Free Essay On Fascism During The Twentieth Century

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Politics, Germany, War, Economics, World War 1, Power, Church, Nation

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/12/23


Even though fascism touted itself as a movement based on national and social unity and homogeneity, the fractures within fascist totalitarianism as a result to religious, regional, economic, political, social, and cultural differences convey the dissonance between fascist practices and rhetoric. Robert Paxton locates fascism’s beginnings in a series of intellectual, cultural, emotional, political, social, and economic challenges unique to Europe in the early twentieth century (Paxton, 2004, p. 55). Fears over modernity, Bolshevism, and bourgeois indulgences converged with increasing nationalism, mass politics, and an eager youth. Though early fascist rhetoric indicated an aversion to capitalism and individualism, fascist movements that approached Paxton’s second stage of “taking root” diverged from earlier promises as a way to garner power. Inconsistencies between fascist “words and actions,” obscure the nature of fascist ideology as a way to reconcile this paradox (p. 55). Despite the ubiquity of propaganda that underscores how fascism refashioned Italy during the interwar era, fascism could not fundamentally transform the behaviors and sympathies of ordinary Italians. Rather, ordinary Italians themselves manipulated and reshaped the contours of fascism itself thereby underscoring the uniqueness of fascism as a form of political autocracy.
Robert Paxton considers the complex and sometimes contradictory nature of fascism as it existed from its inception in Milan, Italy in 1919 to its relative demise in 1945. He divides his work according to his “five stages of fascism” that each consider the creation and development of fascist movements, how and why such movements germinate, the fascist party’s grasp for total power, how fascist leaders exercise their power, and ultimately, fascist radicalization that materializes after the correct mechanism are established. A working definition of fascism must include an examination of “its beginnings to its final cataclysm” (Paxton, 2004, p.21). Neither exclusionary nor essentializing definitions of the term demonstrate that neither approach provides an effective working model. Moreover, the analysis of only one stage of fascism instead of a taking a holistic view will favor one category of historical agents over others, such as the crystallization and exercise of the leader’s power as a catalyst for action rather than grassroots pressure. Fascism indeed underwent mutations at each level and therefore fails to conform to a standard Weberian model. It is through an examination of fascism at each of the five levels that a working definition can emerge (Paxton, 2004). Italian and German fascist models monopolize a substantial portion of the corpus of literature on the fascist ideology and how leaders appropriated it to national contexts in an idiosyncratic fashion, although other fascists regimes did crop up in Europe during the postwar era. A transnational analysis of fascism in the European continent—Germany and Italy specifically— reflects certain criteria that situate them within an appropriate conceptual framework and allows for a cyclical examination of fascism as a totalitarian form of government. Furthermore, this inquiry elucidates a functioning paradigm for analyzing fascism and demonstrates that fascism underwent various transformations both from above and from below but nonetheless developed in an idiosyncratic fashion according to national contexts and political traditions.


Benito Mussolini, the fascist leader of Italy during the interwar epoch, coined the term “totalitarian” to describe a political ideology that bolstered a totalizing entity in a vast array of ways. Fascism therefore emerged as a political ideology and philosophy that postulates the universal subservience of the individual to the nation and conflates equation of the nation with the concept of the state. The etiology of fascism is part and parcel with the origins of the modern Italian nation-state. Unlike liberalism—which posits that civil society is best served when individual rights are protected—fascism decries the nurturing of individual interests. Only through the devotion to the nation-state nation can individuals become fulfilled. Hampered by oscillating currents of imperialism, racism, political corruption and religious tensions, liberal Italy and the failures of a democratic state within that national context facilitated the germination of fascism during the interwar era. The failure of the liberal government to deal with political, economic and social crises wrought by World War I created a power vacuum that remained fruitful for the ascendance of a form of government situated at the political extremes on a continuum. Although fascism acquired a highly symbolic notion of national unity devoid of all hierarchical structures, the lived experiences of ordinary fascist citizens prevented the normalization of fascism into their lives because they recognize it as superficial and inadequate to address their local concerns.
The institutionalization of fascism turned into a defective process that sought to establish an orderly, structured, and disciplined regime. Fascists wanted to occupy all available public spaces as much as possible through avenues including mass culture, which exposed the inherent contradictions in fascism. This process therefore rendered fascism a malleable and fluid ideology that did not actually promote the cultural and social revolutions that fascist rhetoric espoused. In this political ideology, the nation-state refers to all of the individuals who bought into and participated in the governance and operation of a political entity holistically, which distinguishes it from a monarchical form of government in European countries during the early modern era that are characterized by a top-down rule structure. In fascist systems, power emanates from the officials who are in charge of the nation because individuals do not possess any political clout. Rather, their duty to the nation-state lies in their obedience and subservience to the nation-state itself. At a fundamental level, fascism is anti-republican, anti-capitalism, anti-communist, anti-modernity, and anti-weakness. Indeed, it represented a reaction to all of the changes that modernity wrought, especially socio-economic dislocation from rapid modernization and industrialization that resulted in an increasingly bifurcated society.
Rather than adhere to a strict political or ideological platform, fascist policy vacillated in order to garner wider appeal and underwent a “normalization” process (Paxton, 2004, p. 101). This process not only included collaboration with traditional conservatives and capitalists but also paved the way for fascists to gain political power, especially during times of economic crises. Obtaining power required fascists to work with existing power structures within the state but was also predicated on the “collapse of an existing liberal state” (p. 117). Exercising power, the fourth element of Paxton’s system, witnessed dynamic push/pull relationships between leaders and their parties. Only through an assertive display of violent party cleansing could the fascist leader affirm his complete authority. Leaders ensured fascist permeation into several state apparatuses through parallel structures. These structures presented the Italian duce or German Fuhrer with independent power bases, useful for keeping others in line. The final stage in the development of fascism, radicalization, came to fruition vis-à-vis an expansionist war. Conquered territories, because of their peripheral geographic locale, became ideal areas to “carry out their ultimate fantasies of racial cleansing,” which the German example reinforces (p. 150). Indeed Germany reached their final solution for Jews only after alternative plans failed. Paxton identifies these five cyclical stages in order that observers today may recognize neo-fascist movements, or variations thereof.


Despite the presence of national idiosyncrasies, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy—along with other fascist movements that cropped up in the European continent—shared a litany of commonalities with one another. Benito Mussolini's dictatorship—which represented the first totalitarian regime in Europe during the modern era—provided an ideological and mechanistic blueprint for Hitler to emulate and appropriate into the German context. Scholars must acknowledge the violent and corrupt nature that characterized fascism as a disastrous epoch in Italian history. Moreover, the durability of fascism in Italy underscores its greatest achievement as a modern phenomenon that responded to the vagaries of modernity and modern warfare in a postcolonial world. Nonetheless, there remains a sustained and persistent "tendency towards fascism" in present-day Italy as well as in other European nations.
Key aspects of the Fascist include the incorporation of corporatism, a unique alignment with the Catholic Church, and proscribed gender roles that reflected social, political, and cultural conditions in Europe during the interwar era. The fascist state developed a unique economic system that configured fascist trade unions and employers into a coherent economic system. This corporatist state called for the state to make decisions regarding the cooperation they enjoyed with owners of large corporations. Economic relations were conceived of as a partnership between big industry and employers at-large as well as with the fascist state Thus, a union was forged between the fascist state and the primary economic engine in the country’s big industry. Although this so-called economic partnership was touted as one forged in mutual interest, they state called the shot and was de facto in charge. As a result, trade unions are made illegal because trade unions were viewed as being socialist in nature. Workers did not enjoy any individual rights because just have a duty to the state. In order to minimize any and all disruptions, the state deprived workers any individual rights. In this way, the state subsumed the worker under the state and forced them to serve the state directly in that matter. Interestingly, workers could only be in fascist trade unions, such as Hitler’s “Work for Joy” movement. Such a relationship between the state and industry is antithetical to hardcore capitalism that centered on reaping profits for the individual. The unification of the state and industry was thus done to minimize disruption of the workers, as trade unions were banned.
Moreover, the fascist state forged an interesting relationship with the Catholic Church because the Church remained powerful regarding social and cultural issues in Europe. Unsurprisingly, the Church expressed its aversion towards the fascist ideology, yet fascists were in line with the catholic church with regards to social and cultural values. The fascist state utilized the language of tradition to demonize the modern nature of the republican state and parliamentary democracy. In 1929, the Lateran Agreement-which was a deal forged between the Church and Mussolini in order to resolve tensions between the Vatican and Mussolini’s Italian state—resulted in Mussolini ceding and allowing the church to reconcile morality issues with the fascists because the two camps shared the same social and cultural values. The Catholic Church retained its predominance as a cultural influence not just because they were the church but also because of this agreement, as the two reinforced one another.
Finally, the fascist state underscored the notion of fascist motherhood and fatherhood, which suggests that the fascist ideology was highly gendered and steeped in traditional patriarchal notions that the Catholic Church embraced. If fascist countries wanted to become an imperial state, the citizens needed to give birth to a lot of babies in order to go to war and participate in industry as workers. Fascist motherhood, fatherhood, and the state converged in order to bolster a pro-natalism agenda. OMNI, a federal service of infants and mothers that declared that declared that the Italians needed to have a battle for births and thus established OMNI. OMNI provided essential services for women so that they could have more babies. In Italy during the interwar period, women are not supposed to be working so they never drop their children off at any childcare facilities. Cartoons invoke images and ideas regarding acculturation starting at a very young age, which is evident in both the Italian and German contexts. However, there remains a little bit of tension between the ideals of the Catholic Church and education and the fascist state and education. Mussolini encourages Italian women to have a lot of babies because of his desire to go to war, which necessitates more manpower. Images disseminated by the so-called “cult of Mussolini) reveal traditional iconography that underscore a masculinity military force that exudes vitality and harkens back to ancient Rome. Children are adorned with classical sartorial fashions and young boys hold weapons because their military training begins starting at a very young.


The economic and political aftermath of World War I contributed to the ascendance of fascism, or Nazism, in Germany because the Allied powers pointed to German aggression for the atrocities that took place during World War I. As a result, Germany bore the brunt of the reparations made for the Great War. At the conclusion of the Great War, Germany was essentially torn asunder, and a weak democracy known as the Weimar Republic was inaugurated. Upon surrendering at the conclusion of the Great Way, the German soldiers who had been fighting in France felt upset and betrayed by their military commanders. Still hyper-nationalistic and immersed in the war effort, German soldiers were unwavering in their belief that they could win the war. Surrendering, however, cultivated distrust and antagonism in the German soldiers towards their foes in the war and towards German leadership. Shortly thereafter, the Treaty of Versailles was agreed upon and grafted in provisions that further disenchanted the German populace. Specifically, Article 231 was perceived by many in Germany as a “stab in the back” because of the “war guilt clause” which essentially put the onus of paying for the war on Germany as its purported aggressor (“Peace and the Treaty of Versailles,” 1919).
The Treaty of Versailles and the “War Guilt Clause” propelled a long and protracted process in which political, economic, social, and ideological conditions became ideal Germany for the ascendance and persistence of fascism/Nazism for over a decade. As mentioned previously, Germany was forced to admit fault as aggressors in World War I. In the documented reality, however, the spark of the war took place when the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by a Serbian terrorist as a result of simmering tensions related to nationalism that were present in the region. Germany was an ally of Austria, so the Allied made the Germans their scapegoat because Germans were perceived by the rest of the world as hyper-militaristic and hyper-masculine, a country that posed a huge threat to the world order and stability because of their unapologetic desire to construct a world power and sustain German hegemony for decades to follow. Thus, the Treaty of Versailles forced Germany to pay reparations for the Great War despite the fact that they could not afford to do so. Germany thus was forced to take out loans from the United States in order to pay France and Britain, thereby hampering their economic productivity even more. This treaty further ensured that the German military would never be able to build up again and viably threaten the world order again. Thus, the treaty mandated the demilitarization of Germany’s army and the reduction of its army to a mere police force (“Peace and the Treaty of Versailles,” 1919). The treaty dismantled German industries, which had been completely mobilized towards supporting the war effort. The onerous treaty disabled German industry, which further rendered them unable to repay the loans taken out to bay their reparations due to Germany’s Gross Domestic Product plummeting. President Woodrow Wilson did not want to impose a harsh punitive settlement. However, France and Britain fully supported this treaty and eventually got it passed. The ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and the War Guilt Clause exacerbated the political and economic instability, which wracked the productivity and efficacy of the officials in the Weimar Republic to meet the interwar needs of a war-torn country. The German economy was further burdened by devastating inflation. Industrial structures broke down, so Weimar Republican leaders demanded that more money be printed. This development caused German currency—referred to as marks—to lose almost all of its value. Over the course of only two years, rampant inflation effectively eradicated the German middle class and their accompanying purchasing power.
The juxtaposition of the political and economic instability in the very first years of the Weimar republic fostered distrust in the German masses towards this government and further fomented a chasm and bipolarity between the Left and the Right in German politics. These movements were spawned as a result of simmering fears of Bolshevism that Germans had witnessed during the Russian Revolution. The Left was adjudicated much more harshly than the Right during the interwar era, which revolutionary attempts made during the epoch from both sides underscore. Attempts made by those in the Left, such as the Spartacus Movement in 1919 spearheaded by Marxists such as Rosa Luxemburg,, provide evidence that the Weimar Republic was weak, as the state was forced to call in the police and the Freikorps to subdue them, which empowered to the Right as a result. In March of 1920, the Kapp Putsch took place in an attempt to overthrow the Weimar regime. Putsch translates to “coup,” or an attempt to overthrow the government on a small, localized scale. It was engendered by supporters of the Freikorps, or veterans who joined together in a paramilitary group and had helped put down the Leftist Spartacus movement a year prior. Such events underscore the weakness of the Weimar Republic and the power vacuum that needed to be filled by those at the Far Left or Far Right in the near future. Hitler exploited this tumultuous atmosphere in order to fill the power vacuum that the weak Weimar Republic opened up. He gained control over the power mechanisms and state machinery to craft and sustain a totalitarian entity oriented towards revitalizing the pride, honor, and power of Germany.


Styling fascism as a dynamic process rather than as a static one via an analysis and assessment of how it developed in Italy and Germany reifies arguments regarding its inevitability and culmination in Germany in the Third Reich. The majority of Hitler’s and the Nazis’ political successes were owed to the weaknesses, failures, and shortcomings of the Weimar Republic to effectively respond to the problems and issues faced by Germany during this epoch. Within the context of Italy, Benito Mussolini defined fascism not by what it was but rather by what it was not as an antithetical ideology to capitalism and democracy: decadent, weak, and antidemocratic defined by decadence and weakness. Fascist Italy and Germany reveal how the unification of the state and industry mitigated the disruptions and tensions caused by workers who, in democratic and republican societies, participated in collective bargaining in order to assert one’s agency in the hopes of accumulating personal wealth and property prior to World War I.
Fascist ideology aims at thwarting the adverse consequences wrought by the processes of industrialization and modernity in order to progress society forward. Historians have charted the conditions in post-World War I Germany that enabled Hitler to rise to power, especially the effects of the political and economic instability that reared its head during the interwar epoch. Germany’s economic instability directly correlated with the country’s political instability. Hyper-inflation hampered the German economy because the government printed too much money in order to pay off World War I reparations and the loans they were forced to take to do so during the Treaty of Versailles. Germany’s political instability also caused the middle class to dissipate. As a result, a political environment developed within Germany in which citizens reoriented their political leanings either to the far Left and or to the far Right, and each political camp posed starkly contrasting solutions to address the various shortcomings and failures of the Weimar Republic. During the 1920s, the German public oscillated in their reception of the political maneuverings of the extreme Right and Left because of the uneven instability and stability that defined the decade. The attraction of the Right and Left loses credence when stability comes about. However, the onset of the Great Depression at the end of the 1920s and into the 1930s rendered the political extremes at the Left and the Right valid and enticing once again. The failures of democracy and weak republicans such as the Weimar republic in Germany during the interwar era cultivated an environment ripe for Nazism to appeal to a battered and broken German people suffering as a result of rampant unemployment, a dearth of natural resources, and the humiliation that lingered from the Versailles Treaty.


Bosworth, R.J.B. (2006). Mussolini's Italy: Life under the dictatorship 1915-1945. Allen Lane: London.
Paxton, R. (2004). The anatomy of Fascism. New York: Vintage Books.
"Peace Treaty of Versailles, Articles 231-247 and Annexes, Reparations." (1919). Peace Treaty of Versailles. Retrieved March 18, 2015 from

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