How Fascism Works

Fascism History

Nazi Condor Legion Nazi Condor Legion
German dictator Adolf Hitler greets the Condor Legion, the air force and army of Nazi Germany, which served with the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War of July 1936 to March 1939. Public Domain

Fascism was at its height between 1918 and 1945 — the end of World War I through the end of World War II. Europe's general upheaval during that period left it receptive to fascist ideology. But there were differences in the ideology's implementation. In Italy, the home base of the Catholic Church, complete rejection of organized religion was unwise. Mussolini claimed ties to the Catholic Church when it suited the State's interests, and the Catholic Church was at times accused of being part of Fascist rule. Hitler occasionally proclaimed himself a protector of the Church. Yet he openly destroyed members of religious minorities — most notably Jews but also Jehovah's Witnesses and others outside of the mainstream.

Another difference between the two most powerful fascist regimes in history was the driving force behind their respective military pursuits. While Mussolini focused on conquest primarily to show the strength of the State, Hitler made conquest more of a race issue. Hitler strove to unite the entire Aryan race, which he saw as a supposed "master" race of northern European descent. This was a primary drive behind the invasion of neighboring countries like Austria. Hitler believed that Austrians were part of the Aryan race and should thus be part of the German State. With the Aryan race united under his rule, Hitler believed Germany could conquer the world.

When the Axis powers, including Germany and Italy, lost World War II, their fascist regimes became widely viewed as evil. Fascism fell out of favor, inextricably tied to genocide and world war. After World War II, with economies improving around the world and the Allies' tight control over the defeated countries, the chaos that fascism relies on was mostly gone. Fascism in its original form never again gained a strong enough foothold to take control.

But is fascism completely dead? What fascist ideals live on as fringe movements? Read on to find out about new fascism, or neo-fascism.