November 18, 2009

Review: The Oxford Handbook of Fascism

Roger Griffin's review of:

The Oxford Handbook of Fascism, ed. R.J.B. Bosworth (Oxford : Oxford U.P., 2009; pp. 626. £85).

When probably the most famous Anglophone historian of Mussolini and ‘his’ Fascist regime is selected by one of the world’s most prestigious university presses to commission thirty-one new essays on both Italian Fascism and generic fascism, the resulting publication is bound to be irresistible reading to all those seriously engaged with comparative fascist studies. This important and somewhat sumptuous publishing event is given an extra piquancy by the fact that the Australian academic entrusted with the task, Richard Bosworth, has in the past often expressed his irritation with those concerned with ‘the history of fascism’ (or rather ‘comparative fascist studies’), whose ‘intention’ he still erroneously assumes to be that of ‘unearthing a final pure lode that will identify fascism in a few words or paragraphs’ and to ‘stop the machine’ of events and processes so as to extract a ‘pure history’ from the rest (p. 5). Certainly his own substantial volume of work on the Italian regime has always been characterised by a studious concern to avoid engaging with fascism as a European phenomenon within which to locate the fruits of his imposing archival research. In some respects, then, asking Bosworth to be the Duce of OUP’s ambitious project is like asking a vegan restaurateur to head a team of cooks preparing a medieval banquet where spits rotate slowly, laden with basted pigs and lambs. Fortunately, Bosworth has adopted a respectfully hands-off attitude to his sous-chefs. Nevertheless, the result is (to stay within the realm of culinary metaphors) a half-boiled curate’s egg of emu-like proportions. It conspicuously lacks the cogent conceptual framework which would identify or delimit the contours of the central subject (and which would distinguish fascism from authoritarianism or personal dictatorship). The authors are left to their own devices in the approach they adopt towards generic fascism, with the consequence that, though each chapter is in some respects a case-study in the larger subject of the handbook, they are denied the possibility of referring to a broadly shared definition or ‘paradigm’ acting not as a strait-jacket but as the functional work-clothes needed for the job. This makes for an unsatisfying inconsistency of approaches. The definitional features of fascism as an ideal type surely needed to be established at the outset in a reference work of this ambition and addressed in a coherent (but not uniform or ‘gleichgeschaltet’) way by the various contributors — be they concerned with Mussolini’s regime or with events and movements outside Italy. As it is, the whole is inevitably less than the sum of its parts.

Certainly some of these parts are valuable in their own right, especially those in Part Four laconically entitled ‘Others’, which is intended to make readers, whether students or professional academics, more aware of the fate of fascism in countries that often occupy a marginal place in such volumes. This brief is admirably fulfilled by chapters on Spain (Mary Vincent), Hungary (Mark Pittaway), Romania (Radu Ioanid), Yugoslavia (Marko Hoare), Austria (Corinna Peniston-Bird), the Netherlands (Bob Moore), Belgium (Bruno De Wever), Britain (Martin Pugh), France (Joan Tumblety), and Japan (Rikki Kersten). One might ask why the fascist movements in these countries have been selected as suitable cases for treatment, and not others such as Norway, Sweden, Ireland, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, or Brazil which also hosted revealing putative specimens of the genus, some of which were far from peripheral (for example, at its high point the Brazilian Integralist Action boasted a million supporters). Nevertheless, what is provided is more than ample fare for those seeking to sample fascism as an international historical phenomenon, though it is regrettable that not all of the authors have been asked to bring the reader up to date with how the revolutionary right has metamorphosed itself in the post-war, post-Soviet or ‘post-fascist’ age, or to address how their case-studies relate to the debate about ‘generic fascism’, which should surely have been one of the principal themes of such a ‘handbook’ instead of being tucked away inconspicuously in a concluding section.

The section on Italy (Part Two) as ‘The First Fascist Nation’, though blithely unconcerned with how Fascism fits into the wider phenomenon of fascism, is also in its own disconnected way an impressive series of essays on ten aspects of Mussolini’s regime: squadrismo (Mimmo Franzinelli), culture (Guido Bonsaver), the peasant experience (Roger Absalom), economics (Philip Morgan), Catholicism (John Pollard), youth (Patrizia Dogliani), women (Perry Willson), crime and repression (Mauro Canali), war (Davide Rodogno), and Mussolini (Bosworth). Taken together with the three chapters in the next section which compare ‘state and society’, race, and diplomacy and World War in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, they constitute a valuable book on Fascism in its own right. It would have made for a far tidier, more rigorous impression, though, if Pollard’s chapter on the Catholic Church and that of Dogliani on youth, both of which include extensive reference to Nazi Germany as well as Italy, had been moved from the Italian section to this comparative section. There is also a notable absence of treatment in either section of such central topics as imperialism, ‘political religion’, technology, and modernity. More serious a weakness, however, is the way in which Nazism is handled. By relegating the Third Reich simply to an element of comparison with Fascist Italy in five disparate chapters, the unparalleled devastation caused by Nazi imperialism, the eugenics programme, and anti-Semitism as the extreme manifestation and implementation of the utopia of a new order, is effectively ‘disappeared’. In a handbook of more than six hundred pages Hitler’s regime required more sustained coverage as a fascist regime in its own right. This is certainly not to suggest any intent on the part of the editor to minimise the importance of Nazism. Instead, it is surely to be seen as the consequence of entrusting responsibility for such a comparative volume to one of the world’s leading authorities on Mussolini’s Italy who (like Renzo de Felice and A.J. Gregor before him) distrusts the very idea that Fascism and Nazism can be usefully investigated as manifestations of the same generic phenomenon. He thus subliminally applies to the subject a historical perspective generated exclusively on the Mediterranean side of the Brenner Pass.

If Parts Two, Three, and Four have a certain cumulative cogency (with the exception of Roger Marwick’s ill-conceived essay on Communism as ‘fascism’s other’) and deliver on the implicit promise of a handbook on fascism both in Italy and beyond, Parts One and Five left this reader at least hungry for more nourishing fare. The four essays that make up the opening section entitled ‘Ideas and Formative Experience’ obfuscate rather than illuminate. Kevin Passmore in particular fails to recognise the need for the opening chapter in this volume to establish a working definition of fascism and, apparently seduced by essentialist assumptions about its nature as a genus of political thought (which he has so roundly criticised in print in the past), does not grasp that there were almost as many ideological origins of fascism as there were fascists. Each country in which a fascist movement developed after 1918 provided a unique cultural and historical context on which its ideologues and ‘thinkers’ could draw, producing many diverse strands of utopianism even within the same movement, each with their own origins and often mythicised sources. After this false start, the three chapters on the First World War which follow (by Alan Kramer, Richard Bessel, and Glenda Sluga) fail to connect in any concrete way with the book’s purported subject, since fascism is conceived by them too nebulously to allow concrete causal connections to be made.

In fact it is only after 547 pages (in Robert Paxton’s chapter for the last section entitled ‘Reflections and Legacies’) that the handbook finally offers the reader some guidance on how to conceptualise fascism with any rigour. This, however, is immediately followed by a chapter on the collective memory of fascism in Germany and Italy by Nathan Stoltzfus and Bosworth, which again reduces the scope of the book to the two fascist regimes of inter-war Europe. At least the book ends on a high note, with Anna Bull’s impressively comprehensive survey of neofascism which, in its refined conceptual handling of its subject, remains curiously out on a limb with respect to what has gone before. This is an uneven, curiously conceived, and in places poorly proof-read handbook with a conspicuous absence of joined-up thinking about its subject, and thus lacks the authoritative status we have come to expect of OUP handbooks. It compounds rather than resolves the ambiguity of the relationship between Fascism (in Italy) and fascism (the generic term): the inconsistency in the capitalisation of these terms is symptomatic of the deep-seated conceptual malaise that hovers over the whole work. It is not without a certain irony, therefore, that the cumulative impression conveyed by the book confirms rather than refutes the strength of the new scholarly consensus that has arisen concerning the centrality of the myth of total societal regeneration, of a national and even anthropological revolution, to an understanding of fascism’s genesis, ideology, programmes, and praxis. Aspects of the protean palingenetic myth which lay at the affective core of fascism as a utopian project and socio-political movement occur throughout the book (notably on pages 92, 110, 126, 152-4, 176, 194, 208, 239-40, 267, 294, 303, 315, 321, 367, 381, 401-2, 426, 436, 451, 474, 493, 508, and 601). Moreover, there is bathos in the fact that the characterisation of fascism which Paxton belatedly delivers on page 549 is entirely consistent with this new consensus, with its stress on fascism’s ultra-nationalist ‘cults of unity, energy and purity’ and pursuit of ‘redemptive violence [ … ] internal cleansing and external expansion’ which was driven by an ‘obsessive preoccupation’ with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood. As a text, therefore, the handbook has the merit of offering the reader access to many complex and fascinating episodes and aspects in fascism’s history. Meanwhile, as a subtext, it also unwittingly provides extensive corroboration of the new consensus in comparative fascist studies, even if the reluctance of the editor to engage with it directly has severely compromised the book’s capacity to refine the conceptual and methodological basis of that consensus. Indeed, it is tempting to contrast both the prohibitive cost of this volume (which confines it to the shelves of libraries) and its lack of conceptual coherence with the student-friendly price and sense of direction characterised by the now classic Penguin edition of Walter Laqueur’s Fascism: A Reader’s Guide (1977, reprinted 1993). Indeed, it is instructive to compare the dust cover of Bosworth’s volume with Heartfield’s photo-montage of four fascist axes configured as a lethal Swastika chosen as the memorable jacket illustration of Laqueur’s handbook. That the handbook should be graced by the ghostly shell of an edifice built for the Rome World Fair of 1942 (EUR ’42) which never took place, not only underlines Bosworth’s Italo-centrism, but resonates with unintended symbolic significance. As he points out, there is no definitional ‘pure lode’ to enable a ‘pure’ history of fascism to be extracted (though perhaps he should enlighten us about the metaphorical or geological role played by ‘lodes’ in such a process anyway). What redeems this book is that at least the bulk of his collaborators realise intuitively that, when applied to a case-study in fascism or any other generic concept, historical empiricism uninformed by sophisticated conceptualisation can only produce seams of empirical ‘facts’ glittering with the fool’s gold of brilliant but ultimately inconsequential anecdotes. It is fortunate that, despite being flawed in its conception, the quality of the majority of its essays makes this handbook not just a useful work on fascism, if read selectively, but an unintentional milestone in the progress of Anglophone comparative fascist studies.

Roger Griffin
Oxford Brookes University

Published in: The English Historical Review 2009 CXXIV(511): 1535-1539.

November 01, 2009

Discussion of 'The Rainbow Bridge'

Discussion of the keynote lecture "'The Rainbow Bridge’: Reflections on Interdisciplinarity in the Cybernetic Age" -

Wendy J. Turner (19 October 2009):

I’m not sure I’m ready to comment. That was quite a paper. I appreciate the connections between various elements, especially between fascism and modernity and how that is being melted down into more than just a discussion of right and might. I will have to look for the works you mentioned (your own). As a medievalist, but having enjoyed intellectual history as a student, I have been cut off from much of this discussion for a while. Thank you for a great talk.

Roger Griffin (19 October 2009):

Dear Wendy

Glad something came across despite the painful process of listening to a paper being read with a tired voice!!! I hope my generalizations about the Renaissance being made up of both splitters and lumpers made sense to a real historian and that they might even have a resonance with the Middle Ages as well.
Thanks for going to the trouble to comment: much appreciated. Have you written anything I should know about?

Roger Griffin

Wendy J. Turner (19 October 2009):


I am giving a paper in this conference and, I believe, there will be biographies of each of us. I have several major works in production that will come out in the next year, and a few chapters already out on the mentally disabled in medieval England as well as a piece on the regulation and licensing of alchemists under Henry VI. I would love to hear what you think of my paper in the Compass conference.

On the topic of splitters and lumpers — I think both can be appropriate depending on what one wishes to learn. I find that if I need to do number crunching of data — say for statistically analysing the use (and abuse) of terminology for the mentally incapacitated in a given time period — I would have to say I’m a splitter. At the same time, when I give that data in a conference panel or roundtable discussion with other disciplines represented — I learn and share as a lumper. In other words, the act of sharing information with scholars in literature reveals that I may have (and this is a true story) the right information for administration of the law in England, but not the correct terminology or meanings for medieval medicine, or the Church, or literature. By coming together, we can see that each of us only holds part of the picture, and that by analyzing the data together, a much more complete picture of how the mentally ill and impaired were categorized emerges.


Roger Griffin (19 October 2009):

I will indeed read your paper: what you say about your relationship to academics in contiguous fields of inquiry fits my model well. But I also was referring to the fact that the intellectual world of the Christian Middle Ages also hosted splitters (neo-scholastics) and lumpers (experimental thinkers open to Islamic metaphysics, for example).

Wendy J. Turner (19 October 2009):

That reflection was not lost on me. I think you’re right.

That may actually explain why the terminology I was discussing earlier varies so widely. Those wanting to define people as good or bad, saw those with mental illness as possessed or ‘cleansed’ by God or devils; they wanted a simple ordered world (I’m thinking geometric forms and the ‘ordered’ universe). Those engaging in a wider mentalite’ were aware of finer distinctions between illness and potential possession as well as gradations (which I see in law and administration) of impairment, memory loss, and extreme mental confusion accompanied by physical action. Many late medieval physicians were informed by Islamic medical authorities and had a broader view of what mental conditions could be and how they might be treated.


Stefan Mueller (19 October 2009):

Dear Roger,
thank your for your interesting and comprehensive introduction to the conference. Two or maybe three thinks are in my mind (sorry for my English).
First, in my field of research, contemporary history of labour (in particular trade unions ) I face a vast quantity of contemporary political, economic and sociological literature, and data, perhaps incomparable to medievalists. These I have to use as social description of reality, e.g. opinion surveys, statistics and so on, and I have to know the theoretical discourse on this topics and handling this contemporary research as an intepretation embedded in that time. Though, interdisciplinarity is nessecary unlike we want to go back to the narratives of kings, leaders or the mere political history of states (Ranke) etc.
Second, I don’t know what is the original methode of historiography. Of course, there are a lot of instruments (and so called ancilarry science) but acutally no “own” methode.
Third, Your arguments on modernity of fascist movements sounds interesting to me. But what I’m missing are the protagonists (I don’t know your work but will I have look). The historical German fascist movement contained, among other, of para-troopers that were left behind after First World War, of old anti-Semites, or of young men without any perspective. I would agree that a huge output o Marxist theory on this topic is boring, or better: deformes reality more than explaines it. Very unseful for me was the concept of downgrading (don’t know if this is the English term). Consider this concept, the fascist movements were (of course not only) composed of people downgraded, and they acted against a very special output of modernity, the liberal republic (that was the result of the monarchy’s defeat) . What do You think?
Best regards, Stefan Mueller

Roger Griffin (20 October 2009):

Dear Stefan

Obviously deliberate interdisciplinarity is an approach to be adopted to some aspects of history (like explaining the broader ideological and cultural context of the rise of working class movements that apply the principles of ‘human rights’ to working class men and the complex relationship between individual ideologues/leaders and events which push individual movements into revolutionary or reformist paths. Some specialist areas require minimal interdisciplinarity while others involve lots.

Historiography has a complex history and even for the Greeks and Romans there were different methodologies/core myths/moral purposes behind writing history.

The origins/causes of Nazism are extremely complex as are its sociological make-up: all I could allude to in the keynote was the fact that there is lot to be gained from seeing Nazism as an attempt to create an alternative modernity which exerted in the exceptional circumstances of Weimar after 1929 a powerful attraction on a wide variety of individuals who were for one reason or another deeply dissatisfied with the prevailing modern world they were experiencing.

I can send more stuff if wanted (

All the best in your own historiographical inquiries and thanks for participating

Eileen Joy (19 October 2009):

Dear Roger:

thanks very much for your comprehensive talk. I myself am always intrigued by those scholar-researchers who are extremely idiosyncratic and who often help to create new paradigms through their visionary, iconoclastic thinking, and I was further intrigued by the description of these thinkers in your talk as operating from “passion,” as opposed to, say, more bloodless, supposedly more “rational” forms of thinking–although I think it would also be useful here to think about work that been going on for a while now in cognitive science and cognitive philosophy [the work of Antonio Damasio, including "Descartes' Error" and "Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain," and also George Lakoff and Mark Johnson's "Philosophy in the Flesh"] that breaks down some of the long-cemented oppositions between “feeling” and “thinking,” “rationality” and “emotion,” etc. that have for a long while now structured Western philosophical thought. It may be that there is no such thing as “reason” that is not, in some sense, both embodied [hence highly individualistic and even situational in relation to that individual's embodiment/placement in the world] and also emotionally contoured.

I was also very interested to hear some of your insights into the relations between fascism and modernity. I am not a scholar of fascism, but some of my research involves work on the Holocaust [in relation to matters of how traumatic historical memory is represented/mediated in art], and I have thought myself for a long while now that the very things that, historically, we have associated with modern “progress” were also hallmarks of the Final Solution [in other words, it was not regressive or “medieval,” as some aver, but highly modern, while at the same time, of course it’s “purgative,” as you point out, and therefore also attempts to start historical time over, as it were–similar to the Taliban smashing ancient Buddhist statues or the Khmer Rouge emptying cities of its clerks and doctors and professors and modernist laborers in order to start a new agrarian society.

Thanks again for your talk.

Best, Eileen

Roger Griffin (20 October 2009):

Dear Eileen

Of course you are right: the dichotomy between cold reason and hot passion is a false one, as is dispelled in every genuine creative, committed individual I know of whether in science (Madame Curie/Einstein), humanistic philosophy (Voltaire, Nietzsche), or politics (Thomas More/Ghandi). Brecht’s use of the word Vernunft (reason) embraces a passionate commitment to socio-political change to remove tyrannies and injustices he bitterly resented. So thanks for bringing this out.
As for Nazism and Modernity and a mischannelled instrumental/bureaucratic reason, the classic that should be read by all those interested in this topic is Zygmunt Bauman’s Modernity and the Holocaust (though sections of my Modernism and Fascis are not bad!). The creative destruction of the Taliban or Pol Pot and even the 9/11 attack by Al Qaeda re absolutely bound up with the palingenetic logic of inaugurating a new age through symbolic violence (a syndrome explored by Dostoevsky in his The Possessed)

Thanks for your comments

Glenn W. Muschert (19 October 2009):

Dear Roger,

Thank you for your paper, which I viewed today with great interest. By trade, I am a sociologist, however I find disciplinary boundaries increasingly irrelevant. Once one has a secure job (which not everyone is able to achieve), then one no longer has a professional need to align oneself with any particular discipline. However, I find that for many of our least secure colleagues (particularly those at the early stages of their careers, or who operate on a political, disciplinary, or social margin), it is impossible to disregard the need to align yourself professionally with a particular discipline. This is ironic, as those who are new and/or on the margins are probably those folks who are most apt to open up new and fruitful interstices in the already-existing fields of knowledge. I think it is up to those of us who are secure in our positions to encourage those who are less so. Perhaps we will make some of these connections at this conference. In a practical sense, I encourage the participants to make some connections (social, intellectual) that could help to stimulate the types of academic productivity that we seem to be advocating here.

I like your thoughts on splitters and lumpers. This is similar to what the sociologist Georg Simmel said. To paraphrase, Simmel wrote that we are all either those who connect the seemingly unconnected, or those who make distinctions where none were previously seen. The key is to understand when we need to split, and when we need to lump. This point was well-made in your talk. Beyond that, we should perhaps also understand why something is lumped in the first place before splitting it, and vice versa. This is basically what Robert Frost had to say about tearing down walls. Also, we should understand that we need to make sure that we don’t re-split or re-lump, unless we know why we’re doing so, and to what end.

Thanks very much for a stimulating paper, and I look forward to your response.


Roger Griffin (20 October 2009):

Dear Glenn

Thanks for your comments on lumping: I am glad they had a certain resonance for you. However I would probably find reading you that you still operate within a certain conceptual framework and paradigm and wit a network of internal reference points to secondary literature that are recognizable those of sociology rather than of, say, History of Art or Political theory, no matter how creatively you interpret your briefs or trespass onto neighbouring disciplines. But I agree with you that once an academic has the qualifications and security of tenure to ‘break new ground’ he/she will almost inevitably move into transdisciplinary areas of conceptualization or phenomena to reveal hitherto invisible connections. At an undergraduate level such an openness of mind (which often demands MORE WORK than safe traditional scholarship) can be inhibited or encouraged among brighter students, and I am sure you and I encourage it from what it sounds.
Relevant to this discussion is also Isaiah Berlin’s essay on the hedgehog and the fox, which I always think is a false dichotomy because in trying to ONE BIG THING (the hedgehog) I am forced to behave like a frenzied fox (who knows many things)

All the best

Susan Morrison (20 October 2009):

Dear Roger, I really liked what you wrote about lumping and splitting and the need to figure out when to do one or the other. I’m in lumping mode now — I’m working on “Waste Studies” as applied to literature and my paper goes up Thursday–and it’s a massive field that draws on various disciplines (including sociology, anthropology, history, ecology, etc.). But you articulate so nicely what you call the “semi-permeable membranes that exist between disciplines.” That’s a nice metaphor and a lesson for the exchange those of us situated in one field (for me — literature) ideally should undertake–growth in knowledge shouldn’t be a vampiric act of merely taking from one field to enhance another, rather there should be a dialogue (or “trialogue”!) going on among practitioners of different disciplines. Best, Susan

Roger Griffin (22 October 2009):

Dear Susan
Thanks for taking the trouble to write. I had never heard of Waste Studies: I wonder what T.S. Eliot would have thought of such a thing in his Wasteland days. The project sounds fascinating and clearly means you trespassing all over the place to piece together a composite research topic. The only thing I would say is that the researching mind normally does not need to ‘figure out’ when to lump or split because it does so quite instinctively if it is in a healthy state: it is only when a researcher gets permanently stuck in one mode or the other and colleagues are too polite or disinterested to alert him/her that he/she has lost the plot that things go wrong. I am happy to send you a brief statement I make about methodology in my Modernism and Fascism if you send me your email (to, which you may find illuminating

All the best with your work

Roger Griffin

Scott Noegel (24 October 2009):

Dear Roger,

I very much appreciated your call for transdisciplinarity and I agree that we need to erect rainbow bridges in the academy. My question is, what practical, pragmatic steps might we take as academics to do this? Put another way, other than by producing work that demonstrates the utility of such an approach, what can we do structurally? As you observe, the academy tends to resist such efforts, or at least, often pays lip service to them. In the Humanities, for example, even the most interdisciplinary of programs tends to include some disciplinary elements of the social sciences, but not many disciplines beyond. What might you suggest as a means for helping to change the academic culture in this regard?



Roger Griffin (26 October 2009):

Dear Scott
You are quite right to home in on the practical implications of the call for interdisciplinarity. Ultimately I think the deciding element is the general cultural ethos, which is at present encouraging the breaking down of barriers thanks to such factors as the Web, the rise of a new generation of students used to plugging in and out of sources of information of the most varied kinds, the shift to academic career trajectories that move through a number of posts in different academic or professional environments, the rise of to prominence of the life sciences and ecology because of the looming ecological crisis both of which demand interdisciplinarity and the advances in various sciences which make interdisicplinarity essential. Such a shift can be encouraged by award-granting bodies being prepared to fund sound projects which set out to use cross-disciplinary specialisms in collaborative research, and could be promoted further in the way disciplines are presented at school, so that the porous membranes between some of them are stressed. I think the best text books do this already. However, I think such official promotion of interdisciplinarity would only be healthy if it was also accompanied by the stress even at school level on just how important specialization is and on the need to create a healthy dialectic between what I called centripetal and centrifugal tendencies in research. In educational terms I think the key period is between 6 and 16 when the sense of wonder at the universe that is natural to children tends to get replaced by an increasingly narrow understanding of disciplines as unconnected spheres of enquiry, only to have the barriers broken down again if they are lucky at university. The trouble is that most of the school children released into the world as adults have left whatever science they have studied at the time when it has been narrowed down and split up into separate disciplines and the sense of wonder at the interconnectedness of the universe has been lost in dim childhood memories. So in a word, school curriculum and teacher trainer reform is an important issue for long-term change. Ultimately, though government and educational policy can do little. It is for individual researchers, programme makers, publishers to do what they can to foster the New Enlightenment! Wiley-Blackwell’s conference is a small step in that direction.

Have you got any practical suggestions yourself?


September 27, 2009

Blackwell Compass Interdisciplinary Virtual Conference

Roger Griffin will deliver a keynote address at Blackwell Compass Interdisciplinary Virtual Conference "Breaking Down Barriers" that will take place online on 19-30 October 2009.

Participants can attend at any time during the conference, when it suits their schedule, to download the keynote address, read and comment on it. Registration is free. Read more...

Plenary address: (Post-)modern (wo-)man in search of a soul

Listen to Roger Griffin's opening plenary address at the conference "Sacred Modernities: Rethinking Modernity in a Post-Secular Age":

'(Post-)modern (wo-)man in search of a soul: Reflections on the contents and discontents of the first post-secular civilization'

You can also download his plenary address in mp3. Read more...

August 10, 2009

Review: The Extreme Right in France: From Petain to Le Pen

Roger Griffin's review of:

The Extreme Right in France: From Petain to Le Pen. By James Shields. London, Routledge, 2007. xx + 412 pp. Pb £21.99.

Now in its thirty-sixth year on the French political scene, the National Front (FN) of Jean-Marie Le Pen has become probably the best documented form of post-war right-wing radicalism in the world. It is thus all the more remarkable that, against all the odds, James Shields has managed to produce a truly original, scholarly and valuable book on the subject which significantly enriches French Studies. It is not just that he organizes the fruits of meticulous research into the vast panoply of the far-right in France over some seventy years with narrative and stylistic clarity, reconstructing the various itineraries with considerable tenacity in the process. He also supplies Anglophone students of France with a truly historical understanding of the Le Pen phenomenon that is denied to conventional political scientists and contemporary historians. Shields has a thesis which he resolutely works through with impressive scholarship, namely that Lepenism cannot be understood without a deep familiarity with the Vichy collaborationist government and its legacy, the significance of Poujadism as a manifestation of populist disillusion with the Fourth Republic, and the bitter reaction of the far-right to the nation’s defeat in the Algerian war. An equally important factor was the disillusionment experienced by many unrepentant fascists whose mindset was forged in the 1950s and 40s in the face of the general consensus for liberal Republicanism in the 1950s and the rise of a powerful youth movement of left-wing radicalism in the 1960s. Some fascists went underground to form shadowy avant-garde groupuscules with national and pan-European linkages, and others abandoned activism altogether to concentrate on the battle for establishing the cultural hegemony of right-wing ideas of pan-European cultural renaissance. However the founding fascist fathers of the FN deliberately set out to create a new form of parliamentary politics which would disseminate radical right ideas in a non-revolutionary, euphemized and electable format. Shields’s complex and fascinating story is mercifully unencumbered by lengthy excursi on the definitional issues raised by his topic. It nevertheless offers lucid, well-informed judgements on the thorny taxonomic problems posed by the various phenomena under discussion which eschew the simplifications of left and right, and demonstrates how well he understands not just European fascism but its remarkably extended family of anti-liberal siblings that thrived throughout twentieth century France. Perhaps an introductory chapter on the far-right in France before Vichy, and a concluding chapter to spell out the radical implications of his history for evaluating its contemporary importance would have made the book more complete. However, they would also have made it alarmingly long for his publishers if not for his readers. As it stands, it still manages to be simultaneously a history textbook and a perceptive interpretation of the Le Pen phenomenon which deserves a wide readership by students and researchers in this area. It would not do some FN voters any harm to read a reconstruction of their movement which exposes in such irrefutable detail its fascist roots and subtext, even if Shields is on the ‘wrong’ side of the ‘English’ Channel. In fact, it is a book not just begging for importation into France, but translation into French.

Roger Griffin
Oxford Brookes University

July 30, 2009

Chapter: I am no longer human. I am a Titan. A god!

The first chapter of Roger Griffin's The Fascist Century is available online:

'"I am no longer human. I am a Titan. A god!": The Fascist Quest to Regenerate Time: Modernity under the New Order: The Fascist Project for Managing the Future' (pp. 3-23).

This chapter is based on the written-up version of a talk given in November 1998 at the Institute of Historical Research as part of the seminar series Modern Italian History: 19th and 20th Centuries organized by Carl Levy. Read more...

July 12, 2009

Conference paper: A New "New Consensus" on the Definition of Fascism

The paper presented by Roger Griffin at the conference "Europe's Radical Right and World War II" on 10 July 2009:

A new "new consensus" on the definition of fascism? or is the new consensus getting "old" and are we witnessing "a new wave" in the comparative study of extremism? (PDF)

For more info on the conference, check the web-site of Alfred Krupp Science College. Read more...

July 02, 2009

Conference paper: Lingua Quarti Imperii

Roger Griffin's paper '"Lingua Quarti Imperii": The Euphemistic Tradition of the Extreme Right', presented at the International Symposium on the Language of Far-right Movements "Speaking with Forked Tongues: The Rhetoric of Right-Wing Extremism Today".

Click here to view or download the paper in PDF.

For more info on the Symposium, check the blog "Speaking With Forked Tongues". Read more...

May 30, 2009

Symposium: Speaking with Forked Tongues

School of Social Sciences (the University of Northampton) presents:

A one-day International Symposium on the Language of Far-right Movements "Speaking with Forked Tongues: The Rhetoric of Right-Wing Extremism Today" that will be held at the University of Northampton, Park Campus (Northampton, UK) on 26 June 2009.

Keynote Speakers: Professor Roger Griffin, Professor Janet Wilson, Mr. Michael Ellis.

From Holocaust "revisionism" in places like Central Europe to "white nationalist" parties in Britain and France to veiled anti-Semitic conspiricism by the American ideologue, Lyndon LaRouche, the recourse to language as a political veil, rather than a transparent means of communication, has been a key feature of radical right-wing movements since 1945. This daylong event promises to uncover salient techniques and relevant practices employed in far-right rhetoric, for the benefit of contemporary researchers, policy-makers and the wider public.

Registration and lunch £25 (£10 unwaged).

For further information, or to register, please contact the organizers:

Dr. Matthew Feldman ( and Dr. Paul Jackson ( Read more...

May 04, 2009

Article: Modernity, modernism, and fascism. A "mazeway resynthesis"

'Modernity, modernism, and fascism. A "mazeway resynthesis"', published in Modernism/Modernity 15/1 (2007), available online: HTML | PDF. Read more...

May 01, 2009

Conference: Europe's Radical Right and World War II

Roger Griffin will participate in the conference "Europe's Radical Right and World War II" (original title - Europas radikale Rechte und der Zweite Weltkrieg) to take place on 8-10 July 2009 at Alfred Krupp Science College (Greifswald, Germany).

Academic convenors:
Claudia Globisch (Leipzig), Dr. Agnieszka Pufelska (Berlin), Volker Weiß (Hamburg) .

Other participants:
Zeev Sternhell (Jerusalem), Andreas Umland (Eichstätt), Wolfgang Wippermann (Berlin), Michael Minkenberg (New York), and others.

For more information:

April 30, 2009


Roger Griffin is Professor in Modern History at Oxford Brookes University, England. His recent efforts have focused on a definition and examination of fascism.

Griffin's theory of fascism, first elaborated in The Nature of Fascism (Palgrave MacMillan, 1991), suggests that a heuristically useful ideal type of its definitional core is that it is a palingenetic and populist form of ultranationalism. In other words it seeks, by directly mobilizing popular energies or working through an elite, to eventually conquer cultural hegemony for new values, to bring about the total rebirth of the nation from its present decadence, whether the nation is conceived as a historically formed nation-state or a racially determined 'ethnos'. Conceived in these terms, fascism is an ideology that has assumed a large number of specific national permutations and several distinct organizational forms. Moreover, it is a political project that continues to evolve to this day throughout the Europeanized world, though it remains highly marginalized compared with the central place it occupied in inter-war Europe.

This approach became the basis of Fascism (Oxford University Press, 1995), a documentary reader of primary sources relating to fascism; International Fascism: Theories, Causes, and the New Consensus (Hodder Arnold, 1998), a secondary source documentary reader; and the 5 volumes of secondary sources of Fascism (Routledge, 2003), which Griffin edited with Matthew Feldman and which were published in Routledge's acclaimed series 'Critical Concepts in Political Science'. This is the largest collection of secondary sources in fascism so far published in any language in a single edition.

Griffin's approach has had an enduring impact on the comparative fascist literature of the last 18 years, and builds on the work of George Mosse, Stanley G. Payne, and Emilio Gentile in highlighting the revolutionary and totalizing politico-cultural nature of the fascist revolution (in marked contrast with Marxist approaches). His latest book, Modernism and Fascism (Palgrave MacMillan, 2007), locates the mainspring of the fascist drive for national rebirth in the modernist bid to achieve an alternative modernity, which is driven by a rejection of the decadence of 'actually existing modernity' under liberal democracy or tradition. The fascist attempt to institute a different civilization and a new temporality in the West found its most comprehensive expression in the 'modernist states' of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, which also revealed the destructive and self-destructive nature of all fascist political projects to 'regenerate' the nation or achieving cultural renewal.

His latest book, A Fascist Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), edited by Matthew Feldman, contains 10 essays on the evolution of fascism since 1919, covering a range of key case-studies and historiographical themes. The book also includes contextual preface by Stanley G. Payne, introduction by Matthew Feldman and concluding interview with the author.

Together with Matthew Feldman (University of Northampton), Paul Jackson (Oxford Brookes University), and Tudor Georgescu (Oxford Brookes University) Griffin has created a Political Religions section of the Blackwell-Wiley on-line journal Religion Compass which they are determined to turn into a significant site for the dissemination of accurate and stimulating articles on political religion written by scholars from every corner of the international community and accessible throughut the world.

Roger Griffin has been Fellow of the Royal Historical Society since 2003. Read more...