In This Review

A History of Fascism, 1914-1945
A History of Fascism, 1914-1945
By Stanley G. Payne
University of Wisconsin Press, 1996, 613 pp
Fascism: A History
Fascism: A History
By Roger Eatwell
Allen Lane, 1996, 432 pp
Fascism: Past, Present, Future
Fascism: Past, Present, Future
By Walter Laqueur
Oxford University Press, 1996, 263 pp

Fascism continues to fascinate historians and political scientists, both because the crushing of the fascist states in World War II did not completely destroy it as a political force and because it is so elusive a phenomenon. Payne recognizes that "the search for an adequate theory or interpretation of fascism has generally ended in failure." But he provides a list of mainly European factors that lead to its development. He calls fascism "a form of revolutionary ultra-nationalism for a national rebirth that is based on a primarily vitalist philosophy, is structured on extreme elitism, mass mobilization, and the Fuhrerprinzip, positively values violence as ends as well as means, and tends to normatize war and/or the military virtues." But there were many different kinds of fascism, and Payne (and also the historian Robert Paxton) has reminded us that fascism as a movement struggling to get to power is different from fascism in power. Attempts to link it to specific social forces, a given stage of economic development, or a type of personality are not convincing. But Payne's book is particularly impressive because he tries to distinguish fascism from the radical right (more linked to religion, like the Action franchise) and the conservative right. He recognizes that the borders between them are porous and does not pay much attention to the left-wing origins of or influences on fascism so often stressed by the Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell. Insofar as any study can be called definitive, this is it.

Eatwell covers much of the same ground, but he is less interested in the theoretical issues raised by fascism, and his narrative is breezier. Less rigorous in trying to distinguish fascism from other kinds of authoritarian movements, he includes a chapter on France in the 1930s and during the war and a chapter on fascism's fiasco in Britain. Almost half the book describes post-1945 "neofascist" movements and parties in Italy, Germany, France, and Britain; more analysis would have been welcome. Laqueur, skeptical of theories, pays attention to the main components of fascism (doctrine, leaders, a single party, terror, and propaganda as well as relations with the church). The second part of his book, on postwar neofascism, emphasizes the fear of immigrants and the denial of the Holocaust. More original is the third part, called "Postfascism," in which he discusses "clerical fascism" in the Third World, mainly Islamic fundamentalism. He also looks at the prospects for a fascist revival in Russia and Eastern Europe. It is a sweeping survey, but the author's judgments are not particularly striking.