No one can appreciate the vast changes which have revolutionised the political, social, and economic life of Italy during the last four years, without some understanding of the spirit of Fascism, and of its fundamental ideas. It is an unmitigated misfortune that circumstances have conspired to cloak Fascism with the mantle of an anti-communist movement; a white dictatorship which arose as an answer to a red one. The superficial and specious grounds on which this view rests have been exploited, partly through ignorance but chiefly through prejudice. Consequently, its achievements have been alternately applauded and denounced for reasons which show a complete misunderstanding of the ideas which the achievements express.
The fundamental fact about Fascism is that it represents a moral, political, and intellectual revolution, every whit as apocalyptic, as cataclysmic, and as universally valid as was the French Revolution. There is significance as well as egotism in the fact that revolutionary Italy, like revolutionary France, introduced a new calendar in which the year of the revolution becomes the Year I.
The true relation of Fascism to Bolshevism is that of an alternative, not merely a reaction. Indeed, though violently opposed to each other, both, in their purest forms, are revolts from that Liberalism which the French Revolution grafted on to European civilisation: both reflect the individualism which it represents, and the economic and parliamentary systems which it inspired. Fascism was born in 1919 when Bonito Mussolini and 145 others formed themselves into a fascio (bundle) to revitalise their country by imbuing it with a new ideal of life and a new theory of the State, hostile to 10th century Liberalism and present-day Communism alike Communism did not seriously threaten Italy till two years later, and though the impotence of the old regime to deal with it thrust Fascism into the position of its chief opponent and thereby hastened its culmination in the march on Rome (1922), there can be little doubt that Fascism would have arisen even if Communism had never gained a foothold in Italy.
Fascism, then, is a revolution and not a counter-revolution. The violence of its clash with Communism is due to the fact that both are new theories of the State; equally uncompromising; equally rigid; and equally disciplinarian. They are the rival spirits of a new age. This will explain, if it does not excuse, many of its excesses. Never has so great a change been carried out with less destruction and less bloodshed. When one considers that the total death-roll of the revolution is less than 4000, and that over half of this number were Fascists; when one contrasts this figure with the millions that have perished in the French and Russian holocausts, one feels that Fascism, when arraigned for its excesses, would be justified, like Clive, in proclaiming itself amazed at its own moderation.
Fascism is a compound of three different elements—Syndicalism, Nationalism, and Catholicism. Its intellectual foundations are to be found in the teachings of Sorel, the Syndicalist; of Nietzsche, the Nationalist; of William James, the Pragmatist; and of Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic. It has been the triumph of Fascism to reduce so strange a medley to order, but, incompatible as these diverse theories may seem, they all, so far as their place in the structure of Fascism goes, find common ground in the traditions of the Roman Empire.
Catholicism and Nationalism need not detain us long; for, representing the spiritual side, and therefore the driving force of Fascism, they defy close analysis because they represent a frame of mind rather than a practical policy. They impress on Fascism a spirit of revolt against the hedonist materialism into which modern democracy is apt to degenerate, and they endow it with its rigid sense of discipline. Moreover, they sup-ply the links which bind Fascism to the traditions of the Roman Empire. Was not the Papacy long ago described by one of the most perspicacious of mankind as "the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof"? Practical difficulties still prevent the conclusion of a concordat between the Fascist Government and the Vatican, but they are now allied in spirit, and, as the influence of the Ultramontanes declines (as it must do now that its last refuge, the Austrian Empire, is destroyed) the time comes nearer when they will be allied in fact.
By its Nationalism, Fascism rejects the whole conception of individual rights upon which the Liberal philosophy, which was ushered in by the French Revolution, is based. The nation becomes the unit, the vigour and the greatness of the civilisation it supports, the test. It is the revolt of quality against quantity. "It is better," Mussolini has said, "to suffer heroically than to live comfortably as a mug." Fascism has adopted the Nietzschean motto, "Live dangerously." By exalting the State, Fascism conceives citizenship as only embracing these "in a state of grace," a conception taken from the mediaeval Church. Such a conception leaves no room for the modern idea of democracy. When Mussolini claims that Fascism is democratic, it is only in the sense that it is "the judicial incarnation of the nation" which is to govern "for all, over the heads of all, and if necessary against all."
The motive underlying the conception of a "Corporative State" has been clearly stated by Mussolini.
"Fascism leads mankind out of the blind alleys. It reconciles capital and labour in a new synthesis. Capital and labour had grown too strong for the State. Parliamentary Government proved itself a helpless nurse, unable to control these unruly young giants till Fascism stepped in."
Though the ideal of this unique experiment is a fundamental tenet of Fascism, there is little fear that it will be exploited ruthlessly, It is one of the principal characteristics of Fascism that its idealism is always linked with realism; it is too strongly imbued with Pragmatism to be doctrinaire in matters of practical policy. Fascism is not of the mentality that allows "one good custom to corrupt the world," and if it aspires to the clouds, it has its feet firmly planted in its mother soil.
It is necessary, then to differentiate between the two aspects of Fascism, for it is at once a great revolutionary movement with fundamental and immutable principles, and a political party with a particular programme. It is only when this differentiation is fully realised that the apparent inconsistency of Fascism in its attitude towards criticism can be understood. In its latter form if welcomes it ; in its former, it repudiates it. For it is the essence of all new and virile creeds that they are uncompromising where their fundamental tenets are concerned, and Fascism, as a creed, is no exception.
"Fascism must not admit heterodoxy," Mussolini has proclaimed, "This is its peculiar character, this is its fundamental reason of its life. . . Fascism won because it never tolerated any difference of opinion: its block is monolithic, Fascism wins and will win while it preserves this austere unitarian Spirit, this religious obedience, this aesthetic discipline.
When Fascism seems ruthless to English eyes, it is well to remember that it represents a new code of basic beliefs which has yet to gain general recognition, and it is only when men are agreed on fundamentals that they can afford to allow conflict of opinion in matters of policy. But as the fundamental principles of Fascism gain universal acceptance, as attention is diverted from upholding these principles to construing a practical policy embodying them, the ranks of Fascism will tend to break into sections. A converse example is at work in England to-day, where the Conservative and Liberal parties which fought over practical policy as long as the basic principles on which the State rested received general recognition, are closing their ranks now that these principles are being challenged. If dissension in the ranks of the Fascists is increasing, it is a sign, not of weakness, but of latent strength.
Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), Tuesday 29 March 1927, page 10