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Refining the Concept of Generic Fascism (Review Article)

Refining the Concept of Generic Fascism (Review Article)
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  Refining the Concept of Generic Fascism Andreas Umland ZIMOS, Germany Roger Griffin with Matthew Feldman, eds, Fascism ,(Critical Concepts in Political Science), 5 vols, Routledge: London and New York, 2004; 9780415290159, £790.00 (hbk). Volume I: The Nature of Fascism , xxx + 385 pp.; Volume II: The Social Dynamics of Fascism , ix +359 pp.; Volume III: Fascism and Culture , ix + 395 pp.; Volume IV: The ‘Fascist Epoch’ , x +452 pp.; Volume V: Post-War Fascisms , x + 513 pp.Angelica Fenner and Eric D. Weitz, eds, Fascism and Neofascism: Critical Writings on theRadical Right in Europe (Studies in European Culture and History), Palgrave Macmillan:Basingstoke, 2004; xi + 286 pp., 8 pictures; 9781403966599, £49.99 (hbk)Michael S. Neiberg, ed., Fascism (The International Library of Essays on Political History),Ashgate: Aldershot, 2006; xxv + 618 pp.; 9780754625742, £160.00 (hbk)Arnd Bauerkämper, Der Faschismus in Europa 1918–1945 (Universal-Bibliothek 17049),Philipp Reclam jun.: Stuttgart, 2006; 210 pp.; 9783150170496, E  5.40 (pbk)Richard Wolin, The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism fromNietzsche to Postmodernism , Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ, 2004; xviii + 375pp.; 9780691125992, £13.95 (pbk)Stefan Breuer, Nationalismus und Faschismus: Frankreich, Italien und Deutschland imVergleich , Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft: Darmstadt, 2005; 202 pp.; 3534179943, E 44.90 (hbk)A. James Gregor, The Search for Neofascism: The Use and Abuse of Social Science .Cambridge University Press: New York, 2006; xii + 306 pp.; 9780521676397, £14.99 (pbk) What are the characteristics, causes and consequences of fascism? How have differentscientific schools conceptualized and explained fascism? Is fascism a phenomenonpeculiar to Europe, or the inter-war period, or to both? Is the notion of ‘neo-fascism’partly or fully sustainable? If so, how similar to, or dissimilar from, each other are thevarious permutations of classic and neo-fascism, and how politically relevant – if atall – is fascism today? Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a constant flowof new articles and books which, in one way or another, have tried to answer these european history quarterly   European History Quarterly © 2009 SAGEPublications, Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC, Vol. 39(2), 298–309. issn 0265-6914. doi: 10.1177/0265691408101443  questions. 1 Recent years have seen interest in this genre intensify and the sevenimportant works briefly introduced here form part of a noteworthy research wave. 2 Routledge’s ‘Critical Concepts of Political Science’ anthology Fascism , consistingof five massive volumes, may well constitute the most significant publication oncomparative fascism published to date. The breadth and depth with which most of the empirical issues and conceptual-terminological problems constituting the sub-stance of fascist studies are covered on these pages means that this is probably thefirst work one would recommend to somebody interested in gaining a comprehensiveoverview of the field. It is not only the large amount of case studies, theoreticalapproaches and individual viewpoints presented here, but also their careful selectionand the editors’ competent introduction which makes this project very valuable.Roger Griffin tries here, with the assistance of Matthew Feldman, to cover the wholespectrum of research into the varieties of pre-, inter- and post-war fascism, andincludes several authors who either go beyond, or are in contradiction with, Griffin’sown interpretation of generic fascism.The collection complements a number of previous studies by Griffin in which hehas attempted to outline the usefulness of a concise characterization of fascism as ‘apalingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism’. 3 In doing so, Griffin’s aim has beento bring to comparative fascist studies some unity and even uniformity with regard todefinitional issues – a project that was, in 2004, the subject of a heated debate in theGerman philosophy journal Erwägen – Wissen – Ethik (‘Deliberation KnowledgeEthics’). 4 If Griffin were to achieve his goal of bringing some terminological andconceptual discipline into fascist studies, this would certainly constitute an importantcontribution to scholarship. That is because, as in other fields, the sometimes exces-sively wide divergences in various scholars’ definitions of the phenomenon meansthat their research results often remain non-cumulative, and scholarly debates end upin acrimonious controversies about whose understanding of the nature of the subjectis ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Griffin’s proposal seems, against this background, methodologically and prag-matically helpful in that it: (a) compresses earlier longer definitions of fascism into ashort, memorable phrase – ‘palingenetic ultra-nationalism’; (b) captures its centralidea – the vision of a new-born nation – in a neat terminological manner by re-introducing ‘palingenesis’ as a central concept in the history of ideas; (c) follows, indoing so, the standard scholarly procedure of definition per genus et differentiam ,distinguishing between a substantive  genus proximum (ultra-nationalism) and arelational differentium specificum (palingenetic); (d) circumvents unnecessaryfuzziness emerging from an application of ‘fascism’ to a variety of domains (e.g.psychopathology, regime-typology, political style) by way of seeing it as – and onlyas – a type of ideology; (e) resists the inclusion of ephemeral characteristics, putativecausal factors, or institutional and behavioural manifestations of fascism into itsdefinition; (f) rejects associating fascism with only one specific historical era (theinter-war period) or geographical region (Europe); and (g) shuns the ambivalence Umland: Refining the Concept of Generic Fascism    or elusiveness (if not obfuscation) present in such formulations as ‘resistance totranscendence’ (Nolte) and ‘neither right nor left’ (Sternhell).In addition, Griffin has developed a comprehensive complementary taxonomy tohis theory of fascism, using: firstly, a variety of prefixes to fascism (proto-, crypto-,para-, etc.); secondly, a set of affiliated concepts (e.g. groupuscule, metapolitics, etc.);and lastly, a range of biological metaphors (e.g. slime-mould, rhizomic, aborial, etc.).While some of these and the above notions have been widely used in the study of theextreme right before, others are relatively new to the field. Griffin’s multifarioustaxonomy allows him to capture a variety of specific ideologies, organizational formsand political strategies related in one way or another to the myth of the new-bornnation.All together, the five-volume anthology edited by Griffin with Matthew Feldmanconsists of 100 papers, articles, essays, documents and excerpts which, as Griffinmakes clear in the introduction, are ‘not a selection of classic, let alone canonicaltexts’. Instead, they were ‘selected because of their effectiveness in illustrating one of the many pieces of mosaic that make up ‘fascism’ as a vast field of scholarly inquiry’(Vol. I, 3). Their breadth can be seen as an adequate response to the central challengeconfronting comparative fascist studies that was made implicit by James Barnes, anEnglish proponent of ‘universal fascism’, in 1928: ‘Fascists in each country mustmake Fascism their own national movement, adopting symbols and tactics whichconform to the traditions, psychology and tastes of their own land’ (as quoted in Vol.IV, 1). From this point of view, the anthology is a rich collection which will servespecialists as a compendium on the most relevant permutations, manifestations,conceptualizations and explanations of fascism, as well as providing teachers with asuitable basis for advanced courses on fascism. The range of issues dealt with in thecollection is so wide as to make their adequate discussion even within a longer reviewarticle impossible, but a few issues can be selected as illustrative of the anthology’ssubstance and breadth.  5 Concerning the range of fascism as a generic concept, for example, Griffin hadearlier attacked Walter Laqueur for including in his 1996 survey of classic and neo-fascism not only varieties of ultra-nationalism which use religion as a marker of nationality, but also certain religious fundamentalist movements. 6 The issue at handis further illustrated when Griffin classifies as fascist the South African  AfrikanerOssewabrandwag which, while not being a variety of religious fundamentalism, stilldeveloped a ‘fundamentalist version of Dutch Reformist Christianity as an indicatorof national identity and a basis of spiritual values, giving it a distant affinity with theFinnish Lapua movement, Spanish Falange and the Romanian Iron Guard’ (Vol. IV,8). With regard to the rejection of the fascist label by many putatively fascist post-war groupings, it is worth remembering that the Falange already ‘denied its fascistcredentials so as not to be perceived as “foreign” and hence un-Spanish’ (Vol. IV, 11).Furthermore, even such proto-fascist, high-brow, post-war intellectual movementsas the nouvelle droite cannot be dismissed as marginal phenomena because of their  European History Quarterly , .  considerable role in establishing a relatively stable nationwide basis of support [for the Front national ] via the think-tank GRECE and its associatedpublications. They have provided the [ Front national ] with a sophisticated,democratically ‘respectable’ racist and nationalist Third Way discoursebased on ideas of identity, roots and difference sufficiently distinct from thatof ‘classic’ fascism to give the organization admittance into the party system.(Vol. V, 4) In general, a focus merely on the successes and failures of ultra-nationalists inelections is insufficient in the analysis of contemporary politics in as far as a new,non-party international network, ‘the groupuscular right . . . has become thedominant manifestation of fascism in the twenty-first century, making assessmentsof [the] strength [of neo-fascism] based purely on observations of high profilepolitical parties deeply unreliable’ (Vol. V, 9). As well as such insights, one can findin these volumes numerous pointers as to where future research into fascism shouldgo. The only critique one could make of this project applies to the price of £790 for thefive hardbacks.Angelica Fenner and Eric D. Weitz’s collection of 15 papers on a variety of subjectslinked to comparative fascist studies can be seen as an excellent supplement to theGriffin and Feldman project. It comprises the following articles: Andrew Hewitt onideological positions in the fascism debate; Lutz Koepenick on Nazi politics and thecult of stardom; Claudio Fogu on  fascismo-stile and the post-historical imaginary;Claus Bundgård Christensen, Niels Bo Poulsen and Peter Scharff-Smith on Danishfascism and the Waffen-SS ; Dagmar Herzog on sex and secularization in NaziGermany; Diethelm Prowe on the ‘fascist phantom’ and anti-immigrant violence;David Carroll on the reality of the fiction of ‘race’; Maria Bucur on the new radicalmovements in Romania; Joachim Kersten on the extremist youth groupings in uni-fied Germany; Ivan C´olovic´ on football, hooligans and war in ex-Yugoslavia; ToreBj´ørgo on nationalist and racist discourse in Scandinavia, Michel Wieviorka andFranklin Hugh Adler on different aspects of the extreme right in France; Richard J.Golsan on the Black Book of Communism ’s role in the comparative study of fascism;and Angelica Fenner on Frieder Schlaich’s film Otomo . While most of the papers are,by themselves, worth reading, the editors’ introduction overstates the claim that thevolume’s cohesion is provided by the question ‘to what extent . . . the contemporaryright [is] linked to classical fascism’. Only some of the articles, such as Prowe’s,really attempt to answer this question. The foci of the other contributions are toomultifarious to provide more than a few separate pieces to a very large puzzle; on itsown, therefore, the collection appears somewhat random in its compilation.Nevertheless, it will be of interest to the specialist, and make good additional readingin advanced seminars.A similar appraisal applies to Michael S. Neiberg’s impressive reprint of 26 impor-tant articles from the historiography on non-German varieties of inter-war right- Umland: Refining the Concept of Generic Fascism    wing extremism. Such a formula would seem to be a more apt designation for thiscollection of articles than the book’s actual title, Fascism . That term is, for this partic-ular compilation, a misnomer in so far as the volume does not fully reflect the range of current definitions and theories in mainstream comparative fascist studies. Not onlyis the Third Reich dealt with in another volume of this ‘International Library of Essays on Political History’ (a series edited by Jeremy Black), 7 meaning that thisvolume contains only a few papers which deal with Nazism among other movements,but the book’s title also obscures the fact that neither East European varieties of inter-war fascism nor a single permutation of post-war fascism are dealt with in any depthby the contributions in this collection. What is surprising too about Neiberg’sintroduction and choice of papers is that he seems to regard Francoism as fallingwithin – what he terms – the ‘wide definition’ of fascism (xi). To see Franco’s Spainas fascist is a categorization that only a handful of non-Marxist scholars would stillmake today. The same goes for Neiberg’s decision to label both Mussolini’s aspira-tions and also his rule ‘totalitarian’ (xix); few serious comparative studies of totalitarianism list the Italian regime as properly illustrating the generic concept of atotalitarian state (even if many do refer to Mussolini’s affirmative use of the idea). Such misclassifications would be of little consequence in themselves had they notaffected Neiberg’s general assessment of the nature of fascism in power. Neiberg’sintroduction concludes:[In the case of Fascist Italy], as in many others, even a totalitarian governmentdid not result in the complete revolution (or, as most fascists would have itphrased, resurgence) in social attitudes that many fascists sought. AntonioCazorla-Sanchez [in his paper ‘Dictatorship from Below’], makes the samepoint on the political level. Despite the rhetoric of the Spanish Nationaliststhat they would change the inefficient and corrupt system that had tradition-ally governed Spain, this article shows tremendous continuity in the runningof government, especially at the local level. These conclusions call intoquestion the notion of political change in fascist regimes coming top-downfrom the central state. (xix)While this point is illuminating, its illustration would have been more persuasive hadNeiberg, for instance, considered the notion of ‘para-fascism’, as proposed byGriffin, who is conspicuously absent from this volume. (Neiberg briefly mentionsGriffin in his introduction, yet did not include him as a contributor.) Griffin uses theterm ‘para-fascism’ for a number of inter-war regimes, including Spain’s, whichmimicked the Italian Fascist and Nazi German states, yet, while being anti-democratic and nationalist, were not driven by a truly palingenetic vision. 8 To besure, the papers reprinted in Neiberg’s volume are, with only few exceptions, of avery high calibre. 9 However, I am not sure that I would recommend this book, if Iwere asked how best to spend £160 – the volume’s retail price – for the purpose of getting a good overview of contemporary comparative fascist studies.  European History Quarterly , .
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