A History of Fascism, 1914-1945. – Review

A History of Fascism, 1914-1945. – Review – book reviews

Mark P. Gingerich

A History of Fascism, 1914-1945. By Stanley G. Payne. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995. Pp. xiv, 613. $39.95.)

Following the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 1989, demonstrators in various European cities displayed placards denouncing the “fascist” government of the People’s Republic of China, illustrating how vague the term “fascism” has become in political discourse. As Stanley G. Payne notes in his latest work, an enlarged and much expanded version of his groundbreaking study, Fascism: Comparison and Definition, which first appeared in 1980, the term “fascist” is often simply used to designate “`violent’ `brutal,’ `repressive,’ or `dictatorial'” regimes, a definition that would situate Communist states “among the most fascist” governments (3). Payne sets the record straight; his examination of “generic European fascism” both as an abstract concept and as a historical phenomenon, is a remarkably brilliant synthesis of primary and secondary literature, which is vast in scope, cogently organized, and eloquently written.

Payne’s massive volume is divided into two distinct sections: “History” and “Interpretation.” Payne begins by defining fascism as “a form of revolutionary ultranationalism for national rebirth that is based on a primarily vitalist philosophy, is structured on extreme elitism, mass mobilization, and the Fuhrerprinzip, positively values violence as end as well as means and tends to normatize war and/or the military virtues” (14). Payne distinguishes between “generic fascism” and other forms of authoritarian nationalism that all too often tend to be conflated. Although some scholars might not accept Payne’s definition, it serves well as a paradigm by which authoritarian nationalist movements can be comparatively analyzed.

In the “History” section, Payne describes and analyzes the antecedents and roots of fascism; the rise and rule of fascism in Italy and Germany; four major variants and various minor movements; and the role of non-fascist authoritarianism in Southern and Eastern Europe. Included also is a chapter that considers whether or not fascism proper existed outside of Europe; it did not, according to Payne. This section is wonderfully rich, yet readable, chock-full of fascinating details that embellish–yet never impede–the flow of the narrative.

In the second and shorter section, “Interpretation” Payne evaluates thirteen categories of interpretations concerning fascism, ranging from monocausal explanations to the position that generic fascism as such never existed outside of an ideal form. Noting that “the search for an adequate theory or interpretation of fascism has generally ended in failure,” Payne argues for acceptance of a “retrodictive theory” that would provide a historical multi-causal explanation of the factors that made fascism successful in certain European countries (487). Although Payne regards fascism as a historical phenomenon, he considers the possibility that new forms of fascism will emerge, most likely in the Eastern Orthodox nations of Europe.

Payne’s work is complex and sophisticated, yet lucid and free of jargon, and it should appeal to the specialist as well as the general reader. This revised study is indispensable for students of modern European history and will likely remain the standard work on fascism for some time to come.

Mark P. Gingerich

Ohio Wesleyan University

COPYRIGHT 1998 Phi Alpha Theta, History Honor Society, Inc.

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