The Origins and Evolution of Fascism and its misuse of Anthropology

“Fascism” is a loaded word that gets thrown around a lot these days. But what is it, really?

Fascism is a political ideology that typically includes strong autocratic or dictatorial elements, a commitment to nationalist goals, and an aggressive foreign policy. It also usually involves the promotion of racial or ethnic purity and the suppression of dissenting views or minority groups.

In this blog post we will explore the history of fascism and its contentious use of anthropology.

What Is Fascism?

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.

Fascism first emerged in Europe in the early 1900s, during a period of significant social and economic change. This was a time when traditional systems of government and social order were being challenged by rapidly changing technology, economics, and demographics. In response to these challenges, some people began to advocate for a return to more authoritarian forms of government.

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 expansion).

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 Origins of Fascism

While fascism began as a way to maintain power for wealthy elites, over time it has become associated with various nationalist movements whose goal is to promote their own country’s interests above all others.

Some of the most well-known examples of fascism include Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, and Pinochet’s Chile. Each of these regimes was characterized by strong central government, complete control over the populace, aggressive foreign policy, and discrimination against minority groups.

How Has Fascism Evolved Over the Years?

Fascism has undergone several shifts since it first emerged at the beginning of the 20th century. One of the most significant changes has been its move from being chiefly a European phenomenon to becoming a global one.

Today, there are fascist regimes in many countries around the world, including China, North Korea, Myanmar, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela. There have also been several notable fascist movements in countries such as the United States, Brazil, India, and Turkey.

What Are Some Key Features of Fascism Today?

Fascism today shares many features with its early incarnations. It is still typified by autocratic or dictatorial leadership, nationalism, xenophobia, and a willingness to use violence to achieve its goals.

However, there are also some notable differences. For instance, while early fascism tended to be strongly anticapitalist, many modern fascist regimes have embraced capitalism. And while early fascism was generally secular, many contemporary fascist movements have married their ideology with religious extremism.

Fascism and Anthropology

Fascist regimes have often used anthropologists to legitimize their policies and actions. For example, the Nazi regime relied on anthropologists to argue 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.

Anthropology has also been used by fascist regimes as a tool for propaganda. For example, the Nazi regime produced films and photographs that showed Aryan man/woman in idealized poses, which were then used to promote their vision of a perfect society.

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.


Fascism is a complex political ideology with a long and storied history. It has taken many different forms over the years, but all fascist movements share certain core features. These include 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, and more.

In recent years, we have seen a resurgence of fascist ideas in many parts of the world. As we continue to grapple with this phenomenon, it is important to understand where fascism comes from and how it has evolved over time.

Glossary Terms starting with F

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