Historical Knowledge, Historians’ Categories, and the Question of “Fascism”​

In this piece, a preview of his in-progress book manuscript, Federico Marcon questions whether our generalized use of the term “fascism”—covering both the historical phenomena of the 1920s-30s and the contemporary resurgence of right-wing populism all over the globe—is justified or helpful as a category for analysis. For Marcon, this is not a question of semantics, and possibly not even of historical accuracy, but a crucial issue of theoretical precision and political strategy. “Fascism,” he tells us, is a term that is simultaneously meaningless and overloaded with meaning(s). As such, it cannot illuminate the political character of historical or contemporary movements. And furthermore, it obscures the fact that revolutionary conservatism is not an outside threat to liberal democracy; rather it originates within and is produced by liberal democratic institutions.

Fascism is itself less ‘ideological,’ in so far as it openly proclaims the principle of domination that is elsewhere concealed.
Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia, p. 108

1

I eventually surrendered to the compulsion of writing a history of the word “fascism” in the fall of 2016. I was at the time visiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies, in Princeton, working on a manuscript on the monetization of early modern Japanese society that since then has been patiently waiting for my attention in a neglected folder of my laptop. The surprising turn of the events of that November was not the main trigger for my new resolution. For years I had nourished a strong interest in the intellectual history of the 1930s, on Nazifascism and the second world war, on daily life experiences in a time of totalitarian subjection and total war. But Trump’s electoral victory and the return of white-supremacist and nativist rhetoric, and before that the unexpected success of Brexit advocates, the rising popularity of Matteo Salvini and Marine Le Pen’s souverainisme, widespread anti-immigrant xenophobia and the growing tolerance for Neo-Nazi and crypto-fascist movements all over Europe, certainly helped to quell all hesitations.

I threw myself into the new project, now near completion under the title “Fascism”: History of a Word, despite the skepticism, if not open disapproval, of a good number of colleagues in the field. Some accused me of betraying my professional expertise in early modernity, others of invading areas of research removed from my institutional specialization, others still of corrupting the disinterested attitude that scholars should have towards current political events. In truth, a different set of concerns, methodological in nature rather than immediately political, framed my project at the outset. These gravitate around what has guided the entirety of my scholarly life: a desire to understand the historical nature of knowledge, i.e., what people come to justifiably believe to be true, for what reasons and scopes, how cognitive claims are legitimated, and how knowledge contribute to “make the world” in specific historical contexts. My book on nature’s knowledge and the project of reconstructing the effects of monetization on people’s understanding of their world are both framed by my interest in the history of knowledge, pursued in archives from early modern Japan. The history of knowledge, however, is also concerned with the nature of historians’ own cognitive labor: how do historians’ approach, categories, and aims affect the past they investigate? How does their conceptual apparatus contribute to create the past they strive to reconstruct? In today’s post-theoretical age, in which the naïve notions that historians’ job essentially consists in reporting archival findings and that archives give historians un-mediated access to the past seems once again pervasive, reflections on the cognitive practices of historians are preciously untimely.[1] Self-reflection, once the province of “theory” and today largely disavowed, has the important function of accounting for historians’ cognitive labor and its consequences.

Hence, the question that led my investigations since that November 8, 2016 asked whether the word “fascism” can really function as a generic concept that legitimately collects under the same rubric regimes that have socio-historically distinct genesis, on the assumption that they share some essential common characteristics. It inquired into the heuristic advantages and disadvantages of using the term to define regimes, movements, and ideologies distinct from Mussolini’s. This is not simply a matter of semantic punctiliousness or pedantic fidelity to actors’ categories. Not only is there a complex history of the various genericizations of the term that awaits to be told, but I also believe that the different forms of revolutionary conservatism of the 1920s-30s should be understood comparatively as different instantiations of a similar phenomenon. The issue is rather that “fascism” is a term that is, one the one hand, overloaded with meanings and, on the other, is, at closer investigation, surprisingly fuzzy and meaningless.

The book that consumed my time for the past three years is a historical, historiographical and epistemological inquiry of three interconnected contentions. The first is that behind all investigations of fascism writ large there is an attempt to understand one of the most bewildering paradoxes of modernity: people’s voluntary abdication of the emancipatory ideals of freedom, equality, and solidarity. The second is that Italian Fascism was only one, historically contingent expression of this political paradox, specific of the sociopolitical condition of Italian society in the aftermath of the first world war. The third is that the name “fascism” is ultimately a disadvantage for our understanding of the different forms of voluntary dis-emancipation of the last hundred years.

2

The term “fascism,” as we use it today, is an opaque blend of at least four distinct genealogies of meanings. First, Fascism is the proper name of an Italian political movement, ideology and regime created and led by Benito Mussolini between 1919 and 1945; as such, it was a historical “agent” that intentionally regulated people’s understandings, decisions, actions, and destinies. Second, “fascism” is the generic name of a political category in circulation between the 1920s and the 1940s, which originated as metonymical genericization of the proper name Fascism to emphasize the commonalities among the new forms of revolutionary conservatism emerging everywhere in the world in the aftermath of the first world war. Third, “fascism” routinely operates since the 1960s as a metahistorical category that is synecdochically attributed, with contested legitimacy, to right-wing regimes, movements, or ideologies beyond the context of Mussolini’s Italy. Fourth, “fascism” is an insult that is metaphorically used since the late 1960s against cultural and political personalities, parties, and governmental agencies to emphasize their illiberal, intolerant and chauvinistic behavior.[2] These four usages of “fascism” have distinct genesis, meaning and modus operandi: the first is historical, the third and fourth ahistorical, and the second is both; one operates as “rigid designator” of a political movement, the other three as a generic category with ostensibly universal application.[3] In singular form with capital “F,” it is the name of a distinct movement, regime, and ideology; plural and with small “f,” it is an attribution ascribed, with contested legitimacy, to reactionary regimes that did not use that term to refer to themselves. “Fascism” originated as a proper name and only later transformed into a term with universalistic claims. This process was antithetical to the way in which other political ideas—like, for instance, “socialism,” “communism,” “democracy,” and “liberalism”—informed political forms and institutions after they had existed for centuries as generic concepts.

When “fascism” is attributed to political movements and ideologies outside the European context of the 1920s-40s, even if simply as an insult, the four meanings muddle up.[4] In the writings of antifascist thinkers and activists contemporary to Italian Fascism, the generic use of “fascism” operated metonymically insofar as it predicated a structural or ideological linkage or proximity between the Italian and other regimes and ideologies. The predication of the attribute “fascist” (in technical terms, the “vehicle” of the juxtaposition) to other governments or ideologies (the “tenor” of the juxtaposition) was thought to reveal an underlying analogy or closeness that distinct names concealed. After the second world war, historians and political theorists transformed “fascism” into a political ideal-type capacious enough to subsume regimes and ideologies as different as Fascism, Nazism, Falangism, French Actionism, Japanese Emperorcentrism, but also the regimes of Peron, Pinochet, Saddam Hussein, and whatnot. These scholars, striving for a capacious definition of “fascist minimum,” turned Fascism into the name of a generic political form analogous to “democracy,” “socialism,” and “communism.” Its synecdochical attribution had the function of understanding, with taxonomical purposes, the inherent nature of the regime it was used to denote, independently of the use of the term by historical actors.

Contrary to the complexity of the historiographical debate on the nature of fascism, the origins of its name are quite trivial and serendipitous. The Italian “fascio” is a generic name for “bundle”—like in “fascio di fiori” (bundle of flowers), “fascio di rami” (bundle of twigs)—or “sheaf” and “stack”—like in “fascio di carte” (stack of paper). Today it is not uncommon in Italian to figuratively talk about a “fascio di persone” (a group of people) or a “fascio di problemi” (a bundle of problems).[5] It generically denotes an undetermined quantity of similar objects, originally of elongated form. Its use in political symbolism goes back to ancient Rome, where the fasces lictoriae—a bundle of straight branches of elm and birch trees—represented the power of the magistrates (imperium) and were carried in procession by their bodyguards (lictor). After the French Revolution, the fasces became a widespread symbol of republicanism. In the United States, for instance, it stands on both sides of the national flag in the House of Representatives; it appears in the seal of the Senate and above the exterior door of the Oval Office; it decorates the chair where Abraham Lincoln sits in the Lincoln Memorial.

The use of “fascism” as political category derives from the name Mussolini gave the new political movement he found on March 23, 1919, the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento, in a meeting at the Milan headquarter of the Alleanza Industriale e Commerciale. When Mussolini choose the term “Fascio” for his new political group, he was simply following a common practice of Italian politics. In political terminology, the term has been figuratively used since the nineteenth century to designate basic organizations and groups.[6] In the first two decades of the twentieth century, Mussolini’s was only one among many other groups and associations that adopted the term. “Fascio” was a quite convenient choice for him. It gave the movement an institutional informality and agility that a political party did not have; it emphasized that the union was temporary and task-oriented; it emphasized the heterogeneity of political origin and orientation of its members; and like other “fasci,” it distanced itself from conventional political parties and from parliamentary procedures. “Fascio” was merely a conventional name for a “union” and no special ideological content or political orientation were attached to it.

The political ideals of Mussolini’s movement were similarly a disparate and inconsistent bundle. Initially republican and anticlerical, it soon promoted itself as the defender of the Italian monarchy and Catholic traditions. Initially concerned with veterans and workers’ conditions, it soon became advocate of the sanctity of private property and of the ideals of corporativism and productivism. It presented itself as a revolutionary movement, but relentlessly defended the acquired privileges of industrial elites and agricultural landowners. It predicated nationalist values, but ruthlessly employed violence and forced imprisonment against those members of the national community who did not abide to its rule.

There was no coherent conceptual plan sustaining the fascist “anthropological transformations” of Italians into a cohesive spiritual community after Mussolini took power in October 1922, but an elaborated “sacralization of politics,” as historian Emilio Gentile has called it. Indeed, from a conceptual perspective, Fascism was a “fabbrica del vuoto” (a factory of void/emptiness, as the antifascist historian Franco Venturi famously dubbed it), a “regime della menzogna” (“a regime of lying,” in the words of the Constitutionalist Piero Calamandrei), “a regime of proclaims rather than a regime of achievements,” despite the best efforts of regime philosopher Giovanni Gentile. But Fascism also lavished Italy with “petrified ideology” (as Emilio Gentile called it), in the form of monuments, buildings, and ubiquitous marble inscriptions, which surrounded Italians with fascist slogans. It was a sacralized ideology, which glorified Il Duce, the deeds of the Camicie Nere, and the endeavors of various fascist gerarchi in parades, jingles, songs, novels, comic books, radio programs, cinematographic shows, public speeches, and secularized political liturgies. As Italo Calvino would later remark, “you could say that I spent the first twenty years of my life with Mussolini’s face always in view, in the sense that his portrait hung in every classroom as well as in every public building or office I entered.”[7] The obsessive self-referentiality of Fascism stood in for its conceptual emptiness: it kept the “bundle” together, so to say. Lacking a precise ideal (except from an exasperated exaltation of the fascist State), the purpose, direction, and meaning of Fascism had to be constantly reiterated through state rituals (marches, parades, games, etc.) and to the constant exposition to the Duce’s voice, his face, his rhetoric, and his body. Fascism’s self-referentiality was the kernel of its ideology. The phatic mode of its ideology concealed its inherent inconsistency.

3

In a popular but somewhat paradoxical essay, Umberto Eco meditated on how a term like “fascism,” coming from the proper name of Mussolini’s regime, could become the name for all forms of political authoritarianism.[8] “This historical precedence,” he writes, “does not strike me as sufficient to explain why the word ‘Fascism’ has become a synecdoche, a denomination pars pro toto for different totalitarian movements. It is pointless to say that Fascism contained in itself all elements of successive totalitarian movements, so to speak ‘in a quintessential state.’ On the contrary, Fascism contained no quintessence, and not even a single essence. It was a fuzzy form of totalitarianism. It was not a monolithic ideology, but rather a collage of different political and philosophical ideas, a tangle of contradictions.”[9]The fuzziness of “fascism,” which Eco conceived as being the essential characteristic of the semantic value of its generic use (what he called “il fascismo eterno” or “ur-fascismo”), derives in part from the absence of an original conceptual core and in part from the fact that it acquired its distinguishing traits in the course of the history of Mussolini’s political regime bearing that name in response to contingent events and dynamics, both domestic and international, between 1922 and 1945.

The analysis of the semantic palimpsest of “fascism” shows how this term resists universalization. I do not mean to say that it cannot be universalized or genericized. It has been and still is. I simply claim that what is it that is universalized is far from obvious. Differently from other coeval political concepts like socialism, communism, democracy, and liberalism, “fascism” is a term that had originally no meaning apart from the political movement it came to refer to as proper name. Differently from socialism or liberalism, “fascism” had no inherent conceptual content, no set of ideas or notions that existed before the historical vicissitudes of the movement it named. Throughout the first decade of its use as rigid designator, it had no specific content if not in the sense of a new style of rhetorical propaganda and a new form of government. Fascism did not have an original ideological core. Its ideology rather resulted after long years of adaptation to domestic and global pressures. In short, the conceptual meaning we assign to “fascism” today is nothing but the history of the regime it named, the character of which was the product not of a pre-existing set of ideals, but of Italy’s contingent situation between the two wars and of the opportunistic decisions of its leader.

Arguing for the disadvantage of “fascism” as generic term for different forms of revolutionary conservatism does not mean denying that Italian Fascism shared with them similarities of characters or ontogenesis. As Mark Mazower has noted, in different countries, different movements often turned to sartorial choices to express their local brand of ultranationalism: black shirts in Italy, brown shirts in Germany, green shirts in Romania, Brazil, and Austria, blue shirts in China, Spain and Ireland, grey shirts in South Africa, gold and red shirts in Mexico, and silver shirts in the United States. It was a global conjuncture, which found fertile ground in the world of the 1930s, characterized by competing imperialisms, social upheavals against the traditional elites, and widespread economic crises.[10]This conjuncture favored the emergence of similar political movements, which however maintained quite distinct political profiles. Indeed, the overarching majority of these groups did not call themselves “fascist.” It was rather their political opponents that utilized “fascism” to attack them. For them, the metonymical use of “fascism,” which can be dated as back as 1923 in the writing of Clara Zetkin, a German Marxist and close friend of Rosa Luxemburg, had the explicit function of highlighting the similarities of regimes that at the time strived to distinguish from others. Indeed, Italian Fascism and German Nazism developed distinct institutions, different relations with traditional conservative elites, and remarkably dissimilar ideologies. The relationship between Hitler and Mussolini was also fraught with tension and mutual suspicions.[11]

Distinct from the metonymical genericization of interwar antifascists, the search for a “fascist minimum” of postwar historians like Ernst Nolte, Eugen Webern, Stanley Payne, Roger Griffin, Roger Eatwell and others had the goal of selecting a number of essential characteristics specific of the political type “fascism,” which they argue is a political form analogous to “communism,” “liberalism,” “socialism,” and “democracy.” The classification of a regime or movement as “fascist” depended on the presence of all or some of these characteristics, which in turn synecdochically determined its belonging to this category. “Fascism” as ideal-type has no privileged relation with the Italian regime who first bore the name, to such an extent that, for Zeev Sternhell, fascist ideology emerged in France well before the foundation of Italian Fascism.[12] The aims behind the creation of the universal type “fascism” was not only the recognition that these regimes represented a political novelty, distinct from traditional reaction, but also the severance of the ties linking fascism to liberal capitalism in Marxist writings.[13]

The case of “Japanese Fascism” represents a sort of “positive histamine control test” through which we may verify the heuristic advantages and disadvantages or the epistemological limits of that conceptual category. The search for a “Japanese Fascism” is fundamentally a historiographical issue. Historically, there were no political parties or movements in Japan between the 1920s and the early 1940s that bore that name or that were so dubbed. There was no political ideology that openly followed the ideas of Mussolini’s Fascism. Nor did the political regime of the 1930s and 1940s openly embraced fascism as governmental model. Fascist ideas, texts, slogans, and agents surely circulated quite broadly in transwar Japan, enticing debates, confrontations, and imitations. But fascist ideas and themes spread to many other countries before the war, including those, like for example Great Britain and the United States, that ended up fighting against the countries of the Axis in the Second World War.[14] It is certainly possible to write a history of how Fascism attracted, inspired, and repulsed Japanese thinkers, journalists, authors, and political activists in the transwar period.[15]But a history of “Fascism in Japan” is not equivalent to a history of “Fascist Japan.” The debates and confrontations that Italian Fascism provoked in Japan is a historical topic distinct from the historiographical interpretation of the nature of the Japanese authoritarian regime between the 1930s and early 1940s. Whether Japan underwent a “fascist turn” in the course of the 1930s is a question of historical interpretation and political judgment, the legitimacy of which cannot be assumed but argued for—legitimation that, in turn, depends on the heuristic capacity of “fascism” to operate as generic category, which is also something that cannot be assumed but must be argued for. Japan in the 1930s, to which the term “fascist” is often attributed, can be in fact better explained as a case of pseudo-democratic institutions becoming qualitatively more authoritarian with the intensification of its military efforts in China without any revolutionary transformation, coups d’état, or marches on Tokyo: the limited democratic scope of the institutions established by the 1889 Constitution, the structural knots of private interests binding together armed forces, state bureaucracy, political parties, and industrial conglomerates, and a long and brutal war with China explain the imperialist and ultranationalist militarism of the late 1930s better than the appeal to “global fascism.”

4

Fascism, like Nazism, was symptomatic of the structural weakness of liberal democratic institutions that made them vulnerable to become totalitarian under certain socioeconomic conditions specific of the 1920s and 1930s. If analogously dangerous circumstances would arise today, evoking “fascism,” despite its convenience as boo word, would conjure up ultranationalists marching in the streets in unicolored shirts, invoking their leader, war, and different forms of “final solutions” of all social problems on the basis of some invented myths. In other words, it would be perceived as a threat from withoutdemocratic institutions, whereas Fascism, like Nazism, as revolutionary conservatisms, originated within them. In other words, the genericization of “fascism” has the reifying effect of externalizing a phenomenon that was born within democratic institutions. Fascism was not an invading pathogen, but an intrinsic neoplastic disease.

In my book I contend that “fascism” is not opposed to democracy but is indeed compatible with it, albeit in a perverted way. Preposterous as this reading might at first appear, it is nonetheless grounded on an idea that goes back to Antonio Gramsci, recently reprised in Dylan Riley’s The Civic Foundations of Fascism in Europe. I defend the hypothesis that Italian Fascism, like German National-Socialism and, today, reactionary populist movements like MAGA and Salvini’s League, might be better understood as historically specific forms of “democratic authoritarianism.” Briefly put, my interpretation builds upon Riley’s work as well as Gramsci’s notion of hegemony and his analyses of “Caesarism” to contend that fascism in interwar Europe, as a form of political reaction distinct from traditional conservatism, emerged from a context of vibrant civic associationism and within (not without or against) democratic institutions.[16] “Fascist regimes,” Riley argued, “are best understood as authoritarian democracies. By this seemingly paradoxical formulation, I mean that fascist political elites claimed a form of democratic legitimacy even as they ruled through authoritarian means.  Fascists dismantled parliaments, turned elections into plebiscites, and nullified civil rights, but fully embraced the modern state’s claim to represent the people or nation.”[17]

Mussolini, in the earliest phase of his regime, was quite keen to distinguish what he called the “liberal” and “social” democracy of the strongest institutional political parties from the political energies of the popular majority. In an article on “Democracy” he published on 8 February 1922, Mussolini explicitly drew the distinction between two meanings of “democracy,” one ideal the other actual. When it comes to institutional forms, Mussolini accused, “Italian democracy is a well-organized system of patronages and electoral mafias,” since it consists of a “multitude of egotisms, careerisms, and mafias.” The project of conforming political institutions with the “real forces of democracy in the country” is “in the hands of Fascism.”[18] Fascism, he had insisted since 1919, was born from the “democratic hypertrophy” that the Great War had left in its wake.[19] Mussolini’s solution to the crisis of democracy, as it would unfold in the years after the consolidation of the regime, was the invention of a new governmental form that realized the democratic spirit of the population through a totalitarian state that entirely encompassed the lives of its citizens. Even when this function of the state would actually legitimate its transformation into a despotic regime, its ideal of being a purer expression of people’s destiny (in a cultural sense in Italy, in a racial sense in Germany) persisted at an ideological level.

The category of “democratic authoritarianism” has some heuristic advantages. It accounts for the fact that most “fascist regimes” began as anti-establishment movements and parties that legitimately operated within liberal institutions. It accounts for the fact that these movements had all grassroot origins and mobilized peoples’ emotional and political energies by exploiting pre-existing forms of civic associationism, mostly among urban and rural middle-classes (petty bourgeoisie). It accounts for the fact that their eventual alliance with traditional elites, which preferred to exclude the masses from political power, was always difficult and unstable, on both sides.[20]It also accounts for the fact that both Italian Fascism and German National-Socialism (and, similarly today, MAGA and Salvini’s League) labored to constantly keep alive people’s feeling of participation to the state and its leader through slogans, rallies, parades, and associative activism—what Emilio Gentile has called the “sacralization of politics.” Historians have understood Fascism’s secular religiosity, with its daily rituals that involved the masses to symbolically participate to state affairs, as evidence of the totalitarianism of Mussolini’s regime. As Emilio Gentile put it: “The choreographic, liturgical and ludic aspect of the party that absorbed a large part of its activities and of its energies was, in the totalitarian logic of fascism, one of the principal functions for the fascist socialization of individuals and masses, a function carried out with full consciousness of its political objectives.”[21]

The alternative view that I propose is closer to Gramsci’s interpretation of the cultural hegemony of Fascism and interprets the mobilization of the masses in rallies, ceremonies, and local educational events not simply as a form of ideological coercion of popular consensus, but as necessary rituals that constantly reminded the masses (demo-) of their active (if symbolic) participation to the state (-cratia). If “fascism” might be convenient in polemical diatribes, its abuse and misuse inevitably incapacitate its heuristic efficacy, and thus its long-term value for the construction of political consciousness. Following Adorno, I believe that history becomes more advantageous to politics and life precisely when its inquiries do not bend or compromise their truth-procedures to the necessities of political fight, if we want to be able to properly answer Orwell’s dilemma: “Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism?”

[1]Marshall Brown, “Going After Theory,” Politics/Letters Live, August 24, 2019, at:
 http://politicsslashletters.org/uncategorized/going-after-theory/; see also Joan Scott, “History-writing as Critique,” in: K. Jenkins, S. Morgan, and A. Munslow, eds., Manifestos for History (New York: Routledge, 2007), 19-38 and the recent Ethan Kleinberg, Haunting History: For a Deconstructive Approach to the Past (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017). See also: Wild On Collective (Ethan Kleinberg, Joan Scott, Gary Wilder), Theses on Theory and History (May 2018), at: theoryrevolt.com.

[2] When it comes to “fascism,” it is often difficult to draw precise boundaries between its use as historical category and political insult. The OED duly reports this extended usage to criticize “a person who behaves in a manner perceived as autocratic, intolerant, or oppressive.” Henri Lemaître (1912-87), author of one of the earliest analyses of generic fascism in the postwar period, proposed to discontinue the use of “fascism” as slur and epithet, and limit it to historically specific “political and social facts.” See Lemaître, Les fascismes dans l’histoire (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1959), p. 8. George Orwell similarly criticized the use of such words as “fascism” and “democracy” as empty-signifiers which, loaded with symbolic associations, only served the limited purpose of contingent political diatribe: “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’ […] In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using the word if it were tied down to any one meaning.  Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way.” George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language.” Horizon. April 1946. At: http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit/

[3] On the notion of “rigid designator,” see Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980).

[4] See Isabel Best, “Should we even go there? Historians on comparing fascism to Trumpism,” The Guardian (Thursday 1 December 2016), at: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/01/comparing-fascism-donald-trump-historians-trumpism.

[5] For a complete definition, see entry for “Fascio” in the encyclopedic dictionary Treccani, at: http://www.treccani.it/vocabolario/fascio/

[6] The most famous among them were the fasci dei lavoratori (workers’ unions), which became promoters of struggles for workers’ rights and better conditions, in both urban (especially in the north) and rural (especially in the south) areas. In Sicily, the Fasci Siciliani dei Lavoratori, founded in 1889 and violently suppressed in 1894, required the intervention of the Royal Army and the imposition of the martial law to defend the property privileges of large landowners from the upheaval of dispossessed agricultural laborers. Another political uses of the term, also registered by the Treccani dictionary, include the temporary formation of political coalitions gathering members of rival political parties for a common end. In 1883, to give impetus to the democratization of Italian politics, the socialist politician Andrea Costa, the republican philosopher Giovanni Bovio, and the radical journalist and poet Felice Cavallotti founded a Fascio della democrazia (Democratic Fascio) to better coordinate and strengthen the political action of progressive parties in the Parliament. While “fascio” before the first world war tended to be a term in vogue among left-wing politicians and activists, in December 1917 the conservative economist and Freemason Maffeo Pantaleoni—later supporter of D’Annunzio and his Fiume enterprise—founded a transversal parliamentary group to push for a change in the strategy of war after the defeat at Caporetto (Karfreit in German): the group was called Fascio parlamentare per la difesa nazionale (Parliamentary Fascio for National Defense). The term “fascio,” besides its presence in syndicalist and parliamentary groups, could also be found in the name of non-political organization, such as the movement that promoted the need of a thorough educational reform founded in early 1919 by the pedagogist Ernesto Codignola and the philosopher Giovanni Gentile and called Fascio di educazione nazionale (Fascio of National Education).

[7] Italo Calvino, Hermit in Paris: Autobiographical Writings (New York: Pantheon Books, 2003), p. 207.

[8] “Ur-Fascism” was the title of a lecture Eco gave at Columbia University on April 25, 1995 in the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. It was first published in The New York Review of Book in June 22, 1995. The first Italian edition, under the title “Totalitarismo fuzzy e Ur-Fascismo,” was published in the June-July 1995 issue of the journal La Rivista dei libri. The revised “Il fascismo eterno” was included in Cinque scritti morali (Milano: Bompiani, 1997) and published in a new English translation by Alastair McEwen in Five Moral Pieces (Orlando, Fl: Harcourt Books, 2001), pp. 65-88. It was recently republished as Il fascismo eterno (Milano: La nave di teseo, 2018).

[9] Eco, “Eternal Fascism,” in Five Moral Pieces, pp. 72-73

[10] Piers Brendon, The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s (New York: Vintage Books, 2002).

[11] See the recent Christian Goeschel, Mussolini amd Hitler: The Forging of the Fascist alliance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018).

[12] Zeev Sternhell, The Birth of Fascist Ideology: From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution, trans. David Maisel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 3-35.

[13] Palmiro Togliatti, Corso sugli avversari. Le lezioni sul fascismo (Torino: Einaudi, 2010); Angelo Tasca, Nascita e avvento del fascismo (Bari: Laterza, 1965); Leon Trotsky, Fascism: What Is It and How to Fight It (Pioneers Publishers, 1944); see also: https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1944/1944-fas.htm

[14] Stanley G. Payne, A History of Fascism, 1914-1945 (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1995), pp. 129-354. See also the recent James Q. Whitman, Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018) and Michael Joseph Roberto, The Coming of the American Behemoth: The Origins of Fascism in the United States, 1920-1940 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2018).

[15] Reto Hofmann, The Fascist Effect: Japan and Italy, 1915-1952 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015).

[16] See Gregory J. Kasza, The Conscription Society: Administered Mass Organizations (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).

[17]Dylan Riley, The Civic Foundations of Fascism in Europe (New York: Verso, 2019).

[18]Opera Omnia di Benito Mussolini, ed. Edoardo and Duilio Susmel, vol. 19 (Firenze: La Fenice, 1956), pp. 43-45.

[19] Opera Omnia di Benito Mussolini, vol. 12, p. 311.

[20] Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York: Vintage, 2004), pp. 128-131.

[21] Emilio Gentile, La via italiana al totalitarismo. Il partito e lo Stato nel regime fascista (Roma: Carocci, 2008), p. 187.

3 Replies to “Federico Marcon, Historical Knowledge, Historians’ Categories, and the Question of “Fascism””

  1. A very informative read and a very precise anatomy of the concept. I’d be interested to see, in Frederico’s fuller account, if or how “Bolshevism” or the October Revolution factored into fascism’s emergence as “democratic authoritarianism” from within liberal democracy too.

    1. Max, thank you! Very briefly, in the book I refer to the Bolshevik revolution in three instances: the first is semiotic, insofar as the term “Bolshevism”, like “Fascism” is etymologically meaningless; the second is historical, where the revolution is both trigger of the counterrevolutionary movements in Italy and Germany and inspiration for the grassroots organization of the Blackshirts; the third is historiographical, where I trace the debates on the category of “fascism” from the Dimitrov’s Comintern Congress of 1934 to the Cold War’s Great Patriotic War against Fascim.

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