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COMMENTARY: HISTORY FROM ANCIENT TO MODERN

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The Origins of Fascism

Fascism came out of World War I. In nations that had given status to aristocrats the fascists romanticized about the heroism of the common soldier, giving a populist strain to the fascist movement. There were those who fought and survived the war who hated war or at least saw it as an odious duty. Fascists saw glory and heroism in war, and they were joined by youths too young to have fought in the war but wishing a share in the glory.

The fascists embraced the wartime values of a nation unified. The word fascist derives from the Italian word "fascio," meaning bundle, as in reeds bundled together into something stronger than each individual reed. Fascists were hostile toward those who opposed the war, whom they were inclined to label as traitors – a word that had been increasingly used during the war.

The communist revolution of November 1917 had gathered its strength as an anti-war movement. After the war the fascists held communists as their primary target. The fascists were nationalists, opposed to Marxist internationalism and the idealism of  Woodrow Wilson. They associated the democratic socialists with the communists, seeing both as Marxists. Germany's fascists saw Marxists as largely Jews and responsible for having stabbed the German army in the back.

Then nationalism and patriotism of the fascists was made odious by their authoritarian streak. These were not a very tolerant people. They were not very liberal in allowing others views that differed from theirs. They were quick want some sort of attack, perhaps violent, on those they were ready to classify as traitors. They believed in authority, as military command. Democracy they saw as talk and weakness. They believed in following a great leader. In Italy Mussolini was hailed as the leader, el Duce, and Hitler had the title of der Fuehrer.

Many aristocrats served the fascist regimes in Italy and in Germany. An aristocrat, Hindenburg appointed Hitler Germany's chancellor, but many aristocrats, including Hindenburg, saw fascists as vulgar. Aristocrats tended to be more international and more cosmopolitan than the fascists. Aristocrats had more schooling in the arts and in manners. One fascist leader in Germany said that when he heard the word culture he felt like reaching for his gun. 

The fascists of Italy wanted imperial glory for their country. They wanted territory for Italy as a reward for being on the winning side in the Great War, and they supported Italy effort to expand its empire. The fascists of Germany wanted to undo what they believed was the stab in the back in 1918, and their motto was "hail victory" (sieg heil).

Copyright © 2006-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.

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