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Ideological Positions in the Fascism Debate

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Part of the Studies in European Culture and History book series (SECH)


This essay is intended to offer a kind of user’s guide to theories of fascism. The aim of the guide is neither to provide an exhaustive analysis—or even list—of those theories, nor to synthesize them into a new or more comprehensive theory. Instead, what is proposed is a map of sorts that will signal some of the landmarks and fault lines distinguishing various theories and provide orientation for those interested in what the humanities have to offer to a theory of fascism. As with most maps, the mode of presentation is essentially synchronic, and though reference might be made to some historic shift, no real attempt will be made to offer a history of theories of fascism. Moreover, the use of a generic term throughout this article—”fascism”—reflects not an assertion of some common value running through various specific historical regimes, but rather the abstract remove at which theories of fascism have tended to operate within the humanities. Where it might be the task of the historian to insist on distinction and detail, the theorists dealt with in this presentation tend, instead, to operate at the level of generality—providing paradigms for the orientation of more detailed study. Finally, no pretense will be made to cover in exhaustive fashion the literature generated within the humanities pertaining to the study of fascism. The objective, instead, is to indicate the major points of division between competing trends in fascism theory.

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  1. Saul Friedländer, Reflections of Nazism: An Essay on Kitsch and Death, trans. Thomas Weyr (New York: Harper and Row, 1984).

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  2. Susan Sontag, “Fascinating Fascism,” Under the Sign of Saturn (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980), pp. 73–105.

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  3. Fritz Stern, The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology (New York: Doubleday, 1965).

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  4. Kurt Sontheimer, Antidemokratisches Denken in der Weimarer Republik: Die politischen Ideen des deutschen Nationalismus zwischen 1918 und 1933 (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, 1978).

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  5. George Lachmann Mosse, The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich (New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1964).

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  7. Theodor W. Adorno, “What Does Coming to Terms with the Past Mean?” trans. Timothy Bahti and Geoffrey Hartman, in Bitburg in Moral and Political Perspective, ed. Geoffrey Hartman (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), pp. 10–28.

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  8. Gyorgy Lukacs, Von Nietzsche zu Hitler: Oder Der Irrationalismus und die deutsche Politik (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1966), p. 38. All quotations and page references from Lukacs are from this text (originally published in 1962) and are in my own translation. The core of this work is a condensed version of the argument elaborated at greater length in a study originally published in 1953, Gyorgy Lukacs, The Destruction of Reason, trans. Peter Palmer (London: Merlin, 1980).

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  9. Theodor W. Adorno, “Freudian Theory and the Structure of Fascist Propaganda,” in The Essential Frankfurt School Reader ed. Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt (New York: Continuum, 1982), pp. 118–37.

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  10. Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, trans. E.F.N. Jephcott (London: Verso, 1974). For a consideration of how the theory of “homo-fascism” is developed in this and other works by Adorno, see Andrew Hewitt, “The Frankfurt School and the Political Pathology of Homosexuality,” Political Inversions: Homosexuality, Fascism, and the Modernist Imaginary (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), pp. 38–78.

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  12. Kriss Ravetto, The Unmaking of Fascist Aesthetics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001).

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  13. I cite these two figures as emblematic of a much broader concern with ethical issues of representation raised by the Shoah: Arno J. Mayer, Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? The “Final Solution” in History (New York: Pantheon, 1988) and Dominick LaCapra, Representing the Holocaust: History, Theory, Trauma (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994).

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© 2004 Angelica Fenner and Eric D. Weitz

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Hewitt, A. (2004). Ideological Positions in the Fascism Debate. In: Fenner, A., Weitz, E.D. (eds) Fascism and Neofascism. Studies in European Culture and History. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

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  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, New York

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-349-73349-1

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-137-04122-7

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