Ten Things I Hate About Fascism Studies


Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, left, and Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, led fascist movements in the 1930s and ‘40s.
(Image: © Fox Photos/Getty Images)

One. Every second article written about fascism starts by complaining that there is no consensus about what fascism is, then agrees with Roger Griffin’s definition of fascism as an ideology of national regeneration before going on to prove, once again, that fascism involved an ideology of national regeneration.

Two. Scholars stubbornly refuse to separate regimes and movements analytically. In 1935 Nazi Germany had even less in common with Latvia’s Thunder Cross than the Soviet Union had with the Communist Party of Great Britain, yet we persist in seeing the Thunder Cross as a ‘failed’ version of its German counterpart. Not to mention that the analytical tools needed to study movements are completely different to those needed for studying regimes.

Three. There are far too few women in fascist studies. Conference panels and collected volumes are overwhelmingly dominated by male scholars. Despite their best intentions, men are less likely to see moments where gender excluded or marginalized historical actors or simply how strange some fascist practices were because they were shaped by many of the same hegemonic masculine forces that shape us as men today.

Four. Historians focus too much on individual leaders and intellectuals. In most fields the Great Man theory of history died with the nineteenth century but scholars of fascism are still churning out one biography after another on leaders and writers as if they alone constituted fascism.

Five. Fascism Studies in the twenty-first century is obsessed with ideology as if that was the only thing fascists ever did.

Six. When historians want to know why fascists were successful, they usually study the fascists themselves rather than the wider population or the crumbling political systems that fascism replaced. In most cases fascists were successful because those in power failed to demonstrate that democracy was workable, not because fascists somehow did everything right.

Seven. Fascism is somehow so much worse that right-wing conservatism and authoritarianism that there are endless debates about whether such and such a politician was a fascist or not. The results of such debates are often influenced by the fact that if someone is deemed to have been a fascist then obviously they are intrinsically worthy of study, whereas right-wing conservatives were apparently too inconsequential for historians to notice, even if they stayed in power for much longer.

Eight. The study of fascism is consistently grounded in the 1930s even though almost all historians agree that the major tenents of fascist ideology were developed during the nineteenth century. So intent are we on focusing on those moments when fascists entered politics as fascists that we frequently even ignore the personal connections between the postwar paramilitaries and later fascist movements.

Nine. The history of fascism is frequently separated from the study of the Holocaust, even though historians are aware that the Holocaust was a direct result of the rise of fascism. The result is that we know too little about what fascists did when they became soldiers, or about how Holocaust perpetrators felt about people who had been members of fascist parties.

Ten. Most scholars are comfortable calling postwar parties on the far right fascists but then suddenly forget everything that we learned about studying fascism when they start to analyse them. When was the last time you read something discussing John Tyndall’s ideology of palingenesis or his views on corporatism?

Dr Roland Clark is a Senior Fellow at CARR, a Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Liverpool, and a Research Fellow at the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies. See his profile here.

© Roland Clark. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do  not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).