Monday, May 25, 2020

"Fascism lives!"

In the Claremont Review of Books, Angelo Codevilla writes in part,
Although Benito Mussolini, fascism’s artificer and personifier, died discredited in 1945, fascism’s socio-political paradigm, the administrative state, is well-nigh universal in our time. And as the European and American ruling class adopted Communism’s intellectual categories and political language, the adjective “fascist” became a weapon in its arsenal.

...Hegel, as well as the positivist and Progressive movements, had argued for the sovereignty of expert administrators. Fascist Italy was the first country in which the elected legislature gave up its essential powers to the executive, thus abandoning the principle, first enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, by which people are rightly governed only through laws made by elected representatives. By the outbreak of World War II, most Western countries’ legislatures—the U.S. Congress included—had granted the executive something like “full powers,” each by its own path, thus establishing the modern administrative state.

...Rather than force, Mussolini’s primary means of government was the management of interests. That, plus exhortation. Force was reserved for outright opponents in the act of opposition. The kidnapping and murder of socialist member of parliament Giacomo Matteotti at the hand of fascists is so often mentioned precisely because it was such a rarity. The socialists and Communists who wished to continue in politics had to leave the country—the Communists to Russia, where Palmiro Togliatti headed Stalin’s Comintern, and the socialists mainly to France. Of the ones who stayed the most outstanding, like the Communist Antonio Gramsci (who had been socialism’s other intellectual star), got prison sentences during which they were free to write. The lesser ones were forced to keep their activism to family and friends lest they be beaten and forced to swallow laxatives. Murderous legal force was reserved for the mafia. A wave of extra-judicial killings, tortures, as well as the practice of using families as hostages and for reprisals largely extirpated the “black hand,” or forced its members to seek refuge in America.

...Mussolini’s 1929 concordat with the Roman Catholic Church, by far the country’s most influential element, was the culmination of his dealings with established interests. Under that arrangement, the pope recognized Italy’s sovereignty and Rome as its capital. Though the pope continued to appoint and remove bishops, these would swear allegiance to the state. The state recognized the pope’s independence and sovereignty over the Vatican, and Catholicism as the state religion. The state paid the priests. The Church administered religious instruction in public schools. This was a pact between alien forces whose best alternative was non-aggression. More than anything else, their mutual blessing defined daily life under fascism for most Italians.

Because commentary, as often willful as ignorant, confuses fascism and Nazism, we must observe that the concordat’s other party, Pope Pius XI (1922–1939), knew Germany as well as Italy intimately, and was Nazism’s first, most consistent, and arguably most feared enemy. In 1937 Pius XI wrote a fiery anti-Nazi encyclical, in German, Mit brennender Sorge (With Burning Anxiety), and ordered that it be read in every parish church. He organized opposition to Hitler. This most fervent of anti-Nazis died before Mussolini fully changed the regime for the sake of the German alliance. The pope condemned fascism’s racial laws of 1938 in the strongest possible terms: “I am ashamed of being Italian.” “For Christians, taking any part in antisemitism is forbidden. We are spiritually semitic.” He and his successor, Pius XII, did all in their power to subvert these laws. But he never compared them with Germany’s, or fascism with Nazism, because, while the former aimed at separation, the latter aimed at extinction.

The United States of America was the nation of which Mussolini spoke with the highest regard and with which he most assiduously cultivated relations, perhaps because, in the minds of the millions of Italians whose friends and relatives had emigrated there, the very word “America” was synonymous with all good things. Did he really mean that “the American government is more like the fascist state than any of Europe’s liberal democratic governments because the popular will is constitutionally circumscribed”? “Both nations,” he declared, “are young, full of faith in themselves and committed to becoming prosperous and strong. The American people must sympathize with our need for cultural and economic expansion because they are spreading their own economic empire over the whole world.”

...Ironically, while the media acknowledged that fascism was a new “experiment,” papers like the New York Times commonly credited it with returning turbulent Italy to what it called “normalcy.” In 1933, when Hitler came to power, the press and public opinion gave him a pass for about a half decade by treating him as “the German Mussolini.” Not so.

Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, and Britain’s reaction to it, started the chain of events that led to World War II in Europe and, incidentally, to Mussolini’s own deservedly grotesque end.

Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, another member of the League of Nations, exposed the League’s nonsense. Britain could have stopped the invasion by closing the Suez Canal to Italian shipping. This would not have avoided the consequences of alienating Italy, but it would have saved Ethiopia. Or, Britain could have sacrificed Ethiopia and the League for the sake of appeasing Mussolini in order to stop Hitler’s Anschluss of Austria. Instead, Britain and France doomed Ethiopia by keeping the canal open, and alienated Italy by instituting energy sanctions. The Italo-British interactions of 1935 might qualify as the 20th century’s dumbest, most tragic diplomatic démarche. Hitler was the only winner.

Seeing his chance, the Führer sent trainloads of coal to alleviate Italy’s energy shortage. A year earlier, as the two dictators had approached each other for their first meeting, Mussolini had said to his foreign minister, “non mi piace”: I don’t like the looks of him. For him, Hitler was semi-literate, and Nazi ideology, especially their racialism, was “boring and pretentious.” Moreover, the Germans had been “illiterate when Rome had Caesar, Virgil, and Augustus.” Now, Mussolini, stupidly grateful, guaranteed the Anschluss by throwing away the Stresa pact. Thus did he commit one of Machiavelli’s most prominent no-nos: putting his future in the hands of a power greater than his own.

Within five years, Charles de Gaulle aptly described Mussolini as riding a donkey behind Hitler’s war horse. Mussolini had secured the Catholic Church’s support. He had the finest relations with America. But, subsequent to his turn to Hitler, the Church de-legitimized and subverted him, and the Italian people found themselves at war against the country they admired most on behalf of the one they liked least. He ended up alienating even the Fascist Party.

...But Soviet influence in the Allied councils dragged out Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower’s acceptance until September 3, by which time the Germans were ready to arrest Italian troops (some 815,000 became German prisoners of war). Germany also invaded northern Italy, rescued Mussolini from the king, transferred him to their occupied zone, and used him as a puppet until the end of the war. Mussolini ruled northern Italy for a year and a half as Hitler’s bloody agent.

In April 1945, when Communist partisans executed Mussolini and hung his body upside-down from a meat hook in a Milan gas station, there was some pity, but no regrets.

The U.S. occupation, eager to return responsibility to Italians for their own affairs, and confronted with multiple political parties clamoring for power, turned matters over to a consortium of parties that, rather than dismantling the fascist state, parceled its contents out amongst themselves. All subsequent political struggles into our time, regardless of the personalities and ideologies involved, have been quarrels about pieces of this patronage. In our time, Italy’s government appoints some 700 persons per year to very high-paying, powerful positions in “private” companies strictly on the basis of the relative weight of the parties in the governing coalition. That is in addition to the clearly public posts and sinecures it fills. Fascism lives!

In short, fascism was a reality limited to Italy. But fascist Italy was first to enact the disempowerment of legislatures and the empowerment of the administrative state that is now the Western world’s standard of government.
Read more here.

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