The ‘New Man’ Symposium
Conveners: Jorge Dagnino (de los Andes) & Matthew Feldman (Teesside)
The ‘New Man Symposium’ will examine fascist movements and regimes through the lens of an attempted anthropological revolution. This attempt to create a ‘homo fascistus’ during the fascist epoch is approached via a comparative angle, with presentations by leaders in the field of Fascist Studies. Taking different perspectives and looking at national movements across Europe, as well as in Latin America, it is hoped that this interdisciplinary conference will revive interest in this much neglected topic.
Dr Joan Tumblety (Southampton) – The limits of the fascist new man in France
France in the 1930s was saturated with ‘new men’. Usually a model of youthful athletic muscularity, in possession of will and sang-froid, and sometimes overtly martial, the French ‘new man’ stood in contrast to the staid respectable mesure of the centrist republican political classes and the citizenry of their imaginings. Yet depending on where one looks this figure was a discursive commonplace across the political spectrum, especially where the mobilisation of youth was concerned. In the context of a visibly more sporting and spectacular post-war popular culture, it was a widely available trope that offered a means of harnessing popular support while helping to articulate a critique of the Third Republic in a bid to transform it in whatever way. Indeed, the ‘new man’ was harnessed to a range of ideological projects in these years, even if it arguably found its fullest articulation at the extremes. In this paper I will locate the ‘new man’ in two unexplored episodes from summer 1937 – a Franco-German youth camp organised jointly by French war veterans and the Hitler Youth, and a European male beauty competition hosted under the auspices of the Paris world’s fair. In placing these examples in the wider landscape of interwar French political and popular culture, I want to tease out where these manifestations of the new man stand in relation to those on the radical right; and to assess how far the comparison might tell us something about the nature, appeal and limits of fascism in interwar, and indeed Vichy, France. Finally, I will raise questions about how far political religions theory can help us to understand the French case given both the ubiquity of so many features of the fascist new man, and the widespread rejection there of ‘totalitarian’ models of political organisation especially among organised Catholics.