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Putinism pp 116–126Cite as

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Defining Fascism: The “Thin” Method

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Abstract

There is an approach, proposed by Roger Griffin that I would like to call the “thin” method. It is the “X-ray method” that I mentioned in the last chapter. It is a method of ultimate abstraction. Instead of accumulating supposed characteristics of fascist systems and bringing them together in an ideal type—one asks: what is the essence of fascist systems or, as Griffin called it: what is the “fascist minimum”? According to Griffin, one had to find “a theory of the fascist minimum, especially if, when reduced to its bare essentials, the resulting definition is more economical and “elegant” than previous ones.”1 Griffin’s aim was to identify “a common core,” in order “to identify what constitutes its ‘family’ trait.” Griffin came up with the definition that “Fascism is a genus of political ideology whose mythical core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism.”2 Griffin’s definition stressed that fascism is, essentially, an ideology in which national revival (palingenesis) has a central place, and that it is populist and ultra-nationalist and thereby “precludes the nationalism of dynastic rulers and imperial powers before the rise of mass politics and democratic forces (…), as well as the populist (liberal) nationalism which overthrows a colonial power to institute representative democracy.”3

Keywords

  • Political Ideology
  • Nazi Regime
  • Imperial Power
  • Imperialist Theory
  • Fascist Regime

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Notes

  1. Cf. R. Griffin (1993) The Nature of Fascism (London: Routledge), p. 13.

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  2. One of those is Karl Dietrich Bracher, who spoke about “the problematic character of a generic term that was derived from Fascism which also included National Socialism.” K. D. Bracher, “Faschismus,” in E. Fraenkel and K. D. Bracher (1978) Staat und Politik (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag), p. 85.

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  3. It is this fact that makes fascism a pre-eminent modern phenomenon: it is intimately linked with the emergence of modern mass democracies. As Barrington Moore noted: “fascism is inconceivable without democracy or what is sometimes more turgidly called the entrance of the masses onto the historical stage” (B. Moore, Jr. (1991) Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy—Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (London and New York: Penguin Books), p. 447).

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  4. M. Mann (2004) Fascists (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press), p. 12.

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  5. P. de Lara, “Introduction,” in P. de Lara (ed.) (2011) Naissances du totalitarisme (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf), p. 12.

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  6. F. Borkenau (1939) The New German Empire (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books), p. 14. (My italics, MHVH.)

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  7. Cf. A. Gramsci, “Note sul’attrezzamento nazionale e sulla politica italiana,” in A. Gramsci (1971) Note sul Machiavelli (Roma: Editori Riuniti), p. 260.

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  8. G. Lukács (1966) Von Nietzsche zu Hitler oder Der Irrationalismus und die deutsche Politik (Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg: Fischer), p. 252.

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  9. Borkenau, o.c., pp. 25–26. (My emphasis, MHVH.) Another author who stressed this systemic imperialist dynamic of fascist regimes was Filippo Turati, who wrote: “To maintain itself in power, fascism is forced to keep the bellicose spirit of its adherents in permanent and ever growing tension. It must hide its goal of repressing and exploiting the workers with the magical tools and bait of national preference, of necessary expansion, of the conquest of markets, of empire and imperialism, that means of the war of aggression against other nations” (Cf. F. Turati, “Faschismus, Sozialismus und Demokratie,” in E. Nolte (1967) Theorien über den Faschismus (Cologne and Berlin Kiepenheuer & Witsch), p. 150).

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  10. Quoted by Z. Sternhell in “Fascist Ideology,” in W. Laqueur (ed.) (1978) Fascism-A Reader’s Guide (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press), p. 334.

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  11. G. Simmel, “Deutschlands innere Wandlung,” in G. Simmel (1999) Gesamtausgabe, Band 16 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp), p. 29.

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  12. Hans Joas wrote “Mussolini and leading Italian intellectuals (…) declared the war to be itself a revolution-not, like the Bolsheviks, as a favorable condition for the revolution and not, as the German existential bellicists, as a one-off internal transformation of man” (H. Joas, “Die Modernität des Krieges-Die Modernisierungstheorie und das Problem der Gewalt,” in W. Knöbl and G. Schmidt (eds) (2000) Die Gegenwart des Krieges-Staatliche Gewalt in der Moderne (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH), p. 187).

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  13. J. de Maistre, “The Saint Petersburg Dialogues,” in The Works of Joseph de Maistre (1971) selected, translated, and introduced by Jack Lively, with a new foreword by Robert Nisbet (New York: Schocken Books), p. 253. A similar positive assessment of war based on his teleological philosophy of history, can be found in Hegel, who wrote: “But even when we consider history the slaughter-table on which the happiness of the peoples, the wisdom of the states and the virtue of the individuals are sacrificed, necessarily the question emerges for whom, for what final goal these most terrible sacrifices have been made”

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  14. (G. W. F. Hegel (1970) Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte, Werke, Band 12 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp), p. 35).

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  15. It was Lenin’s concept of the avant-garde role of the Party that led to the split between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks in 1903. This break occurred over the Party statutes in which Lenin’s draft read: “A member of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party is any person who accepts its program, supports the party with material means and personally participates in one of its organizations.” Lenin did not want “paper members.” Already in 1900 he wrote: “We must train people who shall devote to the party not only their spare evenings, but the whole of their lives. Two years later he formulated this demand more precisely, wanting “to restrict the membership of this organization to persons who are engaged in revolution as a profession.” (Quoted in L. Coser (1964) The Functions of Social Conflict (New York and London: The Free Press), p. 98). (My emphasis, MHVH).

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  16. J. de Kadt (1980) Fascisme en de nieuwe vrijheid (Fascism and the New Freedom) (Amsterdam: G. A. Van Oorschot), p. 155. In his book De Kadt not only predicted the Second World War and the victory of the Allied forces, but also the coming of a bi-polar post-war world, dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union.

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  17. Again, De Kadt was here extremely prescient. On October 17, 1933, within nine months of Hitler’s accession to power, he published a critical article on Germany in the left-wing magazine De Fakkel (The Torch) with the title “Fascism is War.” His conclusion was: “Fascism is murder at home, fascism is war abroad” (J. de Kadt, “Fascisme is oorlog” (Fascism is War), in J. de Kadt (1991) De deftigheid in het gedrang—Een keuze uit zijn verspreide geschriften (Amsterdam: G. A. Van Oorschot), p. 54).

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  18. R. Koselleck (1973) Kritik und Krise—eine Studie zur Pathogenese der bürgerlichen Welt (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp), p. XI.

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  19. D. D. Roberts (1979) The Syndicalist Tradition and Italian Fascism (Manchester: Manchester University Press), p. 118.

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  20. This goal of fascist imperialist conquest: to ease class tensions by a colonial “outlet,” was taken seriously by Mussolini’s government. In 1940, for instance, after two mass emigrations, nearly 40 percent of the 110,000 Italians living in Libya were agricultural colonists, most of them former landless peasants. (Cf. C. G. Segré (1972) “Italo Balbo and the Colonization of Libya,” in Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 141–155).

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© 2013 Marcel H. Van Herpen

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Van Herpen, M.H. (2013). Defining Fascism: The “Thin” Method. In: Putinism. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137282811_7

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