Martin Conway – The Interaction of Masculinity and Politics in Europe, 1930-1950

Event Date: 26 – 27 September 2014
Teesside University Darlington
Vicarage Road
Darlington
DL1 1JW

The Centre for Fascist, Anti-Fascist and Post-Fascist Studies at Teeside University presents:

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 Martin Conway (Oxford) – New Men and Old Masculinities: The Interaction of Masculinity and Politics in Europe, 1930-1950

Writing about the interaction of masculinity and politics in the 1930s and 1940s has evolved considerably in recent years. The simple, often rather crude, presentation of movements of the extreme right as vehicles for the expression of normally repressed elements of masculine identity has fallen out of fashion. So, conversely, has the former emphasis upon how the authoritarian regimes of these decades “made” new men, and especially a male youth, through a consistent programme of propaganda and socio-psychological indoctrination. In the place of these two approaches ¬– the one often unduly essentialist in its definition of masculinity, and the other too ready to assume an ability of the state to define gendered identities – we now recognise the plurality of masculinities, or perhaps more exactly of masculine cultures and identities, as well as the limits to their manipulation by political regimes and state authorities. Masculinity and political power, thus, stood at a relative distance from each other, each possessed of a certain autonomy, and yet still intimately inter-related one to the other.

This paper will therefore explore the nexus of masculinity and politics in the period from the 1930s to the later 1940s. Four themes emerge. Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, the Fascist New Man was not so new; he formed part of a much larger reshaping of definitions of masculine identity that took place in Europe from the beginning of the century onwards, the contours and logics of which we are only beginning to understand. Secondly, and consequently, the paternity of the New Man was much more diverse, and politically inclusive, than fascism alone, incorporating a wide range of influences which go to the heart of how we think more generally about the making of modern masculinities. Thirdly, the Fascist New Man had relatives. Masculinity did not favour one brand of politics over another; and the project of the Fascist New Man was not radically dissimilar from the conceptions of masculinity evident in many other political movements of the time. Finally, the Fascist New Man did not die with fascism. Indeed, it was in the social, political and cultural conflicts of the latter war years and their violent aftermath that the forms of masculinity associated with the Fascist New Man achieved their most visible expression. That, however, raises the additional problem of understanding where the Fascist New Man subsequently went. It is easy to draw lines of continuity between the Fascist New Man and post-war male archetypes in fields as diverse as Stalinist labour programmes, sport, espionage, exploration and late-colonial military conflicts. But such continuities cannot disguise the fact that much also changed, both in masculinities and their relationship to politics after 1945. The children of the Fascist New Man, it seems, were rather different from their father.

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