John F Murphy Jr. Encyclopedia of Politics. Editor: Rodney P Carlisle. Volume 2: The Right. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Reference, 2005.

It is a supreme irony that, according to American President Woodrow Wilson, World War I was fought to make "the world safe for democracy." Yet the war, which the greatest liberal statesmen of their generation were unable to prevent, ended in the birth of fascism, with communism one of the two most anti-democratic forces of modern times. Fascism or, as it was known in Germany, Nazism, was in a real sense the response of many front-line soldiers who survived the war against the political beliefs of the "donkeys" at home who had sent them to fight.

The two most visible human personifications of European fascism were Benito Mussolini of Italy and Adolf Hitler of Germany, who had both seen military service in the war. Hitler, who would go on to lead Germany in 1933, had won the Iron Cross for bravery in the trenches on the Western Front. According to Roger Eatwell in Fascism: A History, "Mussolini joined the [Italian] Army, serving with enthusiasm if not with great distinction, until injured when a shell exploded in a mortar during firing practice."

The militarism that was the hallmark of fascism had been evident even earlier in the writings of the Italian Filippo Marinetti, who rhapsodized in The Futurist Manifesto of 1909 of "war—the world's only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, beautiful ideas worth dying for." Indeed, the joyful way in which the nations of Europe had marched to war in August 1914 might serve to pinpoint fascism as a part of militarism, as one of the real causes—not results—of the world conflict. However, it was in the aftermath of World War I that the movements historically classified as fascism made their appearance.

All such movements were inherently conservative in their appeal, traditionally making an obeisance to "king and country," even if in countries like Italy Mussolini would be the real power, not King Victor Emmanuel II, and in Spain it would be General Primo de Rivera who would hold tight the reins of power, not King Alphonso XIII. Also, the fascist movements were marked by a fanatic belief in the end justifying the means, of might justifying everything. Friedrich Nietzsche, wrote of such bemedaled elites, "we can imagine them returning from an orgy of murder, arson, rape, and torture, jubilant and at peace with themselves as though they had committed a fraternity prank," as Christopher Simpson translates the German philosopher in The Splendid Blonde Beast.

In 1919, as the Great Powers tried to make sense of the shambles of a collapsed Europe at the Paris Peace Conference, Gabriele D'Annunzio emerged as the first recognized fascist leader in Europe. A true war hero from World War I and the role model for Mussolini, D'Annunzio made his mark in September 1919 when, like a medieval Italian condottiere, he carved out a city state in Fiume, which Italy's obliging Western Allies (Great Britain, France, and the United States) were going to give to Yugoslavia. The new state of Yugoslavia was being made with diplomatic glue out of the wreckage of the empire of Austria-Hungary and prewar Balkan countries like Serbia. Indeed, as David Frumkin wrote in A Peace to End All Peace, Italy was falling out quickly with its wartime comrades. Lord Curzon, the ultimate British imperialist, reproached Count Carlo Sforza, who would become Italian foreign minister in 1920, for having an "unloyal attitude" toward Allied plans for the dividing of the spoils of the conquered Ottoman Turkish Empire in the Middle East. Italy, however, was compelled to abide by the Treaty of Rapallo of 1922 that made D'Annunzio's Fiume into a "free city," thus sending the poet-activist into exile. The Rapallo Treaty, however, became for Italy what the Versailles Treaty would be for the Nazis in Germany, a diplomatic "stab in the back." Opposition to the treaty was strenuously voiced by Mussolini, then the sulphurous editor of the newspaper Popolo d'Italia.

Although still the recognized voice of Italian nationalism, D'Annunzio relinquished leadership of the movement to Mussolini, who, after his celebrated March on Rome with his Black Shirts, became prime minister of Italy in October 1922. While harkening back to the glories of ancient Rome—the very term fascist refers to the bundles of sticks, the fasces, that Roman officials carried with them as a symbol of authority—modern-day fascism was very much linked with the idea of the corporate state.

In the corporate state, the people were expected to robustly serve not only the state but the large corporations, which, as with Hitler in Germany, were the main supporters of the fascist party in power. The best definition of the corporate state may come from John Kenneth Galbraith. Galbraith wrote in The New Industrial State that "it is the genius of the industrial state that it makes the goals that reflect its needs—efficient production of goods, a steady expansion in their output, a steady expansion in their consumption ... coordinated with social virtue and enlightenment."

Hitler's Fascism

While Mussolini may have been the most operatic of fascist dictators, Adolf Hitler would prove to be the most ruthless when he took power in Germany. The Nazi Party, the National German Socialist Workers Party, had begun as the Committee of Independent Workmen, established by Anton Drexler in Munich in March 1918, at the time of the last great German offensive on the Western Front. Hitler joined the party in September 1919, according to William L. Shirer in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Hitler, as he would later remember in his Mein Kampf, found in the philosophy of the party something that struck in his psyche a highly responsive (if not fanatic) chord. It was, as Hitler wrote, "the longing for a new movement which should be more than a [political] party in the previous sense of the word." By April 1920, Hitler had emerged as the leader of the group: it was then that the name became "the National German Socialist Workers Party," the NSDAP, or the Nazi Party.

Much like Mussolini and D'Annunzio, Hitler would provide a pseudo-historical foundation by mining the past of his nation. Hitler and the Nazis, building on the work of earlier German ideologues like Lanz von Liebenfels, sought their inspiration in the days of the ancient German tribes. It was these tribes that Hitler and his later propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, held up as the source of the spirit of the German people, or volk. It was in 9 C.E. that the Germans under Arminius (Hermann) slaughtered three Roman legions under Quinctilius Varus in the Teutoberg Forest, as Michael Grant records in The Twelve Caesars. Those Romans who were not killed on the battlefield were later sacrificed to the Germanic gods.

By January 1933, through intricate deals made with the military and financiers of the conservative postwar German Weimar Republic, Hitler had made himself master, or fuehrer, of Germany. As Shirer wrote, "on this wintry morning of January 30, 1933, the tragedy of the Weimar Republic, of the bungling attempt for 14 years of the Germans to make democracy work, had come to an end." The 1930s, indeed, were the decade when fascism seemed like the wave of the future, especially to those who feared the communism of the Soviet Union. The Comintern, or Communist International, was the organization that Soviet Premier Josef Stalin used to propagate communist ideology worldwide and was in full operation around this time.

British and Irish Fascism

In the United Kingdom, fascism was represented by Sir Oswald Mosley, who launched his New Party in 1931. Mosley then created the British Union of Fascists (BUF) a year later. However, by 1936, with the face of Nazism beginning to show its true colors in Germany with persecution of the Jews, homosexuals, and any opponents of Hitler's self-styled Third Reich, the political climate froze in England for Mosley. In 1936, the government of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin passed the Public Order Act, which severely restricted the increasingly thuggish tactics of the BUF.

Within the British Isles, there was also a fascist movement in Ireland, formed largely from veterans of the years of conflict with Great Britain and the grim civil war that came in its wake from 1922 to 1923. The Army Comrades' Association (ACA) officially reformed itself in March 1932 with a National Executive, as Tim Pat Coogan wrote in Eamon De Valera: The Man Who Was Ireland. In the spring of 1933, following the triumph of Hitler in Germany, Coogan wrote that "the ACA also developed the habit of the one-armed Hitler salute. Its leader was former Irish Army General Eoin O'Duffy. Both salute [and a distinctive blue shirt] were adopted officially by the movement after July 20, 1933." However, De Valera, who had been the last leader of the IRA, the Irish Republican Army, in the civil war, was undeterred. Eventually, after forcing the ACA to disband in August 1933, De Valera was able to remove the Blue Shirt movement from Irish politics by eroding its popular support.

Portuguese, French, and Spanish Fascism

In 1932, Professor Antonio Salazar took power in Portugal as prime minister. As with Hitler in Germany, in 1933 he made his bid for power. Salazar developed the Estado Novo, or new state. The basis of his dictatorship was a platform of stability. Salazar's reforms greatly privileged the upper classes at the expense of the poor. Education was not seen as a priority and therefore not expanded. Salazar had a version of the secret police named PIDE who repressed dissent. However, unlike many of his contemporary dictators, Salazar's regime was less bloody due to Portugal's lack of a death penalty. Although Salazar would support Franco in the Spanish Civil War, like Franco he would avoid alliance with Mussolini and Hitler during World War II. Indeed, he would permit Great Britain and the United States to use the Portuguese Azores islands as bases against the Germans in the Battle of the Atlantic.

Fascism also figured in France between the wars, in the person of Charles Maurras's Action Francaise. Indeed, founded in 1894, Action Francaise may lay claim to being the true precursor of later fascist movements in Europe, a protofascist mass movement. According to the Shoah Research Center, "members advocated the removal of the republic and return to monarchy." As Shoah notes, "for nearly 50 years, Maurras's movement was a frontrunner of French Antisemitism." Another prominent group, drawn from the ranks of French veterans of World War I, was the Croix de Feu, or Cross of Fire.

In 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out, bringing the third most important fascist dictator to the European stage. The civil war broke out initially as a mutiny of the Spanish troops in Morocco, including the elite Spanish Foreign Legion, against the Spanish Republic of the Popular Front government. The leader of the revolt was Francisco Franco, whose forces would soon be called the Nationalists. The Republican cause was seen as a crusade against fascism by many in Europe and the United States. International brigades were formed to help fight alongside the forces of the republic; the Abraham Lincoln Brigade was formed by Americans. However, behind the lines, Josef Stalin used the republic as a Trojan Horse to attempt to build a communist state in Spain. (Indeed, the gold reserves of the Spanish Republic were shipped to Moscow for "safekeeping," but never returned.) Franco's Nationalists received substantial help from Mussolini and Hitler, who viewed the civil war as a proving ground for their weaponry. On March 28, 1939, the Nationalists entered Madrid, and on April 1, Franco officially declared the war at an end.

When Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, World War II erupted in Europe. In June 1940, when Hitler invaded France, Mussolini joined him half-heartedly in the attack. However, when Hitler met Franco at Hendaye in October 1940, Franco declined to enter the war on the side of Germany and Italy, although he would temporarily later commit his Blue Division to the fighting in Russia after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. By largely maintaining his neutrality, Franco thus became the only one of the Big Three of the fascist dictators in Europe to survive the end of the war in May 1945. Hitler would commit suicide, and Mussolini would be shot by Italian partisans, or resistance fighters.

While fascism, now called neo-Nazism, has remained a political force in Europe up until today, including the Pamyat movement in the former Soviet Union, it has ceased to be a political movement able to disturb the peace of a stable Europe.