Fascism and Ideology - Ideological Origins - Early Influences (495 BC—1880 AD)

Early Influences (495 BC—1880 AD)

Early influences that shaped the ideology of fascism have been dated back to ancient Greece. The political culture of ancient Greece under Pericles and particularly the ancient Greek city state of Sparta with its emphasis on rule by a minority of elites and on racial purity were admired by the Nazis. The Spartans were emulated by quasi-fascist 4th of August Regime of Ioannis Metaxas called for Greeks to wholly commit themselves to the nation with self-control as the Spartans had done. Nazi Führer Adolf Hitler in emphasized that Germany should adhere to Hellenic values and culture – particularly that of ancient Sparta. Hitler rebuked potential criticism of Hellenic values being non-German by emphasizing the common Aryan race connection with ancient Greeks, saying in Mein Kampf: "One must not allow the differences of the individual races to tear up the greater racial community". Hitler went on to say in Mein Kampf: "The struggle that rages today involves very great aims: a culture fights for its existence, which combines millenniums and embraces Hellenism and Germanity together." Supporters of the 4th of August Regime in the 1930s to 1940s justified Metaxas' dictatorship on the basis that the "First Greek Civilization" involved an Athenian dictatorship led by Pericles who had brought ancient Greece to greatness. Philosopher Plato's work The Republic (approx. 380 BC). In The Republic, Plato emphasizes the need for absolute and unlimited authority of a philosopher king in an ideal state. Plato supported many similar political positions to fascism. Plato believed the ideal state would be ruled by an elite class of rulers known as "Guardians", and rejected the idea of social equality. Plato believed in an authoritarian state with unlimited powers. Plato held Athenian democracy in contempt, saying "The laws of democracy remain a dead letter, its freedom is anarchy, its equality the equality of unequals". Like fascism Plato emphasized that individuals must adhere to laws and perform duties while declining to grant individuals rights to limit or reject state interference in their lives. Like fascism Plato claimed that an ideal state would have state-run education that was designed to promote able rulers and warriors. Italian Fascist Duce Benito Mussolini had a strong attachment to the works of Plato. However there are significant differences between Plato's ideals and fascism. Unlike fascism Plato never promoted expansionism and he was opposed to war. Unlike fascism, Plato advocated an effectively communist economy while fascism is ideologically opposed to communism.

Italian Fascists identified their ideology as being connected to the legacy of ancient Rome and particularly the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar and Augustus were idolized by Italian Fascists. Italian Fascism views the modern state of Italy as the heir of the Roman Empire and emphasized the need for renovation of Italian culture to "return to Roman values". Italian Fascists identify the Roman Empire as being an ideal organic and stable society in contrast to contemporary individualist liberal society that they identify as being chaotic in comparison. Julius Caesar has been identified as a role model by fascists because he led a revolution that overthrew an old order to establish a new order based on a dictatorship in which Julius Caesar wielded absolute power. Benito Mussolini emphasized the need for dictatorship, activist leadership style, and the leader cult like that of Julius Caesar, that involved "the will to fix a unifying and balanced centre and a common will to action". Italian Fascists also idolized Augustus as the champion who built the Roman Empire. The fasces – a symbol of Roman authority – was the symbol of the Italian Fascists, and was aditionally adopted by many other national fascist movements formed in emulation of Italian Fascism. While a number of Nazis rejected Roman civilization that they saw as incompatible with Aryan Germanic culture that they saw as outside of Roman culture, Adolf Hitler personally admired ancient Rome. Hitler focused on ancient Rome during its rise to dominance and at the height of its power as a model to follow and Hitler deeply admired the Roman Empire for its ability to forge a strong and unified civilization, and in private conversations he blamed the fall on the Roman Empire on the Roman adoption of Christianity that he claimed authorized the racial intermixing that he claimed weakened Rome and lead to its destruction.

There were a number of influences on fascism from the Renaissance era in Europe. Niccolo Machiavelli is known to have influenced Italian Fascism, particularly his promotion of the absolute authority of the state. Machiavelli rejected all existing traditional and metaphysical assumptions of the time—especially those associated with the Middle Ages, and asserted as an Italian patriot that Italy needed a strong and all-powerful state led by a vigorous and ruthless leader who would conquer and unify Italy. English political theorist Thomas Hobbes in his work Leviathan (1651) created the ideology of absolutism that advocated an all-powerful absolute monarchy to maintain order within a state. Absolutism was an influence on fascism. Absolutism based its legitimacy on the precedents of Roman law including the centralized Roman state and the manifestation of Roman law in the Catholic Church. Though fascism supported the absolute power of the state, it opposes the idea of absolute power being in the hands of a monarch and opposes the feudalism that was associated with absolute monarchies.

During the Enlightenment a number of ideological influences arose that would shape the development of fascism. During the Enlightenment the development of the study of universal histories by Johann Gottfried Herder resulted in Herder's analysis of the development of nations, Herder developed the term nationalismus ("nationalism") to describe this cultural phenomenon, at this time nationalism did not refer to the political ideology of nationalism that was later developed during the French Revolution. Herder also developed the theory that Europeans are the descendants of Indo-Aryan people based on language studies, Herder argued that the Germanic peoples held close racial connections with the ancient Indians and ancient Persians, who he claimed were advanced peoples possessing a great capacity for wisdom, nobility, restraint, and science. Contemporaries of Herder utilized the concept of the Aryan race to draw a distinction between what they deemed "high and noble" Aryan culture versus that of "parasitic" Semitic culture, and this anti-Semitic variant view of Europeans' Aryan roots formed the basis of Nazi racial views. Another major influence on fascism came from the political theories of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Hegel promoted the absolute authority of the state. Hegel promoted a powerful state and said "nothing short of the state is the actualization of freedom" and that the "state is the march of God on earth".

The French Revolution and its political legacy had a major influence upon the development of fascism. Fascists view the French Revolution as a largely negative event that resulted in the entrenchment of liberal ideas such as liberal democracy, anticlericalism, and rationalism. Opponents to the French Revolution initially were conservatives and reactionaries, but the Revolution was also later criticized by Marxists and racist nationalists who opposed its universalist principles. Racist nationalists in particular condemned the French Revolution for granting social equality to "inferior races" such as Jews. Mussolini condemned the French Revolution for developing liberalism, scientific socialism, and liberal democracy, but also acknowledged that fascism extracted and utilized all the elements that had preserved those ideologies' vitality, and that fascism had no desire to restore the conditions that precipitated the French Revolution. Though fascism opposed core parts of the Revolution, fascists supported other aspects of it, Mussolini declared his support for the Revolution's demolishment of remnants of the Middle Ages such as tolls and compulsory labour upon citizens, and he noted that the French Revolution did have benefits in that it had been a cause of the whole French nation and not merely a political party. Most importantly, the French Revolution was responsible for the entrenchment of nationalism as a political ideology - both in its development in France as French nationalism and in the creation of nationalist movements particularly in Germany with the development of German nationalism by Johann Gottlieb Fichte as a political response to the development of French nationalism. The Nazis accused the French Revolution of being dominated by Jews and Freemasons and were deeply disturbed by the Revolution's intention to completely break France away from its past history in what the Nazis claimed was a repudiation of history that they asserted to be a trait of the Enlightenment. Though the Nazis were highly critical of the Revolution, Hitler in Mein Kampf said that the French Revolution is a model for how to achieve change that he claims was caused by the rhetorical strength of demagogues. Furthermore the Nazis idealized the levée en masse (mass mobilization of soldiers) that was developed by French Revolutionary armies, and the Nazis sought to use the system for their paramilitary movement.

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