Reading Modernism and Fascism by Roger Griffin

by onepuzzledspecies

Reading up on some good old-fashioned fascism.

How were the ideologies and movements that we term fascist related to the (set of) cultural and historical developments that we associate with “modernity”? How may “fascism” be understood in comparison with “modernism”, that concept generally used to describe a movement or a period within the arts stretching from the late 19th century up until about the Second World War? And should we understand fascism as an antithesis to modernism, or as one of its expressions? To ask the hard question is simple, but the answer is hard – and discussed at length in Griffin’s volume.

Griffin is Professor of Modern History at Oxford Brookes, and is one of the principal authorities on fascism in the academic world. He has, among other things, co-edited the five-volume anthology Fascism: Critical Concepts in Political Science together with Matthew Feldman, and otherwise published extensively on the topic.

Modernism and Fascism is brilliantly written, and having only gotten as far as the first chapter, I have already forgotten why I started reading it in the first place.

A little reminder to myself, then, since a careful reading of the whole work will surely require more time than I have to spare at the moment: You are looking for apocalyptic elements of modern fascist movements, particularly as characterizing that prominent cousin of Fascism rising in Germany in the 1930s, in order to contextualize Auden’s understanding of the attractions of totalitarianism and the alternative “solution” he promoted from the late 30s and onwards.  

So: What do we know about “the” fascist world view, its ideas of renewal, rebirth, cleansing, crisis, etc, that makes the term “apocalypse” relevant?  

With this in mind, the chapters I am going to read are:

3: An Archaeology of Modernism

4: A Primordialist Definition of Modernism

6: The Rise of Political Modernism 1848-1945

8: The Fascist Regime as a Modernist State

9: Nazism as a Revitalization Movement

Ideally, I’ll do 3+4 tomorrow (and maybe throw in some highly superficial comparisons with Frank Kermode and Marshall Berman?) and 6+8+9 on Thursday. In practice, we’ll see, since I am leaving for the U.S. on Friday and have some packing to do.

An Auden appetizer from March 1941 to help me stay on track:

“During the nineteenth Century Christian beliefs began to lose their hold on both artists and their public. Either, abandoning the belief in Original Sin, they became liberal optimists who foresaw the Good Life becoming easy for all, apostles of a great march toward the dawn all together, or, abandoning the belief in Free Will, they returned to the pagan view of the Good Life being only possible to some, the intellectual, the proletariat, the Aryan; or, abandoning the belief in Grace, they became romantic pessimistic determinists who regarded the Good Life as being impossible to all, and declared that we were lying in the swamp of the Accidental all together.”