What is Fascism

Updated: May 4

Pp. 344-353 Schneider, H. W. (1928). Making the Fascist state. New York: Oxford University Press.

We see two Italy’s before us — one old and one new, the Italy of centuries, which is our glory as well as our sad heritage, weighing on our shoulders and spirits, and which is also, we may say it frankly, a shame from which we seek to hide and for which we must make amends. . . .For us this Italy is dead; but thanks to heaven, there is another. And one may say in a certain sense, as I shall now explain that the first Italy has been dead for two hundred years. But it is not so dead that from time to time we do not find it before our eyes even today in this year of grace 1925. There are still too many people in Italy who believe in nothing and laugh at everything, who sigh for Arcadia and other academic visions and who turn bitterly on anyone who disturbs their digestion, But this style type of spiritual temperament, that does not dare because it does not belie, that flees from enthusiasm because it sees no advantage in sacrifice, that measures national fortunes by individual well-being, that always looks to walk on the ground, never to compromise itself, never to get heated, that leaves ideals to poets, to women or even to philosophers, and that willingly lays aside any question that might endanger the peace and quiet of life, that likes to joke about everything and everybody, that always throws the cold water of prose on the enthusiasms of poetry and advises moderation at all costs and shows a holy horror of polemics and violence, that harbors closely all the maxims of egoism, reflects on them, studies and understands them, and takes them bodily as the quintessence of foresight and wisdom; is not all this for too many persons still the non plus ultra of the refinement characteristic of Italians. There are Masons who, as we know ran their notorious lay principles into the ground, being neither for religion nor against it; but also outside the Masons, how many Italians are there who still prefer to be silent on religious matters and who are reticent and ashamed at revealing and defending their own convictions when they have any? All this is the old Italy the Italy of individualism, the Italy of the Renaissance.

The personification of Italian patriotism that has given us a country, the person to whom we always turn with reverent and grateful minds, because he was the highest and most genuine prophet of the Risorgimento, the Ezekiel of the new Italy, which thanks to him has finally arisen among the nations and now stands on its feet and knows and asserts that it too is in the world, with its duties but also with its rights, and that it will not fall, will no longer lie low for the old Italy of which we have spoken, if it is not yet entirely dead, must die — this man was Giuseppe Mazzini.

Fascism has returned to the spirit of the Risorgimento with the greater vigor, which it derived from its fresh consciousness of the great trial borne so honorably by the Italian people and of their certainty in their capacity to fight and win and really to amount to something in the history of the world. It has returned with an impulse that tolerates no frivolity and no baseness, with an irrepressible ardor for arousing the nation from its recent, and to be sure momentary, mental darkness and brutishness, in order that the fruit of the immense sacrifice might not be lost, in order that the place, finally deserved and already almost reached, of a great power or of a nation that has its own will, might not be lost from view but might become the object of this will, to be one and to be maintained intact.

The story is really too simple that explains the origin of a political and moral or, in general, a spiritual movement, as a simple contrast or negation of a preceding movement. From nothing nothing comes; and from the democratic mire in which no germ was hidden, it would never be possible to see any plant sprout and grow, nor any vital germ of political renovation. The origins of fascism are different and much more complex than this schematic explanation of contrast to so-called bolshevism that spread through the political and social corruption of the aftermath of the War.

I have heard it said that fascism is not a doctrine and has no philosophy, that in opposing itself to the disintegrating forces of socialistic demagogy and mass rule, with the energy of a moral force whose large merit is being recognized and which all in fact seem disposed to admit, fascism Is returning to the liberal doctrine, to the liberal sane concept of the state strong and ready to subordinate all particular interests to the general Interest and to oppose the inviolable rule of law to the free will of individuals. I am not of this opinion, for above all I beware of confusing doctrine and philosophy with the systematic expositions that can be made verbally in well-constructed treatises; and I am convinced that the true doctrine is that which is expressed in action rather than in words or books, in the personality of men and in the attitudes which they assume in the face of problems; and this is a much more serious solution to problems than that of abstract dissertations, sermons and theories. A false theory. The true theory is always a practice, a form of life; it is the man himself involved not by a blind fatality of instinct, but by the conscious convictions and mature proposals coming from a sure intuition of the end he must follow; it is the man involved in a yes or no who is much more effective and of a much clearer affirmation or negation than speculative philosophy. What more decisive negation of the value of life could there be than suicide, and what more energetic affirmation of its value than the voluntary sacrifice of the citizen who dies for his country, which is the perpetuation of a concrete Ideal of life. Hence let us leave books aside and let us look at the animating ideas and the consequent significance of the facts that are before us in the great book of history which is much more imposing than even the most elaborate doctrinaire exposition; and first of all let us exclude the possibility that of all doctrines the fascist doctrine of the state coincides with the liberal doctrine.

Of which liberalism do we speak? I distinguish two principal forms of this doctrine: for one of which — I wish to use the very words used by Honorable Mussolini In his speech in the Costanzi Theatre — liberty is a right, and for the other it is a duty; for the one it is something to lean on, and for the other it is something to be won; for the one it is equality, for the other it is privilege and a hierarchy of values. One liberalism locates the root of liberty in the individual and hence opposes the individual to the state, which latter no longer has an intrinsic value but serves the welfare and perfection of the individual; a means and not an end. It limits itself to the maintaining of public order, thus remaining entirely outside the realm of spiritual life, which latter is enclosed in the inner realm of the individual consciousness. This liberalism is historically classical liberalism, of English origin, and I add immediately it is false liberalism, or contains only a half-truth. It was opposed among us by Mazzini by a criticism, which I hold immortal.

But there is another liberalism developed by Italian thought and by German, which declares this antagonism between state and individual absurd, observing how everything that has value in the individual and can pretend to be guaranteed and promoted, by the very fact that it stands as a right, has a universal bearing and expresses a higher will and interest than the will and interest of the single individual; it implies a common will and personality, which becomes the ethical substance of the individual. For this liberalism, liberty is to be sure the supreme end and rule of every human life; but in so far as individual and social education bring about its realization, actualizing this common will in the individual, it manifests itself as law and hence as state. Which is moreover not a super-structure that is externally imposed on individual activity and initiative, subjecting it to a restrictive coercion, but is its very essence, manifesting itself at the head of a continual process of formation and development; just as everything that is part of the greatness and glory of man is never a natural and immediate quality, but is the result of persevering effort whereby the individual, conquering his natural inclinations that drag him down, raises himself to the levels of his proper dignity. State and individual from this point of view are one and the same; and the art of governing is the art of reconciling and Identifying these two terms so that the maximum of liberty agrees with the maximum of public order, not merely externally but also and above all in the sovereignty assigned to law and to its necessary organs. For always, the maximum of liberty coincides with the maximum force of the state.

Which force? Distinctions In this field are dear to those who do not welcome this concept of force, which is nevertheless essential to the state, and hence to liberty. And they distinguish moral from material force: the force of law freely voted and accepted from the force of violence, which is rigidly opposed to the will of the citizen. Ingenuous distinctions, if made in good faith! Every force is a moral force, for it is always an expression of will; and whatever be the argument used — preaching or blackjacking — its efficacy can be none other than its ability finally to receive the inner support of a man and to persuade him to agree to it. . . . The material force to which I attribute a moral value — the context is clear — is not that of a private person but of the state. The blackjack of fascist squadrism was intended to be, and actually was, the vindicating force of a state whose constitutional powers were renounced and denied by its own central organs. It was therefore the necessary surrogate of the force of the state itself during a revolutionary period, when, according to the logic of all revolutions, the state was in crisis; its force was being gradually shifted from its fictitious and legal organs to its real organs, which, though illegal, tended toward legality.

There is violence and violence, and no fascist worthy of marching under our banners has ever confused the two. And whoever has confused them is unworthy of staying with us and will be expelled as soon as discovered. There is private violence, which is free will, anarchy, social disintegration; and unless fascism is a word without meaning, which not even our adversaries would admit, such violence has never found a more resolute, clear-cut and formidable enemy than fascism. But there is another violence, willed by God and by all men who believe in God, in order and in the law which God certainly wills for the world: the violence for which there is no equality between the law and the criminal, and which does not admit the latter freely to choose or accept or rather demand the punishment which, as a great philosopher has justly observed, is his right. The will of the law annuls the will of the criminal; that is, it is a holy violence. And, from Jesus down, men have always had recourse to acts of violence, which they firmly regarded as representing law, or a higher and universal interest. When a state was in crisis, there were always at hand men of the revolution who installed a new state. Fascism is a revolution.

We reached the point In Italy where even the etymology of state was forgotten in the general disappearance of the state. At least in relation to individual free will, the state must stand, must rule, as something firm, solid, unshakable. Law and force: Jaw that makes itself prevail and does not yield every time an individual does not like it and that does not turn to favor this or that particular group. And in order that the state may be this force, it must be power, internal and external, capable of realizing its own will — a rational or reasonable will, as are all those wills which cannot remain on the level of mere wishing, but transform themselves into act and triumph; but also a will which cannot admit others as limiting it; hence, sovereign, absolute will. The legitimate will of citizens is that which coincides with the will of the state, organized and made manifest by its central organs. In respect to international relations and foreign affairs, war, as a last resort, tests and guarantees the sovereignty of a single state in the system of history, to which all states belong. And in war, a state proves its own power, that is to say its own independence.

This state that seeks to be and actually is the only concrete will — for all others can be called wills only abstractly in so far as one overlooks the indissoluble ties by which each individual is bound to society, breathing as it were its atmosphere of language, custom, thought, interests and aspirations, — this state, I say, would not be a will, if it were not a person. For in order to will one must have the consciousness of what one wants, of the ends and means; and to have this consciousness one must first have self-consciousness, being distinguished from others and asserting one’s own independence as a center of conscious activity; in short, one must be a person.

But to be a person is to be a moral activity, an activity that wills and must will according to some ideal. And the state, which is the national consciousness and the will of this consciousness, derives from this consciousness the ideal at which it aims and toward which it directs all its activities. Hence, the state must inevitably be an ethical substance. Permit me this philosophical terminology. Its meaning will be transparent, if each of you will appeal to his own consciousness and feel the sacredness of the country, which commands you to serve it, by indisputable orders, without hesitation, without exception, even unto death. The state has an absolute moral value for us, as being the person by whose functions all others have a value, which in coinciding with that of the state also becomes absolute. Bear in mind: human life is sacred. Why? Because man is spirit, and as such has an absolute value. Things are instruments; men are ends. However, the life of a citizen must be sacrificed when the laws of the country demand it. Without these evident truths, which are imbedded in the hearts of all civilized men, there can be no social or human life.

An ethical state? The liberals object. . . . They claim that morality is to be attributed to the concrete individual, who is the only true will, the only personality in the true sense of the word; and the state is but an external limit on free individual personalities and reconciles their several activities so as to prevent any one of them from being carried out at the expense of others. This negative and empty conception of the state is decidedly rejected by fascism; not so much because it pretends to impose the state on the individual but because, according to Mazzini’s teaching, it is impossible to conceive individuals in atomistic abstraction and then to expect the state to mold them into an impossible synthesis. We regard the state as the very personality of individuals themselves, robbed of their accidental differences, removed from those abstract preoccupations with their particular interests which see and evaluate them independently of the general system in which their reality and the possibility of their actual effectiveness consists; a personality rooted in the deepest parts of its consciousness, where the individual feels the general interest as his and hence wills as with a general will. This consciousness which is realized and should be realized deep down in each one of us as a national consciousness in all its power, its legal forms and its political activities, this basis of our own personality, this is the state. And to conceive it as outside of the moral life is to deprive the individual himself of his moral substance. The ethical state of fascism is, of course, no longer the agnostic state of old-fashioned liberalism. Its ethical nature is spirituality, a conscious personality, a systematic will. What else is the state but the reconciliation and unity of will and law? Will is will when it is law, just as law is law only when it is will. Hence the individual realizes his own nature In so far as he forms a state and feels in the bottom of his own consciousness the incessant pulse of a universal ethical reality that transcends the boundaries of his abstract particular personality and just as it makes him face death when his country is in extreme danger, as if to make him find his own true self by losing his illusory being, so it makes him recognize every moment the powerful force of a law to which his lower instincts and passionate nature bow.

The state is the great will of the nation and hence its great intelligence. It ignores nothing and keeps aloof from nothing which touches the citizen’s interest, which is its own interest, neither in economics nor in morals. The state is neither a grand, facade nor an empty building: it is man himself, the house, built, inhabited, and enlivened by human joys, pains, and labors, by the whole life of the human spirit.

Is this state-worship? It is the religion of the spirit that has not been plunged into the abject blindness of materialism. It is the torch raised high by youthful fascist hands to kindle a great spiritual conflagration in this Italy, which, I repeat, has rescued itself and is fighting for its own redemption. But it cannot redeem itself unless it restores its inner moral forces; unless it becomes accustomed to conceiving all of life religiously; unless it revives the sound and manly simplicity of citizens ever ready without hesitation to serve the ideal, to work, live and die for their country, uppermost in their thoughts, venerated and sacred; unless it loves the militia and the school, which make a people powerful, and labor, the source of all national and private prosperity, the arena of will and character.

Fascism was the most uncompromising rebel against the myths and lies of internationalist socialism, of those who were without country and without duties, who offended the sense of right and hence of individuality in the name of an abstract and empty ideal of human brotherhood. Fascism fought the abstract, Marxian class conception of society, and tore down the antithesis by which the artificial myth of the class struggle was supported. Then too, fascism fought Marxism in what Mazzini with apostolic ardor had already fought — Mazzini, the prophet of our Risorgimento and in many aspects of his doctrine, the teacher of current fascism, — namely, the utilitarian, materialistic and hence egoistic conception of life, understood as a realm of rights to be vindicated, Instead of as an arena of duties to be performed by sacrificing oneself to an ideal. The fascist doctrine has the merit of fighting it precisely by Giuseppe Mazzini’s method: not by words and abstract theoretic arguments, but by deeds, by the ideal which is actualized and inculcated in youthful hearts.

We Fascisti remember and should remember Giuseppe Mazzini as our predecessor and as one of our forefathers. His thought has a pure breath of religious feeling. His ‘ people ’ is a term of an inseparable binomial: God and people; his people is bound in his mind to that absolute from which it is impossible to escape, through which politics becomes, as he said, a mission, that is, a religious life. Hence we fascisti turning back to find our model in the history of the Italy to which we are so passionately devoted, feel that in coming upon the austere figure of Giuseppe Mazzini we find the purest and brightest form of our faith and of our ideal. He was destined to arouse in the breast of Italians that young Italy which has arisen with fascism and which sings with us the hymn to eternal youth, to the springtime of life blossoming in faith and hope.

Gentlemen, fascism is a party and a political doctrine. But above all it is a total conception of life. It is impossible to be a fascist in politics and not in the school, not in one’s own family or office, Thus fascism embodies what may be called its own characteristic, namely, taking life seriously. Life is toil, effort, sacrifice, and hard work; a life in which we know perfectly well there is neither matter nor time for amusement. Before us, there always stands an ideal to be realized; an ideal, which gives us no respite. We have no time to lose. Even in our sleep, we must give account of the talents entrusted to us. We must make them yield fruit, not for us who are nothing, but for our land and country, for this Italy that fills our hearts with her memories and aspirations, with her joys and labors, that rebukes us for the centuries our fathers lost, but that comforts us by recent events when Italian effort produced a miracle, when Italy united in a single thought, a single sentiment, a single desire for sacrifice. And it was precisely the young men, the young Italy of our prophet, that were ready, that ran to the sacrifice and died for the country. To die for that ideal by which alone men can live and by which men may feel the seriousness of life. Modern man is at the crossroads. On the one hand is the liberty of the egoists that leads to anarchy and the ruin of those ideals in which man may find himself; on the other, the liberty of men who over and above their particular egos feel the power of the ideal, of country and family, of the state and law, of liberty not as an inherited privilege or free gift of the gods, but as something to be won by our efforts, out of which family, state and a higher law are created, and in which resides the world’s worth and the reward for our work. On the one hand, rights for those who have nothing to give to the world; on the other, duty for those who ask nothing of it. . . .

Fascism is war on Intellectualism. The fascist spirit is will, not intellect; and I hope I will not be misunderstood. Fascist intellectuals must not be intellectuals. Fascism is and should be an enemy without truce or pity, not against intelligence, but against intellectualism which is a disease of intelligence. For intelligence too is will, and fascism at least feels this, disdaining the culture that is an ornament or adornment of the brain and longing for a culture by which the spirit is armed and fortified for winning ever new battles. And this may be, this should be our barbarity, a barbarity moreover of intellectuals! Against science and above all against philosophy; but, of course, against the science and philosophy of decadents, of the spineless, of those who always stand at the window and are satisfied to criticize as if it were no affair of theirs! One of the major merits of fascism is this, to have obliged little by little all those who once stood at the window to come down into the streets, to practice fascism even against fascism. And when all Italians will have come down into the streets, and will think and reflect without any longer feeling the temptation to turn to the window, the Italian people will begin to be the great people that it should be.

Fascism is art, for it too is an original movement of the spirit and is not a deduction but a creation and even in action, it relies on a genial inspiration rather than on conclusions closely drawn by reasoning. Certainly, because of its spontaneity and originality fascism is art. But I should like to complete this definition. The artist himself is in fact a spirit, seeking and finding its liberty beyond this real world, where toil and pain exist, where an iron law binds the individual, and where a force weighs upon man which is ultimately superior to every natural or human force, which is called God or Fate, and which no will and no science can conquer. . . . Life is art, to be sure, but it is also religion. It is the exaltation of our creative powers, but also the sense of our limitations and of the existence of something, which we are not and which does not depend on us, something that besieges and impinges on us, that presses on us and that demands an account of what we are doing and what we are. This is the great force of religion, and hence fascism has instinctively welcomed religion, whose neglect in the past was but one among the many other signs of decadence in the old Italy. Fascism is a religion. Therefore, it has been able to reconsecrate in the hearts of Italians the war and the victory, though they had been vilely vituperated; therefore, it has reestablished a love of martyrdom for the ideal of our country; and therefore it stands invincible in the field while its unfit and base adversaries abuse it.

The school must be agnostic neither in religion nor in philosophy, for it dare not be agnostic in morals. Hence neither can it be agnostic in politics. Agnosticism is a suspension of judgment and a consequent refusal to take sides actively with any party. It is the separation of one’s personality from life. Now it is evident that a school, which takes this attitude instead of performing its essential function as an instrument and constructive activity of moral life, becomes instead a fatal organ of disintegration and destruction of all the fundamental energies of a people’s spiritual life.

Therefore, we are fighting, as we must, this other sort of secular education that seeks to banish politics from the school. ... To be sure, politics divides and the school should unite; it unites by nourishing that common humanity by which men understand each other and cooperate in building up those spiritual structures by which civilization is being realized. The school cannot participate in the daily battle of life, in the life of ever-fresh conflicts. But the school must prepare for this life; and first the child, and later still more the youth, must be accustomed to giving an ear to the noise of the battle, that is being waged outside the closed walls in which he is still permitted to grow, and that awaits him with its problems, its diverse and conflicting interests, destined however to be reconciled; he must occupy himself with these problems and must develop a firm will to solve them....

Hence, the school cannot be confined to grammar, to mathematics, or to any other material, that is a mere ornament or adornment of the intellect. The intellect can be developed only by developing personality. Hence, we must seek to understand all things and to love all things so far as it is true that to understand is to love. But love must always set out from a center and return to it; a center that is a point of view, a faith, a pillar on which the conscience may safely lean. . . . For this reason we need today a national Italian school, governed by a lively conception not so much of the rights as of the duties of the Italian people, and that is of every Italian. A conception not strictly and foolishly chauvinistic. But nevertheless firm and religious. And this is politics, a holy politics, and we intend that those who deny it be considered not as champions of broadmindedness and liberal-mindedness, but as vulgar and miserable profaners of that temple which we must jealously guard.

Liberty? Yes, she is the very goddess of the temple of which we speak; but liberty, as you know, is no one’s natural prerogative, but an ideal to be realized, a duty to be performed, the highest conquest to which man can aspire by means of self-abnegation and sacrifice.”

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