Perceptions of Decadence in the Context of Interwar Fascist Regimes

Presented at a virtual workshop on ‘The Politics of Decadence’, International Institute for Cultural Enquiry, University of Exeter, 16 May 2022.

We can identify a number of general tropes relating to the idea of ‘decadence’ which are relevant to the rise of Nazism and Fascism in Germany and Italy. Often, these tropes are fundamentally linked to what we might term ‘bourgeois’ anxieties: for instance, fears of deviant sexuality; campaigns against smut and pornographic literature such as the ‘Schmutz und Schund’ debates which raged during the Weimar Republic; fears of feminism, and adumbrations of a potential ‘crisis of masculinity’, linked with women’s new roles in the workplace and increasing freedom to express their sexuality. Anti-urbanism was also common, related particularly in the German case to antisemitism, which also linked to antidemocratic thought, styling democracy as a deviant, impersonal and corrupt ‘system’ supposedly run by Jews. Arguably, the fear of Communism and distrust of democracy which flourished in both Italy and Germany immediately before Fascism and Nazism respectively came to power also played into – and reinforced – perceptions of decadence and alienation.