The argument that fascism preserves “natural order” is not persuasive. When examined in the proper historical context, one must conclude that the system is inorganic, resulting at the very least from inescapable circumstance. Reactionaries are made when there is little left to conserve. With all other options exhausted, counter revolutionary radicalism may be the only choice for attempting to salvage some modicum of civilized society.
Fascism can facilitate this endeavor and offers a mechanism of legitimate opposition to the left that invariably, and not simply just out of a matter of necessity, takes on some of its enemy’s own characteristics. Particularly, this includes adapting revolutionary tactics and imbibing the idea of struggle. In this regard – right from the onset – fascism aims not to preserve an existing social order, it seeks to construct one based on certain ideals.
Chief among these of course is nationalism. This is pertinent because during the historical rise of European fascism, strong centralized nation states were a recent phenomena. Italy for example, where the prototypical approach to fascism was carried out, was not unified until 1871. In other words, it was at this time that disparate peoples living in different states across the Italian peninsula – who adhered to different traditions – had their identities subordinated to a political unit of an unfamiliar scope they yielded little influence over.
Indeed, Italy had been ruled by a strong centralized power before. It was first united under the Roman Empire and later ruled by the Franks, a neglectful foreign power that took little interest in governing the territory properly, ultimately leading to an outcome that helps elucidate a critical point: when more or less left to their own devices, the different peoples of Italy organized themselves into small city states. As such, they did not see themselves in terms of the singular unified identity that had previously been foisted upon them.
Italy would remain decentralized for nearly one thousand years until proto-nationalist thinkers began emerging in opposition to Austrian rule following the French Revolution. These thinkers were eventually aided by Giuseppe Mazzini, a leading figure in the Italian revolutionary movement characterized by his ardent support for Republicanism and rejection of Enlightenment principles. Mazzini cannot be so easily categorized however, and perhaps can be more accurately described as a subversive Jacobin-style social engineer who would come to support democracy and political equality for women.
Eventually, after three Wars of Independence consequently aided in some cases by the French – who had undergone their own social transformation decades prior – the unification of Italy was complete with the capture of Rome and its designation as capital in 1871. Fast forward to the end of WWI and Italy found itself in a period of economic turmoil. During 1919 and 1920, which were known as “the two red years,” radical Socialist, Anarchist, and Unionist groups seized factories and agricultural operations, engaged in thousands of strikes, and established factory councils that planned production before they ultimately failed to engage in full scale revolution.
As a result, the left reaped the consequences of the rising Black Shirts, which eventually culminated with Mussolini’s march on Rome in 1922 that took control of the government. After seizing power, the Revolutionary Fascist Party became the National Fascist Party, which included a large contingent of ex-socialists and even a strong feminist wing that had been promised things like equal voting rights. One might expect Italian fascists to attempt to revive the world that existed in their country before the French Revolution, but they were actually quite progressive, and rationalized that a forward looking approach to Nationalism would help bring the Italian people and their country into the modern world.
Part of this approach would include adherence to the post-unification revolutionary paradigm that neglected distinct regional and cultural identity in favor of imperial aims and a doctrine that would ultimately supplant tradition with spooky spiritual ideas about the state. Arguably, the only thing traditional about Mussolini’s fascist regime was it’s use of ancient Roman aesthetic. Even where it might be argued that a reactionary or even conservative approach was taken in regard to traditional Italian institutions like the Catholic Church and Royal Monarchy, a brief inquiry reveals that any alliance with such grew mostly out of tactical or practical necessity.
The fascist movement was actually substantially anti-clerical until the mid 1920s when Mussolini recognized the value of the Catholic Church’s influence on Italian society. In 1929, the Lateran Treaty was signed, which gave Vatican City status as a sovereign micro-state and provided for the reciprocal recognition of Italy as a legitimate state by the papacy. The agreement included territorial compensations, the introduction of Catholic curriculum in public schools, and the transfer of 50 Million British Pounds.
Likewise, fascists initially denounced the Italian Monarchy in support of Republicanism until Mussolini strategically embraced the former in 1922 in order to garner establishment support in opposition to the existing liberal constitutional order. Italy’s military was loyal to the King (Victor Emmanuel III) making an overthrow attempt unwise and a move sure to undermine the fascist regime’s historical continuity and legitimacy. Later however, Mussolini would drastically decrease the power of the King by creating a position that granted himself equal legal authority over the military, which more or less relegated the position of Monarch to that of a mere figurehead.
It is also said that Mussolini had private plans to eliminate the Monarchy altogether before naming himself the sole head of state of a new republic, but the outcome of WWII would ensure that never occurred. The prototypical example of fascism in Italy – which would be adopted to varying degrees elsewhere in Europe – is instructive in the regard that it shows how the exultation of purported “natural order” by modern adherents in actuality involved innovation after innovation by the fascist regime against the country’s traditional hierarchical institutions – and additionally subordinated unique regional cultural expressions to a new nationalist view that conceptualized what it meant to be an Italian under the auspices of a spiritual, and even religious idea that Mussolini called “the fascist conception of life.”
In other words, an alien idea unlike that which existed prior gripped the working people of Italy through the fascist regime. Just to be clear, the merits or tactical imperatives embodied by fascism were not what was under consideration here. In this brief critique, the only question of pertinence is, did Italian fascism promote adherence to a natural order? The cursory historical evidence provided unequivocally affirms, no. Thinkers that may outline a more viable alternative to fascism in conceptualizing and sustaining a legitimate natural order include Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, and Hans Hermann Hoppe. Perhaps we can discuss their views on this manner in a future post.