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Radical Reading: The Doctrine of Fascism

Fascism, more than any other idea from the 20th century, carries a negative connotation that has few rivals. Pundits and activists of the right and left are quick to smear their opponents as little-Hitlers in waiting, hell-bent on crushing dissent and democracy under their authoritarian hooves. Americans may not agree on much, but they seem to have developed a consensus that fascism is absolutely undesirable.

While fascism has been used as a pejorative slur routinely since the end of WWII, it has taken on a timely importance with the rise of right wing parties in Europe and some of the forces constructed around Donald Trump. By this point, innumerable essays exist deliberating whether Trump is a fascist or not (I wrote my own some months ago, and likely needs revision with recent variables to consider), but few have addressed genuine fascist texts as their analytical foundation. While more revealing works exist to understand the philosophical roots of fascism as an ideology and movement1 there is no greater primer to the idea than Benito Mussolini’s pamphlet The Doctrine of Fascism.

 

Totalitarian Modernity

What’s striking about the work is how contrarian it is. Many on the right have flirted with totalitarian positions, but the stated goal of fascism present in Mussolini’s text provides a formidable rejection of conservatism and traditionalism. That is not to say the document is left wing in nature. While fascism developed in disaffected socialist circles after the First World War, Mussolini is clear to position his new movement as one divorced from liberal and socialist traditions working adjacently. He writes:

Reformism, revolutionism, centrism, the very echo of that terminology is dead, while in the great river of Fascism one can trace currents which had their source in Sorel, Peguy, Lagardelle of the Movement Socialists, and in the cohort of Italian syndicalist who from 1904 to 1914 brought a new note into the Italian socialist environment…

When the war ended in 1919 Socialism, as a doctrine, was already dead; it continued to exist only as a grudge, especially in Italy where its only chance lay in inciting to reprisals against the men who had willed the war and who were to be made to pay for it.

Mussolini envisioned fascism as the culmination of all previous political philosophies: a complete ideology. It is telling that the entirety of the text related to tradition is as such:

In the Fascist conception of history, man is man only by virtue of the spiritual process to which he contributes as a member of the family, the social group, the nation, and in function of history to which all nations bring their contribution. Hence the great value of tradition in records, in language, in customs, in the rules of social life. Outside history man is a nonentity.

Little to nothing is said of specific ethnic or culture traditions that provide a foundation for this new movement, only vague allusions to hierarchy and the primacy of the nation. The word “conserve” is only featured once in the text, and even then, followed by the term “renewal.”

The last line in the section on tradition regarding history is imperative. Dictators and strongmen have existed since the beginnings of society, and outside observers of fascism almost always fixate on its totalitarian underpinnings. Casual analysis of the movement often leaves out its roots in modernity. Much like socialism, capitalism, and other ideologies to come out of the enlightenment, fascism sees itself as the culmination of history; the movement that finally captures the highest values and ideas of all preceding eras. It crafts a romantic vision of the past in which to inspire its members, but it is undoubtedly forward thinking in its metaphysical and societal objectives. As Mussolini argues:

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 State is Everything

A large swath of the text is a rhetorical condemnation of liberalism, Marxism and individualism. To Mussolini, only the state has the power to change man; all other social elements are but subordinate pieces of this entity. He writes:

A nation, as expressed in the State, is a living, ethical entity only in so far as it is active. Inactivity is death. Therefore the State is not only Authority which governs and confers legal form and spiritual value on individual wills, but it is also Power which makes its will felt and respected beyond its own frontiers, thus affording practical proof of the universal character of the decisions necessary to ensure its development. This implies organization and expansion, potential if not actual. Thus the State equates itself to the will of man, whose development cannot he checked by obstacles and which, by achieving self-expression, demonstrates its infinity.

I can imagine no vision more conflicting to the collective American understanding of the state. For many citizens (liberal and conservative alike), the state is but a necessary entity to hold back what Thomas Hobbes referred to as the “State of Nature.” To Hobbes, individuals must embrace the state, with all its individual restrictions, to avoid the sheer violence and chaos of a world without authority and order. Americans have generally embraced John Locke’s belief that the state exists to protect ones life, liberty, and property. The center left and right may argue over what defines “life” and “liberty,” but even the most steadfast acolytes of FDR would stand in stern hostility to Mussolini’s conception of the state.

That Mussolini refers to the state as “a living, ethical entity only is so far as it is active” provides additional insight into the philosophical vision of fascism. The state, and thus the people that constitute it, requires constant transformation and alteration to be organic and viable. The state is thus enabled to continuously shape its people to meet its ideological aims, or as Mussolini put it, the state “creates the nation, conferring volition and therefore real life on a people made aware of their moral unity.”

 

Revolutionary, Even Now

The fact that fascism offers such a radically dissimilar vision for the world makes it revolutionary and subversive, even after states purporting to implement its principles were roundly crushed 70 years ago.

Activists on the right lament that followers of radical left-wing groups are given a pass in polite society for supporting odious ideas related to communism and left-wing totalitarian states and movements. Living in the Bay Area, no one bats an eye at a communist organization appearing at an event or protest. They are viewed as an oddity and political relic by most, but great effort is not made to stomp these groups out of existence. Activists proclaiming an eminent Maoist inspired revolution produce more eye rolling from their liberal counterparts than revulsion, but not because the larger left finds agreement with their totalitarian brethren. Marxist-Leninism, as an ideology, is but a ghost of itself. There is no feasible scenario that sees a rise of these fringe groups to taking the reigns of political power in America and the west.

Fascism is a different story. While it is highly unlikely to see overt Nazis make social progress outside their small internet realms, the animating principles laid out by Mussolini may very well see another upsurge. Fascism, like its 20th century counterparts, is a relic of its time. Yet, the animating principles laid out in this text still have vibrancy in our society today. Liberal constitutionalism, regardless of its longevity in America, is always fragile. It accepts that the state is the culmination of the wishes of all its citizens and limits the authority of any government to implement change, even when popular with a majority of its citizens. Activists on the alt-right, while disavowing fascism as a remnant of a bygone era, are now actively advancing core foundations of Mussolini’s work and ethic. While their numbers may be minute, they are budding and beginning to have influence on the social and political fabric of the nation. Liberals and conservatives are fools to think defeating Trump at the ballot box will push these forces back into their box, nor should the political mainstream underestimate the power and influence a dedicated vanguard may have over society at large.

When the pamphlet was published in 1932, Mussolini argued, “Never before have the peoples thirsted for authority, direction, order, as they do now.” Perhaps he was right; liberal democracy seemed in ruins and parties of the totalitarian left and right were surging throughout the world. With communism and fascism dead as political movements, the question for us is this: does the desire for order and authority still beat in the hearts of the masses, and might Mussolini’s ghost rise again?Notes:

  1. I recommend Georges Sorel’s “Reflections on Violence” and the essays of Enrico Corradini as interesting proto-fascist texts. []

Staff Writer
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Roland Dodds is an educator, researcher and father just north of San Francisco who writes about politics, culture and education. He spent his formative years in radical left wing politics, but now prefers the company of contrarians of all political stripes (assuming they aren't teetotalers). He is a regular contributor at Harry's Place and Ordinary Times.

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91 thoughts on “Radical Reading: The Doctrine of Fascism

  1. The various permutations of fascism all share as a common origin an indictment of democracy. This will never be the basis of any significant movement in the U.S., which sees itself in many respects exceptional because of its democratic institutions and its origins as a nation built on a creed reflected in its Constitution and other important documents.

    Trump is not a fascist, he is a Jacksonian, and Jacksonian is a democratic movement, not an anti-Democratic movement. Jackson indicts the political class that has benefited itself and not the people, and argues that better people (like Jackson) be elected.

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    • Do you think Trump wants to abolish the Federal Reserve?

      But really, while it’s true to say that Trump is Jacksonian, it’s not the whole story. Roland’s sentence here is instructive

      Much like socialism, capitalism, and other ideologies to come out of the enlightenment,

      These ideologies didn’t come out of the enlightenment – they came *after* the enlightenment, as a response to how industrial capitalism had transformative economic and sociological effects. (and it’s not quite accurate to call Capitalism an ideology before the 20th century – it was more a habit that people fell into as agrarian economics with city merchant traders & small burgher producers of tangible goods shifted to mass production)

      The Jacksonian ideals, to the extent that they weren’t ‘white people rule, everyone else drools’, were stilled moored in a pre-industrial economic and social structures (and that standard of living). The one thing the Enlightenment and its apotheosis – the Founding of the American Republic in 1787 – never really grappled with is how to reconcile individual autonomy and small d democratic governance with economic norms that would soon be technologically obsolete. (and that said the Fascist and Marxist answers to that dilemma were and are worse than no answer at all)

      So to the extent that Jacksonism worked and represented small D democratic values, it did so because the people it represented were a numerical majority (or suppressed or displaced other people to make themselves a political majority). They also did it in a system where it would not make sense that there was problem that would need ‘solving’ when air conditioning plants move overseas.

      They would understand the shenanigans of far away financial interests screwing them out of their livelyhood, but would not understand the wholesale movement of the means of production outside their immediate environs (otherwise, they would have done something when the growth of slave labor skewed the economic system to make the most profitable enterprises in the South those which used that labor).

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      • Good point about the ideas mentioned being post-enlightenment concepts rather than actual ideas of the enlightenment. Obviously, with Rousseau/ Smith being figures of said movement, the foundations for those later ideas was present but not fulfilled. I should have said “ideas to come out of modernity” to be more accurate.

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      • I think that Jacksonian ideals are what I call a homesteader ideology. It doesn’t really need to be about white people. You can have a non-racist Jacksonian ideology in theory. The homesteader ideology is basically one that idealizes the lifestyle of the pioneer. Their version of liberty and freedom is a world filled with self-sufficient people doing things for themselves. You can still see elements of this ideology in the more anti-social forms of libertarianism like certain posters on this blog.

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      • Neither Jackson, nor Jacksonians, have an ideology. Jackson distills the essence of what was largely the original pre-party understanding that the President would be selected as the best type of person from the best type of people. And he would have a cabinet of advisers who were the best sorts of people as well. Other than the Jeffersonian ideological revolt against aspects of Hamiltonian policy, ideology was not a part of the original understanding.

        By virtue of expanded suffrage, Jackson changes who the best sorts of people are at all levels, without introducing ideology. Without ideological conflict, political conflict is personal and emotion-driven. The appeal here is to moderates, who don’t like ideology and tend to be less smart. Elect the right kind of people is pretty much all one needs to know here. This appeals strongly to moderates, a group with lower IQs on average.

        The line btw/ Jeffersonian democracy and Jacksonian is barely visible. In theory, Jefferson supported all aspects of Jacksonianism to some degree (distrust of elite institutions, tolerance for political violence, and confidence in the common man’s judgment), but ultimately the mix was unsatisfacotory as it was no longer rooted in the Enlightenment value of reason.

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        • By virtue of expanded suffrage, Jackson changes who the best sorts of people are at all levels,

          very true

          without introducing ideology. Without ideological conflict, political conflict is personal and emotion-driven

          I disagree that widening the franchise can be done without introducing ideology, notwithstanding that all politics, even with strong ideology, is more driven by personal relationships and emotion than the ideology itself. (because at a certain point, the ideological underpinnings for belief become an emotional state).

          Specifically in the case of Jackson, who took the ashes from the Era of Good Feelings that JQA & Clay had burned to the ground, and created the party system that is recognizable even today. The BUS debate was *entirely* ideological, even if it did have plenty of emotional baggage.

          The appeal here is to moderates, who don’t like ideology and tend to be less smart. Elect the right kind of people is pretty much all one needs to know here. This appeals strongly to moderates, a group with lower IQs on average.

          This is nonsense in a couple of different vectors. I won’t even start on the intelligence thing, but the main myth about moderates is that they have a position somewhere between the two ideological poles on any given issue. What they have are generally fixed positions on various issues, but heterodox within the context of what the parties are standing for at any given point in history, and an intellectual framework that shifts priority of certain issues over others as they become relevant or not, which in turn becomes support for one party or another in a given election.

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          • I disagree that widening the franchise can be done without introducing ideology.

            That’s an interesting point, that I’d have to think about more. But I think the complicating factors are that the expansion of suffrage was an emergent phenomena and an independent, though no doubt related issue, was the norms in place against campaigning that essentially dropped after the corrupt bargain.

            I won’t even start on the intelligence thing, but the main myth about moderates is that they have a position somewhere between the two ideological poles on any given issue.

            I was referring to those identifying themselves as “moderate” or “independent” have lower average Wordsum scores than those with stated ideological or political party preferences. pdf Link I make no moral conclusions about this, and self-identify as a moderate myself. The contrast I am making here is between the sophisticated political philosophy of the fascists and its intellectual class supporters with the rather simple argument that Jackson should be President because he is like me, or cares about people like me.

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        • I think that everyone has an ideology, or to be more vague, a set of values. How else do you make any public policy decisions? Brad dL has a book out now about pragmatism, and on his website he claims that he is anti-ideological. To me, that makes no sense. What are you being pragmatic about?

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  2. Activists on the alt-right, while disavowing fascism as a remnant of a bygone era, are now actively advancing core foundations of Mussolini’s work and ethic.

    Why insert some names as the subject of the sentence and see if it makes sense? As in “Thomas Woods [or Steve Sailer or Ron Unz or Wick Allison or Jeffrey Polet or Chilton Williamson, Jr or Ron Paul], while disavowing fascism as a remnant of a bygone era, is now actively advancing core foundations of Mussolini’s work and ethic”. For anyone remotely familiar with these individuals, the statement sounds unreal.

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      • Who dat?

        The only popular manifestations of the alt-right have been the Paul campaigns. Ron Paul takes no interest in white supremacist anything.

        The von Mises Instittute trades in neo-Confederate historiography (and goldbuggery), but there is no contemporary white supremicist program to go with that. The Rockford Institute is a shell (all it does is publish Chronicles). They opened their pages to Samuel Francis, but he’s 10 years dead and the rest of their contributors cannot be bothered with his white power blather. Polet and his crew are completely divorced from any sort of programmatic thinking. Wick Allison’s crew is mostly concerned with bashing conventional Republicans. Ron Unz as decayed into a trader in conspirazoid rubbish. Steve Sailer and John Derbyshire fancy that sociology is reducible to anthropology and psychology which is reducible to biology. They’re amiably cynical men who have no investment in politics, politicians or programs and are just out to earn a few bucks and amuse themselves skewering people (the education establishment in particular). Salier’s comment board are filled with people who despise blacks, Jews, or both; Sailer himself simply does not carry that sort of resentment around with him.

        You fancy this herd of cats is at all interested in some centrally directed national mobilization? What’s wrong with you?

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  3. People talk as if liberalism is this fragile thing (when it suits them), but compared to what? Leftist critics of the liberal order concede (rightly) that neoliberal capitalism has a greater hegemony now, than ever before. Rightist critics also note (rightly) that cthulu drifts ever leftwards (e.g. gender, racial and LGBT equality). So, the question to those who are perhaps sceptical of the stability of liberalism is which system is as or even more stable. The long arc of history has shown a remarkable if somewhat haphazard and hodgepodge drift towards liberalism. There are good reasons for this which I will not go into, but the challenge, I think, lies with the sceptic to show that there are in fact reasons to think that liberalism is particularly fragile.

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    • I think that globalization is making one of liberalism’s biggest problems bigger than it was in the past. The basic idea behind liberalism is that there is no such thing as a good life but rather there are multiple good lives. People should be allowed to pursue the good life as they see fit while quietly discussing this with their neighbors and the government staying neutral. Liberalism never really figured out what to do with illiberal people though. You can’t impose liberalism on them without making a mockery of it and if you have too many illiberal people than liberalism is imperiled. There are a lot of illiberal people, maybe more than those inclined towards basic liberalism, and globalization is making containment strategies harder.

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      • The basic idea behind liberalism is that there is no such thing as a good life but rather there are multiple good lives.

        Is that right? Seems to me liberalism is the idea that more freedom and fairness leads to better lives (ceteris paribus!!). The idea that there are multiple good lives seems to me captured by the concept of pluralism.

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        • EPCOT Multiculturalism.

          Your foods are great, your outfits are great, your holidays (especially the feast ones) are great, your songs are great, your dances are great, your traditions are great.

          But please stop marrying your cousins, reinforcing stereotypical gender roles, please recognize homosexual marriages, and please familiarize yourself with Elverson, Spivak, and Humanist pronouns. Additionally, we have to tell you that your food taboos are quaint.

          Seriously. It is 2016.

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          • I think the technical phase for this type of multiculturalism is Food, festival, and fabric multiculturalism. This is really one of the big problems that plague liberalism. Illiberal people have no problem imposing their version of the good life on others. The authoritarian right and radical left can just declare you to be a deviant or reactionary and leave it at that. Liberals can’t do this. It would be a betrayal of some very core liberal values. The best that can be done is a combination of pleading, some light stick work, and hopes that the carrots of modernity are enough to wean people away from illiberalism.

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            • FFF multiculturalism actually a great thing if shallow. It is through things like foods we can all enjoy and that each culture has some precious example of we gain an opening into other peoples worlds. Maybe for some people Panda Express and Taco Bell is the extent of their multiC, but others will venture farther and open up more spaces for more “authentic” experiences. It is in sharing those things which all cultures have some example that you start to see others humanity. From there you might listen to and be open to deeper differences.

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            • I think you’re missing Jaybird’s point: that a core part of liberalism – as an ism! – is illiberalism. IOW, so-called “liberals” are illiberal.

              What then must we do?

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              • I think it is a conundrum only if you take the view that liberalism cannot coexist with the notion of universal norms.

                Which means, if taken to its extreme end, that chattel slavery of humans is merely one of many competing ideas, toward which the liberal state must be neutral.

                But liberalism can’t be an end in itself, otherwise it becomes a fundamentalist cult.
                Fundamentalism here is used to denote ideologies where the one single Good is separate and apart from our recognition of it, where it isn’t open to engagement, negotiation, and compromise. Where the creed can completely exhaust all possible negation and alternative interpretation of reality.

                So in the absurd pinnacle of liberalism, whether it is the eating of shellfish or tolerance of the slavery, tolerance must be obeyed in order to serve the cause of liberalism.

                But no one is actually saying that!
                But what can we say are the boundaries of liberalism?
                If there is one universal norm that can be asserted as a postulate, its that every human person aspires to flourishing, respect, dignity, agency, and embrace.

                I don’t think its illiberal to assert this. Liberalism is a tool to reach this goal. I’m not aware of any of the great theological or cultural traditions that didn’t lay claim to these goals even if they all fall short in our eyes.

                Obviously there are a myriad of ideas of how to pursue those broad ideas- but that’s where negotiation and engagement and compromise come in.

                Yes, its incredibly messy, and there really isn’t any bright shining line that can easily and always set a ideal boundary between competing visions.

                But that’s the point- bright shining lines and creeds which can exhaustively encapsulate the boundaries of human behavior are fundamentalist.

                Fascism and much of the horrors of modernity were attempts to escape the gravitational pull of conflict and engagement, a way to transcend history and shirk the hard work involved in negotiating a peace with each other.

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              • Well, there’s going to be a contradiction at some point no matter what.

                The horns of the dilemma are this:
                1. Do we pick the primacy of the individual over that of the culture?
                2. Do we pick the primacy of the culture over that of the individual?

                “Multiculturalism” says that it’s more or less okay if other cultures pick the primacy of the culture over that of the individual within it.

                I don’t know what the other thing would be called. “Individualism” has a handful of connotations that seem married to our own culture.

                “Liberalism” seems to have a small prejudice in favor of “Individualism” but there are still some significant expectations that the individual must meet… and it’s easier to celebrate diversity when the differences are all over matters of taste (over which there can be no argument).

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          • Wow, your friends suck. I’m a liberal and I wouldn’t do any of that.

            Feel free to marry your cousin. We will need to change existing marriage laws first, and in order to satisfy the busybodies we may have to require a class in genetic counseling first.

            Feel free to tell your kids anything you want. But we liberals are going to run for the school board too, and if enough of us get elected we’re going to have classes on gender diversity. It really won’t kill your kid to find out that human sexuality is much more complex than M+F. As for your company, sex-based anti-discrimination laws have been the law of the land for some time.

            Feel free to insult those people of the same sex getting married. But the Sup Ct looked at the 14th Amendment and the existing laws of the States — none of which link marriage to procreation any more — and found no basis to exclude same-sex couples from getting married. Anyway, none of your kids have any problem with it.

            etc.

            Yeah there are conservative busybodies and liberal ones too. (Occasionally they’re even right about their complaints.) But compared to the rest of the industrialized / Western world, we have far broader speech rights and association rights than just about anyplace else. So I’ll keep calling out the worst on your side, you call out the worst on mine, and we’ll all try to ignore them and get along the best we can.

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      • Well sure but you see more of it than you did before. Hell, the entire Middle East conflagration is one part outsiders meddling, one part religious reformation and one part liberalism flowing into the region and clashing with old fashioned tribalism and parochialism.

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  4. Defining what fascism is has always been problematic because each local variety has it’s own distinct flavor. Some varieties were very into technological modernism like Italian fascism, which produced the only Far Right artistic movement with actual merit, and German fascism. Other forms are intensely wary of technological modernism like Spanish, Portuguese, and Hungarian fascism. Some are anti-religious and others are very pro a particular religion. The same is true for the varieties of Communism attempted but at least most of them cite back to Marx in passing. Fascisms intense nationalism means that very few cite back to Mussolini.

    The best definition of fascism I’ve encountered was Marxism that replaced class struggle with national or racial struggle. Just like Marxism saw the different classes as organic units pursuing their own self interest, with the proletariat being the most just organism, so does fascism see nations as organic units. Individualism is bad under both systems because the good of the class or national community is being hurt by people pursuing self-interest. Another way to see fascism is that many European Rightists had a visceral reaction against modernity during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Before World War I, they appealed to the traditional social hierarchy, monarchy, and religion. The vast social upheaval caused by World War I made an alternative necessary so the nation and state replaced church and crown but it was basically still Rightist anti-Modernity in a different form.

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    • I thought Roland Dodd’s definition that he linked to above was pretty good:

      1. Fascism is revolutionary. It attempts to change the system through revolutionary means and create a new man in the process.
      2. Fascism is often built around a cult of personality.
      3. Fascism is opposed to mass democracy, and believes the interests of the common people require a leader that is above the political fray.
      4. Fascism is socialist/collectivist but opposed to modernity.
      5. Fascism celebrates political violence against its perceived enemies at home and abroad.

      The main point to me is number 3. Mass democracy was widely discredited in the inter-war period and the fascists started with a very vocal proposition to eliminate it, supported of course by the Communist who also wanted to eliminate it.

      Today, mass democracy is as popular as it has ever been. The points of concern are (a) America’s tendency to elect people that know nothing about the world, but seem like a nice person to drink a beer with; (b) the European project’s override of national democratic institutions; (c) the rise of illiberal democracies in places like Russia that ape the form without the values; and (d) the instability caused by attempts at democracy in many third-world countries.

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      • Except I don’t think this is entirely right, especially 4. Not all fascists have been opposed to modernity. They might have a very different idea about modernity than liberals or socialists but they aren’t all reactionaries. The Italian fascists were very into the modern age and so were the German fascists. Spanish fascists might have mythologized Catholic Spain but if modernity brought in British tourist dollars than they were all for it. Only the Portuguese fascists were really dedicated to maintaining a idealized non-modern society as much as possible.

        Dodd’s definition also misses out on one of the most important parts of fascism, the exultation of the national, ethnic, or racial community above individual or other group identities. The entire point of fascism is to direct all energies towards the national community. There is no fascism without a cult of the nation.

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        • I did see where you made the first comment in the earlier thread, and Dodd revised his remarks a bit to describe this element as opposed to the material culture of liberal democracy. There was opposition to perceived cultural decline, promiscuity and abstract (meaningless) art. Trump, a real estate tycoon, that runs a beauty pageant and stars in a reality tv show is probably someone the NAZIs would have hated. Dodd argues that fascists wanted to create an alternative modernity.

          I agree nationalism may need a more express reference, but wearing a flag pin is nationalist. I think it needs to be tied to a radical socialist/collectivist vision that is opposed to individualism.

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    • The vast social upheaval caused by World War I made an alternative necessary so the nation and state replaced church and crown but it was basically still Rightist anti-Modernity in a different form.

      I can’t disentangle Fascism and Communism from the upheavals caused by WWI and the rapid dislocation of the industrial progress at the turn of the 20th century.

      If you watch movies like “Things To Come” or the drawings of Hugh Ferriss, the purple manifestos of artists and architects, or any of the early science fiction of the era, there was this intense zeitgeist that humanity was standing on the precipice of a New Age of Progress. (It must be capitalized, and pronounced “Proh-gresss, trailing off at the end for dramatic effect, even better if in an Oxford English accent).

      There really wasn’t anything too far fetched or radical to be imagined- people could envision flying cars, baby hatcheries, even a New Soviet Man and it didn’t sound any less plausible than wireless radio, eradication of smallpox or television.

      But what strikes me, is how the bold and daring visions of the future always had this retro-revanchist aesthetic- people in the New Age would wear togas and sandals, and live in a New Athens of culture and wisdom.

      Part of it, I guess, is that we don’t have any source material to construct the future except the spare parts of the past- so some idealized past is disassembled and reconstructed as the idealized future.

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      • I can’t disentangle Fascism and Communism from the upheavals caused by WWI and the rapid dislocation of the industrial progress at the turn of the 20th century.

        I feel ya. In a conversation about the Big Isms I had with a really smart, well-read person a few months ago I asked him (it didn’t sound so trivial in context…) “where did Fascism come from?” and he answered: it was a response to communism. That’s not a complete picture, to be sure, but it certainly made me think.

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  5. The Alt-Right still strikes me as a bunch of nitwits who aren’t as intelligent as they think they are. They have no clear idea what they want other than a hatred of liberal democracy and egalitarianism. They all seem to imagine themselves as the cream of the crop who are getting kept down by social forces that only exist inside their fever dreams.

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  6. Desire for order and authority doesn’t have to rise again, it is here. Liberalism hasn’t maintained a fielding of anti-authoritarians, it is just as guilty of manifesting high authoritarianism as the left or right.

    In the end it is about control. If one cannot control the state as a fascist, then one would want their faction to wield control. It is the constant reaching for control that pushes factions high into authoritarianism. Mussolini preaches ‘state’ but in fact it is just a package of himself by another label.

    In the last few years left statists have been competing against right conservatives. Either side compelled by the other to clutch as high as they can for more authority. Whatever tenets of a anti-authoritative left democracy, right republic or base liberalism remain, they have no quarter in this struggle, lost.

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      • It would look that way to an authoritarian, Chip and Morat would see it the same. The anti-authoritative left democracy retains implications of socialism, so it isn’t as easily dismissed as anti-social. Base liberalism, as in the anti-authoritarian center is also not libertarianism under general terms.

        ‘homesteader’ is your anti-yeoman bias dragged in for icing on the cake.

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        • Have you ever considered that people might disagree with you in good faith? Your ideology has only appealed to a few people from some very particular demographics. Other ideologies have had much more popular appeal to a wider group of people. You really can’t dismiss this as everybody else being an authoritarian.

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          • Being anti-authoritarian isn’t supposed to be popular or appealing. Hell, I’m an enemy of the state by definition.

            If no one was clutching for power/control we wouldn’t need to have ideologies.

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            • How many states have you been banned from?
              … just checking.

              You may be an enemy of the state by definition. But I’d wager you’re a far more pathetic and small enemy than the people who actually get banned for promoting Freedom of Speech.

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          • It’s commonplace for modern liberals to forget that Rand damn near starved when the agents of ‘authority’ rolled through her city. But ya know, rinse and repeat, stay calm and all.

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            • Rand was a deep level Soviet spy whose mission was to create an intellectual justification for capitalism and individualism that was too morally repugnant for Americans. Like most Soviet experiments, it failed miserably.

              I mean the above in jest but it really wouldn’t surprise me if some historian looked through the Soviet archives and found out that this was true. Rand’s justifications for free market capitalism were completely different from all other justifications. She was hostile towards religion in away that contradicted the entire Western Right at the time but her views kind of mirrored Communist teachings about religion in an inverse manner.

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              • Rand supported the idea that a individual should recognize and celebrate their individual work. Not as a worker in a layered means of production but more in a capitalism1 sense, which was nothing new to America, but maybe something America needed to hear repeated at a specific point in time.

                Rand studied as a destination isn’t of much interest, the path to that destination is something different. Goldman is like that also.

                I apologize for being snarky up thread but that whole anti-yeoman thing you and Saul deploy is, from the start, a five layer disagreement problem.

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                  • Lee’s (and to a certain extent my) criticism of the current right-wing and right-leaning libertarians is that they operate under a yeoman fallacy and fantasy where every American can be completely self-sufficient. Therefore, no government is needed. Never mind that Google does not exist in yeoman land.

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                  • Yeoman were farmers in England that owned rather than rented the land they farmed. They were supposed to represent English independence and liberty compared to the peasants of continental Europe who were dependent on others. Never mind that most farmers in the United Kingdom rented their land from the gentry and were peasants in all but name.

                    Joe Sal’s ideal society is where people are yeoman. They do practically everything for themselves like the homesteaders who settled the West. Never mind that this wasn’t what happened in reality. When people point out that self-sufficiency isn’t possible, they call us anti-yeoman.

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                    • A lot of assumptions. The first indications I observed is when Saul said something negative about ‘pastoral’ within a few weeks of being here. Lee just continues to do this thing.

                      Some one who understands a society full of individual moral misalignments without any overbearing sophistry/policy would kind of start at the edge of my ideal society.

                      The fact that I value farmers, ranchers, permaculture, peoples on equal ground as doctors and lawyers or whatever special guilds is ‘defective concept’.

                      I mean empirically, if the early Americans sucked that badly at self sufficiency over the first hundred years of the nations history they would have perished.

                      It’s basically the ‘you didn’t build that’ speech applied to the nations past. It’s like it never happened.

                      The next logical step is to deny the native americans were self sufficient. Its like crazy town.

                      It’s similar to what I was saying the other day. There has to be a grouping, then there has to be a defined defect in that group. I don’t know where this stuff is coming from on that side of the fence, but it appears to be a strategy of ‘things we don’t like so X’.

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        • I’m SUCH an authoritarian. I admit. He’s right to name-drop me.

          Just fifteen minutes ago, I ordered my minion/child to do the dishes. And later, I plan to cruelly restrict his freedom to travel as he chooses until he runs an errand to the store.

          Bad Morat!

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  7. I think you raise a good point. Europe has a long tradition of monarchism. There were still monarchist and anti-Democratic parties in Europe well into the 20th century. France had monarchist parties along with Spain.

    In contrast, the United States has always been a democratic republic and always about liberty and Freedom. Only a few very vocal nitwits complain about Democracy in the United States. This leads to a weird state though where freedom and liberty are very malleable words that mean all things to all people.

    My problem with the right and right leaning libertarians in the U.S. is that they have an excessive or exclusive focus on business freedom and/or negative Liberty. This was true with the so-called Liberty League during the Great Depression and it is true today with the House Freedom Caucus. There doesn’t seem to be anyone thinking “Maybe people are not free if they are excluded from civil life because of their social identification status?”

    In contrast, I prefer FDR’s observation that necesstious people are not free people. Basic needs and civil liberties must be met to be truly free. In my view, there is a freedom to knowing that companies can’t depose toxic waste without discretion, that you won’t be asked to leave an establishment because you are a minority, and that a serious illness will not send you into impossible debt.

    But the right remains in rage and obstruction against any idea that a welfare state can be a liberating force.

    Can anything bridge the divide? I don’t think so.

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    • My problem with the right and right leaning libertarians in the U.S. is that they have an excessive or exclusive focus on business freedom and/or negative Liberty.

      ??

      More salient problems would be that a large share of them care only about the drug laws, the academic wing cares only about securing OPEN BORDERS, and the retro wing is addled by goldbuggery (and, other, than the retro wing, support for freedom of contract and association is purely pro-forma).

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    • “Only a few very vocal nitwits complain about Democracy in the United States”

      I see negative comments about democracy on this very blog all the time. Every time there is a controversial issue being discussed, people will say “it’s a travesty of democracy” if the end result is something they are against and a “victory for democracy” if the result is something they agree with. I’ve said this again and again here. You can’t have it both ways.

      But you’re interpretation of civil liberties include negative liberties. Liberties don’t come with preexisting obligations from other people in society.

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      • I see negative comments about democracy on this very blog all the time. Every time there is a controversial issue being discussed, people will say “it’s a travesty of democracy” if the end result is something they are against and a “victory for democracy” if the result is something they agree with.

        I have no idea of your reading habits at this site, but I read probably 50-60% of all the comment threads, and a much higher percentage of specifically political posts, and I can’t recall anyone ever saying what you see “all the time”. What I do hear quite frequently, from avowed liberals mostly (Jesse, Morat, greg), is that accepting democratic processes entails accepting losses. Which is sorta the anti-thesis of what you’re suggesting. On the other hand TvD used to rail against democracy when it worked against his preferred views…

        Dude, I think you’ve constructed an entire US population of “statist fair-whether-democratists” in your head and view the world thru that filter. People on average might not be as intelligent as they try to present, but they’re not nearly as stupid as you seem to think they are.

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        • That’s the crazy thing. I want more representative democracy. For example, I want proportional representation in part so Republican’s in San Francisco and Democrat’s in rural Alabama have a voice in Congress. I want to get rid of the Senate or at least kill the filibuster so that it’s people, not land who decides the policy of the nation.

          If that leads to a massive tax cuts, the privatization of Social Security, and other conservative or other policies I disagree with, so be it, as long as basic Constitutional rights aren’t broken in the name of policy.

          I mean, yeah, I occasionally get upset when votes don’t go my way, but I don’t want to take the vote from Trump voters just because they vote “wrong” or repeal the 17th Amendment, like many conservatives and libertarians do.

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        • I don’t know what you’re reading but I do see it often. IIRC it happened on the SSM issue, several times, and on the ACA too, particularly on the con side on this site. This is a BSDI type of thing as well. It may not be phrased this particular way, but it happens.

          90% of the american population are statists to one degree or another, whether they acknowledge it or not. And as I’ve said, PEOPLE are stupid. Individuals may or may not be. Never was there a more dangerous thing than a group of humans. They are quick to scare, paranoid, and violent. The episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” of the Twilight Zone is a perfect example. I’ve not seen anything in the last 40+ years to suggest we are any different.

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  8. Liberal constitutionalism, regardless of its longevity in America, is always fragile.

    Where? Of what time scale are you making use? The British parliament is an institution of 13th century foundation. Electoral institutions were standard in British North America from 1620 onward. Which elected administrations today are in danger of lapsing into caudillo rule or military rule? (And I mean in reality, not in Scott Sumner’s fantasy of a Trump Administration).

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    • Art has some pretty good points here. There were some fascist movements in the Anglo sphere but they never achieved power and were often more a source of mirth. Orwell wrote that Brits would break out in uncontrollable laughter at the sight of goose stepping probably. Wood house made great fun of Mosley’s fascists.

      The German-American bund never achieved any real power in the U.S.

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      • Most European countries never had a fascist movement which amounted to much electorally. The exceptions were Germany, Italy, Roumania, Hungary, Cxechoslovakia (in the Germanophone districts), Austria, Finland, and Belgium (and it never got out of single-digits in Austria and Finland). As an electoral force, the Falangists in Spain were puny next to the Carlists, Alfonsine monarchists, and the ‘autonomous right’.

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        • I rather disagree about Austrian fascism having single digit support. The Dolfuss/Schussnigg regime (i.e. the Fatherland Front) had quite broad support, especially after the attempted Nazi putsch and the assassination of Dolfuss, and it was quite explicitly modeled on Italian fascism. The Austrian National Socialists (i.e. the DNSAP and the groups it evolved into before being subsumed into the NSDAP), agreed, single digits.

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      • The trouble with you, Spode, is that just because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of half-wits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you’re someone. You hear them shouting “Heil, Spode!” and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: “Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?”

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  9. Mussolini writes:

    Thus the State equates itself to the will of man, whose development cannot he checked by obstacles and which, by achieving self-expression, demonstrates its infinity.

    and in the OP calls this concept utterly…

    …conflicting to the collective American understanding of the state [because f]or many citizens (liberal and conservative alike), the state is but a necessary entity to hold back what Thomas Hobbes referred to as the “State of Nature.”

    I’m not sure that’s right. Built in to the American Constitution is the idea that if enough people want the government to do a thing, that thing is going to happen. Certain things require larger and larger majorities — up to the effective popular supermajority implied in the process of Constitutional amendment.

    What is do see that’s different, though, is that the will being exercised in Mussolini’s version of government is the will of the leader, not the will of the people. Presumably Mussolini intends that the leader be a good man, smart and vigorous and well-intentioned, which Mussolini would insist that he is because he’s talking about himself. But Mussolini as the leader of this fascist state does not need to consult others and indeed ought not to consult others, because he supplies the animating force to motivate the state, and thus to express the nation.

    Mussolini sneers at the idea of liberal constitutional democracy, saying that it had its time to prove itself and the Great War demonstrated its failure. In a fascism, the institutions of government are molded to implement the leader’s will, not the other way around. That is the real rejection of liberal constitutional democracy, the real way in which his fascism is incompatible with the American constitutional scheme. We divide power between different institutions and set them at odds against one another, accepting the inefficiency inherent in such a scheme as a necessary price to pay to deter the abuse of power.

    I suspect that Mussolini would argue that power cannot be abused in a fascist system by definition, because what the leader demands through the state is by definition good — or as a fallback, he’d argue that so long as the leader embodies the nation, then whatever he does is by definition good. Lest we think this line of thought is alien to America, or verboten at high levels of government after World War II, and to avoid references to contemporary political actors, I’ll instead go back to a statement made about the way government should be from the generation in between: “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” That was Richard M. Nixon, on April 6, 1977 in one of the Frost interviews.

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  10. “Liberals and conservatives are fools to think defeating Trump at the ballot box will push these forces back into their box, nor should the political mainstream underestimate the power and influence a dedicated vanguard may have over society at large.”

    Beautifully said.

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