Fascism and Hegelianism

Fascism and Hegelianism. According to the preceding interpretation, the intellectual affinities of fascism and national socialism were with philosophic irrationalism. This conclusion makes it necessary to consider their relation to Hegelian nationalism and the Hegelian theory of the state. The relation was in fact somewhat complicated.


Hegel’s philosophy had been regarded throughout the nineteenth century as the logical antithesis of Schopenhauer’s irrationalism. Yet the version of fascist philosophy that Mussolini adopted after he decided that fascism needed a philosophy was obviously borrowed from Italian Hegelianism.

It utilized to the full, in its attack on liberalism and parliamentarism, the Hegelian critique of individualism, though this had long been taken into account by the later English theorists of liberalism. On the other hand, German philosophers of national socialism usually ignored Hegel or, like Rosenberg, explicitly rejected him.

Moreover, German critics of national socialism usually regarded it as incompatible with most of what the Hegelian theory of the state had concretely meant in German politics during the nineteenth century. The clues to this apparent discrepancy are to be found partly in the opportunist nature of the philosophy professed by Mussolini and partly in internal differences between Italy and Germany and in the position of the two movements in their respective countries.

That Hegel’s system, in intention at least, was the very opposite of irrationalism is too obvious to require elaboration. The center of the system was logic, and its several parts were all supposed to he and together by a dialectical argument that was rigidly rational. It true that Hegel’s conception of reason was largely romanticized and that his dialectic lacked the precision which he claimed for it and which would be needed to make it a reliable method of scientific investigation. But this does not affect his intention, nor does it affect his view of social change.

This, according to Hegel, is strictly necessary and logical. It offers little scope to the heroic or to what Rocco called the intuitiveness of rare great minds, since Hegel was notoriously skeptical of the influence of great men in history. In this respect the closest modern analogue of Hegel’s social philosophy is Marxism, and dialectical materialism is, metaphysics apart, essentially Hegelian in origin and in conception. There was more than a little philosophical ineptitude therefore in an effort to use Hegel to refute Marx.

But the economic interpretation of history, at least as much as political liberalism, Was an Opponent that fascism and national socialism had to refute. Both in Italy and in Germany at the close of World War I it was necessary to argue that the national will, by a sheer act of affirmation or assertion, could rise superior to a lack of material resources and create its economic opportunity by political means. The superiority of political to economic forces was an article of faith for both fascism and national socialism.

Both movements were, in fact and by profession, revolutionary, or more truly counter-revolutionary. But the revolutionary possibilities of Hegelianism had long since been exploited by the Marxists, and while Hitler undoubtedly admired and imitated the rabble-rousing tactics of Marxian agitators, he was quite aware that national socialism could not borrow the philosophy of Marxian theorists.

Hegel’s political philosophy and the political philosophy of fascism and national socialism agreed in being nationalist and anti liberal. This agreement, however, implied less unity in philosophical outlook than has often been supposed. Hegel’s nationalism had been logically the weakest part of his system. He never gave any sound reason why the nation, rather than any one of a dozen other possible social groups, should be endowed with the moral per-eminence that he assigned to it.

Moreover, Hegel’s nationalism, though it included a moral glorification of war, had not been imperialist, for imperialism is incompatible with any genuine moral respect for nationality as a cultural value. On the other hand, long before World War I, nationalism had ceased to depend in any definite way on Hegel.

Nationalists everywhere tended to be anti-liberal and anti-parliamentarian-in contrast with the nationalists of the period after the French Revolution on the ground that representative institutions and popular government are incompatible with a strong national policy.

Everywhere the tended to be militarist and to exalt the alleged spiritual value of the warlike virtues. Everywhere they availed themselves of Hegelian arguments against the value of individual liberty and equality, but that implied no knowledge of Hegel’s philosophy.

A German who had read Treitschke’s Politics or a Frenchman who knew monarchists like Maurras or Barres had little to learn about nationalism from Hegel, Hegelianism in its day may well have played its part in embedding such ideas in the European political tradition, but if so, its work hag long since been done.

When Mussolini decided that fascism needed a philosophy, he apparently entrusted the task to Giovanni Gentile who, like Benedetto Croce, had long been identified with an Italian school of Hegelian philosophy. Gentile had at hand the Hegelian theory of the state and not having much time he used it. Mussolini took what Gentile offered him, and in consequence the theory of Italian fascism was a-theory of the state and of its supremacy and sanctity and all-inclusiveness. Its motto became

Everything for the state; nothing against the state; nothing outside the state.

Since Mussolini was already in control, it was easy to equate the power of the state with the power of his government. Since the state is the embodiment of an ethical idea, fascism contd be presented as a form of lofty political idealism, in contrast with the self-proclaimed materialism of the Marxists, and as a moral or religious conception of society, in contrast both with the class struggle and with political liberalism, which was described as merely selfish and anti-social individualism. This was in fact the line that Mussolini took in his Encyclopedia article.

Fascism, now and always, believes in holiness and in heroism; that is to say, in actions influenced by no economic motive, direct or indirect. And if the economic conception of history be denied, according to which theory men are no more than puppets, carried to and fro by the waves of chance while the real directing forces are quite out of their control, it follows that the existence of an unchangeable and unchanging class-war is also denied-the natural progeny of the economic conception of history. And above all fascism denies that class-war can be the preponde and force in the transformation of society. Fascism denies the materialist conception of happiness as a possibility, and abandons It to its Inventors, the economists of the first half of the nineteenth century that is to say, fascism denies the validity of the equation, well-being happiness, which would reduce man to the level of animals, caring for one thing only-to be fat and well fed-and would thus degrade humanity to a purely physical existence.

Fascism, therefore, is really a religious conception in which man is seen in immanent relation to a higher law, an objective will, that transcends the particular individual and raises him to conscious membership in a spiritual society. And it is the state rather than the nation which creates and embodies this spiritual society.

It is not the nation which generates the state; that is an antiquated naturalistic concept. Rather it is the state which creates the nation, conferring volition and therefore real life on people made aware of their moral unity. Indeed, it is the stat which, as the expression of a universal ethical will, creates the right to national independence.

In these passages there is no doubt a good deal of Hegelian language but there need be very little genuine Hegelianism. Certainly the syndicalist socialism in which Mussolini grew up contained nothing of Hegel and not much of Marx. In 1920 his editorials were still branding the state as the great curse of mankind, and in 1937 he adopted the racial theory as an incident of the German alliance. In the hands of Gentile the theory of a fascist state sometimes became little more than an apology for terrorism. The Fascist squads that broke up the meetings of anti-fascist labor unions, he said, were really the force of a state not yet born but on the way to being. Moreover, according to Gentile, might is simply right, and liberty is simply subjection.

Always the maximum of liberty coincides with the maximum force of the state. Every force is a moral force, for it is always an expression of will; and whatever be the argument used preaching or black-jacking-its efficacy can be none other than its ability finally to receive the inner support of a man and to persuade him to agree to it.

Gentile’s fascist theory of the state was in truth hardly more than a caricature of Hegelianism. Benedetto Croce, the most distinguished of Italian Hegelians, was also the most important opponent of fascism among Italian philosophers. Long before the rise of fascism he pointed out that even Gentile’s metaphysics contained element, of irrationalism derived from Nietzsche and was doubtfully Hegelian.

In contrast with the Hegelian facade that Gentile provided , Italian fascism, national socialism never put itself forward as a theory of the state. Mein Kampf contains many passages in which Hitler asserted that the state is not an end but a means, that it ought to resisted if its policy jeopardizes the well-being of the Volk.

Nothing, in national socialist philosophy was better settled than the Proposition that the racial folk is the creator and bearer of culture and provide the standards of morality and politics. In other words, Hitler’s Philosophy was an example of the antiquated naturalistic concept that Mussolini rejected in favor of the ethical idea of the state.

Consciousness of duty, fulfillment of duty, and obedience are not ends in themselves, just as little as the State is an end in itself but they all are meant to be the means to make possible and to safeguard the existence in this world of a community of living beings, mentally and physically of the same order.

It would of course be futile to try to draw definite conclusions from the use of two words as vague as the fascist state or the national socialist folk. Nevertheless the difference of usage did conform to certain historical realities in the two cases. When Hitler wrote Mein Kampf he was in prison as the leader of a discredited band of unlawful revolutionists. Nothing would have been more inept than to argue that Germany needed a state, when Germans had been convinced for two generations that they already had one.

Moreover it was an important fact about the German Revolution of 1918 that, though it had displaced the Kaiser, it had not greatly weakened the official governing class or seriously dislocated the bureaucratic processes by which day-to-day government was carried on.

As has been said in the earlier chapter on Hegel, these processes were the concrete meaning that attached to the word state in Hegel’s theory of constitutional government. The word had not implied political liberalism but it had connoted a considerable degree of civil liberty and certainly a high degree of orderly legal procedure. In Italy Mussolini could plausibly represent fascism as an attempt to create such a governing machine, because it had in fact never existed in Italian politics.

The whole apparatus of the corporation state as it was brought into existence might be so rationalized. But it would have been absurd for Hitler to imitate this strategy in Germany, where his problem was in part to undermine the bureaucracy.

In the minds of most Germans the word state connoted the bureaucratic procedures of the Second Empire. The theory of the racial folk was far more in accord with the purposes of national socialism, with the national socialist conception of leadership, and with the totalitarian regime that national socialism instituted.

The philosophy characteristic of the national socialist dictatorship, therefore, was not the artificial Hegelianism of the Italian movement but the theory of the racial folk constructed to support the German movement. This consisted essentially of two parts first, the related theoretical ideas of blood and soil, of race and Lebensraum, and second, of the practical applications of these in totalitarian government.
Read Related Topics:

1.Fascism and National Socialism
2.Irrationalism: The Philosophic Climate of Opinion
3.Philosophy a Myth
4.The Folk, the Elite, and the Leader
5.The Racial Myth
6.Lebensraum
7.Totalitarianism
8.National Socialism, Communism, and Democracy

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