10.1.1 Extreme and Radical Nationalism

Gregory Millard

Fascism is an ideology based on extreme and radical nationalism – “asserting absolute identity between self and nation” (Vasey, 2006, p. 30) and subsuming the individual within a robust, unified, shared national identity and purpose. Fascists believe that every person should be ready to ‘sacrifice the personality for the whole’ and advocate for the “renunciation for individuals and a claim for the whole … courage to sacrifice, resignation for the Volk [i.e. the people]” (Goebbels, as cited in Vasey, 2006, p. 75).

It is important to underscore that although fascists are extreme nationalists, nationalism is a much wider phenomenon. As should be clear from chapter 7 Nationalism, most nationalists have emphatically not been fascists. Indeed, unlike most nationalists, classical fascists did not believe in a right of all nations to self-determination. Their primary interest was the radical re-imagining and rebirth of their own nation, and this included an entitlement to conquer and rule others.

The fascist begins with the conviction that the nation is in crisis, corrupted and weakened by enemies within and without. The overmastering aim is a “new birth” (Griffin, 1991, p. 36) informed by an ideal of purity and greatness that fascists believe defined the nation in a lost, mythic past. For Mussolini’s Italy, the glories of ancient Rome were the obvious reference point (Eatwell, 1996, p. 57). Nazism, for its part, looked to a fantastical conception of a pure Aryan race that had supposedly emerged in Northern Europe and, its acolytes claimed, once bestrode the world like demigods. However, the idea of national rebirth is not primarily backward-looking. Fascism seeks a national regeneration in which sources of decadence are purged and a new order forged, with “new institutions … a new political hierarchy and a new heroic ethos which uniquely equip its members to thrive in the modern age” (Griffin, 1991, p. 45). National rebirth thus means a new elite, new institutions, and indeed “new men” heroically and joyfully marching into the future, infused with the spirit of mythical past greatness, but reimagined for the modern world.

Thus, fascism is more than just a truculent brand of conservatism (though fascists often had conservative allies). The goal is not a restoration of what once was – which is what “reactionary” conservatives seek – nor a continuation and extension of an ongoing tradition, which is what conservatives of the Burkean sort advocate. Rather, fascism envisages a transformational project in which the nation will arise reborn and remade for the modern world. This gives full warrant to radical action, including the sweeping away of established national institutions and elites – and always the eradication of any democratic structures that happen to be in place (indeed, some have seen fascism as motivated by an “escape from freedom” altogether).


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