To what extent is fascism a product of the failure of modern politics? Is fascism still a threat to western society in the 21st century?
When democracy breaks down, people turn to extreme forms of government. Europe between World War I and World War II experienced a phenomenal growth in the popularity of extreme right wing political parties, particularly Benito Mussolini’s Fascismo movement in Italy and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party in Germany.
The rise of Fascism in Italy is commonly attributed to the failure of democratic government, Italian liberalism and a fear of Bolshevism after the Russian revolution of 1917 (Linz 1998, pp.177-178). However, long before World War I and long before the threat of Bolshevism, Italian Fascism found support from farmers on large agricultural estates.
Corner points out that violence and unrest had been commonplace on these estates as far back as 1880. Peasant workers lived and worked in subhuman conditions, and to the landowners the threat of rebellion was never far away. The failure of the Italian government to respond to regular shootings of rebellious peasants by landowners led to massive anti-government and anti-state sentiment among the peasants. The state and its institutions seemed distant and irrelevant, and this problem worsened as the years went on. Mussolini’s fascist party appealed to the angry and alienated peasants, promising them better treatment, and won enormous support (Corner 2002, pp.277-278).
The liberal Italian government of the early 20th century had allowed class divisions in Italian society to grow, between peasants and landowners in the countryside and between the working class and the middle class bourgeois in the cities. Mussolini promised to unite Italian society and create a new empire, echoing the glory of ancient Rome. This fervent nationalism won the support of the middle class, who feared a communist rebellion. Mussolini also appealed to poor urban workers, promising a minimum wage and the nationalisation of property in his 1919 Manifesto of the Fascist Struggle (World Net Daily 2004).
Thus we have seen that the growth of the Italian fascist movement was as a result of both the failure of conventional politics and problems that already existed in Italian society, both of which Mussolini capitalised on in order to gain power.
Similarly, in post World War I Germany, Hitler rode to power on the back of the failure of liberal democratic politics. As foreign minister of the liberal Weimar Republic between 1923 and 1929, Gustav Stresseman did much to restore democracy to Germany after the humiliation that was the Versailles treaty. Despite stabilising the German economy and improving relations with both America and the USSR, Stresseman was still criticised for complying with the harsh terms of the treaty of Versailles and the payment of reparations as stipulated by the treaty.
After Stresseman’s death in 1929 and the succession of weak, indecisive leaders that followed,...