Ishay Landa: Fascism and the Masses: The Revolt against the Last Humans, 1848-1945

By Lancaster, Guy | Capital & Class, March 2019 | Go to article overview

Ishay Landa: Fascism and the Masses: The Revolt against the Last Humans, 1848-1945


Lancaster, Guy, Capital & Class


Ishay Landa

Fascism and the Masses: The Revolt Against the Last Humans, 1848-1945, New York: Routledge, 2018; 431 pp.: ISBN 9780815385851, 115.00 [pounds sterling] (doth)

In the United States, Donald Trump's 2016 Electoral College upset has been popularly portrayed as a victory for the uneducated, White working class deeply invested in regressive ideologies--never mind that his campaign was supported by moneyed elites and that the White middle class constituted his strongest base of support. Trump, businessman and alleged billionaire, has been transubstantiated into the voice of the downtrodden masses in the popular media. But this is nothing new. The scholarly and popular imagination has long associated fascism with an irrational citizenry sufficiently empowered to carry out its worst impulses. However, as Ishay Landa argues, fascism 'understood and presented itself as a militant rejection of the ideal of mass politics' and, indeed, 'framed its mission very much in terms of delivering the nation ... from the grip of democratic and socialist demagogues, and placing it in the hands of responsible leaders, who will no longer be at the beck and call of a foolhardy and unruly populace' (6). Over the 400-plus pages of Fascism and the Masses, Landa decisively counters all attempts to equate fascism with mass politics by offering a full and definitive account of the cultural politics underlying the emergence and implementation of fascist vision. His excavation, too, offers a way forward, a hope for a world facing the re-emergence of fascism in the 21st century.

The subtitle of Landa's book references Nietzsche's'Last Humans , content with their domesticated egalitarianism. Nietzsche's nightmare scenario was being lived out in the 19th century as democratic reforms spread across Europe, while the rise of trade unions and workers' parties gave the masses both economic and political power, especially as changing economies concentrated workers into cities. Modern healthcare meant that the lower classes lived longer, and modern manufacturing gave them access to material goods previously unavailable. The masses were also engaging in leisure activities and, especially with the rise of literacy, both consuming and producing culture, further infringing upon the privileges of the elites, who often retreated, artistically, into obscurity and abstraction. Among the upper classes, many former liberals and revolutionaries transformed into conservative reactionaries in the face of the masses, casting democracy as the rule of quantity over quality and warning that the rise of women's movements constituted a threat to national vigor, feminizing the population.

With these developments in the late 1800s and early 1900s, elites in Europe eagerly launched their respective nations fully into World War I, for 'overcoming internal tension was a vital consideration in the entry to war, almost as important as the external threat' (p. 145). In other words, the war was embraced out of hostility to the civilian life of these Last Humans. However, the Great War only deepened social discord and created further doubt about elite competence. Fascism thus emerged as the means of addressing these sharp social divisions. Fascist movements were able to consolidate the non-Left parties (as Landa illustrates with election returns), dragging centrists along with them, and when they got into government, typically by undemocratic means, they undermined trade unions, closed down technical schools and essentially stunted the class mobility of a previous era, offering, instead, a bourgeois anti-consumerist ideology based upon images of national glory. Far from representing the masses unleashed, both fascist Italy and Germany exerted tremendous state violence against their own populations, even placing tens of thousands of their own soldiers before the firing squad. And this fact has relevance for the ascription of blame, for those writers aiming to universalize guilt across whole societies, such as Daniel Goldhagen (1996), fundamentally (and ironically) allow 'those who clamored for the masses to give way and the individual to finally bear responsibility' to disappear 'into the same masses they formerly despised' (p. …

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