In the aftermath of the First World War, a new class of men rose up to oppose the roaming communist/socialist bands that were threatening to unleash, all over Europe, the same chaos that was laying waste to Russia. In the words of right-wing philosopher Julius Evola:
It is well known where and under what symbols the forces for a possible resistance tried to organize. On one side, a nation that, since it had been unified, had known nothing but the mediocre climate of liberalism, democracy, and a constitutional monarchy, dared to assume the symbol of Rome as the basis for a new political conception and a new ideal of virility and dignity. Analogous forces awoke in the nation that in the Middle Ages had made the Roman symbol of imperium its own in order to reaffirm the principle of authority and the primacy of those values that are rooted in the blood, race, and the deepest powers of a stock. And while in other European nations, groups were already orienting themselves in the same direction, a third force in Asia joined the ranks, the nation of the samurai, in which the adoption of the outer forms of modern civilization had not prejudiced its fidelity to a warrior tradition centred upon the symbol of the solar empire of divine right…1
This indeed, as Evola states it, was the story of the Second World War. Evola believed that civilization incrementally transformed from one where spiritual principles of transcendence and hierarchy were central, to one based on warrior ethos, eventually moving to one where bourgeois morality reigned supreme. With the rise of Bolshevism, he believed the West was moving towards a society in which the morality of the slave or proletariat, the lowest of all castes, was going to prevail. Evola saw each of these steps as a devolution, a degradation of civilization, and thus saw Fascism as a movement that perhaps could halt, and maybe even reverse, the degradation, by reorienting society towards the virtues of the warrior.
The movement started in Italy when veterans of the First World War rallied around a former socialist, Benito Mussolini, and formed the Fasci d’Azione Rivoluzionaria, later the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento, roughly translated into English as the League of Revolutionary Action and the Italian League of Combat respectively, to route out and fight the Marxists who were attempting to usher in a communist revolution.
Mussolini himself was inspired by Gabriele D’Annunzio, a famous poet and adventurer who lead a squadron of Arditi, an elite special force of the Royal Italian Army, to occupy the city of Fiume in 1919. At the end of the First World War it had been presumed Fiume was to be awarded to Italy on account of the city’s predominantly Italian speaking population. But the Allied Powers reneged on many of their contractual obligations under the secret Treaty of London of 1915, which was used to entice Italy into abandoning her alliance with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire and joining the war on the side of the Allies. D’Annunzio felt that this was an injustice and a blow against the national pride of the Italian nation, even though the liberal government had no desire to press their claims over either Fiume or any of the territories owed to them by the Treaty of London. So D’Annunzio lead 2,000 Arditi and conquered the city with ease. He and his men ruled the city for fifteen months, in which time he pioneered the Fascist style, bringing back the Roman salute and making dramatic speeches, and he even used the title ‘leader’ (duce) for his position, something that would be copied by Fascist leaders going forward.
Inspired by the warrior poet, Mussolini gathered war veterans and routed the Marxists from their strongholds, countered them at every turn, besting them in street battle. The Fascists eventually defeated the Marxist threat, and Mussolini took power when he lead his men on the infamous March on Rome.
It wasn’t just Marxism the Fascists were opposing, however; they also opposed the existing liberal order which had proved so ineffective in the face of naked Marxist aggression. Fascism opposed international finance and rule by money, and put forth a fundamentally different vision of the world than the economico-centricity of both Marxism and liberalism. It posits a view of life that is inherently spiritual and metaphysical in its orientation.
Fascism is an eminently idealistic and, more specifically, an anti-materialistic and anti-individualistic philosophy of life. These characteristics are clearly expressed by the recognition of the eternal value of the spiritual essence of man and of the transitory aspect of his earthly being… He who thinks of Fascism and its worth thinks, primarily and above all, of what Fascism stands for in the realm of the spirit; of its contribution to man’s spiritual heritage.2
Fascism fundamentally rejects the notion of the primacy of the individual. While it is true that traditional European culture is more individualistic then other cultures, for example the Oriental, this was always balanced out by the codes of honour and duty, endemic to that Indo-European warrior culture from which all the modern nations of Europe descend.
Instead of principles of non-aggression or voluntarism, the Fascist abides by principles that are essentially martial in nature: namely principles of Duty, Authority, and Unity. These principles guide the Fascist’s actions in every aspect of life.
In the principle of Duty, the Fascist is bound by his inherited obligations, whether it be to family, caste, nation or empire. The Fascist recognizes himself as only one part of an organic whole, not only societally but also chronologically. He knows that he has a role to play not only in the here and now, but as a placeholder in time. He owes his life and existence to the thousands of generations that came before him and recognizes his obligation not only to preserve the health and prestige of his family, nation or Imperium, but to expand upon it, to hand off something greater to the next generation. This understanding stands in direct contradiction to the liberal worldview, with its belief that an individual should have no positive unchosen obligations, that the individual should be free to pick and choose all his attachments and obligations.
The Fascist aligns himself with the ancient world when he acknowledges the principle of Authority. In a Fascist order, the leader should be the highest man, the greatest man among great men. In this way his authority is earned and unquestioned. This is the concept of hero as leader, in a society in which all men should strive to be the leader, to endlessly pursue discipline and self-actualization. If the greatest man in the land, the national hero, leads a nation, how can such a leader not be seen as closer to the divine than most men? How can his leadership be seen as anything other than an expression of divine providence itself? The Roman Emperor was thought to be a manifestation of divinity on Earth. In the Medieval Age, the divine right of kings reigned; the king had his authority because it was believed that God had willed it so.
In this way Fascism represents a return to a traditional order. The hero as leader represents a shining example, an ideal toward which all men should strive.
The principle of Unity represents another of the Fascist martial virtues. In Unity we are compelled to let go of petty grudges and work together for a higher cause. Just as a platoon of soldiers will not long survive in war if they are bickering amongst themselves instead of working together, a polity will be gravely weakened if the various limbs of the body politic tear at one another in constant conflict. Thence the innovation of the total state in the first half of the twentieth century.
What is the purpose of the total state?
Commenters of liberal background have accused Fascist regimes of being wholly modernist in their conceptions, claiming that they owe their view of statecraft and the world to Thomas Hobbs and his idea of the Leviathan. This is a wholly inaccurate and reductionist point of view. It only examines the surface and not the root, the cause or context, of Fascism.
Fascism represents the manifestation of a new way of life, largely unknown and unrealized in the modern world. The Fascist revolutions were an ongoing process that actually represented a profound cultural and spiritual revolution, a counter-revolution meant to undo the liberal, Marxist, and proto-Marxist revolutions. This was unfortunately a process that never was able to fulfill itself, but the total state was the means toward that end.
The total state was the social innovation through which the Fascist cultural and spiritual revolution was to perpetuate itself. This is why the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) brought all civil institutions within its sphere of influence; it was working to replace the decadent bourgeois spirit and culture with a vitalist view of life, compatible with the warrior caste. The total state was not just some invention for the blind pursuit of power by crazed madmen who lusted after power for its own sake. No: the goal was to remake society and reorientate it to be compatible with the spiritual imperatives of the warrior class. The goal of the regime was not to crassly impose its will on the people, but to convert and change them. This is why the National Socialist regime, far from imposing its will with force on every and all occasions, often acquiesced to the people when it had moved too fast with its cultural and spiritual revolution.
The NSDAP played a game of push and pull with the population, trying to rebuild German culture and, with it, the German people. Part of the National Socialist cultural revolution in Germany was the incremental suppression of church influence in private life, with the goal of an eventual replacement of Christianity with the National Socialist ideology,3 and perhaps a new volkish religion.
In the long run, the church question, is a question of the young people. The less the parents opposition is aroused on church matters, the less they will inculcate in their children an opposition to the teachings of the Hitler Youth. The school system could hardly be changed faster than the people themselves.
— Rudolf Hess
The National Socialist regime saw the sectarian divides between Catholicism and the various denominations of Protestantism as a dividing force among the German people. To the end of uniting the Germans, while marginalizing the influence of the churches in Germany, the NSDAP spearheaded a number of changes that they eventually had to back away from in the face of popular mobilization by the people. Instead of forcing their reforms through with violence, the Party, particularly Hitler, took the popular reaction as a sign that they were moving too fast with their cultural revolution, and relented. This is because, far from wanting to force an ideological programme, Hitler truly wanted to convert Germans to his way of thinking. He not only wanted to rebuild the German nation, but the German people as well. He wanted to purify and strengthen Germans, much in line with Nietzsche’s concept of the superman, using a combination of positive eugenics, social engineering through inculcation of National Socialism and the construction of a new national mythology, as well as the tearing down of all sectarian barriers between the German people, thus creating a unified national community (Volksgemeinschaft) which was united by a common world outlook and common German racial stock.
In Italy, the Fascist revolution manifested as a cultural and national renaissance. The Italian Fascist Party, lead by Benito Mussolini, spearheaded a national revival determined on recapturing the glory of ancient Rome. Fascism brought Italy into the twentieth century, making a once-backwater nation into a European power, restoring both pride and prestige to the Italian people.
When Mussolini came to power in 1922, Italy had a rich cultural heritage, but financially and politically it was what we call today a ‘third world country’. By the 1930s Italy had a European presence. Mussolini saw to the draining of the Pontine Marshes around Rome, which had been a source of malaria since antiquity. … Farmers worked on the recovered land and villages and small towns were constructed there. This and similar projects restored millions of acres of arable land. They were part of Mussolini’s ‘wars’ for the lira, wheat, country life and population that aimed at giving Italy greater control over its destiny. The positive effects on national morale surpassed its economic success, which was not, however, insignificant. From 1925 to 1935 grain production grew significantly, and the importing of foreign grain dropped by 75%. The crushing national debt was renegotiated from short-term to long-term loans. Servicing the domestic debts went from 28 billion lire a year, to 6 billion. …
There were also public works projects in addition to the rural initiatives. In Rome, subways and new roads to the Coliseum and the Vatican were constructed to ease traffic congestion. (Rome’s two subway lines built under Fascism are still the only active ones.) A large sports complex, the Foro Mussolini, was built for the 1940 Olympics (which was cancelled because of the war). It still houses the soccer stadium on the site of the Italian Tennis Open. This train system was electrified and train stations built in the major cities. Not only did ‘the trains run on time’, but their journey times were reduced significantly. (The travel time from Rome to Syracuse was cut in half.) Again the question of morale was as significant as the measurable results. The Italian people felt that things were happening in areas of their national life where nothing had been accomplished ‘since Tiberius’ time’.”4
However, the Fascist revolution wasn’t limited to making material improvements alone; it also sought a cultural renaissance, by reviving a link to its deep historical roots. By reviving the symbols of Ancient Rome, Italian Fascism declared itself the successor of the ancient Roman Empire, claiming its prestige and heritage as its rightful inheritance.
There was also a cultural side of Fascism. By its restoration of the ancient Roman fasces, Fascism proclaimed Italy’s ancient traditions. It sponsored archaeological projects to uncover the Roman past from the republican temples at Largo Argentina in Rome to excavations at Ostia and Libya. The great Ara Pacis of the Emperor Augustus was recovered from beneath the streets of downtown Rome and, following negotiations with the Vatican for parts preserved there, was restored and displayed near the Tiber, where it can still be seen. But it was not only ancient art that Fascism encouraged. There was a national movie industry in Cinecitta outside Rome… writers like Pirandello, D’Annuzio and Marinetti were honoured. Italy’s great past was linked to a creative present and future.5
The Italian Fascist Party also did not aim for a cultural renaissance alone, however. Like their German contemporaries, the Fascists wanted a cultural revolution. They wanted rapid and dramatic change, away from the decadent individual morality of bourgeois society, towards a more holistic and vitalist philosophy. They viewed liberal democratic morality as weak, decadent, and unnatural.
Fascism rejects the concept of an economic happiness which is to be, at a given moment in the evolution of economy, socialistically and almost automatically realized by assuring to all the maximum of well being. Fascism denies the possibilities of a materialistic concept of happiness. It leave that to the economists at the first half of the 18th century, that is it denies the equation well being=happiness which sees in men mere animals, content when they can feed and fatten, thus reducing them to a vegetative existence pure and simple.
The principle that society exists only for the welfare and freedom of the individuals composing it does not seem to conform with the plans of nature, plans in which the species only is taken into consideration and the individual appears sacrificed. It is strongly to be feared that the last word of democracy thus understood … would be a social state in which a degenerated mass would have no preoccupation beyond that of enjoying the ignoble pleasures of the vulgar person.6
They also sought to create a ‘new man’, who, instead of viewing the purpose of life as vegetative consumption, saw life as a constant struggle for self-actualization. They disregarded utopian ideas of perpetual progress or the end of history, whether in the liberal or Marxist context.
Fascism, wants man to be active and engaged in action with all his energies. It wants him to possess a manly awareness of the difficulties facing him and to be ready to confront them head on. It conceives of life as a struggle in which man is called upon to conquer for himself a truly worthy place, first of all by fashioning himself (physically, morally, intellectually) into the instrument required for achieving victory…. Fascism, in short, is not only a law-giver and a founder of institutions, but an educator and a promoter of spiritual life. It aims at rebuilding not only the forms of life but their content — man, his character, and his faith. To achieve this purpose it enforces discipline and uses authority, entering into the soul and ruling with undisputed sway…7
In pursuit of creating the Fascist ‘new man’, the Italian Fascists, as well as securing a monopoly on education, and promoting pro-Fascist art and culture, also started a youth faction of the Fascist Party, the Opera Nazionale Balilla, later renamed the Gioventù Italiana del Littorio. This organization claimed a monopoly on youth organization, and therefore banned all other groups, except for the Catholic Action youth group, which was exempted as a concession with the Vatican, pursuant to the Lateran Accord between the Vatican and the Fascist state.
Unlike the National Socialist regime in Germany, the Fascists embraced the Catholic Church and Christianity, using support from the Pope and his cardinals as a means of legitimizing Fascism to the Catholic majority in Italy. Mussolini even made Catholicism the official religion of Italy, ending the long stand-off between the Vatican and the Italian state, after the forceful annexation of the Papal States in 1870. The Lateran Treaty, along with the ongoing support of the Catholic Church, did much to legitimize the Fascist State.
Had the Fascist culturo-spiritual revolution been permitted to run its course, I think it very likely that the total state would have loosened in its control of civil society. Just as laws naturally become more lax in a high-trust society with low crime, once the culturo-spiritual revolution had been completed and an order based on a warrior ethos and vision of life had emerged, the utility of a monopoly over civil society would have been greatly reduced; in fact such a monopoly would likely have become redundant and burdensome. Civic organizations would have slowly but surely drifted back into their own sphere as the cultural transformation came to its completion and the total state fulfilled its purpose in the cultural sphere. While still authoritarian, the social order would have became an organic whole, and society would have come to be governed by the higher discipline and order of the warrior state. A higher standard of conduct and dignity would have become the new social norm, and so the bar for social conduct would have been set equivalently higher, and reciprocally enforced by each member of society. Those who failed to do so would have had to answer to their fellow man, and the need for state enforcement would have been largely reduced as a consequence.
Of course, to the liberal reader, all of this will sound insufferably totalitarian, so we must now address the myth of totalitarianism mentioned earlier.
1 Julius Evola, A Traditionalist Confronts Fascism (Arktos Media Ltd, 2015).
2 Mario Palmieri, The Philosophy of Fascism, The Dante Alighieri Society, 1936.
3Link for source on the Hitler and the NSDAP’s concessions: https://www.amazon.com/Hitlers-Compromises-Coercion-Consensus-Germany-ebook/dp/B01HM3A6YC
4 E. Christian Kopff, ‘Introduction’ to Julius Evola’s Fascism Viewed From The Right (Arktos Media Ltd, 2013).
6 Benito Mussolini, ‘The Doctrine of Fascism’ (1932).