By Julia Aguiar
In interrogating the question posed this week in the syllabus, the readings provided rich in further characterizing the ambivalence posited. In her analysis of Italian fascism, Ben-Ghiat grapples with Italian fascism’s relationship to modernity, intellectualism, and its struggle to deploy the arts. I found that Ben-Ghiat makes clear the paradoxical nature of fascism’s relationship to internationalism. Motadel characterizes fascism’s relationship to internationalism in a different way, underscoring the way that anticolonial internationalism was used by Nazi Germany’s fascist regime to weaken the sovereignty of adversaries’ empires. However, paradoxes are nonetheless revealed in Motadel’s articles. Above all, these readings make clear that fascism’s relationship to internationalism is constantly under flux and dependent on specific context.
Ben-Ghiat writes about the debate over how to best create a distinct “fascist art” which sought to be free of international influence while inviting the admiration and respect of the international world which would in turn legitimize its regime. This was especially true in the struggle against Americanization in Italy, and in the case of the Novecento movement, a desire to create an acutely Italian style of art which looked to the past so as to create historical continuity and remind the world of Italy’s long cultural traditions. The larger implications of Mussolini using art and culture as a tool of Italy’s fascist regime was that it gave the illusion that fascism cared about art and culture, encouraged artistic expression, and was a “regime of liberty”. However, this was far from the truth as can be seen through the regime’s heavy practices of censorship, violence, and surveillance. Italy’s fascist desire to create a purest Italian form of art and culture that was further legitimized by the attention of the international community while refusing to participate in an international exchange or dialogue of art is one of the ways that Ben-Ghiat makes clear fascism’s paradoxical relationship with internationalism.
Motadel considers fascism’s relationship to internationalism by looking to Nazi Germany’s support of anticolonialism during the interwar and WWII periods. He contends that the anticolonial network that operated in Berlin and was supported by Nazi Germany very much relied on internationalism. In assisting nations in their anticolonial work, Nazi Germany was able to further fulfill its fascist goals. However, inherent in this practice is a profound paradox. As Motadel writes, Nazi Germany was at once working to free the oppressed while committing genocide against Jewish and other marginalized people. Put another way, Nazi Germany had a complicated relationship with race in the way that it was willing to overlook the race of some groups if it was to its benefit while waging a war that was based so fundamentally on race. In this way, it is clear that Nazi Germany used internationalism as a means to an end. In his New York Times article, Motadel acknowledges the contradictory nature of “nationalist internationalism” in analyzing the contemporary alliance of Europe’s leading far-right nationalists groups.
In further considering fascism’s ambivalent relationship to internationalism in a paradoxical sense and as an aid to fascism’s goals, I do not think one can be chosen over the other nor should it be given that fascism is ambiguous in nature. Instead, maybe we can see internationalism as a paradoxical tool of fascism.
Ben-Ghiat, Ruth. “Conquest and Collaboration” in Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922-1945, (University of California Press, 2004), pp. 17-45, pp. 123-70.
Motadel, David. “The Global Authoritarian Moment: The Revolt Against Empire” American Historical Review Vol. 124, Issue 3 (July 2019): 843-877.
Motadel, David. “The Far Right Says There’s Nothing Dirtier Than Internationalism but they Depend on it,” The New York Times.com. The New York Times, July 3, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/03/opinion/the-surprising-history-of-nationalist-internationalism.html