I am a writer and (political) philosopher with a wide variety of interests including history, politics, and travel.
Fascism and National Socialism are often mistaken for being one and the same. Yes, these ideologies did have a lot in common; however, some of the differences are substantial. Hitler and Mussolini didn’t always share the same ideas.
Origins of Fascism and National Socialism
Fascism originated in Italy around 1919, when then-Marxist Benito Mussolini—yes, Italy’s former Duce was a Marxist at first!—founded the so-called ‘Fasci di Combattimiento’, fighting forces consisting of World War I veterans. Its purpose was to restore order in Italy and give the country what (in their opinion) it was entitled to have.
It’s remarkable to note that National Socialism, a political ideology developed by Adolf Hitler, was based on Fascism. This was caused by the fact that Hitler admired Mussolini and incorporated many of his ideas in his own ideology that would later be known as National Socialism or Nazism. Italy’s dictator ‘rewarded’ Hitler for his admiration by considering himself to be his ‘mentor’, even by the time the latter had surpassed him in power by a landslide.
There are many similarities between Fascism and National Socialism. As such, both pursue collectivism (ownership of the land and the means of production by the state) as a part of an economy led by the state, the establishment of a dictatorship led by a leader who literally has all power and glorify violence, imperialism, and militarism. Furthermore, they reject democracy and traditional left- and right-wing parties, oppose freedom of speech and are strongly against communism and capitalism, feminism and homosexuality alike.
Their promotion of nationalism is being taken to an extreme and they aim for unity within their own respective states by holding mass demonstrations and military parades. Another similarity can be found in the fact that both are totalitarian ideologies, which means that they seek to control all aspects of public and private life alike. And finally, neither believes in class conflicts and conflicts of interest as a result of their idea of class collaboration instead of class struggle (this is where both ideologies find themselves directly opposing socialism and communism).
The most important difference between Fascism and National Socialism is the latter’s racist character and accent on ethnicity. Granted, Mussolini’s regime in a later stage did contain racist elements, but this was due mainly to its ties with Hitler and the Nazis. Other Fascist regimes that were established around the same time in Europe—the ones in Spain under Franco and Portugal under Salazar—could not be accused of fundamentally embracing racism either. As a result, Fascist-like regimes tended not to have any problems with Jews either and if they did, it was—just like Italy—due to their ties with Nazi-Germany. This enabled some Jews, like Mussolini’s mistress Margherita Sarfatti, to eventually become Fascists themselves. In the Netherlands, even the National Socialist Movement had some Jewish members at first since it did not start out as an anti-Semitic organization.
Another important difference is that Fascists favor corporatism (meaning that the sociopolitical organization of a society is to be led by large interest groups) whereas Nazis don’t. Taken everything in consideration, it may be stated that the main difference between Fascism and National Socialism can be described as follows: Fascists focused more on their own state, whereas race was more important to the Nazis.
Even when it comes to art, some major differences exist between the two ideologies. Nazis had no positive attitude towards Modernism, which they considered to be a sign of Bolshevism and cultural degeneration. Instead, they much rather promote art reflecting the Nazi doctrine. Fascists on the other hand generally had no problem with Modernism. For example, the Italian Fascists didn’t restrict artistic expression and even encouraged creativity. The artistic differences between Fascism and Nazism can be noted in architecture as well: the former embraced various styles (including Modernism) while the latter strongly favored Neoclassicism.
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Fascism, Nazism, and Religion
When it comes to religion, both similarities and differences exist. The most important similarity can be found in the fact that theoretically, neither Fascism nor Nazism can ever embrace religion since it claims—just like the two ideologies—the whole of an individual. Both Fascists and Nazis recognize the fact that there are numerous religious people, causing both groups to approach religion with caution while seeking to find it a purpose that would benefit their respective regimes.
This is where the differences come in. Though originally an atheist, Mussolini actively endorsed the Roman Catholic Church for political legitimacy while Hitler founded Positive Christianity as an attempt to redefine the Christian belief in such a way that it would benefit his anti-Semitic rule. Proof for that can be found in the fact that his version of Christianity had a little surprising interpretation of the Bible: Jesus Christ was the son of God indeed, but he was not Jewish. Instead, so the Nazis claimed, he despised the Jews and it was them who ended up killing him.
Despite the fact that it’s theoretically impossible for Fascism or Nazism to ever truly be connected to religion, there is a fascinating example of a movement that had a lot of Fascist traits while it had fiercely embraced Roman Catholicism at the same time. I’m talking about the Ustaše, a Croatian nationalist organization between 1930 and 1945 that identified Catholicism with Croatian nationalism. Its leader, Ante Pavelić, had modeled the movement significantly after the doctrines of Hitler and Mussolini. What truly set the Ustaše apart, however, was the fact that they considered both Catholicism and Islam to be the beliefs of the Croatian people, thus uniting two entirely different religions into one Fascist movement.
It must be noted that in today’s world, many people and political parties have wrongfully been labeled ‘Fascist’ or ‘National Socialist’. As such, Dutch politician Geert Wilders has repeatedly been compared to Hitler while he strongly supports Israel, hence causing this comparison to be utterly preposterous. If we go a little further back in time, we see that after the Spanish Civil War, Franco—considered a Fascist by many—swore to never wage war again, a promise he kept for the most part (he prevented Spain from becoming an overly active participant of World War II, but he did send some military aid to Nazi-Germany). However, in avoiding war, he directly opposed Fascist glorification of violence and imperialism, thus creating room for debate about how Fascist he really was. What people tend to forget is that one doesn’t have to be a Fascist, Nazi or communist in order to be a dictator; there is a lot in between.
It is truly remarkable to see, particularly in Europe, how quick the media are to accuse right-wing people and political parties of Nazism, fuelled by toxic, politically correct doctrines that have come to rule today’s Western World with an iron fist. Whenever someone expresses criticism towards non-Western immigrants who commit crimes—so not towards non-Western immigrants in general!—that person is quickly labeled a racist. The irony is that in doing so, those who condemn people for being something they’re not are doing the exact same thing that Fascists and Neo-Nazis do…
It happens the other way round as well, though, right-wing people who consider moderately left-wing people to be communists. Though I’m certainly no fan of Obama, I can’t accuse him of being a communist unlike some die-hard Republicans —who apparently are either unable or unwilling to acknowledge that there is a major difference between being liberal and being a communist—tend to do.
- Difference Between Facism and Nazism
- Difference Between Fascism and Nazism
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: How similar and how different were Italian Fascist and German Nazism policies?
Answer: They were similar when it comes to many if not most economic policies, as both advocated state-led economies that included cooperation between the various social classes rather than class struggle (this causes them to find a common enemy in Communism). Similarities can also be found in numerous ideological principles, such as strong leadership, nationalism, the glorification of violence, hatred of (perceived) weaknesses and the absence of freedom. The biggest difference was the strictly racist nature of German Nazism. Though heavily nationalistic and despite Mussolini ultimately introducing anti-Jewish laws to follow Hitler's lead, Italian Fascism was never principally racist.
© 2015 Victor Brenntice