Saturday, April 12, 2008

THIS WILL BORE EVERYBODY!

This afternoon I spent a couple of hours on the floor of my local Borders perusing a couple of new books on the subject of fascism.  Holy Mackeral! There's a lot that I didn't know before! Apparently Mussolini was heavily influenced by the American pragmatist writers like William James (pragmatism = whatever works is good). Mussolini was a socialist, in fact he edited Italy's biggest socialist newspaper, but reading the Americans led him to think that there was a third way, which was neither capitalist nor socialist. It consisted of doing whatever seemed to work, whether the solution was a private or a public sector one.  The important thing for the pragmatists was to get things done!




This philosophy eventually created the Progressive movement in America, exemplified by Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. Wilson believed in drastically beefing up the power of the central government so that, when that power was needed, it would be there to solve problems quickly and definitively, without the ball and chain of endless arguments by local politicians.  Putting the power in the hands of higher ups meant a lot less power for individuals and Wilson and Roosevelt were fine with that.  They felt that parts of the American founding documents were fine for their time but were antiquated in the modern world, which demanded fast, decisive action.  

Of course the problem faced by the pragmatists was how to break it to people that the new ideas involved less freedom, and the solution was education to produce a new citizen who was so hyped up and so civic-minded that he wouldn't mind giving up some of his traditional freedoms. Wow! Shades of the French Revolution! 

In America and Britain the pragmatist philosophy was diluted by long held traditions favoring individual rights, but in continental Europe the concept of American and British-style rights were still controversial.  For them the idea of centralizing power led to power being vested in Marxist-style authoritarian parties,  and leaders who were like kings.  Since pragmatism involved using any solution that seemed like it would work, and since the party leader(s) decided what worked, European pragmatism degenerated into the whims of tyrants.

Is this a fair analysis? I haven't the slightest idea since I know very little about the period.  If the books are wrong then I'm wrong.  I just find it interesting that an American philosophy like pragmatism may have had a bigger impact than I'd previously thought.

Is anybody still awake out there?  

33 comments:

max said...

It's quite peculiar then that applying these ideas Mussolini shaped a country in which just about nothing worked.

But I wouldn't glorify him of the idea that he was a deep thinker. He was a demagogue and he always picked the arguments that were more useful to him, in his early phase he was the prototype of the journalist that stir controversy for controversy sake, than he found the backing of the industry and started writing in support of the rising fascist movement and gave it a shape. But a shape that doesn't make sense, try read the manifesto of the fascist party, it's ridiculous.

I have a very low opinion of Mussolini, if he had some good ideas in his head they were overwhelmed by the opinion of himself and his head in turn was overwhelmed by his mouth.

I studied the subject of fascism in quite some depth because it's one of the most interesting periods of my country and there were many interesting characters, much more interesting than Mussolini.
Maybe you want to try reading something about Italo Balbo, a far more interesting character and one that had about the same influence than Mussolini.

max said...

Sorry, to answer your final question, in Italy the fascist order was instated because that was the interest of the industry and landowners, the government was weak and did not have a grasp on things on the ground, the socialists and anarchists were gaining power throughout the country creating self sufficient communities and the masses of veterans that come back from the front line after WWI could not fit, in that situation social tension was very high and the fascist party organised those forces that were already in place.

In Britain there was a fascist party but it didn't have a weak state to compare "favorably" agaist, so their services were not needed. The British were always organised as a productive country, it's the country that started the industrial revolution and social tensions could always be solved by colonial adventures.

lastangelman said...

Okay, I'm awake.
But I have to cogitate a mite. This is a good subject
(gears slowly grinding, sparks flying, whistles screaming in C##)

Michael Sporn said...

Didn't Mussolini's Fascism grow out of a left leaning group that he pushed to the right? (The term fascio was used in Italy in the names of radical new social and political groups, normally of the left. The revolutionary nationalists created a new left nationalist league in 1919, in the aftermath of WW I. The "Fascio di Combattimento" transformed two years later into the new Fascist Party.)

James was also right leaning, so this most certainly allowed Mussolini to believe he was right.

lastangelman said...

I find that Mussolini's warped personality (violent, antagonistic, bullying) cast a harsh shadow over any good intentions he may have had in mind when formulating and implenting his ideas of fascism and corporatism. Considering all the violence and upheaval that occured in the first half of the twentieth century due to extreme economic and social conditions, it is amazing that either the USA and the UK did not succumb and produce their own versions of a European strongman with deranged and violent ambitions. Heavens knows, the pieces were in place and the dominoes could have fell either way.

Mr. Trombley said...

Dear Sir, Pragmatism is not whatever works is good.

Philosophical pragmatism is a broad school of thought with only one unifying belief, the pragmatic maxim, first described by C.S. Peirce (who called it the first rule of deduction).

The pragmatic maxim is an epistemic theory states that functions in space of any thing form our knowledge of that thing.

Or the meaning of things is synonymous with their function.

As Peirce himself put it:
"Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical [meaning physical or mental] bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object." - Peirce

I wrote more on the great logician here:
http://tbgloops.blogspot.com/2008/01/charles-sanders-peirce.html

buzz said...

One has to separate theory from practice. The basic concept of fascism will produce a workable government if responsibility is tied to authority (this is something Robert A. Heinlein wrote about; he said any government would work if the people in charge were held accountable for their actions. It might not be a good government, but it would be able to function).

The rise of fascism in Europe came when nationalist leaders like Mussolini and Hitler managed to get control of their governments and convinced/tried to convince the citizens that they were being victimized by either profiteers from within or foreign powers from without.

The truth is that both Italy and Germany had some legitimate gripes about the way they had been treated by other European nations (Germany especially, until Bismark unified them in the late 19th century they were a patch of petty feuding duchies and principalities with one of the lowest standards of living in Europe and hired out as mercenaries by other European nations to fight their wars for them, viz. the Hessians in the American Revolution).

The great evil that Hitler and Mussolini did was to tell their respective nations that the only way to get what they deserved was by enslaving others and taking their territory (and Hitler threw in the most virulent form of anti-Semitism imaginable, blaming the Jews for everything that ever went wrong in Germany).

The reason Hitler and Mussolini got away with what they did was that there was no way of stopping them once they acquired power. If anything went wrong, they blamed either internal or foreign enemies. They tolerated no dissent, they allowed no public debate.

This is what makes claims of "fascism" in contemporary America bogus. The mere fact that such accusations can even be hurled is proof fascism doesn't exist (which is NOT to say there aren't abuses that people should be held accountable for).

Lee-Roy said...

I don't find it boring, Eddie. Interesting story. I never thought of it that way. It does seem to make sense. Love the first illustration provided, as well.

Lester Hunt said...

Eddie, I hadn't heard that the American pragmatists influenced Mussolini, but it makes perfect sense. Benito was trying to combine ideas (nationalism and collectivism) from different political movements. Just what pragmatists do: whatever works! ... One thing I find surprising about some of these comments is that some folks think you are making Mussolini sound good. I think you are making pragmatism sound bad. There are after all bad ideas in the world, and the idea that you should have no principles and do whatever works is surely one of them. ... The notion that the worst evils are caused by mindless greed and self interest is in my opinion a myth. As Simone Weyl said somewhere, the worst evils are perpetrated by people who think they are doing their duty. Greed and selfishness did not built Auschwitz.

Anonymous said...

I suggest that you read or re-read Orwell's 1984. To my knowledge it was never set out more clearly how
pragmatism can, like all philosophies if taken to the
extreme, produce Hell on Earth. These are clearly
issues for our times.

I.D.R.C. said...

This is what makes claims of "fascism" in contemporary America bogus. The mere fact that such accusations can even be hurled is proof fascism doesn't exist (which ss NOT to say there aren't abuses that people should be held accountable for).

Fascism did not exist in Germany until some changes were made, very similar to changes occurring in the United States. Right now. You can learn of these things for yourself.

Falsified elections, unecessary war, torture, false imprisonment, domestic spying, the unitary executive, unchecked corporate authority, and more. All here, right now. Whether we will turn the final corner or when, I cannot say, but it is absolutely certain that we must take a giant step back from this precipice.

It should be noted by the truly observant that the real system in place around the world is socialism. Socialism for the extremely wealthy. This system exists above other systems, and uses other systems however it must.

They don't really care what system everyone else uses, as long as it feeds their system. They don't really care for systems that apsire to and promote egalitarianism. That leads to competition and questions, and makes things bumpier for them.

What is Fascism?

Fascism in 10 Easy Steps

buzz said...

Gotta disagree, Lester. The self is the source of all evil. The self puts one's own opinions, feelings, and thoughts above those of others. Auschwitz et al were perpetrated by people who thought they and they alone had a handle on what was right. Read just a smathering of the blathering Hitler and the Nazis made about the supremacy of the will; might makes right in their book, and might is always the servant of the self. "I" will MAKE "you" do what "I" want.

Auschwitz was run by people who loved the self and hated The Other. If they had any empathy for The Other they'd have said, "I wouldn't want innocent German women and children rounded up and put into gas chambers, why am I doing it to Jews, gypsies, and Poles?"

Snurp said...

"The truth is that both Italy and Germany had some legitimate gripes about the way they had been treated by other European nations (Germany especially, until Bismark unified them in the late 19th century they were a patch of petty feuding duchies and principalities with one of the lowest standards of living in Europe and hired out as mercenaries by other European nations to fight their wars for them, viz. the Hessians in the American Revolution)."

One shouldn't leave out the state of the Weimar Republic. If anything, the spite created by losing WWI and essentially being punished into economic oblivion by the victors had no small step in the generating the search for a leader who can create grand visions.

"Gotta disagree, Lester. The self is the source of all evil. The self puts one's own opinions, feelings, and thoughts above those of others. Auschwitz et al were perpetrated by people who thought they and they alone had a handle on what was right."

I would say that situations like Auschwitz are much more complicated than that, as they involve the heavy influence of societal pressures pushing towards a unitary goal. The self does ultimately make a choice, but that isn't to say the self can't be pushed very far in one or the other direction by indoctrination and the like.

As for pragmatism, it doesn't exist as a political philosophy first, so it's not a good idea to simply apply the idea without qualification. As Mr. Trombley said, it links, in a broad sense, purpose to function. Of course, people can and do simplify and then abuse philosophy, so it's not surprising. But I think it's still another jump to take the idea "whatever works" and apply it to fascist principles. For example, if you think government is inherently bureaucratic and inefficient, you might think it more pragmatic to have less government and let people take care of matters themselves. Or if you think any system taken to an extreme would ultimately be negative, you will find it pragmatic to have a mix (one might say that is what the Founding Fathers wanted to do; "We don't trust monarchy and direct democracy is a mess, let's meet in the middle"). So getting certain ideas out of pragmatism requires certain views on what is ultimately pragmatic. It takes a fascist, then, to find fascism pragmatic.

max said...

It is so difficult to define fascism, I think that it needs a brutal regime where physical violence is used to silence opposition and where freedom of association and expression are not allowed.
Sadly those regimes have usually quite a wide base of popular support from the masses and it is the maintenance of that support from the masses that is the aim of the violence.
It's the challenge to the leadership that is suppressed, not freedom per se.

But I think that nowadays in the west the status quo is not maintained by force but by persuasion.

Antonio Gramsci, that was an italian communist theorist incarcerated by the fascists developed the idea of cultural hegemony and it was a stroke of genius, he got that right.

Why would you need a repressive state when Rupert Murdoch's global lying machine is feeding lies, lies, damn lies day in day out to billions of people actually shaping world's public opinion?

Why would you want the police maintaining order in the ghettos when MTV does that job perfectly.

Fascists methods work, but only for a while, never a fascist state has lasted for long so it shouldn't be a first choice for people wanting to stay in power for longer than they deserve.

It is also arguable that current world leaders are not too clever and they may be tempted to support the use of fascist methods, but they are futile efforts, the world is too complex for them.

buzz said...

i.d.r.c. --

If the election is called off this year, we have fascism. If it's held, we don't. QED.

Taber said...

I feel like this is still going on in America, except the solution for introducting fewer and fewer freedoms has now become fear of the boogeyman.

Mr. Sean said...

Fantastic pictures with this post. From what i know about Mussolini & Italian Fascism, you're right. Fascism is way more multi-dimensional than the victors (Communism & Capitalism) would like for us to believe. Mussolini is a great cartoon character as well.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Lester: Yikes! I certainly didn't mean to promote Mussolini!

Max: Italo Balbo? I don't know the name but I bookmarked the Wikipedia
biography. Thanks!

Mr. T: C.S. Pierce? Another name I didn't know, but I promise to read your article about him. This is the great thing about having a blog...you find a lot from the comments!

IDRC: I'm a little bit skeptical about those links but I'll definitely read them. Thanks!

max; Cultural hegemony? Another term I never heard of before! Thanks, I bookmarked it!

I.D.R.C. said...

If the election is called off this year, we have fascism. If it's held, we don't. QED.

I'm surprised at your thinking. I don't think that's nearly insightful enough. Look around you.

When we will have what or what it will be academiacally fair to call it is not what you should be focused on.

Look what is true right now, and recognize that it is more than bad enough. that would be my advice.

I.D.R.C. said...

IDRC: I'm a little bit skeptical about those links but I'll definitely read them. Thanks!

What am I now, a freakin' Jehova's Witness?

Anonymous said...

post more about cartoons please

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Anon: I got caught up with the movie-making tools that came with the new computer, so I haven't posted about cartoons in a while. I'm forced to put a brake on that for a while since I just accidentally deleted my iMovie 8 and I can't find the discs to re-install it. I depended on that program to post to YouTube so this is really crimping my style.

This is a round-about way of saying that I probably will post more about cartoons in the near future.

Traven said...

About two years ago I read William James' Pragmatism with great interest. William James was a very enlivening person, someone who couldn't stop making jokes. (Once this earned him a reprimand from a student during a lecture!)

Anyway, I second Mr. Trombley (the Peirce guy). I never recognised anything ominous in the philosophical works of James and Peirce.

Eddie - I'd like to join with a book recommendation: Philosophy of Civilisation by Albert Schweitzer. It's oddball, almost completely forgotten, epic in scope, both learned and jargon-free, and I'm yet to discuss it with anyone because people tend to find it difficult. (If that fails, read* his stories about his childhood and African jungle life. But, maybe you've read them.)

Booo Tooons Ltd. said...

"Is anybody still awake out there?"

Yeah.....

Hey! I love the way you draw hands, Eddie. Do a post on your hand theories!

- trevor.

Mr. Trombley said...

Dear Sir, What I wrote was very basic and sketchy, but I can't wait to hear from you!

Anonymous said...

could you make your next few theory posts more instructional? Like your own take on concepts like construction, composition etc.?

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Anon: I just finished a theory video relating to film music that you might find useful. Amazingly, there's an awful lot to say about music that hasn't been said.

pappy d said...

Pragmatism holds that human meaning is a function of human purpose. It differed from popular metaphysical theory that meaning & purpose belong to God or that all men are created equal.

Of course, just what an individual or collective purpose might BE is infinitely variable. It'd be a hard argument to make to Mussolini that he wasn't pursuing the greater empowerment of the individual (i.e., Mussolini).

Mussolini, once in power, said he felt the term, "corporatism" might be more accurate than fascism. The term doesn't refer necessarily to business corporations, but means "rule by special interests".

In a society where freedom of association is protected, people will collectivise voluntarily to promote their own special interests.

Mussolini was very well thought of in this country between the wars. Henry Luce did fawning cover stories in Time & Fortune. Louis B. Mayer famously had a marble replica of Mussolini's office built for himself. In 1933 a small "collective" of investors funded a plot to take down the US government & install a "unitary executive" called the Secretary of General Affairs, leaving the president in place as a figure head. (If anyone thinks it can't happen here, I have yet to meet an American under 60 who has ever even heard of the "business plot".)

pappy d said...

Someone just told me Ollie Johnston passed away. He was the last.

Lester Hunt said...

"The self is the source of all evil." And of all good. If there ever were selfless people, it was the fanatical Nazis who fought from house to house in Berlin to save the last miserable specks of their collectivist plans for Europe.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

>>This is what makes claims of "fascism" in contemporary America bogus. The mere fact that such accusations can even be hurled is proof fascism doesn't exist (which is NOT to say there aren't abuses that people should be held accountable for).

I.D.R.C. (who I usually disagree with) is absolutely correct in this case. Everyone should be concerned with the erosion of civil rights happening in the USA right now. Even conservatives like John W. Dean ("Worse Than Watergate") and Bob Barr have spoken up about it.

The Bush administration isn't fascist (John Dean labels it "Authoritarian"), but it has taken dangerous steps in that direction: the unwarranted spying on American citizens, the suspension of Habeas Corpus, the John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007, which makes it easier for Bush to declare Martial Law, the Torture Memos, which allow for the US to ignore the Geneva Convention, and "Free Speech Zones" where critics of Bush are kept out of sight from the media or arrested. The President also claims the right to ignore hundreds of laws by Congress through his Signing Statements. The Executive office has become more powerful through the actions of Bush and Cheney.

Sinclair Lewis once wrote that "When Fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross."

J. J. Hunsecker said...

In 1933 a small "collective" of investors funded a plot to take down the US government & install a "unitary executive" called the Secretary of General Affairs, leaving the president in place as a figure head. (If anyone thinks it can't happen here, I have yet to meet an American under 60 who has ever even heard of the "business plot".)

You're talking about the coup d'etat against Franklin D. Roosevelt, which was exposed by General Smedley Butler.

Anonymous said...

Didn't bore me. Completely revelant to present times.

Problem is: a majority people have no grasp of history.

Can't recall what happened in the past? Then you've just given the future carte blanche to do whatever it wants!