Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What you were never taught about fascism

Benito Mussolini was the founder of the fascist movement (not to be confused with the Fascist movement in Italy, which he also founded).  His is a much more interesting story than you've been told:
The youngest prime minister in Italian history, Mussolini was an adroit and indefatigable fixer, a formidable wheeler and dealer in a constitutional monarchy which did not become an outright and permanent dictatorship until December 1925, and even then retained elements of unstable pluralism requiring fancy footwork. He became world-renowned as a political miracle worker. Mussolini made the trains run on time, closed down the Mafia, drained the Pontine marshes, and solved the tricky Roman Question, finally settling the political status of the Pope.


Mussolini was showered with accolades from sundry quarters. Winston Churchill called him "the greatest living legislator." Cole Porter gave him a terrific plug in a hit song. Sigmund Freud sent him an autographed copy of one of his books, inscribed to "the Hero of Culture." The more taciturn Stalin supplied Mussolini with the plans of the May Day parades in Red Square, to help him polish up his Fascist pageants.
Cole Porter's original lyrics are deucedly hard to find in any recording: You're the top!  You're the great Houdini!  You're the top!  You are Mussolini!

Nowadays, that would earn you an ewwwww from your sweetheart.  So what happened?  How did the most famous man in the world end up as, well, what we think of when we think "Mussolini"?
In the 1930s, the perception of "fascism" in the English-speaking world morphed from an exotic, even chic, Italian novelty into an all-purpose symbol of evil. Under the influence of leftist writers, a view of fascism was disseminated which has remained dominant among intellectuals until today. It goes as follows:

Fascism is capitalism with the mask off. It's a tool of Big Business, which rules through democracy until it feels mortally threatened, then unleashes fascism. Mussolini and Hitler were put into power by Big Business, because Big Business was challenged by the revolutionary working class.  We naturally have to explain, then, how fascism can be a mass movement, and one that is neither led nor organized by Big Business. The explanation is that Fascism does it by fiendishly clever use of ritual and symbol. Fascism as an intellectual doctrine is empty of serious content, or alternatively, its content is an incoherent hodge-podge. Fascism's appeal is a matter of emotions rather than ideas. It relies on hymn-singing, flag-waving, and other mummery, which are nothing more than irrational devices employed by the Fascist leaders who have been paid by Big Business to manipulate the masses.

As Marxists used to say, fascism "appeals to the basest instincts," implying that leftists were at a disadvantage because they could appeal only to noble instincts like envy of the rich. Since it is irrational, fascism is sadistic, nationalist, and racist by nature. Leftist regimes are also invariably sadistic, nationalist, and racist, but that's because of regrettable mistakes or pressure of difficult circumstances. Leftists want what's best but keep meeting unexpected setbacks, whereas fascists have chosen to commit evil.
The actual situation is much more complex, and subtle, and interesting.  Lenin was a great admirer of Mussolini, who started out as a fierce Marxist.  But while we are continually told by the Ivy League types that nuance and shades of gray are the key to a true intellect, all this goes out the window when talk turns to fascism.
The consequence of 70 years of indoctrination with a particular leftist view of fascism is that Fascism is now a puzzle. We know how leftists in the 1920s and 1930s thought because we knew people in college whose thinking was almost identical, and because we have read such writers as Sartre, Hemingway, and Orwell.

But what were Fascists thinking?
This is a very, very interesting article, which includes the five critical facts about fascism.  The two most important (in my opinion) are fascism was a movement whose roots are in the left, and fascism was intellectually sophisticated.  Those two are enough to explain 90% of the hatred that socialists hold for it.  It's a hatred that you only see between brothers.  That and this:
Here we should note a difference between Marxism and Fascism. The leader of a Marxist political movement is always considered by his followers to be a master of theory and a theoretical innovator on the scale of Copernicus. Fascists were less prone to any such delusion. Mussolini was more widely-read than Lenin and a better writer, but Fascist intellectuals did not consider him a major contributor to the body of Fascist theory, more a leader of genius who could distil theory into action.
Fascists didn't need an intellectual "elite" as much as the socialists did.  Not hard to see which the intellectuals would prefer.  Useful Idiots, don't you know?

But the movement was no friend to classical liberalism, or the American ideal of Ordered Liberty:
The fascist moral ideal, upheld by writers from Sorel to Gentile, is something like an inversion of the caricature of a Benthamite liberal. The fascist ideal man is not cautious but brave, not calculating but resolute, not sentimental but ruthless, not preoccupied with personal advantage but fighting for ideals, not seeking comfort but experiencing life intensely. The early Fascists did not know how they would install the social order which would create this "new man," but they were convinced that they had to destroy the bourgeois liberal order which had created his opposite.
You've likely never heard almost any of this, except as rumors handed from blog to blog.  This traces you through the entire history of Marxism, and socialism, and fascism.  It's a long article, but this is quite simply the best thing I've ever read on the subject.  You'll want to bookmark this, not just because it will take more than one reading to digest, but also because you can use it to flog any Progressive idiot who ever uses the term "right wing fascist".

And it will help clarify our own two party fascist system on these shores.


Elusive Wapiti said...

Great post. I presume you read Goldberg's liberal fascism?

He locates the world's first fascist in the intellectual and very American prog Wilson.

We even have a bridge in the capitol named after him, as well as a number of foundations, scholarships, and other honorifics.

Old NFO said...

Thanks, I'll spend some time with those links later...

Isegoria said...

It turns out that those lyrics weren't from Cole Porter's original version of "You're the top," but from P.G. Wodehouse's slightly modified version, for a British audience:

You’re an O’Neill drama,
You’re Whistler’s mama!
You’re camembert.


You’re Mussolini
You’re Mrs Sweeny
You’re Camembert.

Mrs Sweeny later ended up in a rather salacious scandal.

Will Brown said...

Mr. Steele seems overly dismissive of Mussolini's intellectual credits; the man was either writer or editor (and often both) of four different newspapers, acquired fluency in at least 3 different languages as well as being a novelist (co-author actually) and author of a history/biography of Jan Hus.

It always annoys me the lengths people will go to hide the fundamental socialist nature of Communism (the international model of "inevitable" human conversion to socialism), fascism (the blatently nationalist government/business union of socialism) and naziism (the basic fascist model with a cover layer of cult of personality). Because communism under Lenin et al was regarded as more to the left on the established political spectrum, fascism and naziism were "obviously" political movements of the right - when in reality they were simply different (and very much competing) versions within the same political niche. Each, however, demonstrates the short term success political brutality can achieve, which I submit explains well enough the continuing popularity such tactics enjoy with 21st century political strategists.

Unknown said...

My perception is that words such as "fascist" "communist" and "socialist" are used more often as epithets in the USA than as descriptive words where a clear meaning is intended. I try to phrase things as enhancing freedom and opportunity as opposed to restricting individual freedom and opportunity, hoping to sneak past the walls folks erect when they think someone from the "wrong side" is talking at them.

If there was any doubt in my mind about which flavor of "collectivism" was favored by the current US presidential administration, it disappeared when they took over Chrysler, voided the rights of the bondholders in the company, and gave the reorganized company over to the control of the current heir of the Agnelli dynasty. That the US press was not screaming in glee about how symbolic this was, only shows how co-opted they are in forming public-opinion to benefit the current administration.

Goober said...

Whistle while you work!
Hitler is a jerk!
Mussolini bit his weinie
now it doesn't squirt!

Sorry, couldn't help myself...