Fascism Core Themes



Was Fascism simple a rejection of liberal values?

Enlightenment 18th Century:

  • Universal reason, natural goodness and inevitable progress
  • Liberating mankind from superstition and irrationalism

Late 19th C. - suggestions that other powerful forces were at work rather than the rational mind

  • Nietzche - emphasis on "will to power"
  • Sorel - "political myths" e.g. "General Strike" as "expressions of the will"
  • Bergson - vitalism - give expression to life force.

"Fascism gave political expression to the most extreme forms of counter-Enlightenment thinking." Heywood.

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  • Despire thinking
  • Revere action
  • "Action not talk"
  • "Inactivity is death"

Mussolini and Hitler only interested in ideas and theories of their power - "to elicit an emotional response and spur the masses into action" therefore emphasised the "politics of the will"

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A Negative/Destructive Character

  • An "anti" philosophy
  • "A revolution of Nihilism"
  • Attempt to reverse the heritage of the Enlightenment

Freedom - unquestioning submission

Democracy - Absolute dictatorship

Progress - Constant struggle and war

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The Organic Community

  • History, culture and the organic community
  • Community not shaped by ideas or rational individuals
  • Forged by innate loyalities/emotional bonds/common past
  • Volksgemeinschaft - national community
  • An indivisible whole, all rivarlries subordinated to a higher collective purpose

"Strength through Unity - Nazi slogan of social cohesion

"Revolution of the Spirit" creating a "new man"

Fascist man - duty/honour/self-sacrifice

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Inspired by Charles Darwin's "Origin of the Species" and mainly his theory of natural selection.

  • Survival of the Fittest (Herbert Spencer) - suited late 19th C. industrial and commercial rivalries in Europe
  • Competition and conflict - ensured human progress and that the fittest and strongest would survive.

Hitler - "victory is to the strong and the wak must go to the wall." War - "an unalterable law of the whole of life." Mussolini "war is to men what maternity is to women."

Goodness = Strength, Evil = Weakness

Eugenics - mentally and physically handicapped sterilsied in 1930's and murdered 1939-41.

"Unending struggle" -restless, expansionist character "Lebensraum in the east." Could never have been satifised.

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Leadership and Elitism

A belief in rule by an elite or minority. Elite rule may be thought to be desirable (the elite having superior skills and talents) or inevitable (egalitarianism simply being impratical)

Fascism was: a radical rejection of equality, deeply elitst and deeply patriarchal.

Society split into 3 kinds of people:

  • Leader - Der Fuhrer/Il Duce
  • Warrior elite - ** in Nazi Germany and seen to promote heroism and self sacrfice
  • Masses - me and you - weak, inert and ignorant. Destiny - unquestioning obedience
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Supreme Leader

Idea of the Supreme leader linked to a "distinctively fascist, if inverted notion of democratic rule."

  • Influenced idea of the "Ubermensch", the "over-man" or "superman" as in "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" 1884. Rises above the "herd instinct" of convential morality and lives according to his own will and desires
  • Fascists turned the idea into a theory of supreme and unquestionable leadership. Hitler ditched the traditional titles of political leadership and had the German army swear their oath of loyalty to him "Der Fuhrer" in order to distance himself from any previous idea of constitutionally related leadership
  • In this way leadership became an expression of charismatic authority. Max Weber's term legal-rational authority operates in a framework of laws or rules, charismatic authority is potentially unlimited. Numberg Rallies - "Adolf Hitler is Germany, Germany is Adolf Hitler"
  • Totalitarian Demcoracy - the idea that all authority emanates from the leader personally, thus become the diea of the Fascist state. Elections, parliaments and parties are abolished or weakened to prevent from fulfilling the leader's will.
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Fascim's commitment to Socialist type principles could easily be attributed to a cynical "catch all" approach which we recognise in modern day politics. However, there are clear links between Fascist principles and Socialist principles.

  • There is the conflict between the "little man" and big business.
  • Socialist principles wer prominent in "grass root" Nazi organisations such as the SA or Brownshirts, which recruited from the lower middle class significantly
  • Fascism like socialisim subscribed to "collectivism" putting it in conflict with "bourgeois" capitalism
  • Nazi coin carried the label "common good before private good."
  • Capitalism is based on self interest and threatens to undermine the cohesion of race or nation.
  • Fascism practised "socialist type" economic policies
  • "Capitalism is a system by which capital uses the nation of its own purposes. Fascism is a system where the nation uses capital for its own purposes." Oswald Mosely
  • 1939 Goering introduced Four Year Plans modelled on the Soviet idea of Five Year Plans
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However, it can be argued that socialism and fascism are not similar:

  • "Leftist" elements of the Nazi movement were soon marginalised e.g. Night of the Long Knives in 1934 and the Strasser brothers executed.
  • Fascists ideas about the organisation of fascist life were "vague"
  • "Pragmatism not ideology determined fascist economic policy." Heywood
  • Anti-communism was more prominent within Nazism than anti-capitalism
  • Fascism wanted the beliefs of race and nation to be stronger than those of social class
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Intergral nationalism - an intense, even hysterial form of national enthusiams, in which individual identity is absorbed within the national community. Charles Maurass - "Action Franchise."

  • Fascism embodies a sense of fanatical mission, the hope of national regeneration and rebirth of national pride.
  • Griffen 1993 identified the convergence of "paligenesis" or recurrent rebirth and "populist ultranationalism"
  • The idea that the old corrupt values are to be left behind and the prospect of rebirth lies ahead
  • Fascist Italy sought to found African empire in Abysinnia 1934
  • Imperial Japan wanted a "co-prosperity" sphere in Asia from its assult on China through Manchuria 1931 (China estimated its losses at 20,000,000)
  • Germany sought "Lebensraum in the East" (Mein Kampf)
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The empires of Germany, Italy and Japan were autarkic - based on strict self-suffiency.

  • Economic strength is based on the capacity of the nation to control resources and energies it needs
  • Conquest and expansion are therefore an inherent part of the facist mindset
  • Fascism would have lost its purpose if it ever reached a point where it could rest.
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Racism is better used to refer to prejudice towards people of their racial origin, whether or not this is linked to a developed racial theory. Italian Fascim - technically a voluntaristic form of fascism in that it supposedly could embrace all people

Griffin argues that Fascism's commitment to militant nationalism means that all forms of fascism harbour implicit or explicit forms of rascism. Core assumption of racialism is that political and social conclusions can be drawn from the idea that there are fundamental differences between the races of the world.

Conservative nationalism is linked with implicit racialism e.g. Enoch Powell in the UK with his "rivers of blood" speech or Le Pen in France, both argued that "non-white" immigration threatened the culture of the host community.

Racialism can have religious justification e.g. 19th C European Impearliams was partly justified by the superiority of Christian peoples over "heathen" peoples, with Biblical justifications

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Nazi Race Theories

Nazi racism was based on "hysterial, pseudo-scientific anti-Semitism." Hitler did not invent his racial theories. He picked them up from a stram of late 19th C. thought, which in turn fed from centuries old Christian based anti-Semitism.

Gobineau claimed to have written "a science of history" with the most developed and creative race being the "white peoples" the highest element being the "Aryans." The Jews were lablled fundamentally uncreative. Somewhat ironically a man called H.S Chamberlain wrote a book called "Foundations of 19th Century" and it had a profound impact on Hitler/Nazis, claiming that the highest race of peoples were the Germans or "Teutons." All cultural development was ascribed to the German peoples. The Jews were "physically, spiritually and morally degenerate"

The Nazies developed the Manichaen in "pseudo-religious, pseudo-scientific terms" perspective where the good Aryans fought for their existence agains the evil forces of the world Jewry, which could manifest itself in whatever convenient guise the Nazis wanted to ascribe to it e.g Communism, or American banking system which created the Wall Street Crash in 1929.

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Nazi Race Theories

Human beings are naturally drawn towards tales of good and evil. For desperate, dislocated individuals in the 1930's this racial titanic struggle had great appeal. It was one in which "the masses" could surrender themselves to personal sacrifice, after recognising the will of the Fuhrer.

Nazis argued that these two forces were locked in an age of old conflict which the Aryrans did not win then Earth would be reduced to a lifeless lump of rock spinning through space.

The Jews were seen to be parastical with no state bulding element. The lived off and dained the life out of their hosts.

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Persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany 1930's

  • Physical intimidation e.g. 1933 boycott of Jewish businesses
  • Encouraged immigration (accompanied with dispossession)
  • Racial laws 1935 - no German or Jew to have sexual relations or to marry. No jews in the professions.
  • Krystallnacht 1938 - a progrom or organised programme of violence where synagogues were burned and Jews were beaten to death in the streets
  • Ghettos established in 1939 - in the East, in Poland. For Nazis, anything to the East of Germany was sub-human
  • Einszatgruppen 1941 - combat capable units diverted to exterminate Jewish communities
  • Death camps - as Jews were transported from all over occupied Europe to be processed, unde the guise of being made to work for the first time e.g. Arbeit Macht Frej" or "Work sets you free" over the entrance of Auschwitz
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Persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany

As the covers come off the Nazi system, the engine house or beating heart of Nazism was revealed - an evil, charnal house of racial destruction. The Nazies draw on centries of old prejudice, threw in a dose of pseudo-scientific theories, wrapped up in their "political religion" and combined it with the technologyy of the 20th Century to create the "Final Solution."

Did Hitler plan it all? He refers to "gassing" the Jews in Mein Kampf whilst referring to himself recovering from being "gassed" in the trenches of WWI. More likely circumstances developed that provided the Nazis with the opportunity to put their core racialist theories into practise at the dawn of what they believed would be a "thousand year Reich"

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The State

Statism - belief that the state is most appropriate means of resolving problems and of guaranteeing economic and social development.

Totalitarianism - "seeks total power" through the politicalisation of every aspect of social and personla existence. It is more than simply autocracy, authoritarianism and personal dictatorship, rejecting toleration, pluralism and the open society.

Hegel - argued that the State was the necessary means to achieving higher levels of civilisation. it could inspire individuals to raise themsleves out of selfishness and operate in an altruistic manner. He was a great admirer or the Prussian state of his day.

Giovanni Gentle - "Everything for the state; nothing against the state; nothing outside the state." Mussolini's scholars prepared his speeches to claim that the state can be recognised as the "universal ethical will." Outside the state "no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value." Italy under Mussolini more a personalised dictatorship than a totalitarian dictatorship e.g. Italian monarchy and Catholic Church retained privileges and independence.

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The State

Nazism - did not venerate the state, but viewed it as a means to an end. For Hitler, creative power came from race - the German people. The state was a mere vessel to contain it. But, Nazism came closer than Italisn fascism to realising a totalitarian state e.g. control over the media, education, art and culture and youth organisations.

Totalitariansim -

Extreme collectivism - "fascist man" utterly obedient ends the distrinction between "public" and "private" existence. "Collective egosim consumes individual egosim" Heywood.

Leadership Principle - the leader has unlimited authority, this implies active participation and total commitment on the part of citizens. The total "politicisation of the masses."

Monistic - the belief in a single value system places fascism at odds with liberal notions of pluralism.

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The State

Corporatism - a means of incorporating organised interests into the process of government. Fascism was a form of authoritarian corporatism.

As an ideology it was based on holism and group intergration. Mussolini described it as the "third way" between capitalism and socialism. As an economic form, it extended direct political control over industry and organised labour. Corporatism opposed both the free market (unrestrained pursuit of personal profit) and central planning (linked to the divisive idea of class war). Corporatism claimed that business and labour were bound together in an organic and spiritually unified whole. Big gap between claims and theories and reality. It was little more than a tool to control major economic interersts

Modernisation - Filippo Marinetti led the movement of "futurism" in the early 20th C in the arts, where factories, machinery and industrial life in general was glorified. Fascism tended to look to the past for great glories that should be emulated e.g. Imperial Rome or the First and Second Reichs. But there was a forward looking element in Italian Fascim. For Mussolini Italy needed to break with its agrarian past and embrace the future looking industrialised world.

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Is Fascism Time Fixed?

Was Fascism merely a product of specific historical circumstances of the interwar period?


  • WW1 - regain territories/national pride
  • 1924 hyper inflation linked to reparations - created economical and social dislocation - created breeding groud for radicalism?
  • Interwar period a perfect environment/catalyst for the growth of Fascism but Weimer Germany was working, but the Wall Street Crash brought it down.
  • Therefore, Fascism offered strong decisive leadership. Simple answers to complex problems all from the Fuhrer
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Is Fascism Time Fixed?

Was Fascism merely a product of specific historical circumstances of the interwar period?


  • Interwar period created a vacuum into which fascism moved
  • Longer term eco forces at work, competition between major nations
  • Kaiser Wilhelm wanting his "place in the sun"
  • Imperalistic nationalism full of survival of the fittest fed British and other European industrial ambitions.
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Is Fascism Dead?

Could argue that Neo-Fascism has a fertile seed bed in which to grow:

  • Economic uncertainty e.g. collapse of banks (bailed out by public purse and then apparently unreformed)
  • Globalisation - multi-national companies able to switch production around the world with impunity
  • Disenfrachisement of white working class - lack of connection with current political parties
  • Concerns over immigration
  • Concerns over terrorism
  • Democratic institutions losing respect through inappropriate behaviour
  • Neo-Right organisations assuming "the cloak" of democratic credientials.

The BNP did not consolidate their local government fains through an increase share of the vote in May 2010 election. Is it possible for "democratic fascism" to exist? Is the emergence of the British Democrat Party under Andrew Brons evidence of these tensions within right wing radical politics in the UK?

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Is Fascism Dead? Neo-Fascists

They could prosper well with a message of a fresh expression of national identity. A rejection of multi-culturalism. Offer of strong leadership, offer of simple answers to incredibly complex problems in a very inter-connected world going through an IT revolution. Continued existence in the face of attempted suppression of their democratic expression by "liberal" forces e.g. hints of sympathy for Nick Griffin on QT.

Heywood questions neo-fascism's ability to adopt liberal ideas and not be transformed from being fascist. Fascism's emphasis on the organic community and the lack of individual liberty and value cannot sit easily alongisde values of pluarlism and individualism. If so, "democracy will prevail over fascism."

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Neofascism and the Far Right

1945 - Neofascism was marginalised. 1950's/60's - held in check by ideological and military stand off the East and West in Europe. 1970's - resurgence of right wing activism, backlash against the New Left and non-white immigration. Enoch Powell (Rivers of Blood speech), National Front under John Tyndall (white supermacist and xenophobic nationalism). 1990's/21st C - BNP has gained greater credibility and respet. He gained seats in local elections and 2 seat in the EU Parliament in 2009. Has shed its "racists image" and now competes on "an anti-establishment platform."

Reasons for rise in far right across Europe:

  • Collaspe of state socialism in Eastern Europe
  • Move towards closer European political and economic intergration in West Europe in 90's
  • Disillusionment with liberal demcracies
  • Popular anxiety about globalisation, generating a support for far right parties "that claim to offer a set of simpler alternatives based on ethnicity and identity."
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Neofascism and the Far Right

Pippa Norris "Radical Right: Parties and Electoral Competiton" - has argued that the radical right has adapted its policies and image to suit this new political landscape. BNP?

Rise of far right in Continental Europe -

  • Austria: 2 parties hold 29% of seats in National Parliament (2009),
  • Italy - Berlusconi's ruling right wing populist coalition is compromised of parties such as Alleanza Nazionale, that are identified with neofascism.
  • France - Front Nationale led by Le Pen, came second in first round of 2002 Presidential Election

Roger Eatwell - "Fascism: A History" - argues modern day fascists are operating on a more diminished scale than fascists in the 1930's adn that simplistic comparisons with the inter-war facists is difficult to maintain. It now focuses on a populist backlash against immigration and multiculturalism. This primarily appeals to disaffected voters who feel that mainstream parties do not represent their views.

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