Technoscientific Organisms and the History of Fascism
- Winner, 2017 Pfizer Award sponsored by the History of Science Society.
344 pp., 6 x 9 in, 64 b&w illus.
- Published: August 28, 2018
- Published: October 7, 2016
- Published: October 7, 2016
How the breeding of new animals and plants was central to fascist regimes in Italy, Portugal, and Germany and to their imperial expansion.
In the fascist regimes of Mussolini's Italy, Salazar's Portugal, and Hitler's Germany, the first mass mobilizations involved wheat engineered to take advantage of chemical fertilizers, potatoes resistant to late blight, and pigs that thrived on national produce. Food independence was an early goal of fascism; indeed, as Tiago Saraiva writes in Fascist Pigs, fascists were obsessed with projects to feed the national body from the national soil. Saraiva shows how such technoscientific organisms as specially bred wheat and pigs became important elements in the institutionalization and expansion of fascist regimes. The pigs, the potatoes, and the wheat embodied fascism. In Nazi Germany, only plants and animals conforming to the new national standards would be allowed to reproduce. Pigs that didn't efficiently convert German-grown potatoes into pork and lard were eliminated.
Saraiva describes national campaigns that intertwined the work of geneticists with new state bureaucracies; discusses fascist empires, considering forced labor on coffee, rubber, and cotton in Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Eastern Europe; and explores fascist genocides, following Karakul sheep from a laboratory in Germany to Eastern Europe, Libya, Ethiopia, and Angola.
Saraiva's highly original account—the first systematic study of the relation between science and fascism—argues that the “back to the land” aspect of fascism should be understood as a modernist experiment involving geneticists and their organisms, mass propaganda, overgrown bureaucracy, and violent colonialism.
This book earns its title. Fascist Pigs pushes beyond our familiar accounts of how scientific know-how was deformed by fascism. Tiago Saraiva's book documents the means by which German Nazis and Italian and Portuguese fascists bred their political aspirations into the living organisms that sustained their regimes. It shows how new scientific strains of hardy wheat, fleecy sheep, and fatty pigs were designed to match their leaders' aspirations for corporatist rule rooted in the national soil, then tracks how they were murderously spread to the colonial territories of eastern Europe and Africa. Written with verve, intellectual clarity, and smoldering indignation, this important new book records the birth of the 'rough beasts' of an alternative modernity.
Ken Alder, Professor of History and Milton H. Wilson Professor in the Humanities, Northwestern University
In this wide-ranging and provocative book, Saraiva explores how the materials of experimental science and technology—seed, livestock, organizational systems—not only reflect political will but create its character. Following fascists in Germany, Italy, and Portugal, both at home and in their colonies, he follows too their plant and animal handiwork—the pigs, potatoes, sheep, and wheat that promised to guarantee the fascists' political and military victory. Saraiva's masterful scholarship and lively writing style create a marvelous and surprising narrative about the 'alternate modernism' of twentieth-century fascism as its leaders made science their own. This is a must-read!
Deborah Fitzgerald, Cutten Professor of the History of Technology, MIT; author of Every Farm a Factory
Tiago Saraiva has produced an arresting argument for considering fascism an 'alternative modernity' that developed as a violent means of confronting the issue of agricultural scarcity that arose in World War I. He raises fascinating questions about the relationship of fascism to agricultural self-sufficiency, science, technology, and brutal colonial expansion. At a time when population growth is set to outstrip resources, this book addresses worrying present-day concerns.
Frank M. Snowden, Andrew Downey Orrick Professor of History, Yale University; author of The Fascist Revolution in Tuscany, 1919–1922
Fascist Pigs is as fruitfully provocative in the connections that it forges between breeding, organisms, and fascism as in its title. The study of planned production of key commodities under fascist regimes becomes a fascinating synecdoche for what made interwar fascism truly distinctive—whether corporatism, modern mass politics and institutions, or radical imageries of spatial 'rooting' and conquest. Saraiva breathes fresh air into the subject of fascist modernism, tracing new frontiers where histories of science fruitfully intersect with intellectual and cultural scholarship on generic fascism.
Aristotle Kallis, Professor of Modern History, Keele University; author of The Third Rome, 1922-1943
Technology and Culture
...illuminates our understanding of the history of fascism and the history of science in the twentieth century.
American Historical Review
Saraiva examines how the breeding and growing of animals (pigs and sheep) and plants (potatoes, wheat, and coffee) helped to institutionalize fascism and contributed to the materialization of fascist ideology.
Oxford Journal of Environmental History