University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1998, pp. 330
ISBN 0-832-70720-2 (pbk) $25.00
The book's title is in parts misleading. Most of the contributions in this edited collection focus on the question of French fascism, its history and denial; and the responsibility of memory in France. The political significance of the National Front is discussed as it is the raison d'etre of post-modernism's beginning in France. This theoretical development is seen, and rightly so, as part of the denial of the ghost of Vichy France. Post-modernism, it is argued, works within the tradition of existentialism and pessimism that fascist thinkers called their own. The other side of this existentialisation of social existence is the elevation of technocracy as a solution to social problems; a line of development which reaches from Italian fascism to French planification, personified by Monnet, one of the founders of the process of European integration.
In addition to the chapters on France, there is a chapter each on Italy, Germany, and the USA's `friendly fascism' abroad, exemplified in a case-study on its involvement in El Salvador during the 1980s. Nevertheless, the `French Question' is decisive. Fascism's Return focuses on scandals, revision and ideology since 1980.
The chapters by Neaman and Dasenbrock are most interesting. They deal with the attractiveness of occultism and esotericism and show their continuing significance as a rallying cry of the Zeitgeist where the idleness of thought is celebrated and where schemes of technocratic solutions to and functionalist designs for social regulation are advocated. Both reject modernism and bourgeois constitutionalism in favour of a politics of a `third way'. The issues of the cultural pessimism and existentialism are most interesting in the contemporary context of 'globalisation'. Here, commentators talk about the globalisation of culture and that is, the `denationalisation' of 'identities' and their replacement by global 'signs' and cultural images. The reason why contemporary commentators analyse these developments through the lenses of the cultural pessimism of the right, is not discussed explicitly in the volume. Yet, this connection can be drawn from the discussion in these chapters. Unfortunately, the Italian left fascist currents (fascista di sinistra) are not analysed and taken into account.1 Without doubt, a critical assessment of left fascist concerns and their contemporary relevance would have improved the argument immensely.
What, then, is to be understood by fascism's 'return'? Does 'return' mean that the sort of fascism that reared its ugly and deadly head at the beginning of this century is in the 'process' of returning? Or does 'return' mean that we see the assertion of a fascism that is 'adequate' to contemporary conditions? If Fascism is indeed returning, would this mean that fascism was dead in 1945 and is now, after all these years, in the process of returning? For some, these thoughts might seem idle word-play. Yet, they are not. If, as indeed the contributors to the volume seem to accept, historical fascism amounted to an epochal event, would it not follow that it casts its 'achievements' onto subsequent developments? In short, either fascism is an epoch and because of this casts its shadow onto the present; or it was not an epoch and for this reason amounted to no more than a footnote in history, with no consequences for capitalist development once historical fascism ended. …