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Liberalism, Fascism, or Social Democracy:…
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Liberalism, Fascism, or Social Democracy: Social Classes and the Political…

by Gregory M. Luebbert

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This book presents a structural argument. Luebbert accounts for the adoption of liberalism, social democracy, and fascism (and “traditional dictatorship” to a much lesser degree) in Europe between the two world wars.

This argument is also comparative—not just one state’s (mis)adventures alone in liberalism, social democracy, or fascism—but an analytical rendering that takes into account the divergent experiences of every national state in Western Europe in its finial estimation of why it is that Britain, France, and Switzerland remained liberal democracies and Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, and Spain went down the path of either social democracy or fascism in the interwar period. This structural-comparative historical angle is important, because for Luebbert the “commonplace explanations of fascism as ‘caused’ by the depression, or by the great inflation in Germany, or by resentment of the Versailles settlement simply do not stand up to comparative analysis” (1991, 307).

Luebbert conceptually divides Europe into liberal and aliberal societies. (This is aliberalism, not the same thing as antiliberalism; the former just means that they were not liberal, whilst the latter indentifies a stronger position of being against liberalism, particularly its penchant for centrist rule in democracies in as much as any presences for a market-orientated economy.) Historical trends leading up to the interwar period are for Luebbert primary in understand society’s drift towards one of the three regime varieties. Particularly, he highlights the challenges that multifarious societal “preindustrial” cleavages (à la Stein Rokkan) posed for parties and governments. Some preindustrial cleavages included: urban-rural, religious, language, class, urban middle class vs urban worker, rural “family peasantry” vs rural proletariat, or any combination thereof. In general, the more cleavages that were snuffed out before the culmination of WWI, meant the more likely the society would continue to be liberal as opposed to aliberal between WWI and WWII.

Just some interesting takeaways: hadn’t realized that societies that ended up embracing a form of fascism experimented with social democracy first. A devolution of liberalism à social democracy à fascism was the trend in Western Europe for those that did take on fascism (Germany, Italy, and Spain to a lesser degree). Another cool truism: fascism is only possible with mass mobilization, otherwise what you have is the normal, run-of-the-mill dictatorship (like the ones that popped up in Eastern Europe during this period despite affectations otherwise).

Luebbert also defines these three seemingly umbrella terms as different regime types during the interwar period by highlighting the type of identity-class coalitions that they embraced. I’ll let you read about which segments of society partnered with which groups and how that all played out since this is the real meat of Luebbert’s argument.

As far as the applicability of his argument outside of the immediate time-space of interwar Western Europe, Luebbert is cautious of replication/generalizability, especially any adaptations to the “Third World.” But, in the last chapter, he does allow that some concepts may prove useful for comparative ideation.

Overall, enjoyed the book. Definitely finished it feeling more knowledgeable before. And I feel I have some additional tools for being skeptical of those within case, single-N causal arguments that he dilated against above.

http://tfrhoden.blogspot.com/ ( )
1 vote rhoden | Nov 15, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0195066111, Paperback)

This work provides a sweeping historical analysis of the political development of Western Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Arguing that the evolution of most Western European nations into liberal democracies, social democracies, or fascist regimes was attributable to a discrete set of social class alliances, the author explores the origins and outcomes of the political development in the individual nations. In Britain, France, and Switzerland, countries with a unified middle class, liberal forces established political hegemony before World War I. By coopting considerable sections of the working class with reforms that weakened union movements, liberals essentially excluded the fragmented working class from the political process, remaining in power throughout the inter-war period. In countries with a strong, cohesive working class and a fractured middle class, Luebbert points out, a liberal solution was impossible. In Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Czechoslovakia, political coalitions of social democrats and the "family peasantry" emerged as a result of the First World War, leading to social democratic governments. In Italy, Spain, and Germany, on the other hand, the urban middle class united with a peasantry hostile to socialism to facilitate the rise of fascism.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:42:04 -0400)

This work provides a sweeping historical analysis of the political development of Western Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Arguing that the evolution of most Western European nations into liberal democracies, social democracies, or fascist regimes was attributable to a discrete set of social class alliances, the author explores the origins and outcomes of the political development in the individual nations. In Britain, France, and Switzerland, countries with a unified middle class, liberal forces established political hegemony before World War I. By coopting considera.… (more)

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