I do not see why man should not be just as cruel as Nature. ~ Adolph Hitler
The expansion of democracy intensified the reaction of authoritarians, whose rise to power in the early 20th century owed to certain circumstances and characteristics shared by the countries that embraced fascism, most notably Italy and Germany.
The aftermath of the 1st World War left Italy and Germany with a discontented populace, though for entirely different reasons.
In ridding itself of an old enemy – the Austro-Hungarian empire – Italy had benefited the most from the Great War. Italy was allowed to annex several provinces. As a counterbalance, a Yugoslavian state was created to limit Italian expansion in the Balkans.
Italy had suffered fewer casualties than Britain, and relatively minor damage compared to France. The social problems faced – reconverting from a war footing to civilian production, caring the for crippled, the new role of women – were common to other Allied countries. But other Western countries were not as inclined to authoritarianism as Italy was. Comfort with autocracy dates to Roman times and effuses Catholicism.
In negotiating treaties, the Italians had hampered themselves diplomatically by having representatives that did not speak English. Despite the territorial gains made, not having got all that they wanted, Italian politicians touted the negative aspects of the peace treaties, ignoring the positive ones. The myth of a “mutilated victory” spread, fanning immense discontent.
The debt imposed on Germany over World War 1 ruined its hope for recovery. Only after the US lent Germany huge sums of money was it able to recover. 1924 to 1929 became known as the “Golden Years”: a brief, bright interlude before the Wall Street crash in the autumn of 1929 reverberated through Europe, creating high unemployment and poverty in Germany once again.
Though they had some experience with democracy, both Italy and Germany had historic roots in authoritarian regimes. It was especially easy there to look to strongmen for leadership.
Unlike the authoritarianism of earlier centuries, fascism is a post-democratic political system: a reaction to the possibility, but perceived weakness, in democracy.
Fascism did not occur in nations lacking any democratic experience. Despotism may beset a country, as it did in Soviet Russia, but it lacks the mass enthusiasm that accompanies the ascent of fascism. Conversely, fascism never succeeded where democracy had taken hold and become part of the societal value system.
Fascists learned from democracy the value of popular support and sought its manufacture via a mixture of propaganda and terror. Fundamentalist Islamic groups now use the same formula in western Asia.
Fascism found its support in social groups at opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Reactionary landowners and industrialists financed fascists in the hope of getting rid of labor unions and radical political movements.
The lower classes that dreaded the prospect of proletarianization looked to fascism for salvation. In times of economic malaise, fascism appealed to the forgotten man. By putting such men into uniforms, incorporating them into an organized movement, fascism made them feel as if they belonged; a stark contrast to being adrift in a society that considered them castoffs.
Having failed to muster popular support, upon realizing the futility of achieving political dominance through legal means, Italian journalist and politician Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) managed, through cunning and ruthless violence, to seize power.
Mussolini’s master stroke was marching 30,000 fascists from all over the country into Rome, where they converged on 28 October 1922. The next day, the Italian king, who feared civil war otherwise, asked Mussolini to form a government, despite Fascists having only 35 of 535 seats in parliament.
The leading capitalists in the country believed they would be able to manipulate Mussolini, whose early speeches touted laissez-faire economics. They were sadly mistaken.
Mussolini had in mind total state power over businesses as well as individuals through corporatism: governing interests groups controlled by the Fascist party. Businesses retained their responsibilities of property but lost their freedom of operation.
Mussolini, who coined the term totalitarianism, destroyed all political opposition through his secret police, outlawed labor strikes, and consolidated power through a series of laws that transformed the Italy into a 1-party dictatorship, with himself at the despotic helm.
Until 1933, Mussolini was isolated. With the advent of the Nazi regime in Germany, an international league of fascists formed, later joined by Japan and lesser powers.
Mussolini’s hatred of democracy, and nations practicing it, threw him into the arms of Hitler, despite being anti-German his whole life. Italy joined with Germany in a political axis in October 1936.
Italy entered the war on the Nazi side in June 1940; just when, with the defeat of France, the war seemed to be over.
All those years of preparation for war were of no avail. The military weakness of Italian fascists was evident from their first battles.
Italy surrendered in September 1943. The king had already tossed Mussolini aside in July, just after the Allied invasion of Italy started.
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Austrian-born German Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) was the first national politician to speak out and take action against the 1919 Treaty of Versailles that subjected Germany to destitution after the 1st World War.
Hitler is the first man to tell every German what he has been thinking and feeling all along in his unconscious about German fate, especially since the defeat in the World War. ~ Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung
Hitler’s first attempt at a coup, the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, earned him 9 months in jail for treason. That experience led him to pursue power through legitimate means; the opposite of Mussolini’s strategy.
The onset of the Great Depression gave Hitler the opportunity he needed. Hitler craftily managed to acquire de facto dictatorship through legal means.
Close your hearts to pity. Act brutally. The stronger man is right. ~ Adolf Hitler in 1939
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The most characteristic feature of the fascist psyche was irrationalism: the distrust of reason, the emphasis on the sentimental and primal emotive essence of man. Fascism was the polar opposite of the western tradition of rationalism that reached back to ancient Greece.
All great movements are popular movements. They are the volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotions, stirred into activity by the ruthless Goddess of Distress or by the torch of the spoken word cast into the midst of the people. ~ Adolph Hitler
Love, by the enthusiasm it begets, can produce that sublimity without which there would be no effective morality. ~ Georges Sorel
In comprehending the power of myth, French political philosopher Georges Sorel (1847–1922) was a philosophic fount for the fascists that followed in his wake.
Sorel rejected science as simply a system of “fictions” fabricated to paste an idealized order on a reality that was instead inherently chaotic and irrational. Sorel saw human society as a disordered expression of irrationality. The Enlightenment coupling of technical progress with cultural progress was moral blindness; belief in human perfectibility pathetic.
Sorel rejected ideology as a glue that could bind men together. Beliefs can be shared by men who have basically nothing in common. The real ties are familial: the unchanging unit of moral life.
Borrowing from Marx, Sorel supported the idea of a political party for the working class, held together by their affinity as a social stratum. But Sorel considered Marx too deterministic. For Sorel, history was Hegelian: a drama in which men are authors and actors; above all, a struggle ripe with morality, even as events march independently of values.
Inspired by the militant trade union movement in France at the turn of the 20th century, Sorel theorized syndicalism as a replacement for capitalism: “a system of economic organization in which industries are owned and managed by the workers.”
The masses believe that they are suffering from the iniquitous consequences of a past which was full of violence, ignorance, and wickedness. They believe that democracy, if it were only free, would replace a malevolent hierarchy by a benevolent hierarchy. ~ Georges Sorel
Sorel viewed parliamentary government as the means by which middle-class bureaucrats hold power; the result of a democracy in which workers had not coalesced to power, and so had forsaken their opportunity to hold the reins.
How did these mediocre and silly people become so powerful? ~ Georges Sorel
Sorel advocated revolution as the only means for workers to take control. To galvanize revolt, Sorel suggested myth as motivation. For a worker’s party, Sorel saw a general strike – a simultaneous statement and seizing of power – as an actualizing myth.
As long as there are no myths accepted by the masses, one may go on talking of revolts indefinitely, without ever provoking any revolutionary movement. ~ Georges Sorel
Sorel saw the power that myths may have in fermenting fervor, by giving men a new vision of the world, and of themselves. Christianity was exemplary. This myth maxim was practiced by Mussolini and Hitler, in bending men’s minds to identify with the autocratic states they created.
We have created our myth. The myth is a faith, it is passion. It is not necessary that it shall be a reality. It is a reality by the fact that it is a goad, a hope, a faith, that it is courage. Our myth is the nation, our myth is the greatness of the nation! ~ Benito Mussolini
Sorel’s most famous work was Reflections On Violence (1908). Sprinkled with a few gems of insight, the treatise reveals Sorel in possession of a self-indulgent mind, rambling without cogency.
A social policy founded on middle-class cowardice, which consists in always surrendering before the threat of violence, cannot fail to engender the idea that the middle class is condemned to death, and its disappearance is only a matter of time. Thus, every conflict which gives rise to violence becomes a vanguard fight. ~ Georges Sorel
Sorel’s ideal of violence as a creative force is sociopathic. Though erudite, Sorel echoed the irrationality that he perceived pervading mankind.
The mood of fascism was fanaticism, not skepticism. During the Italian fascist regime, Mussolini’s picture hung in every school classroom with the caption “Mussolini is always right.”
Humanitarianism is the expression of stupidity and cowardice. ~ Adolph Hitler
Fascism mocked the moral universe of Western tradition. It not only accepted inequality, it affirmed it as an ideal. The code of fascist behavior was violence and deceit.
Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it. ~ Adolph Hitler
No bones were made about the fascist state being totalitarian.
For the Fascist, everything is in the State, and nothing human or spiritual exists, much less has value, outside the State. ~ Benito Mussolini
The corporate state was the defining economic feature of fascism. The economy was organized by state-controlled associations.
In international relations, racialism and imperialism expressed the fundamental fascist values of inequality and violence. World peace had no place.
War alone brings up to their highest tension all human energies and puts the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to meet it. ~ Benito Mussolini
Fascism was not a political philosophy in any sense. It was instead, quite simply, the expression of a will to power at all costs. As such, fascism was nothing more than an age-old tendency in politics, held in check only by institutions and societal values that forbid it. As traditional restraint systems failed, fascism filled the void via the men who could compellingly convey its myths.
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The close of the 2nd World War by no means meant fascism was a spent political force. Fascism is a reactionary impulse expressed politically, and therefore ever a temptation to a desperate people.