The era of fascism recedes farther and farther into history, yet in political rhetoric it seems to be ever with us. Fascism ended in the most catastrophic failure and destruction experienced by any modern political movement, and passed quickly to the jurisdiction of history. Since 1945 the historians have certainly been active, at times almost hyper-active, in dealing with this theme, but the terms fascism and fascist have also remained common in contemporary political discourse. In part this has been because of the massive trauma
which fascism inflicted on Europe, yet never has so totally failed a movement remained relatively so alive in political rhetoric for so long. Ever since 1945,leftist publicists and intellectuals, particularly, have searched eagerly under every bed and bush for signs of fascism’s return. Each new political phenomenon that differs in any way from the social democratic norm is examined for signs of the cloven hoof. This is because no other term constitutes its equivalent as a stigma or a pejorative. Nothing else so fully and dramatically represents the «other» for Europe in the social democratic era. Not even Stalinism.
But what exactly does fascism mean? What is its definition, what are its singular characteristics? This conundrum is usually ignored, and when historians try to answer it, they often present different, sometimes directly contradictory, conclusions. The meaning or connotations of fascism are normally merely assumed by historians, who are concerned above all with the particular, and with the empirically descriptive.
In this context, Alvaro Lozano has waded into a gigantic literature and provided the latest general history of Mussolini and fascism in Italy. Since Spanish historians are rarely distinguished for any accomplishment beyond Spanish history itself, one approaches a work of this sort with trepidation, fearing another superficial, second-hand exercise. Lozano’s book, however, turns out to be a pleasant surprise, for it has an extensive grasp of the principal literature, primarily in Italian and English, is broadly informed, generally accurate and nuanced in treatment, and sophisticated in perspective—altogether above the norm of such things, whether in Spain or anyplace else.
Lozano is the author of a number of works of synthesis, mainly dealing with Europe in World War II and its aftermath. He sets the stage with a clear discussion of the problems of united Italy and its debacle in World War I, then turns to Mussolini and the rise of the new movement. As the central figure, the Duce receives extensive and sure- handed treatment, so that the book also constitutes something of a biography of the fascist leader. It takes up most major aspects and problems of the regime, treats each clearly and for the most part accurately, and compares and contrasts them with their counterparts in Nazi Germany, about which Lozano has also written a book. At the conclusion of each major section the reader is also provided with a brief discussion of the different interpretations that have been provided by leading historians. The largest part of the book—more than 200 pages—is then devoted to foreign policy, Italy’s role in World War II, and the final transformation and downfall of the system. In toto, this represents a considerable accomplishment, the best new general work of synthesis and analysis of Italian fascism to have appeared in a number of years.
In this daunting undertaking, much has been accomplished, yet inevitably some aspects receive more attention than others, and some notable problems are given rather short shrift. Lozano clearly and accurately situates the origins of fascism in the Italian crisis of World War I and its aftermath, yet that whole issue is so complex that it ideally requires even more attention than he gives it, and for this dimension it is useful to turn to the latest works by Emilio Gentile.
Since the death of Renzo De Felice in 1996, Emilio Gentile (who this year retires from a long and distinguished career at the Università di Roma-La Sapienza) has been Italy’s leading historian of fascism. His copious works span the entire breadth of the history of fascism and also extend well beyond. Since his first major book on the origins of fascist ideology, Gentile has been particularly concerned with the culture of fascism in the broadest sense, and has been the principal successor of George L. Mosse in following the latter’s «anthropological turn» in fascist studies. He locates the essence of fascism in its concept of «anthropological revolution,» as distinct from the leftist socioeconomic revolution, and its struggle to create «the new man,» something that fundamentally differentiated it from rightist movements. L’apocalisse della modernità (2008) is not, however, a book about fascism itself. Rather, it examines the cultural crisis of the European fin-de-siècle and of the Great War, the soil from which fascism emerged, and the speculations concerning decadence, regeneration through violence and the emergence of the new man which accompanied the war. Fascism gave such notions specific expression much more directly than did Bolshevism, which was based on pseudoscientistic materialism of a different sort, formed even before the cultural crisis emerged.
A significant aspect of that crisis and of the accompanying culture of artistic modernism was the Futurist movement, which in Russia later veered toward Bolshevism but in Italy served as the avant-garde artistic precursor of fascism, and subsequently an important part of fascist culture proper. Italian Futurism is probably the only significant movement of cultural modernism studied as much or more for its politics as for its art. «La nostra sfida alle stelle» (2009) is a brief book of 140 pages, well-illustrated with Futurist art, and is the best available guide to the political thought and activism of Futurism. Perhaps its most notable achievement is to reveal more clearly the multiple impulses animating the movement, a veritable «kaleidoscope» (in Gentile’s words), while the eventual decision to merge into fascism meant the death of the original ambition to create a radical modern new man who would be totally different, both «superhuman» and «dishuman.»
The Italian regime was the second single-party system in Europe, following the Soviet Union. Lozano, always well-read in the secondary literature, contrasts the role of the party in the three principal dictatorships: in the Soviet Union the leaders of the party controlled the state, in Germany the party directed part of the state and was given charge of other institutions parallel to the original state, and in Italy the state predominated over the party. In his judgment, the party became a colossal bureaucracy whose influence over the population, though evident in certain areas, was limited. This tripartite analysis was perhaps first voiced in one of the most widely read books of that era, Le parti unique (1936), by the noted Romanian theorist of corporatism Mihaïl Manoilescu. Puzzled by the Italian case, Manoilescu suggested that the role of the party was made effective through individual fascists, though not the party, who administered the state, though such a conclusion was not entirely correct.
Was the franquista system, also a single-party state, a copy of the Italian model? Yes and no. One fundamental difference was that Mussolini was the original leader of the party. He did not create it, for it grew up semi-spontaneously around him, but he led it to power. After 1922, however, the party became a significant problem for its Duce, until he had fully tamed it.
Franco, by comparison, literally had nothing to do with the Falange until after the Civil War began. Once he took it over, there would be no real challenges. He resolved the only two crises connected with the Falangists (May 1941 and September 1942) in each case to his own advantage. The downgrading of the party began in Spain as early as 1941, at a time when Franco was still an associate of Hitler and still planning to enter the war, once conditions were more favorable. A long and slow, but genuine, process of defascistization then began in Madrid in August 1943, as soon as Mussolini had been overthrown.
The party was obviously much more important in Italy. More than twenty years ago, Gentile published a history of the first three years of the party, Storia del partito fascista 1919-1922. Movimento e milizia (1989), which remains the best treatment of the founding phase of the Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF), though Gentile did not carry the account further. The first attempt at a general one-volume study was The Italian Fascist Party in Power. A Study in Totalitarian Rule (1959), by the American historian Dante L. Germino. His effort was not entirely successful, due to very limited data on the one hand and a rather simplistic interpretation on the other. Germino concluded that fascism had achieved a totalitarian system, but one that differed from the Soviet Union primarily in terms of its lesser intensity.
Thus Loreto Di Nucci’s Lo Stato-partito del fascismo (2009) is the first full one- volume history of the party and, up to a point, fills a genuine lacuna in the literature. His account follows the fascist organization through the entire period of the regime, with the focus on the complex relationship between the state and the party, though the second decade is not covered as extensively as the first. The work concludes with a very detailed account of the notorious «notte del Gran Consiglio» (July 24-25, 1943), when the members of the PNF’s Grand Council overthrew their Duce, after considerable frank discussion, by simple majority vote. Needless to say, this would have been inconceivable in either Germany or Spain, no matter how different the Hitler and Franco systems were from each other.
Lozano’s conclusions about the role and effectiveness of the PNF are not very different from those of Di Nucci, who titles his final chapter, «Un caos sistemico.» If that was the case, how «totalitarian» was the regime that invented the concept of totalitarianism? In her well-known Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt concluded that Italy did not really fit with the Soviet Union and Germany in the category of «totalitarianism.» Did it all amount, then, to a great fraud by Mussolini?
The concept seems to have been invented by his liberal opponent, Giovanni Amendola, who first warned in 1924 that Mussolini was planning to convert his government into a complete dictatorship, which Amendola termed a «dittatura» or «governo» «totalitario.» Since fascists always tended to be a little more honest and direct in their language than communists, Mussolini himself picked up the term in 1925, exactly at the point when he was converting what had begun as a coalition parliamentary government into a personal political dictatorship. The Italian fascist concept of totalitarismo, however, did not propose a system of complete and systematic state control over all Italian institutions. For that model, one would have to turn to the Soviet Union.
The most precise discussion of Italian totalitarianism has been presented by Emilio Gentile, particularly in the revised edition of his La via italiana al totalitarismo. Il partito e lo Stato nel regime fascista (2008). In this work Gentile emphasizes that for any system totalitarianism must be a project, a process that takes a good many years, and is not a simple fait accompli. Arendt, for example, concluded that Nazi Germany only achieved functional totalitarianism very late in its life and that even the Soviet Union required nearly a decade and a half.
Mussolini and the leaders of the PNF differentiated their movement from that of Bolshevism by the rejection of state socialism on the one hand and by the fact that they had pioneered a new kind of party that was a «party-army» or «party-militia.» Even Lenin’s Bolsheviks could not make the same claim, for they had needed to use a separate paramilitary group, the Red Guards, not their own party membership, which was not, ipso facto, a militia in the fascist sense. This new kind of party, as the «Stato-partito,» was to become the pedagogue of the nation, transforming culture and institutions through a lengthy process. By the 1930s a kind of organigram of totalitarian institutionalization had developed, which in one way or another theoretically included almost everything but the Roman Catholic Church. Eventually total membership in all fascist organizations approached 44 million, and the party had theoretically incorporated the masses into a «rivoluzione continua.» It was nonetheless a scheme that permitted considerable individual autonomy, ultimately to be coordinated and transformed by the totalitarian institutional network of fascism, though the latter, as it turned out, was more form than reality, and did not penetrate society very deeply. Historians generally agree that by the 1930s the regime had achieved a kind of consensus, however passive in some respects, and a fairly broad acceptance by Italian society. Moreover, this general consensus or acceptance, based on a relatively extensive but also mild repression, lasted through 1942 and only collapsed in the following year under the weight of a looming total military defeat.
At one point Mussolini calculated that effective fascistization of Italian society would take at least twenty years and could not be completed until he had eliminated the monarchy. Around 1936, after the regime had been in power for more than a decade and had begun to carry out military conquest abroad, the achievement was recognized as inadequate, for society and culture were not being fully transformed. They were, for the most part, merely compliant. A renewed effort was made to accelerate the process, involving a certain amount of institutional innovation and a new definition and expansion of functions. Even so, this redoubling of the totalitarian process (a policy clearly recognized by Renzo De Felice, the dean of historians of fascism) achieved no more than limited success, and its final phase, implemented in 1941 after Italy had entered the European war, was lacking in everything—resources, commitment, effectiveness and credibility. The totalitarian system had failed to reach its goal of anthropological revolution, of transforming Italians into «new men,» and had even failed to mobilize efficiently for war. Its forms and institutions had been accepted by society, but had been revealed to have only limited content and limited power of social penetration. Fascist totalitarianism had seemed to work after a fashion, so long as too much was not demanded, but in the crisis of total war had failed. This more carefully nuanced Gentilean perspective, however, will not be found in the analysis either of Lozano or Di Nucci.
In Spain, by contrast, the concept of totalitarianism was always simplistic and confused. The party was defined as an «instrumento totalitario» in the original Veinti- siete Puntos of the Falange, but José Antonio Primo de Rivera drew back from the concept of «totalitarian» in 1935. It was subsequently embraced by Franco, the FET andthe new regime in numerous statements, normally without empirical content. On the one hand, Franco, in an unusually confused effort at political analysis, naively defined it as a Spanish invention, having been originally introduced by the Reyes Católicos. On the other hand, the Jesuit political and economic analyst P. Joaquín Azpiazu observed much more sensibly in the journal Razón y Fe that in Spain it presumably referred to absolute unity and authority primarily in politics and government, for, if it implied more, the only fully realized totalitarianism was that of the Soviet Union. The term was given up altogether with the beginning of defascistization in 1943.
If the effort to achieve totalitarianism ultimately failed, were other major aspects of fascism, such as its economics policy, also a failure? Here the data are mixed. Lozano offers a kind of balance sheet of economic performance under Mussolini, with its relative failures in agriculture and some other areas compared with its successes in electrification and heavy industry. Though the corporative system of economics was largely a sham, an attempt to offer a new model whose major function probably was simply to control labor, Mussolini was nonetheless successful in mitigating the effects of the depression (proportionately more successful, for example, than Franklin Roosevelt) and built a major state financial and industrial sector. The conclusion would probably have to be that the results of fascist economics were about average for that era, and varied considerably from sector to sector. Prior to the war, there was no drastic decline of general living standards as was brought about by Soviet totalitarianism. There was nonetheless a contradiction built into Mussolini’s own thinking—on the hand he wanted Italy to become stronger and in the process more «modern’ and productive, but on the other his peculiar ethos of militaristic ecology sought unsuccessfully to limit urbanization, a major index of modernity, because he preferred the rural austerity he thought necessary to build a militant «new man.» Rising living standards per se were not a goal, but, mutatis mutandis, that was true of all the totalitarianisms of the Stalin-Hitler era.
It will come as a shock to many readers to know that fascists considered themselves very modern and even, in a sense, «progressive,» though that term was not normally used. For decades after 1945, prevailing interpretations of fascism, whether from the Marxist left or the liberal center-right, accused all fascism, in Italy and elsewhere, of being anti-modern, a revolt against modernity. This view slowly began to change in the 1970s, and George L. Mosse, a major proponent, abandoned it altogether prior to his death in 1999.1
By far the most important effort to address the issue of fascist modernity is Roger Griffin’s Fascismo y modernismo, probably the most significant book to be published about fascism in recent years. Griffin treats fascism’s relationship to artistic modernism, but also
1 See his posthumous The Fascist Revolution (1999).
deals with the question of fascism and modernity more generally. His conclusion, a convincing one, is that fascism was one of the most important expressions of the new European modernity of the early twentieth century, and that, however destructive it became, that does not alter the place of the modern in fascist ideology and culture. Fascism sought to achieve its own alternative modernity, taking somewhat different forms in Italy and Germany. Though he rejected most aspects of libertarian artistic modernism, which he deemed decadent, Hitler considered the Third Reich to have achieved the apex of modernity, resting on and fortified by modern science, at least as he perceived it. By contrast, fascist Italy was much more friendly to artistic modernism, and made modernist architecture, known in Italy as Rationalism, a general fascist style.
Griffin examines many different aspects of modernism and modernity, primarily in Italy and Germany, and builds a carefully nuanced case. This not merely illuminates fascist culture, but is an important contribution to the understanding of Italian fascism and German nazism more generally. It introduces much new material and challenges established interpretations. The book is not merely a study of fascism, but makes a major contribution to the broader analysis of modernism and modernity.
The old interpretations held that there could scarcely be a fascist culture, or even a coherent fascist ideology, because fascism was inherently anti-intellectual and irrational. The Italian philosopher Norberto Bobbio had declared in 1961 that fascism was merely «an ideology of negation,» without content, incapable of producing culture. This assertion was confounded only five years later when George L. Mosse published his critical anthology Nazi culture (1966), which demonstrated conclusively that such a concept was not an oxymoron. Lozano also rejects Bobbio’s position, and concludes that fascist ideology and culture were not irrational, but rather non-rational, emphasizing the roles of vitalism and myth.
Lozano treats fascist culture and Italian culture under fascism only very briefly and in passing, having no opportunity to make use of Alessandra Tarquini’s very recent Storia della cultura fascista (2011). This key work, following publication of her earlier book on the doctrinal currents within the party that were sharply critical of Giovanni Gentile, fascism’s leading philosopher, has established Tarquini as a leading scholar of Italian fascist culture and ideology. Her latest study, which ought to be translated into Spanish, provides a brief descriptive and analytic overview of fascist ideology and culture, compact and clearly written, notable for its analytical precision and objectivity. So useful a guide has never before been published and deserves a wide audience.
Tarquini begins by clearly outlining the controversy concerning the interpretation of fascism and then devotes chapters to the cultural policy and to the intellectuals and artists of the 1920s. One of the lengthiest sections treats the doctrine of myth, of the totalitarian state, and fascism’s other key concepts, such as the myth of Rome and of the «new man», and fascism’s interpretation of its relationship to the French Revolution. Two chapters examine the cultural policy and the intellectuals and artists of the 1930s, while the last part deals with the doctrines that emerged in the final phase of the regime.
Attention is devoted to each major fascist intellectual and ideologue, and each important doctrinal and cultural current. The book is impressive in avoiding the logorrhea common among Italian and Spanish historians, accomplishing a great deal in limited space. Though fascism imposed political conformity, it never attempted to stifle all internal political and cultural discussion, and was notable among the major dictatorships for the degree of internal controversy which it permitted. Broad latitude also obtained in art and literature, so long as basic political guidelines were not transgressed. Its model sought to incorporate limited diversity within a process of totalitarian unity that was not, for example, equivalent to the role of the different political-ideological «families» within franquismo, for the Spanish censorship largely precluded open discussion of the diversity of ideological currents.
During the first decade, Giovanni Gentile was the principal ideologue and philosopher of fascism. Italy’s most prominent academic philosopher,2 Gentile propounded his own variant of post-Hegelian idealism which he called «Actualism» and posited as the goal of fascism the «ethical state,» which would incorporate the masses in the service of high ideals. The entire second half of the fascist period would, however, be characterized by the rebellion of fascist ideologues and intellectuals against Gentileanism, criticized from almost every angle for being variously too idealistic, unpragmatic, conservative, lacking in radicalism, and so on. Tarquini’s first book provides a thorough and incisive discussion of the multiple fascist critiques of Gentileanism, and in the process illuminates major dimensions of the intellectual history of Italian fascism.
The largest part of Lozano’s book is devoted to Mussolini’s foreign policy and Italy in World War II. There are no novelties in this section, though Lozano makes good use of most of the published literature, contrasts the views of different historians, and almost inevitably ends up with a fairly conventional, but also convincing, account of the climax and the destruction of fascism. There are no major errors or dubious interpretations to
2 As distinct from the independent liberal philosopher of idealism, Benedetto Croce.
criticize here, despite his over-reliance on sometimes very distant secondary sources and the occasional incorporation of a dubious anecdote.
Though fascism preached the necessity of war and empire, it did not engage in war abroad during the regime’s first thirteen years, in which, unlike the equivalent period for the Soviet Union or the Third Reich, it lived at relative peace with the world. Fascist Italy in fact lacked the resources to become a great power, and, unlike the Soviet Union and Germany, military expanses only heavily unbalanced its expenditures in the fourteenth year of the regime.
Nonetheless, as Lozano emphasizes, Mussolini’s doctrines contained a logic that strongly implied war and expansion when conditions permitted. But what kind of war and expansion? It seems clear that Mussolini, who was not literally crazy, never planned to fight World War II. Instead, he thought of brief, limited campaigns that would be within Italy’s shortened grasp, and carried these out successfully in Ethiopia (1935-36) and Spain (1936-39),3 after which things soon began to spiral out of control.Did Mussolini really have to become an ally of Hitler? It has seemed to many that this was almost inevitable, but such a conclusion probably oversimplifies. Though Lozano has done many things well, he fails to present the strong anti-nazi polemic which appeared in the Italian press in 1934, a polemic that made almost every single criticism of nazism that would ever be presented elsewhere. Hitler wanted Mussolini’s support and assistance from the beginning, but the latter took his time about providing it. Mussolini’s attitude toward the German Führer always involved an ambivalent and contradictory combination of fear and envy, and after the end of 1937 the envy began to win out. Though in September 1939 Italy was too weak to honor the military alliance it had recently signed with Germany, by June 1940 Mussolini felt extreme humiliation in being no more than a «non-belligerent.» He was convinced that he must seize the only opportunity left to enter a war, already won by Germany, while there was still a little time remaining. What began in 1939-40 as a military alliance led to fascism’s reduction to the status of satellite in 1941-43 and then to that of a sort of puppet in 1943-45.
As De Felice and others have always emphasized, what Mussolini initiated in 1940 was designed as a «guerra paralela» to advance Italy’s own interests in the shadow of German power, which would do the hard fighting. This was hardly surprising, since a
3 Lozano exaggerates the number of Italian troops in Spain, giving the figure of 50,000 «entre 1936 y 1939,» when in fact the total reached 50,000 for only a a couple of months early in 1937 and then was considerably reduced. For most of the war there were not many more than 30,000 Italian troops in Spain, though Lozano is quite correct to point out that «su desempeño en la Guerra Civil española no fue tan deficiente como se ha sugerido en numerosas ocasiones.» With the exception of the battle of Guadalajara, Italian forces in Spain were usually successful.
number of other dictators sought their own equivalent (Stalin, Antonescu, Horthy and, arguably, Franco, and even democratic Finland, though primarily to recover the territory stolen by Stalin in 1940). The only big winner, in both the short and long terms, was Stalin. As an associate of Hitler, in 1939-40 he took over all the eastern half of Poland, all the Baltic republics, northeastern Romania and southeastern Finland, and showed considerable interest in much more. Being the dictator of a great power, on the winning side in World War II, he made off with all this loot scott-free. Italy, Hungary and Romania were not so fortunate.
Why did Mussolini make a fatal mistake that Franco avoided? Franco also went through a phase of prepotencia between 1937 and 1942, not entirely dissimilar from the tendency that Mussolini had developed to believe his own propaganda more and more. Nor was his ultimate caution merely due to being a professional military man, for so were Horthy and Antonescu. The two clearest differences between Spain and Italy were geographic and economic. The Iberian peninsula is set apart from Europe more than Italy, and after the Civil War Spain was not merely weaker than Italy—which it would have been in any event—but very much weaker. When all is said and done, Franco faced less temptation.
After all the fascist build-up of the military virtues of what it called «l’Italia guerriera ed operaia» (warrior and worker Italy), why was Italy so weak militarily in 1940? A small part of this had to do with the Spanish war, for it was Mussolini, not the more circumspect Hitler, who had provided the greater share of the Ejército Nacional’s military equipment. Part of this was never replaced, while military success against weaker foes in Ethiopia and Spain had given the Duce an exaggerated notion of Italy’s military strength. Equally important is the fact that, of all the major dictators, Mussolini was the one with the least grasp of military affairs, about which Hitler, Franco and Stalin were all more knowledgeable. Accompanying his lack of understanding of what was involved in modern war was the absence of any grasp of strategy in the broader sense. And in Italy’s case, there was not too much margin for error. Stalin could make massive mistakes, losing four million men in the first four months of the German war, together with a gigantic amount of equipment, and soon replace them with five million more men and yet more equipment. The leader of a medium power like Italy enjoyed no such luxury.
Beyond Mussolini’s deeply flawed leadership, the main reasons had to do with the nature of fascism’s failed totalitarianism and specifically of Italian military culture, to which must be added the limited productive capacity of the Italian economy. Fascist totalitarianism conceded limited autonomy to institutions and sectors that were ultimately to be coordinated by a national system, but the coordination failed. Granted a considerable degree of autonomy, military institutions actually stagnated under the protection of fascist totalitarianism, so that the Italian armed forces were comparatively weaker in 1940 than in 1915. Had Mussolini adhered to his original scheme of limited wars, this might have made less difference, though in the autumn of 1940 the Italian military showed they could not even overwhelm a very small power like Greece, the Duce having given his generals only two weeks to mobilize for the campaign.
The greatest single failure of fascist totalitarianism lay in military development, though it failed equally in its vaunted «anthropological revolution.» The «new man» proved to be in short supply, and in 1943 most of the Italian population disengaged both politically and psychologically from fascism and from the war. Mussolini’s regime ended in such unmitigated disaster that more than a few historians have likened him to a buffoon, though Lozano very correctly emphasizes that this caricature is inaccurate, inadequate to understand one of Europe’s most successful leaders of the 1920s and 1930s. War has brought the downfall of nearly all of Europe’s non-communist dictatorships, with the principal exception of that of Franco. Even Portugal’s comparatively modest and largely non-fascist Estado Novo met a variant of the fate of the central European regimes.
Lozano is correct to point out that, if Mussolini was no help but rather a hindrance to Hitler, the reverse was true, as well. Hitler saved the Italians in Greece in 1941, but in general provided no overall assistance to the Italian war effort, not as much proportionately as the Allies had given to liberal Italy in World War I. Finally, Lozano offers a conclusion that is often overlooked: even if the Axis had achieved victory, the future of Italy would hardly have been satisfactory from the fascist point of view, for the country and its possessions would have been reduced to satellite status in the greater German imperium.
Lozano does not deal with the problems of generic fascism or the broader definition of fascism, nor is he absolutely required to when writing a history of Mussolini’s Italy. Nonetheless, the reader may ultimately wonder what it was that made fascism «fascist»? It could not have been dictatorship, totalitarianism, the cult of the leader, mass propaganda, gigantic public spectacles, extreme militarization, mass violence or unprovoked military aggression, for all these things existed in equal or sometimes even greater measure in communist regimes. Nor could it have been extreme nationalism, for some of the latter have also been extremely nationalist. So what was it?
I would suggest that the uniqueness of what the Italians sometimes called fascistizzità lay in two of its doctrines. The first was the special character of the fascist doctrine of violence, which was «Sorelian» in concept and held violence itself to be therapeutic, not a necessary evil (as the communists had it) but a positive good, which
made the practitioners of the right kind of violence superior human beings ipso facto. Similarly, war was not a necessary evil but, up to a point, a good in itself.
The second was the culture of philosophical vitalism, not irrationalist but resolutely anti-materialist and non-rational, which affirmed that the highest level of life and culture was achieved through activism and dynamism, through superior emotion and greater will, producing a new man not through historical materialism but through its own anthropological revolution of vitalist doctrine and practice. Nearly all other major features of fascism were shared with communism and, sometimes, with other kinds of dictatorships.
Once the special place of these two doctrines is recognized, their role in the final outcome of fascism becomes clearer, and the ultimate dénouement more understandable. This also serves to explain why all the speculation about the «return of fascism,» at least in contemporary Europe, is entirely beside the point.