Science and Fascism: State, Expertise and Techno-Politics in Interwar Europe and the Two World Wars (1914-1945)

History 103S.001

Fall 2018
3104 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
Th 2-4
Class Number: 

In 1942, the American sociologist Robert Merton described modern science as a democratic enterprise, whose ethical norms were universalism, communalism, disinterestedness, and organized skepticism. Merton’s notion that science produces truthful and factual knowledge if inspired by democratic values contrasted starkly with the reality of the interwar period and World War II, at the peak of the clash between liberal democracies and fascist dictatorships. What was the role of science in the global conflict between liberalism and the fascist ‘New Order’? What did science and technology look like under fascism?

Centered on the concept of techno-politics, this class examines the relationship between science, state, and political projects of interwar authoritarian dictatorships, such as Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Franco’s Spain, and Salazar’s Portugal. During the Great War (1914-1918), science and technology were enlisted as critical assets for the war effort and the international scientific community was shattered across national lines. In the mind of political leaders such as Mussolini and Hitler, the Great War proved the importance of the scientific organization of society and state-controlled scientific advancement in order to achieve Fascism’s nationalist and imperialist goal: the creation of a new world order.

The course explores how the entanglement between science, technology and fascism shaped a wide range of disciplines, such as physics, medicine, eugenics, statistics, demography, agronomy, and engineering. Focusing in particular on fascism’s central themes of race and empire, the course examines the relationship between state power and scientific expertise, the persecution of Jewish scientists in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and scientists’ critical competition in World War II ahead of the creation of the atomic bomb, which ushered in the new era of the Cold War.