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15 Elements of a Retrodictive Theory of Fascism The search for an adequate theory or interpretation of fascism has generally ended in failure, so that ov~r the years the residue left by such discussions has come to resemble, in MacGregor Knox's phrase, the remains of a desert battlefield littered with abandoned or burned-out wrecks. Most theories of fascism can be easily shown to lack general or even specific validity. They mostly tend toward the monocausal or reductionist and can either be disproved or shown to be inadequate with greater or lesser ease. Moreover, most of those who deal with fascism are not primarily concerned with a common or comparative category of diverse movements and/or regimes but refer exclusively or primarily to German National Socialism, which reduces the scope and application of such arguments. It is doubtful that there is any unique hidden meaning in, cryptic explanation of, or special "key" to fascism. It was an epochal European revolutionary movement of the early twentieth century of great complexity, fomented by the new ideas and values of the cultural crisis of the fin de siecle and the ideology of hypernationalism. Fascism possessed distinctive political and social doctrines , as well as economic approaches, but these did not stem from anyone source and did not constitute an absolutely discrete new economic doctrine. Fascist movements differed more widely among themselves than was the case with various national movements among other political genera. Fascism was not the agent of any other force, class, or interest or the mere reflection of any social class, but was produced by a complex of historical, political, national, and cultural conditions, which can be elucidated and to some extent defined. Above all, fascism was the most revolutionary form of nationalism in Europe 487 488 PART II: INTERPRETATION to that point in history, and it was characterized by its culture of philosophical idealism, willpower, vitalism, and mysticism and its moralistic concept of therapeutic violence, strongly identified with military values, outward aggressiveness , and empire. On the basis of broad inductive study of the principal fascist movements, it should be possible to arrive at the constituents of a kind of retrodictive theory of fascism-that is, an elucidation of the particular circumstances that would have to have existed in an early twentieth-century European country in order for a significant fascist movement to have developed. Such movements-gaining the support of as much as about 20 percent or more of the electorateemerged in only five countries: Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Romania . The only other two lands where significant fascist movements developed were Spain and Croatia, but the growth ofSpanish fascism developed only after incipient civic breakdown and then civil war-circumstances of such crisis as to cloud the issue there-whereas in Croatia the Ustashi had remained a comparatively small movement before Hitler overran Yugoslavia and awarded power to Pavelic as a second choice. The elements ofsuch a retrodictive theory would include many factors, including the cultural, political, social, economic, and international (table 15.1). Obviously not all these factors existed in every case where a significant fascist movement developed, but the great majority of them did, and the absence of certain factors may explain the ultimate failure of one or two of the stronger movements. The cultural roots of fascism lay in certain ideas of the late nineteenth century and in the cultural crisis of the fin de siecle. The chief doctrines involved were intense nationalism, militarism, and international Social Darwinism in the forms that became widespread among the World War I generation in greater central Europe, coupled with the contemporary philosophical and cultural currents of neoidealism, vitalism, and activism, as well as the cult of the hero. Fascism developed especially in the central European areas of Germany , Italy, and the successor states of Austria-Hungary most affected by these cultural trends. It was also to be found in varying degrees outside greater central Europe, but elsewhere fascism was more effectively counterbalanced by opposing cultural influences. The impact in France may have been nearly as great as in central Europe, since some of these concepts originated there. Yet the overall effect in France was less, because the ideas were counterbalanced by other elements and because the overall sense of crisis was less acute. Moreover , most of the other variables were scarcely present in France. The case of Romania is somewhat peculiar, for the fin de siecle crisis seems initially to have been less intense there. Among the smaller...


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