For fascism, the State and the individual are one.
– Giovanni Gentile, “Origin and Doctrine of Fascism”
The myth that fascism and Nazism are phenomena of the right relies heavily on Americans not knowing what fascism and Nazism really mean, what those ideologies stand for. Leftists in academia and the media have worked hard to portray fascism and Nazism in terms of sheer demagoguery and generic authoritarianism, carefully concealing the ideological roots that would reveal fascism and Nazism’s true political colors.
Think about this: We know the name of the philosopher of capitalism, Adam Smith. We also know the name of the philosopher of Marxism, Karl Marx. So, quick: What is the name of the philosopher of fascism? Yes, exactly. You don’t know. Virtually no one knows. This is not because he doesn’t exist, but because the political left – which dominates academia, the media and Hollywood – had to get rid of him to avoid confronting fascism and Nazism’s unavoidable leftist orientation.
So let’s meet the man himself, Giovanni Gentile, who may be termed fascism’s Karl Marx. Gentile was, in his day, which is the first half of the 20th century, considered one of Europe’s leading philosophers. A student of Hegel and Bergson and director of the Encyclopedia Italiana, Gentile was not merely a widely published and widely influential thinker; he was also a political statesman who served in a variety of important government posts. How, then, has such a prominent and influential figure vanished into the mist of history?
Let’s consider some key aspects of Gentile’s philosophy. Following Aristotle and Marx, Gentile argues that man is a social animal. This means that we are not simply individuals in the world. Rather, our individuality is expressed through our relationships: we are students or workers, husbands or wives, parents and grandparents, members in this or that association or group and also citizens of a community or nation. To speak of man alone in the state of nature is a complete fiction; man is naturally at home in community, in society.
Right away, we see that Gentile is a communitarian as opposed to a radical individualist. This distinguishes him from some libertarians and classical liberals, who emphasize individuality in contradistinction to society. But Gentile so far has said nothing with which conservatives – let’s say Reaganite conservatives – would disagree. Reagan in 1980 emphasized the importance of five themes: the individual, the family, the church, the community and the country. He accused the centralized state – big government – of undermining not merely our individuality but also these other associations.
Gentile now contrasts two types of democracy that he says are “diametrically opposed.” The first is liberal democracy, which envisions society made up of individuals who form communities to protect and advance their rights and interests, specifically their economic interests in property and trade. Gentile regards this as selfish or bourgeois democracy, by which he means capitalist democracy, the democracy of the American founding. In its place, Gentile recommends a different type of democracy, “true democracy,” in which individuals willingly subordinate themselves to society and to the state.
Gentile recognizes that his critique of bourgeois democracy echoes that of Marx, and Marx is his takeoff point. Like Marx, Gentile wants the unified community, a community that resembles the family, a community where we’re all in this together. I’m reminded here of New York Gov. Mario Cuomo’s keynote address at the 1984 Democratic Convention. Cuomo likened America to an extended family where, through the agency of government, we take care of each other in much the same manner that families look out for all their members.
While Marx and Cuomo seem to view political communities as natural, inevitable associations, Gentile emphasized that such communities must be created voluntarily, through human action, operating as a consequence of human will. They are, in Gentile’s words, an idealistic or “spiritual creation.” For Gentile, people by themselves are too slothful and inert to form genuine communities by themselves; they have to be mobilized. Here, too, many modern progressives would agree. Speaking in terms with which both Obama and Hillary would sympathize, Gentile emphasized that leaders and organizers are needed to direct and channel the will of the people.
Despite Gentile’s disagreement with Marx about historical inevitability, he has at this point clearly broken with modern conservatism and classical liberalism and revealed himself to be a man of the left. Gentile was, in fact, a lifelong socialist. Like Marx, he viewed socialism as the sine qua non of social justice, the ultimate formula for everyone paying their “fair share.” For Gentile, fascism is nothing more than a modified form of socialism, a socialism arising not merely from material deprivation but also from an aroused national consciousness, a socialism that unites rather than divides communities.
Gentile also perceived socialism emerging out of revolutionary struggle, what the media today terms “protest” or “activism.” Revolutionaries, Gentile says, must be ready to disregard conventional rules and they must be willing to use violence. Gentile seems to be the unacknowledged ancestor of the street activism of Antifa and other leftist groups. “One of the major virtues of fascism,” he writes, “is that it obliged those who watched from the windows to come down into the street.”
For Gentile, private action should be mobilized to serve the public interest, and there is no distinction between the private interest and the public interest. Correctly understood, the two are identical. Gentile argued that society represents “the very personality of the individual divested of accidental differences … where the individual feels the general interest as his own and wills therefore as might the general will.” In the same vein, Gentile argued that corporations too should serve the public welfare and not just the welfare of their owners and shareholders.
Society and the state – for Gentile, the two were one and the same. Gentile saw the centralized state as the necessary administrative arm of society. Consequently, to submit to society is to submit to the state, not just in economic matters, but in all matters. Since everything is political, the state gets to tell everyone how to think and also what to do – there is no private sphere unregulated by the state. And to forestall resistance to the state, Gentile argued that the government should act not merely as a lawmaker but also a teacher, using the schools to promulgate its values and priorities.
“All is in the state and nothing human exists or has value outside the state.” Mussolini said that, in the Dottrina del fascismo, one of the doctrinal statements of early fascism, but Gentile wrote it or, as we may say today, ghost wrote it. Gentile was, as you have probably figured by now, the leading philosopher of fascism. “It was Gentile,” Mussolini confessed, “who prepared the road for those like me who wished to take it.”
Gentile served as a member of the Fascist Grand Council, a senator in the Upper House of Parliament, and also as Mussolini’s minister of education. Later, after Mussolini was deposed and established himself in the northern Italian province of Salo, Gentile became, at il Duce‘s request, the president of the Italian Academy. In 1944, Gentile was accosted in his apartment by members of a rival leftist faction who shot him at point-blank range.
Gentile’s philosophy closely parallels that of the modern American left. Consider the slogan unveiled by Obama at the 2012 Democratic Convention: “We belong to the government.” That apotheosis of the centralized state is utterly congruent with Gentile’s thinking. Only Gentile would have provided a comprehensive philosophical defense that the Democrats didn’t even attempt. In many respects, Gentile provides a deeper and firmer grounding for modern American progressivism than anyone writing today.
John Rawls, widely considered a philosophical guru of modern progressivism, seems like thin gruel compared to Gentile in offering an intellectual rationale for ever-expanding government control over the economy and our lives. While Rawls feels abstract and dated now, Gentile seems to speak directly to leftist activists in the Democratic Party, in the media, and on campus.
One might naively expect the left, then, to embrace and celebrate Gentile. This, of course, will never happen. The left has the desperate need to conceal fascism’s deep association with contemporary leftism. Even when the left uses Gentile’s rhetoric, its source can never be publicly acknowledged. That’s why the progressives intend to keep Gentile where they’ve got him, dead, buried and forgotten.