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Mussolini and the Quadrumviri in the March on Rome

Force and Consensus

Challenging reflections on the relation of force and consensus by the founder of Fascism.

Translated by John Bruce Leonard

TRANSLATOR’S NOTE AND COMMENTARY: The following article, a response to the early detractors of Fascism, was penned by Mussolini in May of 1923, several months after the March on Rome and Mussolini’s subsequent appointment to the Prime Ministry by the King, and several months before the Acerbo Law, which fully established the Fascist dictatorship. The article was originally published in the journal Gerarchia (Hierarchy), which Mussolini founded upon his rise to power in 1922, and which stopped printing only with Mussolini’s fall in 1943.

So far as the translator has been able to discern, this piece is not presently available in English translation, though portions of it can be found in various English books on Fascism. It is impossible to imagine it has never been translated in full, but the historical interest of the piece alone warrants its republication in a more available form.

Given the confusion presently surrounding Fascism – not least because of the inappropriate and flagrantly derogatory use the word suffers in our current discourses (viz. the ‘tawdry tricks’ which Mussolini mentions) – it is of interest to note Mussolini’s swift dismissal of ‘half-defunct socialism’. There is a tendency on the conservative right to conflate Italian Fascism and socialism, seeing them both as ‘left-wing’ phenomenon. This is historically untenable for many reasons, but Mussolini’s clear denial of any such unity is most informative.

Liberalism today is presented as the single legitimate form of government; Mussolini’s words demonstrate that this hubris is nothing new. It is characteristic of liberalism to consider itself the ‘end of history’ or, to use Mussolini’s description, the ‘final word, ... the definitive formula’. As Mussolini indicates here, the existence of Fascism is proof that other forms of government are possible. Soviet Communism eventually collapsed under its own weight, but Fascism was forcibly eradicated, which means that its feasibility as a form of rule was never disproven by ‘history’. This is surely part of the reason that fascism is today opposed with so much more ferocity than communism – and why the attacks on it inevitably shift from the practical or economic plane, to the moral.

We pose as an open question what Mussolini’s reference to the ‘triumphant beast’ toward the end might refer to. It cannot be written off as mere rhetorical flourish, for even if it is rhetorical, its power depends on its possessing a referent, if perhaps only a vague one, in the minds of Mussolini’s readers. This referent may have differed between the common readers and those informed about the affairs of the day.

Italian liberalism, thought to be the unique repository of authentic, immortal principles, is surely remarkably akin to our half-defunct socialism, since the former, just as the latter, believes that it ‘scientifically’ possesses an indisputable truth, good for all times, places and situations. This is absurd. Liberalism is not the final word, it does not represent the definitive formula in the art of governing. In this delicate and difficult art, which works the most refractory and mobile of materials, since it works on the living and not on the dead – in this art, there is no Aristotelian unity of time, place and action.1

Freedom is not an end; it is a means. As a means, it must be controlled and dominated.

Men have been more or less happily governed in a thousand different ways. Liberalism is the result and the method of the nineteenth century, which was not a stupid century, as Daudet opines,2 because there are no stupid centuries or intelligent centuries; intelligence and stupidity alternate with one another, in greater or lesser proportions, in every century. It is not obvious that liberalism, this method of government fit for the nineteenth century – for a century, that is, dominated by the two essential phenomena of the rise of capitalism and the affirmation of the sentiment of nationalism – should necessarily be fit to the twentieth, which already appears with characteristics quite different from those that defined the previous century. Facts are worth more than books; experience, more than doctrine. Now, the greatest experiences of the post-war period, those emerging3 beneath our very eyes, signify the defeat of liberalism. In Russia and in Italy, it has been demonstrated that it is possible to govern outside of, above and against the entire liberal ideology. Communism and Fascism both stand outside of liberalism.

But in what does this liberalism finally consist – this liberalism which today, more or less obliquely, inflames all the enemies of Fascism? Does liberalism mean universal suffrage and the like? Does it mean keeping the Parliament permanently open, that it might continue to offer that indecent spectacle which had so aroused the general nausea? Does it mean permitting, in the name of freedom, that the few have the freedom to kill the freedom of all? Does it mean opening the doors to those who declare their hostility to the State and who actively work to demolish it? Is this liberalism? Well, if this is liberalism, it is a theory and a practice of abjection and ruin. Freedom is not an end; it is a means. As a means, it must be controlled and dominated. Here enters the question of ‘force’.

The liberal gentlemen will please tell me if ever in history there has been a Government based exclusively on the consensus of the people, a Government which renounced every use of force. Such a Government has never been, and will never be. Consensus is as mutable as the formations of the sand on the banks of the sea. There cannot always be consensus. Consensus can never be total. No Government has ever existed which has contented all of those it governed. Whatever solution you happen to provide for this or that problem, you – even were you granted a divine wisdom! – will inevitably create a category of malcontents. If not even geometry has been able to do it, still less can politics square the circle.

Given as axiomatic that any and all Government provisions will create malcontents, how will you stop this disaffection from running rampant through the State and constituting a danger to the same? You will stop it with force. By accumulating the maximum degree of force. By employing this force inexorably, when such is necessary. Rob all force from a Government – and I mean physical force, armed force – and leave it with nothing but its immortal principles, and that government will be at the mercy of the first organized group determined to tear it down. When a group or a party is in power, it has the duty to fortify itself and defend itself against all.

Let it be known, therefore, once and for all, that Fascism knows no idols, it adores no fetishes.

The manifest truth, which by now stands before the eyes of everyone who has not blindfolded himself with dogmatism, is that men are perhaps even tired of their freedom. They have made an orgy of it. Freedom is today no longer the chaste and severe virgin for whom the generation of the first half of the last century fought and died. For those intrepid, restless and hard youths, rising in the morning twilight of this new history,4 there are other words that exercise a greater fascination, and they are: order, hierarchy, discipline. This impoverished Italian liberalism, which goes about everywhere groaning and struggling for greater freedom, is singularly tardy. It stands completely outside the realm of comprehension and possibility. There is talk of seeds on the brink of spring. Bosh! Some seeds die beneath the winter snowfall. Fascism, which was not afraid to call itself reactionary back when many of the current liberals were lying prone before the triumphant beast, is not ashamed today to declare itself illiberal and antiliberal. Fascism will not be the victim of tawdry tricks.

Let it be known, therefore, once and for all, that Fascism knows no idols, it adores no fetishes: it has already passed over – and, if such be necessary, will calmly pass over once again – the more or less mouldering body of Goddess Liberty.

References

1Reference to the so-called ‘classical unities’ or ‘Aristotelian unities’ – the unity between action, time, and place – which were held to establish the standards for tragic poetry or plays. In truth, there is little of Aristotle about them; the theory developed in the Renaissance. That aside, Mussolini’s point is that the political theoreticians of his time have been treating politics as a drama piece, applying a totally ‘abstract’ theory to the practice of political life. But politics are not the product of rationality, and Italy is not a set piece.

2Reference to Léon Daudet (1867–1942), author of the provocatively named Le Stupide XIXe Siècle (1922), translated into English in 1928 as The Stupid Nineteenth Century.

3Italian: quelle che sono in istato di movimento sotto i nostri occhi, lit. ‘those that are in a state of movement beneath our very eyes’. Istato di movimento is the same phrase that Mussolini used to describe the material upon which government works, hereabove rendered as ‘mobile’.

4The idea of a ‘new history’ was quite literal, and generally resonated with the Italians of that period. It should be recalled that in 1926, the Fascists introduced a new calendar, based on the Era Fascista, and beginning on 29 October, 1922, the date of Mussolini’s accession to the Prime Ministry. As is only fitting, the years of the new calendar were indicated with Roman numerals.

This Post Has 13 Comments
    1. It is in the nature of idols to (or, at least, pretend to) stand outside history, I don’t think Mussolini considered the State outside history. The State is a technology, an instrument, a means. In this essay, Mussolini is pointing out that the most salient feature of the State is its monopoly on force.

      I find Mussolini’s construction of the problem of governance in a ‘liberal’ social-political order quite subtle and useful. Mussolini describes ‘freedom’ in a way similar to the ‘play of signification’ in deconstruction in that ‘freedom’ has no *internal* mechanism for stopping its proliferation (except self-destruction).

      Mussolini posits ‘force’ as the mechanism that stops the proliferation of freedom, in the same way that the authorial decision to select a specific meaning for a word stops the ‘play of signification’.

      In my interpretation of Mussolini’s model of the State, ‘governance’ emerges as the way in which the State uses force (and not just physical force, though that is Mussolini’s concentration in this essay) to throttle or direct the flow of ‘freedom’ to desirable ends for the majority of ‘subjects’ of the State.

      1. I didn’t see this article exactly like that but, thanks to your post, I now do. Because Liberalism (in Gentile’s manifesto) posited the masses against the minority state, Liberals would always win more freedom until chaos do us part. The problem is that Liberalism has no final end state or goal. It is a process rather than a state or “status quo” and because of that, it will never find peace until it orchestrates its own destruction and another dictator, king, emperor or even suprahuman Man-God appears to rectify the situation. I think Mussolini saw himself as such a character (and he probably was) and so, of course, Mussolini and Fascism were entirely within historical precedent. America’s Founders actually saw things no different : when the people become mean and vicious, the republic will end. “It’s a republic, if you can keep it.” Most democratic republics end this way. I think ours (America) is too.

  1. IMO, the “triumphant beast” would be Liberalism as well as its progeny, socialism. In Giovanni Gentile’s view, the Risorgimento had yet to transcend its Liberal origins to complete its historic task as Evola might also have seen it: the complete regeneration of society, including its economy and gov’t, into a modernized yet feudal sort of hierarchy suited to Industrialization. Every generation of Liberals had extracted more freedom from gov’t which was inevitable in mass politics. Giolitti was the contemporary embodiment as well as the “recombinazione” and “transformismo” which actually characterizes corrupt America politics today. The First World War was a triumph of the Nation in its primitive, pure form and the basis for a new Warrior-Priestly caste system of sorts as opposed to the Liberal-Socialist “Disillusion” decadence and nihilism of the era which held that all war was meaningless and so, too, was struggle and even human life. Fascism was still too Liberal for Evola, remaining a mass political movement rather than a strictly hierarchical one, but it was a step away from the “triumphant beast”, Socialism or Communism, which had infiltrated Liberalism and destroyed whatever virtue remained from the Ancient Regime. Fascism intended to restore order, a national center-self, by destroying its enemies and allowing the process to generate a new order without prejudice or bias, “fetishes or idols”. To paraphrase Ernst Salmon, ‘we didn’t know what we wanted but we knew what we had and that it was a failure’ (something like that) National Socialism also had this idea, that destroying what was rotten would bring about something new and good so long as everyone went forward ‘with the confidence of a sleepwalker”. This is, actually, historically prescient since the results of most major movements are actually unintended. As Clausewitz wrote, if the results of wars were predictable, no one would fight them. This is why old enemies rarely die, because the victor rarely wins much beyond “disarming the enemy” unless the war is properly thought out to begin with, and most aren’t. War, in fact, is very limited in what it can accomplish and even more so, now, with the improved Technics of killing. Today’s victories will be accomplished “by other means”. (Ha!)

  2. Trump is no Mussolini! As far as I am concerned, I almost suspect that Hillary Clinton manipulated Trump into running against her. And why would she do so? Of course, to make herself seem good by contrast. Trump was, and is, her German boy. He tries to hard to play the Hollywood Nazi, especially with all his racist gaffes.

    Still, the Russians– being the only Nation in Europe that Americans hate, as much as Americans hate Germany– decided to take advantage of the situation, by hacking the election, getting Trump in the Oval Office. Putin, being more clever than Clinton, foiled the latter’s plan. Now, it would seem, Trump is desperate to get impeached! That is precisely why he does the stupid things he does!

  3. I must take issue with Mr. Leonard’s introductory remarks. And my disagreement arises from his use of the false political continuum that dates back to the French Revolution. Today’s version of it holds that communism lies to the far left and fascism to the far right. The fact that this version is widely accepted does not change the fact that it is nonsense. The only truly useful spectrum has absolute freedom to the far left (or right, the direction is just as arbitrary today as it was in the French Assembly of 1789) and totalitarianism, in all its forms, to the far right. Only this spectrum makes sense—a progression from total individual freedom to total government control. Thus to the far right lie both communism and fascism, their only significant difference, Marxist jargon not withstanding, being that the communists were internationalists and appealed to patriotism only secondarily while the fascists made patriotic nationalism the primary basis for their appeal. As a result of their patriotic appeals, neither the Italian Fascists nor the German Nazis needed to seize control of businesses to the extent that the Bolsheviks did. That fact did not make them any less socialistic, however. (It is “a half-defunct socialism” that Mussolini complains about, not a fully functional one.) For both the communists and fascists wanted the same thing—namely, total political and social control over their populations. And for a time, both achieved just that, using both the carrot of propaganda and the stick of brutal police state repression. Just because such control is possible to achieve, does not make it good or even acceptable. After all, it wasn’t the Allies who killed Mussolini; it was his fellow Italians.
    Freedom is, in fact, an end of government, just as Locke states: “For law, in its true notion, is not so much the limitation as the direction of a free and intelligent agent to his proper interest, and prescribes no farther than is for the general good of those under that law.” If freedom is only a means, as Mussolini states, then a means to what? “Communism and Fascism both stand outside of liberalism,” says Mussolini. They certainly do. No one should have been surprised when Hitler and Stalin signed a non-aggression pact in August 1939. They both wanted the same things. Thus the conflation of communism and fascism today is still proper because both are quite willing to sacrifice individual freedom to achieve totalitarian rule.

    1. The Right stands for ‘tradition’ and what Evola called ‘normal society’ prior to 1789, albeit even then in a state of decay. The Left stood for the overthrow of tradition, and in that respect in France included an alliance of Liberals and proto -Bolsheviks. Communistic type ideology mingled with declarations on the rights of the citizen and of property rights. Both elements were united in their bourgeois outlook to overthrown church and monarchy, and perhaps most significantly of all, both opposed the basis of the traditional order – the guild. Jacobinism destroyed the traditional rights of group association, of ‘subsidiary’ organisation, as Church social doctrine calls it. Certain elements of the socialist movement were able to see the inadequacy of modern socialism, and its essentially bourgeois character and combine with elements of the Right in aiming to restore an ethos that had been destroyed by the forces of ‘modernism’, whether by liberalism or Marxism; hence the birth of Fascism, when the Left came Right, not the Right came Left. One might think of Henri De Man in Belgium, Cercle Proudhon in France, and the so-called ‘planists’.

      One might then say that it is not Fascism and Communism that have a common origin, because both are totalitarian, but Liberalism and Communism because both are anti-tradition, and furthermore economic reductionist. It is a profound different in spirit, in world-view. That is why Marx supported Whig liberalism, because it had a subversive impact on traditional society, the organic community of church, village, guild, in opposition to the notion of the civil society of contracts and laws. Marx, like the Libertarians, and anarchists also aimed for the withering of the state, with socialism as a transition towards ‘pure communism’. The Right aimed for a re-connection of the individual with the organic, from the family and village upward. For what the Right means by such a reconnection, the novels of Knut Hamsun are particularly worthwhile, and say more to the crisis of modern man than the tomes of Marx or Locke.

      As Spengler and Evola discerned, Marx wrote within the context of the English liberal Zeitgeist, which also had an impact on the French philosophers.

      The Right stands outside of both liberalism and socialism insofar as it wants to restore the traditional organic Gemeinschaft, whereas both liberalism and Marxism sought its destruction, Marx vehemently condemning anything of the type as ‘reactionism’. The Right transcends capitalism and bourgeois-liberalism, Marxism is a reflection of it.

    2. Very important point that seems to elude many people who are unfamilar with precise definitions in political theory. As I see it, the correct knowledge of the continuum has been deliberately confused within the mass consciousness. Caution and a good knowledge of political concepts is of central importance here, especially when one tackles a delicate issue like fascism.

      1. My comment referred to the correction Carl Parsons made regarding Mr Leonard’s introduction. It somehow got out of the order it was posted.

      2. I think Dennis is correct about the deliberate confusion that has produced a political spectrum that poses two forms of totalitarianism as polar opposites. I suspect this incorrect view owes to Marxists and arises from their competition with the Fascists and Nazis during the 1930s, but I could not find its origin. If someone else knows, please respond.
        Despite the differences in their historical origins and respect for cultural traditions, as K. R. Bolt correctly points out above, at the end of the day both Marxism and Fascism produce governments that strip their populations of freedom. Consequently, I say again, keeping with the Mussolini context this time, there is not a lira’s worth of difference between them. Therefore, they belong side-by-side at the same end of a correct political spectrum.

        1. Carl, the way I see it is that the elite has, over the last seven decades, managed to implant into the public a false political determinism. Since you can neither chose A nor B, you better stay in between and embrace democracy as the only viable option. It is insidious but simplistic at the same time. I feel more outrage about the public’s willingness to go along with it without questioning it. The ignorance and the obstinance against being corrected is what is really bothering me.

  4. The Nazis were never really Nationalists, whether German or otherwise. Those who claim they were Nationalists, German Nationalists at that, are really endeavoring to defame both the German people and the conception of Nationalism. For, in truth, Nazism– much like Communism– is really an Internationalist, Totalitarian movement, albeit based upon Racism rather than Class antagonism. Of course, Hitler had to appear to be pro-German to get votes in that country.

    1. I think you are exactly correct. The Nazis posed as patriotic, but patriotism for them meant fidelity to their party–exactly as it did for Mussolini and Stalin! Again, the similarities of these alleged political opposites far outweigh any differences.

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