Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The U.S. feels like fascist Italy in 1922 because, as predicted, the 21st Century plebiscitary presidency has finally led to the establishment of caesarism

Most Americans recognize the name "Hitler" when you say it. Most Americans think you're talking about a singer-songwriter when you say "Lenin." Most Americans don't recognize the name "Mussolini" and that's a serious problem as it means they have no idea what "fascism" is.

It isn't completely their fault. As you can see from the explanation if you click on the image at the right, over a period of time "intellectual" political philosophers have turned "fascism" into a complicated political term - really far, far more complicated than was necessary.

Part of the problem is that fascism was a 20th Century ideology developed in Italy.  The term fascio literally refers to "a bundle" or "a sheaf" similar to the one shown in the image at the right, and figuratively "league" which was used in the late 19th century to refer to political groups of many different (and sometimes opposing) orientations.

In this post the subject is the 20th Century political phenomenon Italian Fascism, also known as Classical Fascism or simply fascism, as clearly explained in the linked Wikipedia entry. It is explored here because of marked similarities to what is occurring now in the United States.

The Fasci of Revolutionary Action (Fasci d'Azione Rivoluzionaria, FAR), was an Italian organization, created by Benito Mussolini in 1914. The term "Fascism" was first used in 1915 by members of Mussolini's movement.

In the first meeting of the Fasci d'Azione Rivoluzionaria held on January 24, 1915, Mussolini declared that it was necessary for Europe to resolve its national problems - including national borders - of Italy and elsewhere "for the ideals of justice and liberty for which oppressed peoples must acquire the right to belong to those national communities from which they descended." At that point, "nationalism" because the first continuing element of fascism.

At the end of World War I Italian Fascists identified their primary opponents as the majority of socialists on the left who had opposed intervention in the War. The Fascists could comfortably hold Marxism in contempt, and join the right discounting class consciousness and supporting in the rule of elites. The Fascists assisted the anti-socialist campaign by allying with the other parties and the conservative right in a mutual effort to destroy...
  1. the Italian Socialist Party and labor organizations committed to class identity and
  2. the cultural divisions of geographical areas around Italy committed to group identity
...both considered a threat to national identity.

Prior to Italian Fascism's accommodations to the political right, Fascism was a small, urban, northern Italian movement that had about a thousand members. After Fascism's accommodation of the political right, the Italian Fascist movement's membership soared to approximately 250,000 by 1921.

Italian Fascism sought to accommodate conservatives by making major alterations to its political agenda—abandoning its previous populism, republicanism and anticlericalism, adopting policies in support of free enterprise and accepting the Catholic Church and the monarchy as institutions in Italy.

To appeal to Italian conservatives, Fascism adopted policies such as promoting family values, including promotion policies designed to reduce the number of women in the workforce limiting the woman's role to that of a mother. The fascists banned literature on birth control and increased penalties for abortion in 1926, declaring both crimes against the state. Fascism adopted a number of anti-modern positions designed to appeal to people upset with the new trends in sexuality and women's rights while seeking to secure law and order to appeal to conservatives, syndicalists, and corporatists.

In March 1921, French philosopher Georges Sorel wrote that Mussolini was "a man no less extraordinary than Lenin". After Sorel's death in 1922, Agostino Lanzillo, a one-time syndicalist leader who had become a fascist, wrote in the Italian fascist review Gerarchia, which was edited by Mussolini: "Perhaps fascism may have the good fortune to fulfill a mission that is the implicit aspiration of the whole oeuvre of the master of syndicalism: to tear away the proletariat from the domination of the Socialist party, to reconstitute it on the basis of spiritual liberty, and to animate it with the breath of creative violence. This would be the true revolution that would mold the forms of the Italy of tomorrow."

In 1921 Mussolini's organization became the National Fascist Party (Italian: Partito Nazionale Fascista, PNF) winning 37 of 535 seats in the Italian Parliament.

Beginning in 1922, Fascist paramilitaries escalated their strategy from one of attacking socialist offices and homes of socialist leadership figures to one of violent occupation of cities. The Fascists met little serious resistance from authorities and proceeded to take over several northern Italian cities. The Fascists attacked the headquarters of socialist and Catholic labour unions in Cremona and imposed forced Italianization upon the German-speaking population of Trent and Bolzano. After seizing these cities, the Fascists made plans to take Rome.

On October 24, 1922, the Fascist party held its annual congress in Naples, where Mussolini ordered Blackshirts to take control of public buildings and trains and to converge on three points around Rome. The Fascists managed to seize control of several post offices and trains in northern Italy while the Italian government, led by a left-wing coalition, was internally divided and unable to respond to the Fascist advances.

King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy perceived the risk of bloodshed in Rome in response to attempting to disperse the Fascists to be too high, so he appointed Mussolini as Prime Minister of Italy and Mussolini arrived in Rome on 30 October to accept the appointment.

(To create a time context relative to Lenin and Hitler, when Vladimir Lenin died of a stroke on January 21, 1924, he had already headed the Soviet government for six years. At that time, Mussolini had headed the Italian Government for 15 months. Adolph Hitler was still a small-time rabble-rouser in jail awaiting trial in February at which he was sentenced to five years' imprisonment at Landsberg Prison though he was pardoned after a year in prison.)

Mussolini's Fascist regime created a corporatist economic system in 1925 with creation of the Palazzo Vidioni Pact, in which the Italian employers' association Confindustria and Fascist trade unions agreed to recognize each other as the sole representatives of Italy's employers and employees, excluding non-Fascist trade unions.

A Ministry of Corporations was created that organized the Italian economy into 22 sectoral corporations, banned workers' strikes and lock-outs and in 1927 created the Charter of Labour, which established workers' rights and duties and created labour tribunals to arbitrate employer-employee disputes. In practice, the sectoral corporations exercised little independence and were largely controlled by the regime and employee organizations were rarely led by employees themselves, but instead by appointed Fascist party members.

By 1928 Mussolini's Fascist Party controlled the government, the military, and the economy of Italy.

Again, for time context  note that by 1928 Adolph Hitler's NSDAP held 12 seats of 490 in the Reichstag and he would not become Chancellor until 1933 after the Great Depression had demolished the German economy. But because he was leader of what we consider to be an essentially evil movement, Americans use Hitler's name regularly but know almost nothing about Mussolini's Italy and fascism. And that's unfortunate political ignorance.

Remember that fascism is an Italian creation built on the ideas of
The best explanation of Caesarism comes from Gerhard Casper's 2007 Caesarism in Democratic Politics: Reflections on Max Weber which tell us Weber employed the term to stress the plebiscitary character of elections, disdain for legislatures, the non-toleration of autonomous powers within the government bureaucracy, and a failure to suffer independent political minds.

Ceasarism explains the concept of a plebiscitary presidency which relies on powers that exceed the Constitution and that is accountable only during elections or impeachment, rather than daily to the Congress, the press, and the public.

Casper provides the insight into the plebiscitary presidency in this interview of President Richard Nixon after he had resigned and left office:

    Frost: So what ... you’re saying is that there are certain situations, where the president can decide that it’s in the best interest of the nation or something, and do something illegal.
    Nixon: Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal.
    Frost: By definition.
    Nixon: Exactly. Exactly. If the president, for example, approves something because of the national security, or in this case because of a threat to internal peace and order of significant magnitude, then the president’s decision in that instance is one that enables those who carry it out, to carry it out without violating the law.

Finally, Casper notes this warning:

    ...One of its best known invocations is, of course, by Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West, a book that first came out in 1918, i.e., more or less contemporaneously with Weber’s essay. In a world history table on “political epochs” that accompanied The Decline of the West, Spengler identified the period from 1800 to 2000 as the period where, in the West, economic power permeates the political forms of “democracy” (a word he placed in quotes) to be followed in the years 2000 to 2100 by the formation of caesarism. The caesarism that Spengler predicted for the 21st century he described, inter alia, as “Increasing Primitiveness of Political Forms. Inward decline of the nations into a formless population, and constitution thereof as an Imperium of gradually-increasing crudity of despotism.”

Benito Mussolini said in Rome on September 24, 1928: "E' meglio vivere un giorno da leone che 100 anni da pecora" (it is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a lamb). Or as tweeted by Trump:

Perhaps in 2018 we are clearly seeing the caesarism that Spengler predicted for the 21st century. By proudly with gusto issuing numerous legally questionable Executive Orders, Donald Trump is acknowledging Nixon's statement "If the president, for example, approves something...then the president’s decision in that instance is one that enables those who carry it out, to carry it out without violating the law."

And one can certainly understand why Spengler would put "democracy" in quotes. No political body of the U.S. government represents the majority of the voters, not President Trump, not the U.S. Senate, not the U.S. House of Representatives, not the U.S. Supreme Court.

Of course, it remains to be seen how it all plays out. America in 2018 is different from Italy in 1922. But it does appear that a Faustian bargain has been made by Americans just as it was by Italians. And the fascist model is spreading again.

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