How to Spot a Fascist

For the past several years, some of my colleagues in medieval studies have been claiming that our neck of the scholarly profession is infected not just with white supremacism, but also with fascism, so much so that they are willing to label fellow members of the profession as out-and-out “fascists,” including yours truly.

As Inigo Montoya would put it, I’m not sure that word means what they think it means.

What they seem to mean by it is “racist,” because, of course, everyone knows that fascists are racists—and racists are evil.

It also seems for them to have something to do with being of European ancestry and/or white and not apologizing for it, as well as having status in our profession that others do not.

At a guess, it could have something to do with arguing in favor of Western civilization and/or Christianity, but for the most part they leave it undefined, hanging there as the slander that everyone knows it is without quite being able to say why.

Sometimes they gesture towards Milo, when, that is, they are talking about me.

Never, however, do they define it clearly, certainly not in any way that an actual fascist like, say, Benito Mussolini would recognize.

They should start by looking at the reverse of a Mercury dime. Do you recognize the symbol? That’s right, it is a fasces, the bundled sticks-with-axe used by the ancient Romans to symbolize the power and jurisdiction of the magistrate.

Are you surprised to see such a symbol of evil on an American dime? Imagine if it were a swastika.

Fasces are everywhere on American public monuments. There are even fasces on either side of the seat of state in the Lincoln Memorial—and on the official seal of the United States Tax Court. To judge by our use of symbolism, all Americans are fascists!

Except, of course, that is not what Mussolini thought fascism was, even if FDR and Roy Rogers did admire him.

Conveniently, back in 1932 Mussolini co-wrote an article for the Enciclopedia Italiana with Giovanni Gentile in which he defined his own doctrine and its relationship to the other political options of his day. (I know, I know—not fair citing the primary sources when it is one’s own academic reputation on the line.)

“Like every sound political conception,” the inventor of Fascism intoned,
Fascism is both practice and thought; action in which a doctrine is immanent, and a doctrine which, arising out of a given system of historical forces, remains embedded in them and works there from within.
Mussolini has clearly been reading his Marx—he was, after all, the proud son of a socialist. According to Wikipedia (see, this stuff is well known!), Mussolini considered Marx “the greatest of all theorists of socialism.” He clearly thought highly of the way Marx talked about history:
Hence it has a form correlative to the contingencies of place and time, but it has also a content of thought which raises it to a formula of truth in the higher level of the history of thought. 
In the world one does not act spiritually as a human will dominating other wills without a conception of the transient and particular reality under which it is necessary to act, and of the permanent and universal reality in which the first has its being and its life.
Mussolini has also been reading his Nietzsche—that thing about “dominating other wills” gives it away. (Remember who else wanted to “dominate other wills”? Right.)
In order to know men it is necessary to know man; and in order to know man it is necessary to know reality and its laws.
And you thought fascism was all about jackboots and thuggery!
There is no concept of the State which is not fundamentally a concept of life: philosophy or intuition, a system of ideas which develops logically or is gathered up into a vision or into a faith, but which is always, at least virtually, an organic conception of the world.
We are getting pretty mystical here, pretty fast, don’t you think? What could this conception of the State as “fundamentally a concept of life” mean?

Mussolini elaborates:
Thus Fascism could not be understood in many of its practical manifestations as a party organization, as a system of education, as a discipline, if it were not always looked at in the light of its whole way of conceiving life, a spiritualized way. The world seen through Fascism is not this material world which appears on the surface, in which man is an individual separated from all others and standing by himself, and in which he is governed by a natural law that makes him instinctively live a life of selfish and momentary pleasure. The man of Fascism is an individual who is nation and fatherland, which is a moral law, binding together individuals and the generations into a tradition and a mission, suppressing the instinct for a life enclosed within the brief round of pleasure in order to restore within duty a higher life free from the limits of time and space: an life in which the individual, through the denial of himself, through the sacrifice of his own private interests, through death itself, realizes the completely spiritual existence in which his value as a man lies.
And where it is that “his value as a man lies” if not in his individuality? Why, in the State, of course.
Against individualism, the Fascist conception is for the State; and it is for the individual in so far as he coincides with the State, which is the conscience and universal will of man in his historical existence.... Therefore, for the Fascist, everything is in the State, and nothing human or spiritual exists, much less has value, outside the State. In this sense Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State, the synthesis and unity of all values, interprets, develops and gives strength to the whole life of the people.
It is for this reason that Fascism is directly opposed both to classical Liberalism and to Socialism:
Liberalism denied the State in the interests of the particular individual; Fascism reaffirms the State as the true reality of the individual....
Outside the State there can be neither individuals or groups (political parties, associations, syndicates, classes). Therefore Fascism is opposed to Socialism, which confines the movements of history within the class struggle and ignores the unity of classes established in one economic and moral reality in the State....
It is also opposed to Democracy—unless, that is, Democracy is properly conceived as the expression of the “higher personality” of the State, for it is in the State and the State alone that the nation finds it true expression as an “ethical reality” and a “spiritual force, which takes over all the forms of the moral and intellectual life of man.”
Fascism, in short, is not only the giver of laws and the founder of institutions, but the educator and promoter of spiritual life. It wants to remake, not the forms of human life, but its content, man, character, faith. And to this end it requires discipline and authority that can enter into the spirits of men and there govern unopposed. Its sign, therefore, is the Lictors’ rods, the symbol of unity, of strength and justice.
I think we know what Mussolini would have done if he had gotten hold of the One Ring.

I wonder what Mussolini would have thought about a Catholic professor of medieval history writing about a grassroots devotion in which every Christian was free to imagine him or herself in personal relationship with God and His Mother, praying from hand-copied books according to his or her individual choice of readings?

Yeah, right.

For some reason, my colleagues in medieval studies who keep using this term seem incapable of telling the difference between someone (i.e. me) who champions the devotions of Random Laypersons to the Incarnate Son of God and someone (i.e. Mussolini) who “believed that science had proven there was no god, and that the historical Jesus was ignorant and mad.”

They also seem incapable of recognizing the difference between a white gay man in love with a black husband (i.e. Milo) who champions the idea that people should be able to be, say, do, and think what they want and someone (i.e. Mussolini) who considered the State the only true source of virtue and morals, directly opposed to the individual’s freedom of thought and speech.

“Oh, but you’re both Catholic,” they will say. And thereby expose the true source of their enmity.

Read the Wikipedia entry on Mussolini. Yes, he tricked Catholics in Italy into supporting him by insisting on his anti-Communist credentials, but he hated the Church and “once told his cabinet that ‘Islam was perhaps a more effective religion than Christianity’ and that the ‘papacy was a malignant tumor in the body of Italy and must “be rooted out once and for all,” because there was no room in Rome for both the Pope and himself.’”

Who here are the real fascists? You decide.

See MedievalGate for my ongoing adventures as a conservative in academia.

If you would like to learn to pray like a medieval Christian, you can buy my book! Sneak preview here.

Reference: Benito Mussolini, “The Doctrine of Fascism,” trans. Michael Oakshott, in Readings in Western Civilization 9: Twentieth Century Europe, ed. John W. Boyer and Jan Goldstein (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986). For my syllabus on the History of European Civilization where I use this text, go here.

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