- Transatlantic Fascism: Ideology, Violence, and the Sacred in Argentina and Italy, 1919–1945
Federico Finchelstein is already widely published and well respected in the Spanish-speaking historical community. With this book his deep knowledge and skill begin to enrich the English-speaking scholarly world. Finchelstein presents many important new sources from Argentine archives, including the Archivo General de la Nación Argentina and the Archivo del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto, to the Archivio dello Stato in Rome. In addition, he has consulted important secondary sources. Frequently invoking a transnationalist mantra, the author clearly identifies with his historical generation.
The book opens with a European academic-style introduction to the state of theoretical literature about fascism and fascist relations between Europe and Latin America. From the larger inventory of typical features of fascism Finchelstein selects the celebration of violence as critical for the Argentine context of the late 1920s and 1930s, and again in the 1970s. However, he does not raise the questions of whether the millennial joy of [End Page 159] inflicting extreme pain and political mutilations upon rivals does not reach deeper into Argentina’s national fabric, nor does he question whether a study of the celebration of violence should include the practices of myriad leftist groups, if indeed they had possessed the heavy instruments to inflict such dishonorable deaths. The chapter concludes with a collection of Benito Mussolini’s thoughts about Argentina.
The second chapter takes the reader on a long tour of the history of Argentina’s complex political right. The author proves the significance of lesser-known politicians such as Saavedra Lamas, and the importance of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. What the 1939 Russian invasion of Finland did for Mexico’s political body, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia did for the discourse of early Argentine fascism. Chapter three discusses how European fascisms dealt conceptually with Latin America. It is a nostalgic trip back to a tradition of historical craft, when political history was allowed to stand by itself at the center of analysis. Even though the author emphatically thanks Sandra McGee Deutsch he does not base his arguments on everyday displays of popular culture or gender. To the contrary, utterances and rants of presidents, diplomats, and party leaders and images of Mussolini are seen as sufficient to paint a full historical picture.
Chapter four is the most important. Here, Finchelstein expands our historical knowledge by illuminating the many unsavory and paranoiac bonds between Argentine Catholicism and fascist theoreticians. He portrays and analyzes most convincingly the intense synergy between politics and this segment of Hispanic Catholicism as invoked by Argentine nacionalistas. In this sense, Argentine fascism contrasts to the German fascism that persecuted Christians and the Catholic Church.
At this point the book reveals its main gift: a splendid and necessary nationalist history of how the Argentine fascist-nationalist-Catholic political cross-fertilization emancipated itself from Eurocentric paradigms. Prior studies have focused in a more journalistic fashion on the conspirational links between Catholicism and Argentine fascism. Finchelstein takes the profound link more seriously and describes, while shuddering, the many conceptual strands that interwove to put this chilling weapon into the hands of the political right. In this way, Finchelstein produces truly superb scholarship and captures the deeper essence of this necrological cavalcade—full of millenial yearning and a perverted, anti-human spirit of purification. He brushes aside the unwarranted Eurocentric assumption that all fascism must spread from the European core to the world’s continents. Argentine fascists, while involved in a dialogue with European ideas, constructed their own political-theological metastructure, strong enough to serve domestic needs and in no way disposed to fall happily into line behind Mssolini.
The last segment of the book is called an epilogue, but it is not at all a last word or a postscript. Instead, it is the proposal of a new, more appropriate chronology for the political concepts and practices at the core of the book. Fascist ideas began evolving in the 1920s and...