An Analysis of Fascism:  Part Two

Russell Haggar

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An Analysis of Fascism:  Part Two


Before embarking on a detailed analysis of fascist ideology let us refer to some comments form John Hoffman and Paul Gregory in their textbook entitled “Introducing Political Theory [2006] Thus they point out that the historian Hugh Trevor Roper described fascist ideology as “an ill-sorted hodge-podge of ideas” but argue themselves that” while fascism is peculiarly flexible as an ideology there are particular features that characterise it so that a general view of fascism can be created. Vincent [Andrew Vincent; Modern Political ideologies 1995] argues that fascism “often occupies a middle ground somewhere between rational political ideology on the one hand and opportunist adventurism on the other.”


The core elements of Enlightenment thinking are summarised below.


  1. Enlightenment thinkers drew especially on the scientific revolutions of the 16th and 17th centuries to argue that traditional attitudes and values and , in some cases, the religious beliefs as expounded by the established church had  limited social progress and human happiness and that if humanity was to make further progress what was required was a greater emphasis on the use of the scientific method for the understanding of the natural world rather than reliance on irrational thinking of various kinds.
  2. Scientific inquiry and rational analysis could provide valid explanations of natural phenomena leading to scientific and technical developments which could improve living standards and hence human happiness
  3. Enlightenment social theorists began to argue similarly that the rational analysis of societies could lead also to social and political reform which could improve the human condition. These theorists helped to some extent to create the climate of opinion contributed to the American Revolutionary Wars of 1775-1783 and the French Revolution of 1789 although it must be emphasised that most Enlightenment thinkers espoused mildly liberal rather than radical views and few Enlightenment thinkers supported the later radical phase of the French Revolution.
  4. This Enlightenment optimism was soon criticised by conservatives who claimed that the dangerous speculations of Enlightenment theorists had opened an intellectual can of worms which led ultimately to the Terror of the latter stages of the French Revolution.
  5. It was criticised also by Romantics who claimed that the Enlightenment emphasis on science, rationality and calculation distracted attention from the importance of the emotional life which was, according to the romantics, even more central to human happiness.



Enlightenment ideas were linked most closely with the development of liberalism although socialists increasingly argued that liberalism could not actually deliver on its promise of individual freedom and social progress because these depended on the achievement of greater economic equality than any liberals have ever been prepared to recommend.


Be that as it may in the course of the C19th and early C20th a wide variety of intellectual criticisms of Enlightenment rationalism were made. In broad terms it was argued that the Enlightenment had focused excessively on the importance of individual rationality and understated the importance of the emotional life as a source of human happiness. Also it was argued that in any case individuals were far less rational than was implied by Enlightenment thinkers and in particular that because of the irrationality of the masses especially it was both inevitable and desirable that political systems were dominated by political elites who alone were capable of making complex decisions. Also significant were the claims of theorists such as Herbert Spencer who argued that human social life could not be organized according to harmony and co-operation because it was in fact based upon a struggle for survival which the most talented individuals had to win if the human race was to make social progress. Also whereas Enlightenment ideas could be linked to the development of liberal nationalism based upon the principles of national sovereignty, by the late C19th support for expansionist chauvinist nationalism and related racialism was increasing. .


We can complete the following table to show in more detail how various theorists contributed to the criticism of Enlightenment thinking. Although these theorists would not  necessarily have supported the ideology of Fascism and would often have been opposed to it  we can see nevertheless  see how it was possible that such ideas could be support misrepresented and manipulated to provide apparent respectable intellectual support for  fascism. {I shall actually complete the table later since I do not wish to focus on this aspect of the topic today!


Theorist/s Possible influences on the development of Fascism
Jean Jacques Rousseau  
Romantic movement  
Georges Sorel  
Gustav Le Bon  
Charles Darwin as interpreted by Herbert Spencer  
Friedrich Nietzsche  
Sigmund Freud  
Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca. Robert Michels [= Elite theorists]  
Expansionist nationalist thinkers [e.g. Charles Maurras]  
Racialist thinkers e.g.  Arthur De Gobineau and Houston Chamberlain.  



Fascism and Ultra-Nationalism


It is clear that one element and perhaps the most important element of Fascist ideology is its extreme or ultra nationalism and you could  note, for example that two of the theorists quoted by Heywood include an emphasis on nationalism in their brief definitions of fascism.


In his chapter on Nationalism Heywood distinguishes between liberal nationalism, conservative nationalism, expansionist nationalism and post-colonial nationalism. In relation to the study of fascism it is especially important to distinguish between liberal nationalism and expansionary nationalism.


Liberal nationalists use their support for the principles of liberalism to argue that all countries have the right to independent self-determination and they believe also that democratic states especially are most likely to respect the sovereignty of other states thus making war less likely. Critics have argued, however, that liberal internationalists are over-optimistic because nationalist sentiments may be based upon powerful emotions rather than upon reason and may easily lead to conflict especially when state boundaries do not coincide with national boundaries.


Expansionist nationalism is associated with the growth of imperialism especially in the late C19th. European states came increasingly to see themselves as rivals and hoped to improve their competitive position by colonizing Africa. This imperialism was popular domestically [perhaps because domestic politicians were using imperialism to deflect attention from poor social and economic conditions] and it was based also on the assumed biological and cultural superiority of the white “races”. Expansionist nationalism is also often described as chauvinistic nationalism to suggest the superiority of one nation over another. [The term “chauvinist” derives from the name, Nicholas Chauvin, of a French soldier renowned for his loyalty to Napoleon 1st.] Expansionary nationalists do not believe in rights of national self-determination but in the rights of allegedly superior nations to conquer and dominate other nations.


Xxxxat this point need something on German and Italian nationalism prior to Fascism.fascism as taking up existing nationalist themes…also need to emphasise the theoretical links between socialism an d nationalism.


It is argued that Fascists were especially likely to emphasise the defects and limitations of their nation as it currently existed in comparison both with some mythical golden age and with the future transformation of the nation which the fascists hope to bring about: thus Italian and German fascists stressed the defects of liberal democratic regimes which existed prior to the Italian fascist and Nazi take over of power. These liberal democratic regimes were weak: they were responsible for the economic problems of the post 1st World War period and their competing political parties and independent pressure groups representing different social classes or sectional interests were divisive and therefore undermined the unity of the nation which was essential if national interests were to be safeguarded.


Individuals had become too self -interested  but at the same time passive and weak while intellectuals encouraged a misguided emphasis on theoretical thought whereas what was necessary was to reinvigorate the strength, will , national unity desire for action among  the German and Italian people respectively. In this respect fascists emphasized a comparison between current national decadence and their mythical great and glorious past as evident in the history of the Roman Empire and the Ist and 2nd Reichs of Charlemagne and Bismarck respectively.


Under Fascism it was claimed the Italian and German nations could be reborn and recover the greatness of their past history and it is in this sense that Roger Griffin has argued that the mythic core of fascism is its palingenetic populist ultra nationalism. Fascist leaders believed that their national interest could be served only by territorial expansion which would be possible only via military conquest and this meant that it would be necessary to create the “New Fascist Man” who would be tough, militaristic and obedient to the national interest as interpreted by the leader. Thus in Italy key fascist slogans were “Believe: Fight: Obey”; “Order, Authority, Justice”; “War is to man as childbirth is to women”; and “Better to live one day as a lion than one hundred years as a sheep.” Meanwhile “New Fascist Women were to concentrate especially on the production of healthy new children for the new fascist regime.


Sentiments such as these especially when expertly articulated in the difficult and unstable times of the 1920s and 1930s by charismatic speakers such as Mussolini and Hitler could be expected to strike a chord with those who already espoused extreme nationalist sentiments and although many Italians and Germans supported nationalist expansion via diplomatic means it proved much more difficult to convert other Italians and Germans to nationalist expansion via military conflict.,


Hitler’s ultra-nationalistic grand design was to establish Germany as the dominant world superpower via the reversal of the provisions of the Versailles Treaty, the annexation of Austria into a new Greater German Reich and German domination of Eastern Europe and the USSR which were to provide Lebensraum or living space for the expanding German population. Finally in his unpublished “Second Book” Hitler envisaged that Germany might subsequently have to embark on war with the USA to resolve the final battle for world supremacy.


It was obvious to Hitler that even if revision of the Versailles Treaty might in principle be resolved via diplomatic means, any attempt to dominate  the USSR would inevitably lead to war as would any attempt to seriously challenge USA hegemony. In this respect Hitler’s ultra-nationalist and militarist plans were linked directly with the Nazis’ emphasis on the importance of racial purity as a means of ensuring success in what they believed to be the competitive struggle for racial survival. In this view the Germanic. Aryan Race was itself to be purged of all undesirable elements such as the” hereditarily” sick and disabled, criminal and anti-social elements and political opponents whose existence diluted the purity of the German Race and whose destruction would ensure the survival of the German race against its racial enemies [most notably the Jews and the Slavs] and its political enemies [most notably the USSR Bolsheviks and their supporters as well as the Western liberal capitalist economies].


]Race and politics were for the Nazis always interrelated in that both USSR Bolshevism and Western liberal capitalism were always assumed in the Nazi world view to be dominated by Jewish interests although the dictates of Realpolitik sometimes seemed to override ideology at least temporarily as especially when Hitler negotiated a non-aggression pact with the USSR in 1939 only to initiate the disastrous military invasion of the USSR in 1941.]


It was claimed in Nazi ideology that the processes of domestic struggle against internal political opponents and racial purification would result in the rebirth of the German spirit imbuing the German people with the aggressive and militaristic nationalist values which would enable them to vanquish their foreign enemies in war. However the Nazis recognized also that it would be difficult enough to retain their popularity in the difficult economic circumstances of the 1930s without suggesting to the German people that it would be necessary to embark upon another large scale war against militarily powerful opponent sin order to secure German expansion. In particular despite the Nazi and Italian Fascist emphasis on the militarily camaraderie engendered during the First World War many [although not all] veterans of the First World War were especially opposed to the prospect of future wars which were in fact more popular among the younger generation who had not experienced the horrors of trench warfare and were perhaps more susceptible to pro-war fascist fantasies


Therefore despite the emphasis in Fascist ideology on the desirability of military nationalist expansion facilitated via the regeneration of militaristic values Hitler aimed in the 1930s for both domestic and international reasons to emphasise disingenuously that he was first of all a man of peace who respected other nations’ interests and sought the revision of the Versailles Treaty through diplomatic not military means .In  each case  the reoccupation of the Rhineland in 1936, the Anschluss with Austria and the invasion of Czechoslovakia all evoked considerable fear of impending war among the German people suggesting, unsurprisingly that few of them had internalized militaristic fascist values . However once it became clear that the Western powers were prepared to accept Germany’s territorial gains rather than go to war to reverse them Hitler’s popularity soared because of these perceived diplomatic successes. Yet now Hitler’s mistaken gamble that the Western powers would also not fight in the defence of Poland against German aggression was to usher in the conflagration of the Second World War.


xxx. War for Mussolini was hopefully to involve the creation of an Italian empire in Africa [the Italians had invaded Abyssinia in 1934 nne something on Italian fascism and nationalism…African empire…Greece , Balkans, Austrai , s,France …Spanish civil war , stay out of war a long time…not especially keen on Hitler etc.m