Excerpts from Camillo Pellizzi's Problems and Reality of Fascism

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niccolo and donkey Roland Bronze Age Pervert NeoCornelio

Camillo Pellizzi was an essayist and sociologist who came from the ranks of the early fascist movement which gravitated around Popolo d'Italia. His most notable works are probably this one, published in 1924, as well as Fascismo-aristocrazia , published the next year. The excerpts below give good insight into the manner in which fascists saw their revolution.

Fans of Ernst Jünger and Carl Schmitt will note the occasional parallels; namely, the emphasis on danger and the creative will as a source of authority found in Jünger and the importance of identifying friends and enemies in Schmitt. However, Pellizzi never mentions them by name and I have no idea if he had even read their works at the time.

Tomorrow, or within the next few days, I will also post a speech by Giuseppe Bottai entitled "Fascism as Intellectual Revolution," which elaborates on some of the points below in greater detail while also demonstrating just how important intellectuals were to the movement. Needless to say, the popular depiction of fascists as anti-intellectual street thugs is largely based in Marxist/anti-fascist propaganda.

Within the postwar setting, fascism was the sole movement that not only had recourse to violence but also systematically integrated violence into a highly distinctive "national rhetoric." Fascism's "national rhetoric" challenged some aspects of prior bourgeois and conservative concept of nationality and supplemented the latter with inspirational elements and mythological principles that were vaster in their scope and more substantial. Fascism potentially included all orders of society within its myth of the nation. It approached society not on the basis of social classes or individual monads but in terms of values and concrete functions that contribute to the ultimate common myth. In other words, fascism repudiated the abstract, amorphous nation with no internal differentiation; a nation in which every individual has the same privileges and rights; a nation in which a single class (spiritually unformed yet economically close-knit) can rule over all others. On the contrary, fascism was uncompromising and intolerant in its demand that each and every individual fully subject himself to the existing hierarchy and to common goals. It demanded, in short, the shaping, differentiation, and hierarchical arrangement of social groups. If fascism has often stood in opposition to the rich (and will continue to do so), this opposition is not based on hostility toward the notion of a ruling class. It is rooted, rather, in the conviction that the current ruling class was and remains historically ill formed. Insufficiently solid, it holds itself only indirectly and partially responsible. It is not yet animated by the myth that fascism is bringing to gradual if confused fruition in the hearts of the Italian people.

Fascism's personality and character are of a concrete type. They do not belong to an abstract category but rather express the concrete qualities of individuals. The idea advanced by some at the end of the war of bestowing a direct political function on veterans qua veterans was devoid of truth and has nothing to do with fascism's formation or with its central intuitions. Most veterans would in fact have objected that "there's too much politics in Italy to begin with; those of us who fought during the war don't want to become politicians" (or something to that effect). The truth of the matter is that there was too much rhetorical posturing in our political life. Violence, strength, an exacting creative will were all sorely absent. To go beyond the rampant rhetoricity of public life, to build up an alternative force, these veterans had to choose sides. They had to enter the fray, even to fight among themselves over the concrete problems that were surfacing. Sometimes internecine strife constitutes a healing fate. Besides, when the time for formulating and preaching new programs expires and it becomes necessary to confront the enemy in the trenches face to face, all confusion and exaggeration cease. True friends reveal themselves as such. The enemy is unmistakably identified and defeated on the field.

Some posed the question, "Why select the name Fasci di Combattimento? Are you a political party or a gang of armed outlaws?" The small founding group from Il Popolo d'Italia did not want to avoid the adjective political as much as the noun party. In its view, to make use of the word party would have meant validating the entire constitutional framework and the then-current methods of electoral and parliamentary struggle. At which point, like heralds, Italy's stalest political camouflage artists raised an outcry over the fact that some true patriots wanted to continue the war within, after it was over at the borders. Yet the first fascists had always found their main antagonists less in Austria and Hungary than within Italy! Had the crisis been less intense; had the internationalist, class-based rhetoric not pushed the entire country so close to the brink of disaster; had the collapse of the old order of dissimulation not been so complete; then maybe the fascist aristocracy could have bided its time, toned down its demands, shown tolerance, compromised with the impulses of its own soul. Fortunately for Italy, the storm proved serious. All the old guidance systems showed just how little they could be trusted. Hence, the name Fasci di Combattimento.

A program -- the much sought-after fascism program -- is embedded within these three words. Some asked, "But what is the goal of this fight of yours?" The answer consisted in a single but great word, a sovereign and overpowering rhetorical formula: Italy. The reply was predictable: "Yes, but whose Italy? There are at least as many Italies as there are individual consciousnesses and wills."

The question might have been answered as follows: "Our Italy. You will see. For the time being we recognize our enemies, and, by fighting them, we are building up our strength. You, the rulers of the old regime, have proven unable to wage war or make peace. You have created no Italy at all. We will start by stripping away as many of your powers as possible."

Hence, from its beginning, fascism was squadrism: a disciplined and militant voluntarism characterized by regular recourse to direct action. And so fascism will remain until squadrism's historical function is exhausted. It can by no means be taken for granted that squadrist force, discipline, and vigor must be forever channeled into the sort of political police functions that squadrism has performed thus far. Unless it were to find itself stupidly persecuted and humbled, the squadrist mindset is fated to blossom and develop in other guises. It is fated to give rise to new social forces in unforseeable new domains (a matter better taken up elsewhere).

Here I wish to stress a point regarding squadrism that antifascist polemics always touch upon. Early squadrism was muddled and chaotic. It was made up of curious and varied individuals: former Arditi; legionnaires from Fiume; former terrorists, back from the front; unemployed workers of various stripes; idealistic young intellectual drifters; the worst of scoundrels...Yes, even scoundrels: scoundrels of the sort to which the future will build monuments; bandits like those who laid Rome's first stone; pirates like those who gave birth to the Venetian Republic or to the British Empire; adventurers like the paladins of chivalric epics or the noblemen of the Crusades. Sublime scoundrels these who redeemed themselves in the embrace of a passionate ethical principle, in the fire of a collective spirit, in the inner discipline of obedience and sacrifice. Take, for instance, the story of Sarza Madinini from Cremona. A deserter and subversive, rejected from the Fasci as unworthy, he volunteered for all the riskiest sorties. Wounded, he submitted an application for membership, but, once again, the request was turned down. Nevertheless, he continued to endure all the risks of the fascist battle until, wounded anew and close to death, he requested and was finally granted membership, which he considered the consecration of human dignity and of his nobility as an Italian. Admittedly, there were excesses committed by the squadrists. Various leaders -- Mussolini first and foremost -- rose to condemn them, but they were often unavoidable. Yet the spiritual strain that permeates Sarza Madinini's story recurs with great regularity: the desire for a new form of human and civic nobility to be conquered by means of warlike violence and exposure to constant danger.

This concrete (but, in those days, hard-to-define) movement did not attract individuals with closed or rigid mindsets or vested interests. For a long time, many viewed fascism as deeply antihistorical. Suspecting concealed interests, they sought to find out who was lending the movement trucks or who was providing it with headquarters space and money. As a result, many episodes surfaced that seemed incomprehensible and even shameful to true believers in the cause. But what remained unacknowledged was the fact of fascism's deep spiritual force: an autonomous, coherent force, fully consistent with its embryonic personality despite thousands of incidental variations and local facets. Far from an antihistorical paradox, fascism marked, instead, the beginning of a new historical formation.

It is indeed true that fascism's exterior surface seemed multifaceted. No more multifaceted, though, than the contingent reality of the problems it had to solve: problems which change from place to place and from class to class. This is true because Italy was and is a country characterized by a divine multiformity and spiritual plurality ... For this reason alone it is hardly surprising that early fascism abounded in contradictions, misunderstandings, even acts of undiscipline (mostly carried out in good faith in the service of its ideals) or that it was sometimes obstructed by complicated, harsh, crude, and thoughtless egoism. To overemphasize such differences and divergences within fascism, however, is to deny oneself any deep intuition of the phenomenon in its living, deeper unity, a unity that Mussolini was to liken to an organ with a thousand pipes on which "if you hit certain keys, it produces the sound of a military fanfare." Fascism is the first singular methexic force that Italian history has ever engendered. Indifferent to region and class, it is singular because it enlists people from all regions and from all classes. It has Italy as its necessary premise but aims at the world.

With an eye toward resolving the internal crisis provoked by the famous "pacification pact" made with the socialists, the Fasci reconstituted themselves as the National Fascist Party. Critics immediately predicted that fascism would die because it "would lose any originality once it ceased being an outlaw movement." They were wrong. Even functioning as a party, fascism retained its extralegal status and originality. And it certainly did not disappear. A party program was printed up, and it took part in the 1921 elections. Thanks to its so-called program, it was now able to choose among those who presented themselves as new followers. The elections brought fascism into Parliament so that it could limit the damage done as it awaited the moment to fully accomplish its revolution.

The fascist movement was now underway and was coming into its own, day by day, outside the confines of Parliament and its program. It no longer consisted only in faith, devotion, and force. Some of its chiefs had begun to manifest the ethical virtues possessed by only the most fruitful aristocracies: a historical sense of responsibility; a feeling of independent, free selfhood; a sense of duty not to others but to oneself. In short, a consciousness. Linked to this emerging consciousness, another symptomatic feature was in the process of surfacing: the cult of authority. On the streets and in the fields, fascism fought for authority and admitted to it openly.

Authority, but not derived from written law, a monarch, a constitutional system, or any fixed dogma. On the contrary, authority born from and as a function of a creative action. The authority of a dynamic, ethical state. Fascists experience this state not as something pre-existing that was in need of resuscitation but rather as something entirely new, something that must arise entirely out of their work, their discipline, their heroism. Who might have guessed that all this would take place in the old Italy of the pandects and decretals; the Italy of endless legal quibbling, with its Spanish-inspired legal formalism, Jesuit casuistry, byzantinism, and academies; an Italy where political self-camouflage was once held up as one of the nation's distinctive characters!

Mussolini was consistent in his affirmation of the absolute primacy of spiritual values and of the need for hierarchy. He condemned the idolatry of the masses and contested all "economistic" accounts of society's key problems.

Thus, the methexic current that had been held in check and that, under the aegis of superficial, second-hand theories, had propelled Italy toward unity and independence this time revealed itself with greater amplitude, with greater ambition, and with its own distinctive perspective. A perspective that, though still in embryonic form, strove heroically to rid itself of all the dross of the past and of all foreign contamination. So fascism was not just a physical force, aiming at an external renewal. It was also a mystical force of liberation and of inner exaltation. Throughout fascism's mythical and heroic phase, spiritual powers germinated within its violence, as if arising directly out of the violence itself. This spirituality brought about miracles that physical violence alone could never have carried out. And with the return of miracles came the return of rites that were distinctly religious and at the same time indicative of our past grandeur. The squadrons became centuries, cohorts, legions, and resurrected the Roman army's forms of discipline. Survivors cried out that killed companions were "present!" in the course of roll calls. These archaic, mystical, beautiful forms are not "rhetorical," as some have claimed, for in them an operative force has taken on a spontaneous shape. They are genuine expressions of an emerging personality, not external or artificial manifestations.

Soon this germinal force started to push certain leaders to the forefront. They were all original and curious types. Take Lanfranconi, a bizarre mix of ascetic, bohemian, and tenant farmer who rose against the entire red tide of Lomellina and, with only a few faithful companions, conquered the region in a matter of months. Take Farinacci, the former railroad employee who galvanized a few scattered youngsters against the Cremonese reds and blacks and became the province's popular dictator. (He made it a point of honor to carry no weapon except for a simple riding whip.) Take Scorza from Lucca, who led a few faithful followers to clean up Garfagnana, a region that had caused even Rome's legions to tremble. Take Ricci, who, in Carrara, managed to enthrall hardened, dour masses of quarrymen, imposing fascist discipline upon a region once wracked by acute upheavals. It is impossible to recall them all... It was a blossoming of strong-willed, eager men, men of the people chosen from among our very best youth in the name of national necessity.

I am well aware that Lanfranconi will not be chosen as minister of education, nor will Farinacci become minister of foreign affairs. History casts even the most exalted aristocrat in but one key role. Nowadays, fascism requires men to carry out more delicate tasks. The need is dire because the movement is largely made up of boys or of young men who have lost many years of study and of technical and cultural training as a consequence of the European and the civil wars. Fascism mobilized certain character types and formed or will form others. As these new Italians improve their managerial, administrative, and technical skills, the laws of motion will drive them to take on weightier tasks. The result will be an Italy governed (as it beginning to be governed today) by much stronger, more creative, and more responsible hierarchies. The very presence, be it actual or potential, of these powerful cadres within the state will imperil the careers of cowards, meddlers, and swindlers. Let me add that some of the choicest spirits from the preceding generation have joined the fascist ranks so as to find and define themselves more fully, the most famous case being that of Giovanni Gentile.

The methexic spirit, in short, abounds (to point of overflowing in fascism's chiefs). Though the mass of followers is still mostly chameleon-like, it shows flashes of commitment that bode well for a gradual broadening and deepening of the fascist hierarchy. For the time being, what is necessary is a gradual, cautious development of the movement's vital principles, as well as careful and appropriate use of many indispensable (and celebrated) instruments of fascist rhetoric. It is also necessary to make use of certain men. As regards the unfortunate sign of political regression, it will be considered below in the context of an analysis of the elements that make up what one might call a fascist dissimulation.

I note in closing that even in the structuring of the fascist party as a single militia, complete with military oaths and regulations (which sharply differentiate it from what one ordinary refers to as a "party"), has not prevented our nation's worst leeches from hanging on to the winners' chariot. I am referring to the spineless, the timorous, and disoriented, to the meddlers and half-virgins of the old Italian political scene, In some places they have even managed to prevail "in the name of the fasces" [in nomine Lictorum]. But they mostly adapt themselves so as to continue their usual barratry. Accustomed to bending their backs, they ignore the bitter scorn of pure-souled fascists.

In addition, traces of the old mentalities still exercise a tenacious hold. Their ability to latch onto the national organism represents the gravest and most dangerous of threats. For example, the breakup of the Masons offers no guarantees that the old Masonic-democratic mindset will not pollute our ranks and cadres, giving rise to frictions and resurgences at the expense of healthy and vital elements. Because in the south the fight was against individual and local gangs, some thought that the Masons (who are simply a larger, more impersonal gang) would be fascism's natural ally, if not an outright blood sister. But time will explode such tumors and misunderstandings.

Fascism must be understood as a spiritual and historic reality, a reality that exists above and beyond individual episodes, above and beyond contingent formations and specific individuals. The deeper needs of the entire movement and the energies of many superior men stand firm between many flaws inherited from the past and possibilities opened up by the future.
Bob Dylan Roof
These themes resonate with Schmittian and other forms of Lebensphilosophie popular at the time. There are several references to a "philosophy of concrete life" throughout Schmitt's books, even in his legal-technical manuscripts.

Trying to define "concreteness" in this context is futile, I think, except in contrast to what the concepts of "concreteness" were meant to oppose at the time. The prevailing sentiment seems to have been that European political and legal forms had accumulated a lot of ineffectual conceptual dross over the years that obscured the real forces of human action at work. This is reminiscent of the American turn toward "realism" at the beginning of the 20th century. Instead of speaking in terms of outmoded legal concepts, it made more sense to speak in terms of the real, active, and creative forces at work in human society.

It's interesting to consider this point in the 21st century.

America is approaching the total realization of the "economistic" account of life. The Parties and ideologues speak in reverential and romantic terms of the old republic, justice, and freedom, but the real source of policy is the managers, who recommend policy on the basis of econometric analysis. Aspiring politicians who can't square their idealism with this reality are likely weeded out at the local level; or they become amusing fixtures of the political media spectacle, like Ron Paul.

The remaining "mythic" forces in U.S. politics revolve around the values of the religious right, the evangelical "social justice" left, and perhaps the frontier/libertarian ethos of some of the militia types. I don't see how any of these is strong enough on its own to congeal into something as effective as Italian fascism.