Third Book Project: The Allure of Fascism

Helen’s third monograph, The Allure of Fascism: Why Interwar Europe Thought that Fascism was the Future, 1919-1939, is under contract with trade publisher Head of Zeus.

Aimed at a popular audience, the book will explore diaries and other egodocuments from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, seeking to understand why ordinary people were attracted to fascism as an ideology, a political system, and a way of life.

‘A dictatorship at full strength has an impressive aura of glittering success’, wrote Thomas Wolfe in one of his notebooks: ‘If we are really going to combat the evil of fascism, we must first begin by understanding its good.’ In similar vein, in a review of Franz Borkenau’s book The Totalitarian Enemy (1940), George Orwell praised the author for demonstrating so conclusively that ‘we cannot struggle against fascism unless we are willing to understand it.’

At a time when, in popular parlance, the epithet ‘fascist’ has degraded into a mere term of abuse, while scholarly debates have become mired in endless conceptual wrangling about how exactly we should define fascism as a historical phenomenon, the time is ripe for a fresh exploration of fascism’s immense power to attract popular support and political loyalty.

Only through taking the fascist dictatorships’ ideological and emotional appeal seriously can we gain a full understanding of this turbulent period of twentieth-century history, and its reverberations in the present day. During the interwar period, the idea of fascism as a valid political path was respectable in ways that now, with hindsight, are almost impossible to imagine.

Putting ourselves in the place of ‘ordinary people’ – whether subjects of the Italian Fascist and National Socialist dictatorships, or foreign observers – can help us to comprehend both the conditions that caused so many to consider fascism a serious political option, and the more specific claims, tactics, and policies with which fascist leaders were able to garner mass support.