PRAGMATIC FASCISM AND THE DEATH OF LIBERALISM
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
Benito Mussolini inspired the Prophets of the Death of Liberalism with pragmatism, the irrational belief that to get anything done the most “practical” means should be applied no matter what those means happen to be.
Mussolini’s fascism had no rational philosophy. It was in fact anti-intellectual, opposed to abstract rationale, the reasoning liberalism inherited from the Enlightenment.
In other words, Mussolini’s policy was “pragmatic,” concerned only with “Doing what works,” with “action” and the “facts.” That is, with efficient means to consequences.
If “what works” is “right,” then anything that happens to work at the moment is “right.” For instance, any state of being, or any politico-economical state imposed by force is “right” because it happens to “work” at the moment.
Naturally the “facts” are often contrived or manipulated. For instance, the facts used to support the outcome of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorial economic program in Chile were carefully selected and then misinterpreted. Subsequent economic analysis by “impartial” observers, however, led them to conclude that his brutal political-economic regime, supported by fascistic leaders of the United States, was a failure.
“Know then, once and for all,” declared Mussolini, “that Fascism recognizes no idols, adores no fetishes; it has already passed over the more or less decayed body of the goddess of Liberty, and is quite prepared, if necessary, to do so once more.”
Italian Fascism was intent upon creating a state of economic necessity by fear and force, overlooking the “abstruse rationale of political liberalism.” Mussolini said liberalism was just another passing phase, and stated “Communism and Fascism have nothing to do with Liberalism.”
In fact Fascism accepted not the political but the economic motivation of Liberalism, operating through privately owned (big) industry. In practice, however, the revaluation of the lire forced a collective control over wages, rents and prices. The profit motive of industry was nonetheless carefully safeguarded, one major incentive being to attract foreign trade for investment.
The economic motive is not the only aspect that differentiates Fascism from Communism. Another difference is that Communism had a coherent ideology. Recall that Lenin persisted and overcame obstacles, starting with a small cadre of about 100 hard core Bolsheviks, by insisting that theory must be practiced in a certain way and that everyone must know where they are on the path to the goal.
The repudiation of abstruse generalizations in favor of “What works”, the pragmatic approach, was nurtured in the United States, particularly by William James, whose pragmatism was purportedly “romantic” or “spiritual”, and by John Dewey, whose pragmatism was avowedly “instrumental” or “scientific.”
William James’ pragmatism was admired in Spain, for instance by Ortega y Gasset, but not openly because Spanish intellectuals were indignant because of the humiliating U.S. war on their nation. Mussolini attributed his intellectual shaping to William James, and placed him on a pedestal equal with Machiavelli, Nietzsche, and Sorel the syndicalist.
Political pragmatism is “pluralistic.” Pluralism is not as diverse therefore stable as it was once assumed to be, for political hysteria (e.g. the Red Scare) can be easily induced and the factions will gather into a paranoid power bundle (fasces) to persecute domestic dissidents and wage war externally in “self-defense.”
Pragmatism in politics, currently said to be the operating force in the U.S., where party affiliation or ideology makes little actual difference in voting behavior, became popular in the U.S. after the failure of Woodrow Wilson’s plan for world peace. Wilson, we may recall, was the personification of the world’s faith in good will and human reason. He wanted to make the world safe for democracy and establish a new world order after the war to end all wars. He became increasingly unpopular after the economic war boom ended, to be succeeded by Ohio Senator G. Harding.
Warren Harding’s pragmatic policy was to do nothing on principle, to avoid entangling alliances, to ignore academic proposals, to manfully face actual realities, and not to intervene unless specific interests were threatened.
Most recently, the ostensibly pragmatic policy of President Bush, Sr. and its resumption by President Bush, Jr. is sure to occupy historians for years to come. Junior appears to be one of the greatest political hypocrites ever to hold office. Almost every ideological statement he made was reversed by actual deeds save in two areas; domestic economics and militant foreign policy. He appeared to be a pragmatist of the “fascist” or “right wing authoritarian” type, a chief executive who gives lip-service to “democracy” with evident distaste as he does what is “good for the world” whether the world likes it or not. Despite his boring and “moronic” behavior, he built up a cult of authoritarian personality around his hawkish “cowboy” stance, one that is attractive to many Americans.
Americans had good reason to doubt the sincerity of President Bush’s apparent Wilsonian internationalism, to doubt that he really intended to liberate the world and bring it under the principles of Liberalism.
If he was sincere, his approach was not very pragmatic. He reverted to abstract neo-liberal ideology, which can only be realized through a world federation holding a monopoly of force over all regions of the world, i.e. the establishment of a United States of the World.
As H.G. Wells pointed out, the problem with the viability of a League of Nations is in the title: “nations.” An assembly of nations with independent military forces is an assembly carrying the seeds of its eventual discord and ineffectiveness. A United States of the World would have been a contradiction to the “Go It Alone” policy of President Bush.
The problem with political pragmatism with its “businesslike” claim to efficiency is that it tends to right-wing fascism and is inherently irrational. In practice it may lead to the submergence of the worst elements of society into an irresponsible corporate identity that perpetuates an ultimately self-destructive elevation of ends over means.
That is, political pragmatism is impractical. The electorate should be wary of political candidates who claim that the business of government is business, that business should partner with business instead of regulate it, that they would conserve money without mention of liberty and happiness.
Fascistically inclined candidates want to “do the right thing” would be wise to recall that pragmatic Mussolini forsook socialism and embraced the right for the sake of a convenience that eventually hanged his corpse and that of his mistress upside down in the public square. Hitler and his wife in turn committed suicide in their bunker surrounded by proof that the employment of practical might to make things right is impractical.