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Journal of World History 10.1 (1999) 266-269

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Fascism: A History. By Roger Eatwell. New York: Penguin Books USA, 1997. Pp. xxvii + 404. $34.95 (cloth); $14.95 (paper).

Fascism: A History blends political theory with history in order to make accessible for readers one of the most intricate phenomena of the twentieth century. This methodological combination offers clear advantages but has some limitations. Roger Eatwell needs the history of fascism to substantiate the points he makes in the first part about the originality, consistency, and importance of fascism as a political ideology that, in the hands of charismatic leaders, recruited millions into its ranks and changed the course of European history. From the other side, political analysis imbues Eatwell's work with the kind of explanations that, transcending events and circumstances, allow the reader a deep understanding of the historical phenomenon. From these points of view, the balance between the two aspects of Fascism: A History is excellent. This is true, if we add a word about the depth and learning shown by Eatwell in these chapters. A complete review of the different theories on fascism is succinctly presented in the first part of the book. There, the argument about fascism as a remarkable event of political culture covering the whole of the twentieth century, in its different aspects—ideological, movement-party, regime—is established, shattering the argument that tried to limit fascism's scope to the interwar period and to define it as an exacerbated anticommunist reaction. The value of this argument is further proved in the third part of the book, which deals with the four main cases of neofascism, in Italy, Germany, France, and Great Britain, as well as providing an updated analysis of the problem in terms of historical revisionism, Europeanist tendencies, and new brands of fascism or postfascism à la Gianfranco Fini and his Alleanza Nazionale.

The core of the book is the second part, in which Eatwell develops the historical analysis of four cases: the rise of fascism to power in Italy; the rise of Nazism in Germany; the failure of the divided French fascism to crystallize into a political force able to create a regime by itself and the problems of Vichy; and a brief dissection of the British Union of Fascists and the role of their leader, Oswald Mosley—the fascism that never took off. The methodological choice is clear. Eatwell analyzes central cases that developed in different directions around the core ideology of fascism in order to present a range of possible fascisms. This is done on the basis of accurate historical data. It is here that the combination between history and political science comes to fruition. Each of the cases is closely analyzed, following the criteria set out in [End Page 266] the first part of the work, especially the definition of fascist ideology as a "form of thought which preaches the need for social rebirth in order to forge a holistic-national radical Third Way " (p. xxvi). The criteria for success—the fascist movement-party reach to power and regime creation and institutionalization—are also set out there: "[fascism] succeeded where it managed to achieve some form of syncretic legitimation, in which the insurgent party was able to portray itself as both economically efficacious and a legitimate part of the national tradition, and the Establishment elites were willing to accord fascism an important element of support" (pp. xxvi-xxvii). This also serves as a key analytical element in the historical explanation of fascism's rise to power in the second part of the book. It is in this framework that historical analysis transcends description, circumstantial explanations, and the limits set by events and facts to achieve a more complete picture of a western European phenomenon of distinctive political characterization that has profoundly marked Europe in the twentieth century. By stating the case so clearly and limiting the choice of cases analyzed in Fascism: A History, Eatwell opens wide the political and historical debate about the nature of fascism. Are his criteria applicable to other areas, beyond western Europe? As Eatwell knows well...