello Stato e le elites tradizionali (chiese, forze armate, professionisti, imprenditori). Questa quadrupla tensione porta spesso ad uno stile di governo febbrile, diverso da quello dai regimi autoritari (dove il partito unico non c’è più, o conta poco) e dallo Stalinismo (dove le elites tradizionali non ci sono più). L‘autoritarismo preferisce una popolazione smobilitata, mentre il fascismo, superiore nel creare e manipolare entusiasmi, fa breccia nella classe operaia. Mentre i regimi autoritari accettano qualche limite al potere dello Stato e lasciano qualche spazio privato ai singoli ed a certe istituzioni e categorie, i regimi fascisti sono molto più severi (anche se in parte solo a parole).

The exercise of power involved the same elements in Mussolini’s Italy as in Nazi Germany. It is the balance between the party and traditional institutions that distinguishes one case from the other. In Italy, the traditional state wound up with primacy, largely because Mussolini feared his own most militant followers, the local ras and their squadristi. In Nazi Germany, the party came to dominate, especially after the war began.

Focus on processes and discrimination among stages -this article’s principal methodological proposals- casts a clarifying light on many specialized themes in the study of fascism.

Having picked fascism apart, have we escaped from the nominalism of the „bestiary“ only to fall into another nominalism of processes and stages? Where is the „fascist minimum“ in all this? Has generic fascism evaporated in this analysis? It is by a functional definition of fascism that we can escape from these quandaries.

Fascism is a system of political authority and social order intended to reinforce the unity, energy, and purity of communities in which liberal democracy stands accused of producing division and decline.

Its complex tensions (political revolution versus social restoration, order versus aggressive expansionism, mass enthusiasm versus civic submission) are hard to understand solely by reading its propaganda. One must observe it in daily operation, using all the social sciences and not only intellectual-cultural history, and, since it is not static one must understand it in motion, through its cycle of potential (though not inevitable) stages.


(All quotes from: Robert O. Paxton, The Five Stages of Fascism, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 70, No. 1. (Mar., 1998), pp. 1-23, The University of Chicago Press: http://w3.salemstate.edu/~cmauriello/pdfEuropean/Paxton_Five%20Stages%20of%20Fascism.pdf = http://links.jstor.org/sicisici=00222801%28199803%2970%3A1%3C1%3ATFSOF%3E2.0.CO%3B2-3)


Sich in der Masse stark fühlen

Robert O.Paxton, emeritierter Professor der Columbia University in New York, zuvor in Berkeley (nach Studium in Oxford und Harvard), kennt sich wie wenige andere im Frankreich des Vichy-Regimes aus, das mit dem nationalsozialistischen Deutschland kollaboriert hat. Er hat aber auch 2004 ein vielbeachtetes Buch allgemeineren Inhalts geschrieben, The Anatomy of Fascism, das auch in einer deutschen Übersetzung erschienen ist (Die Anatomie des Faschismus, DVA, München 2006).

Die faschistische Ideologie äußert sich laut Paxton so unterschiedlich und so widersprüchlich, dass er versucht ist, sie rein funktionalistisch zu sehen:

Fascists propose anything that serves to attract a crowd, solidify a mass following, or reassure their elite acccomplices.

Faschisten böten das, was ihnen in ihrem wechselnden Umfeld gerade am geeignetsten erscheine, die Massen anzuziehen und bei der Stange zu halten – und den Beistand der Eliten zu sichern. Wenn man nur ihre Texte studiere, könne man ihre Taten nicht verstehen, denn diese stimmten mit jenen nicht nachhaltig überein. Demnach definiert Paxton Faschismus als eine Form politischen Verhaltens, die gefühlte kollektive Demütigungen und Verfallserscheinungen mit einem Kult der Kraft kompensiert und das Heil in der Gewaltanwendung sucht, in einer Massenpartei von militanten Nationalisten, im Abbau demokratischer Freiheiten, in innenpolitischen „Säuberungen“ und außenpolitischer Expansion ohne ethische oder rechtliche Einschränkungen, in einer begrenzten, aber wirkungsvollen Zusammenarbeit mit den traditionellen Eliten:

Fascism may be defined as a form of political behaviour marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.

Faschismus definieren bedeutet für Paxton eine fünffache Herausforderung annehmen.

Wir fassen sie in Fragen:

– Auf welchen Zeitrahmen lässt man sich ein?

– Welche Abwandlungen rechnet man dazu?

– Wie lässt sich aus so viel Vielfalt etwas verallgemeinern?

– Inwieweit entspricht faschistische Praxis faschistischer Theorie?

– Ist ein so umstrittener und als Schimpfwort missbrauchter Begriff wissenschaftstauglich?

Paxton ist sowohl Historiker als auch Politikwissenschaftler. Wohl auch deshalb ist auch seine Sicht des Faschismus keiner der „Denkschulen“ zum Faschismus eindeutig zuzuordnen. Er findet aber klare Worte, z.B. zur marxistischen Interpretation des Faschismus, wie sie früher gängig war:

„Die Linke hat zwei Generationen gebraucht, bis sie verstanden hat, dass der Faschismus alles in allem eine authentische, massenhafte, volkstümliche Begeisterung ist, und nicht einfach nur die clevere populistische Manipulation von Emotionen durch reaktionäre Rechte oder krisengeschüttelte Kapitalisten.“

Aber auch neueren Zugängen zum Faschismus widerpricht Paxton deutlich. Manche überschätzten die Aussagekraft der äußeren Symbole des Faschimus. Was andere Forscher sehr ernst nehmen und durchaus mit Religion vergleichen, tut er als „Dekor“ ab. Die unterschiedlichen Varianten des Faschismus legitimieren sich eben nicht über eine schriftliche Überlieferung mit Anspruch auf universale Gültigkeit, über eine „heilige Schrift“, sondern über das, was sie als den authentischsten Ausdruck ihrer jeweils eigenen kollektiv-nationalen Identität hoch halten wollen, und das seien naturgemäß recht verschiedene Dinge. Von da her lässt sich für Paxton keine große allgemeingültige Faschismustheorie konstruieren.

Am meisten zu schaffen macht den Theoretikern des Faschismus dessen zweideutiges Verhältnis zwischen Doktrin und Aktion, so Paxton, die irrational irrlichternde Beziehung zwischen seinem Wort und seiner Tat. „Wir Intellektuelle“ neigten dazu, alle -ismen des 19.Jahrhunderts, also Konservatismus, Liberalismus, Sozialismus usw., von ihrer Doktrin her zu bewerten – und analog dazu auch den Faschismus als etwas anzusehen, das in sich schlüssig und universal gültig sein wolle. Aber der Faschismus sei kein vernunftbetontes philosophisches Gedankengebäude für Notabeln (und solche, die es werden wollen), sondern etwas anderes: eine politische Praxis, die auf die Politik der Massen des 20.Jahrhunderts zugeschnitten ist.

Fascism is a political practice appropriate to the mass politics of the twentieth century.

Die Sprache der Faschisten mag sich an den Sozialdarwinismus anlehnen, aber es geht ihnen nicht um die „Richtigkeit“ einer Theorie (die sie nie hatten). DAS „Faschistische Manifest“ hat es nie gegeben. Sie verachten Vernunft und „des Gedankens Blässe“, wandeln locker von einer intellektuellen Position zur nächsten und zur übernächsten. Anders als bei der traditionellen Rechten, wo die Vernunft dem Glauben unterworfen wird, fühlt man sich hier nur schicksalhaften Blutsbanden untertan, d.h. dem Recht des „blutsmäßig“ Stärkeren, und dieser Stärkere hat man selbst zu sein. Die einzige moralische Richtschnur der Faschisten ist diesseitig: „das Reich und die Kraft und die Herrlichkeit“ ja, aber die jener Rasse, jener Nation, jener Volksgemeinschaft, die sich kühn und tüchtig und brutal durchsetzt gegen den Feind. Der Feind ist absolut unverzichtbar, muss aber nicht für alle Faschismen immer nur „der Jude“ sein.

Gefühl sei stärker als Gedanke und auch Glaube. Davon ausgehend, seien die Faschismen in der Mobilisierung der Massen anders, und stärker, als andere. Welche Gefühle?

Für Paxton haben alle Faschismen sieben mobilizing passions gemein, Leidenschaften mit stark motivierender und mobilisierender Wirkung. Dieser Zugang spricht uns an. Wir interpretieren ihn mit unseren eigenen Worten so:

1. Das Gefühl, dass die Gemeinschaft Vorrang hat vor allem anderen – und dass die Pflichten ihr gegenüber über allen Rechten stehen, die man hat, egal ob universell oder individuell.

2. Das Gefühl, dass die Gemeinschaft Opfer von inneren und äußeren Feinden ist – und dass dagegen alle Mittel erlaubt sind.

3. Die Angst vor dem Verfall der Gemeinschaft durch die „zersetzende“ Wirkung individualistischer und kosmopolitischer Liberaler.

4. Das Zusammenschweißen der Gemeinschaft zu einer Blutsbruderschaft, möglichst mit einheitlichen Überzeugungen, nötigenfalls mit gewalttätigen Säuberungen.

5. Die Stärke der Gemeinschaft stärkt das Zugehörigkeitsgefühl, die Identität und das Selbstbewußtsein der Einzelnen.

6. Überall in der Gesellschaft ist es allein die Autorität einer (männlichen) Führernatur, die das Schicksal der Gemeinschaft verkörpert.

7. Schön ist, was dem Endsieg der Gemeinschaft geweiht ist: man kultiviert eine Ästhetik des Säuberns und des Siegens, des reinen Willens, der nackten Gewalt.

Überall dort, wo Paxton nur Gruppe schreibt, haben wir hier den Begriff Gemeinschaft verwendet. Dies um die Überzeugungs- und Suggestivkraft solcher mobilizing passions hervorzuheben. Sie erscheinen uns als ein zentraler, und realistischer, Zugang zur Faschismusfrage: Wem es gelingt, solche Gefühle zu entfesseln, der/die kann in bestimmten historischen Situationen erwiesenermaßen Millionen BürgerInnen dazu bringen, sich auch jenseits von Gruppenzwängen ihrer Identität, Eigenverantwortung und Menschenwürde als Einzelne zumindest zum Teil freiwillig bis begeistert entledigen zu wollen, um sich im Heilsversprechen, in der Geschlossenheit und vermeintlichen Unschlagbarkeit einer „Volksgemeinschaft“ rund um einen Führerkult kollektiv besser aufgehoben zu fühlen.


 (Quelle: Robert O. Paxton, The Five Stages of Fascism, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 70, No. 1. (Mar., 1998), pp. 1-23, The University of Chicago Press: http://w3.salemstate.edu/~cmauriello/pdfEuropean/Paxton_Five%20Stages%20of%20Fascism.pdf= http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0022-2801%28199803%2970%3A1%3C1%3ATFSOF%3E2.0.CO%3B2-3)


Verwandt in Mythos und Image II

Ian Kershaw erwähnt in seinem Buch über den Hitler-Mythos nebenbei die Vorreiterrolle Mussolinis für Deutschland, wo Hitler sich seit dem „Marsch auf Rom“ des „Duce“ analog zu diesem nicht mehr nur NSDAP-intern, sondern auch öffentlich „Führer“ nennen ließ (zuweilen auch „Mussolini der Deutschen“). Da wie dort: Führerprinzip- und Personenkult-Parolen wurden verinnerlicht in alltäglichen Parolen wie Il Duce ha sempre ragione („der Duce hat immer recht“) oder credere – obbedire – combattere („glauben -gehorchen – kämpfen“). Da wie dort: der politischer Erlöser als Religionssurrogat, und als Bindemittel für die Einheitspartei (da wie dort nie so richtig einig); zwecks -da wie dort- massenhafter Nationalisierung und Mobilisierung für den Sieg in der Völkerschlacht „um einen Platz an der Sonne“, einen Platz unter den (Kolonial-)Herrenvölkern.

Solches und anderes Gemeinsames zu suchen, und auch bei Kershaw zu finden, und zwar um besser differerenzieren zu können, das scheint für unsere Zwecke der politischen Bildung lehrreicher als ausschließlich das Einzigartige herauszuarbeiten, das jedem Untersuchungsobjekt erkennbar und unleugbar eigen ist.

Historiker wie Ian Kershaw pflegen gegenüber Vergleichen zwischen dem italienischen Faschismus und dem deutschen Nationalsozialismus nicht nur die gebotene Vorsicht, sondern eine gewisse Distanz an den Tag zu legen. Umso informativer könnte es sein, gerade aus den von Kershaw genannten Zusammenhängen den einen oder anderen Schnittpunkt der beiden Diktaturen zu extrapolieren.

Der deutsche und der italienische Diktator mögen persönlich sehr unterschiedlich gewesen sein; politisch waren sie einander verwandtschaftlich nahe, und zwar bis zu ihrem Tode (in ihrer Wirkung sogar darüber hinaus). Demnach sind sie nützlicherweise vergleichbar wie wenige andere. Davon wollen wir ausgehen – und weiter Ian Kershaw zitieren, gerade weil er nicht so oberflächlichen Vergleichen neigt.

Im Schlusskapitel des Buchs über den Hitler-Mythos kommt Ian Kershaw auf die im Untertitel bereits angesprochene Kluft zwischen Image und Realität zu sprechen. Die laut Kershaw folgenden sieben Grundlagen speziell des Hitler-Mythos scheinen uns zum guten Teil auch auf sein italienisches Vorbild Mussolini zuzutreffen:

Seven significant bases of the ‚Hitler myth‘:

In each case the contrast between image and reality is stark, the ‚mythical‘ content unmistakable.

* Firstly, (he) was regarded as the personification of the nation and the unity of the ’national community‘ (…), the selfless exponent of the national interest;

* Secondly, as the single-handed architect and creator of (…) ‚economic miracle‘ (…), eliminating (…) mass unemployment, revitalizing the economy, providing improved living standards (…);

* Thirdly, as (…) the voice of the ‚healthy sentiment of the people‘, (…) the embodiment of strong, if necessary ruthless, action against the ‚enemies of the people‘ to enforce ‚law and order‘ ;

* Fourthly, as personally sincere, and in matters affecting established traditions and institutions as a ‚moderate‘, but largely kept in the dark about what was actually going on;

* Fifthly, in the arena of foreign affairs, (he) was regarded as (…) a rebuilder of the nation’s strength, a statesman of genius, and for the most part (…) not as a racial imperialist warmonger(…)

* Sixthly, in the first half of the war (he) appeared to be the incomparable military leader who, (…) knew and understood the ‚psychology‘ of the ordinary soldier.

* Finally, there was (his) image as the bulwark against the nation’s perceived powerful ideological enemies -Marxism/Bolshevism and (…) the Jews.

Das meiste, was Kershaw hier als spezielle Grundlagen des Hitler-Mythos bezeichnet, kann man aus unserer Sicht auch zu den Grundlagen des Mussolini-Mythos zählen – mit Abstrichen beim vorletzten und vor allem beim letzten Punkt. Mutatis mutandis, das Proviso gilt für alle Vergleiche:

Niemand wird behaupten wollen, die italienische und die deutsche Geschichte und die handelnden Personen deckten sich. Aber dass in jenen Jahrzehnten ähnliche „Verhaltensauffälligkeiten“ aufwiesen, steht für fast alle englischsprachigen Kenner beider Faschismen außer Streit.


(Source: Ian Kershaw: The ‚Hitler Myth‘. Image and reality in the Third Reich, Oxford University Press, 1987, reissued 2001, Introduction pp.1-10, Conclusion 253-269)


Verwandt in Mythos und Image

Mit dem Mussolini-Mythos kann man den Hitler-Mythos gewiss nicht erklären. Sir Ian Kershaws Buch über letzteren aus dem Jahre 1987 ist davon auch weit entfernt. Aber italo-deutsche und damit europäische Zusammenhänge sehen, das kann man. Dabei hilft auch einer wie Kershaw weiter, der nicht als hauptberuflicher Komparatist abgestempelt ist, sondern als Hitler-Experte Nummer Eins:

The readiness to place all hope in ‚leadership‘, in the authority of a ’strong man‘, has in itself of course not been peculiar to Germany. Promotion by threatened elites and acceptance by anxious masses of strong authoritarian leadership, often personalized in one ‚charismatic‘ figure, has been (and still is) experienced by many societies in which a weak pluralist system is incapable of resolving deep political and ideological rifts and is perceived to be in terminal crisis. Given the intensity of the crises of parliamentary systems in numerous European states in the inter-war era, and in a climate where the Great War still cast its long shadow, populist and militarist leadership cults sprang up throughout Europe as part of Fascist and quasi-fascist counter-revolutionary movements, most prominently outside Germany of course, in the ‚Duce cult‘ of Fascist Italy.

Unter den Punkten, die Ian Kershaw einer spezifisch deutschen politischen Kultur bereits des 19.Jahrhunderts zuordnet, befindet sich allerdings manches, was wir mutatis mutandis nicht nur für Deutschland, sondern auch für Italien, die andere große „Spätgeburt“ unter den großen Nationalstaaten, gelten lassen: eine ähnliche Schwäche für heroische Führung und nationale Größe:

Heldentum, Kraft, Vitalität, Kühnheit, Hoffnung, Sieg und Wiedergeburt der nationalstaatlichen Idee – viele Jahrzehnte bevor letztere verwirklicht wurde, ging nicht nur die deutsche, sondern mehr noch die italienische Kultur schwer schwanger mit solcher Sehnsucht und Symbolik: ein Kult der „heroisch“ zu erkämpfenden bzw. zu verteidigenden nationalen Einheit nach innen und Expansion nach außen.

One outward manifestation was the erection in the later nineteenth century of gigantic national monuments – on a scale and a character not found, for example, in the British political culture of the time- granite glorifications of mythical heroes, great victories, and national triumph. Militarism, heroism, and national unity, garbed in religious symbolism, were also the keynotes of the newly-instituted national feast day (…)

Image and reality lautet der Untertitel dieses Kershaw-Buches. Beide Faschismen verdanken schon ihren Aufstieg (das Weitere ohnehin) tiefen Klüften zwischen Darstellung und Wirklichkeit, zwischen Verheißung und Enttäuschung.

The growing appeal already before the First World War of ‚heroic‘ leadership notions in populist-nationalist circles of the German Right -and there are parallels, if somewhat weaker in intensity, in pre-Fascist Italy, which helped to prepare the ground for the later emergence of the cult of the Duce- was largely shaped by the increasing gulf between the perceived need for national integration and unity and the patent lack of integration which prevailed in reality.(…)

This gulf was itself enhanced and accentuated by three interlinked factors:

* the social and political disruption accompanying a practically simultaneous transition to nation-state…,constitutional government…, and industrial society;

* the deep fragmentation of the political system (reflecting fundamental social cleavages)…;

* the spread of a chauvinistic-imperialist ideology clamouring for a rightful ‚place in the sun‘… for…a supposed ‚have-not‘ nation“ .

Daraus könnte man mit Kershaw, gleichermaßen mit Blick auf den italienischen Faschismus und den deutschen Nationalsozialismus, aber auch auf das 21.Jahrhundert verallgemeinernd vermuten: Je tiefer die Kluft zwischen den Schichten einer Gesellschaft, je tiefer die Kluft zwischen Erwartungen und Enttäuschungen, desto schwächer die Legitimität eines politisches Systems, desto stärker das Potential für ‚charismatic‘ or ‚heroic‘ leadership, seeming to offer a fundamental break with the past and a new and great future.


(Source: Ian Kershaw: The ‚Hitler Myth‘. Image and Reality in the Third Reich, Oxford University Press, 1987, reissued 2001, Introduction pp.1-10)  


Storia di Führer, di Duce, o di chi?

Dopo aver reso conto del pensiero del famoso storico inglese Ian Kershaw sulla autorità- dominazione carismatica spiegabile più da basso in alto che non dall’alto in basso, riassumiamo ora le sue conclusioni dopo aver studiato a fondo le condizioni di funzionamento (per alcuni anni) di un mito come quello di Hitler:

L’unità nazionale, istituzionalizzata solo pochi decenni prima della Grande Guerra, era rimasta superficiale, con le varie divisioni e frammentazioni interne tuttora forti.

Immense aspirazioni ad un ruolo da potenza mondiale fecero a pugni con i modesti risultati ottenibili dal paese sul campo delle relazioni internazionali.

L’unità nazionale venne non solo enfatizzata esageratamente, ma anche strumentalizzata: da un lato per liquidare nemici interni (con effetti controproducenti), dall’altro per coltivare ambizioni espansionistiche e sempre più imperialistiche (ma rovinosamente frustrate).

Crescente frammentazione e decadenza della politica verso un lobbyismo ed un clientelismo che sempre più delegittimò lo stesso sistema statale, discreditò totalmente il pluralismo politico, e spianò la strada ad una nuova specie di unità politica personalizzata in una guida ‚carismatica‘.

In quelle condizioni, si sentì il „bisogno“ di uno „salvatore della patria„, con potere e responsabilità sue personali, che spazzasse via le cause della miseria ed il grigiore di politici e burocrati, per imporre la sua volontà personale alla Storia.

Lui più di tutti si rese conto che la forza del regime dipendeva, come sottolineò, „non solamente dalla polizia segreta“, ma dalla sua popolarità personale, „integratrice“ delle masse popolari.

Per durare nel tempo, questo entusiasmo e spirito di sacrificio popolare richiedeva una costante mobilizzazione psicologica attorno a dei „successi“ in continuità, p.es. attraverso dei referendum.

Idee come lo spazio vitale, l’espansionismo senza limiti e la lotta contro gli ebrei dovevano servire da panacea per tutti i mali nazionali e frustrazioni personali.

L’immagine del leader integrò e sprigionò enormi energie di attivisti fanatici ed idealisti, lanciandoli verso grandi mete ed orrizonti, legittimando azioni contro i „nemici dello Stato“.

Mentre non solo grandi masse ma anche settori dell‘intellighenzia furono attratti dal carisma del cesarismo, le elites tradizionali si allinearono più per pragmatica considerazione del potere.

Sottovalutando gli elementi ‚cesaristici‘ alla base del carisma di massa, le elites tradizionali non si resero conto che stavano non aumentando ma minando il proprio potere di interdizione.

Lo stesso protagonista del mito dovette corrispondere, illudendo anche se stesso, all’immagine di onnipotenza ed onniscienza costruitagli addosso da una devozione e venerazione quasi religiosa.

Questa è la parafrasi, tradotta nel nostro italiano di alcune conclusioni alle quali perviene il famoso storico britannico Ian Kershaw, in un suo libro sul mito di Hitler. Ecco la risposta alla nostra domanda iniziale: qui si parla di Hitler. Ci siamo permessi la libertà di „purgarne“ il nome ogni qualvolta che Kershaw lo menziona qui, sostituendolo con „leader“ o simili espressioni. Questo per facilitare riflessioni più generali, non „germanocentriche“, „adolfocentriche“ od in altro modo „etnocentriche“, rendendoli così, speriamo, ancor più attuali e stimolanti anche per altri paesi, a cominciare dall’Italia.

C’è una conclusione? Dal passato di cui sopra, si possono dedurre utili lezioni per il futuro delle nostre democrazie e per la prevenzione di altre dittature? Ecco la risposta, moderatamente ottimista e pacatamente profetica, data da Ian Kershaw in tempi ancora un pò diversi dai nostri, nel 1987:

Solamente una crisi di proporzioni inconcepibilmente devastanti -come in seguita ad un’altra grande guerra- potrebbe minare e distruggere le esistenti strutture politiche pluraliste a tal punto da far apparire una nuova forma di leadership carismatica con connotazioni fasciste come una soluzione possibile ed attraente a notevoli segmenti di popolazione.(…)“

„A parte circostanze oltre la nostra realistica imaginazione, è difficile vedere come possibile una resurrezione od una nuova variante di un mito leaderistico così potente da captare l’imaginazione di millioni di persone. Antichi miti vengono però rimpiazzati da nuovi miti, e la combinazione di tecnologie moderne e tecniche di marketing avanzate stanno producendo esempi minori di culto della personalità sempre più elaborati e sofisticati, mirati ad offuscare la realtà tra gli ignoranti e gli ingenui, anche nelle democrazie di tipo occidentale.“

„Fu alto il prezzo pagato per aver abdicato alle responsabilità democratiche ed essersi fidato acriticamente ad una ‚ferma leadership‘ di un’autorità politica apparentemente ben intenzionata. Anche se il collasso e la ricaduta in nuove forme di fascismo sono improbabili per natura in tutte le democrazie occidentali, la massiccia estensione dei poteri dello stato moderno verso i loro cittadini è di per se una ragione sufficiente per svilluppare il livello più alto possibile di educato cinismo e di vigilanza critica, la sola protezione contro l’immagine-marketing dei presenti e futuri pretendenti alla ‚leadership‘ politica.“


(Fonte: Ian Kershaw: The ‚Hitler Myth‘. Image and Reality in the Third Reich, Oxford University Press, 1987, reissued 2001, pp. 253-269, N.B. traduzione di faschistensindimmerdieanderen)


La straordinarietà carismatica secondo Kershaw

Ian Kershaw è famoso come autore della più acclamata biografia di Hitler, e non per paragoni o pregiudizi su quello che nazismo e fascismo possono o no avere avuto in comune. Proprio per questo ci aspettiamo qualche lume al riguardo, e lo cerchiamo prima di tutto nel suo libro di quindici anno fa sul „mito di Hitler“. Ecco alcune parole-chiave, riflessioni e conclusioni alle quali perviene Kershaw. Vediamo se c’è qualcuna riferibile non solo alla Germania ed il suo „Führer“, ma anche utile a spiegarci, nell’ottica bipartisan dello storico britannico, qualcosa dell’Italia del mitico „Duce“. A cominciare dall’innegabile consenso, e dal tipo di „carisma“ ad ambedue attribuiti:

La persona del leader fu il focus non solo di grande consenso ma di adorazione ed adulazione da partedi milioni di connazionali anche non impegnati ideologicamente.

Le ossessioni ideologiche del leader stesso non spiegano in modo soddisfacente lo straordinario magnetismo del suo appeal popolare, come se riuscisse a „rivitalizzare“ il paese.

Le fonti di questa immensa popolarità vanno cercate „in quelli che lo adoravano più che nel leader stesso“ (T.W.Mason): più nella immagine che nella realtà del personaggio.

Seguendo Gustave Le Bon sulla „manipolabilità pressocché illimitata delle masse“, il leader sa: più forti le contraddizioni, più deve propagare e ritualizzare il mito, approfondire il legame affettivo.

Applichiamo il concetto dell‘autorità carismatica, che accanto a quella „tradizionale“ e quella „legale“, è uno dei tre „tipi ideali“ individuati da Max Weber:

Il carisma è un tipo di dominazione straordinaria, instabile, non duratura, che tende a spuntare in condizioni ritenute straordinariamente critiche – ed a soluzioni straordinariamente „emergenziali“.

L’autorità carismatica deriva dalla percezione di eroismo o di carattere esemplare di un leader considerato straordinario, dotato di facoltà e poteri eccezionali, se non supernaturali.

L’unica cosa importante è come quell’individuo appare alla percezione di chi è soggetto all‘ autorità carismatica, dai suoi ’seguaci‘ o ‚discepoli‘.

La loro lealtà dipende da una dinamica di successo continuo (apparente). Il carisma è fatalmente minato da insuccessi, fallimenti, sconfitte. Ma è anche minacciato dalla routine.

Questa reinterpretazione dell’autorità carismatica di Max Weber, qui sommariamente descritta come applicata da Ian Kershaw a Hitler, ha esercitato una forte influenza sugli sforzi più recenti della continua Vergangenheitsbewältigung (elaborazione-superamento del proprio passato) da parte della storiografia, politologica, sociologica, antropologia ecc. in lingua tedesca.

Anche ricercatori italiani, e di altri paesi, possono trarre profitto, e profilo sovranazionale, da una aumentata attenzione per questa specie di „generalizzazione“, distaccata ma approfondita, su concetti come il potere carismatico di passati presenti e futuri „grandi“ leader, Führer, Duci eccetera.


(Fonte: Ian Kershaw: The ‚Hitler Myth‘. Image and Reality in the Third Reich, Oxford University Press, 1987, reissued 2001, pp.1-10, N.B. traduzione di faschistensindimmerdieanderen)


Quanti francesi tra i (presunti) antenati…

Kevin Passmore dell’Università di Cardiff, autore del conciso libretto Fascism: A very Short Introduction (OUP, 2002) inaugura anche la prima parte dell‘Oxford Handbook of Fascism (quella sulle idee „protofasciste“) con un saggio del quale approfittiamo per andare brevemente alle radici ideologiche che i fascismi europei, visti dal Galles, hanno in comune.

Se il fascismo si cristallizzò in Italia, lo fece perchè lì le circostanze lo permisero, non perchè ideologicamente predestinato a nascere lì, sostiene Passmore: tendenze proto-fasciste ce n’erano state in più paesi europei, anche prima del 1914. Durante la guerra si radicalizzarono e si perpetuarono poi in linguaggi e realtà da guerra civile. Le ideologie fasciste furono sintesi, agglomerati di idee prese da fonti diverse. Passmore le raggruppa più o meno così:

Tra ’sacralizzazione della politica‘ e ‚religione politica‘: Impulsi che contribuirono alla violenza ed alla natura „escludente“ del fascismo, come alla sua raccapricciante prontezza nel giustificare i mezzi con i fini. Tendenze già presenti, in forme molto diverse, per esempio nella rivoluzione francese, nel romanticismo germanico, nel risorgimento italiano.

Tra Illuminismo e Romanticismo, tra Ragione di Stato ed Imaginazione al Potere, tra Jean-Jacques Rousseau (‚religione civica‘ pedagogica e propedeutica alla ‚volontà generale‘) e Gottfried Herder (primato dell‘ etnicità rispetto all’uniformità), tra filosofi e poeti, tra scienziati ed intellettuali, tra positivisti ed antipositivisti, tra ideologhi nazionalisti ed universalisti, tra rivoluzionari di destra e di sinistra, tra progressisti conservatori e reazionari, tra socialisti ed elitaristi, tra anarchici e liberali – ci sono moltissimi nomi molto diversi (ma quanti francesi!) tra i presunti antenati ideali sia del fascismo italiano che del nazismo tedesco.

Gustave Le Bon, Georges Sorel, Arthur de Gobineau, Friedrich Nietzsche sono menzionati più frequentemente (anche da altri storici anglofoni) come i più influenti tra i pensatori pregressi, ai quali -verosimilmente loro malgrado- più si sarebbero ispirati sia il fascismo che il nazismo.

Il name-dropping britannico attorno alle radici ideologiche paneuropee dei fascismi comprende una lunga lista di nomi in parte sorprendenti, in parte raramente menzionati nel nostro contesto italo-tedesco: Darwin, H.S. Chamberlain, Durkheim, Bergson, Duhem, Poincaré, Lamarck, Lagarde, de Tarde, Les Blanquistes, Boulanger, Peguy, Taine, Lenin, Marx, Ranke, Wagner, E.Mayer. W.Schallmeyer. E.Haeckel, Class, Hellwald, e poi Mazzini, Mosca, Pareto, Sighele, P.Rossi, Mantica, Corradini, Lombroso, Marinetti, Prezzolini, Papini, D’Annunzio, G.Gentile…

Questa lista ci ricorda, tra l’altro, che il fascismo ha elementi in comune con altre ideologie, anche apparentemente opposte. Anche per questo risulta così multiforme e difficile da definire.

Come si vede, l’ideologia fascista non fu prodotta „autarchicamente“ da una specifica tradizione nazionale. Nè solo made in Italy, nè solo made in Germany, quindi – almeno per quanto riguarda il pensiero protofascista.

Wagner ricevette Gobineau nella sua residenza veneziana, racconta Passmore – e D’Annunzio scoprì Nietzsche in traduzione francese nella Revue blanche

„Tutto il mondo è paese“?


(Fonte: Kevin Passmore: The Ideological Origins of Fascism before 1914, in: The Oxford Handbook of Fascism (ed.by R.J.B. Bosworth), Oxford University Press, New York, 2009, pp.11-31)


Nach außen verwandt (ohne zu verallgemeinern)

War and Revolution: Origins and Dynamics of the Fascist and National Socialist Dictatorships so betitelt sich das jüngste zweibändige Projekt des Amerikaners MacGregor Knox, langjähriger Inhaber des Stevenson-Lehrstuhls für Internationale Geschichte an der London School of Economics. Der 1.Band heißt To the Threshold of Power, handelt von den Jahren 1922/23 und ist 2007 bei Cambridge University Press erschienen. Ursprünge und Dynamik der faschistischen und der nationalsozialistischen Diktatur, solche Vergleiche treiben den Harvard- und Yale-Absolventen Knox schon seit Jahrzehnten um.

Er beschäftigt sich vor allem mit der deutschen und der italienischen Außen- und Militärpolitik von 1890 bis 1945 und gilt auch als Fachmann für strategische Studien. Aus dieser Optik haben wir unser Thema bisher noch nicht hinterfragt, „unsere beiden Faschismen“ noch nicht verglichen. Knox tut das in seinem Buch Common Destiny. Dictatorship, Foreign Policy, and War in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Unter dem Titel  Storia Comune  ist es -ebenso wie ein früheres Werk- auch auf Italienisch erschienen (2003 bei Einaudi). Auf Deutsch liegt uns hingegen keines der vielen Bücher dieses Autors zur deutschen und europäischen Geschichte vor. Ein Grund mehr für uns, einige Kostproben aus dem letztgenannten Text frei in unser Deutsch zu übertragen und in unseren Zusammenhang zu bringen.

Der wichtigere Grund liegt darin, dass wir hier erstmals auch vorrangig die Außen-, Kriegs- und Expansionspolitik der beiden Diktaturen verglichen sehen wollen – zumal MacGregor Knox sofort ankündigt, dass er anders als die meisten jener seiner Kollegen, die wir bisher hier zitiert haben, ohne ein allgemeines Konzept von „Faschismus“ auskommt; solche Konzepte seien nämlich allesamt „gescheitert“.

Knox schlägt sich auf die Seite derer, die für eine deflation all dieser generic fascism-Theorien sind, „obwohl keine zwei von ihnen übereinstimmen“, wie er bissig, aber nicht ganz unzutreffend anmerkt. Faschismus z.B. mit der Moderne erklären zu wollen, mache das Problem nur noch unlösbarer: für den Begriff gebe es noch mehr Definitionsversuche; „Moderne“ sei ebenso vage wie „Faschismus“.

Roger Griffins vieldiskutierte Festlegung auf „nationale Wiedergeburt“ (palingenesis) als „mythischen Kern“ aller Faschismen hält Knox für einfallsreich, hält jedoch dagegen: „Es ist alles andere als klar, warum das der wesentliche kleinste gemeinsame Nenner ist; und eine überzeugende allgemeine Faschismusdefinition kann jedenfalls nicht politische Strukturen und Handlungsweisen ignorieren.

Nach diesen Klarstellungen überrascht es ein wenig, in fast allen Kapiteln des Buches Sätze wie die folgenden zu finden, die dann eben doch allerhand Allgemeines betonen, was der italienische Faschismus und der deutsche Nationalsozialismus gemein hatten. Beide, schreibt MacGregor Knox…

Both regimes arose from compromises between militant nationalist mass parties born of the Great War and establishments that same war had shaken and humiliated.

Both arose in relatively advanced societies – Northern Italy was different from Bavaria, but only marginally more backward economically.

Both were in part responses to affront to the self-esteem of nations that were relative latecomers to unification and industrialisation, and that suffered from deep, regional, and in Germany, religious cleavages.

Both were the creation of leaders who combined conspicuos talents as agitators, political tacticians and ideological visionaries.

…In both cases, the dictators expressed at the beginnings of their careers coherent ideologies that were not necessarily entirely popular or plausible, and continued to profess those ideas both publicly and privately throughout. The steady radicalization of their policies suggests an attempt to bring practice into line with theory, and implies that their increasingly rare moderation was tactical and their extremism genuine.

…In the end, both leaders provoked catastrophe by persisting, despite steadily increasing risks, in their attempts to bend the world to fit the idea.

…the visionary programs they developed had much in common. Internal domination and foreign expansion, demography and geopolitics, were intertwined.

Both leaders hoped to proceed by stages: consolidation at home, then exploitation of the rivalries of other powers to gain freedom for conquest. And both leaders (…) envisaged Italy and Germany as partners in destroying world order.

…The two leaders‘ visions, despite the differences between their underlying ideologies, were indeed congruent in their mixture of demography and geopolitics, if not in Hitler’s racialist philosophy of history.

Above all, the relationship between foreign and domestic policy in the two regimes was similar. Foreign policy was internal poliy and vice versa; internal consolidation was a precondition for foreign conquest, and foreign conquest was the decisive prerequisite for revolution at home that would sweep away inherited institutions and values, Piedmontese-Italian and Prussian-German military castes, the churches with their claim to deep popular loyalties and their inconvenient if not always operative Christian values, and, last but not least, the putatively decadent and cowardly upper middle classes.

…For both, war was an instrument not merely of external conquest but also for the barbarization of their societies and the final taming or destruction of all institutions, from churches to officer corps to the Italian monarchy, that blocked their paths to total power at home.

Both movements‘ drives for mastery abroad and for total power at home, for the destruction of inherited and hated political and social orders and the ascent of their followers, demanded war. And only a truly large war would do.

Zugegeben: all dieses, was beide auch nach außen hin gemein hatten, all diese Vergleiche zwischen dem italienischen Faschismus und dem deutschen Nationalsozialismus haben wir im Buch von MacGregor Knox bewusst gesucht – aber eben auch gefunden. Es sind nicht wenige, neben den -deutlich zahlreicheren- Unterschieden, die er aber vor allem mehr betont, ganz besonders in seinem Fazit und Schlusskapitel Expansionist zeal, fighting power, and staying power in the Italian and German dictatorships.

Punkto Expansionseifer, Kampfkraft und militärischem Stehvermögen waren die beiden Regime am allerwenigsten zu vergleichen, das wird hier kompetent und überzeugend dargelegt. Überraschen wird es allerdings niemanden, wie „unvergleichlich“ desorganisierter und ineffizienter die italienischen Kriegsanstrengungen waren (letztlich besser so, ist man im übrigen versucht, im nachhinein zu denken…).

Nicht folgen können wir MacGregor allerdings, wenn das für ihn mit ein Grund ist -neben der Schwierigkeit, sich zu einigen- alle Versuche, einen verallgemeinernden Faschismusbegriff zu finden, als „gescheitert“ oder sinnlos anzusehen.


(Source: MacGregor Knox, Common Destiny. Dictatorship, Foreign Policy, and War in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p.52,56,57,59,63,66,78,109,227)


Reactions from USA and Israel

Leonard Weinberg,University of Nevada:


Griffin is engaged in the practice of ‚conceptual stretching‘ or conceptual straining. By seeking to make fascism travel in both time and place, the danger is like that of many political concepts subject to the same excursions i.e. amorphousness or vagueness. An observation by Giovanni Sartori about concept misformation in comparative politics seems applicable here:“even though we need universals, they must be empirical universals, that is, categories which are somehow amenable, in spite of their…very abstract nature, to empirical testing. Instead we seem to verge on the edge of philosophical universals, understood -as Croce defines them- as concepts which are by definition supra-empirical. For Sartori then, the danger involved in stretching a concept such as ‚fascism‘ well beyond its original place (i.e. Italy) and time (i.e. inter-war Europe) is the loss of precision and, consequently, the ability to empirically evaluate what concrete phenomena conform to the definition. (…)

The cost of achieving a ’new consensus‘ among Anglophone scholars has required Griffin and others to ascend the ladder of abstraction to a point where the concept of ‚fascism‘ has become so wide in scope and abstract in expression that it captures too much to achieve empirical meaning. If ‚fascism‘ is an ideology „whose …mythic core is a palingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism…“ then where does it stop? Sure many of the successor states of the old Soviet Union and the ex-Yugoslavia should abound with fascist movements and parties. (…)

One consequence of stretching ‚fascism‘ and thereby making its meaning progressively vaguer is that it leads to the same kind of promiscuity of usage that has characterized the use of the term as an epithet, a form of name-calling, in popular political discourse. (…)

At this point, another observation by Sartori seems appropriate:“Stones and rabbits cannot be compared. (…) We obtain comparability when two or more items appear ’similar enough‘, that is neither identical nor utterly different…In this perspective to compare is ‚to assimilate‘, i.e. to discover deeper or fundamental similarities below the surface of secondary diversities.

The dispute between Griffin and those German scholars who insist on the uniqueness of National Socialism appears to revolve around the claim of comparability. Griffin’s claim, as I understand it, is to have discovered „deeper or fundamental similarities below the surface of secondary diversities„, while the German scholars assert the diversities are not secondary but primary and, as a consequence, make Nazism incomparable or non-fascist. (…)

Is there a way out, one which would satisfy all or most parties to the dispute? Probably not. (…) A

t present thediscussion about ‚the nature of fascism‘ seems much like the poet Robert Frost’s observation about free verse – it is like playing tennis without a net.



Stanley Payne, University of Wisconsin-Madison:


Even within the limited consensus, however, there is no precise agreement about an exact definition or precise parsimonious description of generic fascism. Griffin’s own definition has the elegance of parsimony, but suffers from the defect that it is possible to find „palingenetic forms of populist ultra-nationalism“ which many proponents of the generic fascist approach would not recognize as fascist, such as in the cases of various Latin American, Middle Eastern or African palingenetic and populist ultra-nationalisms. (…)

Nearly all „ultra-nationalisms“ are „palingenetic“ and „populist“. Under this definition, nearly all of them become ipso facto fascist. (…) Most radical and revolutionary groups are palingenetic in one sense of another, and many are populist. (…)

Political formations that become candidates for a concept of neofascism can only be included in an historical generic concept at the cost of unacceptable conflation and dilution. Ideal types are useless without certain boundaries.



Alexander De Grand, North Carolina State University:


(relies much less on ideology:) I do not want to diminish the importance of ideology and of intellectuals who rallied to fascism, but they have to be seen in a proper relationship to what was really going on.

Griffin abandons long lists of attributes that many historians include in any definition (leader principle, single party, control of information, imperialism).

Some reservations:

First, the nature of the palingenetic myth needs to be defined more clearly. (…)

Second, by reducing the consensus to a relatively vague myth of national rebirth, the new „fascist minimum“ becomes a bit too minimal.

fascism offered a compelling myth of unity more than it did of national rebirth

I believe that all the various fascist movements and their related myths have a powerful element of exclusion from the political community that outweighs any talk of a „new type of humanity“. Exclusion of enemies(…) Fascism and nazism as ideologies were fundamentally programs of exclusion of those who threatened unity of the nation or race.

In both the Nazi and the Fascist versions unwanted elements were subjected to varying degrees of violence. Although the Fascists never went to the extremes of the Nazi indiscriminate violence in Europe, they had no inhibitions in Africa where they used mass extermination and cultural obliteration.



David D. Roberts,University of Georgia:


At issue, most basically, is the sense in which fascism is/was an ongoing possibility, presumably based on some ahistorical psychological propensity, and the sense in which it was historically specific, whether as a uniquely „modern“ possibility or as a still more delimited „epochal“ phenomenon (…).

Griffin’s concern with the new right tends to make his framework at once too unspecific and too restrictive. On the one hand, he stretches and thereby thins his definition and thus insists on the contingency of aspects of interwar fascism long taken as definitional. (…) In Griffin’s current characterization, however, a sense of contemporary decadence conflates with dislike of the mainstream order, and palingenesis conflates with any desire for systematic renewal. (…) Yet, on the other hand, even as he thins his ideal type, Griffin freights it with more a priori content. Racism, etthnocentrism, and xenophobia become more central to the underlying fascist core.

Indeed, despite his protestations to the contrary, Griffin tends, ever so subtly, to reify the categories in the ideal type, which produces a tendency towards question-begging circularity overall and at least a relative essentialism in approaching historic fascism. (…)

But a deeper alternative is necessary and possible in a world that, I suggest, is more radically historical than Griffin allows– and thus less susceptible to understanding through Weberian ideal types.(…)

I contend that „travesty“ is essential to fascism, precisely because fascism, as more an event than a thing, cannot be characterized apart from the action itself, the often out-of-control dynamic let loose.(…)

Fascism was about a certain sense of the scope for the concentration of power for new collective action, and it became what it did because it had concentrated and used power as it did.



Mario Sznajder,The Hebrew University of Jerusalem:


I agree that through the use of serious comparative politics methodology it is possible to include Nazism within a more general category of Fascism. (…)

It is true that Nazism without biological racism would not exist, but Fascism itself contains the confrontational categories that make the criteria of inclusion and exclusion central to its vision and serve as the basis for its very discriminatory and violent ways.

There is no doubt that Fascism is a political ideology (…) The primacy of political power over economic, social and cultural considerations is salient. The warlike character of Fascism and the values associated with it are a main ingredient of its brand of extreme nationalism. (…)

The problems in Griffin’s definition are located in the second, and central, part where he deals with the contents -or mythic core- of this ideology. Are all the permutations of Fascism „a palingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism?“ Does this definition contain the „ineliminable attributes“ of every type of Fascism? Is this definition encompassing enough without falling into the realm of the vague, or the difficult to pinpoint? If Fascism is perceived as the first political ideology born after the impact of the industrial revolution and secularization on Europe, then the answer is no.



Jeffrey M. Bale, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey:


I completely share Griffin’s view that only an accurate understanding of what constitutes the „fascist minimum“ can enable us to to recognize and properly assess the potential significance of its diverse manidestations since 1945, but as a convinced „Sternhellian“ I cannot entirely agree with Griffin that fascism is „a political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultranationalism.“ This definition is not su much incorrect as it is incomplete. If one views original fascism as the ideological result of attempts by dissident elements within the fin-de-siècle European intelligentsia to conjoin particular currents of right- and left-wing thought, specifically a radical, romantic, populist, and authoritarian current of nationalism with virulent anti-bourgeois and anti-democratic sentiments, (…) with a revolutionary, voluntarist, elitist and mythopoetic current of socialism with strong anti-rationalist and anti-materialistic sentiments, then one can hardly be satisfied with Griffin’s exclusive focus on the nationalist component within this potent but volatile ideological brew.




(Source: EWE, Erwägen Wissen Ethik – Deliberation Knowledge Ethics, vormals „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)

(Source: EWE,Erwägen Wissen Ethik – Deliberation Knowledge Ethics,vormals „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)

Reactions to Griffin from Britain

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)