How Did Fascism Start?

The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini often gets credit for inventing fascism in the early 1900s. However, the roots of the ideology date to the preceding century. Fascism appealed to those who opposed liberalism and progressive social change.

Fascists are political conservatives who believe in nationalism and centralized authority. They came into being as a response to the Enlightenment in the 18th century and several political upheavals during the 19th century. The ways in which governments and societies were changing alarmed right-wing thinkers. They believed in traditional religious practices and resisted democratic movements that empowered the masses.

French, German and Italian thinkers crafted the philosophical origins of fascism. They included historians, politicians, journalists, scientists and artists. The leading theorists were Theodor Fritsch, Paul Anton de Lagarde, Julius Langbehn, Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels, Joseph de Maistre, Charles Maurras and Georges Sorel. Most of their writings espoused dictatorship, and many fostered anti-Semitism. The fascists railed against socialism and feminism.

In the 1920s, Mussolini launched a political movement he called the Fasci di Combattimento ("Fighting Bands"). It became known as the Fascist Party, which advocated Italian nationalism. Once in power, Mussolini and his followers brutally repressed political opponents. Italy joined Germany's fascist regime to fight the Allied Forces in World War II.