In This Review

The Birth of Fascist Ideology
The Birth of Fascist Ideology
By Zeev Sternhell and Others
Princeton University Press, 1994, 338 pp.

Sternhell, a scholar well known for his specialized studies of French right-wing extremism, has extended his work to cover the rise of fascist thought in Italy. He argues -- and who would now deny it? -- that fascism began as a cultural phenomenon, a rebellion against the prevailing political culture of pre-1914 Europe; it became a political force because of the Great War. He distinguishes between fascism and National Socialism and analyzes the work of major creators of fascist thought, especially the French syndicalist Georges Sorel. He recalls that the prewar longing for an alternative to Marxism (discredited in part because the proletariat had become pacifist) and to liberal democracy was combined with a new nationalism and with visions of a new heroism, and that this mixture had captivated many intellectuals and artists. Sternhell's insistence that fascist thought was just as rigorous and coherent as Marxism and liberalism seems controversial, and his account of Mussolini's intellectual and emotional journey from socialism to fascism is persuasive. The book is not particularly original, but by emphasizing the appeals of fascism it is a timely study, given the lamentable revival of fascist fortunes.