- Paperback: 348 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press (July 3, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691044864
- ISBN-13: 978-0691044866
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,188,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Birth of Fascist Ideology
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"[This book] deserves to be read and, whatever one's reservations, to be considered seriously...[It] rectifies the stereotyped and narrowly derogatory image of a movement that was as representative and influential as its more acceptable contemporaries, and more original than many."--Eugen Weber, The New York Times Book Review
"[This] work obliges us to ground any study of fascism in the particular moment toward the end of the nineteenth century when politics expanded dizzily from a gentleman's hobby to a matter of mass opinion and votes. [Sternhell] shows irrefutably that fascist doctrine had complex cultural origins, drawing not only from conservative efforts to adapt to the novel requirements of mass politics,...but also from dissent within the left against the materialism, positivism, and reformism that mainstream Marxism shared with social democracy in the 1890s."--Robert O. Paxton, The New York Review of Books
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The general theme is the rejection of Enlightenment rationalism and liberal political values around the turn of the 19th century. This was a pan-European process and knowledgeable readers will already be familiar with elements of this process in Germany and Austria from the work of George Mosse, Fritz Stern, and Carl Schorske. Those scholars dealt mainly with radical right wing attacks on rationalism and liberal values. Sternhell argues well that, at least in the case of the ideological changes underpinning Fascism, this was a general cultural phenomenon resulting in a more or less complete intellectual foundation for Fascism accepted by important intellectuals in France and Italy before WWI, and then realized by Mussolini and his followers after the war.
Sternhell shows how a major element of the flight from rationalism, liberal values, and towards authoritarianism came from the radical left. Sternhell locates a key source of the revolt against reason in the "crisis of Marxism" that occurred in the socialist movement at the end of the 19th century. The failure of Marx's predictions of capitalist collapse and the outmoded nature of his conceptions of economics led to varying attempts to "revise" Marx. The best known and arguably most successful effort was Eduard Bernstein's reformist revision that reflected, at least in part, the reality of increasing Social Democratic participation in conventional politics. In the development of Fascism, Sternhell points to the fundamental role of a much more radical effort at revision, the work of Georges Sorel. Sorel's revision was essentially a repudiation of almost everything in Marx's mature thought with the exception of the idea of a cataclysmic, transforming revolution. Sorel accepted the necessity of a capitalist economy, abandoned the importance of class-based social change, denigrated rationalism and Marx's efforts at a "scientific" theory of history and society. celebrated the motivating power of myth and the irrational, felt that nationalism would motivate the revolution, and eventually sought a fusion with far right conservatives like the leaders of Action Francaise. Sorel didn't come to these conclusions from the outset of his career as a Marxist theoretician, but Sternhell shows the considerable continuity between his intial and final reconstruction of Marxism. An important intermediate was Sorel's syndicalism, his support for direct actioni in the form of a general strike and direct proletarian seizure of power and the economy. With the general failure of these tactics and the realization that the working class was interested more in reformist improvements in their social conditions, Sorel's disillusionment with the proletariat led to an embrace of integral nationalism and a convergence with the radical far right. Sternhell shows also that the repudiation of Marx involved a repudiation of much of the Western intellectual tradition, including attacks on Plato, Descartes, and much of the Enlightenment.
Sorel' intellectual progress both influenced and proceeded in parallel with similar trends among important Italian leftist intellectuals. By the eve of WWI, many of these figures had arrived at Sorelian positions. These figures included Mussolini, whom Sternhell shows to be both an intelligent intellectual and a charismatic political leader of a type lacking in French politics. In the complex and turbulent world of post-WWI Italian politics, what had been an intellecutal-cultural revolution became a political revolution.
This is a very well written book but not an easy read for general readers. Sternhell has written for an audience of specialists and a good background knowledge of the history of this period is really necessary to get the most out of this book. In addition, the book is organized thematically, rather than chronologically, which enhances exploration of the individual aspects of the story but is a bit of an obstacle to appreciating the depth of Sternhell's reconstruction of the development of Fascist ideology. The quality of Sternhell's analysis is well worth the effort required to get the most out of reading this book.
Misconceptions are dispelled--and Mr Sternhell should be thanked for his willingness to not only clearly and concisely separate Fascist principle from Nazi ideology but to also relate the surprising Italian Jewish contribution and memberships from before Fascism's move to government in 1922.
Names of philosphers and political scientists normally left out of other books on Fascism are given healthy coverage and should also be studied to fully understand why this non reactionary movement swept into popularity.
Finally I'd like to say that Mr Sternhell will convince you that parallel to Socialism and Liberalism, Fascism offered a original direction and answer to the development of European society and the problems that that development caused. It is as much the failures of Socialism and Liberalism to address and cure the problems that nineteen and twentieth century modernity created that successfully enacted the Birth of Fascist Ideology.