One hears murmurs against Mussolini on the ground that he is a desperado: the real objection to him is that he is a politician. Indeed, he is probably the most perfect specimen of the genus politician on view in the world today. His career has been impeccably classical. Beginning life as a ranting Socialist of the worst type, he abjured Socialism the moment he saw better opportunities for himself on the other side, and ever since then he has devoted himself gaudily to clapping Socialists in jail, filling them with castor oil, sending blacklegs to burn down their houses, and otherwise roughing them. Modern politics has produced no more adept practitioner.
H.L. Mencken, “Mussolini”, Baltimore Evening Sun, 1931-08-03.
September 9, 2016
August 13, 2016
The declared portion of the Spanish Civil War lasted from 1936 to 1939. It has passed into legend among Western leftists as a heroic struggle between the Communist-backed Republican government and Nazi-backed Franco, one that the good guys lost. The truth seems rather darker; the war was fought by two collections of squabbling, atrocity-prone factions, each backed by one of the two most evil totalitarianisms in human history. They intrigued, massacred, wrecked, and looted fairly indiscriminately until one side collapsed from exhaustion. Franco was the last man left standing.
Franco had no aspirations to conquer or reinvent the world, or to found a dynasty. His greatest achievements were the things that didn’t happen. He prevented the Stalinist coup that would certainly have followed a Republican victory. He then kept Spain out of World War II against heavy German pressure to join the Axis.
Domestically, Spain could have suffered worse. Spanish Fascism was quite brutal against its direct political enemies, but never developed the expansionism or racist doctrines of the Italian or German model. In fact it had almost no ideology beyond freezing the power relationships of pre-Republican Spain in place. Thus, there were no massacres even remotely comparable to Hussein’s nerve-gassing of Kurds and Shi’as, Hitler’s Final Solution or Stalin’s far bloodier though less-known liquidation of the kulaks.
Francisco Franco remained a monarchist all his life, and named the heir to the Spanish throne as his successor. The later `fascist’ regimes of South and Central America resembled the Francoite, conservative model more than they did the Italo/German/Baathist revolutionary variety.
One historian put it well. “Hitler was a fascist pretending to be a conservative. Franco was a conservative pretending to be a fascist.” (One might add that Hussein was not really pretending to be about anything but the raw will to power; perhaps this is progress, of a sort.) On those terms Franco was rather successful. If he had died shortly after WWII, rather than lingering for thirty years while presiding over an increasingly stultified and backward Spain, he might even have been remembered as a hero of his country.
As it is, the best that can be said is that (unlike the truly major tyrants of his day, or Saddam Hussein in ours) Franco was not a particularly evil man, and was probably less bad for his country than his opponents would have been.
Eric S. Raymond, “Fascism is not dead”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-04-22.
August 7, 2016
Pio Moa’s thesis is that the Spanish Civil War was not a usurping revolt against a functioning government, but a belated attempt to restore order to a country that had already collapsed into violent chaos five years before the Fascists landed in 1936.
I’ve studied the history of the Spanish Civil War enough to know that Moa’s contrarian interpretation is not obviously crazy. I had an unusual angle; I’m an anarchist, and wanted to grasp the ideas and role of the Spanish anarchist communes. My conclusions were not pleasant. In short, there were no good guys in the Spanish Civil War.
First, the non-anarchist Left in Spain really was pretty completely Stalin’s creature. The volunteers of the International Brigade were (in Lenin’s timeless phrase) useful idiots, an exact analogue of the foreign Arabs who fought on in Baghdad after Iraqi resistance collapsed (and were despised for it by the Iraqis). They deserve neither our pity nor our respect. Insofar as Moa’s thesis is that most scholarship about the war is severely distorted by a desire to make heroes out of these idiots, he is correct.
Second, the Spanish anarchists were by and large an exceedingly nasty bunch, all resentment and nihilism with no idea how to rebuild after destroying. Wiping them out (via his Communist proxies) may have been one of Stalin’s few good deeds.
Third, the Fascists were a pretty nasty bunch too. But, on the whole, probably not as nasty as their opponents. Perceptions of them tend to be distorted by the casual equation of Fascist with Nazi — but this is not appropriate. Spanish Fascism was unlike Communism or Italian and German Fascism in that it was genuinely a conservative movement, rather than a attempt to reinvent society in the image of a revolutionary doctrine about the perfected State.
Historians and political scientists use the terms “fascist” and “fascism” quite precisely, for a group of political movements that were active between about 1890 and about 1975. The original and prototypical example was Italian fascism, the best-known and most virulent strain was Naziism, and the longest-lasting was the Spanish nationalist fascism of Francisco Franco. The militarist nationalism of Japan is often also described as “fascist” .
The shared label reflects the fact that these four ideologies influenced each other; Naziism began as a German imitation of Italian fascism, only to remake Italian (and to some extent Spanish) fascism in its own image during WWII. The militarist Japanese fascists took their cues from European fascists as well as an indigenous tradition of absolutism with very similar structural and psychological features
The shared label also reflects substantially similar theories of political economics, power, governance, and national purpose. Also similar histories and symbolisms. Here are some of the commonalities especially relevant to the all too common abuse of the term.
Fascist political economics is a corrupt form of Leninist socialism. In fascist theory (as in Communism) the State owns all; in practice, fascists are willing to co-opt and use big capitalists rather than immediately killing them.
Fascism mythologizes the professional military, but never trusts it. (And rightly so; consider the Von Stauffenberg plot…) One of the signatures of the fascist state is the formation of elite units (the SA and SS in Germany, the Guardia Civil in Spain, the Republican Guard and Fedayeen in Iraq) loyal to the fascist party and outside the military chain of command.
Fascism is not (as the example of Franco’s Spain shows) necessarily aggressive or expansionist per se. In all but one case, fascist wars were triggered not by ideologically-motivated aggression but by revanchist nationalism (that is, the nation’s claims on areas lost to the victors of previous wars, or inhabited by members of the nationality agitating for annexation). No, the one exception was not Nazi Germany; it was Japan (the rape of Manchuria). The Nazi wars of aggression and Hussein’s grab at Kuwait were both revanchist in origin.
Fascism is generally born by revolution out of the collapse of monarchism. Fascism’s theory of power is organized around the ‘Fuehrerprinzip‘, the absolute leader regarded as the incarnation of the national will.
But…and this is a big but…there were important difference between revolutionary Fascism (the Italo/German/Baathist variety) and the more reactionary sort native to Spain and Japan.
Eric S. Raymond, “Fascism is not dead”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-04-22.
July 5, 2016
May 28, 2016
Published on 12 Apr 2016
The rebirth of Germany and growth in power of the Nazi Party leading up to the outbreak of war. Interviewees include Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin, Werner Pusch and Christabel Bielenberg.
March 27, 2016
If I could eliminate one thing about the Internet, it would be Godwin’s law. Why? It’s made it next to impossible to make actual comparisons about what is probably the best documented instance of the rise of a populist dictator. The instant the magic words come out, any semblance of rational discussion gets defenestrated and the next thing you know people are shouting past each other and the whole thing dies.
Consider: a nation whose people were known for hard work, for pride in their achievements, who — not without justification — saw themselves as having been betrayed by wealthy elites. Their savings were wiped out by what appeared to them to be a combination of malice on the part of the same wealthy elites who claimed they were shameful warmongers and financial mismanagement. Despite what they were being told, they could see themselves losing ground and becoming less well-off than their parents and grandparents had been.
Simply put, these people were immensely vulnerable to a charismatic populist willing to tell them that they had every right to feel betrayed; that they had been betrayed; and that he was going to change all this and make them a great people and a great nation again.
Sound familiar? It should: there are two populist demagogues spinning their separate flavors of this particular scenario through the USA right now. One of them has deployed rioters against the other, although it’s not impossible that the whole thing was staged the way the early NSDAP supporters would pretend to be opponents of the party to set off violence that made the NSDAP look like the victim. It made for good copy, and gave their leader some really good material for those crowd-pleasing speeches he became famous for… before he became a synonym for evil.
Kate Paulk, “Down with Godwin”, According to Hoyt, 2016-03-16.
March 21, 2016
During the war, the Allied nations had been told that it was being fought to make the world safe for democracy; but when it was won they found that the opposite was true. Instead of being safe, democracy was left so rickety that one dictator after the other emerged from out of the chaos, to establish autocracies of various kinds in Poland, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria and Germany. These dictators held one thing in common — abhorrence of Bolshevism; therefore they stood in opposition, not only to the old democratic order, but also to the new Marxist order, which had taken root in Russia and which during the final lap of the war and throughout its aftermath threatened every non-Communist country.
Of the dictators, the one who attained the highest historical significance was Adolf Hitler (1889-1945): one of the most extraordinary men in history. He was born at Braunau-am-Inn on 20th April 1889. In the war he had risen to the rank of corporal, and after it he became the seventh member of an obscure political group in Munich, which called itself the “German Workers’ Party”. In 1923, when the French were in occupation of the Ruhr, and were fostering a Communist separatist movement in the Rhineland and a Catholic separatist movement in Bavaria, he sprang to fame. On 9th November, he and Ludendorff attempted a coup d’état in Munich, and although it failed, his trial was a political triumph, because it made him one of the most talked of men in Germany. During his imprisonment in the fortress of Landsberg am Lech, he wrote the first volume of his Mein Kampf.
Hitler was the living personification of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. As the one he raised Germany from out of the slough of degradation into which the Treaty of Versailles and the inflation which followed the French occupation of the Ruhr had engulfed her, and restored her national dignity and economy. As the other, he brutalized vast numbers of her people and made her name stink in the nostrils of the world.
He was a consummate psychologist and probably the world’s greatest demagogue, a man who could plumb to its deepest depths the irrational in human nature, and distil from the emotions of the masses potent political intoxicants. Above all, he had absolute faith in himself and a super-rational belief in his invincibility, which endowed him with an irresistible personal magnetism. As a statesman, his ability to sense and grasp the psychological moment for action was his outstanding gift. Once he said to Hermann Rauschning:
“No matter what you attempt, if an idea is not yet mature, you will not be able to realise it. I know that as an artist, and I know it as a statesman. Then there is only one thing to do: have patience, wait, try again, wait again. In the subconscious, the work goes on. It matures, sometimes it dies. Unless I have the inner, incorruptible conviction: this is the solution, I do nothing. Not even if the whole party tries to drive me to action. I will not act; I will wait, no matter what happens. But if the voice speaks, then I know the time has come to act.”
When that moment arrives, “When a decision has to be taken”, Goering once said to Sir Nevile Henderson, “none of us count more than the stones on which we were standing. It is the Fuehrer alone who decides.”
Rauschning, no flatterer of Hitler, writes:
“I have often had the opportunity of examining my own experience, and I must admit that in Hitler’s company I have again and again come under a spell which I was only later able to shake off, a sort of hypnosis. He is, indeed, a remarkable man. It leads nowhere to depreciate him and speak mockingly of him. He is simply a sort of great medicine-man. He is literally that, in the full sense of the term. We have gone back so far toward the savage state that the medicine-man has become king amongst us.
This rings true. Hitler was the product of the savagery of his age; he fitted it like a glove the hand. In this lay that inescapable power which made him the enchanter of the German people.
J.F.C. Fuller, The Conduct of War, 1789-1961, 1961.
March 13, 2016
I’m not Jewish. But I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich at an impressionable age. Years later, what I learned in that book made me into an anarchist. What it did much sooner than that was to instill in me the same sense of the Holocaust as the central moral disaster of the 20th century that the Jews feel. It left me with the same burning determination: Never again! Ever since, I have studied carefully the forms of political pathology behind that horror and attended even more carefully for any signs that they might be taking root in the West once again.
So, yes, I worried about Jörg Haider and Jean-Marie Le Pen; twitched a little at reports of a resurgence by the British National Front. But there was nothing in my country that whispered of resurgent fascism. Well, nothing outside hard-left-wing rhetoric, anyway.
(One of the minor things that cheeses me off about leftists is the loose way they throw around “fascist” as a term of abuse for anything they don’t like. This is at best naive and at worst dangerously stupid.)
Fascism has many structural characteristics that distinguish it from even the worst sorts of authoritarianism in the mainstream of U.S.’s political spectrum. One of these is the identification of a godlike Maximum Leader with the will of the people. A fascist society demands not just obedience but the surrender of the self to an ecstatic collective consciousness embodied in flesh by the Leader.
George Bush, whatever his faults — and I could list ’em from here to next Tuesday — is not a fascist, does not behave like a fascist, and (most importantly for my argument) does not elicit that kind of ecstatic identification from his supporters. Thus, calling Bush a fascist confuses run-of-the-mill authoritarian tendencies with a degree of power and evil of which he will never be capable.
Here’s where it gets more frightening. Fascisms happen because people begin by projecting their own fears, hope and desires on the Maximum Leader, and end by submerging themselves in the Leader’s will. Neither George Bush nor John McCain has ever inspired this kind of response. But Barack Obama…does. More effectively than any American politician in my lifetime. And that is a frightening thing to see.
Note: I am absolutely not accusing Barack Obama of being a fascist or of having the goals of a fascist demagogue. I am saying that the psychological dynamic between him and his fans resembles the way fascist leaders and their people relate. The famous tingle that ran up Chris Matthew’s leg. the swooning chanting crowds, the speeches full of grand we-can-do-it rhetoric, the vagueness about policy in favor of reinforcing that intoxicating sense of emotional identification…how can anyone fail to notice where this points?
Eric S. Raymond, “Why Barack Obama sets off my ‘Never Again!’ alarms”, Armed and Dangerous, 2008-06-30.
January 25, 2016
January 12, 2016
On 16 June 1941, as Hitler readied his forces for Operation Barbarossa, Josef Goebbels looked forward to the new order that the Nazis would impose on a conquered Russia. There would be no come-back, he wrote, for capitalists nor priests nor Tsars. Rather, in the place of debased, Jewish Bolshevism, the Wehrmacht would deliver “der echte Sozialismus”: real socialism.
Goebbels never doubted that he was a socialist. He understood Nazism to be a better and more plausible form of socialism than that propagated by Lenin. Instead of spreading itself across different nations, it would operate within the unit of the Volk.
So total is the cultural victory of the modern Left that the merely to recount this fact is jarring. But few at the time would have found it especially contentious. As George Watson put it in The Lost Literature of Socialism:
It is now clear beyond all reasonable doubt that Hitler and his associates believed they were socialists, and that others, including democratic socialists, thought so too.
The clue is in the name. Subsequent generations of Leftists have tried to explain away the awkward nomenclature of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party as either a cynical PR stunt or an embarrassing coincidence. In fact, the name meant what it said.
Hitler told Hermann Rauschning, a Prussian who briefly worked for the Nazis before rejecting them and fleeing the country, that he had admired much of the thinking of the revolutionaries he had known as a young man; but he felt that they had been talkers, not doers. “I have put into practice what these peddlers and pen pushers have timidly begun,” he boasted, adding that “the whole of National Socialism” was “based on Marx”.
Marx’s error, Hitler believed, had been to foster class war instead of national unity – to set workers against industrialists instead of conscripting both groups into a corporatist order. His aim, he told his economic adviser, Otto Wagener, was to “convert the German Volk to socialism without simply killing off the old individualists” – by which he meant the bankers and factory owners who could, he thought, serve socialism better by generating revenue for the state. “What Marxism, Leninism and Stalinism failed to accomplish,” he told Wagener, “we shall be in a position to achieve.”
Daniel Hannan, “Leftists become incandescent when reminded of the socialist roots of Nazism”, Telegraph, 2014-02-25.
December 31, 2015
December 10, 2015
Megan McArdle has toyed with the idea of classifying Donald Trump as a fascist, but is unwilling to go there for good and proper reasons:
Should we hunker down for America’s version of Mussolini/Hitler-style fascism, a la It Can’t Happen Here? Not quite. Douthat wrote a second column, pointing out the ways in which Trump is different from typical fascist leaders. Classical fascism is obsessed with tradition and secret knowledge, which feels backward in our modernist, diverse country.
The more important distinction, to my mind, is that Trump doesn’t have an organization so much as a mood.
Actual fascists, let us remember, were born out of a brutal world war that resulted in territorial losses, and left a lot of demobilized soldiers running around with dim economic prospects. Whatever your opinions on the war on terror, it is not the same scale as World War I, and it has certainly not left the U.S. in the kind of parlous condition in which Hitler and Mussolini were able to grow smaller radical groups into national mass movements. Trump himself doesn’t have that kind of dedication to his cause; just try to imagine him leading a coup, landing in jail, angrily penning The Art of the Struggle.
Implausible. Trump has far too much to lose, and too little to gain, to embrace truly revolutionary fervor.
Nor is he operating in a weak state with a short and spotty democratic history. The U.S. government has ticked along for going on 250 years, through multiple crises and an armed insurrection. Americans are pretty emotionally attached to its institutions, for all the complaints about them, and precisely because we are ethnically diverse, we tend to rest our national identity heavily upon our political institutions: not the expansionist “Drang nach Osten,” but the Constitution … the huddled masses yearning to breathe free … life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have failed many times to live up to our ideals, but we have never stopped professing them.
All this matters. The main problem with fascists, after all, is not that they have creepy cartelist economic notions and uncharitable immigration policies; the problem with fascists is that they had a tendency to go on killing sprees against neighbors, internal minorities and their political enemies. I don’t like Trump’s economic pseudo-policies, or anti-immigrant sentiment. But they are so far from Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy as to be differences in kind as well as degree. And America has neither the weak institutions nor the revolutionary organizations necessary for a Trump Reich to fester.
August 31, 2015
Two exhibitions in New York this season revisit memories of futures past: Nam June Paik’s “Becoming Robot” (which will be at the Asia Society until January 4) looks to a cybernetics-obsessed midcentury avant-garde, while the Guggenheim’s “Reconstructing the Universe” show of Italian futurist works (which has just closed) documented a movement that, while aesthetically quite distinct from Paik’s, is organized around the same essential vision: man’s aspiring to the condition of machine.
There are occasionally clever pieces: A seated Buddha contemplates a television-and-camera set-up that contemplates him back, the Buddha and his image on the screen suggesting an infinite feedback loop. A reclining Buddha stretches atop two television screens showing a video of a nude woman reclining in the same position. (Paik very often cuts to the root of the avant-garde sensibility: “How do we get some naked chicks in this?”) His robots are still interesting to look at, some of them primitive mechanical assemblages, some of them televisions and other electronic devices piled together anthropomorphically, though the contemporary commercially made robot toys on display for context are at least as interesting, their nameless creators liberated from such pressures as attend those who understand themselves as artists. Though it should be noted that the makers of the Micronaut robot toys I loved as a child were not entirely immune from the puerile sexual obsessions of the so-called avant-garde: This, for example, was on the market long before anybody ever exclaimed: “Drill, baby, drill!”
The Italian futurists, whose love for machines and violence and the machinery of violence and whose hatred of women would do so much to shape the aesthetics of fascism, foresaw a less sexy future than Paik’s, if one that was no less mechanical: Biplanes soar over the Roman Colosseum, cities are fitted together like clockworks, machinery everywhere is ascendant. By the time Mussolini makes his inevitable appearance, he, too, has been reduced to a piece of artillery, his face simply another item in the Italian arsenal, a big, fleshy cannonball.
One of the purposes of art, high or low, is to make visible the philosophical; the fascist understanding of society as one big factory or one big machine was expressed in futurist art.
Kevin D. Williamson, “Futures Trading: We are no longer thinking about the future because we believe we are there”, National Review, 2014-10-01.
August 17, 2015
If twentieth-century history teaches us anything, it’s that political religions spell trouble. Soviet Communism, Italian Fascism, and Nazism aren’t just called “political religions” by scholars today. In all three cases, observers at the time recognized and worried about the movements’ religious natures. Those natures were no accident; Mussolini, for instance, called his ideology “not only a faith, but a religion that is conquering the laboring masses of the Italian people.”
One reason that observers saw the great totalitarianisms as religious was that each had its idol: Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, and Lenin in Russia, followed by Stalin. Take Grigory Zinoviev’s description of Lenin: “He is really the chosen one of millions. He is the leader by the Grace of God. He is the authentic figure of a leader such as is born once in 500 years.” Stalin’s cult of personality was far more developed and sometimes explicitly idolatrous, as in the poem that addressed the despot as “O Thou mighty one, chief of the peoples, Who callest man to life, Who awakest the earth to fruitfulness.” And in Italy, writes the historian Michael Burleigh, “intellectual sycophants and propagandists characterised [Mussolini] as a prodigy of genius in terms that would not have embarrassed Stalin: messiah, saviour, man of destiny, latterday Caesar, Napoleon, and so forth.”
To point out these words’ uncomfortable similarity to the journalists’ praises of Obama is not to equate the throngs who bowed down to totalitarian dictators with even the most worshipful Obamaphiles. But the manner of worship is related, as perhaps it must be in any human society that chooses to adore a human being. The widespread renaming of villages, schools, and factories after Stalin, for example, finds its modern-day democratic parallel in a rash of schools that have already rechristened themselves after Obama, to say nothing of the hundreds of young sentimentalists who informally adopted the candidate’s middle name during the presidential race. Even the Obama campaign’s ubiquitous logo — the letter O framing a rising sun — would not have surprised the scholar Eric Voegelin. In The Political Religions (1938), Voegelin traced rulers who employed the image of the sun — a symbol of “the radiation of power along a hierarchy of rulers and offices that ranges from God at the top down to the subject at the bottom” — from the pharaoh Akhenaton to Louis XIV and eventually to Hitler.
Benjamin A. Plotinsky, “The Varieties of Liberal Enthusiasm: The Left’s political zealotry increasingly resembles religious experience”, City Journal, 2010-02-20.
February 13, 2015
During the past four centuries, we have seen the world in semi-Epicurean terms as a great and internally consistent machine. To understand it, we observe, we question, we form hypotheses, we test, we measure, we record, we think again. The results have long since been plain. In every generation, we have added vast provinces to the empire of science. We do not yet perfectly understand the world. But the understanding we have has given us a growing dominion over the world; and there is no reason to think the growth of our understanding and dominion will not continue indefinitely.
We reject supernatural explanations partly because we have no need of them. The world is a machine. Nothing that happens appears to be an intervention into the chains of natural cause and effect. We know that things once ascribed to the direct influence of God, or the workings of less powerful invisible beings have natural causes. Where a natural cause cannot be found, we assume, on the grounds of our experience so far, that one will eventually be found. In part, however, we reject the supernatural because there is no good evidence that it exists.
[…] It seems that Hitler was a convinced believer in the occult. He took many of his decisions on astrological advice. It did him no visible good. He misjudged the British response to his invasion of Poland. He was unable to conquer Britain or to make peace. His invasion of Russia, while still fighting Britain, turned his eastern frontier from a net contributor of resources to a catastrophic drain on them. He then mishandled his relations with America. So far as he was guided by the astrologers, I hope, before he shot himself, that he thought of asking for a refund. It was the same with Himmler. Despite his trust in witchcraft, he only escaped trial and execution by crunching on a cyanide capsule made by the German pharmaceutical industry.
Turning to practitioners of the occult, I see no evidence of special success. They do not live longer than the rest of us. However they begin, they do not stay better looking. Any success they have with money, or in bed, is better explained by the gullibility of their followers than by their own magical powers.
So it was with Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) — the “Great Beast 666,” or “the wickedest man alive.” He quickly ran through the fortune his parents had left him. He spent his last years in poverty. Long before he died, he had begun to resemble the mug shot of a child murderer. Whether his claims were simply a fraud on others, or a fraud on himself as well, I see no essential difference between him and the beggar woman who cursed me in the street. He had advantages over her of birth and education. But he was still a parasite on the credulity of others.
Sean Gabb, “[Review of] Crowley: Thoughts and Perspectives, Volume Two“, Libertarian Enterprise, 2014-05-18.