Originally, the term denoted only the Italian political party founded by Benito Mussolini in the aftermath of World War I, and the state that was created during the 1920s following the party's seizure of power, although in ordinary usage it has since become a generic term used to refer to almost any authoritarian right-wing ideology , political party , or state . It nevertheless retains a certain precision within political sociology . In the latter context, it has come to refer to parties, ideologies, or states that either advocate or embody a typically terroristic domination of a fused state apparatus, within which there is no separation of powers or rule of law, by a single party infused with a frequently racist and always nationalist petit bourgeois ideology. On this basis, the German Nazi (National Socialist) Party founded by Adolf Hitler, the ideology he elaborated, and state that he created after his seizure of power, have become the archetypes of fascism in place of their Italian equivalents. Naturally, there were many variations on the fascist themes current in inter-war Europe, and these are concisely discussed in, Varieties of Fascism, 1964.
Striking as this broadening of reference and change of archetype has been, it has not aroused much controversy, at least in sociological circles. Certainly, it has not provoked nearly as much controversy as that which has raged around the causes and significance of fascism in general, and of its temporary German and Italian successes in particular. It is true that almost all those who have sought to explain the rise of fascism in the inter-war years have regarded it as the product of a crisis associated with some type of transitional process. But what they have signally failed to agree about is the nature of the crises and transitions involved.
For the majority of Weberian sociologists and liberal scholars (such as Ralf Dahrendorf and Reinhard Bendix, addressing the case of Germany, or A. W. Salamone and Frederico Chabod that of Italy) the pertinent transitional process was that which was occurring-or, better, failing to occur-at the level of values. (The general process that is involved here is often referred to as one of modernization .) More concretely, since the chief bearers of the liberal-democratic values that are considered to be appropriate to modern societies were the bourgeoisie and their middle-class allies, such scholars have focused their attention on the failure of these groups to establish their social dominance or keep faith with their values.
Within such an analytical framework it is not surprising that what are typically identified as the ‘fatal crises’ turn out to be essentially political in nature. Thus, in the case of both societies, emphasis is given to the ways in which the legitimacy of what were newly established liberal-democratic regimes was undermined. Among the most important factors cited in this regard are: tensions arising from what were termed in Italy ‘lost territories’; the heavy financial burdens imposed by war reparations (Germany) and the repayment of war loans (Italy); the shared experience of a hyper-inflation which wiped out the savings of the middle classes; the uncertainty and instability that in both cases resulted from the political fragmentation caused by the existence of electoral systems based on proportional representation; and, finally, miscalculations on the part of the bourgeois parties as to the seriousness of the fascist threat.
By contrast, Marxist-inclined writers have traditionally identified the pertinent transition process as an economic one, and have focused instead on the difficulties encountered by both Italy and Germany in making the transition between the competitive and monopoly stages of capitalist development. More recently, they have also stressed the contribution made to these difficulties by the belated passing of absolutism , as for example in the work of Barrington Moore (see his The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, 1966).
By far the most sophisticated Marxist analysis is that to be found scattered through the pages of Antonio Gramsci's Prison Notebooks (1929-35)-although, because of the conditions under which Gramsci wrote, his account is not worked out in great empirical detail and is sometimes rather too elusive for contemporary readers. Guided by the particular interpretation of the relative autonomy of politics and ideology that he brought to Marxism with his concept of hegemony , Gramsci formulated a whole series of middle-range concepts (‘passive revolution’, ‘catastrophic equilibrium’, ‘fordism’, and ‘Caesarism’) which he uses to chart and explain the interaction of economic, political and ideological factors in the aetiology of Italian fascism. In the 1970s several structuralist Marxists sought with mixed success both to develop Gramsci's ideas, and to apply them to the German and other cases. Nicos Poulantzas was by far the most ambitious and prominent of these (see his Fascism and Dictatorship, 1970).
Many historians as well as sociologists continue to be attracted to the study of fascism, because of its horrific dramatic interest, its implications for the development of civilization, its suitability for comparative study, and feared recurrence. It provides an almost unrivalled opportunity for sociologists and others to investigate some of the most profound and disturbing aspects of the modern world.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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