The Story of Fascism: Rick Steves’ Documentary Helps Us Learn from the Hard Lessons of the 20th Century

From Rick Steves comes a thought-pro­vok­ing doc­u­men­tary that revis­its the rise of fas­cism in Europe, remind­ing us of how charis­mat­ic fig­ures like Ben­i­to Mus­soli­ni and Adolf Hitler came to pow­er by promis­ing to cre­ate a bet­ter future for their frus­trat­ed, eco­nom­i­cal­ly-depressed countries–a future that recap­tured the glo­ry of some mythol­o­gized past. Once in pow­er, these fas­cist lead­ers replaced democ­ra­cy with a cult of per­son­al­i­ty, steadi­ly erod­ed demo­c­ra­t­ic norms and truth, ratch­eted up vio­lence, and found scape­goats to victimize–something facil­i­tat­ed by the spread of con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries and pro­pa­gan­da through mod­ern media. They would lead their nations into war, and ulti­mate­ly ruin, but not before cre­at­ing a play­book for oth­er charis­mat­ic auto­crats who entice vot­ers with sim­plis­tic solu­tions to com­plex prob­lems.

Orig­i­nal­ly aired on tele­vi­sion, Steves has released the doc­u­men­tary on YouTube, hop­ing that 21st cen­tu­ry cit­i­zens can “learn from the hard lessons of 20th-cen­tu­ry Europe.” The text accom­pa­ny­ing his doc­u­men­tary reads as fol­lows:

In this one-hour spe­cial, Rick trav­els back a cen­tu­ry to learn how fas­cism rose and then fell in Europe — tak­ing mil­lions of peo­ple with it. We’ll trace fas­cis­m’s his­to­ry from its roots in the tur­bu­lent after­math of World War I, when mass­es of angry peo­ple rose up, to the rise of charis­mat­ic lead­ers who manip­u­lat­ed that anger, the total­i­tar­i­an soci­eties they built, and the bru­tal mea­sures they used to enforce their ide­ol­o­gy. We’ll see the hor­rif­ic con­se­quences: geno­cide and total war. And we’ll be inspired by the sto­ries of those who resist­ed. Along the way, we’ll vis­it poignant sights through­out Europe relat­ing to fas­cism, and talk with Euro­peans whose fam­i­lies lived through those times. Our goal: to learn from the hard lessons of 20th-cen­tu­ry Europe, and to rec­og­nize that ide­ol­o­gy in the 21st cen­tu­ry.

The Sto­ry of Fas­cism (which will be added to our list of Free Doc­u­men­taries) is rec­om­mend­ed for stu­dents and adults alike. With World War II fad­ing from liv­ing mem­o­ry, we could use a good reminder, says Steves, of how “nation­al­ism can be chan­neled into evil, and how our free­doms and democ­ra­cies are not indestructible…in fact, they are frag­ile.”

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rick Steves’ Europe: Binge Watch 9 Sea­sons of America’s Favorite Trav­el­er Free Online

Free Online His­to­ry Cours­es

20 Lessons from the 20th Cen­tu­ry About How to Defend Democ­ra­cy from Author­i­tar­i­an­ism, Accord­ing to Yale His­to­ri­an Tim­o­thy Sny­der

Umber­to Eco Makes a List of the 14 Com­mon Fea­tures of Fas­cism

Yale Pro­fes­sor Jason Stan­ley Iden­ti­fies 3 Essen­tial Fea­tures of Fas­cism: Invok­ing a Myth­ic Past, Sow­ing Divi­sion & Attack­ing Truth

Han­nah Arendt Explains How Pro­pa­gan­da Uses Lies to Erode All Truth & Moral­i­ty: Insights from The Ori­gins of Total­i­tar­i­an­ism

20,000 Amer­i­cans Hold a Pro-Nazi Ral­ly in Madi­son Square Gar­den in 1939: Chill­ing Video Re-Cap­tures a Lost Chap­ter in US His­to­ry

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Comments (12)
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  • Kamil Trzebiatowski says:

    Bril­liant stuff.
    Now let’s add an equal­ly ter­ri­fy­ing ide­ol­o­gy, Stal­in­ism and relat­ed com­mu­nism, an equal threat to today’s way of life in West­ern soci­eties.

  • chrisare says:

    Com­mu­nism is a greater threat because its not seen as a threat and in fact is viewed as ten­able enough where peo­ple pub­licly admit to being com­mu­nist with­out risk of exco­ri­a­tion.

  • Marc! says:

    In the 19th cen­tu­ry there was an ever grow­ing move­ment towards democ­ra­cy in the West.
    But then came Marx c.s. with their ‘Com­mu­nism’ and ‘Dic­ta­tor­ship of the Pro­le­tari­at’.
    That was the first step AWAY from democ­ra­cy towards left wing fas­cism!


    “Com­mu­nism” col­lapsed- near­ly a quar­ter cen­tu­ry ago.

  • Vally Sharpe says:

    I agree with every­thing except your sug­ges­tion that “left-wing” is fas­cism, because fas­cism is always “right-wing.” Does­n’t mat­ter what the name of the par­ty in pow­er is or the use of the word “demo­c­ra­t­ic” in it. The drift toward fas­cism is in the Repub­li­can Par­ty of today. Any drift toward com­mu­nism is left-wing. Don’t be fooled by your own think­ing.

  • Daniel Aquilina says:

    LOL at the fas­cist apol­o­gists and sym­pa­thiz­ers in this com­ment sec­tion.

  • Victor G. says:

    Exco­ri­ate them! Exco­ri­ate them!

  • Dav says:

    We must remem­ber what extremes these peo­ple would either com­mit or con­done upon us, glee­ful­ly, when asked about inclu­sion and for­give­ness. They repeat­ed­ly crossed bound­aries com­mon to Soci­eties across time& geog­ra­phy. There need to be real, last­ing pun­ish­ments for Fas­cism or it will just come back again.

  • Peter Werner says:

    This is kind of a high school-lev­el out­line of the his­to­ry of fas­cism. True in very broad brush­strokes, but too broad to get into some of the nuances of the sub­ject that would be required if you want to make an accu­rate analy­sis of how 20th Cen­tu­ry fas­cism relates to the pol­i­tics of today.

    It has some occa­sion­al­ly quite fool­ish state­ments, like com­par­ing the sup­posed intel­lec­tu­al­ism of Com­mu­nism with the anti-intel­lec­tu­al­ism of fas­cism. Of course, the Nazis and fas­cists had their intel­lec­tu­al and artis­tic class too, some of whom are still read or viewed to this day — Carl Schmitt, Hei­deg­ger, and the Ital­ian Futur­ists to name just a few exam­ples. On the oth­er hand, a typ­i­cal Sovi­et work­er or peas­ant prob­a­bly didn’t have a book­shelf full of Com­mu­nist the­o­ry and prob­a­bly had a rudi­men­ta­ry under­stand­ing at best of dialec­ti­cal mate­ri­al­ism.

  • Granite Stater says:

    fas­cism and social­ism are oppo­site sides of the same coin. Nazis and Com­mu­nists are two bik­er gangs or two Mafia fam­i­lies at war. There isn’t a dimes worth of dif­fer­ence between them as evi­denced by the Ribben­trop-Molo­tov Pact that divid­ed up Poland between Ger­many and Rus­sia. That was fol­lowed by a tong war between them. See PBS’ pro­grams: The Sovi­et Sto­ry or World on Fire. We Poles hate Nation­al Social­ists and Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists both. They used the same meth­ods. See PBS’ pro­gram series: The Dic­ta­tors Play­book. Dic­ta­tors are all the same. Rul­ing by decree, Whether they are named Hitler, Stal­in, Cas­tro, Sad­dam or Biden.

  • Anonymous says:

    You think that!!! Fas­cism and com­mu­nism are both total­i­tar­i­an. The Repub­li­can Par­ty of today believes in a small gov­ern­ment, free mar­ket, econ­o­my. It’s not like fas­cism is ever the goal of the Repub­li­can Par­ty. The founder of the fas­cist ide­ol­o­gy, Gio­van­ni Gen­tile, thought of him­self as a con­tin­u­a­tion of Marx.

  • pbrower2a says:

    Just a reminder: fas­cism is West­ern, and not sim­ply Euro­pean. As ear­ly as 1915 the sec­ond KKK arose in Amer­i­ca, and it had many of the same char­ac­ter­is­tics that would mark Ital­ian and Ger­man fas­cism. It dif­fered from the old Klan that was strict­ly region­al in appeal. It had gaudy sym­bol­ism and extreme big­otry. It aligned itself with eco­nom­ic elites who lust­ed for super-cheap, help­less labor in fields and fac­to­ries. It shared the same big­otry and added anti-Catholic hatred while accen­tu­at­ing con­tempt for blacks assert­ing their human­i­ty.

    By the 1920’s the Sec­ond KKK seemed far clos­er to pow­er than some cranky fanat­ics who were still doing time for stag­ing a coup in a beer hall. It had got­ten politi­cians elect­ed. I look at its ide­ol­o­gy and I see tor­ture cham­bers, slave-labor and mur­der camps, and aggres­sive war­fare. I look at its fail­ure and I can only breathe a sigh of relief.

    Fas­cism of any kind — Sec­ond and lat­er Klans, the Nazis, the Ital­ian fas­cists, the Arrow Cross (Hun­gary) and Iron Guard (Roma­nia) — is tai­lor-made for sociopaths.

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