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Political Ideologies and Styles

Political Styles

Major Political Ideologies

American Ideologies

States and political leaders use a variety of political styles to further the interests of the state, including:

  • Nationalism
  • Fascism
  • Fundamentalism

Political scientists debate whether these styles constitute distinct ideologies in and of themselves. On the one hand, these styles are not as well codified or philosophically grounded as the five political ideologies previously discussed (anarchism, absolutism, liberalism, conservatism, and socialism). On the other hand, each has played a key role in shaping events in world history generally and twentieth-century governments specifically. Keep in mind that these styles and the five political ideologies are not mutually exclusive, so a government may be nationalist and liberal or nationalist, fascist, and conservative.

Nationalism

Nationalism, a strong belief that one’s nation is great (and, usually, better than others), also arose during the modern era. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, nationalism emerged as a powerful force that caused a number of revolutions. People began to identify with and take pride in their particular nation-state. The French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars helped spread nationalism throughout Europe because many nations rallied together to defeat Napoleon.

Nationalist Beliefs

Nationalists believe that being a member of a particular nation is wonderful and worthy of celebration. For example, one should honor one’s “Frenchness” if from France or “Americanness” if from the United States. This belief is not tied to any one political system. Nationalists favor behavior, governmental systems, and other values or behaviors that promote a strong nation, including a powerful economy, a strong military, and unity among citizens. Threats to the nation are taken very seriously and need to be addressed. Historically, there have been many authoritarian regimes, in which governments may do whatever they want, that were strongly nationalist in character, but there are plenty of democratic nationalist states as well. The means of promoting a strong nation vary greatly from one nationalist state to another.

Example: The 2006 World Cup in Germany gave political scientists the opportunity to watch a democratic country become more nationalist. After World War II, Germans largely refrained from outwardly demonstrating any sense of nationalism, a result of lingering guilt over Nazism and the Holocaust. But the success of the German soccer team prompted many citizens to begin feeling strong nationalist pride for the first time in decades, including proudly displaying the German flag.

Fascism

Fascism is a highly nationalist, militaristic, totalitarian political ideology in which one person has absolute power. World War I was the key event that spawned fascism. The war was the first major war fought between industrialized nations, which were armed with technology such as machine guns and chemical weapons. The result was utter devastation. Millions died, entire countries collapsed, and those who survived were often profoundly disillusioned. For many people, the war showed that modern ideas had failed and that a new way was needed.

Fascism arose in Italy in the 1920s. Italy had fought on the winning side of World War I, but it had suffered greatly. Many Italians were angry and disappointed that the country gained very little for the price it paid. Some war veterans felt alienated from society: They had grown accustomed to the horrors of war, and now normal life seemed unreal and incomprehensible. Some of these war veterans began to rally together, trying to re-create the camaraderie of the war. Their meetings led to the development of fascism. In its original form, fascism was neither racist nor anti-Semitic. Indeed, some early Italian fascists were Jewish.

Although Italy was the birthplace of fascism, this -ism spread to other countries. In the mid- to late twentieth century, the Spanish government under General Francisco Franco was fascist, as were the Argentinean government under Juan Perón and some of the governments in Eastern Europe before WorldWar II. The Japanese government before and during World War II also shared some fascist ideas.

Fascist Beliefs

Fascism emphasizes:

  • Action: Human beings find meaning and purpose by acting, not by reasoning or thinking.
  • Community spirit: People need to be part of a community. Individualism is dangerous because it turns people away from their community.
  • Nationalism: The community that matters the most is the nation. People should work together to promote the glory and power of the nation.
  • Militarism: The nation must have a strong, powerful military. The nation shows its power by expanding its territory.
  • The future: Fascists love the speed and power of technology. They look optimistically to the future.
  • One party: The nation must be unified and speak with one voice. Therefore, only one political party is allowed, and that party rules with absolute power.
  • Violence: The government rules its people through violence or the threat of violence.
Nazism

Nazism is a particular variety of fascism that combines elements of anticommunism, racism, and anti-Semitism. In the 1920s, Nazism arose in Germany as a result of its defeat in World War I. The Treaty of Versailles, which ended the war in 1918, imposed harsh sanctions on Germany. Many Germans felt humiliated and angry. The economic disaster of the Great Depression a few years later added to their sense of despair. Nazism appealed to many of these people because it offered meaning, hope, and solutions. Nazis came to power in the early 1930s in Germany, led by Adolf Hitler. Its aggressive foreign policy led to the start of World War II in 1939. Although Nazism was defeated and discredited with the German defeat in the war, some groups around the world are still influenced by this ideology.

Nazism shares a number of things with fascism, including strong nationalist sentiment, a focus on community, and the value it places on action, militarism, and authoritarian government. But Nazism differs from fascism in two significant ways:

  • Belief in a mythical past: Nazism looks back to a mythical past for inspiration. German Nazis saw themselves as heirs to the Teutonic knights of medieval Europe, fighting against evil for the good of the German people.
  • Racial purity: A core part of Nazism is virulent racism. In particular, German Nazis hated Jews, blaming them for all of the evils of the world. But other groups, including Slavs and gypsies, were also considered inferior and fit only for slave labor. This racist belief led to the Holocaust, in which millions of Jews, Slavs, gentiles, and others were killed in a Nazi attempt to “purify” Europe.

Fundamentalism

In its most basic meaning, fundamentalism is the belief that a religious text is absolutely and literally true and that anything opposing the text must be wrong. All behavior and belief must be guided by this central text, and anything else is sinful. Scholars use the terms fundamentalism and fundamentalist to describe some religions.

Nearly all religions have fundamentalist believers or sects. In the United States, for example, Christian fundamentalists constitute a powerful portion of the population. These people (sometimes referred to as the Religious Right, Christian Right, or Christian Conservatives) have had a major impact on American politics, especially in the Republican Party.

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