Voice of Modern Hatred: Tracing the Rise of Neo-Facism in Europe

Voice of Modern Hatred: Tracing the Rise of Neo-Facism in Europe

by Nicholas Fraser

The end of the twentieth century was marked by a resurgence of right-wing politics across Europe and, in Bosnia and Kosovo, atrocities comparable to the most degrading events of the Second World War.
Nicholas Fraser spent three years traveling across Europe to meet, confront, and try to understand the personalities behind this resurgence and assess the threat

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The end of the twentieth century was marked by a resurgence of right-wing politics across Europe and, in Bosnia and Kosovo, atrocities comparable to the most degrading events of the Second World War.
Nicholas Fraser spent three years traveling across Europe to meet, confront, and try to understand the personalities behind this resurgence and assess the threat they pose to democracy.
He interviewed members of the "traditional" Far Right groups, sat in meetings held by local Führers in Denmark, Belgium, and Germany, and spoke with the leaders who have learned to code their language in euphemism rather than overtly spread their message of hate. In looking at neo-Facism's recent history in Europe-its philosophical antecedents and its modern-day adherents-Nicholas Fraser provides a deep background for the crucial and ongoing debate about how democracies should deal with the Far Right.

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The Overlook Press
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The Voice of Modern Hatred

Tracing the Rise of Neo-Fascism in Europe
By Nicholas Fraser

Overlook Press

Copyright © 2002 Nicholas Fraser
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1585673323

Chapter One


'I don't want to dominate anyone
I don't need money
I don't need power
Truly I need nothing.
But here I am, at home where I should be--and all these
Jews fuck me off ...'
--CELINE, Bagatelles pour un massacre

    It was in Argentina that I was first confronted by the true face of fascism. In the mid-1970s, I spent time in Buenos Aires exploring the ambiguous memory of Eva Peron. Flying from New York, it was the mode retro of fascist Argentina that struck me most of all. The city seemed just like a portion of Europe, except that its crumbling facades and endless peeling posters gave it the air of decadence expensively sought after for the anti-fascist epics Bernardo Bertolucci was making at the time. But I wasn't prepared for the pervasive fear that seemed stamped on every face. Nothing in my own European past had prepared me for the muffled horror of a civil war inwhich enemies were daily carted off in anonymous cars, tortured, shot, or--it happened many times--dumped in the river from aircraft while still alive.

    Nor, walking about empty streets and looking behind me, was I familiar with the way in which everything could be tarnished by the exercise of political violence. It was clear to me that the military government was composed of fascists. But it took me a little longer to realize that the guerrillas, too, despite the Marxist-Leninist theology in which their actions were cloaked, were not democrats. The Montoneros (they were named after a brutal leader in the racist gaucho wars in which Argentina's Indians were exterminated) robbed banks, took hostages, executed an ex-president on the grounds that he had violated Eva Peron's body, and heedlessly abandoned their followers to the mercy of the torturers while they acquired villas in the south of France.

    Torture or incarceration under socialism retained some faint appearance of rationality. You knew roughly why someone had been airbrushed, tried, imprisoned or caused to vanish. The systematic exercise of injustice was conducted with reference to norms of civilization, fraudulent though these might be. In Buenos Aires I began to understand that it was possible to envisage a world in which nothing was fully comprehensible except the sudden, arbitrary exercise of violence. I learnt, too, that it wasn't entirely fanciful to speak of fascism as a virus of sorts or a disease. In Argentina the fascist idea had begun with the Perons, and with their fancy-dress imitations of Mussolini. It was given significance in vast and repetitious parades in which the love of Juan and Evita for the descamisados was commemorated, attaining a bizarre apotheosis in Evita's long, public death, in which participation was formally required, with punishments for those who declined to do so. Now fascism appeared to have infected an entire society, to the degree that one might wonder whether it would ever be possible for Argentina to return to something like normality. The people I was interviewing were worried about being associated with a foreign reporter, but some of them did speak to me. I remember a woman who told me, sobbing, that she knew no family in which someone had not disappeared. 'I know no one who has been spared,' she repeated. 'No one in Buenos Aires. It affects all of us.'

    Walking about the streets after meeting the woman, I was picked up by a black car containing three men in suits. I had my passport and I showed it to them. They asked me a few, mainly perfunctory questions. The men in the car sat silently, impassive in the dusk. They were dressed in old shiny suits. There was a smell of American cigarettes and one of them was chewing gum noisily, without stopping. From time to time a short-wave radio crackled. They drove me around and let me out far from the city centre, on a piece of wasteland. When I left the car, I felt that I had been holding my breath for the past half hour and I wanted to go somewhere, anywhere, far away. I remember sitting on the pavement, vomiting until I was utterly exhausted.

    Friends told me that I had been stupid, and that I was lucky to escape with my life. However, I suppose I should feel grateful to those men because they gave me a lifelong interest. I now wanted to know about the moment at which whatever it was that caused a society to close up, destroying itself, usually irreversibly, became fully operative. In the short term, returning from Argentina, I found that I didn't believe in very much. (This, I discovered, was a syndrome--other people plunged into situations similar to the Argentine darkness were affected in the same way, and it took them longer to recover the more intense or more hazardous the exposure had been.) Over the years, among other interests, I began to read and think about fascism. I wondered whether it would ever be possible to say why people were attracted to hatred. I wanted to know whether it was indeed possible to speak of a fascist or authoritarian personality. And I suppose I also wondered whether what we called fascism might return in a different guise.

    I now knew that, given the chance, cruelty bred more cruelty. I had developed a practical sense of fascism, framed around the question of what, if anything, might be done to impede its return. Meanwhile it was those who had chosen fascism as an alternative, and who had bequeathed us their reasons for doing so, who now spoke to me. They were the Hamlets, not the Iagos, of international fascism. They would tell me more about why it remained attractive. I could also see their descendants at work and play in Paris. A forgotten aspect of the 1970s is the fear of fascism that existed at the time. Around the playgrounds of the West were highly remunerated freelancers like Carlos. But European states were also menaced by domestic terrorists from the Extreme Left such as the Italian Red Brigades, who kidnapped Aldo Moro or the German RAF, popularly known as the Baader Meinhof gang. An unhealthy ambivalence existed towards such figures. The question discussed in those days was not merely whether these terrorists were 'fascists'--much ink was spilt on this matter in a style of which Orwell would rightly have disapproved--but whether, through excessively brutal responses to them, so-called liberal states like Italy of the Federal Republic of Germany had not also revealed themselves in their true authoritarian-fascist colours. Of course, the purpose of the terrorists was to show up what they regarded as the brutal 'fascist' mechanisms behind the sham Potemkin Village front of democracy--but there were many outside their ranks who found these arguments attractive.

    In 1968 Pier Paolo Pasolini annoyed his admirers by criticizing rioting students:

When yesterday in the Valle Giulia you came to blows
With the cops,
I sympathized with the cops!
Because the cops are the sons of the poor.

    What Pasolini called 'sacred hooliganism' was in reality an impatience with the boredom levels implied by bourgeois politics. This was still a freely available attitude in the 1970s. It appeared that hostility to democracy had never wholly been extinguished in Europe. Most students from what would become known as the generation of 1968 declared themselves to be left-wing. But a minority, particularly in France, retained more ambiguous allegiances. Fashion encouraged such lengthy flirtations.

    My friend Patrick loved to talk about ideology in the way that others went on about rock groups or, in our time, Internet sites. Too refined, messed-up in an over-educated way, dropping names over cup after cup of black coffee, he would never be mistaken for a 'son of the poor'. He had been a Maoist in 1968, during the Paris uprisings, but by the time we met he appeared to belong to an extreme-right group called Nouvel Ordre, though he implied that this was only temporary. Exactly whom or what he was busy infiltrating and on whose behalf was never self-evident. At that time he was always travelling at short notice to odd places in the Middle East. He appeared to know something about making bombs. Patrick was tallish, with stringy, faux-Aryan dyed fair hair and a half-distracted manner, and he was usually dressed in black. I felt he liked to look like the Prince of Darkness. He was always en route--going from one potential assignment to another. For Patrick the sociopathic present evoked rich possibilities of intrigue. Les reseaux--networks--were the staple of his monologues. Everyone was connected to everyone else, right as well as left. I realized rapidly that I had no means of knowing whether much of what he was saying was true or not. It was possible that he worked for the DST--the French Secret Service--and what he described as his family's military background appeared to render this likely. This might explain his half-earnest cultivation of an English reporter. But it was just as possible that Patrick had no serious connections to the red and black underground, and that he merely liked hanging out in cafes.

    I knew a bit about what was now called Vichy, and its brother phenomenon of collaborationism; but it was Patrick who first filled me in. Presciently, he was convinced that the imaginative power of communism was waning, and that we would all shortly realize that the true importance of Europe--its dirty half-secret, if you like--was its history of blackness. Patrick was very intelligent in the best French way, nuanced but flaky. At that moment, books and films about the collaborationist past were just beginning to appear in large quantities, and he was scathing about them. 'Don't bother,' he would say. 'They are ridiculous. Bertolucci is Hollywood, Malle is worse.' Instead I must know about the French official class who were all around me. People went along with things in France; they were expensively encouraged to do so by the conformist education system. But I must also encounter the true believers. To do so I must disabuse myself of the very English notion that cynicism or despair precluded belief. The example of France during the 1940s overturned this notion. I must understand that although these people had made the wrong choices, they had been right to make them. They were believers. In another of our sessions he talked about boredom, and how any society, even the most sophisticated one, required the cultivation of signs, symbols and collective rituals. In this respect fascism, he implied, had an edge over its rival, socialism. The buckles, marching songs, uniforms were of superior quality--just look at their continuing appeal to collectors. He was sure that the European roots of fascism went deep. No one should imagine that it had simply gone away. 'Look around you,' he said. 'Just look around you.' The last time I saw him he was off on another trip and I asked him finally whether he thought of himself as a fascist. All he did was shrug. 'You can be a fascist without fascism,' he said.

     Now I heard that Patrick was married to someone with a hyphenated first name and safely lodged in one of the stuffiest French state companies. There were rumours of his involvement in one of the large-scale scandals of the late years of French socialism. As I found my way around the contemporary scene I recalled his views about the fascinations of fascism. Not that we lived in a Europe that resembled the one of the 1930s, far from it--but it did indeed seem as if something central to the idea or practice of fascism just wouldn't go away.

    I packed many history books on these voyages, carting them from one hotel room to another and reading late at night; and I was surprised to find how many of the best books about fascism were written by English or Americans. Like most Anglo-Saxons, I found fascism fascinating because (with the exception of Buenos Aires) it was so far from my own impeccably calm historical experience. But I was also wised up enough to know early on that the word fascism, in the sense conventionally given to it, posed many problems. George Orwell, among others, doubted that it had much meaning. It had been used about farmers, tobacconists, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, astrology, women, and even dogs, he noted:

Yet underneath all this mess there does lie a kind of buried meaning ... even the people who recklessly fling the word 'fascist' in every direction attach at any rate an emotional significance to it. By 'fascism' they mean, roughly speaking, something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working class. Except for the relatively small number of fascist sympathizers, almost any English person would accept 'bully' as a synonym for 'fascist'. That is about as near to a definition as this much-abused word has come.

Good for a scary evening in 1944, when the V1s were passing over London, this wasn't quite enough for the present. It didn't explain why so many people had taken the bullies seriously and had been prepared to die for them. And it didn't explain the fascination exercised by the movement or its aesthetic properties--the black boots, the silly buckles and funny hats, the endless wasteful performances laid on in the name of solidarity organized around common hatred. By the time he wrote 1984, just before his death, Orwell appeared to have tired of fascism, regarding it as a mid-century dead end no longer capable of capturing the imagination. A totalitarianism the more shocking because it derived from the humanist pretensions of socialism now triumphed. By comparison with the horrors of Ingsoc, the vanished world of the mid-century dictators seemed small beer. Orwell chided the anti-fascists. They were looking backwards and they were also committing serious linguistic abuse. He came to believe that anti-fascism merely disguised the awful things going on in the so-called socialist world, perpetrated in the name of freedom and justice.

    'If nationalism is the excessive distortion of patriotism,' the historian Eugen Weber wrote, 'fascism is a similar distortion of nationalism: militaristic, aggressive, totalitarian in its exclusion of alternatives.' He might have added that it was also irrational, and thus (for its practitioners at least) had the advantage that it couldn't be argued with. As doctrine, fascism was concerned with the fetishistic aspects of the world: it succeeded best where, out of injured pride or anger, totems could be conjured up. Only the maddest of its fellow-travellers, such as the socialite Unity Mitford, paid much attention to the idea that the movement might reach across cherished frontiers, uniting its believers in the common ground of embattled nationalist differences. However, the melody of fascism was a different matter. Leave aside such mundane differences of uniforms and the music remained. And it was composed in equal parts of pessimism and redemption. Fascism relied on the attractive and simple presumption according to which immorality, exercised on behalf of shared prejudice or hatred, was legitimate. Simply, it told people the world was so unutterably awful that any means of shared self-redemption would be allowed. It meant that groups of people could, and did, do what they felt like to make themselves feel better.

    After the Leader--a figure considered essential to fascism, and of whom I was to encounter a copious supply of candidates--another fascist type was the Doomed Hero. Flops were tolerated if they crashed their planes or wrote bad poetry. Converts to fascism became its staunchest believers, but they could also nudge along as ballast in the movement--all they had to do was seem elegant or merely cynical. Now that the principal aspect of fascism had disappeared, which was its total control of the modern state, it was possible to see that the movement had to a large degree been composed of people who didn't really believe in anything at all. There were plenty of those around in Europe, and they constituted the decorative class of fascism. To use communist terminology, they were the fellow-travellers of the movement. Their existence established beyond doubt the fact that, given some sort of choice, a great many people disliked the implications of democracy and wouldn't plump for what they saw as the arbitrary destructiveness of capitalism.

    The publication in 1992 of the memoirs of Drieu la Rochelle revived the memory of this type. Drieu was a half-successful 1930s novelist (his best book, Le feu follet, about a suicide, was later adapted by Louis Malle) who lived at the edges of the Paris beau monde, seducing the wives of industrialists and toying with the end of democracy between the good meals still to be had during the Occupation. He was too lazy, and also too stuck in his weariness, to think of joining de Gaulle. In 1940 he was approached by the German invaders and asked to become the head of the Nouvelle Revue Francaise, France's best-known literary review. He was to be a figurehead of the new European culture imposed on France by its occupiers. By all accounts Drieu did a perfectly good job, even advancing the prospects of those he knew to be opponents of the regime, but whom he nonetheless judged to be good writers or merely braves types. However, his diaries show him to have been at odds with the morosely dutiful personnage he daily presented to his German friends. In between worrying about his haemorrhoids or his sexual performance and reading Indian mysticism--serenity eluded him, as one might have expected--he entered a spiral of depression. When it was clear that Germany had lost the war he resolved to kill himself, and he did so with his usual sense of style, hiding out in a country estate at the end of 1944 while his enemies tracked him down.

    By now the Occupation and its horrors had become the stuff of kitsch fiction. This was not why Drieu interested me. Instead I was concerned with the degree to which, as a type, he resembled so many people whom it was my privilege to know, professionally and personally. I was becoming familiar with the notion of cynicism as a belief system. It seemed that Patrick had been right: you could simply believe in nothing at all, turning the absence of belief into a creed of sorts. However, this required the presence of increasing quantities of hatred, and Drieu, like many of the people I was meeting, was what contemporary psychologists would call an addictive personality. Hatred, rather than food or sex, was his principal addiction. Drieu's fruitcake high style was miles away from the semi-literate outpourings to be found on the Internet, but the emotions (and the posturing) weren't so different:

I wish to die as a Roman ...

    I loved England, the greatest success of nordic [sic] civilization. But I abandoned her because she was rendered rotten by too much success.

    I hate Jews. I always knew that I hated them. When I married Colette Jeramec [his first wife] I knew what I was doing and what an idiocy I was committing. I never could fuck her because of that.

    The Germans are assholes, too. Complete assholes, arrogant, clumsy. But they are also passionate, like myself. They are all I ever wanted to be. I only wish to die with them.

    The sense of never quite belonging was often to be found among fascists, and this was why the impoverished Drieu resented his moneyed wife. But anti-Semitism was also what held his world--what there was of it anyhow--together. It explained the social or cultural decline that appeared to threaten him personally. Among those I met who professed to believe that it was the Arabs or Islam that now posed a greater threat to Europe, I was interested to find that a distrust of Jews nonetheless prevailed. It had become a primary hatred, legitimating the elevation of lesser aversions. As long as there was hatred in Europe, I knew that the long shadow of anti-Semitism would be there, too.

    In 1997, a friend in Paris gave me a copy of what proved to be the most distasteful book I had ever encountered. This was not Mein Kampf, which was by comparison boring and evasive; nor was it the odious La France Juive by Edouard Drumont, published at the time of the Dreyfus affair; nor indeed the notoriously faked Protocols of the Elders of Zion, still available in the 1990s on Moscow bookstalls. Louis-Ferdinand Celine's Bagatelles pour un massacre was first published in 1937, selling very well, and it was reprinted in the war, when paper was scarce. After the war Celine never mentioned the book. Although his works were tastefully assembled in the Pleiade collection, a certificate of literary preeminence, Celine's estate never allowed Bagatelles to be reprinted.

    At the time Celine's outburst appeared its author was known as a novelist whose best work, Journey to the End of the Night, had appeared to presage a new democratic form in which the anonymous and hopeless were given expression against the existing rules of the game which specified that only the bourgeois were worthy of fictional attention. Celine became what was probably the first instance of anti-celebrity--a man who thrived from the hatred he incurred. Like his hero Bardamu, he appeared to his many admirers to be the forgotten man of 1930s Europe. He had been in the trenches during the Great War and he had wandered around the worst corners of the French Empire, in West Africa. Also, he had been to Chicago and Los Angeles where, like most French people, he found much to dislike. The Communist Party acclaimed Journey to the End of the Night; it was thought to be capable of telling the comrades what a life lacking a consciousness of the future might consist of. Celine was a dog lover and a vegetarian, and was married to a woman who taught progressive dance. He made his living as a doctor, usually in the most impoverished areas of Paris. But few were prepared for the revelation that he was also an impassioned anti-Semite.

    Celine's paranoid, atrocious ideas (many, many times he suggested in print or to friends that Jews should be exterminated, and he wasn't joking) existed in mysterious counterpoint with his literary genius. Even as he comprehensively denied humanity to one group of people he could evoke the utmost feelings of sympathy for his hopeless paumes--the lost ordinary Frenchmen of his time. In that respect, considered merely as a literary problem, Celine was far more intractable than genteel anti-Semites like T. S. Eliot. However, I became interested in his work for entirely different reasons. Nowadays Celine was a cult writer of the Far Right and many of his ideas closely resembled those of the National Front polemicists. Celine's racism, for instance, which was of the deepest, blackest kind, was based on his conception of culture. He believed that civilization, if it meant anything at all, should be founded on the difference between groups or individuals. Celine was sufficiently well educated to understand that the race theories implied by German anti-Semitism were nonsense--indeed he found the seriousness of Germans ridiculous. But culture was important to him, and he believed that a culture could die as easily as any other organism. Looking around him, Celine announced that France was mortally threatened. The last vestiges of Frenchness would be extinguished in the next war. The 'bagatelles' of which he wrote were a form of consolation offered before the imminent prospect of Armageddon, and they consisted of telling fellow Frenchmen that it remained the obligation of every Frenchman to hate Jews. For Jews were the founder members of the international class of capitalists. They were middlemen (like many anti-Semites, Celine believed that Jews didn't make anything except money) of popular culture. Jews were those on behalf of whom the next war would be fought. Jewishness found expression in the English language, which had been annexed and destroyed in much the same way as French shortly would be. Above all Jewishness could be identified in the mass, homogenized multiculturalism of America, which would sooner or later destroy France. Jews and blacks were the enemies. Around the Front, and within French extreme right-wing circles, these views were widespread. They formed the basis of most of the pamphlets put out by GRECE, an influential organization purporting to defend European values. Each time I heard a Front speaker allude fatuously to their betes noires, Steven Spielberg and Michael Jackson, I thought of Celine.

    His half-grammatical rants still have the power to shock. Like his successors, Celine was skilled at evoking liberal rights even while he destroyed them. He demanded the right to freedom of expression in order to spread poison. So-called free speech, he suggested, meant that the world was infected by 'Jew fascism'. He was claiming as his due the reciprocal right to be heard:

This is what I think of as the intermediary activity of Yids: editors, agents, publicists ... under the influence of films, Jewish scenarios, cultural hoodlums, rotten people ... it's an order, hidden or overt, that what remains of French artistic production, already so feeble, so little important, is in the process of dying and must die ... The Jews have to have everything, that's what it all comes down to ...

    What all of us hate about Jews is their arrogance, their demands to have everything, the dervish-rhythms of their endless martyrology, their hideous tom-tom beat ...

In 1943 Celine encountered the German writer Ernst Junger at a tea party of the German Institute. Junger's job was to look after French writers who were suitable objects of German sponsorship, giving them handouts. He was a decorated war veteran, a fastidious conservative, and a very serious man who believed in German-French fellowship. But Junger was taken aback when Celine asked him why the German army didn't just get on with it and kill every Jew. 'I did learn something from listening to him speak for over two hours,' Junger wrote in his diary that day. 'He expressed the monstrous power of nihilism. People like him hear only one melody. They are like machines which go forwards until they are broken in pieces.'

    Should racism be overtly expressed or not? At that time, as in ours, good taste (or the lack of it) was considered to be an important feature of civilization. One might conclude that what Junger really objected to was a lack of circumspection. For his admirers, however, Celine possessed the redeeming quality of authenticity. In 1944 he followed the ageing survivors of the collaborationist Vichy government to Sigmarigen, a castle in Middle Germany, where the Germans kept them in a state of half-imprisonment, allowing Petain and the motley collection of civil servants and retired generals who still surrounded him on short walks through the winter countryside. After the briefest sojourn in Denmark after the war, where he avoided imprisonment, Celine returned to France. He never apologized for his views; indeed, he continued to hold them, entertaining visitors to his small house with the notion that the Holocaust had never existed ('ces magiques chambers a gaz') even while he insisted, apparently with great seriousness, that one of the greatest outrages of the time was the Nobel committee's refusal to consider him seriously.

    After the collapse of 1945, fascism was placed under interdiction. It was possible to invite ex-communists to colloquies at the height of the Cold War and they might even be found jobs if they recanted publicly. But true fascists (as opposed to the many abettors and place-servers, who were reclaimed, often with excessive haste) remained beyond polite consideration. The fear of fascism remained, and it didn't go away. There were sightings of Nazis throughout the world, particularly in Argentina and Paraguay. Parallel to the journalistic quests for these survivors, however, lay a lesser-known enterprise. This consisted of trying to ascertain whether fascism was capable of spreading beyond its European nexus, and thus might be considered as a phenomenon of universal significance. Led by Max Horkheimer and T. W. Adorno, two German emigres from the Frankfurt School, a team of sociologists interviewed hundreds of people in the Los Angeles area in 1950. They, too, were looking for fascists--but they went to the suburbs of Southern California. 'What tissues in the life of our modern society remain cancerous?' they asked. 'And what within the individual organism responds to certain stimuli in our culture with attitudes and acts of aggression?' Respondents were ranked according to various complementary scales, to give an idea of the degrees of anti-Jewish prejudice, ethnocentrism and 'anti-democratic' feelings:

1-2. The Jews must be considered a bad influence on Christian culture and civilization.

1-5. One trouble with Jewish businessmen is that they stick together and connive, so that a gentile doesn't have a fair chance in competition.

1-8 Jewish power and control in money matters is far out of proportion to the number of Jews in the total population.

Adorno and his colleagues discovered that there was indeed such a thing as an 'authoritarian personality'. It was to be found usually (though not exclusively) among males who were not specially well educated, and it went with patriarchal attitudes to the matter of family authority. 'Conservative embattled ...' was the authoritarian motto, and its adherents could be found in many different places, in particular at the edge of disadvantage. Those who felt threatened in their jobs, or who were worried about a world changing too rapidly for them, were particularly affected. The armed forces appeared to provide a testing ground for such types.

    These were attitudes that I found in contemporary Europe. But I was interested to discover that, unlike the contemporary European sociologists I encountered, these Southern Californian pioneers were not pessimistic in their conclusions. They appeared to believe in a benign form of social conditioning. If it was possible to think of an authoritarian type, created by circumstances, one might also conclude that people became tolerant or liberal-minded for reasons that could be fathomed. Adorno and his investigators examined the tolerant and democratic in their sample. They were better educated, more frequently female. Their view of life was more positive. Bigotry, the investigators concluded, might be vanquished through education and the beneficent influence of popular culture. Peer pressure would assist in the struggle. In due course they could envisage a world where there would be more democrats and fewer fascists.

    But in Europe the situation was somewhat different. Here, in countries like Germany and Italy, substantial portions of the population had gone along with acts of cruelty, accepting the removal of democratic rights from minorities. Briefly, the occupying US forces ran de-indoctrination classes, but these were abandoned when the outbreak of the Cold War required the cultivation of anti-communism. At a deeper level, unsusceptible to the analyses of social science, the fascist past posed an enormous problem. It was not so much a question of what should be done with the ex-fascists--many of them occupied the same places they had done in the previous regime--but of what lessons, if any, could be drawn from the entire experience.

    Marcello Clerici, the hero of Alberto Moravia's 1951 novel The Conformist, was molested as a child by a chauffeur, and he shot and killed the man. Horrified at what he had done, but eager to conceal the facts, he was in permanent flight. What seemed to him to be an escape took him deeper and deeper into the spirit of conformity--into a loveless marriage and meaningless spying work deep within the fascist bureaucracy:

He remembered that formerly he possessed a rich interior life, tumultuous and barely understood. Now everything about him was over-defined, as if he had been extinguished: a few simple ideas, a few over-rigid beliefs had replaced his generous and confused sense of self ... The most conspicuous change in his life during the past seventeen years was the utter disappearance of a vitality caused by so much unexpected and perhaps abnormal instinct. All that had been replaced by something grey and mediocre: a sense of normality.

    Stripped of its mid-century bourgeois props, Clerici's abused past might not seem so unusual to us these days; but his solution was the one taken by many Europeans. Look, Moravia was saying, the danger never came from badges and uniforms, it came from the rest of us, who permitted all this to exist. And we should not think that the system that permitted fascism to flourish was dead. But Moravia also meant Europeans to understand that post-war Europe was not so distanced after all from its forbidden past. The same sort of people flourished within identical, conformist bureaucracies. Moravia, who was a communist, could only be aware that he himself was still under surveillance, perhaps even watched over by the same people who had guarded him during the fascist era, and that they would retire in comfort, sunning themselves in small villas by the Adriatic in the company of their grandchildren.


Excerpted from The Voice of Modern Hatred by Nicholas Fraser Copyright © 2002 by Nicholas Fraser. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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