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Fascism And Nazism In Europe

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The First World War left Europe devastated. A war of this magnitude not only rendered people completely hopeless but also created a power vacuum that needed to be filled. The democratic governments had failed to deliver, therefore people in hope of change welcomed extreme left and right winged parties. Around this time, the predominant right-winged political ideologies of Nazism and Fascism came to the forefront. In the period between the First and Second World War, Hitler's Nazi Germany and Mussolini's Fascist Italy provided the ideal alternative to the ineffective parliament democracy. Although considered comparable due to their ideological similarities and the reasons behind their popularity, Nazism and Fascism were "closer in theory than in practice" (Macdonald, 48). While the similarities cannot be disregarded, they were quite different in many aspects, which primarily include the Nazi emphasis on racism and anti-Semitism, the extent to which totalitarianism was practiced by both and the authority exercised by the Church in the two.

In theory, the ideologies of Fascism and Nazism contain certain parallels. Fascism is "a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition" ("Fascism"). Nazism is "the body of political and economic doctrines held and put into effect by the Nazis in Germany from 1933 to 1945 including the totalitarian principle of government, predominance of especially Germanic groups assumed to be racially superior, and supremacy of the führer" ("Nazism"). Both were anti-democratic ideologies with one-party dictatorships; the leaders enjoyed unchallenged supremacy and any kind of opposition was considered absolutely intolerable by both and thus, it had to be crushed.

Another similar aspect of the two was the reasons behind their popularity. In both cases, the world war had left Italy and Germany economically and politically crippled. It was not only the failure of the democratic system that contributed to the swift growth of Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany. The perceived threat of communism taking over the European peninsula was so massive that people were willing to support these rightist ideologies partly because they were opposed to communism. As Betts puts it, "Fascism and Nazism … gained popularity as defenders against an imposing Communist menace" (1).

On the other hand, one stark contrast between the two was the Nazi racial and anti-Semitic policy. While for Fascism the state was most important, Nazism considered Hitler's concept of 'Aryanism' and the master race to be the most significant of all. As Stewart said "Hitler did believe the Germans were a master race and that other races were inferior … Jews and Slavs were sub-humans" (26). Hitler not only passed laws against Jews, stripping them off their nationality and rights, he also forced them into concentration camps, where they were ruthlessly murdered. All over the Nazi empire Jews were arrested and sent to extermination camps where they were starved and worked to death (McKay, 923). Also there were gas chambers, where the captives were locked up and choked to death on poison gas (Mckay, 923). In contrast, "The one thing that the Mussolinian Fascism did not openly espouse, ironically, was racism. Unlike Hitler's National Socialism, Mussolinian Fascism was at its theoretical core a non-race based political philosophy" (Borsella, 126). Mussolini, unlike Hitler, never expressed any such obsession with the glorification of a particular race. This staunch hatred for the Jews was a major difference between the two philosophies.

Coming to the next difference, ideologically both Fascism and Nazism were totalitarian in nature i.e. the political systems had complete authority over every aspect of the society, with no freedom given to any individual or group of people. However, once in practice the German Nazi regime was more totalitarian than the Italian Fascist regime. As Hannah Arendt points out, Mussolini's regime was "Not totalitarian, but just an ordinary nationalist dictatorship…" (qtd. in Germino, 132). Hitler was the head of state as well as Chancellor whereas in Italy King Victor Emanuel remained Head of State which, in essence, limited Mussolini's freedom of policy making. The police and security services were more repressive in Germany with no mercy given to even the slightest opposition. Italy's secret service, OVRA, on the other hand, was relatively lenient. The Nazis literally controlled every aspect of the society, from the curriculum in schools with history and biology books re-written to match Nazi ideas, to the role of women and families in Germany (Lowe, 312). This was not the case in Italy. All things considered, Nazism exercised totalitarianism to a further extent than Fascism did.

Lastly, the Church was considered a traditional source of authority and guidance all over Europe. It exercised considerable amount of power, with countries taking its opinions into account. During the Fascist regime, the Italian Catholic Church exercised a powerful position in Italy and was a constant opposition to the Fascist ideology. But even then the Fascist government never did anything to undermine the Church. However, under Nazism the Christian Church was Germanized (Walmer, 134). In Germany, when the church became disillusioned with the Nazis and began to protest, Hitler dissolved it and organized it into a Reich church with a Nazi as the archbishop (Lowe, 314). Where Fascism did not oppress the traditional source of authority, under Nazism any source of authority, other than Hitler, was eliminated.

In conclusion, Fascism and Nazism were welcomed by the world as they offered the best possible alternative to a failed democratic system. During those times of hopelessness, people wanted a leader to guide them which is why these ideologies flourished. Theoretically they were considered to be same, with Nazism being considered as an extension to Fascism. However, Hitler took Nazism to an unprecedented level of racial discrimination and brutality, which was the complete opposite to Fascism in practice. Overall, both the ideologies come across as more different than similar.


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