Who Are the Fascists?

In a post last September suggesting the Bush Administration has fascist tendencies, Brian Leiter wrote the following:

Much may turn on what is meant, of course, by "fascism," which is why I started by alluding to the erosion of freedom and democratic values. . . . one might well think that "some provisions of Bush's PATRIOT Act, his detention of American citizens without charges, his willingness to let corporations write legislation, and the so-called 'Free Speech Zones' around his public appearances are all steps on the road to American fascism." . . .

. . . as the Italian philosopher, and Mussolini contemporary, Giovanni Gentile put it, in a definition Mussolini subsequently claimed credit for: "Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." And herewith a modern American Heritage Dictionary definition of "fascism": "A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism."

There is nothing unreasonable, plainly, in worrying that the Bush Administration and its policies represent the coming of fascism in the above sense to the American landscape (mainstream economists, like Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong, have documented the merger of state and corporate power during the Bush years at length)--but it is perhaps more fascism of the Italian, not Nazi, variety, since it has no racial component.

VC reader Steven Hamori thinks that Leiter (like many contemporary commentators and perhaps the editors of the American Heritage Dictionary as well) is confused about the definition of fascism, and misinterprets the oft-repeated Mussolini/Gentile quote that "Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." Hamori writes
[The quote] has circulated in the left wing blogshere for as long as I can recall... I believe it to be a real one too although some credit it to Giovanni Gentile (Mussolini allegedly took credit for it while not originally uttering it).

[According to Wikipedia:]"Gentile, described both by himself and Mussolini as 'the philosopher of Fascism', was the ghostwriter of 'A Doctrine of Fascism' which, signed by Benito Mussolini, described Fascism in the Italian Encyclopedia (which was edited by Gentile)."

The problem is that a 'corporate' in Italian of the period is not a business organization. A corporate is a production planning board made up of workers, owners, and others involved in production advocated by the syndicalist school of socialism. Their beloved quote is actually Mussolini (or maybe Gentile) making a connection between fascism and socialism . . .

[Again, Wikipedia]"Historically, corporatism or corporative (Italian corporativismo) is a political system in which legislative power is given to corporations that represent economic, industrial and professional groups."

"Under Fascism in Italy, business owners, employees, trades-people, professionals, and other economic classes were organized into 22 guilds, or associations, known as "corporations" according to their industries, and these groups were given representation in a legislative body known as the Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni."

Hamori concludes:
I doubt Leiter knows anything about the history of fascism. Intellectually, the progressive left has a lot more in common with it than the 'libertarian right' (the real liberals). . . . If anyone advocates a merging of 'business corporate' and state it is the regulation happy / anti competition left. The average 'right winger' says let an uncompetitive business fail.
For more on the socialist roots of Mussolini's fascism, see here.

UPDATE: Clayton Cramer finds more of interest to this discussion in Mussolini's writings.

SECOND UPDATE: Brian Leiter e-mails: "If you're going to insult me, you ought to do so under your real name." I've already addressed my pseudonymity on this site many times (e.g. here), and have no desire to do so again (at least not right now). In any event, while expressing disagreement with his views, I do not think I insulted Professor Leiter in either of my posts. If I am wrong on this point, I apologize.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Crooked Timber's Henry Farrell has more thoughts on fascism, corporatism, and syndicalism, and takes issue with Hamori's account above. For more on the Mussolini/Gentile view, here is the complete text of "The Doctrine of Fascism."

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Who Are the Fascists?
  2. Nazi Germany = McCarthy Era = America Today?