Ideas that fed the beast of fascism flourish today
By Mark Mazower — November 6, 2016
The historian Fritz Stern fled the Nazis and helped pioneer the study of German history in the US. Before his death this year, he had been warning for some time of the signs of a resurgent fascism. He was not talking about the land of his birth.
Fascism in the US? The fear is surely overblown. Before we write it off, though, we might ponder what we have learnt about fascism in general, thanks to the work of Stern and others.
In some ways, it is hard to see any parallel between the Weimar Republic or Mussolini’s Italy and the world we live in. No one is calling for a single party state. There are no serried ranks of black- or brownshirts marching through the streets. There are no royalists who will embrace anyone rather than fall into the abyss of Bolshevism. If one thing lay behind the rise of the far right in the 1920s it was the shadow of the Russian Revolution and fear that it would spread. Vladimir Putin’s shadow may be long but it is not that long. Russia is a member of international society in a way that Lenin’s Soviet Union never was.
So things are quite different? Not so fast. Stern was worried about the corruption of public discourse and a world in which everything has become opinion. He would have been doubly alarmed by the impact of Twitter and the spread into mainstream media of conspiracy theories once found only on the margins.