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Journal of World History 11.2 (2000) 401-405

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Book Review

Fascism's Return: Scandal, Revision, and Ideology since 1980

Fascism's Return: Scandal, Revision, and Ideology since 1980. Edited by RICHARD J. GOLSAN. Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press, 1998. Pp. x + 320. $55.00 (cloth); $25.00 (paper).

At first sight, Fascism's Return would seem to belong in the distinguished company of such influential collections of essays on fascism as Woolfe's The Nature of Fascism, Laqueur's Fascism: A Reader's Guide, Hagtvet et alia's Who Were the Fascists, and Mosse's International Fascism. All these managed to contain some seminal essays despite lacking a shared conceptual framework for approaching the topic. Indeed, outside the Marxist camp, it would have until recently needed a draconian act of editorial Gleichschaltung to avoid such a book becoming precisely what it was received wisdom to accuse fascism's ideology of being: a hotchpotch; a ragbag. The absence of a unifying concept of fascism which (mis)informs Golsan's book, however, is now an anachronism. Moreover, this scholarly failing is compounded by a main title and cover design which would constitute a breach of the Trade's Description Act if it applied to books.

Over the last five years a younger generation of scholars has produced a considerable number of publications on a wide range of phenomena relating to both interwar and postwar fascism which, consciously or not, bear out the heuristic value of a new consensus which is emerging on its definitional core. Whatever points of disagreement [End Page 401] separate Zeev Sternhell, Stanley Payne, Roger Eatwell, and myself (all of whose works on fascism are cited in the bibliography of Golsan's book even if internal evidence suggests that they have been hardly consulted), we converge on a particular approach to fascism. It is an ideal type which treats it as a revolutionary form of politics bent on eradicating the perceived decadence of the nation through the rejuvenation of the national community, the sacralization of the state, and the creation of a "new man" in a postliberal new order. Such an approach is consistent with pioneering research into generic fascism, Fascism, and Nazism since the 1970s by such scholars as Eugen Weber, Edward Tannenbaum, Emilio Gentile, George Mosse, and Ian Kershaw. Furthermore, it allows "genuinely" fascist phenomena to be distinguished both from the radical conservatism of such authoritarian regimes as Franco's Spain, and from the perversion of democracy into ethnocracy ("or apartheid liberalism") peddled by contemporary radical right populist parties such as Le Pen's National Front.

It is certainly understandable if Golsan and his collaborators were oblivious of this development within the debate over fascism when they attended the original conference in November 1995 which formed the basis of this book. However, it is still disconcerting that in the protracted writing-up phase not even one contributor took the trouble to engage at least with Payne's authoritative pronouncements on the issue of fascism's definition in A History of Fascism 1914-1945, especially since this book is referred to en passant. Surely the team could have met to agree on a working definition of their own, even if it was one formulated in contradistinction with the new consensus, thus giving the essays at least a semblance of coherence and continuity. What is even more inexplicable is that a conference held in Texas six months after the Oklahoma bombing missed the opportunity to deal seriously with the "return of fascism." The naive catalogue browser who sees this title surmounting a black cross (religious conservatism?) whose four arms have been airbrushed in red to evoke the swastika might be forgiven for assuming that the 330 pages on offer would probe into the resurgence of "putative" fascism in its most violent forms. Topics which leap to mind are the internationalization of neo-Nazism, the American hybridization of "imported" fascism with fundamentalist Christianity and the Ku Klux Klan, the importance of the Turner Diaries as the crystallization of White Supremacism's paranoid cosmology, the eruption...