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Fascism Essay, Research Paper
If it is admitted that the nineteenth century has been the century of Socialism, Liberalism
and Democracy, it does not follow that the twentieth must also be the century of Liberalism,
Socialism and Democracy. Political doctrines pass; peoples remain. It is to be expected that
this century may be that of authority, a century of the “Right,” a Fascist century. If the
nineteenth was the century of the individual it may be expected that this one may be the
century of “collectivism” and therefore the century of the State.
—Benito Mussolini, The Doctrine of Fascism, 1932
While most of the lost and troubled generation found newness in their unconsciousness or in the efforts to twist
the rules of “rational” art, there was also something real and vital which would become their experience. Not just
the backdrop to their experience, but their experience itself. In the 1920s and 30s, liberal democracy was faced
with a grave crisis and its greatest challenge. A new political theory emerged — one which drew its inspiration
from Caligula, Nero and Commodus. It was Benito Mussolini who proclaimed that universal suffrage was the
greatest of lies. And it was Lenin who proved Russian
bourgeois democracy to have been both decadent and
impotent. In THE REVOLT OF THE MASSES (1930), the
Spanish philosopher Jos? Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955)
There is one fact which, whether for good or
ill, is of utmost importance in the public life of
Europe at the present moment. This fact is the
accession of the masses to complete social
The German OSWALD SPENGLER (1880-1936), believed
that liberalism led to democracy which in the end would lead to
caesarism. This development he outlined in his massive philosophy of history, The Decline of the West, which
he published in 1919. George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) believed that democracy substituted the rule of the
incompetent many for that of the corrupt few. Shaw admired Lenin — Shaw admired Mussolini. Why? Well, it
was quite simply, really: any enemy of democracy was a friend to Shaw.
It seemed as if perhaps Plato was right after all. His Republic, written as the classical age of Greece came to a
close, was a dialogue about the education required for a perfect society. Democracy had no place in such a
society: Plato merely called it “a charming form of government.” In its place, Plato believed that a special breed
of man, a Philosopher-King, ought to govern. One man — endowed with the mind of a philosopher and body of
a general. The Romans understood Plato — so too did the moderns. Lenin believed he was that man — so too
did Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Mussolini. Perhaps the rule of superior beings was required for the 20th
century. Perhaps democracy and parliamentary government, and socialism and communism, had run their
course. After all, none of them had brought about peace. Instead, they had brought about the Great War.
Although many intellectuals toyed with fascism, their general sympathies were stated in a more negative fashion.
That is, they may have become fascists, but only because fascism contained no democratic principles. H. G.
Wells (1866-1946), the author of The Time Machine and War of the Worlds, called for a class of governing
experts or technocrats. So too did the American critic, Walter Lippmann (1894-1974). D. H. Lawrence
believed that democracy was spent force — a new Caesar was needed. Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), author of
Brideshead Revisited, accepted both Mussolini’s Fascists and Franco’s right wing dictatorship. A new
ideology, Italian fascism appeared after World War One in a country which had clearly been demoralized by
war. The nation found itself frustrated and basically left out of the peace negotiations in 1919.
Italian Fascism was not a consistent doctrine but rather a fusion of different ideas. It was successful, temporarily
at least, because Italy was near total collapse. The collapse was precipitated by war but there were other
elements as well. There was, for instance, conflict between socialist trade unions and industrial capitalists. On
top of that, there was the general failure of parliamentary democracy. The key to these crises was fascism with
its aim, the end of class conflict. The Fascists, like the Marxists, recognized the existence of class conflict, a
class war which had existed, according to Karl Marx, throughout history. The Marxist solution was a
world-wide proletarian revolution in which workers would rise up, break free their fetters and seize and then
control the means of production. This great event would usher in the historical stage of production known as
socialism. With time, Marx argued, the state controlled economy would whither away and the perfect form of
social organization, communism, would take its place.
Mussolini had nothing to do with such a scenario. To believe that the proletariat would rise up on their own was
idealist fantasy. Mussolini’s fascism attempted to remove class antagonisms through nationalism and
corporatism. The economy was organized and all producers — from peasants and factory workers to
intellectuals and industrialists — were situated into twenty-two corporations to improve productivity and avoid
industrial disputes. It all sounded good on paper but as the Italians and the world later discovered, it didn’t
work. So Mussolini found himself having to make compromises with big business, the monarchy and the Roman
Catholic Church. The Italian economy experienced no appreciable growth. The corporate state was never fully
implemented and the expansionist and militaristic nature of fascism contributed to imperialist adventures in
Ethiopia and the Balkans, and ultimately, World War Two. What fascism became was a nightmare world come
true — a nightmare feared by mean like Ortega, Spengler, Lawrence and Aldous Huxley (1894-1963). It was
the revolt of the dehumanized masses enslaved by a totalitarian state.
Fascism’s leader was BENITO MUSSOLINI. Born in 1883, the son of an
anti-clerical, socialist blacksmith, Mussolini was an unruly child. He shared his
father’s views and added to them ideas he picked up from his wide reading of
revolutionary writers. He read Louis Blanqui (1805-1881), a French revolutionary
leader during the Paris Commune of 1871 and master of insurrection. Mussolini
absorbed the writings of Georges Sorel (1847-1922), a French syndicalist
philosopher who argued that true socialism could only appear after a period of
violent revolution at the hands of a disciplined proletariat. In his LETTER TO
DANIEL HALEVY (1907), Sorel introduced his doctrine of the “social myth.” A
true myth, said Sorel, does not aim to provide a rational conception of a future society but is a vision, a dream,
a great emotional force that can inspire violent revolutionary activity. Such myths cannot be subjected to rational
discussion. The function of a myth, above all, is mass inspiration: “the myths are not descriptions of things,” Sorel
wrote, “but determinations to act.” Mussolini was also familiar with our old friend Friedrich Nietzsche.
Mussolini was influenced by all these theorists but spent his early years as a traveling schoolteacher and
journalist. In 1912, Mussolini became editor of the Milan Socialist Party newspaper, Avanti. When the Great
War broke out in 1914, he at first opposed Italy’s entry but soon reversed his position and called for Italy’s
entry on the side of the Allies. Expelled from the Socialist Party for this stance, he founded his own newspaper
in Milan, Il popolo d’Italia, which later became the organ of his Fascist movement. He served in the army until
he was wounded in 1917.
On March 23, 1919, Mussolini and other war veterans founded in Milan a revolutionary, nationalistic group
called the Fasci di Cobattimento, named for the ancient Roman symbol of power, the fasces. His fascist
movement developed into a powerful “radicalism of the right,” gaining the support of many landowners in the
lower Po Valley, industrialists and army officers. Fascist blackshirt squads carried on local civil war against
Socialists, Communists, Catholics and Liberals.
On October 28, 1922, after the Fascists had marched on Rome, Mussolini secured a mandate from King
Victor Emmanuel III (1869-1947) to form a coalition government. In 1925-26, after a lengthy crisis with
parliament following the assassination of the Socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti (1885-1924), he imposed a
single-party, totalitarian dictatorship. His corporative state came to terms with Italian capitalism but abolished
free trade unions.
Mussolini understood that there was a need for a complete revolution of values to replace those of decadent
and bankrupt bourgeois civilization. These values were not socialist, they were not communist and they certainly
were not liberal. Mussolini sought to move beyond contemporary political ideologies and his solution was
fascism. Fascism stressed charismatic leadership, a dynamic leadership which would bring Italy away from the
humiliation it had suffered since the late 19th century. In this manner, Fascism was both a species of revival and
restoration. But, it was based on irrationality. There was no system or program, just action for the sake of
action, violence for the sake of violence. Mussolini wanted to destroy the “lie of universal suffrage,” he wanted
to destroy parliamentary democracy by substituting for it a strong heroic elite. True, he broke the power of the
trade unions but the result was near total economic collapse. As a new religion, fascism was stamped on the
mind of youth through control of education but it soon ceased to interest anyone of even meager intelligence. It
was almost laughable — this theatrical performance for the sake of performance. Despite the performance, the
myths, the ritual and the pretended charisma of Il Duce, it has been said that the only thing Mussolini managed
to do was to make the trains run on time.
Fascism was a mass anti-liberal, anti-communist movement. It was radical in its
acceptance of conflict. It was radical in its willingness to employ force whenever
necessary. It held all upper class values in contempt. And, it attacked its enemies
on both the left and the right. With a leader such as ADOLF HITLER
(1889-1945), support tended to come from the lower middle class. The little
men — the clerks, the shopkeepers, the minor civil servants. These were the
people whose ambitions had been frustrated by the wartime economy. These
were the people who were self-taught but could not get ahead. Finally, these
were the people who came out of the Great War demoralized by German defeat
There’s no doubt about it. Hitler borrowed from Mussolini. But Hitler also went
beyond Il Duce. Mussolini had not been ruthless enough. Lenin, the leader of the
Bolsheviks in Russia, had been ruthless, so Mussolini borrowed tactics from the
Party for his own purposes. Hitler hated democracy and Marxism he regarded as Jewish poison. Of Marxism,
Hitler wrote: “Either this racial poison, the mass tuberculosis, grows in our people, and Germany dies of an
infected lung, or it is eliminated, and Germany can then thrive.” He was fanatically nationalistic. Nazism thrived
on the defeat of WWI as well as the national sense of humiliation shared by all Germans due to the Versailles
Treaty’s war guilt clause. There is little doubt that Nazism made its appeal to the emotions of a society
devastated by war. Capitalism, communism, the Jews, the pacifists and liberals, the weak and the insane were
all denounced. Hitler demanded a strong government capable of voicing the national will and leading Germany
back to it place in the sun.
Hitler’s storm troopers specialized in brutal violence. His party borrowed heavily from the Russian Bolsheviks
for its organization. And this was important for in such a party as the Nazis, organization was everything. And
then there was Hitler’s social Darwinism — that life is struggle and that the weak will perish. Is this an idea that
became new with Hitler? Certainly not. Richard Wagner (1813-1883), after all, was racist. So too were many
of Hitler’s teachers. Racism was not a creation of the early twentieth century. Not only that, the entire period
from 1880-1920 was one in which the science of eugenics had become popular. This is true whether we
consider developments in England, France, Russia, Germany or the United States. From Nietzsche, the Nazis
borrowed slogans about the Superman, the blond beast, heroic leadership, the herd and the need to purge the
old order. Unfortunately for poor Nietzsche — a man who hated anti-Semites and nationalists — Hitler made
him the Reich’s official philosopher. For Hitler, the Jew was the scapegoat, blamed for everything. Everything
that had anything to do with capitalism, democracy, socialism, communism, modern art and modern literature
and a hundred other things was all part of a Jewish conspiracy. Stalin shared a similar disposition. The Jew was
identified with intellectualism, while the German or Aryan was identified with the cultural and national soil — the
“Volk,” a nineteenth century concept pre-dating Hitler by almost 100 years. “Volk is a much more
comprehensive term than people,” the historian George Mosse wrote in 1964,
for to German thinkers ever since the birth of German romanticism in the late eighteenth
century Volk signified the union of a group of people with a transcendental “essence.” This
“essence” might be called “nature” or “cosmos” or “mythos,” but in each instance it was
fused to man’s innermost nature, and represented the source of his creativity, his depth of
feeling, his individuality, and his unity with other members of the Volk.
The Nazis talked of a pure Aryan Christianity, unblemished by Judaic influence. This idea went so far that Hitler
asserted there was an Aryan science and that Albert Einstein was incorrect simply because he was a Jew. All
this talk about Nordic supremacy or the Aryan race was quite common at the turn of the century — although it
certainly appeared in different forms. In the United States, for instance, there was consistent talk of “race
suicide” and the “mongrelization” of native Americans (meaning white, Europeans) due to their intermarriage with
inferior races of Slavs, Jews and Italians. Anti-Semitism, social Darwinism and eugenics were also a
commonplace in England at the turn of the century, as were fears of racial suicide. But it was the Dreyfus Affair
in France in the 1890s which exposed the modern appearance of anti-Semitism.
Hitler learned his anti-Semitism in Austria where he developed his ideas of pan-Germanism, Lebensraum and
the master race. Anti-Semitism was common in Russia and Eastern Europe where pogroms against the Jews
already had a lengthy history by the 1920s and 30s. In fact, anti-Semitism in various forms has an extremely
long history. In Germany, as compared with other areas of eastern and central Europe, there was no Jewish
problem. The Jewish problem only became real after Hitler and the Nazis invented it.
The Nazi and Fascist movements of the 1920s and 30s were profoundly anti-intellectual. “When I hear the
world culture,” said Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945), “I reach for my gun.” Fascism came to be led by the brutal,
the ignorant and the criminal — men who were clever at exploiting the irrationality of the masses. As keen
students of modern propaganda, the Fascists and Nazis borrowed heavily from the great mass movements of
the age (radio, film, print). The Fascists employed the language of religious conversion, freely using words like
faith, salvation, miracle, rebirth and sacrifice. This was a tendency already apparent in 19th century nationalism,
an ideology whose past extends backward to early 19th century German Romanticism.
The Fascists also borrowed heavily from the Bolsheviks and communists, from the Jesuits and Freemasons and
from the army. It has been said that Fascism and Nazism also learned a great deal from American advertising.
Hitler and the Nazis looked to the recent German past and borrowed whatever was useful to them. There was,
in the case of Hitler, a deliberate use of myth and a general acceptance of the need to lead the masses by
attention to their irrational impulses. The respect for truth — truth as discerned by thinkers like Hegel, Goethe,
Marx or Nietzsche — was replaced by the systematic lying of the Nazis.
In general, the Fascists and Nazis elevated all that was horrific in pre-war and inter-war European culture. They
were the evil spirits of western civilization. They did not create the evil — they merely exploited it. They
heightened it. They were intellectual parasites who borrowed the ideas of others to use as the new tools of
Fascism or Fascist ideology were not restricted to Italy or to Germany alone. Fascism was a European
phenomenon which developed as a reaction to the perceived failure of western-style liberal democracies and
industrial capitalism. From France, Belgium and Romania to Austria, England and the United States, Fascism
did manage to receive some support. Fascism was a radicalism of the political right and as such, profoundly
conservative. Its ideology glorified the country over the city, stressed blind patriotism, the family, traditional
values and old customs. We see the same emphasis in the German “Volk.” “The world between the wars was
attracted to madness,” wrote the British philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). “Of this attraction Nazism
was the most emphatic expression.” Watching Hitler’s chanting crowds, and mass meetings, one could only get
the idea that some kind of madness had come over Germany. In actual fact, most Germans cared less for
Fascist or Nazi propaganda. They like Hitler because he got things done, solved unemployment and restored
the pride of all Germans.
It’s been said that people, not being truly rational, have need of ritual, romance and religion. Perhaps these
needs had been neglected in a rationalized, bureaucratic and mechanical society. Fascism reminded these
people that twentieth century man is in search of religion and religious faith — faith needed to replace a
Christianity now hidden. In Fascism and Nazism, they found a new faith replete with rituals, symbols,
sacraments, the good book as well as a Messiah. In the end, of course, this new faith turned out to be a
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