Philosophy a Myth. Until about the close of the nineteenth century philosophic irrationalism was notable for lacking any very specific applications to politics. It had been on the whole an artist’s philosophy, viewed askance by academic philosophers and neglected by political theorists. There was, indeed, a steadily growing reaction in psychology and sociology against intellectualist or rationalist explanations of human behavior and a corresponding emphasis on non-logical factors, whether in the form of instinctive sentiments and drives or pseudo logical rationalizations of them.
In the sociology of Pareto this contrast of the logical and the non-logical had produced a cyclical theory of social change which has been believed, on rather flimsy evidence, to have influenced Mussolini. Political power must of necessity be concentrated in a ruling class and this class rises to power in the first instance because it is dominated by a social ideal which it is prepared to realize by force.
The possession of power and the need to stabilize and perpetuate it renders the ruling class effete; the lion is displaced by the fox. And in the end the old ruling class is displaced by younger, more virile, and more ruthless candidates for power. Psychological and sociological theories, however, were not scientifically irrationalist. Pareto’s sociology was bred of a desire to give to social science an exactness comparable with that of the natural sciences.
A direct application of Bergson’s ideas to social philosophy, however, was made by Georges Sorel in his Reflexions sur la violence (1908). Sorel had long been a violent critic of the “illusions of progress” and of democracy. So long as his syndicalism had made any profession of being Marxian, it had selected those elements of mystical evolutionism that Marx had carried over from Hegel, which are not hard to find if one looks for them. Capitalism in Marx, Sorel said, behaves like Hartmann’s Unconscious; it is a blind but cunning force that evolves higher forms of social life without intending them. Sorel recognized correctly that Bergson’s vital force belonged in the same philosophical tradition, which was in principle antithetical to Hegel’s belief in a universal logic of history.
Consequently it could be used to expunge from Marx all traces of economic determinism or indeed of any theory of social change by rational causes, leaving the class struggle as a manifestation of sheer creative violence on the part of the proletariat. Bergson’s intuition, being a direct insight into creative evolution, could also be used to provide a philosophy for revolution, and such a philosophy could justify direct action and the general strike (in contrast with the political action advocated by the Marxian socialist parties) which had always been main instruments of syndicalist strategy, For Sorel, therefore, social philosophy became a myth, a vision or symbol to unite and inspire the workers in their struggle against a capitalist society.
All great social movements, he believed, like Christianity for example, have come about by the pursuit of a myth. To analyze a myth or to inquire whether it is true-even to ask whether it is practicable-is meaningless. For it is essentially an image that can evoke sentiment and that supplies the cohesion and the drive which enables a group to bring its energies into play.
A political philosophy is not a guide to rational action but an incitement to fanatical determination and blind devotion. The general strike, which was Sore) version of a myth for the proletariat, was too lacking in emotional overtones to be very effective, but his idea that any social philosophy is some kind of myth became part of the revolutionary syndicalism in which Mussolini was for years an agitator and an editor.
He reviewed at length the Italian translation of Sorel’s book in 1909. The fascist conception of the nature and purpose of a philosophy was substantially identical with Sorel’s conception of the myth. In it the irrationalism of the philosophical tradition from Schopenhauer to Bergson gained social and political expression.
Sorel himself, however, never arrived at any final definition of the myth. In his later years he was about equally attracted to fascism, Bolshevism, and reactionary nationalism, without precisely identifying himself with any of them.
Conceived as a myth philosophy is a vision of life but not a plan, and still less is it a theory that depends on reason. It is rather a release of the deep-lying instincts of a people, inherent in the life-force itself, or in their blood or spirit. Mussolini said in a speech at Naples in 1922, using words that obviously echoed Sorel
We have created our myth. The myth is a faith, it is passion. It is not necessary that it shall be a reality. It is a reality by the fact that it is a goad, a hope, a faith, that it is courage. Our myth is the nation, our myth is the greatness of the nation.
This fascist myth was sedulously built up by Italian nationalists like Alfredo Rocco in the doctrine that modern Italy is the spiritual heir of the Roman Empire. Rocco proposed nothing less than a complete rewriting of European history to show that democracy is a culmination of the decadence and anarchy that began with the fall of Rome.
The liberal idea of individual rights was merely the last step in setting aside the Roman idea of the right and authority of the state, a consequence, according to Rocco, of the influx of Germanic individualism. But even through the dark ages of national dissolution, Italy clung to the legacy of Rome, for liberalism is foreign to the Latin mind.
The purpose of fascism is to restore Italian thought in the sphere of political doctrine to Its own traditions, which are the traditions of Rome. The astonishing feats of interpretation that Rocco performed on nine mas Aquinas and Mazzini can hardly be criticized, since they were intuitions of the Latin mind. It is hardly necessary to say that his notion of Germanic individualism did not survive the German alliance.
There was of course no such direct relationship between Hitler and sorel as between Sorel and Mussolini, but this was not necessary. Hitler already had a model in Mussolini and the fascist myth. The meaning that he put into the nearly untranslatable word Weltan Schauung in Mein Kampf came to practically the same thing.
A view of life never compromises; it demands complete and absolute acceptance to the exclusion of every alternative view; it is intolerant like a religion; and it fights its opponents with every available means. It does not argue or concede any validity to an opposing view but is completely dogmatic and fanatical. Hence it supplies the spiritual foundation without which human beings cannot be as ruthless and as unscrupulous as they must be to win the battle of life. Politics is fundamentally a battle to the death between views of life.
Only in the struggle of two views of life with each other can the weapon of brute force, used continuously and ruthlessly, bring about the decision in favor of the side it supports.
In national socialism this spiritual foundation was provided by blood and soil, and it played the same part in Germany as the myth of imperial Rome in Italy. In spite of the imposing fagade of pseudo biology and pseudo-anthropology built around it, is was as impervious to scientific criticism as Rocco’s revision of European history was to historical criticism. Alfred Rosenberg’s use of the word myth in the title of his Myth of the Twentieth Century was clearly borrowed from Sorel.
The life of a race or people is not a philosophy that is logically developed and consequently is not a process that grows according to natural laws. It is the construction of a mystical syntheses, or activity of soul which cannot be explained by rational in, references or made comprehensible by exhibiting causes and effects. In the last resort every philosophy that goes beyond formal, rational criticism is not so much knowledge as affirmation (Bekenntnis)-a spiritual and racial affirmation, an affirmation of the values of character.
Purity of blood speaks louder than reason or fact. Another national socialist philosopher, Ernst Kriek at Heidelberg asserted the contrast as follows.
There has arisen blood against formal reason; race against purposeful rationality; honor against profit; unity against individualistic disintegration; martial virtue against bourgeois security; the folk against the individual and the mass.
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