Was Fascism Unpredictable?

From 1934, here is an Italian claiming no one predicted fascism. Giuseppe Borgese writes that (“The Intellectual Origins of Fascism”):

“Not a single prophet, during more than a century of prophecies, analyzing the degradation of the romantic culture, or planning the split of the romantic atom, ever imagined anything like fascism. There was, in the lap of the future, communism and syndicalism and whatnot; there was anarchism, and legitimism, and even all-papacy; war, peace, pan-Germanism, pan-Slavism, Yellow Peril, signals to the planet Mars; there was no fascism. It came as a surprise to all, and to themselves, too.”

Is that true? It sounds unlikely, even as I understand how shocking fascism was to the Western world.

There was nothing about fascism that didn’t originate from old strains of European thought, tradition, and practice. Fascism contains elements of imperialism, nationalism, corporatism, authoritarianism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, folk religiosity, etc. Corporatism aligning business and labor to government, for example, had been developing for many centuries at that point and had been central to colonial imperialism. Also, racism and eugenics had been powerfully taking hold for centuries. And it’s not like there hadn’t been populist demagoguery and cult of personality prior to Mussolini and Hitler.

If communism and syndicalism were predictable, why not fascism? The latter was a reactionary ideology that built on elements from these other ideologies. It seems to me that, if fascism wasn’t predictable, then the New Deal as a response to fascism (and all that followed from it) also couldn’t have been predicted. But the New Deal took part of its inspiration from the Populist movement that began in the last decades of the 19th century. Theodore Roosevelt, prior to fascism, felt a need to counter the proto-fascism of big biz corporatism. It wasn’t called fascism at the time, but the threat of what it represented was clear to many people.

What about fascism was new and unique, supposedly unpredictable according to anything that came before? I wouldn’t argue that fascism was inevitable, but something like it was more than probable. In many ways, such ideologies as communism and syndicalism were organizing in anticipation of fascism, as the connection between big government, big business, and big religion had long been obvious. Many of these were issues that had caused conflict during the colonial era and led to revolution. So, what was it that those like Borgese couldn’t see coming even as they were living in the middle of it?

Many have claimed that Donald Trump being elected as president was unpredictable. Yet many others have been predicting for decades the direction we’ve been heading in. Sure, no one ever knows the exact details of what new form of social order will form, but the broad outlines typically are apparent long before. The failure and increasing corruption of the US political system has been all too predictable. Whether or not fascism was predictable in its day, the conditions that made it possible and probable were out in the open for anyone to see.

28 thoughts on “Was Fascism Unpredictable?

  1. Camille Paglia wrote in one of the later chapters of her first book that the fascistic usurper is long dormant in the Western personality, at least from the early modern era onward, as you point out in discussions of the colonial revolutions. The problem with combating decadence is one becomes an expression of the decay they fight.

    • I haven’t read Paglia, but I have come across her name. I think I read a review of her recent book. Does she discuss fascism in detail in her first book?

      Anyway, it makes sense to me. The connections across history always often jump out at me. And I always assume that much of what will become in the future is already apparent in the present, if we have eyes to see.

      For many years now, I’ve been sensing that gears were clicking into place. And I knew people would be shocked once the shift became so obvious it could no longer be ignored. There are a lot of people scrambling right now, trying to understand what has happened. But they should have been paying attention long ago.

      As for combatting decadence, I don’t personally have much fight in me. My focus is on trying to jolt the mind free, so as to glimpse something else or at least to force thought out of its predictable patterns. Fighting against something has a way of simply drawing one in and further strengthening what is being fought against, like pulling a knot tighter.

      Most people lack imagination. As a society, we remain stuck because we can’t envision anything else. We fatalistically resign ourselves to this inevitable ‘realism’. And then we act surprised by what results: fascism, international terrorism, Trump, etc.

  2. She’s more interested in celebrating and revealing the continuity of what she call’s “the Western eye” and its antipodes, than in politics and “the franchise”. I’m also more inclined towards art and books than politics, which to me is more about highway gradients and how the strip clubs with large parking lots are reconciled with school zoning laws.
    But we can’t always avoid dragging ourselves into the mess– and one inter-relationship that leads me to disagree with your final paragraph, about imagination. I think with the massive availability of knowledge and art, squared by literacy levels, people are free to imagine further than even little ‘ol Rousseau drifting in his reveries sans anything but strong coffee and sunshine. Aren’t we fortunate that our crop of leaders haven’t more imagination for their designs?
    It also matters in what sense we are talking “realism”. Do you mean something more like “pragmatism” ? I suppose we could go down the ladder of “what is realism”. My background isn’t exactly Scholastic, but the angel’s hairpin was a bit of a smear.

    • My own interest in politics, such as it is, tends to come from various angles that aren’t always explicitly political. Even when I do directly speak of politics, it’s not my most fundamental concern. But it can be a useful way to get at certain issues, as politics ends up getting mixed up with so much else. Political divisiveness, though, doesn’t interest me in the slightest — no matter what Hitchens and Hickman might find it compelling and invigorating.

      As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t see imagination as escapable. It is irrelevant what anyone thinks of it. The power of imagination is always at play. We don’t actually ever lack imagination. All we can lack is consciousness. And that is when imagination disguised as ‘realism’ demonically possesses us or, if you prefer, virally infects our psyches.

      But you are making a good point. Imagination can be magnified by memes, metaphors, metonymies, moral frames, etc. The tools available to manipulate and implement imagination have become more effective, by way of propaganda, public perception management, corporatist media oligopoly, and related systems of social control and messaging control. My point is related, not opposed, to your point. Social imagination is dangerous to the degree the public is unconscious to their own imaginative capacities and how they are manipulated.

      The realism I’m talking of isn’t the same as pragmatism. You could have pragmatic realism, but there are many forms of realism: communist realism, capitalist realism, theocratic realism, race realism, Social Darwinian realism, class/caste realism, and on and on. It’s simply when one imagined and implemented possibility gets conflated with all of reality, such that it entirely blocks out the imagining of any other possibility. It shuts down the mind and makes people feel trapped, even for those who seek to question and challenge it. It’s just the way the world is, according to a particular worldview when it forms a seemingly hermetically-sealed reality tunnel.

      If you’re curious of our present realism, then I’d recommend Mark Fisher’s “Capitalist Realism”. It’s a worthy read, especially his views on mental illness, a personal concern for him and for myself. Sadly, he recently committed suicide. Whether or not you read “Capitalist Realism”, maybe you should read his last book which is about the weird and the eerie, focusing on issues of aesthetics and art, creativity and imagination. That last book might be more in line with your own interests.

  3. It was totally predictable. It was the result of the elite rendering the social conditions intolerable for all but the rich. A backlash of some sort was inevitable.

    • You express my own view. My sense is that it was predictable.

      But predictions depend on the individual. Some people see something as obvious while others can’t see something until they drive straight into it or it whacks them upside the head.

      Surely, any system can be pushed to an extreme until a backlash becomes inevitable. The prevailing social order in Europe prior to fascism was ripe for a backlash. That much seems predictable.

    • It certainly gets more interesting and more interesting. The games of power are layers built upon layers. There is no end to how deep one could dig. All of this is built on generations of power-mongering, scheming, cronyism, lies, deceit, propaganda, covert operations, and fuck who knows what else. The dark ugliness of it all, if it were revealed all at once, would incite revolution over night. It’s shocking enough as is and we are barely glimpsing at the edge of the curtain.

    • Sad that the partisans insist on defending CLinton and the Democratic National Committee.

      I think that at this point, if it does fall apart, it may very well be a point of social progress.

    • “There are at least 61,000 people whose shelter is provided, on any given day, by New York’s Department of Homeless Services. […] Last year more than 127,000 different men, women, and children slept in the shelters. And in 2015, though the city managed to move 38,000 people from shelters to more permanent housing, the number of homeless increased.”

      That is just the known homeless.

      “The number of identifiably homeless who live on the street—in train tunnels, under expressways, in basements and crawl spaces, and on tenement roofs—is fairly stable. No one claims to know how many of them there actually are, but for years a variety of estimates have put the number at about 3,000 to 4,400 in winter and 5,000 to 7,000 during the summer.”

      That claim of a stable number seems like mostly conjecture. Among the homeless, many are transients who don’t stick around to be counted. Many others would hide from any official-looking person seeking them out.

      Also, a large number of the homeless end up in jails and prisons. They are technically not homeless at that point. This is how problems are dealt with. Along with many homeless being mentally ill, many in prison also are mentally ill. This is what goes for mental healthcare in the US.

      “In fact, 75 percent of New York’s homeless are families with children, and at least a third of the adults in these families have jobs. The bank teller, the maintenance worker, the delivery person, the nanny, the deli man, the security guard—any number of people we cross paths with every day—may be living, unbeknownst to us, in a shelter. A full-time postal worker I know lives with her two daughters in a shelter because, after losing her apartment of fourteen years, she has been unable to find housing she can afford.”

      This is a sign of an entire economic system in danger of collapsing. This is what sets the stage for authoritarian takeover and I mean something much worse than the often soft authoritarianism we’ve already been seeing in this country for a long time.

      “We speak nowadays with contrition of redlining, the mid-twentieth-century practice by banks of starving black neighborhoods of mortgages, home improvement loans, and investment of almost any sort. We may soon look with equal shame on what might come to be known as bluelining: the transfiguration of those same neighborhoods with a deluge of investment aimed at a wealthier class.”

      We will be fortunate if the worst we look back on in shame is this. Unless we take radical actions to transform the entire societal structure, we could be facing something far worse. Instead of mere shame, we might look back on an era of vast oppression and terror, at the level of the worst authoritarian regimes in world history. Once it starts turning bad, there will be great temptation for the elite to push ever greater law and order. There isn’t much left to our democracy at present. It wouldn’t take much of a push to get it to go over the edge.

      Here is my vision of America. When I worked at the Grand Canyon, I listened to a tour guide answer a question about people committing suicide. He mentioned a case where a woman drove her car over the edge, but she didn’t die and so she crawled out of her car to throw herself over the next ledge and still didn’t die. It took her several attempts before she got to a ledge that dropped far enough down to kill her. She was determined to die. That is where American society is right now.

    • That’s one of the reasons why articles like this are ridiculous:

      They seem to think that New York and the Blue States are heaven. When you look at what is going on, it has a lot more in common with the red states than one initially thinks.

      I used to be a liberal, used to think that maybe splitting up by blue and red would work, but increasingly, this is looking like the war is along class lines. You will not see rich people kicked out of homes.

      • Those kinds of articles are irritating. On principle, I’m not against secession. I think the US is too large. And there are cultural differences in this country that make national governance difficult across regions. But the red/blue divide doesn’t explain our present political situation.

        A significant number of places that were purple or even strongly blue ended up being won by Trump. This included a county that had voted Democratic since Civil War. Many of these were old Democratic strongholds and supporters of the New Deal, often areas of powerful union organizing.

        There were a major part of the voting population that either switched from Democrat to Republican or simply decided not to vote (or else voted third party). The Democrats lost way too many votes that they thought they had in the bag. It is a lie to say Clinton won the popular vote when the number of people who voted for her is smaller than the combined number of voting eligible citizens voted for Trump, voted third party, and didn’t vote.

        Clearly, many people in blue states aren’t happy. I’d add that states don’t really divide blue and red. Maps of voters show that most of the country is purple. It’s only our electoral system that makes it seem like there are blue and red states. Anyway, ask the poor, unemployed, homeless, imprisoned, and lead-poisoned people in so-called blue states. These are the people who feel the most disfranchised and powerless, the least likely to vote for either major party.

        Sure, some so-called red states have major problems. But compared to the rest of the Western world, not many parts of the US comes off looking all that great.

    • Nothing New about that. The neocons have been messing with Iran for three quarters of a century.

      Colonial imperialism didn’t end that long ago. The British Empire established it’s last colony when it created Israel. The US inherited imperialism, but found that it was easier to control and exploit regions without all the responsibilities of managing colonies. That is how neoconservatism became the new form of imperialism.

      The difference with neoconservatism is that it operates through keeping regions destabilized. The neocons don’t need to turn Iran into a colony, since they just have to regularly fuck with its government, economy, and neighboring countries.

  4. The bigotry in the comment section of the Orange County article is sad but predictable. It’s too bad people don’t have historical knowledge.

    Orange County is where Nixon was born and raised. It was because of all the Southerner whites that moved to southern California that led Nixon to promote the Southern strategy. That was also where the corporatism of big ag and the military-industrial complex took hold. That is what created the situation we find ourselves in, not working poor Hispanic Americans who have been in North America for centuries.

    The other article had some better quality comments:

    Jerry Spiegler • 3 days ago
    The author is wrong about the so-called “welfare state.” When companies do business with the Defense Department and are never audited, shipments cannot be verified, and no one knows where the items supposedly purchased ended up I call that social welfare for defense contractors.

    ES71 Jerry Spiegler • 3 days ago
    Correct. Our military is our welfare program.
    Young, no job, no money, no prospects? Join the military. They will train you and pay for your college.
    The only problem is you can get sent to fight as a mercenary in one of our many wars and come back with PSTD.

    DeltaV Jerry Spiegler • 2 days ago
    Aka crony capitalism. With emphasis on the crony.

    Us and Them • 3 days ago
    Luckily the lower half of US income earners don’t get to travel much so they can remain in blissful ignorance as to their comparative living standards.

    • I’m sure the same basic pattern is repeating in every big city and many smalll cities as well. The poor are being pushed out of the central areas and into the margins: decaying suburbs, small towns, trailer parks, etc.

    • It’s good that all of this is coming to the surface, even if the comfortable classes (including the liberal class) remain in denial. At some point, it will no longer matter what the comfortable classes think. We are getting closer to that point.

  5. The big issue is the rents are crazy.

    New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Chicago, etc, are all unaffordable except for people who are rich. I’ve been told in NYC, even 100k is not a lot of money. They say that 150k is a middle class life in NYC compared to elsewhere.

    Stuff like this is not unheard of:

    • What has been most interesting about Russia isn’t necessarily potential hacks. Rather, it’s all the connections between the Russians and Trump, his family, and his associates. Trump has known connections to Russian oligarchy and mob that goes back decades.

      As for accusation of hacks, the reality seems to be that they have been mostly internal leaks. The info coming out seems to be coming from those inside the party organizations, inside the campaigns, and now inside the new administration. The political system is so divided that with various people exposing the corruption or else vying for power.

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