What actually is fascism?
Fascism was a political ideology and philosophical movement from the early twentieth century which was formulated by Giovanni Gentile and Benito Mussolini. In some ways, it is a highly historicist school of thought, focused on being able to act in the moment defined by a particular historical context; on the other hand, it reduces history down to certain eternal and fundamental truths (these truths form what is referred to as Ur-Fascism). On the most basic level, Fascism believes in the spirit of struggle and the spirit of unity. It believes in the struggle for unity, and, most importantly that we are unified in struggle. It believes in unifying hierarchy, unity within the state, sacrifice out of loyalty, and the battle to grow the empire.
Fascism is grounded in a philosophy called Actual Idealism, which posits that ideas are actions that are engaged in the world instead of being separate from it. According to this philosophy, subjectivity is therefore not something that exists in itself, outside of reality, but is something that exists objectively in relation to the world around it. Gentile believed that when we engage in the act of thinking (and engage in the thinking that accompanies action), we’re not just thinking about thoughts, we’re understanding their relationship to the world. On the other hand, he believed that when referencing thoughts without really thinking about them, we are depriving our thoughts of their vitality and objectivity. There is some merit to the dialectical ability of Gentile to use the thesis of pensiero pensante (the act of thinking) to account for and synthesize pensiero pensato (static thought), though he only goes half way (yet too far half way) in synthesizing by claiming that “thinking accounts for the thought” without considering how “thoughts motivate thinking”. I agree with his synthesis of the subject and the object, but he seems to start with the subject as a causa sui and prima causa without considering that the self is created by and has to always deal with something other than itself, that it has external conditions which it cannot surpass (including its own existence). Gentile certainly considers that the self has to actively exist in relation to the object to be real, but he doesn’t consider that the object exists in relation to many subjects (like a monarch does), or that the subject comes from and exists within the object (thus the reason choices (and choice itself) aren’t totally independent and have their causes, consequences (which can be beyond our control), and circumstances or context). There is a simple reason as to why this is the case too, namely, because the subject isn’t the only thing that is active, it is subject to an objective condition of activity and chaos. Objectivity is active too, this is how it creates the creative subject. Actual idealism represents a deeper side of Fascism that I see the merit in, but don’t fully subscribe to. I’m more of a Hegelian, believing that there are truths which precede us, which account for our ability to engage, and which we can realize in our engagement. I don’t think our thoughts can ever be inactive, but I believe some can actively come to terms with the nature of our reality better than others. Already you can see the notion of struggle conveyed in the idea of thought as action and you can see the notion of unity conveyed by the subjects active engagement in its own objective existence. Fascism is often wrongly classified as an irrationalist philosophy, when it doesn’t believe things are fundamentally irrational, but reducible to action/activity/struggle. Joseph de Maistre was more of an “irrationalist” in his belief that reason was futile, even though he rationally reduces things down to a kind of dark, primal, yet holy violence that sanctifies the world with blood and order on a very foundational level.
Fascism is also a rejection of positivism, believing not only that facts follow from perspective (like Nietzsche and the phenomenologists), but that perspective is subordinate to higher laws (like Guenon and the traditionalists). For the Fascist, man is subordinate to thought and action as well as the deeds of great men throughout history. In some respect, Fascism maintains a degree of traditionalism in the way it values great civilizations from the past, on the other hand, Fascism understands the need to move forward and develop within the confines of certain established traditions. It might be fair to call Fascism one of the first Archeofuturist ideologies. Aesthetically, this is symbolized by its affinity towards both classicism (especially stripped classicism on an architectural level) and futurism.
Mussolini and Gentile were both initially influenced by Marx (believe it or not) and Hegel. I think they appreciated the dynamism of Marx’s ideas on class conflict and the materialist dialectic. Gentile clearly rejected Marx’s materialism for Hegel’s idealism, however, he didn’t totally abandon the idea of thinking and acting (if not struggling) in relation to a material world, he just also fully acknowledged that the material world could be changed and formed by our thoughts (Hegel certainly saw a relation between subject and object as well, however he is often contrasted as being more idealistic in relation to Marx’s materialism). While Marx emphasized base structural conditions in society, he clearly conceded to Gentile’s inclinations on some level, as Marx saw how values and concepts could change society and even changed society himself using said means (though he didn’t change it exactly according to his intentions). Mussolini was initially more of a Leninist than a Marxist, and I think where Gentile might’ve preferred Hegel’s corporatism to Marx’s communsm, Mussolini preferred Lenin’s socialism to Marx’s communism. Mussolini was eventually led to abandon Marx all together when reading Nietzsche helped to further fuel and inspire in him a sense of the need for great men and a master morality. The prominent Italian “Elitist School” also helped to edge Mussolini in this direction, Robert Michels and Vilfredo Pareto even praised and aligned themselves with Mussolini’s movement. Gaetano Mosca was a little more at odds with Fascism.
Mussolini was also inspired by another One-time-Marxist named Geroges Sorel, who was focused on the need for societal violence based on some sort of great and sacred myth. Sorel was initially fond of the myth of the struggle of the proletariat, but was later drawn to guild socialism and far-right (if not Fascistic) movements in France, particularly those related to Charles Maurras. Mussolini himself preferred the myth of a great roman empire to the struggle of the proletariat, and so Fascism was born (the Fasces is a symbol of a bundle of rods tied tightly together with an axe, a simple of domination and order in Rome (again, note the spirit of struggle and the spirit of unity)). Another point worth mentioning is that another huge influence was the nationalist Mazzini, who was also in favor of having a monarchical system in Italy (and yes, nationalistic monarchism/monarchistic nationalism is a thing (arguably absolutism gave birth to the modern nation-states), just look to Napoleon, Prussia, Greece, and many Arab nations from the turn of the century). It was in the tradition of Francesco Crispi (one of Mazzini’s associates) that Fascism based itself upon the maxim: “the monarchy unites us; the republic would divide us.” (though this monarchical influence would change near the end of the Italian Republic).
On a political level, Fascism was referred to as Corporative/Corporatist Syndicalism. Corporatism/Corporativism is an idea that touches upon where Fascism becomes Ur-Fascism. Contrary to what many Fascists say, corporatism does actually relate to corporations, but more importantly, it relates to the idea of a body politic (body is “corpus” in Latin). The body politic refers to the idea that society is organized like a body, with every part in its place, with higher and lower parts, and with a head to rule all the parts. Fascism doesn’t necessarily relate to the rule of highly privatized, joint-stock corporations (a better term for this might be corporatocracy), but Corporatism does, and so does Fascism by virtue of this point. You may wonder, “what society doesn’t have different roles and social hierarchy”, and the answer is: none. But some can accept the nature of roles and hierarchy better than others, if not see the benefits of such. Just as we seek to preserve our bodies, so too do some societies seek to preserve theirs. Other societies tear themselves apart, whether through middle class merchants killing the aristocratic heads or through plebs tearing down the merchants, if not the aristocrats. While some people see Fascism as a left-wing idelogy, it is precisely because it aligned with the idea of a hierarchical corporate state over any revolutionary ideologies (capitalism or communism), that Mussolini and Gentile both saw Fascism as Rightist.
Corporation was a term to designate a legally recognized, unified body of individuals (a corporate body) or an office consisting of one individual (a corporation sole (e.g. a monarch)). The term corporation can include the state itself, as was explicitly recognized in the roman empire. In addition to the corporate status of the state, after the roman empire, the predominant corporations in power were guilds within feudal societies. These were protective economic bodies that were put in place by feudal lords to ensure that there were roles for individuals and goods to supply those roles. This system was more about ensuring supply to maintain social functions than it was creating demand, given its context in an age of greater scarcity. As feudalism evolved into more centralized, imperialistic monarchism and mercantilism, the predominant corporations became large, monopolistic chartered and crowned corporations which often occupied colonial holdings. In some cases these corporations contributed to the decline of the guild system, in other cases the guild system was maintained (the latter is what defined the Cameralism of Prussia as distinct from Mercantilism). Either way, guilds and chartered corporations worked within the state. It wasn’t until Adam Smith that corporations became much more privatized.
Corporatism became popular in the 19th century, as a reaction to laissez faire economics. Adam Müller was the first to formulate the ideology, at which point it was also referred to as distributism. Müller looked to the guild corporatism of the middle ages as an ethical model for just distribution, and saw it as a system where the interests of the upper class were unified with the interests of the lower class. He engaged in a critique of Smith that was more instructive and compromising than it was critical. Hegel also formulated a model for Corporatism in his “Philosophy of the Right”, which was highly popular among the Protectionists of the Prussian School. The German sociologist, economist, and philosopher Othmar Spann largely represents a synthesis of the protectionists (like List), the mercantilists (like Colbert), and the guild corporatists (like Müller). Around the turn of the century, many other prominent corporatist thinkers emerged, including: H. P. Lovecraft (who praises guild corporatism), Oswald Spengler (in his Prussian Socialist ideology), Gottfried Feder, Major General J. F. C. Fuller, and Oswald Moseley. Austria, Portugal, and Ireland also had explicitly corporatist movements, some of which came into power. In addition to this, the Roman Catholic Church also favored Corporatism around the turn of the century (protestants came to favor it later on, in contrast to their supposed work ethic (that was a Weberian joke)).
In the U.S.A., Keynes’ model for industrial and corporate growth linked business and government together in a manner that embodied the body politic, and this was further substantiated by: FDR’s economic advisor being a huge Mussolini fanboy, Taylorism encouraging scientific management by an elite; and Fordism encouraging a more standardized, technological system over a more organic, free system. Keynes and Mussolini even “flirted” with one another, Mussolini praising Keynes’ critique of Laissez-Faire economics, and Keynes acknowledging Mussolini “had his wisdom teeth”. It was during this period in the U.S., that U.S. joint stock corporations became so powerful that they started to monopolize around the world, however, a lot of them killed each other off while competing, resulting in a system where people are more inclined to sell out or size down rather than continuously undercut competitors (IBM is a great example of this). One could say this corporatocratic competition caused a dying body politic, unlike in China, where a more mercantilist corporatist model is being followed. Northern Europe also started to adopt social corporatist systems around this time, which were influenced by a similar movement as Keynesianism referred to as the Stockholm school, one difference seeming to be that the Stockholm school seems to emphasize a more Statist model than Keynes, who primarily had the Anglo-Saxon model in mind.
In Fascist Italy, Mussolini started off his economic policy in a manner that would’ve shocked many corporatists. He started off by favoring laissez-faire, classically liberal economics. I believe this was in sync with his theory on how capitalism developed (he was right to think it started off chaotic and then consolidated/grew stronger more and more). I imagine Mussolini did this to see which companies could offer the best prices and the best quality while making the most money (this would determine which companies could operate the most efficiently when later-monopolized). He reduced taxes, there were actually attempts to attract foreign investment (All foreign capital was exonerated of taxes) and establish trade agreements, and efforts were made to balance the budget and cut subsidies. In addition to all of this, Mussolini privatized health care. This was all in favor of what he dubbed heroic or dynamic capitalism and for the sake of productivism.
To contrast this, while Mussolini got rid of labour unions, he recreated them as corporate syndicates which were granted a considerable amount of power to control and regulate production practices, distribution, expansion and other factors with their members. These syndicate corporations were able to monopolize the representation of labour, and sought to maintain their power through fair representation. Each industry had it’s own syndicate corporation. These syndicates generally put measures forward that were more feasible for bigger monopolistic businesses than smaller businesses, and so a shift towards state-monopolization succeeded the shift towards privatization, corporatization, and syndicalism. Mussolini believed this phase of monopolization to be the second state of capitalism.
Due to all the speculation and excess wealth in wages, the Lira was faced with inflation and was loosing its value. To combat this, Mussolini restored the gold standard, which, although initially reducing real wage growth, was able to provide a solid platform for wages to grow. Mussolini would later re-introduce representative currency in a more productive (and profitable) economic environment.
Mussolini also started to cartelize a lot of the big monopolies (that had come out of growing private players and syndicate interests) within the CGII (Confederazione Generale dell'Industria Italiana). Just like Mussolini forced the labour unions to merge into corporative syndicates, he forced industrial monopolies to merge (we do the opposite with anti-trust laws today, though we still have monopolies all the same). Where the CGII represented a government-linked (though not fully state owned, albeit state controlled)) corporate monopoly over industry, the GCFSC (General Confederation of Fascist Syndical Corporations) represented a corporate monopoly over labour. To quote wiki, “Finally, the Industrial Reconstruction Institute (IRI) was formed in January 1933 and took control of the bank-owned companies, suddenly giving Italy the largest industrial sector in Europe which made use of government-linked companies (GLC). It saved at the end of 1933 the Hydroelectric Society of Piemont, which shares had fallen from 250 liras to 20 liras, while in September 1934, the Ansaldo trust was again reconstituted under the authority of the IRI, with a capital of 750 million liras“. Throughout most of the 30′s, Italy witnessed GDP growth, real wage growth, and an increase in the value of its currency. That being said, the economy had it’s faults. Not much capital went to investment goods and most of the economy was made up of the agricultural sector.
In Mussolini’s eyes, capitalism could go two ways for its final stage, the first is that it seeks to supply a uniform demand worldwide or that it turns to the State to restrict the merchants lust for power to the benefit of their own community (instead of enabling it at the expense of said community). To be fair, I think a worse risk than world-wide supply and demand is worldwide privatized lending. Had Fascism had even bigger, global monopolies at it’s disposal, who knows what that could do (in terms of reducing costs, prices, increasing profits, increasing income/wages, and creating general global stability). Ultimately, the Fascist economy could be classified as being somewhere in between a regulated market and a planned economy. Economics were subordinate to politics (namely the state), however, a unique economic model with vast potential still developed nonetheless.
While Fascism was limited to a particular place and time, it touched upon certain truths that inspired other similar regimes and truths which underlie every society, even our own. Proto-Fascism refers to political systems prior to the Fascist ideology which had fundamental similarities to it. Para-Fascist ideologies (ideologies influenced by Fascism) differ in terms of National spirit and certain particularities (race, cultural attitudes), Crypto-Fascist ideologies differ in terms of their ability to come to terms with the nature of the body politic, but Ur-Fascism forever recognizes the potential strength of the state and governing forces, through which Fascism actualizes itself on some level, again and again.