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20th Century’s new fascism

By Thomas Klikauer and Norman Simms - posted Tuesday, 3 December 2019

A man with first-hand knowledge of fascism and Nazism, Primo Levi, once said that "21st century fascism will be different from the 20th century fascism we know." The three foremost places where old fascism and Nazism came to forth were Italy, Germany and Spain (a mixture of Catholicism and Fascism). Franco's dictadura franquista are a somewhat milder version of German and Italian fascism.

In Germany Neo-Nazi NPD was thriving until the AfD or Alternative for Germany arrived on the scene in 2015. Founded in 2013 and gaining popularity in the wake of Germany's positive and successful refugee policy (2015), the populist AfD fully arrived in 2017.

New fascism also differs from right-wing populism. Populism might be seen as a movement setting the pure people, in the German case, the Aryan Volksgemeinschaft, against a corrupt elite. New fascism expresses populism's beliefs in more subtle, or rather confusing, ways. While populism can be characterized as a cluster of propaganda methods, more a style than a substantial political strategy. Both new and old fascism have very serious ideologies, and reaches beyond right-wing populism's xenophobia. Moreover while right-wing populism will be found mostly in line with neoliberalism (eg dominating markets with a weak state), the new fascism favours a strong, authoritarian state.


Old and new fascisms always promote the idea of a national or, ideally, racial, community based on a "re-awakened" nation. Fascism seeks to restore a so-called lost sovereignty based on the strength of racial purity. While it also features economic protectionism, it promotes an elusive (mythical) national identity. What makes this mythical is that the race-based identity is perceived as always under threat. The present manifests as a period of crisis, so that protection of the traditional national-racist ideals justifies violence.

Today there is no newspaper called Stürmer and or Völkischer Beobachter to publish openly racist screeds and no Hitler screaming or Mussolini bombastically thundering his hateful venom of eradicating the Jewish race in Europe. Instead, the new fascism employs political consultants, marketing experts and PR specialists. This new slick fascism uses rafts of Internet services to transmit its ideology. And it has also shifted from simple nationalism (old) toward a national identity (new) based on whiteness and race. As a consequence, we see the rise of the neo-fascist with a variety of names, a colourful array of names, and yet just below the surface the same old same old vitriolic nonsense.

Thus the Great Leader in the White House defines as very fine people of the new fascism, who are similar to "des gens très bien" who, Alexandre Jardin reminds us, co-operated with the folks in Vichy and the Germans in Paris. These types are the nationalists, the anti-feminists, the homophobic, the xenophobic patriots and the anti-Semitic protectors of civic order, with, let us not forget to add, a marked hostility towards the Enlightenment, modernity, modern art, ecology and intellectualism. Now-a-days, the new fascism has added Islamophobia to the old fascism's Antisemitism. Both modalities of hatred remain key defining factors of new fascism. To Treitschke's the Jews are our misfortunedie Juden sind under Unglück – the eternal migrant from the east has been added. Meanwhile Antisemitism continues unabated under the new name of anti-Zionism.

More than new fascism, old fascism tormented and tortured Jews, communists, socialists, anarchists, Gypsies, the handicapped, homosexuals, in other words, virtually anyone who did not fit the racial nightmare of a Volksgemeinschaft, or Mussolini's Italy renewed to Roman glory or Franco's purified clerical-fascistic Spain. When asked about his programme, Il Duce simply replied, "It is to break the bones of the democrats… and the sooner the better!" Brutality and torture have long been part of the old fascism. It is just as the philosopher Jean Améry once said, "It was precisely in torture that the Third Reich materialised." The new fascism is different – well, at least, so far. Until now, it has not opened concentration camps and run a regime of torture . And yet, there is that horrendous case of the torture of a young Jewish man lured into her flat by a lovely young migrant female and there beaten to death over a period of several days by her brothers, cousins and friends.

Still, if old fascism offered an alternative to the historical crisis of liberal democracy during the 1930s, today's new fascism works towards deepening the crisis of democracy. Recently, Freedom House called it "Democracy in Retreat". New fascism offers itself as an alternative to democracy. Not surprisingly, Germany's semi-fascist – the AfD– has labelled itself "alternative" and therefore as a possible alternative to democracy. Although, the AfD would always deny being against democracy, in the same way Hitler vehemently denied being opposed to democracy, until January 1933, of course. The key to understanding its relationship to democracy actually comes from a prime representative of the old fascism, none other than Joseph Goebbels. New fascism subscribes to Goebbels' statement that: It will always remain one of the best jokes of democracy, that it gave its deadly enemies the means by which it was destroyed.

Essentially, the new fascism over-glorifies a racist and nationalistic culture, a culture of action not of thought or critical deliberation. It fancies a culture of he-men (Übermenschen), of street battles and of manly (bully) fighting. Still, the street-fights and thug-brutalities of old fascism have largely been replaced. New fascism favours media battles for the stage on which to fight against today's open, liberal and democratic culture. The new fascism seeks to install a fascist culture and so replace the politically-correct. Today, new fascism mostly operates without the actual brutalisation of people even though there has been a marked increase in the brutalisation of languageand discourse as well as of open debate and democratic exchanges under new fascism. Such a debasement of language and a deliberate manipulation of the visual media is followed by a brutalisation of people.


In this Kulturkampf(battle for the hearts and souls of the people and the nation) of new fascism, belief, myth, electronic and digital communications, echo-chambers, right-wing conspiracy myths – which actually are subversive and corrosive forces, especially when ordinary people have been ill-educated in the ways of propaganda and lulled into the false belief that social platforms and public broadcasters are objective and fair – have become key elements in this struggle.

Still we have to acknowledge, there are basic differences between conservatism and new fascism. Traditional conservatism seeks a passive, indeed an asphyxiated and static, society. Societies come to a complete standstill in the nightmarish hallucinations of traditional conservatism. It wants to preserve the status quo. By contrast, new fascism is reactionary. It wants to turn back the wheel of progress, imagining the rather illusive ideology of so-called traditional values. Under the new fascism, at least in their dreams (which are the same as their speeches), these supposedly age-old values will no longer need to be enforced through violence because there is only one blood-soaked soil, one homogenous people and one mythical leader. The leaders of this movement know advocating a repeat of them would alienate a substantial group of voters and supporters. This is an extra layer of duplicity and self-delusion added to the usual masquerade of ultra-rightist parties.

Since so many elements of old fascism have been inscribed into the national and even democratic heritage of the post-fascist years in Italy, Germany and Spain, today's new fascism is able to utilise the underlying structures of language, imagery and gesture still found by scientific experiments to be operative at the unconscious level of behaviour and feeling-expression. Building on these subliminal structures, the new fascism is able to rehabilitate many elements of the old fascism without openly advocating a return to Fascism, Nazism and other brands of such authoritarian movements. As such, new fascism includes Antisemitism, Holocaust Denial, the glorification of World War II as a purely militaristic experience and its soldiers (on both sides, except for the Red Army) and a nostalgic romanticism and nostalgia for a past that never really existed on land or sea or air. Simultaneously, to turn irony into grotesquery, one of new fascism's key enemies – anti-fascism – is relentlessly attacked.

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About the Authors

Thomas Klikauer is a German academic who teaches in the MBA course at the University of Western Sydney. He is the author of the forthcoming book The AfD to be published by Sussex University Press in early 2020.

Norman Simms edits the journal Mentalities/Mentalités.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Thomas Klikauer
All articles by Norman Simms

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