The Birth of Fascist Ideology  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Birth of Fascist Ideology: From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution (1989, Naissance de l'idéologie fasciste) is a book by Ze'ev Sternhell with Mario Sznajder and Maia Asheri. It argues that European fascism first articulated itself as a cultural phenomenon, as a nonconformist, avant-garde, revolutionary movement.


When The Birth of Fascist Ideology was first published in 1989 in France and in 1993 in Italy, it aroused a storm of response, both positive and negative. In Sternhell's view, fascism was much more than an episode in the history of Italy. He argues here that it possessed a coherent ideology with deep roots in European civilization. Long before fascism became a political force, he maintains, it was a major cultural phenomenon.


On Les Méfaits des intellectuels by Edouard Berth

"However, in order to demonstrate his solidarity with the socialist-national synthesis, to show which side he was on, he wrote a warm preface to Édouard Berth’s Les Méfaits des intellectuels. This leaves no doubt on the matter. Written in January 1914, this important text makes it clear that the writer of the preface was in perfect agreement with the author concerning the contents of the book. One should remember that the purpose of the book was precisely to crown the work of the Cercle Proudhon by systematizing it. This was Berth’s description of this synthesis, which did not elicit the slightest reservation from Sorel:
"From the fraternal alliance of Dionysius and Apollo emerged the immortal Greek tragedy. . . . Similarly, L'Action française—which, with Maurras, is a new incarnation of the Apollonian spirit—through its collaboration with syndicalism—which, with Sorel, represents the Dionysian spirit—will be able to give birth to a new grand siècle, one of those historical achievements which afterward for a long time leave the world dazzled and fascinated."

On T. E. Hulme

The translator of Bergson and Sorel and an admirer of the anti-intellectualist philosophy of the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, Hulme, said T. S. Eliot, writing in 1924, was the great precursor of a new state of mind, characteristic of the twentieth century.
At the center of his thought was a violent opposition to humanism, the concept of human perfectibility and the idea of progress. His harshest criticisms were aimed at that “on which everything really depends”: “these abstract conceptions of the nature of man” [ Speculations (T. E. Hulme) ] and the idea that existence is, or should be, the source of all values.30 Hulme condemned the spirit and art of the Renaissance—Donatello, Michelangelo, Marlowe—an era in which a new psychology and a new anthropology gave rise to a harmful philosophy that in turn passed on its conceptual framework to ethical and political systems that were no less injurious: Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza. Hulme did not deny that this humanism could possess a certain attraction and that it had heroic origins, but he claimed that it could lead only to “a sentimental, utilitarian romanticism” and that it “was bound sooner or later to end in Rousseau. There is a parallel development in art,” he wrote. “Just as humanism leads to Rousseau, so Michael Angelo leads to Greuze.” Hulme’s disdain for Rousseau was equaled only by his admiration for Pascal. Humanism, for him, represented what was false; the antihumanistic vision represented what was true. Fortunately, he wrote, the humanistic vision seemed to be coming to an end. Humanism was disintegrating, and one saw a “revival of the anti-humanistic attitude” and the “subordination of man to certain absolute values.” To the humanistic conception of human nature, to the faith in the perfectibility of the individual and in progress, Hulme opposed a religious concept based on the idea of original sin, the fall of man, and the existence of ultimate values. That is why he was so hostile to romanticism: underlying romanticism and the French Revolution, he believed, was the Rousseauist concept of the individual. Rousseau, he wrote, taught the people of the eighteenth century “that man was by nature good,” that he was “an infinite reservoir of possibilities,” and that the source of all evils was “bad laws.” According to Rousseau, the destruction of the existing oppressive order would open up infinite possibilities of progress. Classicism, wrote Hulme, was defined by an opposite conception, namely, that “man is an extraordinarily fixed and limited animal whose nature is absolutely constant. It is only by tradition and organization that anything decent can be got out of him.” In maintaining this attitude, Hulme was adopting—as he explicitly said—the positions and definitions of Maurras, Lasserre, and the representatives of the Action française. The romantics, he wrote, believed in the infinitude of man, the classicists in his limitations."

On Sorel

"History, for Sorel, [...] was an endless struggle against decadence. Opposite the forces of degeneration, one always found the agents of resistance: Anytus, representing the heroic society, confronted Socrates and the Sophists, those intellectuals of the Athenian democracy and first corrupters of martial values. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Pascal opposed Descartes and Voltaire, but religious feeling was no longer able to stem the rising tide of materialism or to prevent the collapse that followed. Fortunately, Nietzsche, Bergson, and William James heralded a movement of renewal capable of repairing the damage caused by Rousseau and Diderot, Condorcet and Auguste Comte."


  • Introduction: Fascism as an alternative political culture --
  • Georges Sorel and the antimaterialist revision of Marxism --
  • Revolutionary revisionism in France --
  • revolutionary syndicalism in Italy --
  • The socialist-national synthesis --
  • The Mussolini crossroads : from the Critique of Marxism to national socialism and fascism --
  • Epilogue: From a cultural rebellion to a political revolution.

See also

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