Need a perfect paper? Place your first order and save 5% with this code:   SAVE5NOW

Has Europe Witnessed the Resurgence of Fascism in Recent Years?


“If the 20th century was the story of slow, uneven progress toward the victory of liberal democracy over other ideologies—communism, fascism, virulent nationalism—the 21st century is, so far, a story of the reverse” (Applebaum, 2022). Fascism in Europe was condemned and even criminalised, notably at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II (Sellars, 2010). The rise in recent years of far-right groups with extreme ideologies has come with claims of their allegiance to old leaders like Hitler, Francisco Franco, or Mussolini. The spike of new far-right groups in Europe has led to many studies and debates that try to find factors behind the tendency (Sauerbrey 2017). While the number of migrants has been decreasing in recent months due to several measures taken by the European Union and its member countries because of the coronavirus pandemic (Migration Date Portal, 2022), this issue is still important since it has been instrumental in stimulating a rise in support for new far-right parties on the continent. The increasing brutality of this new brand of fascism has some wondering: Has Europe witnessed the resurgence of fascism in recent years (Albright, 2018)?

When it comes to the topic of fascism, theorists like Roger Griffin and his definition of fascism as an ideology of the extreme right are often cited (Griffin, 2013). However, there is still no consensus on what constitutes fascism and how we should define it. One thing is certain: definitions should not be limited to extremist groups or parties with explicit neo-Nazi links. Extremism has evolved over time and its expressions have been changing too. It is therefore necessary to transcend the pitfalls of classical definitions. Extreme right wing groups present in Europe today are different from those during World War II and therefore should be studied carefully in order to assess their form of representation, the ideology underlying their actions and their goals. Many scholars tend to overlook this crucial aspect by only focusing on the extreme right-wing organisations themselves but not addressing what factors allowed these groups to emerge and become popular (in some cases even gaining significant power). Therefore, this essay looks at these factors in order to evaluate what fascist ideology may represent both as a political movement or coping mechanism for a conservative group of people facing economic hardships or profiling as a group that stands against cultural liberalism and immigration. To address this question, this essay will analyze the recent rise of far-right parties in Europe, especially Germany and Italy. It will compare these two countries for the important role they played in nurturing fascist ideologies and movements in the interwar years, whose disastrous consequences were felt across Europe during World War II. Moreover, both countries have seen a resurgence of far-right groups in recent years despite their shared history of outlawing fascism following the war. This essay argues that while there are visible similarities between the resurgence of fascism in Europe today and its past manifestations, it is important to acknowledge that fascism has evolved over time.

Epistemology of Fascism

Although the term fascism has its origin in Italy, it has been used to define a series of right-wing political parties and movements including those in Germany, South America, and the United States (Hoffman and Graham, 2015). In a general sense, according to Benito Mussolini’s doctrine, fascism is for the world what socialism is for the nation (Mussolini, 2006). However, Mussolini’s Fascism was more radical in its opposition to liberal democracy than European forms, which were conservative by comparison. Even so, there are several problems with the definition of fascism, including its broadness and vagueness. Mason argues that since the 1980s, analyses of fascism have failed to engage with the conceptual foundations of fascism and have instead focused on specific manifestations (1995). Mason concludes that because of this lack of engagement with the conceptual foundations of fascism, there are many possible outcomes for various groups considered fascist, thus the definition and meaning of fascism has been controversial (1995). In addition, few attempts have been made to provide a conceptual analysis of the phenomenon, nor to develop a theoretical framework that could help us distinguish among various manifestations of it.

To remedy the issue, Paxton discusses the need for context when determining whether a particular symbol is fascist (1998). Paxton argues that symbols such as swastikas and Roman salutes alone cannot be considered indicative of fascism, but rather they must be used in conjunction with other elements to give a full picture (1998). For instance, Tondo (2018) reports that fans of Ascoli Picena—a provincial team in Italy’s third division—celebrated their goals with neo-fascist salutes. Paxton (1998) argues that such salutes are not fascist, because they are more likely innocuous expressions of pride rather than expressions of support for the ideology. It can be argued that when German football clubs display fascist symbols such as the black-shirted paramilitary unit of Schalke 04, or the group Hooligans Stöcke in Gelsenkirchen known as “Hools”, they are demonstrating their loyalty to the Nazi regime before and during World War II. In addition, in the 2018 trial of Italian fascist groups who performed a fascist salute at the site of Benito Mussolini’s grave. The court acquitted the defendants on grounds that it was a symbolic act of free speech (Fontana, 2018). However, Paxton’s argument further supports his (and many others’) claim that a symbol such as this cannot be stripped from its historical context and isolated for use elsewhere (1998). Therefore, it can be said that while these kinds of acts continue to carry an inherent fascist component, it is ambiguous which acts can be deemed fascist without context.

Thus, the term fascism is an elusive concept and even experts without context cannot precisely define it. It is often associated with militarism, violence, austerity, xenophobia, extreme nationalism, and intolerance of criticism (Paxton 1998; Griffin 1991). Moreover, Paxton (1998) identifies a specific set of characteristics that make a movement fascist: intense nationalism, social darwinism, the primacy of the state over individual rights, the need for national rebirth and popular elitism. Beyond this general definition, all fascist movements have something in common, notably their reliance on paramilitarism or violence rather than ‘legal’ means to achieve political goals. Berman (2019) adds that fascism is a political ideology founded on the concept of “the national will”. It has been described as ‘a revolutionary form of nationalism’ with the sole purpose to defend and advance its own nation, which is considered superior to others (Griffin 1991). In other words, fascism is an extreme conservative ideology. Fascists believe that human beings are essentially imperfect and requires a highly hierarchical political structure and the use of state authority in order for society to be properly organized. The fascist ideology emphasizes moral unity, social order and collective life, with the aim of defeating ‘degenerate’ liberal and socialist movements at their roots, the disruption of class conflict and the creation of the New Order.

In itself, fascism has little to do with left or right politics. Similarly, political conservative movements could also be fascist when they pursue a mythological purity of their own nation. Fascism is therefore an ultra-nationalist ideology and has been branded by some historians as an “extreme radicalisation” doctrine which is able to mobilise mighty popular emotional, and in particular, patriotic, support (Paxton, 1998: 21).

In today’s political world, there is a lot of confusion about the difference between fascism, the Radical Right and extreme right-wing politics. The Radical Right is an alternative right wing movement restricted to Europe which emphasis is on anti-immigration, xenophobia, a strict interpretation of law and order, Euroscepticism and rejection of political correctness (Betz, 1994). Fascism can be used in a broader sense to mean a radical nationalist authoritarian government that seeks to control society by means of an official ideology that typically bases itself on race (Paxton, 1998). This differs from the Radical Right in that it focuses more on corporatism and less on race (Berman, 2019). As a part of this corporatism, fascism often seeks to control the economy with regulation or direct ownership and this differs from the Radical Right again as it does not seek to control business with regulation but instead supports private ownership.

Moreover, fascism and extreme right-wing politics are both movements that oppose the status quo of their respective countries, but their means and ideologies are different. Extreme right-wing politics seek to preserve traditional social hierarchies and principles without change, as they believe these values have been undermined by modernization and globalization (Husbands, 1988). Fascism is an extreme right-wing ideology, but while fascism seeks to preserve the status quo, it also aims to aggressively restore traditional values. Both extreme right-wing politics and fascism seek to assert themselves against those they perceive as threats: the bourgeoisie in the former, the Jews in the latter. In extreme right-wing politics, this threat is neutralized through isolationist policies that limit contact with other countries. Fascism seeks to break down democracy through violence and/or political subversion, as well as aggressive economic expansionism (Hoffman and Graham, 2015; Berman, 2019; Paxton, 1998).

Fascism as a style of life

The rise of fascism in both Italy and Germany after World War I was a truly modern phenomenon at the time because it was a response directly to insecurities during the era (Berman, 2019: 214). The social changes brought about by the war and the political changes brought about by the socialist revolutions, along with economic crises, led to uncertainty among people, which then put them in vulnerable positions where they would be more prone to fascist ideology. Fascist movements in both Italy and Germany expressed the prevailing sense of insecurity and the overall dissatisfaction of the populace during both countries’ interwar periods (Berman 2019). By doing this, they were effectively modernizing their political appeal, as they aimed to win over a growing base of supporters who saw them as agents of change that would improve the overall quality of life for all. To do this, fascist movements need to change their ideology accordingly so that it best suited their particular times. The Italian fascists had always aimed to bring about a greater unification among the people, which was why they were quite successful in Italy’s poorer rural areas. Their message, which was that they would endow every Italian family with a ‘place in the sun’ if they just remained united and strong, was very appealing to a population whose economic woes had taken a toll on its well-being (Pollini, 1983). In particular, Mussolini ascended to power because of the economic and social structures of Italy after 1980 e.g. heavy taxation that was paid by peasants.

In modern-day Italy, the new Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, recently sparked a fierce debate by announcing plans to crack down on the way certain Italian shops are run. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini wants to require “ethnic shops” to close by 9pm, citing concerns that such stores may become the haunt of drunks and drug dealers after dark (O’Grady, 2019). It is not clear what Salvini intends by the word “ethnic”. Italians have freely chosen to become Italian citizens, so presumably are deemed to be not ‘ethnic’. But then what about those foreign citizens who have not? And is ‘ethnic’ intended to refer only to first generation immigrants, or is it intended to refer also to those with a more distant family connection? Salvini’s plans were met with protests and harsh criticisms. The critical response is understandable, since what this proposal boils down to is giving racist shopkeepers the freedom to exploit and abuse their employees. Salvini makes no secret of such intentions: he is an open ally of the yellow/green fascists of Forza Italia, CasaPound, Lega Nord and Fratelli d’Italia (Dennison and Geddes, 2021). Although many reports of these events describe them as ‘fascist’ based on incomplete or superficial reasons, many authors condemned the Lega Nord government for its racist and exclusionary policies (O’Grady 2018). It can be deemed fascist because it promoted national and racial unity but only amongst citizens who possess the same values and beliefs in what is expected to be a national rebirth (palingenesis).

However, the European Parliament recently expressed concern over the normalization of far-right neofascist groups in Europe. One such example is Greece’s Golden Dawn, a party that has been accused of inciting racial hatred, violence against minorities, and attacks on immigrants as well as members of other political parties. Germany and Italy—which have historically suffered from fascist regimes—now outlaw the propagation of Nazi emblems and symbols, and Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, introduced a law to ban Nazism in January 2018. The country’s Federal Constitutional Court stated that the display of (Nazi) symbols smacks of approval for the crimes of National Socialism. In particular, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and Italy’s CasaPound are two neo-fascist movements that have been criticized for their use of fascist imagery. The two groups can be considered neo-fascist rather than right wing/ extreme right wing because of the way in which they use fascist imagery and rhetoric. Both groups have adopted fascist symbols and have been accused of using violence against their critics and minorities. In addition, both groups have used anti-immigrant rhetoric that is associated with fascism (Cammelli, 2017; Lees, 2018.). In their speeches, both groups have been accused of promoting anti-semitic ideas and targeting minorities. They reject authorities above the nation-state (the Union, the European Central Bank, or foreign governments) as well as immigrants (refugees and Muslims). However, it is not all gloom and doom. Camelli asserts that, in practice, the members of CasaPound in Italy hold many social activities, ranging from employment and housing advice to youth programs (2017). Their strategy is to build relationships with locals and participate in local initiatives that would not typically be associated with fascism or any far-right movement. This concept is also present in the AfD’s political program, which seeks to cover all sectors of society. Unlike the NPD in Germany for example, which focuses only on immigration policy and anti-Semitism, the AfD has a wider platform on issues including education, taxes, security and law and order policies (AfD, 2014). It was this connection with contemporary problems that made its popularity grow among young Germans – according to Politico polls 11 percent of German voters between 18–29 years old supported the AfD party in December 2021 (Schultheis, 2022.).


In sum, it seems that there is a nostalgia for fascism in Germany that draws from dissatisfaction with European Union and immigration policies, anti-Americanism and the influence of globalization, as well as German identity being linked to a past that is static and unchanging. Fritzsche also accounts for this through considering the desire for belonging (1989). Despite being different in many ways, supporters of CasaPound and AfD party all look for a sense of belonging, which is linked to personal identity, political orientation and economic status. Because of a fear of the future and globalization, right wing political groups are becoming increasingly popular in Europe. While there are visible similarities between the resurgence of fascism in Europe today and its past manifestations, it can be noted that fascism has evolved over time. The main characteristic of the Fascisms of the twenties and thirties was their negative attitude towards liberal democratic values and the free market economy. However, today fascism is being presented as a movement against globalization, modernity and liberalism. Further, from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) to La CasaPound in Italy, these parties attract voters by appealing to their interests rather than implementing Mussolini’s oppressive strategies. They feel that they represent the voice of the people. They claim that they are concerned about terrorism, immigrants and the economy. By presenting themselves as saviours for the masses, these parties win elections and gain support for their policies designed to revive ultra-nationalism and bring back old times’ glory. Even so, the emotional and passionate support of contemporary fascism is ontologically primitive to the past manifestations and to symbolic leaders like Hitler. This can be attributed to the fact that these parties are operating in a Western capitalist system that is not conducive to the implementation of their program. As a result, new fascist groups have been forced to adapt their methods of political action in order to survive and thrive within the modern liberal democratic context.


AfD (2014) Courage to stand up for Germany: For European diversity: Party program of the Alternative für Deutschland for the election to the European Parliament. Berlin: Alternative for Germany

Applebaum, A., 2022. The Bad Guys Are Winning. [online] The Atlantic. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 January 2022].

Berman, S., (2019) Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe. From the Ancien Régime to /he Present Day. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Betz, H.G., (1994). Immigration and Xenophobia. In Radical Right-wing populism in Western Europe (pp. 69-106). Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Cammelli, M G., (2017) “Fascism as a style of life: Community life and violence in a neofascist movement in Italy”, Focaal 79: 89-101.

Dennison, J. and Geddes, A., (2021). The centre no longer holds: the Lega, Matteo Salvini and the remaking of Italian immigration politics. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, pp.1-20.

Fontana, S. (2019) Perché è così difficile applicare la legge Scelba sull’apologia del fascismo?. [online] Wired Italia. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 January 2022].

Fritzsche, P., (1989) “Terrorism in the federal republic of Germany and Italy: Legacy of the ’68 movement or ‘burden of fascism’?”, Terrorism and Political Violence, 1 (4), pp. 466-481.

Griffin, R., (2013). The nature of fascism. Routledge.

Hoffman, J., and Graham, P., (2015) Introduction to Political Theory. London: Routledge

Husbands, C.T., (1988). Extreme right‐wing politics in great Britain: The recent marginalisation of the national front. West European Politics11(2), pp.65-79.

Lees, C., (2018). The ‘Alternative for Germany’: The rise of right-wing populism at the heart of Europe. Politics38(3), pp.295-310.

Mason, T., (1995) “Whatever happened to ‘fascism’?” In: Caplan, J., Nazism, fascism and the Working Class. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 323-331

Migration data portal. (2022). Migration data in Europe. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 27 January 2022].

Mussolini, B., (2006). “The Doctrine of Fascism” (1932). New York: Howard Fertig.

O’Grady, S., (2019) ‘Before our eyes, Italy is becoming a fascist state’. [Online]. The Independent. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 January 2022].

Paxton, R., (1998) “The Five Stages of Fascism”, The Journal of Modern History 70 (1): 1-23.

Pollini, M. (1983) “Recent Interpretations of Mussolini and Italian Fascism.” Il Politico. Pp. 751-764.

Sauerbrey, A., (2017) “How Germany deals with neo-Nazis”, the New York Times [online], 23 August 2017. Available at: charlottesville.html [accessed 21 January 2022]

Schultheis, E. (2022.) Far-right AfD in German election: Less fuss but still a force. [Online] Available at: <> [Accessed 27 January 2022].

Sellars, K., 2010. Imperfect justice at Nuremberg and Tokyo. European Journal of International Law21(4), pp.1085-1102.

Tondo, L., (2018). Success of far-right Brothers of Italy raises fears of fascist revival. [online] The Guardian. (2018). Available at: <> [Accessed 27 January 2022].


Don't have time to write this essay on your own?
Use our essay writing service and save your time. We guarantee high quality, on-time delivery and 100% confidentiality. All our papers are written from scratch according to your instructions and are plagiarism free.
Place an order

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Copy to clipboard
Need a plagiarism free essay written by an educator?
Order it today

Popular Essay Topics