- The ideas of fascism’s structure grew up in opposition to the The Enlightenment by casting doubt on the extent of human reason often to defend a weakened traditional order. Fascism became a vehicle for anti-Enlightenment rhetoric. Disdain for political reason was demonstrated in several ways. Firstly, there was a marked anti-intellectual feeling shown in Mussolini’s favourite slogan 'Inactivity is death’. Fascism argues that humans should trust their emotions to understand what is the right course of action.
- Secondly, rather than a total rejection of the Enlightenment principles, fascists sought to turn them upside down. Freedom came to mean complete submission to the authority figures i.e. freedom from conventional political thought and the ability to express your true, emotive nature. This gave fascism a creative angle. Through destruction of the old order, they look to usher in a new civilisation.
- Thirdly, by abandoning reason fascists placed their faith in the highly emotive concept of organic community which the Nazis exemplified in the Volksgemeinschaft (the ‘people’s community’). This meant that they were able to argue that other rivalries such as class and gender were subordinated to the rivalries between nations. They also wanted to create a new type of man, one who lived by a code of personal self-sacrifice in the name of the nation.
- Charles Darwin, famous for his theories on evolution had a sustained impact on political thought for decades and his ideas later gave theoretical structure to the emerging fascist movement as major thinkers believed that struggle was a natural and very important element of social and international life as through it the strongest people would rise to the top and prosper. The ultimate expression of this was war, as Hitler said to officers in 1944: ‘Victory is to the strong and the weak must go to the wall’. Fascists came to view ‘good’ as being equal to ‘strong’ and consequently ‘bad’ with ‘weak’. To maintain a healthy people, weakness must be eliminated as the survival of all is more important than the survival of one. This gave justification for the program of eugenics by the Nazi regime from the mid 1930s onwards, first aimed at disabled people in Germany, who were forcibly sterilised and from 1939-41 methodically murdered and then in an unprecedented scale of racial eugenics, the Nazis attempted the extinction of the Jewish population of Occupied Europe.
- Finally, expansionism gave an international formation of this view of life as a ceaseless struggle, as a people’s strength can only be illustrated through conquest. This began, following a period of mass rearmament, with the annexation of Austria in 1938 and occupation of Poland in ’39 was never renounced by the Hitler regime because, despite facing a war on two fronts, they continued their quest for expansion into Russia in 1941, believing they deserved to be conquered.
Fascism: Leadership and elitism
- Fascism can be said to be alone in its total rejection of equality in favour of elitism. They argue that equality of any kind was undesirable because people have different natural roles . For fascists, there were essentially three types of people. There was the unimpeachable ruler, the warrior elite such as the SS or brownshirts who serve as bodyguards to the ruler and finally the weak masses.
- Friedrich Nietzsche influenced fascist vision of ‘the ruler’ as his work advanced the theory of the Ubermensch, translated as ‘superman’, an individual who has the capacity to shed all conventional morality. This concept was remodelled to justify totalitarian leadership based around the individual's power to inspire fanaticism. Both Hitler and Mussolini fashioned their image as the all-powerful leader around this. The boundless authority ascribed to them meant that they became synonymous with the nation itself. It was regularly seen at rallies that Nazis would chant 'Adolf Hitler is Germany, Germany is Adolf Hitler'.
- By building the fascist state around the principle of Fuhrerprinzip (the leader principle) the need for elections or open parliament ceased asleaders were alone seen to have the philosophical wisdom to define the destiny of the people.This notion grew to become what J. L. Talmon referred to as 'totalitarian democracy', expressed in this sense not passively through marking an X on the ballot paper but is enlivened through the use of propaganda and agitation in the form of rallies and mass popular demonstrations as a way of to recruit the masses to the politics of the regime.
Both the Nazis and Italian Fascists argued that their ideology was a form of socialism. Prior to embracing fascism Mussolini had been a high profile member of the fledgling Italian Socialist Party and for its part, the Nazi Party articulated an ideology which they referred to as National Socialism. Many see this as cynicism to lure the working class away from the SPD, which many had lost faith in following their support for the First World War.
Firstly, the social base of fascism was the lower middle class of small business owners who were losing out to big capitalism as the process of mass industrialisation intensified infusing fascism with a disdain for big business similar to that of communism that were expressed through the grassroots organisations such as the SA.
Secondly, there was a central collectivist element to fascism as well as communism, in that they both believed in ‘Common good Before Private Good’. As such they despise the materialism and competitive drive that capitalism harbours as it threatens the cohesion of the national community.
· Thirdly, as can be seen in Hermann Goering’s Four Year Plans, the Nazis practiced centralised economics akin to those that were used by Marxism-Leninist regimes, in a bid to control and ultimately reconstruct German capitalism. As leader of the British Union of Fascists Oswald Mosley stated 'Capitalism is the system by which capital uses the nation for its own purposes. Fascism is a system by which the nation uses capital for its own purposes.'
- Given its tendency for struggle fascists have consistently been known to adopt an extremely chauvinistic and imperialist brand of nationalism. This can be attributed to their stance that nations are not interdependent but are in contrast rivals in a war for international dominance. In terms of domestic policy this saw a widespread persecution of non-native cultures which increased during the inter war period due to feelings of bitterness following defeat during the First World War.
- The nationalism that fascists cultivate is founded on more than strong feelings of patriotism; it is essentially a spiritual belief in the prospect of national rebirth, embodied in Charles Maurras’ idea of integral nationalism, that the individual should willingly allow their own personality to be absorbed into that of the national community. By arguing in favour of a national rebirth akin to a ‘phoenix arising from the ashes’, fascists sought to use this awakening to relive the glorious past of their nations, be that the empire of Rome or the Reichs of Charlemagne and Bismarck.
- In practice this belief manifested itself in a taste for war and conquest, driven by a sense of national, and in the case of the Nazis, racial superiority. The invasion of the Soviet Union was an attempt to build a ‘Greater Germany’, and Italy looked to the well-resourced countries of Africa for their future empire. In terms of economics, these empire were based around national self-sufficiency above all else. In this sense expansionism was not only of ideological value but an economic tool, as more resources needed to be brought under the control of the nation for it to remain economically independent.
Fascism: Criticism of fascism and socialism
However, there are deep problems with the concept of fascist socialism. Firstly, leftist contingents within both the Nazis and the Italian Fascists, were ostracised and subsequently purged once fascist movements had achieved power. As such Marxists, following theorist Leon Trotsky, have argued that fascism is effectively a form of counter revolution used by the ruling class to crush workers' organisations and shore up capital in times of crisis. This can be seen, for Marxists, in the fact that traditional authoritarian conservatives in Germany gave support to the Nazis.· Secondly, the idea of international working class solidarity is seen as treacherous by fascists, as it suggested that there was a community that transcended the national one. As such one the primary tactics used by fascists was the attempt to ensnare workers away Marxism and as such anti-communism was a more popular trend than anti-capitalism.· Finally, pragmatism took priority over ideology with regards to economics within fascist states and as a result fascist movements often ended up pandering to big business for support after they seized power.