“Fascism was a situational rather than a theoretical movement”

Fascism: The Career of a Concept. By Paul E. Gottfried

Reviewed by David Gordon

Paul Gottfried’s immensely erudite survey of interpretations of fascism puts one in mind of Ludwig von Mises.  Although Gottfried does not discuss Mises, readers of his excellent book will again and again be surprised and instructed at the extent to which Gottfried defends views similar to those of the great Austrian economist. Surprise, though, is not really in order. Though Mises is a classical liberal and Gottfried a conservative, both are steeped in the values and traditions of European civilization, and they interpret fascism from this perspective.

Gottfried has been greatly influenced by the historian Ernst Nolte, who sees fascism as a reaction to the violence and disruption of the Bolshevik Revolution. “Fascist movements were ‘counterrevolutionary imitations of leftist revolution’ that developed as reactions to the dangers of leftist upheavals…According to Nolte, the fascists absorbed the disruptive tactics and revolutionary élan of their leftist enemies in order to vanquish them.” (pp.1, 37)

With characteristic insight, Gottfried points out that Nolte’s analysis of fascism stems in part from “Marxist origins. . .Like conventional Marxist historians but with more conceptual inventiveness, Nolte treats the social strife in interwar Europe as the background for fascism’s rise to power. . .The civil war in which the communists and fascists locked horns was specific  to what was economically and socially the world’s most developed region. This perspective went back to a firm Marxist belief about when a socialist revolution would first erupt. . .” (pp.72-73)

Mises saw Italian fascism in a similar way to Nolte, though of course he did not begin from Marxist assumptions. “The fundamental idea of these movements—which, from the name of the most grandiose and tightly disciplined among them, the Italian, may, in general, be designated as Fascist—consists in the proposal to make use of the same unscrupulous methods in the struggle against the Third International as the latter employs against its opponents.  The Third International seeks to exterminate its adversaries and their ideas in the same way that the hygienist strives to exterminate a pestilential bacillus; it considers itself in no way bound by the terms of any compact that it may conclude with opponents, and it deems any crime, any lie, and any calumny permissible in carrying on its struggle.  The Fascists, at least in principle, profess the same intentions.  That they have not yet succeeded as fully as the Russian Bolsheviks in freeing themselves from a certain regard for liberal notions and ideas and traditional ethical precepts is to be attributed solely to the fact that the Fascists carry on their work among nations in which the intellectual and moral heritage of some thousands of years of civilization cannot be destroyed at one blow.”(Mises, Liberalism, FEE, 1985)

In their stress on violence, Gottfried argues, the fascists drew heavily on Georges Sorel: “His ideas about ‘redemptive myths’ that would push the masses toward purifying violence but would not end the cycle of decadence and revolution had profound effects on the revolutionary Right. Sorel’s thinking attracted French and Italian intellectuals who accepted fascism as a redemptive myth that justified ‘national revolutions.’”(p.145)

Mises agrees: “It was the idea of French Syndicalism that influenced the most important movements of the twentieth century. Lenin, Mussolini, and Hitler were all influenced by Sorel, by the idea of action, by the idea not to talk but to kill. Sorel’s influence on Mussolini and Lenin has not been questioned. For his influence on Nazism, see the book by Alfred Rosenberg, The Myth of the Twentieth Century.” (Mises, Marxism Unmasked, FEE, 2006)

Keep reading . . . .

via Robert Wenzel’s Who Were the Fascists? at EconomicPolicyJournal.com

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