Hitler & Company

Three Faces of Fascism: Action Francaise, Italian Fascism, National Socialism

by Ernst Nolte, translated by Leila Vennewitz
Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 561 pp., $7.95

Unlike its Communist rival, European Fascism has not hitherto been made the theme of notable philosophical investigations. There are some excellent historical studies of both the Italian and the German experience, but the philosophers have on the whole tended to subsume the topic, when they have concerned themselves with it at all, under the more general heading of totalitarianism. The difficulty of dealing in rational terms with an irrationalist ideology may have something to do with it, but in the main this loss of interest must be due to the political misfortunes of the movement and the discredit which clings to its name. At its peak it did not lack defenders. The case of Heidegger—calling upon the students of Freiburg in 1933 to be loyal to Volk and Fuehrer—is only the most notorious. There were others, equally “engaged” and even more pertinacious, notably Carl Schmitt, already known during the Weimar period for his championship of authoritarianism. A decade earlier the signal had been given in Italy by Giovanni Gentle, for many years Croce’s rival in the exposition of neo-Hegelianism. Gentile had once represented the Italian version of liberalism (always a delicate plant) and he was still officially a liberal when in 1922 he entered Mussolini’s first government as Minister of Education. He soon went over to Fascism, and his educational reform achieved the dual purpose of handing the elementary schools over to the Church, while reserving secondary teaching to the Party: a typically Italian compromise, much appreciated by the Vatican. It is odd to think that this destruction of the Risorgimento tradition was accomplished by a liberal philosopher, but then it was an odd period altogether.

Since the philosophers have in recent years tumbled off the bandwagon, one cannot blame the politicians for being coy. Who today wants to be known as a Fascist? There are at least a dozen regimes among the newly independent states of Asia and Africa which could in good conscience lay claim to the title, but their leaders would sooner be called Communists, even at the not very considerable risk of losing some of their American subsidies. So far none but the titular head of the Saigon military government has publicly invoked the example of Hitler. The others keep mum or content themselves with an eclectic hotch-potch of nationalism, populism, and pseudo-socialism. The clearest case perhaps is that of Nasser. If anyone has the right to claim direct descent from the original fountainhead it is the Egyptian dictator, yet no one is more frantic in asserting the uniqueness and originality of his “Arab socialism.” Are the Baath clique in Damascus authentic Fascists? Well, yes (their friends in Baghdad, during their brief rule, massacred the Communists with a fervor reminiscent of the good old days), but one does not hear them proclaiming the fact in public. Few aspiring politicians these days care to be associated with the memory of the Duce, let alone the Fuehrer. Is Dr. Nkrumah a Fascist? He would be shocked if you…

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