In his introductory manual to political ideologies —a text much frequented by Anglo-American university students since its appearance in 1992—, Andrew Heywood precisely delineated the two lines of analysis on the future of the ideology that we know as fascism. For many authors, mainly historians, fascism «was the product of a unique and dramatically combustible combination of circumstances that arose during the interwar period». And, since these circumstances cannot be replicated, «fascism is an ideology without a future; indeed, he died in 1945, with the defeat of the Axis powers». Others, however, understand that fascism is a constant threat rooted in human psychology. Modern civilization, Erich Fromm would say, brings with it greater levels of individual freedom but also insecurity and isolation. In times of crisis, many individuals are willing to sacrifice their freedom «and seek security in submission to an all-powerful leader or a totalitarian state». Fascism —conclude, then, not a few intellectuals, artists and philosophers— «could be revived whenever situations of crisis, uncertainty and disorder arise, and not only when a specific set of circumstances coincide» (Political Ideologies. An Introduction, Red Globe Press, London, 7th ed., 2021, 166-167).
Undoubtedly, this second line of analysis is the one that is best known to the public outside of academia. Not surprisingly, it permeates a large part of the fictional stories based on 20th century history; it is a frequently used trope in the discourse of left-wing European politicians and it was, together with anti-Semitism, one of the taboos that guided the democratic re- education that the United States imposed on the German population in the period immediately after World War II —as Paul Gottfried brilliantly exposed in The strange death of Marxism (Ciudadela, Madrid, 2007, 144-161). However, seventy-five years after the last world conflagration, the use of the term fascist brings with it all the problems generated by the semantic inflation of political concepts— as happens to us today with the word populist. Hence the appropriateness of the title of this little book by the historian Emilio Gentile (1946), which aims to clarify who is a fascist by resorting to the comparative method in History to establish if today «there really is a return of fascism that threatens democracy» (p.25). After Renzo de Felice, who was his teacher, Gentile happens to be one of the historians whose work has given rise to the richest discussions on fascism. Therefore, it is worth knowing first-hand his point of view on a matter that, with or without justification, goes beyond historiography to fully engage in a sociopolitical analysis of the present moment.