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Is Fascism A Form Of Nationalism?

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Published: Tue, 02 May 2017

Yes, fascism can be considered a form of nationalism. It is no doubt an extreme form of nationalism, however. Fascism uses nationalism as its roots; as a tool to justify its other actions that are not explicitly nationalistic. Fascism though cannot be defined simply as just a form of nationalism as it takes the ideas much further, but the two ideologies do share some basic, core values that will be shown throughout this essay.

Fascism is an extremely broad ideology that encompasses a huge variety of historical political movements and ideas. ‘Fascism is probably the vaguest of contemporary political terms’1 is how Payne describes it. There is therefore no way to encompass all different and conflicting ideas under one general description, but there are a core set of basic values, or the ‘fascist minimum’ as Ernst Noble put it, that all theories of fascism have in common. The values are not however an exclusive list, they should be thought more as ‘an indication of the chief characteristics that they [historical fascist movements] shared’1. The strongest common values are pragmatism, elitism, expansionism and totalitarianism, ‘struggle’ and anti-rationalism. Regarding its relationship with nationalism, nationalist ideas are linked with each of the values in every form of nationalism, stronger in some forms than others. The two main variants of Fascism I will focus on are Nazism (the German National Socialist movement) and Italian fascism.

Nationalism, like fascism, is a very broad concept that spans from very moderate views right the way through to the most oppressive, extreme views. Nationalism can be viewed as somewhat offset from mainstream ideologies; it is compatible with them all, except for perhaps Anarchism, from the far right to the far left. Ideologies such as socialism, liberalism and conservatism, to use the main central three, can be considered to be relatively well defined sets of ideas and values that, for the most part, do not overlap and tend to conflict each other. Nationalism on the other hand is more of a ‘political doctrine’2 and in its basic form is simply the love of country. The concept of the nation is the key central idea for nationalists; it is the ultimate form of collective unity. It is argued that nationalism is more emotional rather than theoretical and intellectual and it is due to this that it is in essence compatible with most other forms of contemporary ideology. It is this emotive, anti-rationalist appeal that fascism uses to great effect in its own set of ideas as a tool for political action.

The most solid argument in favour of fascism being considered a form of nationalism is simply that fascists historically have been the most favourable supporters of nationalism. Unity of the nation is absolutely key to fascism, the nation is the ultimate entity and the individual is nothing. The individual works to serve the nations interests, not the other way round. ‘The individual, through the denial of himself, through the sacrifice of his own private interests, through death itself, realizes that completely spiritual existence in which his value as a man lies.’3 However, this loyalty to the nation was portrayed two different ways in fascism. In Germany under Nazi rule, fascism took the approach of a racial and ethnic nationalism. To German fascists, the nation is underpinned by racial roots. Historically the world was made up of ethnic communities which formed the basis for nations today. The nation evolves over time but its citizens are linked by a shared heritage, culture and, most importantly for fascists, blood. The German Aryan was publicised in Nazi Germany as being the supreme race and all other races and nations were inferior to it. The greatest person, according to Hitler, is the German man with fair skin, blonde hair and blue eyes. Hitler makes reference to this hypothetical person as an Aryan. He makes clear that the Aryan is the ultimate form of human, the master race. ‘All the human culture, all the results of art, science, and technology that we see before us today, are almost exclusively the creative product of the Aryan.’4 This idea links back to the emotive appeal of this racial form of nationalism, the idea that the German people were the supreme race was a tool used to win over the masses and worked well in the light of Germany’s defeat in World War 1. Italian fascists on the other hand did not factor race into their idea of nation inclusiveness. For them, loyalty to the state was key, nothing else really mattered. As long as a person was loyal to the Italian state then they were part of the nation. ‘Race? It is a feeling, not a reality. Ninety-five percent, at least. Nothing will ever make me believe that biologically pure races can be shown to exist today.… National pride has no need of the delirium of race.’5 For both these forms of fascism, nationalism is the underlying idea and is seen as the starting point for the whole ideology; without it, it would be nothing. In this sense, fascism can certainly be seen as a form of nationalism.

However, it can be argued that these ideas, that appear nationalistic on the front, take basic nationalist ideas too far, so much so that they can no longer really be called nationalist. Particularly in the case of Nazi Germany, where the ideas seem to be based more along the lines of race, it can be said that really it is a form of racialism rather than nationalism. The extremity of such fascist action and ideas ensures that it is ideologically aloof from nationalism, as opposed to merely an extension of it. I would argue however that extremity alone does not warrant an idea to be classed separately; Fascist racialism still has extremely strong footing in Nationalism, in the same way that Communism is regarded as socialist.

The positive view of struggle is a key idea in fascist thinking, and it is an argument used to show how Fascism can be distinguished from Nationalism. The central concept is that of ‘Social Darwinism’, an idea based upon Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, human existence is, and always has been, based around competition and ‘the natural outcome was the survival of the fittest’.6 The strongest and fittest people in society will survive and flourish, while the weak and unfit will die.7 This is particularly evident in Nazi ideology where disabilities and undesirables such as gypsies, Jews and blacks, who were perceived to be weak, were actively eliminated by mass genocide. Fascists also apply this concept to nationhood, in that weaker, inferior nations should be destroyed while the strongest nations prosper. Naturally this leads to very aggressive, expansionist foreign policy. War is therefore viewed as intrinsically positive; it is the ultimate test of a nation’s strength ‘blood alone moves the wheels of history’.8 Fascists argue that regular conflict is necessary to maintain the nation’s strength. This can be seen in both Hitler’s Nazi regime and Mussolini’s Italy throughout the 1930s with rearmament and ultimately in 1938 and 1939 with the German invasion of Poland and Czechoslovakia. These policies conflict with the right to a nation’s self-determination, one of the main values of mainstream Nationalism. Each state should have the right to decide itself how it is governed, and should not be subjected to outside forces and influence. This however was not coherent with fascist ideology, with Hitler declaring that the German people required ‘Lebensraum’ (living space).9 This provided the basis for the Nazi expansionist policy, and shows a clear difference between Nationalism and Fascism. Nationalists can fathom the idea of the right to defend a nation, however such expansion is not defendable from a nationalist point of view.

However, I would argue that these fascist policies can still be included under the umbrella of Nationalism, it can be described as ‘Expansionist Nationalism’.10 The only difference between this form of Nationalism and mainstream Nationalism is the fact that the right to a nation’s self-determination is not believed in. As I stated earlier in the essay, Nationalism is a broad term and the core values are not an exclusive list. At its base level, the expansionist policy is still based around nationhood rather than the individual. The expansionist element is not exclusive to fascism, either. There have been hundreds of historical examples of imperialism by countries who were not deemed to be fascist, for example the Napoleonic wars and various European empires. Therefore this element of fascism can still be said to be nationalist at its core, it is not unique to fascism so it can still be said to be a form of nationalism.

An aspect of the two ideologies that can help to distinguish them is their respective views on leadership and elitism. Fascism completely rejects any idea of equality and is extremely elitist in its core. A strong leader figure is natural and desirable, and somewhat inevitable as those with leadership characteristics will naturally rise to the top, and those who are not natural leaders will stay below. Fascism encourages this and believes that society is made up of three main types of people. The supreme leader (or á½’bermensch) who possesses complete and total sovereignty, the warrior elite, who exist just under the supreme leader in order to carry out the leader’s work, and thirdly the proletariat; the weak masses who were born to be led.11 Historical examples of the supreme leader are figures such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, both highly authoritarian figures with complete, unquestioned control over their respective nations. This idea can be seen in numerous dictatorships around the world, but fascism takes a particularly extreme stance known as totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is to seek total power, politicising absolutely every part of the nation and controlling every part of a citizen’s life. Nothing is private, everything shall become public. Such a defined social system does not exist in nationalist ideology, it is about simply being part of the nation and nationalists do not necessarily have a strong, authoritarian figure in charge. Both ideologies believe in collective unity of the nation and therefore everything that’s done should be in the nation’s interest, but nationalists do not go as far to say that everything should be channelled through an unquestionable leader. Nationalist thinking can, and indeed does quite strongly, exist in liberal democracies. This is a clear separation of the two ideologies, however once again the fascist viewpoint has its roots in nationalist thinking. Both ideologies are favourable of working for the collective good of the nation, fascism has only extended this to say that this should be directed through an authoritarian leader. Nationalism doesn’t specify, but it doesn’t explicitly disagree either.

To conclude, Fascism can indeed be considered a form of Nationalism, albeit an extreme one. Fascist ideas all have nationalistic elements and certainly have their ground roots in the nationalist ideology, in the same way that Communism has its roots in socialist movements. Fascism takes basic nationalist ideas and takes them to extremes, and there are certainly large differences in the two ideologies but for the most part, the central themes in Fascism are very nationalist in their nature and the belief of the nation being the ultimate entity is integral throughout all variants of the ideology. It is for this reason that Fascism can, therefore, be described as a form of Nationalism.


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