Sociology and Fascism in the Interwar Period: The Myth and its Frame

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There is a well-entrenched belief that sociology is intrinsically an ‘oppositional science’. The idea that distortions of sociological truth may aid reaction but genuine science is a handmaiden to progress has deep roots in the sociological tradition itself. One variant on this theme is the theme of betrayal: that true sociology has been suppressed by the bourgeoisie or by academic servants of power in favour of false, ‘legitimating’ sociology. Among the bases of the idea of sociology’s oppositional essence are the supposed facts that sociology was actively suppressed by the Nazi regime and that sociologists generally resisted fascist regimes through emigration or inner migration. The idea that sociology in the fascist era was nonexistent or trivial, and that consequently the period was a blank, an episode of discontinuity, is closely connected to these supposed facts.1 Fascist regimes, one is to infer, were fearful of the power of the empirical sociologist to reveal unpleasant facts about societies, facts that had been hidden for propagandists and ideological reasons, and were similarly fearful of the power of the theoretical sociologist to put the facts in a perspective that is threatening to the ideological self-conceptions of power. This fits the idea of sociology’s intrinsically oppositional character in a flattering way. In their own accounts of their experience with fascism, many of the victims of Nazism cited evidence that was consistent with these supposed facts about sociology under fascism and this way of explaining them. Many of the sociologists whose careers had not prospered under these regimes found the status of ‘Victim’ to be an appealing one, especially under the circumstances of the postwar period.2 Sociologists who had prospered sought to cover their tracks,3 and the story of discontinuity was useful for them as well.

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Sociology and Fascism in the Interwar Period: The Myth and its Frame, in D. Kasler & S. P. Turner (Eds.), Sociology Responds to Fascism, Routledge, p. 1-13