Ernst Nolte, Historian of Fascism and Nazism, Dies at 93.
Ernst Nolte, Historian of Fascism and Nazism, has just passed way ay at 93.
Ernst Nolte’s The Three Faces of Fascism (Der Faschismus in seiner Epoche. 1963) was the first serious book that I read (in the late 1970s and still have a copy of) which dealt properly with Action française. That is the French pre-Great War movement that arose from the anti-Dreyfus campaigns. This violently nationalist (and ‘monarchist’), and anti-Semitic group which was the precursor of many forms (the youth squads of Camelots du Roi) and ideas of the 1920s and 1930s European extreme-right. Nolte took time to unravel the writings of their ideologue, Charles Maurras. His “nationalisme intégral” and use of Catholicism against Laïcité (even if as a self proclaimed Comtean ‘positivist’ he was not a believer, and was eventually denounced by the Church) has echoes which can still be heard in France today..
The book deals head on with the anti-Marxist strain of Action française.
Fascism is anti-Marxism which seeks to destroy the enemy by the evolvement of a radically opposed and yet related ideology and by the use of almost identical and yet typically modified methods, always, however within the unyielding framework of national self-assertion and autonomy
The study has its faults, above all the reliance on the history of ideas. But this is also a strength in that Nolte offered a lot of detail that did not depend on his theoretical framework. But it’s hard to ignore that he neglected class issues which is extremely important in the way French nationalism appealed to a constituency beyond the ‘traditional’ Monarchist strongholds in the army and conservative fractions of the bourgeoisie, to the peasantry and a section of the ‘patriotic’ working class. And these became more apparent as the Three Faces extended towards the rise of Italian fascism, which is unintelligible without the role of post-war workers’ conflicts, not to mention Nazism, born in the heat of intense class conflicts.
By underlining the anti-Marxist ideology of the far-right Nolte’s contribution to the history of the French far-right stands head and shoulders over Zeeve Sternhell’s La droite révolutionnaire, 1885-1914. Les origines françaises du fascisme, (1978) and Ni droite ni gauche. L’idéologie fasciste en France, (1983).
Sternhell claimed that French fascism derived much of its force and ideology from Boulangisme, the 1880s populist movement around the nationalist would-be dictator George Boulanger, seeking revenge for France’s military defeat by Prussia, Revolutionary syndicalism, which (he falsely asserted), embraced fascism in its early stages. His evidence relied on the mere existence of the Cercle Proudhon (a small discussion group). This involved syndicalist patriots loosely connected to the contrarian leftist Georges Sorel), the modernist novelist Pierre Drieu La Rochelle and Monarchists associated with Action française. Its exact influence, rather than associations, was is never demonstrated.
There is no doubt that the period before the First World War saw a rise in “political confusionism” in France, with some on the left passing to the right, even the far-right, (as is happening today across Europe). But French fascism, as it emerged as a para-military force with some strength in the 1930s, owed more to traditionalist nationalism (Maurice Barrès) and forces hostile to the French Revolution human rights universalism and cosmopolitanism , than to anything from the left apart from rhetoric about capitalism and Anglo-American ‘plutocracy’. Nolte’s account made this absolutely clear. In this respect the Three Faces remains an important, essential, work.
Nolte’s contribution to understanding this dark side of history is, nevertheless, overshadowed by this: the Historikerstreit
The debate opened on June 6, 1986 when the philosopher and historian Ernst Nolte had a speech printed in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, entitled Die Vergangenheit, die nicht vergehen will (“The past that won’t go away”). Nolte argued that the “race murder” of the Nazi death camps was a “defensive reaction” to the “class murder” of the Stalinist system of gulags. In his view, the gulags were the original and greater horror. In the face of the threat of Bolshevism, it was reasonable that the German people would turn to Nazi fascism. He had already articulated this argument the previous year in an essay published in English: “Auschwitz… was above all a reaction born out of the annihilating occurrences of the Russian Revolution… the so-called annihilation of the Jews during the Third Reich was a reaction or a distorted copy and not a first act or an original
This is how his passing was reported.
Controversial German historian Ernst Nolte dies at 93 (Deutsche Welle.)
Controversial German historian Ernst Nolte dies at 93
German historian Ernst Nolte, responsible for a contentious essay on the causes of Nazism, has died in Berlin after a short illness. Nolte’s 1986 essay was the source of much debate among historians.
With his 1986 essay in the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” newspaper entitled “Vergangenheit, die nicht vergehen will” (“The past that will not pass away”), Ernst Nolte caused an uproar in historical circles.
His controversial thesis that Hitler and the Nazis were Germany’s logical reaction to the “existential threat” represented by the Russian Revolution launched a wave of indignation and led to furious debate among historians.
“Did the ‘Gulag Archipelago’ not exist before Auschwitz?” Nolte wrote in the essay. “Was Bolshevik ‘class murder’ not the logical and factual predecessor to the Nazi ‘racial murder’? … Did Auschwitz not, perhaps, originate in a past that would not pass away?”
Nolte was also known for published works including “Three Faces of Fascism,” “Germany and the Cold War” and “The European Civil War 1917-1945: Nazism and Bolshevism.”
Born in the university city of Witten, in North Rhine-Westphalia, Nolte did his doctorate on Karl Marx and was a professor at the Free University of Berlin.