David Ramsay Steele explores the mystery of Fascism, starting with what they told us about Fascism:
In the 1930s, the perception of “fascism” (13) in the English-speaking world morphed from an exotic, even chic, Italian novelty (14) 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. (15) 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.
More broadly, fascism may be defined as any totalitarian regime which does not aim at the nationalization of industry but preserves at least nominal private property. The term can even be extended to any dictatorship that has become unfashionable among intellectuals. (16) When the Soviet Union and People’s China had a falling out in the 1960s, they each promptly discovered that the other fraternal socialist country was not merely capitalist but “fascist.” At the most vulgar level, “fascist” is a handy swear-word for such hated figures as Rush Limbaugh or John Ashcroft who, whatever their faults, are as remote from historical Fascism as anyone in public life today.
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?
Steele proclaims five facts about Fascism:
- Fascism was a doctrine well elaborated years before it was named.
- Fascism changed dramatically between 1919 and 1922, and again changed dramatically after 1922.
- Fascism was a movement with its roots primarily in the left.
- Fascism was intellectually sophisticated.
- Fascists were radical modernizers.
Fascism is an offshoot of Marxism that repudiates most of the tenets of Marxism, in much the same way that Unitarianism is an offshoot of Christianity that repudiates most of the tenets of Christianity:
In power, the actual institutions of Fascism and Communism tended to converge. In practice, the Fascist and National Socialist regimes increasingly tended to conform to what Mises calls “the German pattern of Socialism.” (32) Intellectually, Fascists differed from Communists in that they had to a large extent thought out what they would do, and they then proceeded to do it, whereas Communists were like hypnotic subjects, doing one thing and rationalizing it in terms of a completely different and altogether impossible thing.
Fascists preached the accelerated development of a backward country. Communists continued to employ the Marxist rhetoric of world socialist revolution in the most advanced countries, but this was all a ritual incantation to consecrate their attempt to accelerate the development of a backward country. Fascists deliberately turned to nationalism as a potent myth. Communists defended Russian nationalism and imperialism while protesting that their sacred motherland was an internationalist workers’ state. Fascists proclaimed the end of democracy. Communists abolished democracy and called their dictatorship democracy. Fascists argued that equality was impossible and hierarchy ineluctable. Communists imposed a new hierarchy, shot anyone who advocated actual equality, but never ceased to babble on about the equalitarian future they were “building”. Fascists did with their eyes open what Communists did with their eyes shut. This is the truth concealed in the conventional formula that Communists were well-intentioned and Fascists evil-intentioned.
Fascism failed to reach its own stated goals — even if we ignore the war:
Fascist ideology had two goals: the creation of a heroically moral human being, in a heroically moral social order, and the accelerated development of industry, especially in backward economies like Italy.
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.
Even as late as 1922 it was not clear to Fascists that Fascism, the “third way” between liberalism and socialism, would set up a bureaucratic police state, but given the circumstances and fundamental Fascist ideas, nothing else was feasible. Fascism introduced a form of state which was claustrophobic in its oppressiveness. The result was a population of decidedly unheroic mediocrities, sly conformists scared of their own shadows, worlds removed from the kind of dynamic human character the Fascists had hoped would inherit the Earth.
As for Fascism’s economic performance, a purely empirical test of results is inconclusive. In its first few years, the Mussolini government’s economic measures were probably more liberalizing than restrictive. The subsequent turn to intrusive corporatism was swiftly followed by the world slump and then the war. But we do know from numerous other examples that if it is left to run its course, corporatist interventionism will cripple any economy.
Fascism was a dress rehearsal for Third Worldism:
Italy was an exploited proletarian nation, while the richer countries were bloated bourgeois nations. The nation was the myth which could unite the productive classes behind a drive to expand output. These ideas foreshadowed the Third World propaganda of the 1950s and 1960s, in which aspiring elites in economically backward countries represented their own less than scrupulously humane rule as “progressive” because it would accelerate Third World development. From Nkrumah to Castro, Third World dictators would walk in Mussolini’s footsteps.
(Hat tip to Borepatch.)