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Europe's Century of Discontent: The Legacies of Fascism, Nazism and Communism

by Shlomo Avineri

Bibliographic information

TitleEurope's Century of Discontent: The Legacies of Fascism, Nazism and Communism
AuthorShlomo Avineri
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2005
SubjectModern political thought



This volume is based on papers delivered at an international conference “Reflections on Europe’s Century of Discontent: Confronting the Legacies of Fascism, Nazism and Communism,” held at the Institute for European Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on 10–12 March 2002.

The impetus for the conference were our feelings that with the demise of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern and Central Europe, a number of questions regarding the conventional understanding of totalitarianism could possibly be viewed in a new light.

The classical studies of totalitarianism after World War II were undertaken when Nazism and Fascism had been vanquished, while the Soviet system still existed and appeared to have come out strengthened, surviving the travails of the war and even extending its boundaries with the imposition of Soviet-style rule on the countries of Eastern Europe, only recently liberated from Nazi German occupation and indigenous forms of Fascism.

The comparison between right-wing defeated totalitarian regimes and the still existing – and apparently flourishing – Soviet system was premised on a built-in asymmetry. After 1989, it was felt that a new, less oblique perspective became possible for the first time.
With this in mind, our aim was to address a number of issues both on the level of theory and as well as historical experience.

Given these possible new research horizons, we asked the conference participants to take another look at the conventional theories of totalitarianism and try to distil from them those insights which have withstood the shifting paradigms developed in the study of totalitarianism over the last decades.

We were also aware of the fact that the classical models of totalitarianism have been developed by scholars who managed to flee either from Nazism or Communism, and consequently have not themselves lived under these regimes, nor have they undertaken systematic studies of them as they have existed in reality: Popper, Arendt, Talmon, Friedrich and (to a lesser extent) Brzezinski, have mainly developed their paradigms as political theorists, not social scientists.

How much of this has been vindicated by what we have learned, in the meantime, about these systems – and how much has to be revised?

Because terror and mass murder have accompanied Fascism, Nazism and Communism, we asked whether these have been inherent in the internal logic of their thought systems, or whether their emergence could be seen as an outcome of historical contingencies. Related to this, we suggested to the participants to try to address the extent to which there have been significant chasms between ideology and its realization in the different systems.

With the new perspectives made available after 1989, we also asked the participants to reflect on the different ways in which the various systems came to their end: here through a crushing military defeat inflicted from outside, there via an internal implosion. Furthermore, we asked them to look into the question whether the different ways of their demise left different legacies for the successor regimes and the societies grown out of the debacles.

Last but not least, while we were not trying to answer the excruciating question of “the lesser evil,” can one say today that “left” and “right” totalitarianism were basically, as was usually claimed during the Cold War, merely two different forms of the same phenomenon – or that there were such fundamental differences in their ideological premises and structures that the behavior of both regimes as well as their ultimate fate cannot be divorced from these differences.

Because the nature of the questions asked moved from the theoretical to the practical, we were happy to have as participants not only scholars but also a number of persons who were instrumental in the dramatic post-1989 transformations, primarily in Poland and Hungary.

About the Author 

Shlomo Avineri ---

Prof. Dr. Shlomo Avineri teaches political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has been a visiting professor at several universities, among them Yale, Oxford and the City University of New York, and also a visiting fellow to the Brookings Institution and the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

During 1975-1977, Mr. Avineri served as Director-General of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was a member of the National Democratic Institute (Washington, DC) international teams of observers to the first post-communist elections in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Estonia. He is the author of numerous books and articles on Middle Eastern affairs, political theory and international affairs.


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ZEEV STERNHELL     Preface vii



ZEEV STERNHELL From Counter-Enlightenment to the Revolutions of the 20th Century     3
MARK LILLA The Concept of Tyranny     23
HAUKE BRUNKHORST The Decay of the Nation State and People’s Sovereignty: The Origins of Totalitarianism Revisited     31



CHARLES S. MAIER Taking Fascism Seriously     43
GABRIEL MOTZKIN Nazism, Communism and the Moral Consequences of the Ineffability of Memory     61
MICHELE BATTINI Rhetorics of Hierarchy: On Linguistic and Ideological Premises of Totalitarian Fascism     85
ANTÓNIO COSTA PINTO The Characteristics of Fascist Regimes: Elites, Single Parties and Political Decision-Making in Fascist Era Dictatorships     101



ADAM MICHNIK Slogans Rather than Conversation     139
WOLFGANG MERKEL Totalitarian Regimes     151



CYNTHIA HOOPER The Problem of the Party in a “Police State”: Nazi and Soviet Comparisons     169
MARCELLO FLORES Ideology and Contingency in Totalitarianism’s Violence: A ComparativeApproach of Nazism, Communism, Fascism     189
BERNARD BRUNETEAU “Totalitarianism”: From an Instrumental Term in the Public Debate to an Analytical Category – The Interwar Debate in France     201



LÁSZLO SÓLYOM Equality of Victims – Equality of Regimes?     215
MARIO SZNAJDER The Ambivalent Legacy of Fascism in Italy     233
PETER NIESEN Anti-Extremism, Negative Republicanism, Civic Society: Three Paradigms for Banning Political Parties     249
SHLOMO AVINERI In Lieu of an Epilogue: Ideology and Reality in Nazism and Communism     287

List of Contributors     291





Anti-Communism like anti-Fascism is not in itself a marker of human decency. The old lie – the lie of the Communists settling accounts with Fascism – simply becomes replaced by the new lie: the lie of anti-Communists settling accounts with Communism.
The past is as difficult to foresee as the future. Examining debates, including Polish debates, over issues that are shocking and controversial to public opinion, one cannot escape the impression that the ghosts of the past are still living participants in the current debates.

The arrest of the Chilean Dictator General Augusto Pinochet has reopened a debate on the shape of the Cold War, the limits of sovereignty and the conflict between the “logic of justice” and the “logic of compromise.”

Ethnic cleansing masterminded by the regime of Slobodan Miloshevic´ and the subsequent military intervention of the NATO states in Kosovo, reminded us of the most basic debates over the limits of sovereignty and the right to humanitarian intervention. The bloody war in Chechnya, triggered by the invasion of Shamil Basayev’s military units into Dagestan, forces us to re-think the problem of double standards applied by world opinion: one applied toward the weak and another toward the strong; the former applied toward Serbia and the latter toward Russia. Finally, the recent scandal, which has shocked Europe – the entry into the Austrian government of the Freedom Party headed by Joerg Haider, who does not refrain from using close to Nazi rhetoric.

Each of these debates has a particular context in every one of the abovementioned countries. In Poland too, these debates have become integrated into the debates of historians, intellectuals and politicians over Polish problems and Polish memory.

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