The Rise of Fascism World War One killed 9 million people, toppled four empires, ruined whole economies and forever scarred a whole generation with the horrors of modern war and for some, with the bitterness of defeat. When the fighting finally ceased in 1918, all sides found themselves in an incredibly dismantled state, disillusioned with the horrible war and bitterly angry with their enemies, and in some cases their allies. In the aftermath of the Great War, a new political-social movement was taking root in Italy, and would later inspire Germany to follow a similar more extreme path.
Fascist regimes came to power in places in which the war left people disgruntled and conditions were so bad, economically and socially, that complete chaos was just a matter of time. Fascism presented new answers, when the old staples had failed, and promised an ancient Roman-esc glory for their nations in times of mass disorder and weakness. The fiery mode of the disgruntled subjects accompanied with the regimes emphasis on nationalism and militarism led to the most devastating and world-altering war the planet has ever seen.
The events surrounding the reign of the Fascist governments in Italy and Germany, mainly in Germany, would forever scorn the term as an evil-inhumane disease, as well as vague epithet for all things oppressive and unpopular. Even before World War One, European thought and popular belief, mainly amongst the intellectuals, had been slowly moving away from the optimistic view of the Enlightenment, that above all humans were the highest-most-advanced form of life living in a harmonious world governed by reason and rationality.
The influential ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche and Charles Darwin captivated the modern world, even if they were only widely read amongst intellectuals, and found their way into the subconscious of European society. Fascism itself had roots in the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche and especially appealed to the German people who were angry at their treatment after WWI, their current situation, and because “… there is something inherently autocratic, aggressive, and militaristic in the German character… (Nicholls 61). Nietzsche, himself a native of Saxony, followed the typical stereotype of the German, meaning that he considered power best suited to be given to a special elite, or mainly in the hands of one man. He felt that these supermen, were suppose to lead the obedient mass of sheep. His works, much like Darwin’s, however would prove to be taken out of context, which is common with ideas so abstract, and put to work in ideas that Nietzsche despised like nationalism and anti-Semitism. The plural Ubermenschen [Superman or Overman] never appears in Nietzsche’s writings, which sharply contrasts with Nazi interpretations of his corpus” (Wikipedia contributors). It is hard to pen down Nietzsche’s ideas, but leading scholars believe that he would have not agreed with a massive race of supermen ruling the world, like the Arian race the Germans glorified. The controversial idea’s of Charles Darwin were shamelessly abused and misinterpreted to the Nazi’s benefit as well.
The Nazis were social-Darwinists who promoted the German race, and more specifically the Arian race, as the most highly-evolved and superior race of human beings. They Nazi’s used this as mandate to rule over and collectivize the Germanic people, as well as an excuse for their cultural dominance and a justification to further their superior empire. Darwin’s writings generally disagreed with these racists beliefs.
Darwin’s writings indicate that no one race was better than one another, but rather more suited to thrive in specific environments, and thus cultures could not be judged by their relative success according to European values. Nevertheless, the Nazi’s shamelessly promoted their superiority of their so called “dominant” race of Arian supermen that they believed should rightfully rule the civilized world.
The results of World War One furthered their disenchantment with the old staples and ideas of European society and allowed for new ideas to take hold. People in Germany and Italy found themselves in great poverty, their country on the brink of chaos, and too weak to change their status. “The Fascists were opportunists” (Mann 2), who were able to take power by providing answers to fill the void left by the old dissipating ideas that were no longer accepted in a modern European society.
Fascists “W[on] mass support by promising to revive the economy and restore national pride” (World Book Encyclopedia 49), appealing to peoples want for a strong nation and fear of chaos. Fascists leaders, like Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, were familiar with the works of Gustav Le Bon, a psychologist who worked with the study of masses or crowds, who noticed that “what drove and inspired people en masse to collective action were their emotions and feelings, not rational discourse and argument.
So if a speaker wanted to arouse and excite his listeners, what mattered was not the quality of logic or truth of his argument, but his ability to tap into the subconscious will and soul of the audience” (Morgan 17). Both Mussolini and Hitler knew how to inspire a crowd with violent hand gestures, stirring words, key vocabulary, and a passionate fiery that was infectious. The French Syndicalist Georges Sorel also “… had a great influence on the pre-war revolutionary syndicalist movements of Italy and France, and on other unconventional socialists, including Benito Mussolini” (Morgan 18).
Sorel also believed in appealing to peoples emotions, rather that their rational minds because “the efficacy of the myth lay in its capacity to evoke a mass response, to inspire political action, not in its objective truth” (Morgan 18). Fascists were able to gain power by playing to the deepest fears of their public and by appealing to their hearts rather than their minds. Benito Mussolini formed the Fascismo party in Italy in the year 1919, shortly after the end of World War One.
The word fascismo itself, “is derived from the Italian word fascio, which means “bundle” or “union”, and from the Latin word fasces. The fasces, which consisted of a bundle of rods tied around an axe, were an ancient Roman symbol of the authority of the civic magistrates, and the symbolism of the fasces suggested strength through unity: a single rod is easily broken, while the bundle is difficult to break” (Wikipedia Contributors). The word Fascismo, and all its root and derivatives, would come to embody all the polices of Mussolini’s government and its goals.
Although his new political party originally derived support mainly from the demobilized soldiers, it had the capability to inspire a whole nation and encompass every Italian, not to say it was unanimously accepted. “Fascism appealed to those who were uprooted and threatened by social and economic change, whose position in society was being undermined, who had lost their traditional place, and were frightened of the future. These were, above all, the lower-middle classes – r rather certain groups within them: the artisans and independent tradesmen, the small farmers, the lower grade government employees and white-collar workers” (Mann 18-19, Carsten 1980: 232-233). To a poverty stricken country still ripe with the humiliation of defeat in World War One, the bitterness they felt for being “short changed” by the Versailles Treaty, as well as the fear of being a relatively weak country that was on the brink of chaos, the strong ideas of Mussolini and his Fascist party were very appealing.
The word itself, Fascismo, had ties to the old days of Roman glory, a glory that appealed very much to the Italians as a symbol of their past triumphs and power that they so desperately wanted back. Mussolini’s unique abilities as a public speaker accompanied with his ability to bring stability from chaos, as well as his promises to return Italy to a supreme world power, aloud his Fascist party to gain the majority of seats in the Italian Parliament and for Mussolini himself to become Premier.
In a display for Fascism’s glorification of militarism and respect for self-reliance, Mussolini did not simply accept this position of power that was offered to him by King Victor Emanuel III, but rather saw an opportunity to create a mystification of himself and the fascist movement, by marching on Rome in 1922, and seizing power for himself in a Roman-like take takeover of the symbolic capital. By the early 1920’s, Fascism had already taken over in Italy and the movement was spreading to other places all over Europe.
Although Fascist movements popped up in almost all of the major European countries, and even took power in places like Spain, Romania, and Hungary, it was the German Fascist movements, known as Nazism, that would become synonymous with the word and forever categorize it as an evil and inhumane stain on the history of the world. Much like Italy, extremists like the Nazis, were able to come to power mainly due to the aftermath of the Great War. Germany’s experiment with the ideology would prove to be far more devastating and extreme, which is not surprising due to Germany’s history and its horrid conditions during its rise.
Most Germans, especially the soldiers, that emerged after the devastation of World War One, felt betrayed by the parliamentary government as well as a host of innocent and invisible forces. This feeling of betrayal coupled with the deplorable ramifications, punishments, and limitations pushed on Germany by the Versailles Treaty, allowed for extremists, like the Nazis to take power by exploiting the fears, angers, and wants of the people. As Germany slipped farther into the depression, Hitler and the Nationalist Socialist party began to rise through the ladder and gain power and support in Germany.
Unlike Italy, however, “… the Germanic version of the nation differed from the Southern European, being a racial as well as cultural. It drew more on social Darwinism, anti-Semitism, and other nineteenth-century racialist strands of theory to generate a Volk, a singular ethnic-cultural unity transcending all possible conflicts within it, but erecting higher boundaries against other peoples” (Mann 6). Nazism, though it drew on the ideas of Mussolini and his Fascismo party, became a much more extreme and aggressive movement, than its Italian predecessor.
German fascism “saw itself as a crusade” (Mann 8) that not only focused on unification and restoration of the nation as a superpower, but as a moral force trying to purge their lands of imperfection whether it be by internal improvement, or the conquest of foreign lands. Through the use of propaganda and roaring speeches, they planned out their new perfect world. To reach this perfect tomorrow, “… the nation must struggle against its enemies for self-realization. It would be led by a paramilitary elite. The more radical fascists endorsed “moral murder. They claimed that paramilitary violence could “cleanse,” “purify,” and “regenerate” the elite who committed it, then the nation as a whole” (Mann 8). The Nazi’s pursuit of a greater Germany, and of power would start the most world-altering war in the history of the planet and stain Europe with the blood of millions of innocent civilians. The word fascism comes with the connotations, and rightfully so, of being a militaristic and aggressive movement associated with the chaos and destruction of the second World War.
However, the rise of fascism and consequently World War Two are the results of the failure of the first World War to settle anything. Fascist regimes were only able to come to power due to the extreme conditions that resulted at the end of World War One. Fascism was able to take control by: “appeal[ing] to the fear of communism” (World Book Encyclopedia 49), chaos, and a way to end class conflict by unifying the whole nation. Fascism has proved to be a great reminder of what can happen in a country that feels mistreated and weak. It shows that extreme conditions breed extreme results.
The movements that took place in Italy and Germany during the early 1900s, have long since left millions dead, but they have played a vital role in world policy ever since. Both Germany and Italy were not severely punished for their aggressiveness, in attempts to combat any resurgence of a nationalist movement of that magnitude. The events surrounding the Fascists movements of the pre-WWII era, have bolstered attempts of the world powers to play a key role in all countries suffering through political turmoil, in hopes of stopping such a radical movement from taking power.
Fascism has struck fear into the leading superpowers of the world, and has caused them play a more intervening part, which has resulted in wars and sanctions that encompass the standard world policies. Fascism will forever remain a terrible stain on the history of western Civilization, a fear in the back of the minds of all political leaders, and a reminder what can happen if things are aloud to go unabated. Bibliography Coffin, Judith, Robert C. Stacy, Robert E. Lerner, and Standish Meacham. Western Civilizations. W. W. Norton & Company: New York, 2002. Fascism. ” World Book Encyclopedia, 2001. Mann, Michael. Fascists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Morgan, Philip. Fascism in Europe, 1919-1945. London: Wearset Ltd. , 2003. Nicholls, A. J. European Fascism. London: Lowe and Brydone Ltd. , 1968. Wikipedia Contributors. “Benito Mussolini. ” 29 January 2008. Wikipedia. 3 February 2008. ;http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Benito_Mussolini;. Wikipedia Contributors. “Fascism. ” 31 January 2008. Wikipedia. 2 February 2008. ;http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Fascism;.