Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Mark Mazower on fascism - An exchange with Brad DeLong

I responded to a query from Brad DeLong after a slight delay (OK, about 5½ years later). He shared my reply with the readers of his admirable blog, Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal ... so perhaps I might as well share it, too.
(Incidentally, a number of the "Comments" responding to Brad's post were intelligent & interesting ... which, alas, is not always true of most comments on most blogs.)

--Jeff Weintraub
Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal
June 2, 2006

The Many Faces of Fascism ...

One of the nice things about corresponding with Jeff Weintraub is that he always answers his mail.
And at great length.
He writes:

I just happened to be re-reading Mark Mazower's Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century (1998)... and it reminded me of an exchange that you and I had back in December 2000. You asked the following ...

Subject: Fascism (or Nazism) as a System of Thought/Mode of Social Organization
Date: Fri, 22 Dec 2000 17:01:02 -0800
From: Bradford DeLong
To: Jeff Weintraub

Know of anything short (less than 300 pages) that I can give to my smart, more literary-minded graduate students to convince them that fascism--i.e., a system of thought and mode of social organization that holds that:

  • morality is ultimately tied to loyalty to one's nation, blood, and race, both in terms of its military and political strength and ultimately in terms of its demographic expansion.
  • strong rejection of the classical "liberal" belief that individuals have rights that any legitimate state is bound to respect, coupled with the belief in the cretinism of parliamentary democracy
  • the assertion that individuals have duties to the state, seen as the decision-making organ of the collectivity, coupled with a belief that the state needs to be ruled by a leader.
  • a strong fear of Marxist communism, and an eagerness to use any weapons--suspension of parliamentary democracy, mass propaganda, rallies, street violence, and so forth--to combat it.

was a real, live, growing force in the interwar period? And that only its catastrophic defeat in 1945 has removed it from the stage of history?

I've been paging through John Lukacs. I've even thought of assigning Mein Kampf. But neither seems to do it...

Brad DeLong

I'm not sure whether or not I ever offered any helpful responses. This is the sort of subject on which it's easy to suggest a library of relevant works, but less easy to come up with a single work that fits the bill.

However, if this matter is still of interest to you, it so happens that something roughly along the lines of the (complex) message outlined above is one of the central organizing themes of Mazower's book, and he does a pretty good job of putting it across. It's partly embedded in chapters that also deal with other subjects. But if you haven't already read Dark Continent, you might want to consider the following package: Preface, pp. ix-xiii; Ch. 1-2; Ch. 4 (especially pp. 125-137, which includes a section on "Fascist Capitalism"); & Ch. 5.

Or, if you wanted to make it simple, you could just assign/recommend the Preface and Chs. 1-5 (roughly the first half of the book). There is also a good roundup of "Guide to Further Reading" on the subject at the end of the book.

For example, at the beginning of Ch. 5, Mazower discusses an analysis of the Nazi "New Order" in Europe written by an Italian diplomat, Luccioli, in 1942. Taking off from Luccioli's report, Mazower comments (pp. 138-140) ...

The result was a penetrating critique of the foundations of the Nazi New Order in Europe; when it was brought to Mussolini's attention, the Duce's reaction was that "he had not read anything so significant and far-reaching for a long time." [....]
As Luccioli observed, many Europeans were ready by the end of the 1930s to leave behind the liberal, democratic order created after 1918 by Britain, France, and the United States for a more authoritarian future. What they did not bargain for was the reality of Nazi imperialism [....]
No experience was more crucial to the development of Europe in the twentieth century. As both Hitler and Stalin were well aware, the Second World War involved something far more profound than a series of military engagements and diplomatic negotiations; it was a struggle for the social and political future of the continent itself. And such was the shock of being subjected to a regime of unprecedented and unremitting violence that in the space of eight years a sea-change took place in Europeans' political and social attitudes. They rediscovered the virtues of democracy.

Of course, one would have to add a few more features to the picture summed up in these brief quotations. During much of the inter-war period, the prestige & influence of the fascist model (and the widespread disillusionment with liberalism & democracy) was a world-wide phenomenon, not at all confined to Europe. (E.g., Japan, Latin America, the Middle East, etc.) And what discredited fascism most decisively was its failure to deliver what it promised above all--military victory & national greatness. Instead, it went down to total, catastrophic, defeat. After that, the ideological appeals of fascism got marginalized (and even movements and ideologies with significant fascist elements re-packaged them under different labels). But all this comes out in Mazower's overall account, too.

[More recently, the Arab Middle East went through a second-time-as-farce version of this scenario with the rise & fall of Saddam Hussein & the Iraqi Ba'ath regime, which epitomized the fascist option in Arab politics ... and then went down, not once but twice, to total & humiliating defeat. My impression is that the 1991 debacle was enough to discredit the fascist option in Arab politics. So far, however, the main ideological beneficiary has not been democracy but various forms of Islamist radicalism & political "fundamentalism."]

More generally, if you haven't already read Dark Continent, I think you would find it of interest ... and a lot more intellectually sympathetic in its approach than you found, say, Hobsbawm's Age of Extremes.

Jeff Weintraub