Fascism in the Twentieth Century; Hitler and Nazism
‘Fascism’ is one of the most controversial political terms in modern history. The lack of a universally accepted definition for the term has meant that it can and has been applied to a wide variety of political contexts. Fascism developed from the destruction caused by the First World War. Its origins can be traced, however, to the intellectual revolt against liberalism in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. While there was a revolutionary reaction against the ideals of the French Revolution before 1914, it was the First World War which acted as a real catalyst for the emergence of fascism. The war swept away the Hohenzellern, ...view middle of the document...
) Over 10 million Europeans died in the carnage. Unlike during the Second World War, the victims were mostly front-line soldiers and not civilians. There was the view that the cream of European youth had been mercilessly destroyed in the futile slaughter, while politicians and civilians tried to return to normalcy. In effect, the First World War smashed the political structure of Europe to smithereens, sweeping away the old ruling order. Those who remained were unable to recreate the institutions and trading networks which had facilitated the relatively smooth functioning of the nineteenth-century international economy. While the war had undermined the pre-1914 social fabric of some parts of Europe, it had also created new methods of brutalising society which were to be developed by the Nazis. For, as Stanley Payne pointed out, Nazis did not ‘invent’ genocide. Between 1915-1923, the Turks had massacred nearly 1 million Armenians in a prototypical instance of genocide. Such brutal actions only further contributed to the overall sense of social and political alienation and desensitisation which resulted from the First World War.
Nazism was the most radical form of fascism and by far the most important. Although it was a dynamic form of fascism, Nazism was different in many different ways from the Italian prototype forged by Mussolini. Unlike Italian Fascism, the core Nazi beliefs combined racism with a strange conspiracy theory: the alleged plot of Jewish bankers and communists internationally to destroy the world’s nation states and replace them with a universal government.
In practice, the Nazi revolution turned out to be ‘revolution of destruction’, in the sense of the Second World War provoked by Hitler, reducing much of Germany and Europe to rubble, but also in the way in which Germany’s social structure was undermined by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945. Hitler defeated the attempts to restrain him by implementing the process of ‘Gleichschaltung’ (co-ordination) between 1933 and 45 and was able to impose Nazi values on everyday German life. This occurred to a greater extent than in fascist Italy. Although it was a complex procedure, Hitler proved himself to be both a skilled political manipulator and an original military strategist. But above all, Hitler was a rabid ideologist. As a result of his actions, the Hitler state destroyed the legacy of imperial and Weinmar Germany and undermined the humane values of German culture.
Unlike in Italy, the rise of fascism in Germany occurred in one of the world’s most advanced economies, for the German modernisation and industrialisation process during the nineteenth century had helped to create a powerful state. Political extremism in Germany developed further from the failure of the state and society to manage the complex problems arising from the country’s sudden defeat at the end of the First World War in 1918.
Although the First World War created the necessary conditions to enable the...