Friday, August 16, 2019

Is Fascism Right or Left?


There's a video at Prager U., an online university possibly associated with the now defunct Trump U, called "Is Fascism Right or Left?".

Early in the video the speaker says, "the true source of Fascism has been erased by the left."

Many people, once they heard someone say some silly conspiratorial thing like that would move on, but the video has been viewed by over 1.5 million people and shows up near the top of Google video searches for anyone entering the  words "Is Fascism Right or Left".

It's "revealed" in the video that the source of Fascism is an Italian named Giovanni Gentile.

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Benito Mussolini co-wrote a paper with Giovanni Gentile titled "The Doctrine of Fascism" in 1932. The paper is available on the web or you can listen to a reading on YouTube. In the front matter of the paper it states "this article co-written by Giovanni Gentile is considered the most complete articulation of Mussolini's political views."

It's not a long document at 32 pages but I thought it might be useful to snip out some sections from it to see how one might answer the question "Is Fascism from the Right or the Left?" simply by reading what the paper says.

The following italicized text is from "The Doctrine of Fascism - Benito Mussolini (1932)"

"Indeed, it was during those years that Fascist thought armed, refined itself, and proceeded ahead with its organization. The problems of the individual and the State; the problems of authority and liberty; political, social, and more especially national problems were discussed; the conflict with liberal, democratic, socialistic, Masonic doctrines and with those of the Partito Popolare, was carried on at the same time as the punitive expeditions."

"Fascism will have nothing to do with universal embraces; as a member of the community of nations it looks other peoples straight in the eyes; it is vigilant and on its guard; it follows others in all their manifestations and notes any changes in their interests; and it does not allow itself to be deceived by mutable and fallacious appearances."


"Fascism also denies the immutable and irreparable character of the class struggle which is the natural outcome of this economic conception of history; above all it denies that the class struggle is the preponderating agent in social transformations. Having thus struck a blow at socialism in the two main points of its doctrine, all that remains of it is the sentimental aspiration-old as humanity itself-toward social relations in which the sufferings and sorrows of the humbler folk will be alleviated."


"After socialism, Fascism trains its guns on the whole block of democratic ideologies, and rejects both their premises and their practical applications and implements. Fascism denies that numbers, as such, can be the determining factor in human society; it denies the right of numbers to govern by means of periodical consultations; it asserts the irremediable and fertile and beneficent inequality of men who cannot be leveled by any such mechanical and extrinsic device as universal suffrage. Democratic regimes may be described as those under which the people are, from time to time, deluded into the belief that they exercise sovereignty, while all the time real sovereignty resides in and is exercised by other and sometimes irresponsible and secret forces. Democracy is a kingless regime infested by many kings who are sometimes more exclusive, tyrannical, and destructive than one, even if he be a tyrant."


"It is much to be feared that the last word of democracy thus understood (and let me hasten to add that it is susceptible of a different interpretation) would be a form of society in which a degenerate mass would have no thought beyond that of enjoying the ignoble pleasures of the vulgar ".


"In rejecting democracy Fascism rejects the absurd conventional lie of political equalitarianism, the habit of collective irresponsibility, the myth of felicity and indefinite progress. But if democracy be understood as meaning a regime in which the masses are not driven back to the margin of the State, and then the writer of these pages has already defined Fascism as an organized, centralized, authoritarian democracy."


→"Fascism is definitely and absolutely opposed to the doctrines of liberalism, both in the political and the economic sphere."←


"Germany attained her national unity outside liberalism and in opposition to liberalism, a doctrine which seems foreign to the German temperament, essentially monarchical, whereas liberalism is the historic and logical anteroom to anarchy."


"The Fascist negation of socialism, democracy, liberalism, should not, however, be interpreted as implying a desire to drive the world backwards to positions occupied prior to 1789, a year commonly referred to as that which opened the demo-liberal century. History does not travel backwards. The Fascist doctrine has not taken De Maistre as its prophet."


"Granted that the XIXth century was the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy, this does not mean that the XXth century must also be the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy. Political doctrines pass; nations remain. We are free to believe that this is the century of authority, a century tending to the " right ", a Fascist century."


"If liberalism spells individualism, Fascism spells government."


"The Fascist State organizes the nation, but it leaves the individual adequate elbow room. It has curtailed useless or harmful liberties while preserving those which are essential. In such matters the individual cannot be the judge, but the State only."


"The Fascist State is not indifferent to religious phenomena in general nor does it maintain an attitude of indifference to Roman Catholicism, the special, positive religion of Italians."


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If you want to read about a strange and dark pre-fascist thinker check out Isaiah Berlin's lectures on Joseph De Maistre. You may have noticed that De Maistre is mentioned in the paper by Benito Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile, where it's stated, "The Fascist doctrine has not taken De Maistre as its prophet."

In his lectures Isaiah Berlin states that he considered Joseph De Maistre to be a proto-fascist. De Maistre's thinking was a harbinger of the Fascist states to come led by Mussolini and Hitler.

In his lecture Isaiah Berlin says De Maistre was an aristocrat of sorts who as part of his responsibilities attended executions as a young man. It must have made an impression on De Maistre since his writing is filled with bloody, violent images.

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In attempting to trace the origins of Fascist thought it's important to note this statement in Mussolini's paper, "The Fascist State is not indifferent to religious phenomena in general nor does it maintain an attitude of indifference to Roman Catholicism, the special, positive religion of the Italians."

The hard right wing of Catholicism has a special affinity for fascists. I'd say had a special affinity but if you search for De Maistre you'll find articles like this in some sort of online Catholic publication.

In that article the author is reviewing a book titled "Contra Mundum: Joseph de Maistre and The Birth of Tradition" written by Thomas Isham. The article states, "One result of his (De Maistre) intemperate style is that even so judicious and scholarly a person as Isaiah Berlin considered him a prototypical fascist and totalitarian. The truth is otherwise, as Mr. Isham shows."

One of the three reviewers of the book on Amazon said, "this book was so bad it wasn't even worth giving away." I don't think I'll be purchasing it anytime soon.

Here's another quote from Isaiah Berlin's lectures -
"The Catholic Church maintained, and Maistre with it, that the true cause of the failure of the French Revolution was the rupture with the past, the departure from the word of God, heresy, the fact that there was a particular kind of life which had been enshrined in tradition and in the teachings of the Catholic Church, and by breaking this, by mutinying and rebelling against it, man had put himself beyond the pale, had become an outlaw, and had been duly punished by God with such scourges as Robespierre and Napoleon."
This article on Medium called Remember When Fascism Was a Catholic Problem? is interesting and educational.

In the video "Hitler Fascism and the Catholic Church" Christopher Hitchens says,
"Fascism, the original 20th century totalitarian movement, is really, historically, another name for the political activity of the Catholic right wing. There is no other name for it: Francoism, Salazarism, what happened in Croatia, in Austria, in Bavaria, and so on. The church keeps trying to apologize for it, but can’t apologize for it enough. It’s the Catholic Right."
The popular misinformation spreader; professor Jordan Peterson stated that, "religion in general provides a philosophical alternative to fascism and Marxism, and said that the Catholic Church has operated in history as a bulwark against extremism."

As a baptized Catholic and a former dedicated altar boy I don't feel any qualms about criticizing some of the Church's history or criticizing people who use the guise of Catholicism to somehow legitimate fascist ideology.

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The italicized text below is from Isaiah Berlin's lecture on De Maistre to give you a taste (the original doesn't have much punctuation sorry) -

"The general notion is that he (De Maistre) is out of date, that he is the last defender of a completely outworn order, a man tragically concentrated upon a partly imaginary but no longer restorable past."

"This I believe to be a false account. Maistre is far more a harbinger, alas, of the future than a reconstructer of the past."


"The hysteria of his writings, the dwelling on blood, the view of man as possessed by irrational instincts, the darkness, the proposition that it is fundamentally the irrational and the uncontrollable which are in charge of men; the view that the analysis of the Encyclopaedists is shallow because they do not take account for self-immolation, of the human desire for destruction, of the whole bundle of irrational impulses of which man is to a large extent composed, and the proposition that only by exploiting these, by taking notice of them but also by directing them, by canalising them, by disciplining them, by making use of them, but above all by looking them in the face, can human society survive; the extreme contempt for liberals and democrats, the view that human beings are totally unfit to govern themselves, and must always be governed by small oligarchical √©lites, which must be groups of self-sacrificing men trying to tie up this terrible tiger with the most utmost effort, which gives them no pleasure at all, any more than the executioner takes pleasure in his executions; the notion that human society can only persist if a few self-sacrificing men are just able to rein in this monstrous beast, and must do so by appealing not to his rational self, which is weak, but to his irrational self, which is dominant, and must direct it towards ends not intelligible to him but intelligible to those who direct him – this view, which is the view of the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, does not appear to me to be an eighteenth century view at all – neither progressive nor reactionary, nor liberal, nor conservative, very remote from Burke, by whom he was supposed to have been inspired, and totally unrelated to Thomism or the official Catholic political philosophy of that or of any other time. 


In this respect, I think, he is a proto-Fascist. It seems to me reasonable to say that his stress upon the seamy side, upon the black side, of human nature does qualify him to be so described. That, in effect, is his vision."


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Sorry for the lengthy quotes in this but I didn't want to try and interpret. If you are interested I'd recommend reading the source material to come up with your own analysis.