This review was published in Essays in Criticism, 60 (2010), 189-96, and appears here as a pre-edited version.
Review of Roger Griffin’s Fascism and Modernism: the Sense of a Beginning under Mussolini and Hitler (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)
Griffin argues that modernism has hitherto been too narrowly conceived – as an aesthetic but not a social phenomenon, and as overwhelmingly connected to the left wing. The second point is not wholly dependent on the first; there are, Griffin contends, many more right-wing works of aesthetic modernism than have previously been recognised. Italian fascism and Nazism embraced aesthetic modernism to a significant degree, and were politically modernist in their desire to achieve national rebirth through social acts of creative destruction. Griffin at times pushes at an open door. His main area of interest is neither literature nor Britain (he concentrates on plastic art, Germany, and Italy); readers approaching his book from an English-literary perspective are unlikely to assume that modernism is predominantly a leftist phenomenon. His prose is sadly jargon-encumbered. But his conclusion – considering the respects in which we today are ‘modernist’ (and in which the state of Israel is the sole surviving state based in late-nineteenth century racial ideology) – is lively.