- 1.On So-Called ‘Palingenetic Ultra-Nationalism’ – Part 1
- 2.On So-Called ‘Palingenetic Ultra-Nationalism’ – Part 2
The weaponization of language in academia often appears in sheep’s clothing.
More work by D. F. Williams can be found at www.the-writer.net.
As more and more of the public are falsely labelled ‘Fascist’ by people with no understanding of the term, those who purport to be experts on Fascism should be engaged, more now then ever, in doing what they can to put an end to this misuse. Roger Griffin, one of the most notable academics in the area of Fascism, has ‘attempted’ to do so. However, as I will be arguing here, his attempts are absolutely empty: his work itself is what contributes to the term’s misuse in the first place.
The main problem we will be focusing on here is Roger Griffin’s famous ‘formula’:
Fascism is a genus of political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism.1 1
We will deconstruct this formula in the second part of this essay. But first, we will go over three key texts by Griffin to discuss the following:
- His hypocrisy when it comes to misusing the term, employing his treatment of Alain de Benoist and Julius Evola as examples;
- Further hypocrisy in regard to Griffin’s claiming that Marxists have contributed to the misuse of the term, even while he himself advocates synthesising apparent ‘liberal’ interpretations with Marxist ones; and
- How defining Fascism as something in opposition to liberalism and Marxism has become a way of preventing any new ideologies from entering the public square.
Roger Griffin’s first book on the subject of Fascism was The Nature of Fascism. In the first few pages Griffin acknowledges that the term is abused and misused, and even highlights this misuse, rampant in academia:
What makes a book like this potentially ‘relevant’ as a contribution to the human sciences, however, is that the word has suffered an unacceptable loss of precision within academic circles as well.2
Further down the page he then lays some of the blame for the ‘eroding’ of ‘fascism’s lexical value’ upon ‘Marxist theoreticians’3 (I am not sure why he felt the need to add the qualifier ‘Marxist’ here; anyone who has been to university knows they are one and the same thing). The problem here is that Roger Griffin is aware of this misuse, and he appears to oppose it (he even stated directly to VOX in an interview that Trump does not meet the criteria of Fascism)4 but, as we will show, the very way he defines Fascism is what allows this to occur.
He is correct to note that Marxists have played a large role in ‘deciding’ what is and is not Fascism; universities laden with Marxist professors have been allowed to manipulate the term for decades, making it encompass anyone who opposes their ideas. But Griffin has been no different in his approach. In determining his ‘Fascist minimum’ he has left the doors wide open for accusations to continue unabated, even while he simultaneously trying to tell the public to stop misusing the term. He even goes as far to throw a few people into the fire-pit himself, like Alain de Benoist and Julius Evola. In his section ‘What is Proto-Fascism?’ in The Nature of Fascism he writes:
These ‘literary fascists’ (for example, Papini, Drieu la Rochelle, Evola, Alain de Benoist) could be considered proto-fascists in terms of their obvious elitism and indirect impact on events, but when (in the case of all four figures) their works are used indirectly to legitimate fascist activism it is clear that they are still and integral part of the fascist phenomenon.5
So, by virtue of the fact that their texts have influenced Fascism, (‘indirect impact on events’ is a reference to Thomas Sheehan’s text Myth and Violence: The Fascism of Julius Evola and Alain de Benoist)6 they are proto-Fascists? Why is this same guilt-by-association not ‘evenly distributed’ to other ideologies and ideologues? Where is the egalitarianism?
Evola and de Benoist are mentioned a fair few times by Griffin in his work on Fascism; let’s look at a few more examples before we sort out this particular falsehood:
It should be stressed that, though worlds apart in terms of their metaphysical premises, what both Evola and de Benoist have in common is that both offer total world-views which diagnose the alleged decadence of the present age and offer the prospect of supra-individual salvation in a new age where excellence, national uniqueness, and cultural distinctiveness are paramount. This indirectly provides convoluted rationales for the mentality which breeds apartheid, anti-liberalism and anti-communism, leading (especially in Italy) to acts of terrorist violence against alleged sources of decay. In other words, the old wine of palingenetic ultra-nationalist myth has been poured into new bottles, the label originally marked ‘Aryan’ being covered with one marked ‘Indo-European’ or ‘Traditional’. … They also play a major role in the internationalization of fascism. … The outlet for GRECE ideas in Germany is the Thule Seminar, a great nephew of the Thule Society which has such a formative influence on the (NS)DAP.7 7
Anyone who is familiar with the work of de Benoist and Evola will have noticed the glaring errors here (and probably chuckled along the way).
Evola was in no way shape or form a nationalist or Fascist. The mere fact that he had to flee Fascist Italy over his anti-Fascist writing attests to that. He was never even a member of the Fascist party, he stated ad nauseam that he saw in Fascism (and Nazism) a vehicle for his own ideas – his own ideas being of a spiritual order. Evola was opposed to the secular element of Fascism – an aspect of the regime which Griffin himself highlights:
Both Fascism and Nazism as regimes were characterised by the centrality of the leader cult, the celebration of public over private space and time, and the constant attempt to use social engineering to regiment people into organisations with an ethos of activism and enthusiasm. … [They thus lacked] a genuine metaphysical dimension and [were] the utter anthesis and destroyer of all genuine religious faith.8
This was written by Roger Griffin, yet it sounds exactly like Evola. The basis of Evola’s work is in spirituality and religion. It also rests on opposition to modernity, while Fascism and Nazism are based in the idea of a New Man and a new system in opposition to ideas advocated by Evola, such as ‘an absolutist system in which sovereignty is invested in a hereditary monarchy.’9
There are innumerable statements made by Evola that academia could focus on, yet scholars overwhelmingly focus on his links to Fascism. I find this extremely telling. The body of Evola’s work is religious in nature; when he writes on politics, his words are overwhelmingly negative, because he believes society should be built on transcendental principles; yet this is entirely antithetical to what academia writes. They are so bound up in materialistic thinking that they cannot even objectively view Evola’s work to see that he is approaching the world from the point of view of transcendence.
As for de Benoist, we are speaking of a genuine intellectual who has written numerous times against both Nazism and Communism (including in a text called Nazism & Communism, which has yet to be translated into English, though Telos released an equivalent essay by de Benoist in English, called ‘Nazism and Communism: Evil Twins’).10 His criticism of liberal democracy does not stand in opposition to democracy as such, but is rather a criticism of its lack of public participation:
Democracy is a ‘-cracy’, which is to say a form of political power, whereas liberalism is an ideology for the limitation of all political power. Democracy is based on popular sovereignty; liberalism, on the rights of the individual. Liberal representative democracy implies the delegation of sovereignty, which strictly speaking – as Rousseau had realised – is tantamount to abdication by the people.11
The key notion for democracy is not numbers, suffrage, elections or representation, but participation … it is not institutions that make democracy, but rather the people’s participation in institutions. The maximum of democracy coincides not with the ‘maximum of liberty’ or the ‘maximum of equality’, but with the maximum of participation.12
Roger Griffin stated in his aforementioned interview with VOX that
As long as Trump does not advocate the abolition of America’s democratic institutions, and their replacement by some sort of post-liberal new order, he’s not technically a fascist.13
If Alain de Benoist wants an actual democracy with more citizen participation, then how exactly can he be placed within the realm of Fascism/proto-Fascism (Griffin seems to not be overly concerned with consistently using this labels)?
The two examples above lead us to the answer.
The overbearing focus on the ‘defining’ of Fascism is directed at placing it in opposition to something. As stated above, much of the determination of what Fascism is comes from Marxism. In Griffin’s most recent book on Fascism released in 2018,14 in the first chapter he celebrates the potential of bringing together ‘liberal’ and Marxist interpretations of Fascism:
It is also worth mentioning the contributions by socialists of different hues to the debate on the possibility of reconciliation of Marxist and ‘liberal’ positions of fascism hosted by the special issue of European Journal of Political Theory (Roberts and Griffin 2012), which produced stimulating critiques of the limitations placed on the application of the term by ‘liberal’ orthodoxy.15
This shows how useless academic ‘research’ into Fascism is. Pray tell, how can one arrive at an unbiased ‘definition’ if this involves Marxists who have spent close to a century now defining Fascism as anything opposing their own doctrine, opposing Marxism?
Opposition is indeed the key-word here. So many of the attempts to define Fascism centre around stating ‘a Fascist is someone who opposes X’. Here are three of the features of ‘generic fascism’ which Roger Griffin lists in his Oxford Readers text from 1995:16
1. Fascism is anti-liberal.
2. Fascism is anti-conservative.
4. Fascism is anti-rational.
Amongst the ten points given you will of course encounter tonnes of remarks, stating that Fascism is: anti-cosmopolitan, anti-parliamentary democracy, anti-tolerance, anti-individuality, anti-open-society, anti-one-worldism, anti-communism, etc.
The interesting part here is the careful placement of anti-cosmopolitanism under point 8, ‘Fascist racism’:
Fascism is also intrinsically anti-cosmopolitan, axiomatically rejecting as decadent the liberal vision of a multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-racial society. However, this does not necessarily lead to the call for other races to be persecuted per se but may express itself ‘merely’ in a campaign for propaganda and violence against their presence as ‘immigrants’ who have abandoned their ‘natural’ homeland.17
What kind of scholarship fails to recognize the difference between race and religion?
The placing of so-called ‘Fascism’ in opposition to liberal views is what allows liberal thinkers to utilise the term as a weapon. If you are opposed to egalitarianism there is no argument to be had, you have been placed within the ‘Fascism minimum’. You can state your argument as to why you are opposed to egalitarianism or mass immigration – as I have done in university classrooms on numerous occasions – but you are just making white noise.
This strategy has had a wider effect than just in academia, however. When you ask most people to explain what a Fascist is, they will immediately state that ‘a Fascist is someone opposed to X, Y and Z’. This strategy of considering Fascism as merely something contrary to Marxism is also advantageous to capitalists; it effectively prevents the possibility of a new idea emerging to replace the two dominant economic systems of thought. Our ability to generate new ideas is stagnated by this economic tribalism.
That said, it is worth pointing out another interesting point here. Some Marxists have been equating capitalism and Fascism for quite a while, as Roger Griffin has noted in his work.18 This strategy of linking the two has really gained ground since Donald Trump started on his first election campaign. (Of course, the reaction by neoconservatives found in ‘Prager University’ videos has been to point the finger back at Marxists, claiming that Fascist economic systems are socialist in character. This is very reminiscent of two children putting the blame on each other: “No, he did it!”) If we continue off of Griffin’s most recent text, mentioned above, we can clearly see that there are really only two camps in ‘Fascist studies’: the ‘liberal’ camp that Roger Griffin places himself in, and the Marxist camp. Griffin then reveals to us that these two are essentially converging into one in any case (I doubt there is really as much separation in the first place given the state of ‘academia’):
More recently, fresh analyses by anglophone Marxists have been advanced on fascism which also avoid simplistic equations of bourgeois reaction, capitalism and fascism, such as Neocleous (1997) and Woodley (2009). Apart from offering a sophisticated left-wing ‘take’ on fascism, Woodley offers a comprehensive study of the tangled history of Marxist engagement with the ideological dynamics of fascism. It is also worth mentioning the contributions by socialists of different hues to the debate on the possibility of reconciliation of Marxist and ‘liberal’ positions of fascism hosted by the special issue of European Journal of Political Theory (Roberts and Griffin 2012), which produced stimulating critiques of the limitations placed on the application of the term by ‘liberal’ orthodoxy (e.g. Yannielli 2012). Roger Markwick’s discussion of communism’s relationship to fascism (2009) is another example of how a left-wing perspective on interwar history can enrich comparative fascist studies for all concerned.19
I will close this first part of my essay with some final remarks:
- With regard to Griffin’s apparent opposition to the term’s misuse, either he is genuine (in which case he is really just agitated that the term isn’t being used in the way he wants it to be used), or he is lying (so as to try and distance himself from any potential fallout).
- The definition of Fascism performs a kind of gate-keeping role, as it allows the Left to continue to weaponize the term. Marxists and ‘liberals’ are allowed to define Marxism and Fascism as they will, in order to keep the culture war between these two groups going and to prevent the possibility of any new ideology from rising. Hence the reason they maintain their definition of Fascism as something that is opposed to liberalism and Marxism. Liberalism and Marxism are given the status of positives, thus qualifying anything that lies outside of them as a negative. This makes them perfectly immune to all critique. We can see this in the example above of Alain de Benoist. Alain de Benoist holds contrary positions; in the literature on him and the Nouvelle Droite more generally by academics, you will therefore always see the focus directed at ‘Alain de Benoist opposes X, Y and Z’, while they will rarely focus on the reasons that he opposes these things. ‘Benoist opposes democracy’ – but as shown above, he opposes liberal democracy in favour of direct democracy. They use language in a very precise and intricate way to make anyone arguing against them look devious and evil, and they de-platform dissidents so they can manipulate our ideas by projecting them to the public in such a way that they appear to be something they are not.
- We must reread Nietzsche. I do not mean just for the joy of it; we must focus on his aphorisms. Learn how to convey your ideas in short, precise ways to impede their misrepresentation. This will also help in spreading them, as a wall of sharp little arrows descending onto the flies in the marketplace, startling the herd, distracting them from the spectacle, and renewing their awareness of the world around them and just how dark it truly is.
1Griffin, Roger, Fascism (UK: Oxford University Press, 1995), 4.
2Griffin, Roger, The Nature of Fascism (UK: Pinter Publishers London, 1992), 2.
5Griffin, Roger, The Nature of Fascism (UK: Pinter Publishers London, 1992), 51.
6Thomas Sheehan, ‘Myth and Violence: The Fascism of Julius Evola and Alain de Benoist’, Social Research, 48/, (1981), 45–73.
7Griffin, Roger, The Nature of Fascism (UK: Pinter Publishers London, 1992), 169.
8Griffin, Roger, Fascism (UK: Oxford University Press, 1995), 5.
10Benoist, Alain de, ‘Nazism and Communism: Evil Twins’, Telos, Summer 1998, 178-192.
11Benoist, Alain de, The Problem of Democracy (Arktos Media Ltd., 2011), x.
14Griffin, Roger, Fascism (USA: Polity Press, 2018).
16Griffin, Roger, Fascism (UK: Oxford University Press, 1995), 4–12.
18See Fascism (2018), Chapter 2: ‘Making Sense of Fascism: Marxist and Early Liberal Approaches’: ‘This class analysis set the tone for the vast outpouring of socialist, and especially Marxist, analyses of fascism that continue to this day, all of which assume the axiomatically capitalist nature of fascism, whether (at the very most) counter-revolutionary and partially autonomous or (at the very least) arch-reactionary and controlled by the bourgeoisie.’
19Griffin, Roger, Fascism (USA: Polity Press, 2018), 24.