The Lure of the Iron fist;BY CHARLES TOWNSHEND FASCISM: A History by Roger Eatwell, Chatto Pounds 20
Townshend, Charles, The Independent (London, England)
IT is possible to write bad books about fascism, but it should be hard to write a dull one. No political spectre haunts our century with such spine-chilling terror. Fascism was the great trauma of modernity. The 19th century's faith in the steady march of progress and peace was brutally shattered by an irruption of ostentatious violence, deliberate irrationality and murderous intolerance. The thoughtful bourgeois was replaced by the instinctual "new man", Hitler's tiger-eyed "blond beast". In the most ideological and genocidal of total wars, 55 million people died.
At least the irruption was fairly short-lived. The "thousand year Reich" barely survived a decade. Mussolini and Hitler perished, and throughout liberated Europe, "denazification", the purging of collaborators and the trial of war criminals reasserted liberal norms. Or did they? The re-emergence of "neo-fascist" groups has raised echoes of the old terror, and even the most insignificant can open up with disturbing ease the question of whether the original movement lives on - and the even bigger question: could it all happen again?
Roger Eatwell, a political scientist who has studied neo-fascism and other "new right" movements in France and Britain, returns a positive answer to the first of these questions. A total history of fascism must rest on the assumption that the whole sprawl of thinkers and activists from the "mad philosopher" Nietzsche (Eatwell's description) onwards form a single subject. In fact, this is not quite the total history that its title suggests. By focusing on Italy, Germany, France and Britain, it leaves out Spanish Falangism and Belgian Rexism, as well as Eastern European organisations like the Romanian Iron Guard or the Hungarian Arrow Cross, not to mention non-European phenomena such as Peronism.
Still, even the narrowish west European area presents a challenge for anyone opting to write a parallel narrative history of four major countries, and Eatwell's decent and serviceable style does not have the eclat of, say, F L Carsten's 30-year-old classic The Rise of Fascism. He is right to say that "national political traditions played their part in moulding the fascist regimes", but his "hunt for the more concrete roots of fascism" pushes him back an uncomfortably long way into the past. His accounts of early German nationalism or of the Italian Risorgimento are dangerously sketchy. Yet the sheer scale of his narrative tends to swamp the analysis of fascism itself.
Fascism is notoriously difficult to define, but the issue has to be faced by anyone trying to relate pre-1945 fascism to …
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Publication information: Article title: The Lure of the Iron fist;BY CHARLES TOWNSHEND FASCISM: A History by Roger Eatwell, Chatto Pounds 20. Contributors: Townshend, Charles - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: August 13, 1995. Page number: 28. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.