The Fascist Attempt at Anti-Semitism Explained
The doctrinal attempts to provide a rationale for anti-Semitic legislation introduced to curry favor with National Socialist Germany were almost uniformly inept. They were attempts to graft on to the Neo-idealism of Fascist philosophy the imported cuttings of a mystical and biological racism. That such an attempt was made was the consequence of the increasingly intimate alliance with, and ultimate dependence upon, National Socialist Germany. In discussions with Ciano, Mussolini indicated that he was convinced that the “theories of Rosenberg” could not, under any circumstances, survive the war. To Spampanato he further confided:
The Manifesto on Race could have been avoided. It is a scientific abstruseness of certain scholars and journalists, a German text translated into bad Italian. It is a long way from anything I have said, written, or singed in fact. I suggest you look at the back issues of Il Popolo d”Italia. I have always considered the Italian people an admirable product of diverse ethnic fusions on the basis of a geographic, economic, and especially spiritual unity. It has been the spirit which has put our culture on the by-ways of the world.
The attempt to incorporate biological racism into Fascism revealed the extent of the differences which separated Fascism as a mature ideology from National Socialism. The political alliance with National Socialist Germany, furthermore, provoked the development of a Biologism latent in the writings of some nationalists. They sought to make race the principle repository of value, thereby threatening to subvert Fascism’s entire rationale. Mussolini apparently surrendering to what he conceived to be the political necessities generated by the alliance with National Socialist Germany, had neither the will nor the disposition to control the situation. The alliance with Germany was of prime political importance and in its service Mussolini permitted the ideological coherence of Fascism to be, in considerable measure, compromised. The gradual growth of German influence in this sphere of doctrinal elaboration was completely inimical to Fascist idealism. Gentile for example, had befriended Jewish scholars driven from Germany and had even assisted some of them to escape from Italy when anti-Semitic persecutions began. He was among the few men in Fascist Italy who remained assiduously aloof from Anti-Semitism and who, at considerable personal risk, ventured to manifest his objections by applying public homage to his Jewish teacher Alessandro D’ Ancona in 1941, when the anti-Semitic campaign was well under way.
There is little doubt concerning Mussolini’s personal convictions. Mussolini’s personal relationship with Jews evidenced little systematic bias. His friendship with Angelica Balabanoff and Margherita Sarfatti was intimate and enduring. Aldo Finzi was a member of Mussolini’s first cabinet and Guido Jung was his Minister of Finance for many years. There were Jews present at the foundation of the Fascist Party in March, 1919, and Jews served in many leading positions in the State. In 1941, Mussolini himself indicated that he could not forget that four of the seven founders of Italian Nationalism were Jews. He had personally interceded with Hitler on behalf of Henri Bergson and had “Aryanized” a number of Italian Jews for valor. Long after the promulgation of Fascist anti-Semitic legislation Jews continued to occupy important official and unofficial positions in Italy.
Mussolini’s anti-Jewish attitude was dictated not by theoretical but almost solely by tactical, i.e., political, considerations. Like most nationalists he did oppose political Zionism because of its threat of dual loyalties. He was suspicious of any community within the body politic which maintained exclusive institutions. But by the middle of 1936, Mussolini felt that the Jewish issue had become one of singular political importance because of Hitler’s intransigence. Mussolini had attempted, in 1933, to convince Hitler that State Anti-Semitism was dangerous and that while
… every regime has not only the right by the duty to eliminate from posts of command elements in which it does not have complete trust, it is not necessary, in fact it can be disastrous, to make a question of Race-Semitism and Aryanism-that which is simply a measure of defense…
When he failed to convince Hitler, he decided to accommodate, the National Socialists by introducing anti-Semitic legislation in Italy as evidence of his good faith. He conceived it an offering calculate to solidify the Italo-German alliance.
There is no doubt that Mussolini’s decision to introduce…State Anti-Semitism into Italy was determined, essentially, by the conviction that it was necessary to eliminate every marked difference in the politics of the two regimes in order to render the Italo-German alliance infrangible.
It is not the purpose here to pursue the character of Fascist anti-Semitic legislation. For the purposes of perspective, it is only necessary to indicate that Fascist Anti-Semitism “had its own specific characteristics and could absolutely not be put on the same level as that of Germany, not that of its other satellites, including Vichy France.” Fascist Anti-Semitism was tactical-and a certain measure of bad conscience seems to have attended anti-Jewish measures. There is ample evidence that well into 1943, Italian officials (with Mussolini’s connivance) systematically obstructed National Socialist attempts to transport Jews out of Fascist occupied territory. Rosenberg lamented that Mussolini had protected Jews, and the Fascist intransigents denounced him to Goebbels for entertaining injudicious tolerance for Jews and Freemasons. An Anti-Semitism which singled out individuals for discrimination solely on the basis of their membership in a putative biological community was incompatible with the social and political values with which Mussolini had identified Fascism. The attempts to provide a doctrinal rationale created serious theoretical tensions in the systematic ideology of Fascism. Discriminatory racial legislation could be most convincingly vindicated by an appeal to collective biological values-group superiority or inferiority. And yet Mario Missroli, in the article on the race issue specifically recommended by Mussolini, maintained that
… the highest spiritual values are a conquest of conscience, the consequence of effort and perpetual choice and, as such, are not determined by natural fact, for should such be the case nature would subordinate spirit, which would be manifestly contrary to the ethics of Fascism, founded as it is upon the absolute and incontestable supremacy of the will and moral responsibility.