The Origins Of Generic Fascism
The ideological core of fascism postulated here contains one timeless component that cannot be said to have a historical source as such, while the other component originates in a relatively specific time and place within the history of ideas. The vision of rebirth, of palingenesis, of a new cycle of regeneration and renewal growing out of what appeared to be an irreversible linear process of decay, dissolution, or death, appears to be an archetype of human mythopoeia, manifesting itself, for example, as much in the Christian faith in the Resurrection of Christ and of all true believers as in the Hindu cosmology, which computes in mathematical detail the universe's infinite cycle of creation and destruction.
Ultranationalism, on the other hand, could only appear in countries where populist notions of sovereignty as the inherent property of a national community had already firmly established themselves. Fascism was able to emerge as a modern political ideology only after nationalism had arisen as a major ideological force in an increasingly secular Europeanized world where the foundations of traditional social systems (tribal, feudal, or absolutist) had been extensively eroded. In the wake of the French Revolution, several variants were formulated by intensely patriotic ideologues who imagined the nation as a supraindividual community subject to organic processes such as decay and growth and destined to rise to greatness. Though such a concept of the nation had already been formulated in the early nineteenth century by Germans such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) and Ernst Arndt (1769–1860), it was the widespread obsession in fin-de-siècle Europe with the degeneracy of liberal civilization and its urgent need for moral regeneration that first made possible the conjuncture of palingenetic myth with ultranationalism that together formed the ideal climate within which fascism was incubated.
A major contributing factor in the evolution of organic conceptions of the nation was the rise of cultural, biological, and political racism, Aryan theory, and anti-Semitism in eighteenth-and nineteenth-century Europe. These had no single source, but drew both on the widespread and highly diverse preconceptions about race first articulated by such figures as Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–1803), Joseph-Arthur de Gobineau (1816–1882), Robert Knox (1798–1862), Richard Wagner (1813–1883), Cesare Lombroso (1836–1909), Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919), Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), Vacher de Lapouge (1854–1936), Houston Chamberlain, (1855–1927), and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), as well as on currents of humanistic, scientific, and scientistic thought such as national histories, philology, physical and cultural anthropology, criminology, sociology, genetics, demography, eugenics, Social Darwinism, and vitalism. Once blended in with ultranationalism and palingenetic myth, racism could provide a pseudoscientific (scientistic) rationale to the myth that a nation in decline can only fulfill its transcendent historical mission once purged of forces allegedly compromising the "purity of the race" (for example, materialism, individualism, cosmopolitanism, immorality, miscegenation, "alien" ideological elements, or some combination of these).
It was in the first decade of the twentieth century that artists and cultural commentators such as the numerous writers of völkisch literature in Germany, Charles Maurras (1868–1952) and Maurice Barrès (1862–1923) in France, Giovanni Papini (1881–1956) and Gabriele D'Annunzio (1863–1938) in Italy, and Nicolae Iorga (1871–1940) in Romania provided poetic or theoretical expression to the importance of reawakening the national soul from the debilitating slumber induced by liberal modernity. Some attempts to turn these ideas into political movements were made before World War I, notably by Maurras' Action Française (1897–), the Pan-German League (1886–1914) under Heinrich Class (1868–1953), the Christian Social Party (1893–1938) founded by the Austrian anti-Semite Karl Lueger (1844–1910), and the Italian Nationalist Association (1910–1923). But it was the shattering impact of the "Great War" itself that transformed marginalized and essentially cultural movements for national rebirth into political formations with a serious revolutionary strategy based on a blend of populist rally for change, a democratic party, and an extra-parliamentary paramilitary movement. It was the war that simultaneously nationalized the masses subjectively while creating localized pockets of objective political, social, and economic upheaval in many European countries, not least the collapse of the Hohenzollern, Habsburg, and Romanov dynasties and the Russian Revolution itself, that were indispensable for new forms of revolutionary nationalism to thrive. The first of these new "militia parties" to seize power was Fascism, which conquered the Italian state in two stages, 1922–1925 (when Mussolini was head of state) and 1925–1929 (when he established a dictatorship), and it is from this movement and regime that the generic term takes its name. Since the 1920s, fascist has been applied by historians, political commentators, and activists to a number of dictatorial regimes that emerged in interwar Europe and in the wider Europeanized world, notably in Latin America. However, significant differences of opinion persist between experts about which regimes are embraced by the term, the inclusion of the Third Reich being especially contentious.