Legacies of Fascism and Nazism in Italian and German Politics


Fascism and Nazism are some of the most destructive and objectively evil political movements in the history of humanity. It is difficult to understand how such political movements came into power from a rational point of view. A deeper examination of the history of these countries is required to understand how this situation occurred and what is more important is how it affected post-war politics of the countries including the current political developments. There is a number of ways that affect politics of both countries with differing outcomes. In some ways, these outcomes are beginning to gather new traction in the world which may lead to a new rise of nationalist and fascist movements in the near future. This paper will provide a brief outline of the historical context of post-war Italy and Germany as well as their modern politics.

Before World War Two

While both Italy and Germany have a long history before the rise of fascism and Nazism, with historical events and movements that were often referenced in these ideologies, only the more recent events would be covered in this paper to provide a brief overview of the political situation in the respective countries prior to World War Two.

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Italy became a kingdom after uniting in 1870 and technically continued to be a kingdom until 1946. During this time, the country experienced a variety of governmental systems, including Fascism. Since 1870 the country absorbed some other territories which continued to be a part of it to this day. The earliest government of the kingdom followed the pattern of constitutional monarchy with the monarch being the executive power with appointed ministers following him or her. However, this system was unsustainable, and after a few years, new developments began to appear in the government. Socialism, liberalism and partial populism of the Christian political movement were present in the political system as the country entered the First World War. However, none of these systems were able to form a firm grasp on the country. Furthermore, the devastating result of the war developed a high level of distrust in the political systems of the past. A new populist leader appeared in the elections of 1922 with a firm belief in Fascism and nationalism that attracted a large following. He became the prime minister of Italy in the same year and established a totalitarian fascist regime by 1926 as he replaced proportional representation in the voting system with a block voting system. This allowed his Fascist Party to have a complete majority in the government and leaving it in power until it was overthrown at the end of the war. The monarchy was still technically performing its duties during this time, but it held no real power and generally accepted policies and laws proposed by the Fascist Party (Baylis, Smith, & Owens 2017).

Germany’s path to Nazism was not similar in nature. However, some elements are distinctly similar. The German Empire was founded after the unification of the various territories present in the region in 1871. 27 states were unified into a single empire with King Wilhelm I being proclaimed as the Emperor. The country changed a variety of rulers and politicians with perhaps Otto von Bismarck being the most significant for the rise of German nationalism. He became an iconic image of the German Empire before and during the First World War. His policies were focused on creating an authoritarian conservative regime in Germany with all people of the empire being loyal to the emperor. He was responsible for the creation of the welfare state in the country and introduced universal male suffrage to the Empire. These political moves were designed to counteract the rising power of socialism and liberalism in the world. The country had a major gap between the Junkers Elite and the regular people which these developments allowed to partially remove. Nevertheless, the Bismarck had no intention of establishing a democratic regime which caused issues with the Prussian region of the country (Mulligan 2017).

The First World War was devastating for the country in both literal and political sense. It was never expected to last so long, and millions that were lost during it changed the outlook of its citizens on the imperial regime. The Social Democratic party and the Independent Social Democratic party became gathering followers with their call for the end of the war. The people revolted in October 1918 with navy refusing to follow orders, and by November multiple cities joined the revolt. The war ended soon after, and the Weimar Republic was established in 1919. The new regime established a new constitution and was designed to be a more democratic state with an elected president and a multi-party system. However, the country was left in a highly limited state. Mineral resources were exhausted, inflation rose dramatically, unemployment was extremely high, and the economy was in shambles. In part, this state was caused by the Treaty of Versailles. However, the massive spending during the war also had a significant effect on this situation. The political system was opposed almost unanimously by the existing parties. Revolts began to appear in various territories of the republic but were unable to establish their legitimacy. During that time Adolf Hitler began to build his political presence during the event known as the Beer Hall Putsch. While his uprising failed, during his imprisonment he wrote “Mein Kampf” which was later used as a powerful propaganda tool. By mid-1920s, the country began to recover through the actions of Gustav Stresemann. However, he received strong opposition from the right-wing parties. The Great Depression put an end to the recovery efforts, and the Nazi Party began to gain power in the country (Maier 2015). Through popular support and political machination, Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of the Weimar Republic on the 30th of January 1933. His establishment of an authoritarian regime was swift and in the same year ended the Weimar Republic and formed Nazi Germany which lasted until the end of the Second World War (Peterson 2015).

During World War Two

During the war, Italy and Germany allied and continued to be authoritarian fascist states. Nazi Germany operated mostly by the same policies that Hitler enacted after 1933 with the abolition of the constituent states and establishment of administrative divisions. This policy was never fully implemented due to a variety of issues and continued to operate in a hybrid of the two states throughout the war. The Jewish population of the country began to be disenfranchised even before the start of the war but the situation exacerbated with each year as concentration camps and ghettos became commonplace in countries allied with Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, the government was mostly disorganized with only Hitler’s demands being taken into account when developing new policies. The intergovernmental conflict was also common as politicians competed for approval of the higher-ups. The regime fell with the end of the World War, and 23 of the top officials were tried in the Nuremberg trials (Peterson 2015).

Italy took a slightly divergent path during the war. Mussolini established himself as the sole head of government with no alternative political movements and virtually no way to be deposed from his post. However, unlike Hitler’s rule, an attempt was made to create a sustainable fascist rule with minor social programs and powerful use of propaganda utilized to sway public opinion. Cult of personality around Mussolini played a large role in the establishment of his rule and created a fascination in the Italian people that lasted into the modern era. His rule ended in 1945 after being executed by the communist partisan forces (Archer 2017).

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After World War Two

The paths of Italy and Germany after the war separate drastically due to the various unique conditions in which they ended the war. Italy became a republic after the Second World War, and its political sphere was mostly based on Christian Democracy with opposition represented by the Italian Communist Party. The county could have fully committed to communism if it was not for a massive propaganda campaign by the western powers. The recovery process was relatively positive with an economic boom that lasted for almost two decades with the performance of the country more than doubling in 20 years. Christian Democracy began losing its support in its later years. One of the first examples of fascist legacy influencing politics of Italy occurred in 1960 as Christian Democracy announced incorporation with a neo-fascist party called Italian Social Movement. The move was met with strong opposition from the nation, as some regions experienced rioting. The country began experiencing a wave of localization as different regions began to strongly identify with their territory and in part discriminate against those with a different class, nationality, and political backgrounds (Osti 2013). In the 1970s the country experienced a series of violent riots by far-left and far-right political groups. The situation remained relatively stable with Centrist and Center-left approaches from the Christian Democracy government and later Socialist government until 1992 (Thomassen & Forlenza 2016).

On the other hand, Germany was separated into two due to the annexation of its territory by the Soviet Union. The other portion was occupied by the Allied Forces until 1955. During that time the industrial element of the country was dismantled, a new currency was established, and a massive effort of denazification of the country was performed. Eventually, German industry became considered essential for Europe and the dismantling process was stopped. West Germany was then included in the Marshall plan which allowed it to begin a slow recovery process. West Germany was established as the Federal Republic. Despite an unstable political situation in the country over the post-occupation years, it managed to establish a strong democracy which remains to this day. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the country was reunified with Eastern Germany (Smith, Paterson & Merki 2016).

Modern Politics of Italy and Germany

The current politics of Italy are affected by the legacy of fascism. In a literal sense because leaders representing similar ideas are gaining power, and in a more figurative as the cult of personality of its most popular leader in the modern era is still strong. The fall of the Soviet Union had a dramatic effect on the Italian politics. In 1992, the country faced a number of issues such as government debt, the presence of organized crime, corruption, and various connected issues. Silvio Berlusconi, who was previously associated with the Italian Socialist Party, began to align with nationalist movements in the country. He won his first election in 1994, but due to a withdrawal of one of his supporting parties, he had to step down in the same year. Until 2001, the country experienced a series of Center-left governments that were not capable to fully establish themselves. Berlusconi came back as a leader in 2001. His political actions were widely criticized. He joined the United States wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and enacted a series of policies that were not supported by the public. A center-left government once again won the election but dissolved less than a year into its operation. Berlusconi won the following election in 2008 due to his populist platform. Despite his win, a number of scandals and poor political decisions resulted in a high disapproval rating for Berlusconi by the year 2011 which led to his resignation. Currently, he once again received strong political support from the Italian public despite being unable to legally perform governmental duties. The nationalist party took the second place during the election (Fletcher et al. 2018; D’Arma 2015).

Germany took a very different path in its political movements. In 1998 a coalition of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the Green Party won the Bundestag elections. The government met a crisis in 2000 due to a donation scandal, however. Angela Merkel became the chair after these events. She assumed office as the Chancellor of Germany in 2005. As of 2018 she still holds this position. Throughout her carrier, she was a strong force for European unification, had good relationships with both Democratic and Republican parties of the United States, was able to maintain a positive relationship with Russia and in general performed well in foreign and domestic pursuits while at the same time emphasizing the importance of democratic rule in the country. However, in the recent wave of populism, her coalition received opposition from the nationalist movements within the country. The recent immigration crisis created a population that is ready to vote for leaders who have a harsher stance on the issue, and despite Merkel’s previous calls for the integration of foreign immigrants, her coalition almost dissolved by 2018. However, it was able to regroup before a nationalist party replaced it. While the legacy of Nazism is less powerful in German than it is in Italy, Neo-Nazi movements and groups are still present in the country and recently became more active as the situation in the world began to deteriorate (Mushaben 2017; Esch 2017).

Conclusion

Nazism and Fascism had a long-lasting legacy even after decades after the war was over. The complex and varying reasons that Italy and Germany had to engage in these political movements resulted in the worst war in the history of mankind, with tens of millions people dying both on the battlefield and in concentration camps, mass executions, famines, and other conditions that were brought upon by the war. Despite the truly terrifying results of these political movements, their effect was not erased in the post-war years. A large number of people continued to be fascinated with the fascist leader Benito Mussolini. This fascination transferred into an apologetic attitude to the atrocities committed under his regime in some elements of Italian political scene. While fascism did not return in the following years, a fascination with populist and nationalist leaders remains firmly ingrained in the voting public.

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Germany, on the other hand, had a much different post-war history with the nation divided between two political movements until the fall of the Berlin wall. In the recent years, Germany became a strong political power in the European Union with Angela Merkel being able to have strong relations with both western and eastern countries of the world. However, the recent election has shown that the country is still capable of following nationalistic and populist ideologies despite having a long history of negative outcomes for both the country and world at large. It is unclear whether the world will avert a new wave of nationalism or not in the next election. With some countries of the world already leaning towards nationalist ideas, it is worrying to see them gaining power in those that previously put the world through the worst events in history. However, if these nationalist leaders show themselves as being incompetent or harmful, it may dissuade other countries from following this path.

Reference List

Archer, J 2017, Twentieth-century Caesar: Benito Mussolini: the dramatic story of the rise and fall of a dictator, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., New York, NY.

Baylis, J, Smith, S & Owens, P 2017, The globalization of world politics: an introduction to international relations, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

D’Arma, A 2015, Media and politics in contemporary Italy: from Berlusconi to Grillo, Lexington Books, Lanham.

Esch, F 2017, ‘The paradoxes of legitimate EU leadership. An analysis of the multi-level leadership of Angela Merkel and Alexis Tsipras during the euro crisis’, Journal of European Integration, vol. 39, no. 2, pp. 223–237.

Fletcher, C, Brady, S, Moss, RE & Riall, L (eds) 2018, The palgrave handbook of masculinity and political culture in Europe, Palgrave Macmillan UK, London, UK.

Maier, CS 2015, Recasting bourgeois europe: stabilization in France, Germany, and Italy in the decade after World War I, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Mulligan, W 2017, The origins of the First World War, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Mushaben, JM 2017, Becoming madam chancellor: Angela Merkel and the Berlin Republic, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Osti, G 2013, ‘The moral basis of a forward society: relations and forms of localism in Italy’, Local Economy, vol. 28, no. 3, pp. 291–303.

Peterson, EN 2015, Limits of Hitler’s power, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Smith, G, Paterson, WE & Merki, PH 2016, Developments in West German politics, Springer, New York, NY.

Thomassen, B & Forlenza, R 2016, ‘Christianity and political thought: Augusto Del Noce and the ideology of Christian Democracy in post-war Italy’, Journal of Political Ideologies, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 181–199.

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