3.1 ‘Fascism’ and ‘The Fascist’:

“Nazism cannot, as I see it, be treated as a mere variant of fascism: its emphasis on biological determinism rules out all efforts to deal with it as such.” [2]

This quote from a scholar on fascism should surprise most of us who go with our ‘gut feeling’ about discerning fascists from non-fascists. Surely, the Nazis were as fascist as it gets? It turns out that after studying fascism in depth, one is not so clear about what it is that fascism is about. Mussolini famously stated that “national pride has no need of the delirium of race.”[3] So, if the Nazis are not fascist and the fascists are not racist, what do we know about fascism? What is it that defines fascism, a movement that, since its inception, is a patchwork of doctrines?[4] What is the ‘fascist minimum’?

The scholar then notes two separate issues, one with the “mentality, political behaviour, and goals” of what I will call ‘the fascist’, and another around the historical setting of interwar ‘fascism’.

Historians have debated for decades the characteristics that differentiate fascism from other forms of authoritarianism. A taxonomy of “generic fascism” is wanted, while acknowledging that “no political movement develops in a vacuum.” [5] Yet, if fascism is context specific, if it is a historical event, the identification of a generic should not be necessary. The scholar then notes two separate issues, one with the “mentality, political behaviour, and goals”[6] of what I will call the fascist, and another around the historical setting of interwar fascism.

Following an extensive study of primary and secondary sources, old and new, Professor Roger Griffin concludes that generic fascism is made of “palingenetic populist ultra-nationalism”[7]. That is as much as we get as to its political dimension [8]. But what about the psychological dimension of ‘the fascist’? Fascism may have been complex and difficult to classify into a genealogy of political systems, yet it is easily pinned down, even if with blurred concepts, onto a particular side of the ‘worldview spectrum’ if you ask around; non-academics have a pretty good ‘instinctual’ idea of what a fascist looks like, as much as the layman fascist insists that he is not a fascist.

… there must have been an emotional/unconscious ingredient at the core of this quasi-nonsensical ideology, that made it immediately graspable.

If fascist studies offer “important case studies in the application of nationalist and irrationalist myth” for “research in sociology, social anthropology and social psychology on the complex dynamics of revolutions, personal dictatorships, youth movements and authoritarianism”[9], there must be a common component in those behaviours. The strong mythical-utopian component of fascism[10] only confirms that there must have been an emotional/unconscious ingredient at the core of this quasi-nonsensical ideology, that made it immediately graspable.


It is not the power-hungry egomaniac fascist that I am looking to decipher, for whom it is easy to see the attraction to a political movement that once into government, intends to bring the enormous resources of a nation, public and private, to his disposal. It is the other, discontented fellow, male and female fascist, that in their search for answers have ears for the discourse of fascism. What is it that made fascism so appealing, to so many? What is the fascist made of? What is, ‘the nature’ of ‘the fascist’?

[2] Zeev Sternhell, “Fascist Ideology”, “Crisis of fin-de-siècle thought”, in W. Liqueur (ed.), Fascism, A Reader’s Guide (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976), 332–38. Included in Roger Griffin, International Fascism: Theories, Causes and The New Consensus (London: Arnold, 1998), 8.

[3] Early fascism of the 1920’s thought that “nothing can therefore justify that which the Duce has rightly called racial delirium, and that can only continually disturb the peace among the nations”. After numerous ideological battles with Hitler around ‘the mediterranean problem’, the Duce settled on racism “in a final effort to galvanize Italian nationalism and unity behind a fascist movement in decline.” See Aaron Gillette, Racial Theories in Fascist Italy (London: Routledge, 2002), 96. See note 32.

[4] “The historian has to try to discern the common denominator of ‘fascist minimum’ shared not only but the various political movements and ideologies that claimed to be fascist but also by those that disclaimed the title but nevertheless belonged to the family.” Zeev Sternhell, Neither Right nor Left (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 27. Cited in Griffin, International Fascism, 10.

“[A] definition of fascism is inevitably contentious … and as yet no consensus has emerged among academics about which of the many rival ideal types of the phenomenon is the most useful”. “Though the rampant eclecticism of fascism makes generalisations about its specific ideological contents hazardous, the general tenor of all its permutations places it in the tradition of the late 19th century revolt against liberalism and positivism which impart to it a strong emphasis on the primacy of vitalism and action over intellect and theory. Consistent with the ideological complexity of fascism, the social basis of individual movements is highly heterogeneous, and by no means restricted to the lower or capitalist classes, despite a persistent assumption to the contrary.” Griffin, International Fascism, 36–37.

“[Fascism is] an ideology synthesised, or rather loosely assembled, from various elements scavenged from 19th century European culture and science.” Ibid, 52. Also see notes 13, 14, and 19.

[5] Ibid, 311.

[6] Ibid, 308.

[7] Ibid, 240. “What distinguishes the present approach is that it locates the ‘fascist minimum’ in a core myth of the reborn nation which can express itself in a wide range of rationalisations and permutations”. Ibid, 36–37.

[8] “…it is clear that fascism was a pan-European phenomenon and existed on three levels — as an ideology, as a political movement, and as a form of government.” Zeev Sternhell, “fascism” in D. Miller (ed.), The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Political Thought (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987), 148–150. Included in Griffin, International Fascism, 30–35, p32.

[9] Griffin, International Fascism, 38.

[10] “To activate the masses, though Sorel, one did not require reasoning but myths, systems of images which strike the imagination” Zeev Sternhell, “fascism” in D. Miller (ed.), The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Political Thought (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987), 148–150. Included in Griffin, International Fascism, 30–35, p31.

“… the world war had revealed a new kind of solidarity forged by the shared experience of heroism and activism in the cause of the nation. …The ultimate fascist utopia was not just a new order, but the birth of a ‘new man’ who experienced a heightened sense of meaning and intensity by living for and through the nation. This utopia embraced a cult of the male principle, of youth, of the national community”. Griffin, International Fascism, 52. Also see notes 7, 19.


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