Friday 31 March 2017

The Doctrine of Fascism: Introduction!?

Orwell could not find a clear answer to the question of what Fascism was. Maybe he didn't try hard enough.

Benito Mussolini understood the question needed an answer. In a 1921 letter, Mussolini writes: "If Fascism does not wish to die or, worse still, commit suicide, it must now provide itself with a doctrine"; "[I]t is also a question of denying the silly tale that Fascism is all made up of violent men".

Ironies aside, allegedly coming straight from Il Duce, with the additional imprimatur of the Enciclopedia Italiana and its editor, philosopher and top fascist ideologue Giovanni Gentile, the 1932 essay "The Doctrine of Fascism" was meant as the authoritative answer.

That statement of principles was long overdue: ten years since Mussolini took power in 1922 (he founded the fascist movement in 1914). Fascist trains may have run on time. Ideas? Not so much.

The first problem those reading the article find is that the English translation, unlike the original, credits both Mussolini and Gentile as authors. Indeed, it's evident two obviously different and separate parts, cut and pasted together, so to speak, form the essay's body. This strongly suggests at least two people wrote it.

But, who wrote what? Should one credit "Mussotile"?

The fact that Gentile was a neo-Hegelian philosopher justifies a guess: he wrote the opening section (slightly over 3 pages long). He was Mussolini's ghost writer, attempting to make his boss sound smart.

Regardless, the second and more important problem is to understand those first pages. Here I'll comment only on them (next posts will cover the other two parts).

Actually, I'll outsource that to Schopenhauer. His opinion on Hegel (of which I learned from another blog) seems equally appropriate on Mussotile:
"[T]he most injurious result of Kant's occasionally obscure language is that it acted as exemplar vitiis imitabile; indeed, it was misconstrued as a pernicious authorisation. The public was compelled to see that what is obscure is not always without significance; consequently, what was without significance took refuge behind obscure language. Fichte was the first to seize this new privilege and use it vigorously; Schelling at least equalled him; and a host of hungry scribblers, without talent and without honesty, soon outbade them both. But the height of audacity, in serving up sheer nonsense, in stringing together senseless and extravagant mazes of words, such as had previously only been heard in madhouses, was finally reached in Hegel, and became the instrument of the most ponderous general mystification that has ever taken place, with a result which will appear fabulous to posterity, and will remain as a lasting monument of German stupidity."
Just replace "Hegel" for "Mussotile" and "German" for "Italian".


I've recently lost respect for intellectuals in general and philosophers in particular. Still, you have to give philosophers credit for something: they do excel in the art of put-down writing. I couldn't possibly match that.

For the life of me, I couldn't understand that extravagant maze of words, either. Maybe there's some reason why Fascism is hard to pin down, after all.

The ball is on your side, dear reader. If you read the essay, how did it go? Am I being too harsh? Can you explain in English what that section means?


  1. The fact that Gentile was a neo-Hegelian philosopher justifies a guess: he wrote the opening section (slightly over 3 pages long). He was Mussolini's ghost writer, attempting to make his boss sound smart.

    Here is my summary view and interpretation. However, it would take an article at least to unpack this.

    I believe your opinion is correct that Gentile is the likely author of the first section, which ends when Mussolini begins his historical narrative and interpretation. I don't see Mussolini having the background to write this, or being that astute a thinker. Gentile had the background and was astute enough to compose it.

    This intro is pretty simple to understand from the history of the Western intellectual tradition, the seat of which was in ancient Athens. The Greeks, if we can take Plato and Aristotle as guides, held that humans are social animals and civilized humans are superior to barbarians. The distinction is that the civilized life in cities, which were city-states (Greek polis, Latin civitas), as communities under law. In Latin orbs means the physical city in contrast to the citizenry as community, which is denoted by civitas. Polis can mean both.

    Gentile's conception of fascism is an outgrowth of the Greek polis and the Latin civitas as the basis for the modern conception of the state as an ordered social whole that acts like a person, e.g., in going to war, which is an expression of will not as collective or aggregate will but the will of the state as a political unit or whole, like an organism is more than the sum of its molecules or cells.

    Gentile took over the Hegelian view of the state as the locus of freedom under law that makes humans civilized and capable of expressing their potential, which Hegel got from the Greeks. So-called freedom outside the state (anarchism) would just be form of barbarism and a loosely knit state would be inefficient and ineffective. A classless socialistic state run on the basis of economics would be weak and ineffective, lacking in "spirit" as universal will and being without moral fiber.

    The four pillars of Western civilization are Greek thought, Roman law, Christianity, and modern science. (Gentile was a cultural Catholic even though he identified himself an atheist. Pope Francis just warned against being only a cultural Catholic and actually being an atheist at heart.) In the 19th century when Hegel and Marx were writing, these four had melded into Modernism.

    In the view, since humanity is a historical and geographical phenomenon time and place shape not only events but also humanity, and humans differ by group.

    Advanced groups are capable of coordinating individual will as group will to unfold the potential of the group and in achieving the goals of the group. The epitome of this is the modern state.

    For Hegel the epitome of the state at the time was the highly efficient and extremely effective Prussian state. This is Gentile's model.

    However, while Hegel would likely have recognized his influence on Gentile,I don't think that Hegel would have drawn the conclusions that Gentile did. But he would have understood them as the expression of a particular national "spirit"expressing itself at the time in Italy. This is what Gentile means by "spiritual."

    We speak of a "spirited steed." Gentile would've been thinking in those term rather than some mystification. Geist in German can also be translated as "mind."


  2. continuation

    For Hegel, universal will is the drive of the spirit that is expressed in and through the state, in contrast to subjective will as the willing of the individuals that are its members. The universal will is greater than the sum of its parts. The universal will is often personified in the great man as leader for Hegel. This appears in Nietzsche as the Übermench on the model of the hero (think Napoleon), and in Gentile as l'uomo fascistica.

    While Hegel was not a "fascist," anymore than Plato or Aristotle were, or the medievals that believed in the divine right of kings, the basis is there for Gentile to develop.

    Importantly, Mussolini and Gentile were Italians and they connected the universal will of the state with ancient Rome and sought to recreate that glory. (Similarly, Hitler sought to establish a third empire, and Japan was already an empire with an emperor.)

    The term fascism comes from Latin fasces, meaning a bundle of rods. The rods were bundled around an axe and carried as a symbol of authority, signifying the authority to punish (rods) and execute (axe), which only the state has the authority to do under law. (Emperors are not bound by law because as the embodiment of the state, they are the law. Nixon: when the president does it, that means it's not illegal.)

    So Gentile's intro is a not so subtle philosophical attempt to ground the creation of a new Roman empire organized under the leadership of Il Duce (The Leader). The Nazis had a similar but somewhat different narrative, and Japan was already a traditional empire.

    Mussolini was a Caesar Augustus wannabe and Hitler a Carolus Magnus, Rex Francorum & Imperator Romanorum wannabe. (Charlemagne was crowned "Holy Roman Emperor" by the pope in St. Peter's in Rome and he made Aachen is imperial city).

    Mussolini and Hitler wanted a narrative legitimizing their claims as "The Leader" (Der Führer, Il Duce). Gentile provided a rationale for Mussolini.

    If the Axis had won, "emperor" was probably next, especially with Japan already having an emperor. BTW, if the Axis had prevailed it is pretty evident that there could be only on emperor, so it would have become a content between Hitler and Mussolini. Although a counterfactual, the outcome is pretty obvious, and not Il Duce. The enlarged Prussian state was much more efficient and effective.

    1. Thanks Tom.

      A bit to my surprise, I could understand your translation from neo-Hegelese into English. :-)

      By this I don't mean that I share Gentile's ideas (I don't), but if your translation is correct, at least there's something beyond mere words in Gentile to engage.

      I, however, will observe something. Taking only the relevant parts of your two comments (the second comment contains stuff about Hitler and Hirohito which, although interesting, Gentile didn't cover and therefore exceeds what a translation requires), you employed 790 words and 4,644 characters to convey some information.

      The Gentile section of "The Doctrine of Fascism" employed 1,911 words and 11,393 characters to convey essentially the same information (depending on how accurate your translation was).

      There's a lot of useless, empty, pompous verbosity in Gentile's text, no?

  3. tried my best. didnt work. it was italian to me.
    -- the oo