Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Praise for Mussolini: Everyone Was Doing That Rag

Some people have attempted to make a major issue of Mises's (limited) praise for fascism. Besides the fact that Mises immediately continued on with stern warnings not to trust in fascism, such criticism ignores the historical reality: fascism was really popular with a whole lot of people in the 1920s. This does not mean that all of these people were closet authoritarians; in most cases, it merely means that they were mistaken. Here is a sampling that took me about 20 minutes to collect; as you can see below, entire academic papers have been devoted to all of the praise Mussolini received. (And note: the smear implying that Keynes was a closet Nazi is as bad as this one thrown at Mises.)

"[Mussolini has] rendered a service to the whole world"; "[a] Roman genius... the greatest lawgiver among men." -- Winston Churchill

"Mussolini, without any of Napoleon's prestige, has done for Italy what Napoleon did for France..." -- George Bernard Shaw

"[Mussolini is notable for his] service to the poor, his opposition to super-urbanization, his efforts to bring about a coordination between Capital and ­Labour, his passionate love for his people." -- Mahatma Gandhi

"a man of providence" -- Pope Pius XI

"[Fascism is] beyond question an amazing experiment... an experiment in reconciling individualism and socialism, politics and technology.... This is far from the frozen dictatorship of Russian Tsardom.... It is more like the American checks and balance system; and it may work out in a new democratic direction...." -- Charles Beard, The New Republic, 1929

"In a period when all politicians are either dull or unwilling to break away from routine – 'tradition'; when it seems that in every Western nation the spring of imagination is dried up, Mussolini gives the impression of an ever-welling source. One may object to any for of dictatorship, but one cannot help being stimulated by the phenomenal vitality of this man..." -- New York Times Magazine, March 19, 1933

"The spectrum of American apologists for Fascism included the countless businessmen who waxed rhapsodic over II Duce as the proper antidote to Bolshevism; the poet Ezra Pound who wrote paeans to the Italian strongman for crushing the creatures of capitalism and their "usurocratic conspiracy"; the managerial idealists who extolled Mussolini as the ideal industrial executive who "cuts through"and gets things done; the "Southern Agrarian" Stark Young who romanticized Mussolini's regime as a noble effort to preserve historic Italy from the evils of modern technology and the efficiency ethic; the philosopher George Santayana who interpreted the Fascist principle of gerarchia as an expression of his own vision of a social hierarchy based on order, inequality, and aristocracy…" -- John P. Diggins, "Flirtation with Fascism: American Pragmatic Liberals and Mussolini's Italy," The American Historical Review, Vol. 71, No. 2 (Jan. 1966), pp. 487-506


  1. The problem as so often lies in the different interpretation of fascism or better the cherry picking for what it stands for.

    If libertarians accuse progressives or (modern US sense) liberals of fascism they mean first of all the merger of state and business (progressives would rather call it correcting/prohibiting excesses of private business), which to a certain extent really is advocated by them, else they would be conservatives, libertarians or communists. Now where this practice is dishonest is that a libertarian knows full well that most progressives or liberals do not interpret fascism that way, but they interpret it purely as “authoritarian dictatorship by an unelected dictator”. So they use a label to shock them by knowingly abusing different interpretations of the same label.

    If progressives or liberals accuse libertarians of fascism they only mean authoritarian dictatorship by an unelected dictator. This is not true though, and it is done by intentionally or unintentionally misrepresenting the libertarian philosophy.

    IMO the label fascism should be used only with great care, but it would be best not to use it at all because it prohibits any objective discussion right from the start.

    1. That's very true. I've pointed out to progressives that in terms of economic policy, social democracy is essentially a left-leaning variety of fascism. Of course, this sounds like I'm accusing social democrats of being warmongering bigots, which they're overwhelmingly not. To progressives, fascism is usually code for whatever's most outrageously wrong with the right, whether it has anything to do with fascism as it actually existed or not. (Examples: fascists were in favor of national jingoism, bigotry and anti-unionism, but very much against free trade, market liberalism, finance capitalism and cutting welfare programs.) Thus it's very difficult to get anywhere with that word nowadays.

      I'm not in favor of fascism, but I'd like it if people used the label honestly and without a derogatory tone. But until progressives admit that fascists were very good at providing jobs for the unemployed, and libertarians admit that fascist dictatorship sometimes protects the liberal social order from more collectivist schemes like communism, that's unlikely to happen.


Current review queue

Pearce: British Journal for the History of Philosophy Deneen: The American Conservative Chao-Reiss: Computing Reviews