June 1, 2006


The Mystery of Fascism (David Ramsay Steele, Libertarian Alliance)

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? [...]

Fascists were radical modernizers. By temperament they were neither conservative nor reactionary. Fascists despised the status quo and were not attracted by a return to bygone conditions. Even in power, despite all its adaptations to the requirements of the immediate situation, and despite its incorporation of more conservative social elements, Fascism remained a conscious force for modernization. [...]

In setting out to revise Marxism, syndicalists were most strongly motivated by the desire to be effective revolutionaries, not to tilt at windmills but to achieve a realistic understanding of the way the world works. In criticizing and re-evaluating their own Marxist beliefs, however, they naturally drew upon the intellectual fashions of the day, upon ideas that were in the air during this period known as the fin de si├Ęcle. The most important cluster of such ideas is "anti-rationalism." [...]

Though they respected "the irrational" as a reality, the initiators of Fascism were not themselves swayed by wilfully irrational considerations. They were not superstitious. Mussolini in 1929, when he met with Cardinal Gasparri at the Lateran Palace, was no more a believing Catholic than Mussolini the violently anti-Catholic polemicist of the pre-war years, but he had learned that in his chosen career as a radical modernizing politician, it was a waste of time to bang his head against the brick wall of institutionalized faith.

Leftists often imagine that Fascists were afraid of a revolutionary working-class. Nothing could be more comically mistaken. Most of the early Fascist leaders had spent years trying to get the workers to become revolutionary. As late as June 1914, Mussolini took part enthusiastically, at risk of his own life and limb, in the violent and confrontational "red week." The initiators of Fascism were mostly seasoned anti-capitalist militants who had time and again given the working class the benefit of the doubt. The working class, by not becoming revolutionary, had let these revolutionaries down. [...]

In the late 1920s, people like Winston Churchill and Ludwig von Mises saw Fascism as a natural and salutory response to Communist violence. They already overlooked the fact that Fascism represented an independent cultural phenomenon which predated the Bolshevik coup. It became widely accepted that the future lay with either Communism or Fascism, and many people chose what they considered the lesser evil. Evelyn Waugh remarked that he would choose Fascism over Marxism if he had to, but he did not think he had to.

It's easy to see that the rise of Communism stimulated the rise of Fascism. But since the existence of the Soviet regime was what chiefly made Communism attractive, and since Fascism was an independent tradition of revolutionary thinking, there would doubtless have been a powerful Fascist movement even in the absence of a Bolshevik regime. At any rate, after 1922, the same kind of influence worked both ways: many people became Communists because they considered that the most effective way to combat the dreaded Fascism. Two rival gangs of murderous politicos, bent on establishing their own unchecked power, each drummed up support by pointing to the horrors that the other gang would unleash. Whatever the shortcomings of any such appeal, the horrors themselves were all too real. [...]

In the panoramic sweep of history, Fascism, like Communism, like all forms of socialism, and like today's greenism and anti-globalism, is the logical result of specific intellectual errors about human progress. Fascism was an attempt to pluck the material fruits of liberal economics while abolishing
liberal culture. The attempt was entirely quixotic: there is no such thing as economic development without free-market capitalism and there is no such thing as free-market capitalism without the recognition of individual rights. The revulsion against liberalism was the outcome of misconceptions, and the futile attempt to supplant liberalism was the application of further misconceptions. By losing the war, Fascism and National Socialism spared themselves the terminal sclerosis which beset Communism.

This whole long essay is well-worth reading, but one thing it does especially well is untangle a point that rationalists find particularly hard to grasp--that Communism and Fascism were rational. What makes this fact especially hard to grasp is that they proceeded from inaccurate assumptions about humankind and exploited irrational myths to gain and maintain power. But that's a quality they share with the other "-isms"--such "sciences" as Darwinism and Freudianism--so it shouldn't really be too confusing.

[originally posted on 10/31/03]

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 1, 2006 8:19 PM

Totalitarianism "works" when the masses accept the twin notions (1) that they have a collective soul, and (2) that The Other has no soul at all. Only an uber-rationalist could really believe that, but the frightened will pay it suffficient lip service.

Posted by: ghostcat at June 1, 2006 10:11 PM

Oj, aren't you conflating Nazism and Fascism with this talk about Darwin?

Hitler was clearly enthralled with Darwin, but I doubt Mussolini, Franco or Pinochet had any truck with that stuff.

Posted by: Pepys at June 1, 2006 11:57 PM

They also were left wing movements. Yet those to the right of center are now accused of being closing to fascisms than leftists.

Posted by: GER at June 2, 2006 12:40 AM


Yes, I did make the mistake of conflating the two--it's an easy trap to fall into.

Posted by: oj at June 2, 2006 7:27 AM


A true Rationalist can't help but believe it.

Posted by: oj at June 2, 2006 7:30 AM