Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

‘Counter-spurt’ but not ‘de-civilization’: fascism, (un)civility, taboo, and the ‘civilizing process’




Norbert Elias described the rise of fascism and the violent spasm of the Holocaust as examples of extreme ‘counter-spurts’ towards ‘re-barbarisation’ in his overall schema of recent human history as a ‘civilizing process’. But the shift towards the normalization of uncivility and extreme violence that became trademarks of fascism in the interwar years was in fact far less at odds with assumed mainstream values than it actually appeared or assumed to be. In this article, I argue that fascist uncivil ideology, discourse, and praxis need to be placed along a continuum of mainstream acceptability that rendered them broadly desirable or tolerable to mainstream society at the time in spite of their radical deviation from an assumed liberal canon. I focus on two examples of fascist uncivility - attack on the liberal framework of minority protection promoted by the liberal powers post-WW1; and violent anti-semitism. Each of these instances involved targets that were in principle associated with taboos that fascism helped deconstruct and conditionally transgress in practice, in the name of defending a narrowly re-defined ‘we-identity’. I argue that, while fascist uncivility represented a violent, extreme ‘counter-spurt’ in its cumulative dynamics and effects, it was underwritten by a number of facilitating impulses and behaviours that were deeply embedded in interwar mainstream societies and thus did not constitute qualitative regressions from the ‘civilizing process’, as Elias claimed afterwards.


Kallis. (2020). ‘Counter-spurt’ but not ‘de-civilization’: fascism, (un)civility, taboo, and the ‘civilizing process’. Journal of Political Ideologies,

Acceptance Date Sep 10, 2019
Publication Date Oct 19, 2020
Journal Journal of Political Ideologies
Print ISSN 1356-9317
Publisher Routledge
Keywords Norbert Elias; Holocaust; Germany; Balance
Publisher URL


You might also like

Downloadable Citations