Roger Griffin has been standing out as particularly sharp-witted theorist and interpreter of classical and neo-fascism. His 1991 monograph The Nature of Fascism has, perhaps, been the most influential book of its kind during the last twenty years. Since then, Griffin has published a number of collected volumes and scholarly papers that too have contributed to the renewed interest in the notion and permutations of international fascism in various disciplines including political psychology, the history of ideas or cultural studies.
With his 2007 second monograph and opus magnum Modernism and Fascism, Griffin adds another text to comparative fascist studies that is likely to become a classic, in the discipline. Griffin's 1991 monograph was an exercise in political taxonomy and historical explanation - a sometimes schematic and technical investigation into the relationship between social classification, terminology and theory. His many papers and various collected volumes contained conceptual elaborations and empirical illustrations of themes he had already touched upon in 1991.
With the present volume, Griffin enters new terrain, in terms of the style, purpose and contents of his writing. His older investigations were designed to help comparativists of the contemporary extreme right as well as area specialists to identify, classify and explain various proto-, para- and fully fascist tendencies in this or that country. His new book, in contrast, can be seen as an exercise in Verstehen (comprehending) why fascism was temporarily so strangely successful, on a number of levels. While Griffin's 1991 monograph is a, sometimes, difficult and dry read, his 2007 opus documents Griffin's literary talents and often reads like a novel. The book's key argument is that pre- and inter-war European fascism has not been anti-modern and by no means a reactionary phenomenon. Fascism, to be sure, did constitute a particularly sharp reaction to classical Modernity. Yet, the solution that fascism provided to the psychological distress caused by modernization's increasingly fundamental disruption of traditional society since the mid-19th century was not rejection or reversion of Modernism, but an alternative Modernity. The palingenetic project that fascism offered to society was, strictly speaking, not the reborn, but a newborn nation. Griffin illustrates this point here with reference to Italian Fascism and German Nazism, as the paradigmatic cases of comparative fascist studies. He does so with a heavy bent towards the cultural aspects of these two fascism's national revolutions.
Apart from providing a dense and comprehensive description of various West European intellectual trends, political schools as well as artistic and literary phenomena from the late 19th century to 1945, this book's primary value is that of offering a "story" of how fascism became so attractive to millions of people including legions of educated Europeans - among them many prominent politicians, literati, artists and academics. Hugh Trevor Roper once wrote that Nazism was nothing more than a "vast system of bestial Nordic nonsense." Analogous statements have been made about Italian Fascism. Griffin largely succeeds with this book in explaining why Nazism and Fascism had, nevertheless, the capacity provide a majority of Italians and Germans with a sense of purpose and existential comfort in particularly liminal situations following such deep social disruptions as World War I and the Great Depression.