Friday, January 04, 2008

The Italian job

From Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism --

... Fascism was born of a "fascist moment" in Western civilization, when a coalition of intellectuals going by various labels—progressive, communist, socialist, and so forth—believed the era of liberal democracy was drawing to a close. It was time for man to lay aside the anachronisms of natural law, traditional religion, constitutional liberty, capitalism, and the like and rise to the responsibility of remaking the world in his own image. God was long dead, and it was long overdue for men to take His place. Mussolini, a lifelong socialist intellectual, was a warrior in this crusade, and his Fascism—a doctrine he created from the same intellectual material Lenin and Trotsky had built their movements with—was a grand leap into the era of "experimentation" that would sweep aside old dogmas and usher in a new age.

Missing from the chapter from which this passage comes, and thus likely intrinsic to the book's selective reading of history, is any notion of how conservative (in the institution-preserving sense) Mussolini was. We all think of Mussolini's title as Il Duce. But technically he was just the Prime Minister of Italy, because Italy was a Kingdom during his entire reign. Would Hitler have tolerated a 2nd power centre, even if only a titular one? Of course not.

And it was as the Kingdom of Italy under Prime Minister Mussolini that that the Lateran treaty was concluded, guaranteeing the status of the Vatican. For someone looking to sweep away "traditional religion", Mussolini was tolerant of it. Again we know from history that Hitler behaved very differently.

If the argument is that American liberalism has elements of fascist ascendancy, isn't there an obligation to be a tad more careful about the distinction between Italian fascism (itself a product of Catholic alarm about communism) and its much nastier central European cousins? It certainly would have been nice if the New York Times, seeing fit to give a decent review to the book, had fleshed out such issues.

UPDATE: The book's mixed-up classification of Mussolini as a liberal seems to be a core part of its confusion.

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