Special Issue of Totalitarian Movements and Politics Religions
(Guest eds. A. Pedahzur and L. Weinberg)
Religious Fundamentalism and Political Extremism
Reflections on Fascism and Religion
The term 'clerical fascism' was popularized in Italy during the 1920s, especially by opponents who sought to point to those within the Catholic Church who supported Fascism. Later, the term was broadened to encompass links between the churches and fascism elsewhere (in the case of the Nazis, the links were much stronger with Protestantism). The term 'clerical fascism' has also been applied to fascist movements which were overtly and sincerely religious - such as the Romanian Iron Guard, led by the devoutly Orthodox Corneliu Codreanu. Most historians who use the term, like Hugh Trevor-Roper, are seeking to refine typologies of different forms of fascism - especially contrasting authoritarian-conservative 'clerical fascism’ with more radical 'dynamic’ variants. However, for a growing group of scholars recently, like Daniel Goldhagen, the purpose of stressing the links between the church and fascism has been more to damn the former (especially the Vatican) by association. This first part of this article seeks to probe the relationship between the churches and inter-war fascism - in particular, the question of to what extent is legitimate to talk of 'clerical fascism'?
As early as the 1930s, several philosophers and social scientists, such as Eric Voegelin, claimed that fascism was following in the footsteps of the French Revolutionaries, and seeking to found a 'civil' or ‘political' religion. They pointed especially to the rise of God-like rulers, characterized by an apocalyptic sense of mission, and allegedly capable of inspiring mass affective emotion. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini were typically seen as the archetypes of this form of leadership. Recently, the political religion interpretation has attracted renewed interest on the part of several major historians, including Michael Burleigh and Emilio Gentile. They argue that terms like 'dictatorship', even 'totalitarianism', do not sufficiently convey the nature and fanatical support of movements such as Nazism and Italian Fascism. Burleigh, for example, argues that: 'Among committed [Nazi] believers, a mythic world of eternal strong, heroes, demons, fire and sword - in a word, the fantasy world of the nursery - displaced reality.' Another interesting convert to the cause has been Roger Griffin, who in his early magnum opus had been critical of the political religion approach, apparently in an attempt to add explanatory force to his definitional focus on fascist ideology as a form of nationalist 'palingenesis' (rebirth). In the second part of this article, I will look more closely at this aspect of the relationship between fascism and religion - including both the attitudes of leading fascists to religion and the nature of popular support for fascism.
Overall, my main conclusions are:
The term ‘clerical fascism’ has been applied to factions, movements and regimes in a variety of countries across inter-war Europe. The main examples, which will be considered here relate to Italian Fascism and German National Socialism. Brief consideration will also be given to the Iron Guard, as it is arguably the best example of an overtly Christian-fascism.
Benito Mussolini founded the first fascist movement at a meeting in Milan in March 1919 - a gathering of an eclectic group of activists, whose apparent main link was their relative youth and passionate celebration of Italy's participation in the First World War. Fascism took its name from the Italian word ‘fascio’, meaning in a political context a ‘union’ or ‘front’ (the ancient Roman symbol of authority, the fasces, was initially not part of the movement's iconography). During 1919, the Fascist movement adopted a programme which included measures such as: the election of a new National Assembly to decide on the radical reform of the state; worker participation in industrial management; old age and sickness insurance; a capital levy; secular schooling; and the confiscation of the property of religious institutions. Filippo Marinetti, the leading Futurist artist and prominent early Fascist, even called for the expulsion of the Pope from Rome. Early Fascism, therefore, sought no favours from the church - a provocative position in a highly Catholic country. However, by the time of the March on Rome in October 1922, which brought Mussolini to power, relations between the church and Fascism had improved dramatically.
Fascist anti-clericalism had been toned down in an effort to gain church support. There were several points of symbiosis between Catholicism and emerging fascist movements. One was doctrinal and stemmed from Pope Leo XIII's 1891 Encyclical, Rerum Novarum. This sought to defuse the dual secular challenge of liberal individualism and socialist class-collectivism by promoting new co-operative social institutions, especially corporatism. Although the motives were very different, this provided a direct point of contact with the important group of early Italian Fascists who were converts from syndicalism (during the Firist World War, nationalism rather than the revolutionary general strike came to be seen as the great mobiising myth). Arguably more important points of contact between Catholicism and Fascism were shared enemies - in particular, the weak liberal state and the anti-nationalist left, which in Italy had a violent tradition even before the Bolshevik Revolution. Many in the Catholic Church came to see Fascism as a way of both defeating the left on the streets and of providing a more steely conservative government in Rome (thus perpetuating a tradition of trasformismo – namely, incorporating insurgent centre and right-wing parties into the governing coalition).
Some leading Catholics argued that Fascism was based on a dangerous, radical ideology. The most prominent exponent of this line was Don Luigi Sturzo, the founder of the Christian Democrat Partito Popolare in 1919, and the man who coined the term clerico-fascismo/clerico-fascisti (derived from the older clerico-moderatismo/clerico-moderati). Sturzo contrasted Fascism’s street violence with what he saw as conciliatory nature of core Christian values; he also feared that Fascism's goal was the destruction of all opposition, not just the left. However, eminent figures, such as the conservative Archbishop of Milan, Achille Ratti, openly succoured the infant Fascist movement. After he became Pope Pius XI in February 1922, he actively promoted a political united front against the left, rebuking the Popolari who were willing to ally with Socialists and others against the rapidly rising Fascist Party. A small number of leading Catholics - for instance, those around the Jesuit review La Civiltà Cattolica - even claimed that Fascism had effectively synthesized the values of the Popolari, making it redundant.
By 1926, the Fascist Party (PNF) had established a dictatorship. The Catholic hierarchy in general concurred in this. After 1922, it was particularly grateful for concessions such as the introduction of religious services on state occasions and of the crucifix into the classroom. In 1929, the church signed a longed-for Concordat and the Lateran Pacts, which formalized relations with the Italian state (a lacuna since unification). This conceded social powers to the church in fields such as education. There was notable opposition to this rapprochement among the anti-clerical element in the Fascist Party, who correctly saw the church as essentially a conservative force which militated against a more radical Fascist totalitarian state and the creation of a secular 'new man'. At the local level, this wing of the PNF encouraged attacks on Azione Cattolica youth centres in 1931. However, Mussolini apologized profusely to the Vatican for these, smoothing the troubled waters.
During both the Abyssinian war and the Spanish Civil War (which was marked by notable atrocities against Catholics, as well as against the Republicans) the church continued to give the regime important support. Indeed, by the mid-1930s the regime enjoyed widespread support. However, historians debate the exact extent and nature of this 'consensus', which in general seems to have been based more on passive acceptance rather than fanatical and activist support for the Duce, yet alone the increasingly corrupt PNF.
After 1936, there were growing public doubts about rapprochement with Nazi Germany, but Mussolini’s promulgation of German-style anti-semitic laws in 1938 did not provoke a split with the Church. Previously, anti-semitism had been a minor strand in the party, which contained many Jews - the Duce even had a long-standing Jewish mistress. Some of the radicals in the PNF appear to have hoped that the new policy might provoke a clash with Catholicism, as it ran against its doctrine of universal redemption through baptism. If this was the case, the plan failed. In 1937, Pius XI 1937 issued an Encyclical - Mit brennender Sorge (With Profound Anxiety) – which specifically dealt with the Nazis' celebration of race and state. However, the document gave no real guidelines as to how Catholics should act when faced with the reality of anti-semitism (though in Italy, persecution was relatively benign until the Nazis took over control of the center and north of the country after 1943). Subsequently, Pius XII (1939-1958) failed to take a clear public line about anti-semitism in Italy and especially on the issue of how to deal with growing evidence that the Nazis were committing genocide.
The recent band of critics of the Pope are part of a wider tendency within the historiography of fascism since the 1960s to focus unduly on the Holocaust. A more balanced reading of the evidence indicates that whilst the Pope was highly anti-communist and felt at home in German culture, he was neither pro-Nazi nor did he ignore the plight of Jews. Recent evidence shows that Pius XII wrote two letters in late 1940 to Giuseppe Palatucci, Bishop of Campagna, sending money to help Jews who were 'suffering for reasons of race'. It is worth noting that the Nazi government pointedly sent no delegation to Pius’s enthronement in 1939, probably reflecting the fact that he had helped draft Mit brennender Sorge. Moreover, after 1939 Jews were not the only victims of Nazism. Although the number of Jews who were killed is horrific, far more non-Jews died - including many Catholics who were persecuted in Eastern Europe by the Nazis. The Vatican, which had only a small international staff, was bombarded with information about such crimes. Even if the Pope had spoken out forcefully against Nazi policies, it is highly unlikely that this would have halted the killings. In the circumstances, Pius's policy of cautious opposition, while in private encouraging help for Jews, becomes more understandable.
Where the recent critics are on stronger ground is their criticism of the Catholic Church’s historic teachings on Jews. There was a deep-rooted antipathy to Jews within Catholicism - a hostility which can be traced back to the Gospel of Mathew, with its shifting of the blame for the crucifixion from the Romans to the evil Jews. Defenders of the Catholic Church claim that historically it had been anti-Judaic rather than anti-semitic, hostile to the Jewish religion rather than hostile to Jews as a race. This is correct in the sense that Jews could be, and were, admitted into the Catholic faith. Nevertheless, it is hard not to believe that such demonization of Judaism helped prepare the way for the Holocaust - in which a notable number of Catholics played a prominent part. However, the critics again over-state their case. Many Catholics in Italy helped Jews to survive - over 80 per cent escaped the Holocaust. Even in Germany, relations between Nazis and Catholics were complex.
Unlike early Italian Fascism, Nazi Party (NSDAP) programmes defended the rights of the Christian churches. Such assurances were repeated by Nazi leaders: for instance, Josef Goebbels (a lapsed Catholic) assured a crowd in 1926 that the Nazis would create a new Reich in which true Christianity would be at home. Like Italian Fascism, the Nazis were very hostile to atheistic Marxism - though they also had a strong anti-capitalist slant, which was partly linked to the identification of sectors of business and finance with Jews. However, initially the Nazis appealed to few Catholics. Before 1930, Nazism was a minor force in German politics: in the 1928 elections, almost ten years after the party’s foundation, it was supported by just over 2 per cent of voters. Moreover, it was highly nationalistic and racist, which alienated a Catholic church that tended to associate nationalism with an expansionary Protestant Prussian state in the nineteenth century. As a result, the Catholic hierarchy openly preached against the Nazis.
After Hitler's accession to power in January 1933, the Papal Secretary of State, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, negotiated a Concordat with the new regime. Pacelli was later to become Pius XII, and critics have used this as part of their case that he was sympathetic to Nazism. However, it was normal practice for the Holy See to seek to establish clear guidelines for state-Catholic relations. Inter alia, Hitler agreed to grant Catholic pupils more schools and teachers. In return, Pacelli successfully encouraged the Christian Democrat Centre Party to disband and accept a Nazi dictatorship. Pacelli was hardly a liberal demiocrat, but it is highly unlikely that the Nazis would have tolerated the continued existence of the Center Party in a Germany where all other parties had been banned by the summer of 1933. Subsequently, both Pacelli and local Catholic leaders protested against aspects of Nazism. The best-known example of the latter form of opposition came when Count von Galen, the Bishop of Munster, spoke out against the 'euthanasia' programme in 1940. However, there were also important areas where Nazi and Church concerns coincided, especially anti-communism. It is interesting to note in this context that Galen fully endorsed the 'crusade' against Bolshevism launched in 1941. He also did not extend his protest against murder to treatment of the Jews.
Pacelli in many ways represented the mainstream, middle line of German Catholicism. He did not support the small numbers who pursued persistent forms of opposition, which led to periodic harassment and arrests of priests and nuns. On the other hand, he certainly did not share the views of an even small number of Catholic prelates who believed that a synthesis was possible with Nazism. Although he feared communism more, Pacelli/Pius XII did see Nazism as a major short-run threat to the Church.
Arguably the best example of the symbiotic position was Bishop Aloys Hudal, who openly referred to himself as a 'clerical fascist'. Hudal was the author of a book published in 1936 which was entitled, Die Grundlagen des Nationalsozialismus: eine ideengeschichtliche Untersuchung (The Foundations of National Socialism…). In this he agued that the most offensive doctrines of some Nazis, namely racism and totalitarianism, were French and Italian imports whose origins lay especially in the writings of Artur de Gobineau and Niccolo Machiavelli. He argued that most Nazis defended Christianity, and claimed that the duty of Catholics was to work with mainstream Nazis to check the radical anti-Christian Nazis, like the pagan Arthur Rosenberg, whose book The Myth of the Twentieth Century was second only to Mein Kampf in the Nazi best-seller list, but whose influence within the higher echelons of the party was minimal.
Catholicism at this time was Germany's second religion: Protestantism was the religion of about two thirds of the 90 per cent of Germans who claimed to be members of a church in the 1930s. Whereas Hitler saw the Catholic church as essentially anti-national, he believed that the Protestant ones would stand up for the advancement of Germanism - though be believed that most Protestants had not seen the extent of the Jewish danger, in spite of the fact that anti-Jewish sentiment had been historically important within German Protestantism. He therefore believed at the beginning of 1933 that Gleichschaltung with the Protestant churches was a real possibility. However, even within the Protestant churches there were relatively few who really believed that the world-views of Christianity and Nazism could be synthesized.
In terms of their views about the relationship of religion to political nationalism, there were three main groups within the Protestant church. By far the largest, the conservative mainstream within the Lutheran church, defended the autonomy of the church and was largely apolitical. The Confessional groups were keener to demonstrate their 'national' sentiments politically, and pastors often lent a powerful voice to the rise of Nazism immediately prior to 1933 (often linking support to other issues, such as anti-Marxism and defence of the family, which appealed especially to women). Finally, there were various small radical groups which believed that the rebirth of both the church and Germany could come through the synthesis of religion with Nazi politics. One of these radical groups, the so-called German Christians, self-styled themselves 'stormtroopers of Christ'. The reference here was not simply to Nazism. It was also to the Stormtroopers of the First World War, an elite group of shock troops from all classes who wore the silver Death's Head emblem, which had previously been reserved for the aristocratic cavalry. The German Christians were not just attracted to the Nazis through nationalism. They also saw them as a party which had taken politics to the people, whereas the existing churches were too dominated by the aloof and cold language of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie who cluttered its higher echelons.
The Nazis sought to weaken the more conservative groups by appointing as Reich Bishop in 1933, Ludwig Müller, who was well know for his anti-semitic and blood and soil views. Moreover, the Evangelical German Christian Nazi front organization won a two-thirds majority in the church elections of 1933. But then the radicals over-extended themselves, proposing to expunge the whole of the (Jewish) Old Testament from the Bible. Even before this, mainstream Protestants had argued that a politics of race and blood had nothing to do with Christianity and was a form of tribalism rather than religion. There were also rapidly growing fears after January 1933 that Nazism was interfering too much in the sphere of religion. Prominent critics who pushed such views too publicly, for instance Martin Niemöller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, risked harassment, imprisonment and even death. But fears of more diffuse resistance meant that the Nazis made little serious attempt to achieve Gleichshaltung with Protestantism after the early months of 1933. Most Nazi leaders realized that head-on confrontation with the churches risked alienating public opinion. As in Italy, the issue is subject to some controversy among historians, but in general Germans appear to have become largely compliant after 1933 ('consensus' was reinforced by a far more extensive state terror than in Italy).
Discussion of the term 'clerical fascism' also needs to consider forms of fascism which overtly and sincerely espoused religious views. These usually emerged in highly peasant-based societies, where outside the radical left there was little scope for parties which were not overtly religious. Arguably the best example of this form of fascism was the Romanian Iron Guard, whose leader, Codreanu, spoke of creating 'National-Christian Socialism.' One of the group’s leading intellectual supporters was Mircea Eliade, who was later to become an internationally renowned scholar of religion. In 1937 he wrote 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'. Codreanu, who modestly termed himself 'Captain', would typically campaign by arriving in a village mounted on a white horse. He would kneel and pray, swearing before God that the struggle for the country's welfare was sacred and that he was the reincarnation of Archangel Michael. Iron Guard members often wore a white cross on their green uniform; sometimes they also wore swastikas. Among activists, there was a strong cult of sacrifice, which included a willingness to die for the cause. Indeed, two of the Guard's leaders were to die in the Spanish Civil War fighting 'Bolshevism'.
Many Orthodox clergy were attracted not just by the Guard's religiosity, but also through shared enemies. These were not just to be found on the left - including the external menace of the USSR. Romania had done well from the post-First World War peace settlements, and the country included extensive ethnic minorities, especially the widely disliked Jews and Catholic Hungarians. There was a shared desire to create strong state, which could either eliminate such minorities, or force them to become part of a holistic nation. More positively, elements within the Orthodox Church were attracted to the reformist plans for the Guard, which included forging a form of local peasant democracy and national corporatism, seeing these as safeguards against the promises of the left. However, increasingly during the 1930s Codreanu moved away from some of his early radicalism towards an emphasis on the rebirth of a vaguely defined ‘new man’ and conservative mysticism.
The last point highlights the fact that there are problems in unequivocally including the Iron Guard within a radical generic fascist Pantheon. Nevertheless, on balance the use of the term ‘clerical fascism’ seems far more appropriate in this context than in Germany and Italy, where only a small number were true ‘clerical fascists’ rather than ‘clerical fellow travelers’, or ‘clerical opportunists’.
In recent years several historians have reiterated the claim that fascism was a ‘political religion’, focusing especially on Germany and Italy rather than on countries like Britain where the religious side of fascism was less pronounced. The argument tends to involve three main claims: i) that fascism was characterized by a religious form, particularly in terms of language and ritual; ii) that fascism was a sacralized form of totalitarianism, which legitimized violence in defence of the nation and regeneration of a fascist 'new man'; and iii) that fascism took on many of the functions of religion for a broad swathe of society. In the words of Emilio Gentile: 'This religion sacralized the state and assigned it the primary educational task of transforming the mentality, the character, and the customs of Italians. The aim was to create a "new man," a believer in and an observing member of the cult of Fascism.'
Even before the First World War, there were proto-fascist thinkers who were interested in the political uses of religion. Japan’s military defeat of Russia in 1905-6 strengthened the view that new more martial cultures were emerging, which would defeat decadent ones (‘Born a man, died a grocer’ was Maurice Barrès’s famous epitaph for Western bourgeois society). Symptomatic of the more extreme reactions to Japan’s victory was the conclusion of Enrico Corradini, who sought to establish a religion of ‘nature and heroes' in which a Bushido-like ethic would be married to what Barrès termed ‘enracinement’. There was also some interest, especially among the German right, in Hinduism. Here the attraction was not simply the elitist caste system, or the more martial aspects of Hinduism. There were also affinities with fascist critiques of bourgeois materialism and its emphasis on the short run over long-term goals - traits that had helped lead Friedrich Nietzsche to seek a synthesis between Eastern and Western thought, which in turn influenced a coming generation of fascists.
Fascists were especially interested in the role of quasi-religious ceremonies and symbols in tying the populace to the state. Indeed, the fascist style plays a key part in many definitions: the ubiquitous swastika (hakenkreuz, or hooked cross), the mass rallies, and the charismatic leader. Other aspects included innovations such as new calendar festivities. Some were based on Christian festivals, but others included key dates in Nazi Party history, such as 9 November, which included a procession of old fighters carrying a bloodstained flag from the Bürgerbrau to the Feldherrnhalle in Munich. In Italy, the calendar was even revised to start from the March on Rome rather than the birth of Christ. The language of fascism could also be highly religious in tone. Italian Fascism was replete with references to ‘faith’, ‘martyrdom’ and ‘sacrifice’. Hitler's language was included words like 'mission', 'salvation', and 'redemption'. Leading Nazis specifically sought to fit Hitler into the Protestant tradition through the doctrine of Providence, which held that God directed the affairs of men in moments of great need. For instance, rapidly rising Nazi support after 1930 was sometimes portrayed as divine will.
However, it is important to note that this religious style was not unique to fascism. Nor was it simply a result of the First World War, which helped spread the language and imagery of religion, especially in Germany where the concept of rebirth pervaded propaganda. When Hitler preached that he had been given a mission by the God to save Germany, he was only picking up a common theme in Protestant German nationalism. Nor was religious legitimation and symbolism unique to the right. Pictures of the Ferdinand Lassalle, who had founded the German socialist movement in 1864, decorated workers' homes - a cult which was criticized by fellow-socialist August Babel, whose picture in turn came to be carried regularly in processions by workers. Gentile has argued that Mussolini's charismatic appeal was a new feature in Italian politics. However, Giuseppe Garribaldi long before had been elevated to the status of prophet and Saviour. Moreover, the Duce came from the Emilia-Romagna, whose socialists mimicked many aspects of Catholicism, including processions and naming children after socialist 'saints'. Although Max Weber's concept of charisma is often considered as prefiguring a new style of leaders of the right after 1918, it was in fact partly the product of Robert Michels's encounters with the German and especially the Italian left before 1914.
Indeed, proto-fascist theorists such as Enrico Corradini saw fascist mythology as necessary propaganda to free the working class of socialist myths, such as international brotherhood or the iniquities of private property. Hitler too was concerned by the affective appeals of the left, though he was more directly influenced in his youth by the rise of Austrian politicians who sought to counter the rise of socialism with quasi-religious appeals. The first was Georg Schönerer, who had people pay tribute to him as 'Führer' and abolished the Christian calendar for supporters. The second key influence was Karl Lueger, who - like Schönerer -addressed people in the low language of the tavern, rather than the high language of the salon (many socialists failed to learn this lesson, though theirs tended to be the high language of Marxist theory). But Lueger and his Christian Social Party also surrounded himself with priests and the trappings of conservative Catholicism. The result was a more sustained electoral success than that achieved by Schönerer. Hitler, a lapsed Catholic who was bitterly hostile to Catholicism's anti-Germanism, concluded that Schönerer's break with Rome had been a major political error.
There were undoubtedly fascists who sought to replace Christianity with a new religion. Rosenberg was a pagan willing to attack both Christian doctrine, for example over its universalist egalitarianism, and church pronouncements on specific policies, like compulsory sterilisation. Heinrich Himmler was fascinated by the occult, and sought to turn the SS into the basis of an official state cult. In an attempt to eradicate Christian thinking, after 1939 even the word 'Christmas' was forbidden in any SS document. However, such cultism was not a major concern among the Nazi leadership. Within Italian Fascism it was largely absent. Although Julius Evola supported the cultivation of a warrior priesthood, which would manipulate the masses through myths, he was a fringe figure within Fascism before 1945 (though he later became a cult figure for some neo-fascists, who often married his view with those of Codreanu, seeing both as prophets of the need for an ascetic and violent band of 'political soldiers').
Hitler sought to destroy the influence of Christianity more than to create a new religion. During his 'table talk' in November 1941, he commented that: ‘The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child’. He added that: ‘we must not replace the Church by something equivalent. That would be terrifying.’ Albert Speer has written that the Führer believed that in the short run 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. Léon Degrelle, the leader of the Belgian Rexists who became a wartime Waffen-SS officer, has claimed that Hitler believed that in the longer run the church would gradually fade away under the dual impact of science undermining its mysticism and consumerism alleviating its appeal to the poor. A similar sentiment can be found in the Führer's wartime table talk, when he commented: ‘The dogma of Christianity gets worn away before the advances of science.’ However, whilst Hitler saw his views (not least on race) as supported by science, he still believed in the existence of a higher Being, who directed him. This syncretic blend of rationality and revelation was typical of much fascist thinking.
In Italy, the Duce appears to have held relatively similar views. Mussolini, like several leading Fascists, began as a rabid anti-clerical. However, in 1936 he suggested to Hans Frank, the Nazi Justice Minister, that relations with the Catholic Church in Germany should be improved and argued that a separation between church and state was crucial, as this provided the state with more freedom. The first comment was probably designed to help improve the image of the Nazis within Italy, in order to make the emerging Axis more acceptable to public opinion. But Mussolini and most Fascists viewed the Church as a form of occasional irritant rather than an enemy which needed to be vanquished. There were occasional tensions with the Vatican, such as over Azione Cattolica and after Mit brennender Sorge. However, Pius XI did not subscribe to the view that Nazism and Fascism were essentially the same form of regime, and his criticism was directed against the former rather than the latter. Nor did Pius XII - a point held against him by his many critics, who argue that by the summer of 1940 he should have known better.
What linked fascists was not so much the desire to forge a new religion, as the quest to forge a holistic nation, linked to a radical syncretic Third Way (neither capitalist nor socialist) state. As Manichaeism was central, especially to the Nazi mindset, enemies would need to be defeated along the way. But these were mainly the forces of the left (Jews too were central to Nazi demonology, though before 1933 anti-semitism often did not figure prominently in local Nazi campaigning, in part a reflection of the fact that in many aras the Nazis sought to portray themselves as a respectable party, not of the wild fringes). The quest for a new elite was also central to fascism, which tended to encourage to the celebration of the party leader. By the 1930s, there was undoubtedly a God-like aspect to Hitler’s persona. But the style of fascist leaders was not necessarily religious. Mussolini, for example, was fond of machismo-like posturing while engaged in sporting activities. The leader of the British Union of Fascists, Oswald Mosley, sought more to convey the image of the Commanding Officer-intellectual, defining fascism in the syncretic terms of 'Science and Caearism'. Nor did the 'disciples' necessarily see the leader as God. Moreover, whilst there is no doubt that Hitler especially inspired great loyalty among leading Nazis, this was perfectly consistent with his acolytes conceiving God and religion in a variety of different ways (including the occult, Paganism, etc.).
Some idea of how fascist leaders saw mass 'new man' can be gauged from Mussolini, who wrote: 'Man is integral, he is political, he is economic, he is religious, he is saint, he is warrior.' An important part of new man involved overcoming bourgeois decadence and rediscovering martial virtues. In some countries, leading fascists openly celebrated the redemptive qualities of violence. However, fascist violence was in part a response to para-military organization on the left. Moreover, not all fascists positively valued violence and/or war. Even some leading Nazis, for instance Ernst Rhm who had been wounded three times during 1914-18, had no love of war itself. This was especially true in countries, such as Britain and France, which had no territorial aspirations after 1918 - although in the French case there were strong fears about German revanchisme. The French literary fascist, Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, argued that there was no romance in modern war, which was fought at distance by high explosives and aircraft, rather than in chivalrous combat by knights of old. The leader of the French Faisceau, Georges Valois, who had fought in the First World War, did not so much celebrate war as derive lessons from it – such as the need for leadership and to create a new spirit of community to ensure the achievement of collective tasks.
The First World War undoubtedly heightened interest in the power of propaganda, especially the ability of nationalist myths to mobilize the masses. However, Hitler did not see the German nation as a myth in the sense that modern theorists of nationalism talk about an 'imagined community' or the 'invention of tradition'. Hitler saw the German race as a historical reality, whose existence and superiority over some races was supported by modern science. There is no doubt that Mussolini was fascinated by the power of myth. But Giovanni Gentile, the philosopher who provided the most sophisticated defence of Fascism, did not see his task essentially in terms of myth-making. His concern was more to build a totalitarian 'ethical state', namely a state which rejected the minimalist and pluralist night-watchman conception of liberalism and which sought to school its citizens in moral values. Similarly, most syndicalist theorists who turned to fascism were mainly concerned with creating a new state, though in their case the emphasis was more on economic development.
It has become a commonplace to argue that fascism lacked a clear economic vision. Yet the British Union of Fascists' propaganda arguably focused mainly on economics. The Nazis after 1928 set out a notable panoply of economic programmes, and after 1933 they developed a relatively clear economic programme based on a state-private market symbiosis. The Italian Corporate State may have failed to live up to the expectations of the syndicalists, but it was a serious attempt to achieve class harmony and increase production. So too were organizations like the Dopolavoro and the Nazi Strength through Joy movement (KdF), which concerned themselves with workplace, safety, food, as well as holidays and the like. Fascists may have believed that man cannot live by bread alone, but they also thought that materialist rewards like a week's holiday on the isle of Rügen (where the KdF had built Europe's largest hotel by 1939) and a Volkswagen outside the front door could work wonders too when it came to consolidating fascist support among the masses.
The fascism-as-a-political-religion thesis is not simply about issues such as ritual, or creed. It is also raises the question of how people continued to view the churches. In Italy, church attendance seems to have remained widespread. In Germany, church membership declined only slightly after 1933, and actually rose during the Second World War (a trend in line with other countries). Although the evidence is not conclusive, it seems that varying forms of opposition to the regime made the local pastor and priest important interlocutors - sources of advice and solace for those troubled by aspects of fascism. The various festivities introduced to supplant Christian ones remained a peripheral phenomenon in Germany. Himmler and the SS's attempts to forge a link with supposed Teutonic traditions were met with widespread indifference and, depending on people's courage, mild to biting derision.
The political religion thesis also raises the central issue of why people supported fascism. In the 1950s and 1960s, arguably the two most common theories saw fascism as a movement of the middle class in crisis, or as a movement which appealed to individuals suffering from anomie as a result of rapid change (mass society theory). More recently, William Brustein (using Nazi membership data) has constructed a rational choice model, which stresses economic interest in voting for the Nazis prior to 1933. At the other extreme, Roger Griffin has recently stressed the affective force of 'palingenetic' appeals (he follows a tendency common since the 1930s among German intellectuals, in seeing Nazism as a quest for authentic meaning). Clearly, these are very different interpretations. Although most recent work holds that the Nazis were a catch-all Volkspartei (with half this vote in 1932 coming from women), disagreements continue as to why people voted in this way. The fascism-as-a-political-religion these in this context seems largely a revival of mass society theory, which in its earlier form has been largely discredited in the German context (outside Germany, evidence about voting for fascist parties is often weak).
In a famous phrase, Walter Benjamin has talked of fascism's 'aestheticisation of politics'. The phrase conjures up popular images such as the opening of Leni Riefenstahl's film of the 1934 Nuremberg Rally, Triumph of the Will, with a God-like Führer, descending from the clouds to be worshipped by the faithful in new open-air temples designed by Speer. There seems little doubt that Hitler did exert a God-like appeal over some, though whether he exerted true mass charisma rather than a limited 'coterie' charisma is more debatable. Less frequently noted are the images of motorways and their modernist bridges, new consumer goods such the ubiquitous radio (sold cheaply to aid state propaganda), or of Alfa Romeo and Auto Union racing cars vying for individual - and national - glory. They point to support based on more materialist motives. Certainly reports from the Social Democratic underground indicate the importance of economic factors, such as full employment and new consumerist and leisure opportunities. Fascists correctly perceived that ‘man’ was not one-dimensional: s/he responded to a blend of different appeals.
The best predictor of Nazi voting in 1932, the last year of the Weimar Republic, was the religious nature of the area. In general, the more Protestant an area, the greater the Nazi vote, whereas the converse was true in Catholic areas. In part this reflected the ability of the Nazis to adapt their rhetoric to fit Protestant styles of thought. But there were exceptions to these generalizations, which points to the need for a more general stress on local (meso) dimensions when understanding support for fascism - especially the role of conformity and networks. In Italy, Fascism was strongest where civil society was most dense - not the opposite, as mass society theory would predict (and much contemporary democratization theory). Local studies in Germany, for instance in Marburg, show that the Nazis were more active in local social clubs and professional organizations than any other movement, often taking them over. Here, and perhaps even more so in some rural areas, Nazism offered opportunities for participation which were not possible in other nationalist parties. The appeal was thus, in a sense, democratic and politically-directed rather than religious. At the same time, it could be elite-legitimated, for example the way in which local Prostestant pastors blessed the Nazis as bastions against the ‘November Criminals’ (Marxists and Jews).
The Christian tradition of demonizing Jews, and the Manichaean nature of Nazi thinking, seem point towards political religion as an important tool in analyzing the Holocaust. Certainly propaganda, such as the widely-shown film The Eternal Jew (1940), seemed to imply that the destruction of Jews was part of a just war, which had been launched by conspiring Jews. However, it is important not to overstate religious inspiration. The bureaucrats who planned the Holocaust and even the Einsatzgruppen soldiers who personally shot the eastern Jews were frequently not fanatics. They were often professionals, acting in their career best interests and/or in what they saw as the economic interests of the new Germany. In the words of Hannah Arendt, what was interesting about Adolf Eichmann, the archetypal bureaucrat of the Final Solution, was the ‘banality of evil’ - not his quasi-religious fanaticism. In general, the 'ordinary' Germans who took part in the shootings of Jews after 1941 do not seem to have seen this as part of a millenarian quest to renew the nation: excessive drinking of alcohol helped them to perform their 'duty'. Previously, extensive propaganda seems to have helped inure them to the fate of Jews. The prestige with which racial science was held in Germany even before the Nazis came to power was an important factor too. Indeed, the sacralisation of science rather than the politicization of religion offers more clues to fascism's most evil act. As argued above, so too does the deep-rooted hostility to Jews which existed within many branches of the Christian faith.
The main focus of this article has been the growing tendency to see fascism as a form of political religion. If the approach is seen as heuristic, then it is a useful addition to our methodological toolbox. For example, it points to many questions which are not yet fully resolved, including how the churches viewed fascism and vice-versa, and about popular attitudes to both the churches and fascism. However, if the approach is understood in a more essentialist way, there are serious problems. To the extent that a linking essence can be identified, fascism was a political ideology rather than a political religion.
The issue can simply be defined away by holding that ideologies are secular forms of thought about human nature, the process of history, and socio-economic and political arrangements. Religions, on the other hand, involve some form of belief in a supernatural being(s). However, this misses a point that all modern ideologies exhibit dimensions of religions. Even 'rationalist’ ideologies like liberalism have an affective side to their appeal, especially if studied in concrete political situations rather than through the dry texts of their great thinkers. Compare the pomp and circumstance surrounding the contemporary US Presidency with the restrained rationalism of James Madison’s eighteenth century writings on the emerging US Constitution. Or consider the question why do many liberals seem to need to be at war, metaphorically at least, with those who do not share their views? - a question which points to interesting conclusions about much of liberal historiography's demonization of fascism as an un-intellectual creed!
A more fruitful way of distinguishing between ideology and religion is to adapt Søren Kiekegaard's view that the essence of a religion is not the persuasion of the truth of the doctrine, but a leap of faith to accept a view which is inherently absurd. What could be more absurd than to believe that God allowed his only son to be born of a virgin in a lowly stable in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago? Christianity is a religion because of this core absurdity – this need for a leap of faith. Fascism’s essential syncretism meant that it was possible to find forms which overtly married ideology and religion - for example, in the Iron Guard, or among a limited number of Italian and German clerics (though most failed to see the radicalism at the core of fascism). Moreover, there were aspects of fascism which were absurd - especially the belief of some Nazis that there was an international Jewish conspiracy against Germany, which encouraged a belief in apocalyptic holy war against the Jew. However, most fascists were not driven by such affective sentiments. Indeed, there is nothing absurd about the core ideology of generic fascism – namely the quest to forge a holistic nation and create a radical syncretic Third Way state.
 A third issue concerns 'Islamo Fascism' - the extent to which it is legitimate to make parallels between Islam and fascism. Some made this equation – though in the reverse direction - back in the 1930s. For instance, Carl Jung said of Adolf Hitler in 1939: 'he is like Mohammed. The emotion in Germany is Islamic, warlike and Islamic. They are all drunk with a wild god.' C. Jung, The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 10 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), p.281. With the growth of Islamic 'Fundamentalism' after the 1970s, discussion of such linkages re-emerged. See for example, W. Laqueur, Fascism, Past, Present and Future (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), in which Laqueur portrays Islamic 'Fundamentalism' as a new form of 'clerical fascism'. After 9/11, the debate moved well beyond the confines of academia, with President George Bush arguing that al-Qaeda and its supporters: 'follow in the path of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism.' Congressional Record (House), 20 September 2001. However, a systematic comparison of Islam and fascism raises vast issues beyond the scope of this article.
 H.R. Trevor-Roper, 'The Phenomenon of Fascism', in S. Woolf (ed.), Fascism in Europe (London: Methuen, 1981), especially p.26.
 For recent critics of the Roman Catholic Church in the field of anti-semitism and the Holocaust see: J. Cornwell, Hitler’s Pope. The Secret History of Pius XII (London: Viking, 1999), D.J. Goldhagen, A Moral Reckoning. The Role of the Roman Catholic Church in the Holocaust and its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair (Boston: Little Brown, 2002], D.I. Kertzer, The Unholy War: the Vatican's Role in the Rise of Modern anti-Semitism (London: Macmillan, 2001); and S. Zuccotti, Under His Very Windows: the Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000).
 See especially E. Voegelin, Political Religions (Lewiston, N.Y.: E. Mellen Press, 1986; 1st German ed. 1938). See also P.F. Drucker, The End of Economic Man (London: William Heinemann, 1939).
 For example: M. Burleigh, The Third Reich (London: Macmillan, 2000), and E. Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics in Fascist Italy (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1996). For more analytical presentations see: M. Burleigh, 'National Socialism as a Political Religion', Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 1/2 (2000), pp.1-26, and E. Gentile, 'The Sacralization of Politics: Definitions, Interpretations and Reflections on the Question of Secular Religion and Totalitarianism', Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 1/1 (2000), pp.18-55.
 Burleigh, The Third Reich, pp.8-9.
 Compare, R. Griffin, The Nature of Fascism (London: Pinter, 1991), especially p.196, with R. Griffin, 'The Palingenetic Political Community: Rethinking the Legitimation of Totalitarian Regimes in Inter-War Europe', Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 2/2 (2002), pp.24-43.
 Restrictions on space mean that I cannot fully develop my views on the nature of fascist ideology, especially the need to see it within a flexible 'matrix' rather than a more essentialist and static 'minimum'. For my views on this see R. Eatwell, 'Towards a New Model of Generic Fascism', Journal of Theoretical Politics 4/2 (1992), pp.161-194; R. Eatwell, ‘On Defining the “Fascist Minimum”: the Centrality of Ideology’, Journal of Political Ideologies 1/3 (1996), pp.303-19; and R. Eatwell, 'On Defining Generic Fascism: the Fascist Minimum and the Fascist Matrix' (in German) in U. Backes (ed.), Rechsextreme Ideologien im 20 und 21 Jahhundert (Cologne: Bohlau Verlag, 2003).
 On early Fascism see A. Lytteleton, The Seizure of Power. Fascism in Italy, 1919-1929 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987).
 See especially: D.A. Binchy, Church and State in Fascist Italy (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), J.F. Pollard, The Vatican and Italian Fascism, 1929-1932 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), and R.A. Webster, The Cross and the Fasces (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1960).
 On the divergent opinions in the party see J.N. Molony, The Emergence of Political Catholicism in Italy: ‘Partito Popolare’ 1919-1926 (London: Croom Helm, 1977). For a sympathetic work on the Popular Party see G. De Rosa, Il partito popolare italiano (Bari: Laterza, 1966).
 On Fascist-Jewish relations see: M. Michaelis, Mussolini and the Jews (Oxford; Oxford University press, 1978), A. Stille, Benevolence and Betrayal. Five Jewish Families under Fascism (London: Cape, 1992), and S. Zuccotti, The Italians and the Holocaust (New York: Basic Books, 1987).
 For the most balanced account of the issue see J. Rychlak, Hitler, the War and the Pope (Huntington, In.: Our Sunday Visitor Books, 2000). For the defence case relating to Pius XII see P. Blet, Pius XII and the Second World War: According to the Archives of the Vatican (New York: Paulist Press, 1999).
 See especially Goldhagen, op. cit., and Kertzer, op. cit.
 For a general work on the churches under Nazism see K. Scholder, The Churches and the Third Reich, 2 vols. (London: SCM Press, 1987).
 On the euthanasia programme, and Catholic opposition, see M. Burleigh and W. Wippermann, The Racial State. Germany 1933-1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), especially p.152ff.
 A. Rosenberg, The Myth of the Twentieth Century (Noontide Press, Torrance Ca., 1982; original German edition 1930).
 A. Hitler, Mein Kampf (London: Hutchinson, 1969; first German ed. 1925), especially p.100 and 103.
 See C. Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, the Family and Nazi Politics (London: Cape, 1987).
 D.L. Bergen, Twisted Cross: the German Christian Movement in the Third Reich (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996). See also. K. Poewe, 'The Spell of National Socialism. The Berlin Mission's Opposition to, and Compromise with, the Völkisch Movement and National Socialism: Knak, Braun, Weichert', in U. Van der Heyden and J. Becher (eds), Mission und Gewalt (Stuttgart: Fran Steiner Verlag, 2000), and 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).
 On resistance to Nazis more generally see: P. Hoffman, German Resistance to Hitler (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1988), I. Kershaw, Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich. Bavaria 1933-45 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), and D. Peukert, Inside Nazi Germany. Conformity and Opposition in Daily Life (London: Batsford, 1987).
 C. Codreanu, La Garde de Fer (Paris: Editions Prométhée, 1938), p.19. On the Iron Guard see R. Ioanid, The Sword of Archangel (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990).
 Cited in L. Volovici, Nationalist Ideology and anti-Semitism. The Case of Romanian Intellectuals in the 1930s (Oxford: Pergamon, 1991), p.85 (italics in the original).
 For a good, concise, statement of the case see Gentile, 'The Sacralization of Politics: Definitions, Interpretations and Reflections…' See also P. Burrin, 'Political Religion. The Relevance of a Concept', History and Memory 9 (1997), pp.321-49.
 Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics in Fascist Italy, p.ix.
 E. Gentile, 'Fascism as Political Religion', Journal of Contemporary History 25/2-3 (1990), p.232.
 On Nietzsche see G. Parkes, Nietzsche and Asian Thought (Chicago: the University of Chicago Press, 1992).
 See especially, S. Payne, Fascism. Comparison and Definition (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1980): Payne's other two defining dimensions concern fascism's 'negations' and its more positive programme.
 W. Hardtwig, 'Political Religion in Modern Germany: Reflections on Nationalism, Socialism, and National Socialism', GHI Bulletin 28/Spring (2001), pp.3-27.
 E. Gentile, 'Mussolini's Charisma', Modern Italy 3/2 (1998), p.219.
 B. Hamann, Hitler's Vienna (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p.236ff.
 N. Goodrick-Clarke, The Occult Roots of Nazism (Wellingborough: the Aquarian Press, 1985), and P. Levenda, Unholy Alliance (New York: Continuum, 2002).
 See F. Ferraresi, 'Julius Evola: Tradition, Reaction and the Radical Right', European Journal of Sociology, XXVIII (1987), pp.107-151.
 H.R. Trevor-Roper (ed.), Hitler’s Table Talk, 1941-1944 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1953), pp.6-7.
 A. Speer, Inside the Third Reich (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1970), especially pp.148-9.
 L. Degrelle, Hitler pour 1000 ans (La Table Ronde, Paris, 1969), especially pp.158-9.
 Trevor-Roper, Hitler’s Table Talk, p.59.
 M. Rissmann, Hitlers Gott (Zurich and Munich: Pendo, 2001), especially p.191ff.
 R. Mallett, Mussolini and the Origins of the Second World War, 1933-1940 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2003), pp.95-6.
 I. Kershaw, Hitler, 1889-1936. Hubris (London: Penguin Press, 1998), especially the Preface, and I. Kershaw, The ‘Hitler Myth’. Image and Reality in the Third Reich (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).
 O. Mosley, 'The Philosophy of Fascism', The Fascist Quarterly, 1/1 (1935), especially p.45.
 B. Mussolini, Fascism. Doctrine and Institutions (Rome: Ardita, 1935), pp25-6 and 59.
 W. Brustein, The Logic of Evil. The Social Origins of the Nazi Party, 1925-1933 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996). See also a similar argument applied to Italy in W. Brustein, ‘”Red Menace” and the Rise of Italian Fascism’, American Political Science Review 56/4 (1991). Compare Griffin, 'The Palingenetic Political Community…', for example p.34.
 For examples of important works on Nazi voting, see C. Fischer, The Rise of National Socialism and the Working Class in Weimar Germany (Oxford: Berghahn, 1996), and D. Mühlberger, Hitler's Followers (London: Routledge, 1991).
 On the distinction between coterie and mass charisma see R. Eatwell, ‘The Rebirth of Right-Wing Charisma. The Cases of Jean-Marie Le Len and Vladimir Zhirinovsky’, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 3/3 (2000), pp.1-23.
 For the argument that the local/group (meso) side of fascist support has often been neglected at the expense of sweeping socio-economic/psychological (macro) or individual (micro) explanations, see R. Eatwell, 'Towards a New Model of the Rise of Right-Wing Extremism', German Politics 6/3 (1997), pp.166-184.
 R. Koshar, Social Life, Local Politics and Nazism: Marburg 1880-1935 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986).
 G. Ally and S. Heim, The Architects of Auschwitz and the Logic of Destruction (London: Weidenfeld, 2003).
 See for example, C. Browning, The Path to Genocide (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), especially p.169ff. Compare this with D.J. Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners (Boston: Little Brown, 1996), which claims that the Germans were deep-rootedly anti-semitic.
 On the prestige of science see P. Weindling, Health, Race and German Politics between National Unification and Nazism 1870-1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).
 R. Eatwell and A.W. Wright, Contemporary Political Ideologies (London: Pinter, 1999), especially Chapter 1.