A very clear line can be drawn between the rise of fascism to the forefront of European politics during the 1920s and 1930s to the events of Word War I. Europe was in the midst of its biggest conflict since the Roman times, and this one was to surpass in both magnitude and casualties the previous conflicts of human civilization. Virtually every country in the continent was involved. The reasons themselves can be attributed on a number of ideals and events that took place over the previous centuries.
The class divisions that came to dominate European culture for most of its history came to a decisive confrontation. The war began in 1914, and for the next four years, the fate of the modern world was in the hands of their own ignorance. There were fanatics on both sides of the political spectrum, and each had their own reasons to fight. In no other country was this difference marked more than in one of the Allied Powers, Italy.
Throughout the conflict, Italy was very indecisive in concern to their interests. Their divisiveness proved to be a crucial factor in the development of the war, and even led to the surge of the intense radicalization of the country mid-way through it in 1916.
In the book To Hell and Back, it’s author Ian Kershaw briefly explains why the Italian citizens were not enthusiastic nor pleased with the results the war had yielded. Italy’s only reason for going to war in the first place was to achieve “a quick victory for sizable territorial gains in the Adriatic” (pg. 87, par. 2). These simple ends to justify the means did not bode well for many factions of the Italian population. It should be noted that Italy’s government was not the ruling voice of the country’s decisions during these times. The honor of bearing power over the masses could be located in its military complex.
When Italy started to lose the war, the public began to protest the many effects it had produced in the country. The government steered towards the lines of ineptitude. Seeing the war support diminish and on the verge of complete public distrust, Kershaw points out that “the Italian government found itself even more vehemently attacked from the Right” (pg. 87, par. 4). It is through these attacks that fascism was introduced to the universal lexicon of extreme right-wing radicalism.
Kershaw continues the discussion by outlining the premise and founding system of the right wing attacks:
“They wanted to sweep what they saw as sterile parliamentary rule and it’s attendant bureaucracy, advocating radical social change through a state economy to be run on quasi-military lines even after the war was over.” (pg. 88, par. 1)
To carry this message forward, the right wing radicals in Italy began to form several small groups all over the country to create a bigger presence. The name they chose to use as a representation for their nationalist movement was Fasci, thus giving birth to a word that has come to represent one of the most tyrannical forms of government ever conceived.
Unlike the origin of many political and economic ideologies across history, fascism, as demonstrated, was not developed by professed scholars as Marxist or capitalist ideals were. As a matter of fact, the ideology itself had no essential foundation other than the one Mr. Kershaw outlined. This makes the origins of the term rather unique, seeing as how the application of such ideas led to an array of atrocities unseen before or after in human history.
According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the etymological origins of the phrase comes from the Latin word fasces, meaning “a bundle of rods containing an axe with a blade projecting”. This bundle was used during Roman times for purposes that are still bleak to some, but many speculate that it was used to exorcise authority. Many historians are unsure as to why the Italian right-wing radicals used this derivation of fasces as the name for their radical movement. The most common hypothesis among scholars is that seeing as how a fasces was a tool used during Roman times to represent authority, it was only logical for them to believe that a call-back to the same tactics during modern times could bring back the glory of what once was the most powerful empire in the world. If this sentimentality had an important part to play in the development of fascism, we can clearly see how the illusion of the past repeating itself can come back to haunt the cultural psyche of a country during its most turbulent times.
The bleakness of the word and its meaning on political grounds adds a level of malice to its connotation. It is no different than other words of vague significance such as chaos and anarchy, words where the scope of their importance is not on what they meant or what they were suppose to have meant, but on the actions they produced. It is a casual reminder that an idea takes shape in mysterious ways, and that the pages of history begin with small occurrences as minuscule as a group of people united under a bleak cause.
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