Meet the New ‘Fascists,’ Not the Same as the Old Fascists - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Meet the New ‘Fascists,’ Not the Same as the Old Fascists

The headlines reporting Giorgia Meloni likely becoming the Italian prime minister after her Brothers of Italy party won the largest share of seats in parliament missed more than originality.

“Italy Election Results Set Up First Far-Right Government Since Mussolini” (Washington Post), “Giorgia Meloni claims victory to become Italy’s most far-right prime minister since Mussolini” (CNN), and “Italy Elects First Far-Right Government Since Mussolini” (NPR) lacked a sense of history as much as they lacked imagination.

Just as Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini owes his entire name to men of the left, the word “fascism” derives from not a concept associated with the right, such as individualism, but from the Latin bundle, or, in its verb form, to bind.

Mussolini’s biography strikes as a strange one for a “far-right” figure. He dodged the draft as a young man. Later, he spent months in jail for violently protesting Italy’s “imperialist war” in Libya. He wrote a bitterly anti-Catholic novel called The Cardinal’s Mistress. He mocked the existence of God and depicted Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene as lovers. He served as the editor of Avanti!, the official newspaper of the Italian Socialist Party.

When he supported Italy’s entry into the First World War, the Socialist Party rejected him. But the expelled member never rejected socialism. He became a heretic to his social religion by mixing nationalism with socialism. As later generations described neoconservatives as liberals mugged by reality, fascists amounted to socialists mugged by the Great War.

No less an expert on Marxism as Harold Laski compared Mussolini with Lenin, arguing that “there has been no difference in the method pursued by the two men.” Of Il Duce, he wrote: “Government, for him, exists to fulfill needs, not to give effect to wills; and its first requirement is an overwhelming strength incompatible to liberty. For liberty, indeed, Mussolini professes no affection. He has called it a nineteenth-century concept which has exhausted its utility.”

During his more than two decades in power, Mussolini imposed price controls, nationalized various industries, and exploded spending. He governed as a pragmatic opportunist, but the heart of his economic outlook involved an engorgement of state power at the expense of private society.

“Fascism entirely agrees with Mr. [John] Maynard Keynes, despite the latter’s prominent position as a Liberal,” Mussolini held. “In fact, Mr. Keynes’ excellent little book, The End of Laissez-Faire (1926) might, so far as it goes, serve as a useful introduction to fascist economics. There is scarcely anything to object to in it and there is much to applaud.”

Putting deed to his words, Mussolini embarked on a New Deal in Italy before Roosevelt did so in the United States. The draining of the Pontine Marshes, a project that employed over 100,000 men, served as the crown jewel of his public works programs. One sees emulation in the Tennessee Valley Authority and other similarly massive projects in Depression-era America.

Many supporters of Franklin Roosevelt predictably admired the man from whom he borrowed. As Jonah Goldberg points out in Liberal Fascism, Hollywood featured Mussolini in movies, the New York Times and New Republic praised him in print, and such personages as humorist Will Rogers and muckraker Lincoln Steffens expressed admiration at various times. Rex Tugwell, a member of Roosevelt’s “Brain Trust,” wrote in his diary that “Mussolini certainly had the same people opposed to him as FDR does.”

New Dealer Hugh Johnson, TIME’s “man of the year” for 1933, staged great martial parades, unveiled a Blue Eagle insignia resembling the symbolism then used in Italy, distributed Fascist literature to Roosevelt’s cabinet, and invoked the “shining name” of Mussolini in his farewell address as head of the heavy-handed and unconstitutional National Recovery Administration.

Just as contemporaries likened the Fascists to other parties of the Left, so do credible historians. (READ MORE: The Reaction to Giorgia Meloni Makes Everything Clear)

The independent scholar Wolfgang Schivelbusch in Three New Deals: Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939 highlights a “synchronicity” between the three regimes that “ended with America’s entry into World War II and the Allies’ victory over Fascism and National Socialism. Memories of the New Deal’s common roots with its enemies were repressed, and postwar America was free to enjoy a myth of immaculate conception when it came to the birth of the liberal-democratic welfare state. Roosevelt, no longer named in the same breath as Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, posthumously became the patron saint of liberal democracy in its triumphant struggle against the forces of evil.”

Back then the far Left, composed mainly of Communists, described Franklin Roosevelt as fascist, Leon Trotsky and his supporters as fascist, Father Charles Coughlin as fascist, and Huey Long as fascist. The nuance the Left demands when speaking of democratic socialists, syndicalists, Fabians, progressives, and Communists becomes one-size-fits-all labeling when it comes to political enemies.

“Fascist” became the default label for anyone despised by the Left. This initially included, mainly, others challenging them on the left, such as Trotsky or Long, and came to encompass other diverse movements harder to label, such as German Nazis and Spanish Francoists. Subsequent to the horrors of the Holocaust, “fascist” became applied to people the speaker wished to discredit as on a mission to mass-murder others.

In giving the term such elasticity, it became a word that better defined those who spoke it than those who heard it spoken about them. Fascists still exist, and probably in numbers greater than bimetallists, single-taxers, and locofocos combined. But the invocation of the label beats the number of people embracing that label by a margin of at least a million to one.

A century after Mussolini gained power, the word no longer conjures up the statist economics that Il Duce so passionately pursued. It also proves unenlightening, though quite damaging (which seems the point), in describing Ms. Meloni, whose policies, which may prove good, bad, or something in between, do not strike as ones ready to nationalize the Bank of Italy or invade Ethiopia.

But in an age of insult and not understanding, one expects the political labels of an earlier era — for example, the “Neo-Fascists Gain Ground in Europe as MAGA Attacks Democracy in U.S.” chyron used on The Beat with Ari Melber last night on MSNBC — to resurrect as taunts.

Daniel J. Flynn
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Daniel J. Flynn, a senior editor of The American Spectator, is the author of Cult City: Harvey Milk, Jim Jones, and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco (ISI Books, 2018), The War on Football (Regnery, 2013), Blue Collar Intellectuals (ISI Books, 2011), A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, New York Post, City Journal, National Review, and his own website,   
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