World War I marks the death of the ancien regime of Europe as the once great monarchies and Empires of Tsarist Russia, Hapsburg Austria, and the Ottoman Empire fell under strain from war and new emerging ideologies of nationalism, democracy, and socialism. After the Great War, U.S. president Woodrow Wilson pushed for a world that was “safe for democracy.”[1]

A new fervor for constitutional government swept through Europe as a belt of democracies stretching from the Baltic Sea down through Germany, Poland, and the Balkans emerged, each with new constitutions drawn up inspired by modern liberal principles.[2] Despite this early push, however, by the 1930s many of these first European democracies gave way to Fascist and Communist states.

Transcript of President Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points (1918) 

As embodied in the rhetoric of Woodrow Wilson, constitutional democracy promised a utopian world, one where people everywhere would have the right to elect their own leaders of their own nation and would enjoy civil liberties of free speech and equality under the law. It is a shame that the elevated idealism of European democracy did not match up to the harsh realities of the time.

Early support for these democracies faded away, as the United States turned back to isolationism, and Britain and France became more preoccupied with prevented the spread of socialism, than safeguarding new democracies from dictatorship.[3] The inner workings of parliamentary democracies often were at odds with the developing sense of nationalist identities.

Political parties in these new democracies were “frequently accused of acting as intermediaries for sectional interests rather than standing for the country as a whole.”[4] People who were unfamiliar with democracy were promised solutions to their grievances in its competitors; socialism and fascism.


The short-lived democratic government of Russia, following the February Revolution, was soon replaced by a communist state. Russia’s liberals made the mistake to assume that the long endured social crises of the people could be solved by offering constitutional liberties.[5] Liberals intended to keep the Bourgeois in power, while socialist promised land redistribution and peace.

Liberal countries, by strongly opposing any socialist reforms, alienated former peasants and proletariats from democracy. Fear of socialist revolution attributed to the rise to Fascism, who saw itself as the ideological opposite of communism, and a stronger alternative to democracy which had failed its utopian goals.

Bonito Mussolini

Of democracy and fascism, Italian Fascist Leader Bonito Mussolini said, “: Fascism rejects in Democracy the conventional lie of political equality, the spirit of collective irresponsibility and the myth of happiness and indefinite progress … The present century is the century of authority, a century of the Right, a Fascist century.”[6]

Fascism was not a crazed dictator ruling by sheer oppression alone, as a new emerging political right had its own ideology and beliefs that were accepted by millions.[7] Even so, the use of terror to install obedience in the populace is a tactic shared by fascist regimes. In liberal democracies, the law takes precedence over politics, in fascist states, the law is a tool of politics.

The Nazi regime used the law, and secret police, to beat down dissidence, insisting that obedience be more important that civil liberties. People in Germany eventually accepted fascism as it become a normal part of life. [8] Fascism was a response to the instability and divisiveness that was seen in democracies and promised to stand strong against the rising tide of communist revolution.

Sources Cited

[1] Mazower, Mark. Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. (Kindle Locations 206-207).

[2] Ibid, 212-213.

[3] Ibid, 570-573.

[4] Ibid, 466-469.

[5] Ibid, 337-341.

[6] Ibid, 428-436.

[7] Ibid, 651-653.

[8] Ibid, 836-841.