U. Backes (ed.), Rechsextreme Ideologien im 20 und 21 Jahhundert (Bohlau Verlag, Cologne, 2003) 

The Nature of ‘Generic Fascism':

The 'Fascist Minimum' and the 'Fascist Matrix'

Roger Eatwell[1]



Writing in the late 1980s, Tim Mason lamented 'Whatever Happened to Fascism?'[1] Mason was not referring to the disappearance of the 'f' word from current discourse (to this day, 'fascism' remains a commonplace in popular demonology). Nor was he mourning a dearth of academic books about fascism. Rather, Mason was referring to the decline of the academic view that inter-war Europe was characterised by an explosion of ‘fascist’ movements and regimes. Outside the Marxisant left (where fascism continues to be viewed as the dictatorship of capitalism in crisis), conventional wisdom had come to hold that 'fascisms' differed notably. Many scholars even held that what had previously been seen as the two core exemplars, Italian Fascism and German National Socialism, were in fact not members of the same party family.[2] Among political historians, one crucial difference was found in the allegedly more formal nature of the Italian Fascist state compared to the mercurial and murderous Nazi regime. Even more commonly, the argument held that the Nazism's virulent racism made it sui generis.[3]


Yet by the late 1990s, Roger Griffin could claim that there was a 'new consensus' about the nature of ‘generic fascism’.[4] At the turn of the decade, Griffin had set out to delineate a version of what Ernst Nolte in the 1960s had termed the 'fascist minimum'. This involved setting out a brief definition, based mainly on an empathetic reading of fascist doctrine and propaganda. This had led Nolte to see fascism as: 'anti-Marxism seeking to destroy the enemy by the development of a radically opposed yet related ideology…within the unyielding framework of national self-assertion and autonomy'. At a deeper level, Nolte held that the core of fascism was to be found in its ‘resistance to transcendence’ (by which he meant hostility to liberalism's and socialism's a priori vision of a 'new man', radically uprooted from tradition).[5] Subsequently, Nolte added a list-form minimum, seeing fascism in terms of: i) anti-Marxism; ii) anti-liberalism; iii) the Führer principle; iv) the paramilitary party; v) the tendency to anti-conservatism; and vi) the aim of totalitarianism.[6] By the 1980s, partly in an attempt to give the 'minimum' more analytical purchase, Nolte was increasingly stressing the anti-Marxist dimension - in particular, by claiming that Nazism was a mirror of the horrors of Soviet communism (an assertion which led to a bitter 'Historikerstreit' in Germany, as critics held that Nolte was trying to relativise rather than explain the course of Nazi history - especially the Holocaust).[7]


Griffin's 1990s’ one sentence minimum held that:

'Fascism is a genus of political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism’.[8]

Gone was Nolte's focus on what Stanley Payne, in an elegant tripartite re-working of the list approach, has termed fascism’s ‘negations’ (Payne identified the other two definitional dimensions as lying in fascism's style and organisation, and its ideology and goals).[9] Instead, Griffin’s line was closer to that of two other pioneers of the empathetic approach - namely, Emilio Gentile and George Mosse.[10] Griffin portrayed fascism as a revolutionary alternative form of modernity, whose mythical goal was the rebirth/palingenesis[11]of a 'new man' after a period of decadence. By 1998, Griffin was claiming that a growing number of scholars were employing the empathetic approach, including the core of his fascist minimum.[12]


However, the claim that a 'new consensus' has emerged is overstated. Many historians continue to ignore the generic fascism debate, or dismiss it as being of little or no use by way of historical explanation. This seems to be particularly true of historians who focus on understanding Nazism's turbulent trajectory.[13] Griffin's work has unquestionably had an impact on scholars of generic fascism,[14] and on some who have found it fruitful in specific fields, for instance the study of fascist art.[15] But Griffin has his critics even within the growing field of generic fascist studies. In a forthcoming work, David Baker will argue that there are at least two other ‘consensi’: first, the liberal historiographical approach which rejects the overdetermining elements in any conceptual framework, and secondly variations on the developmental dictatorship school.[16] A new work by Kevin Passmore sees Griffin's approach as essentially a reworking of the totalitarian model.[17] Whilst this is misleading in the sense that Griffin is little concerned with refining regime typology, his approach clearly has affinities with mass society theory, which emphasises the role of anomie leading to a quest for new community, culminating in the mass mobilising-state.[18] Indeed, in recent writings Griffin has sought to counter the criticism that his Weberian 'ideal-type' was simply a typological abstraction by joining the camp of those who argue that crisis and trauma led people to worship a new ‘political religion’.[19]


I have already argued that there are serious dangers in over-stressing fascism's affective, rather than its more rational economic and other appeals. It is true that fascism often employed the iconography and language of religion, such as hagiographic processions and the terminology of ‘rebirth’. But in part this was a propagandistic attempt to exploit existing sentiments, or to counter the religious mythology of the left. Most fascists did not seek to replace existing religions, at least in the foreseeable future. I have also argued that the rise of fascism was linked to an attempt to delineate a serious nationalist ideology, and that fascism should be defined essentially as an ideology - just like liberalism or socialism.[20] Put another way, fascism can be seen as a collective body of thought about issues such as human nature, and the organisation of economic and political life.[21] Within this fascist ideology, a partly left-influenced productivist economics dimension was crucial - a point which has been underlined by two other pioneers of the empathetic ideological approach - A.J. Gregor and Zeev Sternhell (though neither admit Nazism into the fascist Pantheon on account of its racism).[22] As a result, I have argued that a more comprehensive one-sentence definition holds that 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.[23]


However, whilst ideal type fascist 'minima' are important as categorising devices, they raise a major methodological problem in relation to fascism. Some critics argue that fascism was not essentially ideological - that it was opportunistic and that action and policy were very context dependent.[24] Others, most notably Robert Paxton, have argued that fascism changed dramatically through time.[25] For example, Italian fascism began with a programme which owed much to the left, but by the turn of the 1930s it was more clearly on the right and had signed a Concordat with the Catholic church, yet aspects of the Salò Republic during 1943-5 can be seen as an attempt to return to Fascism's radical roots. Moreover, themes featured in various definitional 'minima' exerted very different appeals even in the same country at the same time. Thus in Weimer Germany, 'anti-Marxism' could invoke a philosophical hostility to materialism on the part of intellectuals, but on the streets it appealed to members of the working class who resented left-wing clientelism,[26] while in the salons and boardrooms of the bourgeoisie the concern was more to defend privilege and property rights against the rising tide of the left.


Therefore, I argue in this paper that the ‘fascist minimum’ needs to be supplemented by what I call the 'fascist matrix'. Instead of seeking to offer a relatively brief definition focusing on specific keywords, the term ‘matrix’ highlights the need to contrast the different ways in which fascists could interpret three partly overlapping key themes. The first theme in the fascist matrix is the quest for a 'new man', which has been central to most of the empathetic school’s attempts to distinguish fascism from the reactionary and reformist right.[27] Second and third are the fascist goals of forging a new sense of nation and state. These themes lay at the very heart of thinking among most key fascist ideologues, and are neatly captured by George Valois, who was shortly afterwards to found the French Faisceau, when he wrote in 1919: 'You want to reformulate the state, restore the nation? You need to appeal to the power of the spirit'.[28]


To be more precise, 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. However, there were notable differences among fascists about the new man, the nation and state. Fascism more than any other ideology has fuzzy edges, overlapping at times both the conservative right and even the left. Part of the problem involved in neatly delineating fascism stems from the fact that in practice it was at times opportunistic - and where it achieved power, it in turn attracted many opportunists. More fundamentally, fascism is elusive because it sought radical syntheses of ideas.[29] This point was put well by Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of fascists in the 1930s, when he wrote: 'In this new synthesis of Fascism…we find that we take the great principle of stability supported by authority, by order, by discipline, which has been the attribute of the Right, and we marry it to the principle of progress, of dynamic change, which we take from the Left.'[30] The point of the matrix is to highlight that instead of simply prioritising key words like 'new man', nation' or 'state', we need to ask how fascists conceived such terms, including what they were defined against. The matrix also shows that syntheses could produce conclusions which tended more to the left or more to the right - for example, in relation to the interests of workers versus employers.


Moreover, the matrix points to the need to break away from a purely history of ideas approach. Differences about themes such as the 'new man' cannot be understood simply in philosophical terms. It is necessary to contextualise the situations in which particular ideas emerged and exerted a popular appeal. For example, nationalism in 1920s' German was evidently likely to have a more expansionary and militarist side than nationalism in Britain at the same time; radical nationalism was also likely to exert a more popular appeal. It must be stressed that the evidence about the exact motives as to why the masses turned to fascism in some countries remains relatively weak, especially outside Germany.[31] Nevertheless, any model of fascism clearly needs to suggest not just to why intellectuals and activists turned to the movement, but also why it could in some countries attract widespread support. An advantage of the matrix is that it points away from what might be termed 'one dimensional man' views of behaviour. People turned to fascism for a variety of reasons, including affective ones, economic ones and community norms.[32]


In the pages that follow, I seek to delineate the main inter-war sub-themes within this matrix and to explore their parameters. As the broad goal of this chapter is to refine the debate about generic fascism, I do not engage in specific national debates, such as to what extent Franco’s Spain or Salazar’s Portugal can be considered fascist.[33] And whilst the matrix is potentially both diachronic and synchronic, I do not discuss the issue of whether fascist ideology existed before the First World War,[34] nor consider how fascists have adapted doctrine since the end of the Second World War.[35] Ultimately, (though constraints on space prevent me developing the arguments, especially the second) I seek to argue that:

  1. The homogenising-static problems of minimum approaches are over-stated, and the matrix  further reduces the dangers.
  2. The fascist matrix is not simply a definitional abstraction - the matrix can offer insights into concrete historical situations, including the dynamics of Nazism.


1. The New Man

In the mid-1930s Cornelius Codreanu, wrote that: 'This country is dying because of a lack of men not programmes…We do not need to create new programmes, but new men.'[36] The quote is misleading in the sense that, whilst the Iron Guard exhibited a mystical Orthodox religiosity, it did have a programme of agricultural and wider socio-economic reform. But Codreanu’s emphasis on the creation of a ‘new man’ was central to fascist thinking. Some idea of the type of new man sought by fascists can be gauged from Mussolini, who wrote in the 1930s that: 'From beneath the ruins of liberal, socialist, and democratic doctrines, Fascism extracts those elements which are still vital…supercede[s] socialism and supercede[s] liberalism…create[s] a new synthesis…Man is integral, he is political, he is economic, he is religious, he is saint, he is warrior.'[37]


But what was ‘integral’ fascist new man to be like? Was he something totally new, in the way in which the Bolsheviks dreamed of writing a new mentality on to the tabula rasa of both men and women in the post-1917 Soviet Union? Or was new man in many ways a restoration of the old? Whilst fascist leaders like Hitler and Mussolini (unlike more authoritarian-conservative politicians such as Charles Maurras and the Action Française)[38] never suggested the restoration of any form of ancien régime, at times there was a clear admiration of the past. For instance, Fascist developed a cult of ancient Rome (Romanità), although in its more popular manifestations the theme was also clearly deployed for propagandistic reasons. To the extent that there is a strong linking strand in the new man theme it is typified by Alfred Rosenberg’s argument that the key lay in the emergence of a new elite which would manufacture a blend of the old and the new.[39]


1.i. New Elite

Arguably the primary concern of fascist intellectuals was the creation of a new type of elite. Symptomatically, Hitler argued: ‘Isn’t every deed of genius in this world a visible protest of genius against the inertia of the mass.’[40] He argued that the parliamentary system sinned against the laws of nature, which demonstrated the importance of a dynamic aristocracy.[41] Fascists identified parliamentary elites with a series of failings. They preached a false egalitarianism, but at the same time political parties divided rather than united society. Party elites - even on the left - increasingly came from the bourgeois class, which was primarily concerned with short-term commercialism, though without providing leaders who could prevent disasters like the great depression which struck in 1929. At worst, they combined decadence with corruption.


The origins of this elitism were several. In Germany, Social Darwinism, with its emphasis on hierarchy and struggle, was unquestionably important. In Italy, elite theorists such as Roberto Michels (who was to become a supporter of Fascism) exerted a greater appeal. More generally, fin de siècle new ideas in psychology and philosophy about the power of the irrational and need for vitalist leadership began to pervade part of the intellectual scene. Nietzsche, especially his concepts of superman and the will, was particularly important in several continental countries: the young journalist-Mussolini even wrote admiringly about Nietzsche.[42]


Mussolini after 1918 talked of the need for a new young 'trenchocracy', a young elite which had been forged in war. This points to the crucial way in which the First World War turned diverse proto-fascist strands into a more concrete ideology. Valois provides a particularly interesting commentary on this, writing that war had given its participants an understanding of the nature of man that years of school had failed to achieve. According to Valois, the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 had placed people in an equal state of nature, and natural hierarchies had quickly emerged. In particular, war had underlined the importance of the great leader, who could rally morale.[43] However, war helped undermine faith in old elites, who had sent wave after wave to their deaths in pursuit of the 'knock-out blow'. Disillusionment was especially strong in the defeated countries and in Italy, where, for nationalists at least, war had culminated in a ‘mutilated victory’. Max Weber brought the word 'charisma' into the social science vocabulary only after the war, but the experience of 1914-18 and its traumatic aftermath in some countries unquestionably heightened the thirst for a great new leader. In Germany in particular after the battle of Langemarck in 1914, there was a widespread celebration of war and sacrifice for the reborn nation, linked to a longing for the emergence of a great leader. 


1.ii. Martial Man

An important strand in fascist new man thinking was concerned with the need to fight war, which was seen as endemic in the international system (partly as a result of a reading of history in which nation or race replaced the Marxist motor of class). The proto-fascist Maurice Barrès coined in the late nineteenth century the epitaph for the grave of bourgeois, decadent, individualist man: ‘born a man, died a grocer’. Barrès sought to create a French nation which could avenge the humiliating military defeat suffered at the hands of Prussia in 1870. Influenced by Japan’s defeat of Russia in 1905, the Italian Nationalist Enrico Corradini wrote of the need to create a Bushido type ethic in order to help liberate Italy, which he saw as ‘the proletarian nation par excellence, suffocated in a world dominated by the high-handedness and greed of capitalist and plutocratic nations.’[44] After 1917, the emergence of the USSR created another powerful potential enemy for many countries, especially in Eastern Europe. Some fascists celebrated the impact of violence and/or war more in terms of its impact on individuals. Violence was seen as a central act of (young male) bonding in fascist paramilitary groups, which themselves were viewed as part of the new elite -especially the SS. The violence of early Nazism and Fascism in turn provided these movements with a litany of martyrs, designed in part to inspire others to reject the comfortable bourgeois life.


However, war was also seen as pointing to lessons which could be used in economic organisation. The 'conservative-revolutionary' Ernst Jünger celebrated war as creating 'blood socialism', a community of the trenches which counteracted the alienating nature of bourgeois society.[45] Jünger saw this a laying the basis of a new form of economic world in which ‘neither work nor labour will exist in any sense that we have known.’[46] The silver Death’s Head symbol popularly associated with the Nazis was worn before 1914 by the aristocratic cavalry, but during the war it was adopted by elite ‘Stormtroops’ which included all classes. The Death’s Head and Stormtroopers after 1918 were, therefore, symbols of both militarism and a new eglitarian-elitism.


Moreover, paramilitary organization and the immediate post-1918 violence began on the left rather than with fascism. It is true that the left tended to see violence as instrumental rather than as self-actualising. But not all fascists positively valued violence and/or war. This was especially true in countries, such as Britain, which had no territorial aspirations after 1918. To a lesser extent it was also true in France, although here there were fears about German revanchisme which helped encourage martial values in the Faisceau and the more-debatably fascist Croix de Feu.[47] Valois did not so much celebrate war as derive lessons from it: for example, he wrote about the emergence of a sense of fraternity in his battalion, where men had used the egalitarian-familiar 'tu' form of address. Drieu La Rochelle argued that the romance of war had gone in an age of the machine gun, high explosive and mass death. He suggested cultivating the aesthetics of the body and sport as a way of preserving a healthy race, capable of fighting if necessary: politics became an extension of his artistic concerns, which sought to synthesise classicism with surrealism.[48]


1.iii. Women

The term 'new man' is especially appropriate for fascism in the sense that it was very much a male-dominant ethic and its iconography was often highly masculine too. Party membership was also largely masculine (although this would have been true of most parties at this time, even on the left).


Women were mainly conceived in terms of their childbearing capacity, not least to provide new soldiers, and the need to tend their men folk.[49]  In Italy, there were even financial rewards for mothers of large families. However, the tendency in fascist thought to celebrate the important role played by women was something not typical of conservative thought. Hitler, for example, stated in 1934 that: ‘in my State the mother is the most important citizen.’[50] Moreover, in the British fascist movement, women were given tasks which were not stereotypical female ones, including undertaking ‘special patrols’. More generally, women, especially young ones, were given a public role under fascism: they could join organisations, parade in the streets, engage in public sporting activities. They could even adopt leadership roles within their own sphere. It is worth adding that in Nazi Germany, a small number of women achieved prominent positions. For the best known, Leni Riefenstahl, sexual attraction on the part of some Nazi leaders, most notably Josef Goebbels, may have played a part. Nevertheless, but some Nazis seem to have accepted that it was possible for women to display exceptional talents in a male world. These factors seem to have been a factor in attracting many women to fascism in an economically depressed inter-war world where there were few opportunities for women to pursue fulfilling careers. Indeed, by 1932 more women were voting Nazi than men.


Nevertheless, it is important to stress that whilst fascism made women more visible, in general it did not tolerate independent women's organisations in the way that most modern forms of conservatism did. Ideologically, the range of options open to women (of the right racial stock) was very limited.[51]



1.iv. ‘Mass’ Man

Views on the nature of ‘mass’ new man could vary notably among fascists. One strand of fascist thinking was largely contemptuous of the masses, and saw new man largely in terms of being socialised into accepting elite authority. An extreme example of such thinking was Julius Evola, who held that Italian Fascism was too democratic in that it sought mass support rather than the cultivation of a warrior priesthood, which would manipulate the masses through myths. Although Hitler came to pursue, albeit equivocally, the parliamentary road to power, he certainly did not eulogise the wisdom of the masses. Indeed, he wrote in Mein Kampf of the 'mob' needing a leader to make them understand.[52] These were hardly 'populist' views in what is arguably the most common sense of the word - namely, celebrating the wisdom of the people (though Hitler can be seen as populist in another sense - namely, through the way in which he portrayed himself as the representative of a new elite which had risen from the people). There were other sides to the fascist view of mass man. For instance, Walter Darré espoused a kind of back to the land populism in Germany, where man would discover himself in the simple life. However, Darré's blood and soil views were in many ways atypical of leading Nazis in that they were essentially anti-modern.


More typically, fascists placed emphasis on integrating man through a form of manipulated activism in both the political and economic spheres (interestingly, Darré's main intellectual point of contact with other leading Nazis was a highly Manichaean world view, but unlike many of the others, Darré did not see this in part in terms of mass manipulation).  People were encouraged to join the (single) party and linked organisations, such as youth ones. They were encouraged to attend mass celebrations, which unquestionably had a quasi-religious appeal for some. Fascism consciously adopted the language, metaphors and images of Christianity - for instance, opening scenes of Leni Riefenstahl's film of the 1934 Nuremberg rally, Triumph of the Will, in which the shadow of the plane carrying Hitler forms a cross which 'blesses' a column of supporters marching to the rally, and in which back-lighting gives Hitler a halo-effect as he steps down from the plane (or is it a Norse-god chariot?). But in a reversal of the aphorism that 'man cannot live by bread alone', there was also significant emphasis in the Nazi and Fascist regimes on workplace linked organisation which had a modernist, consumerist side. The Dopolavoro and German copy, the KdF, organised events such as mass holidays, for example to the island of Rügen, which had the largest hotel in the world in 1939.


Professional sport too became a form of popular control. This could involve an extension of the collective fervour of mass party meetings - for instance, the choreography and crowd reactions of international football matches when Germany or Italy were playing. But state-subsidised sport could also provide more individualised and even commercially-related pleasures, such as motor sport in which Alfa Romeos, Mercedes and Auto Unions vied for dominance - and national prestige - on Europe's circuits.


2. Nation

Nationalism was central to fascist thought. Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that his dream was: 'A Germanic State of the German Nation.’[53] Later, he planned with his court architect, Albert Speer, the rebuilding of Berlin as a capital fit for a new Thousand Year Reich. Mosley wrote in the early 1930s, thinking more of economic recovery than empire, that: 'We are essentially a national movement, and if our policy could be summarised in two words, they would be "Britain First"'.[54]


But how did fascists conceive the nation? Mussolini frequently talked of completing the work of the Risorgimento, underlining the way in which Italian Fascists believed that much work was to be done to create Italians. Giovanni Papini, later to become a leading Fascist intellectual, put the point crudely when he wrote that Italy: 'had been shit dragged kicking and screaming towards unification by a daring minority, and shit it remained throughout fifty years of unification.'[55] On the other hand, the Nazis tended to see the nation as founded on a primordial Volksgeist and in blood. Nevertheless, there were notable similarities between the various forms of fascist nationalism. All were essentially holistic, stressing the pre-eminence of group over the individual or locality (features of conservative and/or liberal nationalism). Moreover, the centrality of the concept of decadence to fascism underlines the way in which even the Nazis could not take the nation for granted. It needed to be re-forged, bringing the liberal-bourgeoisie and the 'Marxists' (who included the Social Democrats, the largest party of the early Weimar Republic, as well as the relatively large Communist Party) back into the German national community.


2.i. Myths

A key feature in fascist nationalism was what might be termed mythical thought. Mussolini in particular derived from the syndicalist theorist, Georges Sorel, the idea of the motivating myth - a simple slogan that was meant to take on a psychological reality and condition action. Other notable thinkers whose work inspired an interest in political myth were Gustav Le Bon and Sigmund Freud. For the syndicalists before 1914 the great myth was that of the revolutionary general strike. After the masses flocked to the colours at the start of the Great War, the myth of the nation became increasingly attractive as capable of both uniting the people and inspiring ever-greater fighting and productive efforts (whereas most socialism was essentially concerned with re-distribution, the syndicalists stressed the need to create an economy which could compete with capitalist production). Wartime propaganda which helped inspire both hatred and national sacrifice also influenced some who were to become leading fascists. Both Hitler and Goebbels were particularly impressed by British efforts in this sphere (British 'fair play' totally disappeared during 1914-18 in efforts to damn the ‘Beastly Hun’ as capable of the most evil atrocities, such as the mass rape of nuns and bayoneting babies).


However, fascist myths were not designed simply to mobilise people for production or war. Often neglected are exemplar or identity myths. Wagnerian tales of Kingdoms of the Gods and other worlds could have a martial side. But they were also about the deeply rooted identities of Germans in primeval forests and völkisch communities. The cult of Romanità told Italians that they were not a divided, mongrel nation, but the proud descendants of ancient Rome. Such myths were also about more everyday behaviour - for example, the importance of: great leaders, authority, fulfilling one's duty, and the dangers of decadence and miscegenation. In a world of declining traditional authority, especially religion, some fascists saw such myths as an important form of social indoctrination.


Nevertheless, it is important not to over-state the role of mythology in fascism. Whilst there is no doubt that Mussolini was fascinated by the power of myth, several of the leading syndicalists who came over to fascism saw the key task as the construction of a 'synthesis' to produce a rational, stable new order.[56] Arguably two of the key theorists of the Fascist state in practice also had little or no interest in myths - namely, the Nationalist Alfredo Rocco and Giovanni Gentile (the latter co-wrote with Mussolini the entry on fascism in the 1932 Enciclopedia Italiania). Rocco was an academic lawyer by profession, and his main concern was constructing the legal basis of the Corporate State. Gentile was a neo-idealist philosopher, concerned to build a totalitarian 'ethical state'. Turning to Germany, Hitler did not see the nation as a myth in the sense that modern theorists of nationalism talk about an 'imagined community' or the 'invention of tradition'.[57] Hitler saw the German race as an historical reality, whose existence  was supported by modern science.


2.ii. Science

Mythology was also relatively unimportant in British fascism: Mosley was critical of Oswald Spengler's vision of the decline of the West because he argued that modern science could help revive western economies and help them face the challenge of the rise of new states such as Japan. Mosley also saw modern science as the key to helping the poorest, arguing: 'I think we must all agree that it would be possible, by sane organisation of the world, with the power of modern science and of industry to produce, to solve once and for all the poverty problem.'[58] In Germany, aspirations for national Lebensraum were also closely linked to the new science of geopolitics, associated in particular with Karl Haushofer. This portrayed the world as divided into natural spheres, which should be controlled by great powers. Carving the world up into such spheres of interest was seen as legitimate both for productive development and as ultimately likely to reduce the risks of war by removing grey zones. Behind these grand visions of German Lebensraum lay a small army of demographers, statisticians and others who provided the bureaucratic-rational basis for the Holocaust by euphemising a language of death in pursuit off solving rural over-population, or dealing with unproductive labour.[59]


The belief that some nations were fitted to rule over others was reinforced by nineteenth century science. For example, Rosenberg in The Mythos wrote that: ‘The emergence in the nineteenth century of Darwinism and Positivism constituted the first powerful, though still wholly materialistic, protest against the lifeless and suffocating ideas' of the humanist and Christian traditions.'[60] However, it is important not to overstate the impact of developments such as Social Darwinism on fascist thought in general. Some saw it as too biologically reductionist, as involving too unidimensional a view of man. Many fascists, like Drieu La Rochelle, held a more syncretic view. This held that humans belong to a natural order which is governed by scientific laws, including innate inequalities and the naturalness of aggression. But Drieu also held that humans, especially a talented elite, were to some extent free to impose their will and secure change.


2.iii. Race

It is impossible to separate a discussion of science and nationalism from race. It is not necessary to go to the extreme of damning virtually all Germans as anti-semitic to see that racial science held considerable prestige in Germany even before the Nazis came to power.[61] This helps explain the appeal of exterminationist anti-semitism to doctors and others steeped in eugenics, though it is important to note other factors too, including a German Christian tradition of demonising the Jews. However, in general, the 'ordinary' Germans who took part in the shootings of Jews do not seem to have seen this as part of millenarian quest to renew the nation. Rather, extensive propaganda seems to have simply inured them to the fate of Jews.[62] Especially during wartime, this may have been reinforced by the Manichaean conspiracy theory form of anti-semitism, epitomised in the closing scenes of the propaganda film The Eternal Jew (1940), in which it was claimed that: ‘This is no religion…this is a conspiracy against all non-Jews, of a cunning, unhealthy, contaminated race’ (the film was distributed widely in cinemas, including a version for children and women which edited out graphic scenes of kosher killings).


Nazi racism, culminating in the Holocaust, is arguably the key reason why some scholars have sought to distinguish between Nazism and fascism. It is, therefore, important to note that Hitler's biological-conspiracy form of anti-semitism was by no means the most common one within the Nazi leadership, nor was anti-semitism in general central to the Nazis' early appeal.[63] Anti-semitism was linked to a variety of concerns, such as hostility to liberalism, cosmopolitanism, finance capitalism, and Marxism. Dietrich Eckhart saw Jewishness essentially in terms of a materialistic bent, which exists to some extent in everyone Goebbels even spoke of the 'rubbish of race materialism' and regarded Himmler as 'in many ways mad' - though he was happy enough to use anti-semitism when it suited his purposes, such as at the time of Kristallnacht in 1938.[64] Speer seems to have had little time for anti-semitism intellectually, but the charismatic power of Hitler and the drive for personal self-advancement, seems to pushed moral scruples to the back of his mind.


It is also important to stress that Italian Fascism was in its own way racist. It is true that Gentile found biological racism and anti-semitism abhorrent. And Mussolini for many years had a Jewish mistress, and Jews were prominent in the Fascist Party until 1938, when Mussolini introduced Nuremberg style laws. But it is a mistake to portray Mussolini's extensive colonial ambitions as nothing more than mimicry of what many other European states had achieved generations before.[65] This misses the point that international norms for behaviour were changing. It also misses the point that in the 1930s Mussolini wrote the preface to an Italian edition to a book by Richard Korherr (who was to be Himmler’s chief statistician during the war) in which he claimed: ‘the whole White race, the Western race, can be submerged by other coloured races which are multiplying at a rate unknown in our race.'[66] Mussolini may not have hated other races, but he shared the geopolitical racism characteristic of fascism. Moreover, there were some Fascist leaders, like Roberto Farinacci, who were anti-semitic. More important in determining policy was a body of Italian scientific opinion. Although racial science was never as strong in Italy as in Germany, it helped produce an intellectual climate in which apartheid and mass killings of Africans, as happened in Ethiopia after 1935, seemed defensible (Italian racial science was much less concerned about Jews).


2.iv. Europe

Although it is important not to overstress this dimension, it is also worth noting that there was an element of Europeanism in some forms of fascism. Mussolini's reference to the threat from coloured peoples cited above clearly referred to a threat to more than just Italian values. Some fascists in other countries saw Italy as trying to set up a form of fascist international. For instance, a leading member of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), W.E.D. Allen, approvingly wrote that: 'Signor Mussolini appears to aim at an ultimate Pan-European association based on the concepts of Fascism rather than at a literal revival of Roman territorial glories.'[67] The sense of collective threat to Europe can be found even more clearly in relation to the attitudes of some fascists to the USSR. It is vital not to be taken in by the post-war self-justification of Waffen-SS leaders and fighters, like Léon Degrelle,[68] but there was a side to fascism which genuinely portrayed itself as a crusade against Bolshevism.


A key idea of the conservative revolutionaries in the 1920s was the quest for European Imperium, not understood in terms of conquest but in terms of an overarching understanding which would allow different peoples to pursue their own life style, whilst at the same time being linked through a sense of being one. Such Europeanism was sometimes linked to race, but it could also be linked to economic concerns. Nazi economists sometimes sought inspiration in Friedrich List, whose support for autarchy had increasingly become linked to the need to unite Europe against the Anglo-American challenge. Drieu La Rochelle and several other key intellectuals within the Parti Populaire Française (PPF), such as Alfred Fabre-Luce in his journal Pamphlet, similarly saw 'Europe' very much in terms of creating a new non-liberal economic order. Another important dimension of this new Europeanism was belief in rule by technicians and in the need for a break with the corrupt and divisive national parliamentary politics, which had very much been a feature of post-1870 France. Here Europe was being invoked to redress the failings of the nation.


3. The State

A third key theme in fascist thought was the state. Mussolini, for instance, wrote that 'The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value...The Fascist State is…a unique and original creation. It is not reactionary but revolutionary.'[69] For Mussolini, the goal was a positively valued 'totalitarian' state, which would transcend divisions and closely link people and government (a notable contrast to the use of the term 'totalitarianism' after 1945, where it became synonymous with pseudo-mobilisation of the masses, and police-state enforced conformity). Reference to the state was also common in Nazi thought, though terms like 'totalitarianism' or 'total state' were less frequently used (Goebbels was a notable exception). Moreover, support for a strong state was not necessarily associated with dictatorship. Henri De Man wrote of a new conception of nationalism in which the state reflected the expression of the will of a people. The point was put even more clearly by some of the intellectuals in the PPF, such as Drieu La Rochelle.[70] They saw positive affinities between fascism and Jacobinism, especially in their linking of an activist style of politics with the strong state.[71]


Discussing fascist views of the state is difficult for a variety of reasons. One concerns the fact that the term 'state' can refer to a historical entity or a philosophical ideal. It is possible to find fascist statements which are critical of the state, but these tend to refer to the first context. The Nazis were highly critical of the Weimar state, which they saw as colonised by political opponents and unadventurous elites. The impossibility of removing all such state employees in 1933 meant that hostility to the state in this sense did not end with the establishment of a dictatorship. It is also important to remember that the main fascist regimes lasted only a relatively short period of time. In the case of the Nazis, six out of twelve years was spent fighting a war which had led by 1941-2 to massive territorial gains and which involved the marshaling of vast resources. Predictably, the result at times was bureaucratic chaos, with divisions between party and state, and even within the Nazi Party. But this does not mean that Nazism should be seen as an 'anti-state',[72] or that it differed significantly in philosophical terms from Fascism. There were notable differences between the two core regimes, but it is also possible to identify important linkages too - not least in their quest for a new economic order.


3.i. Leadership

Central to fascist thinking about the state was the need for strong leadership. Even Valois, who is generally accepted to have been notably uncharismatic, argued that: 'In order to be great, strong, prosperous, a nation needs leaders', something which he held was unlikely to emerge in the liberal state which was designed to produce mediocrity.[73] Some fascist leaders stressed that leadership could be collective. Valois was one. Mosley (although the dominant figure in his party), was another writing that: 'Modern organisation is too vast and too complex to rest on any individual alone, however gifted'.[74] Codreanu humbly titled himself 'Captain', while Anton Mussert - not inaccurately - referred to himself as 'first among equals'. On the other hand, some fascist leaders, especially Hitler and Mussolini, sought to portray themselves as characterised by a special sense of mission to save the nation and possessed of remarkable powers.


However, this does not mean that their image or style of governing was identical. Although Hitler in the early years of the Nazi Party sometimes played on the corporal-everyman image, he increasingly sought to diffuse a more god-like aura and Nazi propaganda focused on the Führer.[75] In the early years of Fascism, the local ras were arguably more central to campaigning that Mussolini. Later the Duce's image was different. Mussolini was often pictured engaged in sporting activities, even in swimsuit; although Hitler was often pictured in uniform, machismo was arguably less central to his image. In daily life, Hitler tended to indolence and formal Cabinet meetings had ended by 1937. Although Hitler took a significant interest in foreign and later military policy, on major policies - such as the launching of the Holocaust - it is not clear exactly how the Führer was involved. In contrast, Mussolini was hard working and regularly attended formal meetings, including bi-weekly visits to the king.


Nevertheless, this should not be taken to mean that Hitler was, paradoxically, a 'weak dictator'. Whilst he may not have taken part in the detailed planning of many major policies, there seems little doubt that those around him believed that they were 'working towards the Führer'.[76] Although it is very debatable whether Hitler exerted true mass charismatic appeal, there seems no doubt that he exerted considerable affective power over a coterie within the Nazi Party until near the very end.[77] Mussolini too is typically portrayed as exerting charismatic appeal.[78] But this seems to have been more limited both within the party and among the public at large. Indeed, unlike Hitler, the Italian dictator was overthrown as the war began to turn against the Axis powers (only to be rescued and restored in the 1943-5 Salò Republic on Hitler's orders - in part, a mark of fraternity to his fellow fascist).


3.ii. Totalitarianism.

Giovanni Gentile set the philosophy of the totalitarian state out most clearly. He did not defend unbridled dictatorship. Rather, his 'ethical state' involved a critique of the liberal night watchman state and its moral pluralism in which subjectivist relativism reigned over moral certainties. For Gentile, the state was essentially a teacher - \notable difference compared to Mussolini, who was more skeptical of the masses and for whom the strong state was necessary to back up fascist mythology.


Fascists like Gentile believed that the liberal state allowed many of its members to live in abject poverty, whereas the ethical state sought to care for those who were considered part of the true community. As José Antonio Primo de Rivera sarcastically wrote in 1933: ‘You are free to work as you wish…[but] we are rich, we offer you whatever conditions that please us; as free citizens, you are not obliged to accept them if you do not want to; but as poor citizens, if you do not accept them you will die of hunger, surrounded of course by the utmost liberal dignity.’[79] However, it is important to reiterate that the two core fascist states sought to imbue their people with strong national consciousness, and to be prepared to die in war. They were therefore both warfare and welfare states.


In practice, the Fascist state was notably less than totalitarian, conceding significant power especially to the church and business (the monarchy and army too retained some independence, and were crucial to overthrowing Mussolini). Nazism was more totalitarian in the sense that it rapidly came to exert greater control over major businesses such as I.G. Farben (the largest company in Europe until it was overtaken in 1938-9 by the tentacles of the Herman Göring Works’ empire). Nazism was also helped notably in its Gleichschaltung by its penetration of the Protestant church, including the appointment of a Reich Bishop (a development helped by the fact that the fact that authoritarian, nationalist and even anti-semitic views were deeply entrenched in major parts of the Protestant churches; the German and Austrian Catholic churches also had notable anti-semitic strands, but did not see themselves as politically-national churches in the way that some Protestants did). However, there was notably greater similarity between Nazism and Fascism than is normally accepted at the more philosophical level.


Whilst some Fascists did not seek a highly authoritarian, repressive state, there was a strong tendency to reject a central aspect of the Western political tradition dating back to Aristotle and especially the Enlightenment - namely the distinction between state and civil society. A similar point could be made about the Nazis. Whilst there were differences over the exact nature of the state, there was no disagreement over whether there should exist centers of pluralist power which could threaten the national interest. Thus the Märzgefallen 'Crown Jurist' of the early Nazi regime, Carl Schmitt, was concerned with retaining a semblance of the traditional state in the sense of keeping a clearly codified legal structure which could regulate civil society, whereas Hitler preferred vague 'legal' concepts such as the 'people's' or 'Führer's' will'. But central to Schmitt's thought was a friend-enemy dichotomy which meant that there could be no basis of compromise with those who did not support the basic goals of the state.


3.iii. Religion

The issue of whether fascism sought to create a new religion is a crucial one, not least as several recent works have portrayed fascism as a ‘political religion’.[80] As has already been noted, there is no question that many forms of fascism adopted aspects of the discourse and iconography of religion. However, this was a characteristic of other ideologies - not least socialism. In both pre-1914 Germany and Italy, socialism spawned spawned quasi-religious festivals and processions, complete with their own martyrology. Mussolini came from Emilia-Romagna, where socialism took on notably religious forms. Pictures of the Ferdinand Lassale, the founder of the Social Democratic Party, adorned workers’ homes in Germany. Although August Babel criticized this cult, his picture in turn came to be carried regularly in processions by workers.[81] Indeed, theorists such as Corradini saw fascist mythology as necessary propaganda to free the working class of socialist myths. The issue is therefore not so much one of analysing form, as of considering fundamental doctrinal intention and social function and penetration.


There seems no doubt that fascists differed over the issue of whether existing religions needed replacing by a new fascist religion. Several leading Nazis, such as Rosenberg, were willing to attack not just church authority but also Christian doctrine and church pronouncements on specific policy. This included Catholic opposition to sterilization, and later to the 'euthanasia' programme. However, according to Degrelle, Hitler thought that religion did not need attacking directly as this would provoke a dangerous response. Moreover, it would gradually fade away under the dual impact of science undermining its mysticism and consumerism alleviating its appeal to the poor.[82] Albert Speer, who was far closer to Hitler, has written that Hitler believed that the church was indispensable and that any attempt to replace the church by party ideological would lead to a relapse into the mysticism of the Middle Ages.[83] The latter seems to have been Hitler’s basic position – and that of most Nazis. Some Fascists like Mussolini began as rabid anti-clericals, but in general there was no Fascist desire either for direct confrontation with the Catholic Church. Indeed, in 1936, Mussolini suggested to Hans Frank, the Nazi Justice Minister, that relations with the Catholic Church in Germany should be improved. Although this comment needs to be considered within the context of Mussolini's desire to help improve the image of the Nazis within Italy, in order to help forge the Axis,[84] it is interesting to note that Mussolini added that a separation between church and state was crucial, as this provided the state with more freedom In the case of the Iron Guard, the movement actively promoted Orthodoxy and its meetings were regularly attended by priests. Arguably its greatest intellectual supporter, Mircea Eliade, wrote in 1937 that: 'the supreme target of the Legionary revolution, is, as the Captain has said, the salvation of the people, the reconciliation of the Romanian people with God.'[85] Another of the most sophisticated theorists of fascism, Valois, was a practicing Catholic.


It is, therefore, misleading to argue that generic fascist involved the quest to establish a political religion. If there was a common strand it was more syncretism, of Gleichschaltung. Put another way, there was an attempt to remove conflict between the pronouncements of the church and state. However, even here the parties trod carefully. For example, after an initially flurry of activity, including the appointment of a Reich Bishop, the Nazis largely dropped their efforts to create a united 'national' Protestant church, realizing that many within the church were hostile overt political commitments - a view which was strong even among some nationalists[86].


There are also dangers in becoming carried away by evidence such as film of apparently ecstatic crowds and acts of worship at Nazi rallies. As noted in the Introduction, the evidence about the exact motives for supporting fascism even in Germany remains far from definitive.[87] Stress on fascism as a political religion tends to gloss over its more economic view of man, reflected in propaganda promising new consumer goods such as radios, typewriters and even cars. It is worth adding that the Social Democrats’ underground reported that such developments, together with the onset of full employment by the late 1930s, was a crucial factor in consolidating support for the Nazis. Although there was a strand of military-ascetism within fascist thought, there was also a strong belief that fascism could not compete with other forms of government unless it could deliver to 'integral' man high living standards - and ones based not simply on full and stable employment. Whilst totalitarian theorists like Gentile dreamed of an ethical state, characterized by a universal new creed of nationalist-commitment, the more shrewd fascists realized that organisations like the Dopolavoro were more vital for ensuring passive conformity than mass mobilization.


3.iv. Economy

It has become a commonplace to argue that fascism lacked a clear economic vision.[88] Certainly Hitler argued for the primacy of politics over economics and pointed to the dangers of setting out specific economic policies, which would appeal to sectional groups. Nevertheless, the Nazis after 1928 developed a notable panoply of economic programmers and occupation-based organizations, which almost certainly were crucial to attracting support in sectors such as agriculture.[89] Moreover, a case can be made that after 1933 the Nazis did develop a relatively clear economic programme based on a state-private market symbiosis to achieve a stable increase in production.[90]


An important linking theme in fascist thought was a rejection of philosophical materialism. As Valois wrote: 'It's not the case, as Marx believed, that the mode of production determines moral, political and intellectual life: rather, it is the intellectual, moral and political life which determines economic formations.'[91] Fascist intellectuals saw capitalism as potentially dynamic, but also as a social solvent, prone to trade cycles and increasingly unconcerned with the nation: what was good for General Motors was not necessarily good for Germany! On the other hand, socialism with its highly redistributionist and anti-private property ethic, threatened to undermine economic creativity and to create in its place a stultifying bureaucratically planned state.


Most inter-war fascists saw corporatism as the key institutional form to resolve this dilemma. In practice, the Italian Corporate State failed to live up to the expectations of some early Fascists, especially the syndicalists who had seen it as a genuine way of shifting power towards the workers with acerbating class antagonism. By the late 1930s, the Corporations provided a forum for helping government to coordinate business activity, but they hardly challenged private business power and worker participation was essentially a sham. To the extent they can be considered in terms of an individual creator, the more right wing, social-Catholic vision of Rocco had prevailed over the syndicalists like Panunzio. The Nazis made no attempt forge a corporate state, but this does not mean that there was no interest in various forms of corporatism within the party. Gregor Strasser, for example, sought to extend pre-1933 Nazi worker's organisations in this way. Gottfried Feder also wrote extensively about the representative role of corporations in the new state, claiming in 1919 that: ‘The new state must therefore make a radical break…The House of the People (as the first chamber) represents the political interests of the whole people, while the Central Council must represent the economic interests of the working population.’[92]


The various forms of fascism can be conceived as attempting to forge what some openly termed a 'Third Way' (neither capitalism nor socialism). In some ways, this involved an essentially cultural turn, epitomized by the beautification of factories programme of the KdF. Such workplace tinkering was perfectly consistent with creating a quietist labour force at a time of growing full employment to boost capitalist profits (which helps explain the lack of opposition to most Nazi policies from the business sector). This in turn helps explain why Marxists like Walter Benjamin have talked of the ‘aestheticisation of politics’ by fascist parties and states. The clear implication is that the underlying reality was one of manipulative exploitation in the workplace – and bread and circuses more generally. But true fascists (rather than conservatives in fascist drag) sought a political and economic revolution too. This involved a centrally co-ordinated economy with the intention of radically modernising existing systems of production, distribution and exchange, and of harmonising the state and civil society around third way productive relations intended to avoid the pitfalls of both divisive market mechanisms and inefficient prescriptive state direction. This form of political economy derives its authority from the strong state (embodied in the leader), but sought to obtain its drive from a civil society embodied in the combination of a selfless nationalist working ethic tinged with consumerism.



In the introduction, I noted that there have been two major charges against fascist minimum approaches: First, there is the claim that they homogenize fascism, that they fail to see its contradictions, opportunism and the way it changed through time. Secondly, there has been the argument that such approaches are essentially typological abstractions and offer little or nothing by way of insight into the dynamics of concrete historical situations.


Misleading Homogenisation?

Fascism was undoubtedly an ideology obsessed with propaganda, and it can be difficult to distinguish between manipulative statements and fundamental belief. At times fascism was opportunistic, and can appear contradictory in practice. However, these traits are not unique to fascism (vide the opportunistic changes and literally murderous disputes within post-1917 Bolshevism – fascism never witnessed anything like the volte face of the ‘New Economic Policy’, or of world revolution turned upside down into ‘Socialism in One Country’, followed by mass purges). Arguing that fascism was in many ways incoherent, even nihilistic, reflects the strong tendency to focus on the brief practice of two inter-war fascist movements and regimes, rather than its more generic ideology.


The argument that fascism changed through time is also in many ways misleading. Paxton argues that fascism went through five stages: i) the initial creation of fascist movements; ii) rooting the movement in a political system; iii) the acquisition of power; iv) the exercise of power; v) the longer run radicalization or entropy of fascism.[93] The argument has at least three major problems. First, Paxton effectively has to have a working definition to identify fascist movements and regimes. As Griffin has pointedly noted, Paxton’s minimum in practice seems to be remarkably close to what Griffin terms the ‘new consensus’.[94] Secondly, it is widely accepted among those who have sought to build models of generic fascism that only two movements came to power largely through their own efforts – namely, Nazism and Fascism. Building a general conceptual approach where for three of the five alleged key stages N=2 seems a strange methodology to those more attuned to social science theory. Finally, Paxton glosses over the fact that fascism was always characterised by divisions. This was not simply tensions between movements and regimes, but also within them at the personal and local level. For example, Italian Fascism in 1919 grouped together a motley crowd, including Marxists converted to nationalism like Mussolini, syndicalists, Futurists, and miscellaneous others (with many of the burgeoning rank and file typified more by a taste for violence than doctrine). During the closing months of the Salò Republic, there were splits between radicals who sought to rediscover the 'true' nature of early Fascism, genocidal anti-semites, the irretrievably corrupt, and others. And was the last of these phases entropy or radicalization?


Abstract Typology?

Near the end of his life, Tim Mason confessed that the post-1960s' fashion for social over political history had failed to answer two great questions posed by Nazism: why support for Nazism was so widespread and enduring; and how could the Third Reich carry out a policy of genocide.[95]


Why fascism emerged, and why the Nazi regime in particular proved so internally bomb-proof, remain hotly contested issues. Some historians have recently reverted to relatively unicausal explanations, especially the claim that fascism was a ‘political religion’. Most recent historians of Nazism have tended more towards a Volkspartei explanation, but this leaves open the question of why different groups turned to Nazism. The answer clearly implied by the matrix approach is that there were notably different motives for supporting fascism. Hitler's charisma undoubtedly had an effect, although it is difficult to decipher whether the impact of this was an essentially affective-quasi-religious response, or whether Hitler's personality made voters more aware of policies which could appeal in a more rational way.[96] Certainly it is important not to overlook materialistic factors in explaining fascist support. Quietist conformity, induced by fear of the more terroristic nature of the Nazi state compared to the Italian, should also not be ignored.


There has been much recent discussion of the old thesis that a crucial root of the Holocaust lay deep in Germany's alleged anti-semitism. In spite of Daniel Goldhagen's sweeping damnation of the German racial soul, most historians accept that a complex set of factors led to genocide. This includes a culture of anti-semitism, not least in the German and Austrian churches. The nature of German racial science provided important legitimation to the genocidal solution of dealing with Jews in conquered territories. Within the bureaucracy, there were many civil servants who believed they were rationally planning a better economy for a new Germany, or who were simply pursuing their own self-interest. Anti-semitic conspiracy theory, which was particularly characteristic of Nazi party officials, undoubtedly encouraged a Manichaean sense of apocalyptic war with the Jews. So too did Hitler's coterie charisma, which encouraged leading colleagues and lower officials to vie for the favour of the Führer, often radicalising policy in the process. Indeed, without the Führer there would almost certainly have been no Holocaust in the sense of mass, systematic killing. Nevertheless, when all is said and done, the Holocaust in practice almost certainly had more with what Hannah Arendt has termed the ‘banality of evil’ than with fanatical dreams of personal or social rebirth.


Moving On

In this presentation of the fascist matrix, limitations on space meant that the main focus was on delineating ideology rather than explaining policy. However, most of the key factors leading to the Holocaust can be gleaned from this approach. In the presentation above, the main emphasis was on trying to distil coherence from within the tensions in inter-war fascism. However, the same matrix method could have been used to highlight changes through time - though without turning these into a rigid set of stages which are even more misleading than 'static' fascist minimum approaches.


The time has come to accept that behind the opportunistic aspects of fascist movements and regimes lay a serious ideology (just like liberalism and socialism). Approached in the right way, defining generic fascism is not simply an exercise in typological analysis. Demonising the practice of fascism, especially the terror and horrors of Nazism, without understanding the different routes by which people could be attracted to fascism is a serious intellectual error.

[1] I am indebted to Uwe Backes for his comments on the first draft.

[1] The title of his chapter title in Thomas Childers and Jane Caplan (eds), Reevaluating the Third Reich (Holmes and Meier, New York, 1993).

[2] For a good example of the argument that only Italian Fascism, and clearly mimetic

movements, are ‘Fascist’ see Gilbert Allardyce, ‘What Fascism Is Not. Thoughts on the Deflation of a Concept’, American History Review, Vol. 84, No. 2, 1979.   It is important to note that even before 1945, the term ‘fascist’ was rarely  used as a form of self-ascription outside Italy, where the Fascist movement was first founded in 1919 (taking its name from the word ‘fascio’, meaning in a political context a ‘union’ or ‘front’).

[3] Social historians tended to stress Germany's alleged Sonderweg. For a powerful critique of the Sonderweg thesis see David Blackbourn and Geoff Eley, The Peculiarities of German History (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1984).

[4] Roger Griffin (ed.), International Fascism (Edward Arnold, London, 1998).  See also Roger Griffin, ‘The Primacy of Culture: the Current Growth (or Manufacture) of Consensus within Fascist Studies’, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 35, No., 1, 2002.

[5] Ernst Nolte, Three Faces of Fascism (Mentor, New York, 1969), p537ff

[6] Ernst Nolte, Die Krise des liberalen Systems und die fascistischen Bewegungen (R. Piper and Co, Munich, 1968), p.385, n.64.

[7] On the 'Historikerstreit', see Richard .J. Evans, In Hitler's Shadow. West German Historians and the Attempt to Escape from the Nazi Past (I.B. Tauris, London, 1989). For a brief summary of Nolte's views on this debate, and relatively sympathetic criticism from a leading French historian, see François. Furet and Ernst Nolte, Fascism and Communism (University Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 2001).

[8] Roger Griffin, The Nature of Fascism (Pinter, London, 1991), p.26 (italics in the original). See also Roger Griffin (ed.), Fascism (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1995), an eclectic and erudite Reader of fascist sources, which has been used widely by other scholars.

[9] Stanley Payne, 'The Concept of Fascism' in Stein U. Larsen, Bernt Hagtvet and Jan P. Mykelbust (eds), Who Were the Fascists? (Universitetsforlaget, Bergen, 1980). See also his excellent book Fascism: Comparison and Definition (University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1980).

[10] See for example: Emilio Gentile, Le Origini dell'Ideologia Fascista (1918-25) (Laterza, Rome, 1975), and George L. Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology. Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich (Grosset and Dunlap, New York, 1964) .

[11]  The term ‘palingenesis’ appears to have been first used in this context by Gentile in Le Origini dell'Ideologia Fascista (1918-25), p.205.

[12] In International Fascism Griffin specifically cites (p.15) as recent examples my Fascism. A History (Chatto and Windus, London, 1995) and Stanley Payne’s  A History of Fascism, 1914-45 (University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1995), in which Payne moved fascism’s positive ideology and goals to first place in his tripartite approach (p.7).

[13] For example, Michael Burleigh’s prize-winning The Third Reich. A New History (Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2000) includes no reference to Griffin.

[14] An interesting example is the grafting of Griffin's stress on palingenesis onto a neo-Marxist analysis, stressing the crisis of capitalism in Mark Neocleous, Fascism (Open University Press, Milton Keynes, 1997). See also Aristole A. Kallis, Fascist Ideology: Territory and Expansionism in Italy and Germany, 1922-1945 (Routledge, London, 2000), where rebirth is linked to territorial aggrandizement (which was not a feature of many forms of fascism).

[15] For example, Mark Antliff, 'Fascism, Modernism, and Modernity', Art Bulletin, Vol. LXXXIV, No. 1, 2002.

[16] Theories and Models of Fascism. A Multi-dimensional Approach (I.B. Tauris, London, forthcoming); this book has been delayed through illness to the author. See also Alessandro Campi (ed.), Che cos'è il fascismo? Interpretazioni e prospettive di ricerche (Ideazione editrice, Roma, 2003).

[17] Kevin Passmore, Fascism - a Very Short History (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002), esp. p20ff.

[18] For the classic statement of the mass society approach see Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (André Deutsch, London, 1986).

[19] Griffin was initially critical of the political religion approach, though it seems implied by his basic ‘rebirth’ argument.

[20] Michael Freeden, 'Is Nationalism a Distinct Ideology?', Political Studies, Vol. 46, No.4, 1998 argues (p.751) that in general is a 'thin' ideology, which fails to meet the criteria of a comprehensive ideology' because it fails to provide its own solution to issues such as social justice and the distribution of resources.'

[21] There is a common tendency to understand the term ‘ideology’ in terms of Marxist false consciousness or other forms of deceit. I use the term in a non-pejorative sense: see my opening chapter in Roger Eatwell and Anthony W. Wright (eds), Contemporary Political Ideologies (Pinter, London, 1999).

[22] See especially A. James Gregor, Italian Fascism and Developmental Dictatorship (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1979); and Zeev Sternhell, Ni Droite, Ni Gauche (Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1983). The importance of economic policy, especially corporatism, has also been argued forcefully by David Roberts, ‘How Not to Think about Fascism and Ideology, Intellectual Antecedents and Historical meaning', Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 35, No. 2, 2000.  See also his critique in  'Comments on Roger Griffin, "The Primacy of Culture: the Current Growth (or Manufacture) of Consensus within Fascist Studies"', Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 35, No. 2, 2002

[23] Roger Eatwell, ‘On Defining the “Fascist Minimum”: the Centrality of Ideology’, Journal of Political Ideologies, Vol. 1, No. 3, 1996, p.313 (italics in the original).

[24] German scholars in particular seem resistant to the ideological approach. See for example, Stefan Breuer, Der Staat. Entstehung, Typen, Organisationsstadien (Rowohlt, Hamburg, 1998), especially pp.261-271. For a good brief critique see also Alexander De Grand in  'Comments on Roger Griffin, "The Primacy of Culture: the Current Growth (or Manufacture) of Consensus within Fascist Studies"', Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 35, No. 2, 2002.

[25] See especially Robert Paxton, 'The Five Stages of Fascism', Journal of Modern History, Vol. 70, No. 1, 1998.

[26] Peter Merkl, Political Violence under the Swastika (Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1975), especially pp.694-5.

[27] For a good collection of essays reflecting on differences with conservatism see M. Blinkhorn (ed.), Fascists and Conservatives (Unwin Hyman, London, 1990).

[28] Georges Valois, L'économie nouvelle (Nouvelle Librairie, Paris, 1919), p.15.

[29] R. Eatwell, 'Towards a New Model of Generic Fascism', Journal of Theoretical Politics, Vol. 4, No. 2, 1992.

[30] Oswald Mosley, 'The Philosophy of Fascism', The Fascist Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 1935, p.44.

[31] For examples of important works on the Nazis as a catch-all Volkspartei, see Conan Fischer, The Rise of National Socialism and the Working Class in Weimar Germany (Berghahn, Oxford, 1996), and Detlef Mühlberger, Hitler's Followers (Routledge, London, 1991).

[32]  See R. Eatwell,  'Towards a New Model of the Rise of Right-Wing Extremism', German Politics, Vol. 6, No.3, 1997. This stresses the importance of a ‘three dimensional’ approach which considers not just sweeping (macro) changes such as economic depression, or individual (micro) psychology such as anomie, but also the power of local-group (meso) contexts.

[33] On these important cases see António Costa Pinto, Salazar’s Dictatorship and European Fascism (Social Science Monographs, Boulder, 1995) and Stanley Payne, Fascism in Spain, 1923-1977 (University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1999).

[34] For the best statement of this claim see Zeev Sternhell (with Mario Sznajder and Maia Asheri), The Birth of Fascist Ideology (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1994).

[35] For an interesting example of someone during this period who has openly termed himself ‘fascist’, see Maurice Bardèche, Qu’est-ce que le fascisme? (Les Sept Couleurs, Paris, 1961). Bardèche, the brother-in-law of the French literary fascist Robert Brasillach, who was executed after Liberation, sought to build on the last phase of Italian Fascism – especially the Salò Republic’s proclaimed new economic and political order for workers. He also admired early Peronism’s attempt to create a new order for the workers in Argentina.

[36] Corneliu Codreanu, La Garde de Fer (Editions Prometheus, Paris, 1938), p.282.

[37] Benito Mussolini, Fascism. Doctrine and Institutions (Ardita, Rome, 1935), pp25-6 and 59.

[38] Although Nolte included the Action Française in his three faces of Fascism, most historians who have adopted the empathetic approach see Maurras’s movement more as a form of the reactionary right. See for example, Eugen Weber, Action Française (Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1962).

[39] Alfred Rosenberg, The Myth of the Twentieth Century (Noontide Press, Torrance Ca., 1982), especially p.65

[40] Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf  (Hutchison, London, 1977), p.73.

[41] Ibid., p.74.

[42] A. .James Gregor, The Young Mussolini and the Intellectual Origins of Fascism (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1979) and Richard J.B. Bosworth, Mussolini (Arnold, London, 2002, especially pp.89-90.

[43] Georges Valois, D'un siècle à l'autre (Nouvelle Librairie Nationale, Paris, 1921), especially p.265ff.

[44] From his ‘Associazione Nationalista Italiana’ (1920), cited in Griffin, Fascism, p.38.

[45] Such conservative revolutionaries are often distinguished from Nazis, but in general their views can be fitted into the matrix set out in this paper. See Jeffrey Herf, Reactionary Modernism. Technology, Politics and Culture in Weimar and the Third Reich (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1984).

[46] Ernst Jünger, Die Arbeiter (1932), cited in Griffin, Fascism, p.112.

[47] Kevin Passmore, , 'The Croix de Feu: Bonapartism, National Populism or Fascism?', French History, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1995.

[48] Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, Journal 1939-1945 (Gallimard, Paris, 1992).

[49] See Victoria De Grazia, How Fascism Ruled Women Italy, 1922-1945 (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1993) and Jill Stephenson, Women in Nazi Germany (Longman, Harlow, 2001).

[50] Cited in Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wippermann, The Racial State. Germany 1933-1945 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991), p.242.

[51] See also Martin Durham, Women and Fascism (Routledge, London, 1998), and especially Kevin Passmore (ed.), Women, Gender and Fascism (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2003).

[52] Hitler, Mein Kampf, p.73.

[53]  Ibid., p.299.

[54] Oswald Mosley, The Greater Britain (BUF, London, 1932), p.13.

[55] Giovanni Papini, 'Il nostro impegno' (1914), cited in Griffin, Fascism, p.23.

[56] On the importance of syndicalism in Italy see David Roberts, The Syndicalist Tradition and Italian Fascism (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1979).

[57] See especially Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (Verso, London, 1991) and Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (eds), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1985).

[58] Mosley, 'The Philosophy of Fascism', p.45.

[59] Götz Ally and Susanne Heim, Architects of Annihilation: Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction (Weidenfeld, London, 2003).

[60] Rosenberg, The Myth of the Twentieth Century, p.3.

[61] Compare Daniel .J. Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners (Little Brown. Boston, 1996) with Peter Weindling, Health, Race and German Politics between National Unification and Nazism 1870-1945 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993).

[62] See for example, Christopher Browning, The Path to Genocide (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992), especially p.169ff.

[63] See for example, William. S. Allen, The Nazi Seizure of Power (Allen and Unwin, London, 1966).

[64] Cited in Frank-Lothar Kroll, Utopie als  ideologie. Geschichsdenken und politisches Hadeln im Dritten Reich (Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn, 1999), pp. 259 and 292.

[65] Robert Mallett, The Italian Navy and Fascist Expansionism, 1935-40 (Frank Cass, London, 1998).

[66] Cited in Griffin, Fascism, p.59. See also Aaron Gillette, Racial Theories in Fascist Italy (Routledge, London, 2002).

[67] James Drennan (pseud. W.E.D. Allen), 'The Nazi Movement in Perspective', Fascist Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1935, p.47.

[68] For instance, Degrelle paid homage to the thousands who died in the Waffen SS fighting for a truly united Europe in his book Front de l'Est 1941-1945 (La Table Ronde, Paris,1969): see especially the Dedication and Preface. 

[69] Mussolini, Fascism. Doctrine and Institutions, p.11 and 29.

[70] For example, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, Chronique Politique, 1934-1942 (Gallimard, Paris, 1943), especially p.104.

[71] For an academic interpretation of fascism as an alternative ‘activist style’ thought to the dominant Western tradition of ‘limited politics’, see Noël O’Sullivan, Fascism (Dent, London, 1976).

[72] For example, Hans Mommsen, ‘Cumulative Radicalisation and Progressive Self-destruction as Structural Determinants of the Nazi Dictatorship', in Ian Kershaw and Moshe Lewin (eds), Stalinism and Nazism: Dictatorships in Comparison (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997), especially p.76.

[73] Georges Valois, Le revolution nationale (Nouvelle Librairie Nationale, Paris, 1924), p.165.

[74] Mosley, 'The Philosophy of Fascism', p.43.

[75] Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 1889-1936. Hubris (Penguin Press, London, 1998), especially the Preface, and Ian Kershaw, The ‘Hitler Myth’. Image and Reality in the Third Reich (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1987).

[76] A key theme developed in Kershaw, Hitler, 1889-1936. Hubris

[77] On the distinction between mass and coterie charisma, see Roger Eatwell, 'The Rebirth of Right-Wing Charisma? The Cases of Jean-Marie Le Pen and Vladimir Zhirinovsky', Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, Vol. 3, No. 3, 2002.

[78] See especially Emilio Gentile, 'Mussolini's Charisma', Modern Italy, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1998.

[79] Cited in S. Payne, Falange. A History of Spanish Fascism (Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1962), p.38.

[80] For example, Burleigh, The Third Reich and Emilio Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics in Fascist Italy (Harvard University Press, Cambridge Ma., 1996).

[81] W. Hardtwig, 'Political Religion in Modern Germany: Reflections on Nationalism, Socialism, and National Socialism', GHI Bulletin, Vol.  28, Spring , 2001.

[82] Léon Degrelle, Hitler pour 1000 ans (La Table Ronde, Paris, 1969), especially pp.158-9. According to Degrelle, Hitler once told him that if he had a son, he would have hoped that he would be just like Degrelle: Degrelle, Front de l'Est, p.12.

[83] A. Speer, Inside the Third Reich (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1970), especially pp.148-9.

[84] R. Mallett, Mussolini and the Origins of the Second World War, 1933-1940 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2003), pp.95-6.

[85] Cited in Leon Volovici, Nationalist Ideology and anti-Semitism. The Case of Romanian Intellectuals in the 1930s (Pergamon, Oxford, 1991), p.85 (italics in the original).

[86] [86] D.L. Bergen, Twisted Cross: the German Christian Movement in the Third Reich (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996). See also D. Sikkink and M. Regnerus, 'For God and the Fatherland: Protestant Symbolic Worlds and the Rise of German National Socialism', in C. Smith (ed.), Disruptive Religion. The Force of Faith in Social Movements (New York: Routledge, 1996).

[87] Compare Griffin's stress on the affective palingenetic force of fascism in his article 'The Palingenetic Political Community: Rethinking the Legitimation of Totalitarian Regimes in Inter-War Europe', Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions, Vol. 3, No. 3, 2002 with the economic rational choice analysis in William Brustein, The Logic of Evil. The Social Origins of the Nazi Party, 1925-1933 (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1996). See also the similar argument in William Brustein, ‘”Red Menace” and the Rise of Italian Fascism’, American Political Science Review, Vol. 56, No. 4, 1991.

[88] For example, Charles Maier, In Search of Stability. Explorations in Historical Political Economy (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1987), especially p.124.

[89] See the primary sources in Barbara M. Lane and Leila J. Rupp (eds.), Nazi Ideology before 1933 (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1978), passim.

[90] Avraham Barkai, Nazi Economics. Ideology, Theory, and Policy (Berg, Oxford, 1990). See also Simon Reich, The Fruits of Fascism (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1990).

[91] Valois, L'économie nouvelle, pp.15-6.

[92] Gottfried Feder, 'The Social State' (1919), cited in Lane and Rupp, Nazi Ideology before 1933, p.34.

[93] Paxton, 'The Five Stages of Fascism'.

[94] International Fascism, p.14.

[95] Tim Mason, Social Policy In the Third Reich (Berg, Oxford, 1993), p.276.

[96] The evidence in Merkl, Political Violence under the Swastika, especially p.453, indicates that under 20 per cent of Nazi members in 1934 were charismatically oriented and that the main effect of Hitler had been to make followers aware of attractive policies.