The Holocaust Historiography Project

A Note from the Editor (Vol. 4 no. 1)

Keith Stimely

Human history is more than the history of politics, but it can never be less. Politics pervades, and any sphere of human activity or thought (including the record of it), at any time, is invariably colored — sometimes controlled — by the impulses of politics in the realm of thought or action, or both. Men make politics — which is simply power-activity, a constant in all life — and when they do they may or may not have a body of thought and belief, an ideological program, in mind. They may seek power merely for its own sake, perhaps holding and proclaiming an ideology only as a prop and justification for the grabbing and wielding of naked power, perhaps not even bothering with this. For years the fascism of Mussolini was subject in mainline Western scholarship to this interpretation: Mussolini had no ideology, he was merely a luster after power, there was never any such thing as a true “ ideology of fascism, “ merely late and unconvincing attempts to formulate an ethos to give some sort of intellectual and philosophical credence to the crude holding of power by the regime. This interpretation held fairly fast until the early 1960s, when a University of Rome scholar named Renzo De Felice began to publish his work on Mussolini (still incomplete in 1983 after six volumes), which granted the Duce more powers and sensitivity of mind than he had theretofore been commonly accorded, and in particular explored his intellectual roots in marxism and the revolutionary syndicalist tradition. In thus “revising” Italian fascist ideology, granting it a certain historical and intellectual legitimacy and developmental continuity, De Felice touched off a raging debate in his country among scholars and the lay public alike; the shout “neo-fascist” rang through the air, as always happens when someone departs from the communist (and liberal and democratic) line on this subject. The debate has hardly subsided since it began and indeed has seen intensification in this, the 100th anniversary year of Mussolini’s birth.

In America, De Felice has had his counterparts in the scholars A. James Gregor and Anthony James Joes, both of whom have followed much of De Felice’s line of exploration but have taken him one step further. Not only recognizing the actual success and supreme potential of fascism in uniting the two most dynamic impulses — nationalism and socialism — of our age of “mass society,” they have postulated a “universal” fascism, seeing in the Third World marxist regimes of today much that is, in fact, “national-socialist” or fascist. (De Felice himself, it should be noted, holds like Ernst Nolte to a quite more precise definition of fascism, strictly limiting it in place and time to Western Europe between the wars.)

The variations in the work of De Felice, Gregor, and Joes, but more especially the vast differences between their revisionist views as a whole and what remains the established “line” on the subject, have clearly opened up a whole new way of thinking about a political ideology that shook our century — and whose day may not be over. We are pleased to add to the contemporary discussion by presenting as our lead article this issue James Whisker’s “Italian Fascism: An Interpretation.” Whisker traces the four successive “phases” of ideological fascism in Italy, from Alfred Rocco’s first attempts at constructing a unified theory out of the jumble of ideas that had influenced Mussolini and his party, to Giovanni Gentile’s final construct, during Italy’s wartime collapse, of a deeply philosophical and romantic “pure” fascism. Whisker points out the influence throughout the whole process of the thought of Georges Sorel in the transmutation of marxian-socialist “rationalist” ideas into the anti-rational, mythical ethos of fascism with its elevation of “feeling” over thought.

Whisker also deals in illuminating fashion with the issues of the fascist corporate state and its claim to bridging the gap between workers and management, labor and capital; fascist relations with the Vatican (noting the similarity of fascist social goals with those being expressed by the Church at the same time); foreign policy and its role as the unhinger of the internal fascist consensus; and the genuine differences between Italian fascism and German national socialism.

In all, it is an excellent interdisciplinary introduction to a historical and political phenomenon that bears study and has seen a wave of revisionary interest in recent years. Combined with our other articles in this issue — on topics as diverse as European demographics, the origins of the Middle East imbroglio, Roosevelt and post-Roosevelt foreign policy, and a peculiar social-psychological phenomenon relating to the “Holocaust” — as well as a fine selection of reviews relating to World War II, it tends credence, we hope, to our journal’s aim of representing a truly interdisciplinary approach to re-thinking the history of our century.