Two specular phenomenons, responsible for the worst tragedies of the time, emerged during the historical experience of the Twentieth Century: Fascism - in its extreme version of Nazism - and Communism - in its extreme version of Stalinism. Both of them were supported by an extraordinary and explosive “ideal” power, up to be transformed in material force: ideology is seen as the ability to supply an overall vision of the world that can explain every aspect of a man’s life and confer a sense to it, primly framed in that vision, from which one cannot escape without loosing his essence - an explanation, the answer to the human spirit anxiety of giving a reason to birth and death, find a purpose and a place in a wider Universe. This is why, as a sort of alternative “recipe” for the vision of the world, West ideologies were created in opposition to the dominant religions.
Fascism and Communism prefigured the New Man both as a promise of happiness and a future to be achieved. And both Fascism and Communism established as a prior condition the total delegation of personal power to a superior organism, the Party-State, guarantor of the social fabric, in order to reach one final aim: a satisfied society and no more clashes. Any mean, especially if prompt and incisive, would be justified in order to reach that aim. A no-return renounce to self freedom and, more in general, any individual space, physical or mental, was the unique possibility not to let people control the delegates’ action and the power of a few “elected” men holding the supreme destiny of the whole Humanity.
Democracy was discarded as least productive, inefficient, an obstacle to the realisation of the greater project of universal happiness. The triumph of anti-democratic forces was prepared by the ineptitude of European governments in 1920s and 1930s, unable to settle national clashes and embrace the necessities of the people worn out by the First World War carnage, and antisemitism, penetrated in all of society recesses, as masses, with no protection, became more urbanized. Once the great masters of Party-States raised the power, they applied their theories literally, reducing the entire civil society to an amorphous fabric, with no freedom to act or think and exercising a harsh repression on those who refused omologation, to oppose to the total annihiltion of human dignity. The arm of terror joined the arm of ideology, together oriented to a complete domination.
The values on which the New Man was going to be built are what make one system different from the other: Fascism was focused on the original community identity and ethnic pride, whereas Communism emphasized the longing for equality and brotherhood. Nevertheless, results were similar: the extermination of Jews in the gas chambers in lagers and Hitler’s attempt to dominate Europe, on the one hand; opponents’ purges, with millions of victims in gulags, and Stalin’s occupation of East-Europe at the end of Second World War, on the other hand.
We need to thank the philosopher Hannah Arendt, German Jew who escaped in the US during Nazism, for the compound of Nazism and Communism under the mean denominator of the category of totalitarianism, in the fundamental essay The Origins of Totalitarianism.