Ideologies of the Axis Powers

Even more than the Great War of 1914–1918, the Second World War was aconflict of ideas and ideologies as well as a struggle of nations and armies. Much of the world was immensely grateful that the defeat of Italy, Germany, and Japan discredited the ideas that underlay those regimes.Yet students of history need to examine these ideas, however repellant they may be, to under- stand the circumstances in which they arose and to assess their consequences. Described variously as fascist, authoritarian, right-wing, or radically nationalist, the ideologies of the Axis powers differed in tone and emphasis.But they shared a repudiation of mainstream Western liberalism, born of the Enlightenment, as well as an intense hatred of Marxist communism.The three documents that follow provide an opportunity to define their common features and to distin- guish among them.

Document 21.1

Mussolini on Fascism

In 1932, after ten years in power, the Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini wrote a short article for an Italian encyclopedia outlining the political and social ideas that informed the regime that he headed. It was an effort to pro- vide some philosophical coherence for the various measures and policies that had characterized the first decade of his rule. (See pp. 988–90 for background on Italian fascism.)

■ To what ideas and historical circumstances is Mussolini reacting in this document?

■ What is his criticism of pacifism, socialism, democracy, and liberalism?

■ How does Mussolini understand the state? What is its relationship to individual citizens?

■ Why might these ideas have been attractive to many in Italy in the 1920s and 1930s?

1011considering the evidence / documents: ideologies of the axis powers

Benito Mussolini

The Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism 1933

Above all, Fascism.. . believes neither in the pos-sibility nor the utility of perpetual peace. It thus repudiates the doctrine of Pacifism—born of a re- nunciation of the struggle and an act of cowardice in the face of sacrifice.War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to meet it. . . .This anti-Pacifist spirit is carried by Fascism even into the life of the individual; . . . it is the education to combat, the acceptation of the risks which combat implies, and a new way of life for Italy.Thus the Fascist . . . conceives of life as duty and struggle and conquest, life which should be high and full, lived for oneself, but above all for others— those who are at hand and those who are far distant, contemporaries, and those who will come after. . . .

Fascism repudiates any universal embrace, and in order to live worthily in the community of civ- ilized peoples watches its contemporaries with vig- ilant eyes. . . .

Such a conception of Life makes Fascism the complete opposite of . . . Marxian Socialism, the ma- terialist conception of history; according to which the history of human civilization can be explained simply through the conflict of interests among the various social groups and by the change and develop- ment in the means and instruments of production… . Fascism, now and always, believes in holiness and in heroism; that is to say, in actions influenced by no economic motive,direct or indirect.. . . It follows that the existence of an unchangeable and unchanging class war is also denied.. . .And above all Fascism de- nies that class-war can be the preponderant force in the transformation of society. . . . Fascism repudi- ates the conception of “economic” happiness, to be realized by Socialism… . Fascism denies the valid- ity of the equation, well-being�happiness, which

would reduce men to the level of animals, caring for one thing only—to be fat and well-fed and would thus degrade humanity to a purely physical existence.

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