The Origins and Evolution of Fascism and its misuse of Anthropology

Fascism has been one of the most destructive political ideologies in modern history, responsible for countless atrocities and human rights violations. Understanding its origins and evolution is crucial if we are to prevent similar movements from taking hold in contemporary society.

In this article, we will explore the rise of fascism in Europe and how it evolved over time, with a specific focus on the misuse of anthropology by fascist regimes. Through a critical examination of this intersection between politics and anthropology, we can gain insight into how these disciplines have been used to justify violence and oppression, as well as how they can be harnessed for social justice purposes.

What Is Fascism?

Fascism is a political ideology that emerged in the early 20th century and gained popularity in Europe during the interwar period. In its simplest form, fascism is a political philosophy that advocates for the establishment of a strong, centralized government. Fascists believe that government should exert strict control over society in order to maintain order and promote national identity and pride.

Historically, fascism has been associated with totalitarian regimes that suppress individual rights and freedoms in favour of promoting the state’s agenda.

Fascist regimes are typically led by a single leader who has complete control over government and society. They often prioritize the interests of the nation above all else, promoting militarization and expansionist policies to achieve dominance on the global stage.

Fascism also emphasizes traditional gender roles, racial hierarchies, and the suppression of dissenting opinions. Propaganda plays a significant role in shaping fascist ideology and mobilizing support for the regime. Fascists often use symbols, language, and imagery to create a sense of unity among their followers while demonizing those who oppose them.

Throughout its history, fascism has relied heavily on propaganda to shape its ideological message and mobilize support for its regimes. Propaganda has been used to promote nationalist sentiment, demonize perceived enemies of the state, and create an atmosphere of fear that justifies authoritarian measures.

The Origins and Evolution of Fascism

Fascism is an ideology that emerged in the early 20th century and evolved over time in different regions. The origins of fascism can be traced back to Italy, where Benito Mussolini founded the Fascist Party in 1919. Fascism quickly spread to other countries, including Germany and Spain, where it took on different forms.

In Italy, fascism was characterized by a strong emphasis on nationalism and authoritarianism. Mussolini promoted a cult of personality around himself and emphasized the importance of national unity above all else. He also used propaganda to shape fascist ideology and mobilize support for his regime.

In Germany, fascism took on a more extreme form under Adolf Hitler’s leadership. In the aftermath of World War I, the Treaty of Versailles imposed harsh penalties on Germany, leading to a sense of humiliation and resentment among the German people. Economic instability and political turmoil also contributed to the rise of extremist movements, including fascism.

The Nazi Party promoted a racist ideology that demonized Jews and other minority groups, leading to the Holocaust during World War II. Propaganda played a crucial role in shaping Nazi ideology and mobilizing support for Hitler’s regime.

In Spain, General Francisco Franco led a fascist regime that emphasized traditional Catholic values and suppressed political dissent. Franco used propaganda to promote his vision of Spain as a unified nation guided by conservative values.

Fascist leaders promised to bring about a “new order” by revitalizing their countries through aggressive nationalism and militarism. This often led to conflict both within countries (as fascist governments worked to root out perceived enemies) and between countries (as fascists sought to expand their territory).

Over time, fascism has taken on different forms in different parts of the world. Today, there are Right-wing and Left-wing varieties of fascism, as well as Christian and secular strains. However, all fascist movements share certain core features, including:

  • A belief in national/racial/ethnic superiority
  • A rejection of democracy
  • A craving for military power and expansion
  • A willingness to use violence to achieve goals
  • A disdain for human rights
  • A focus on a single party leader who is seen as almost superhuman
  • The use of propaganda to control the populace
  • A demand for absolute obedience from citizens
  • Intolerance of dissent or minority groups.

The Main Tenets of Fascism

Nationalism: Fascism is characterized by an extreme sense of nationalism, with a focus on promoting the interests of the nation above all else. This often involves aggressive foreign policies and militarization to achieve dominance on the global stage.

Authoritarianism: Fascist regimes are led by a single leader who has complete control over government and society. This leader is often seen as a charismatic figure who embodies the values of the nation and represents its will.

Totalitarianism: Fascism emphasizes total control over all aspects of society, including political, economic, social, and cultural spheres. This is achieved through strict censorship, propaganda, and suppression of dissenting opinions.

Anti-communism: Fascists view communism as a threat to their way of life and often demonize those who espouse communist beliefs. This can lead to violent repression of left-wing political parties, labour unions, and other groups that are seen as being sympathetic to communism.

Racial hierarchy: Many fascist regimes promote a racial hierarchy in which certain races or ethnicities are deemed superior to others. This can lead to discrimination against minority groups and even genocide in extreme cases.

Traditional gender roles: Fascist ideology promotes traditional gender roles in which men are seen as strong protectors of the nation while women are expected to be submissive and supportive.

Militarization: Fascist regimes prioritize military strength and often promote militarization as a means of achieving national goals.

Expansionist policies: In pursuit of national glory, fascist regimes may engage in expansionist policies that involve invading neighbouring countries or even attempting to conquer other nations.

Suppression of individual rights: Individual rights are often subordinated to the interests of the state under fascist regimes. This can include restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, religion, and movement.

Cult-like worship: Fascist leaders may be worshipped like cult figures by their followers who see them as embodying the spirit and values of the nation.

Fascism and Anthropology

Anthropology, the study of human societies and cultures, has been misused by fascist regimes to justify their policies and ideologies.

Fascist regimes have used anthropology to promote the idea of racial hierarchies, in which some races or ethnic groups are deemed superior to others. This has often led to discrimination against minority groups and even genocide in extreme cases.

Examples from history where anthropology was misused by fascist regimes include Nazi Germany’s use of anthropometry (the measurement of human physical characteristics) to identify supposed racial differences between people. This was used as ‘proof’ that Germans were a “Master Race” that was superior to all other peoples. This helped to justify their aggressive expansion and their horrific treatment of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and other groups.

Likewise, the fascist regime in Italy deployed anthropology to study the “Italian Race” and argue that it was superior to all others. This helped to legitimize their policies of racial segregation and discrimination against non-Italians.

Fascism and Anthropology under the Nazis

During the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazi regime in Germany conducted extensive research on what they called “racial science.” The 1890s definition of this term referred to physical differences between human groups.

The Nazis expanded this definition to include mental and psychological traits, believing that some groups were innately superior to others. This belief was used to justify their policies of genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Nazi anthropologists conducted studies on living people, examining their skulls and measuring their brain size. They also exhumed bodies from cemeteries and performed forced sterilizations on people they deemed “unfit.” All of this was done in an attempt to create a master race of superhumans who would be able to rule over the inferior races.

Maria Kahlich and Elfriede Fliethmann are a good example of this abhorrent misuse of anthropology. They began to work for the Nazi government in Poland in 1942, when they were sent to Tarnów to do “racial research” on the “typical Eastern Jews.”

The two anthropologists forced their way into Jewish people’s homes, forced them to take off their clothes, measured their noses, and took photographs of them as if they were simply research subjects. Only 26 of the 565 Jewish adults, children, and youth who were photographed survived the Holocaust.

Fascism and Anthropology in Mussolini’s Italy

Fascist Italy also engaged in extensive research on racial science during the 1920s and 1930s. Like the Nazis, they believed that some human groups were innately superior to others and needed to be preserved while others should be eradicated. This belief was used to justify their policies of colonialism and racism.

Italian anthropologists focused much of their attention on Ethiopia, which was an Italian colony at the time. They conducted studies on the local population, looking for evidence of racial superiority. They also forcibly removed Ethiopians from their homes and took them back to Italy. Once there, they were put on display in zoos and circuses as examples of primitive humans.


In conclusion, the misuse of anthropology by fascist regimes is a dark chapter in the history of the science.

By promoting ideas about racial hierarchies and eugenics, fascist leaders used anthropology as a tool to justify discrimination and even genocide against minority groups.

Today, it is important to remember the lessons of history and work towards creating a society that values diversity, equality, and human rights for all people. By doing so, we can ensure that the misuse of science for political purposes does not happen again in the future.

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