An innovative development in fascist studies, based on the works of historians such as George L. Mosse, Stanley Payne and Roger Griffin, offers one of the most in-depth understandings of fascism as a political phenomenon of the twentieth century. This approach focuses on the revolutionary and positive programmatic claims of fascism. It asserts that fascism developed an ideology and not just a reactionary movement, and identifies the goals of that ideology with the revolutionary will for a complete regeneration aimed at creating a new order and a “new man.”
It thus attempts to explain fascism’s success and makes it easier to distinguish it from other forms of authoritarian rule.
The aim of the Legion was to educate this “new man” – omul nou – the only one capable of building the new, regenerated Romania.
Not control over the means of production was important, but the ‘new man’ about whom all fascists talked. He was man made whole once more, aware of his archetype and of those with whom he shared it, and activist in that he was not afraid to join in a revolution which would make society correspond to the longings of his soul.
One may consider that the creation of what fascists termed the “new man” was the final goal of their cultural revolution. This final, revolutionary and utopian goal was seen as a necessity, because it was presented as a cure for a deep state of societal crisis. Therefore, the fascist project was based on a palingenetic myth, the idea of the nation’s rebirth through the creation of a “new man.” Historians such as Roger Griffin see the palingenetic myth as the core myth of fascist ideology, and the driving force behind the movement.
In this regard, taming the feelings of revolt manifested by the young generation since the end of the war, became a major goal for Codreanu. In his desire to avoid “classical” forms of political action, Codreanu envisaged a revolutionary platform for his movement, proposing a radical transformation of the country by reforming its human component.
The first stage (1927 – 1933) was one of inner clarifications. Still indebted intellectually to their former mentor, A.C. Cuza, Codreanu and his followers were more preoccupied with the survival of their organization. Their main concern was not the doctrine of their group, but rather assuring a basic infrastructure for it to survive and grow.
The end of the year, however, brought one of the most difficult moments for the Legion. After being banned from the parliamentary elections in December, towards the end of the month a criminal squad of three legionnaires killed the acting Prime Minister, liberal I.G. Duca. Therefore, the Legion remained banned, along with its newspapers, and its leaders were tried as the moral perpetrators of the crime.
The beginning of the third stage in the Legion’s “quest for the new man” was marked by the criminal act of December 1933. Between 1934 and 1937, the Legion had no access to conventional means of political expression. However, this was the most fruitful stage for the development of the legionary project. The idea of building a “new country” through a “new type of man” was not a conventional one and did not need exclusively conventional methods to be put into practice.
After coming under severe public condemnation due to its violent and destructive actions, the Legion wanted to cast itself as a constructive movement. Thus, the rhetoric of the “new man” served the Legion very well.
To this end, Codreanu published The nest’s leader booklet which served as a textbook that encoded the doctrinaire and organizational principles of the Legion. The strict, paramilitary organisation and cult rituals performed in the nest were part of the taming process, so eloquently described by George L. Mosse, as the key to fascism’s successes.
What is even more important is that in this work, Codreanu drew the profile of the “new men,” an ideal construction to serve as model for the young legionaries. For him, the Legion’s regenerative project, what he called a “spiritual revolution,” could not be fulfilled by ordinary man but by new, “spiritualised” human beings
The longing for a spiritual revolution was clearly stated by Codreanu: The new man or the renewed nation presupposes a great spiritual renewal, a great spiritual revolution of the whole people, a revolution that is opposed to the Spiritual direction of our day and an explicit offensive against this direction. Given the importance of the “new man” to the awaited revolution, Codreanu underscored the qualities that he should possess. The task of the “new man,” to solve the current crisis and guide the nation to a rebirth, asked for supreme qualities, qualities only available to super-humans, as other fascist movements implied. Therefore, Codreanu did not shy away from describing the “new man” as a modern hero, who had to show magnificent strengths in a plurality of fields…
The nest is the basic organisational structure of the Legion, containing at least 3 people and no more than 13. The nest is led by a chief, conducts weekly meetings, and plays an educational role for future legionaries.
The young legionary leader Mihail Stelescu…
The legionary school had the mission to create a special “atmosphere” of moral cleanliness for the young legionaries who were destined to become the “new men” of tomorrow. After the young legionaries were educated in this school (the nests and the work camps) and became the awaited “new men,” their mission was to conquer the real world, and to serve as examples of what the Legion could do. To quote Codreanu: After the legionary has developed in this kind of atmosphere, in the Nest, the work camp, in the organization and the legionary family itself, he will be sent into the world: to live, in order to learn how to behave properly; to fight, in order to learn how to be brave and strong; to work, in order to learn the habit of working and the love of all those who labor; to suffer, in order to steel himself; to sacrifice, in order to get used to transcending his own person in the service of his people.
The image of the Legion as a spiritual school designing a “new man” was appealing for many young people, especially students. They joined the Legion with the genuine belief that they could be part of something historic.
The legion is not only a school for intellectual education, in which man is taught to judge in a correct manner, by doing, it is not only a favorable environment for a development of political thought and the sense of tactics, but it is also a school for characters and for the moral rebirth of the Romanian people.
The “new man” remained an ideal only partially fulfilled, and the Legion ended in violence without putting its regenerative project into practice. Nevertheless, its impact on Romanian interwar political life was a salient one.
"It is not enough to reassert the ideals of the students; a student conference cannot be reduced to a mere show of ideology; a conference must be an occasion to study the interior capacity of students to achieve their ends. It is pointless to talk of ideals if, at the same time, one does look to the means by which these ideals will be achieved.
What is the capacity for sacrifice of the youth united at this conference? It is only by a fusion of the student's personal life with his ideal that the latter's achievement can be assured.
The essential thing is the spirit of sacrifice.
We all of us have the most formidable dynamite, the most advanced weapon of war, more powerful than tanks and machine guns: it is our own ashes! Every power in the world is destined to collapse, whilst it remains with the ashes of brave fighters, fallen for Justice and for God." - Ion Mota