Fascism and Democracy Today: What Use Is the Study of History in the Current Crisis?

Published date01 May 2016
Date01 May 2016
Fascism and Democracy Today: What Use Is
the Study of History in the Current Crisis?
Mark Mazower*
Anyone wonderingwhat use the study of thehistory of fascism is today willnd a straight-
forward answer in an unexpected place. On the website of the Greek extreme rightwing
party Golden Dawn
and under the section entitled Ideology(Ideologia), you will nd
the following:
For the well-behaved patriots,the members of Golden Dawn are evil fascists. But how can this be? The
question of whether or not Golden Dawnssupporters are fascists depends directly on themeaning of the
term fascism. In currentpolitical parlance, a fascist is someonewho acts violently and exercises tyrannical
authority over peopleand situationsLet us offer this excerptfrom a book by an anti-fascist writer, who
states the following:
By the end of the 20
century, the termFascist remains perhaps the mostunclear of all the major
political labels.. The term has beenused rather by its rivals than by itssupporters, and it was the
former who were responsible for popularizingits usage internationally from as early as 1923. The
word fascismis one of the most over-used termsof political abuse often synonymous with violence,
evil, repression and dictatorship. But if it means nothing more than these things, then communist
regimes, for instance,should probably be put under the category of fascistregimes, thus depriving
the word of any useful limits.
And the party website conscientiously goes on to cite the source of this quotation: the His-
tory of Fascism by Stanley Payne,
one of the most distinguished historians of the subject.
In this way, a leading European party of the far right, in a kind of bizarre feedback
loop, not only demonstrates its consciousness of the state of historiographical play but
turns it to its own purposes. Critics, it says, may call us extremists, fascists, criminals;
but all historical analogies are untrue: Golden Dawn is a genuinely Greek product, not
an imitation, and its members are not fascists but nationalists, pure and simple:
Golden Dawn is not a fascist or Nazi movement [since] at the epicenter of fascism lies
not the nation-race but the state.
Now of course, every Fasci st party worth its salt betwee n the wars highlighted its
impeccably nationalist credentials and often believed in them too, making sure they had
their own special colour for their shirts and their own national symbols. Sartorially, to
be a fascist between the wars meant wearing a brown shirt in Germany, a black one in
Italy, greenin Romania, blue in Spain, grey in South Africaand gold in Mexico. (It is hard
to resist mention of the immortal Roderick Spode in Wodehouses1938The Code of the
who featuresas leader of the much-feared Black Shorts.)None of this of course
meant there were not substanti al ideological afnities wit h other, older and more
* Ira D. WallachProfessor of World Order Studies and Professorof History, Columbia University.
A versionof this article was originallydelivered as a lecture at Cambridgein the spring of 2014.Reference is to
the Golden Dawnwebsite (http://www.xryshaygh.com/)at that time (on le with the author).
(Universityof Wisconsin Press, 1995).
The novelwas serialized in the DailyMail from 14 Septemberto 6 October 1938, and thenpublished as a book
by the presses of HerbertJenkins, London.
European LawJournal, Vol. 22, No. 3, May2016, pp. 375385.
© 2016 John Wiley& Sons Ltd. 9600 Garsington Road,Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK
and 350 Main Street,Malden, MA 02148, USA

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