How are we to characterise the core myth of generic fascism which results from the fusion of a revolutionary project with anti-liberal but populist nationalism? It can be expressed in a single binomial term, albeit an initially cryptic one: `palingenetic ultra-nationalism’. `Palingenetic’ refers to the myth of `rebirth’ or
`regeneration’ (the literal meaning of `palingenesis’ in Greek). Clearly, the triumph of a new life over decadence and decay, the imminent rebirth from literal or figurative death, is a theme so universal within manifestations of the human religious, artistic, emotional and social imagination throughout history that it is in itself inadequate to define a political ideology. For example, the faith in the possibility of regeneration
from a present condition perceived as played out or no longer tolerable, is arguably the affective driving force behind all revolutionary ideologies, be they communist, anarchist, or `dark green’ (or even liberal, as a study of the speeches of the leading French Revolutionaries such as Saint-Juste or Robespierre shows2). The adjective `palingenetic’ first acquires a definitional function when it is combined with the historically quite recent and culture-specific phenomenon of `nationalism’, and only when this takes a radically anti-liberal stance to become ultra-nationalism.
Fascism thus emerges when populist ultra-nationalism combines with the myth of a radical crusade against decadence and for renewal in every sphere of national life. The result is an ideology which operates as a mythic force celebrating the unity and sovereignty of the whole people in a specifically anti-liberal, and anti-Marxist sense. It is also anti-conservative, for, even when the mythic values of the nation’s history or prehistory are celebrated, as in German völkisch thought, the stress is on living out `eternal’ values in a new society. The hall-mark of the fascist mentality is the sense of living at the watershed between two ages and of being engaged in the front-line of the battle to overcome degeneration through the creation of a rejuvenated national community, an event presaged by the appearance of a new `man’ embodying the qualities of the redeemed nation.