There is considerable disagreement on how to study and analyse fascism. The very term ‘fascism’ remains a highly ‘contested concept’ and wide (and heated) disagreement continuing over if, how and where the term should be applied.
Structuralists concerned with ideas and ideologies, tend to study fascist ideas in terms of an all-embracing ‘ideology’ emerging from underlying socio-economic structures and related historical conjunctures, while those preferencing human agency and specific events tend to view fascist belief systems as the product of localized and/or national political cultures, created by highly specific historical conjunctions.
Most historians are agreed that fully-fledged fascism did not exist before 1918-20. Nevertheless, many of the ingredients of the later fascist movements were visible. Fascism existed in a rudimentary, unfinished form, often called proto-fascism ('proto' meaning a first, or unfinished version). During the late 19th century the distinctions between right and left began to blur as those on the left began to seek to conserve the gains of the working classes, while those on the right began to clamour for revolutionary, root and branch change to protect eroding rights and privileges. This movement was spearheaded in Europe by a new form of ultra-nationalist authoritarian rightism, which as it developed it split off from the traditional reactionary conservative rightists and their parliamentary liberal allies.
Such movements found support in a mixture of rural based groups of peasants and landowners, those of deep religious conviction, along with pre-industrial elites (monarchs, landowners, clergy and army officers), whose accustomed wealth and power were declining. Also members of the lower middle classes - small businessmen, shopkeepers and skilled artisans etc. who were sinking in the social hierarchy because of competition from large capitalist enterprises and new skills. Such threatened groups responded instinctively to populist propaganda based on political anti-Semitism, militarism, imperialism, and strong leadership.
Modem life was depicted as unnatural, unhealthy and decadent. Some supported traditional right-wing groups, clustered round surviving monarchies. Others, saw a need for fresh forms of political action, buttressed by new ideologies. In particular the 1890s have been called the 'incubatory period of fascism'. (G. Mosse, 1979, p84.)
Nascent Fascism drew on a variety of late nineteenth century ideas and political movements:
CORE VALUES TYPOLOGY OF GENERIC FASCISM