The word fascism derives from the ' fasces ', a bundle of rods with an axe in it, which had been a symbol of authority in ancient Rome. It was first used in Italy by Benito Mussolini (1919) in order to contrast his political doctrine from the philosophical trends of the 18th and 19th century.
The spirit of the Enlightenment had enhanced the dignity of the
individual and propagated openess in a secularized society.
In international politics, Fascism exalted war instead of peace, maintaining that a nation must have ' a will to power ' and the desire for expansion. Mussolini wrote:
'...war alone brings up to their highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon a people who have the courage to meet it. War is to man what maternity is to woman. I do not believe in peace, but I find it depressing and a negation of all human virtues of man '.
The German Nazis adopted the doctrine of fascism, but Hitler added a further element : the myth of racial purity and Aryan superiority. He regarded the Nordic Aryan race as the only source of human greatness, and he despised the 'inferior' Slavs and above all the Jews as un-German. His anti-Semitic campaign resulted during the 1940's in the infamous Holocaust, that is, the extermination of many millions of Jews. ( The Jewish population of Poland, for instance, shrank from a pre-war population of 3,3 Million Jews to 300,000 after the war ).
Hitler's aim was to unite all Germans in a common state, the 'Third Reich' *, inhabited by a ' pure Aryan ' race. That was but the first step, for Hitler believed that a life and death struggle was the substance of history. The future of the German race could only be assured, he argued, by colonizing large territories in the East and settling them with Germans. The Slav leadership class in the East was to be exterminated to secure German domination. Within four years millions of Slavs, especially Russians, Poles and Serbs, were exterminated.
Externally Hitler formed with Mussolini's Italy an alliance called the ' Axis '; to it there was soon added a third member, who was not ' pure Aryan ' as all anti-Semites should be, but was too valuble to refuse. This nation, Japan, was then declared to be the Prussia of Asia.
Hitler's appeal to the Germans as the most elevated race in the world had great attraction to a people disillusioned by a lost war and believing itself surrounded by a hostile world. Hitler wrote that all propaganda must be directed at the least intelligent level of those at whom it is directed and that truth is less important than success.
The racial interpretation of history and the fascist contempt for democracy combined to bring Germany into war against communism and democracy at the same time. For a few brief years it seemed that fascist ideology was victorious - in 1942, Germany ruled over most of Europe and parts of North Africa, while its Japanese allies extended their domain far into China and over most of East Asia. Three years later the three main fascist powers collapsed.
* The Nazis regarded the Roman empire as the first Reich; the second Reich would be the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation; followed by the German Third Reich.
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