Fascism is unique. There has never been anything quite like it, and there is not actually anything like it. It is an explosive movement, and other explosive movements have been both innovating and subversive, whereas Fascism is preservative.
Fascism is a popular movement, and other popular movements have been in favour of the weaker and oppressed classes, whereas Fascism has no special class interest. It is not reactionary, but it stands out for the maintenance of ancient values: it is not a labour movement, but it favours a highly progressive agricultural and industrial programme.
Its main aims and characteristics may be summed up as follows:
1. It refuses to risk the life of a country, the welfare of a community, by the pursuit of any ideal, however beautiful theoretically, that is of immediate and pressing danger to existing society.
2. It will hear of no socialism or pacifism that has no place for patriotism in its system. Patriotism is a real factor of life that cannot be obliterated by internationalism.
(Now, on this point it has undoubtedly struck the weak point of unconditional pacifism, which is apt totally to overlook the fact that most men and women are as conscious of their nationality as they are of their human nature. Even if this be a condition of society which is eventually to be absorbed into a higher and wider sentiment, it is mad to ignore what exists, and think that to make men unpatriotic is to make them greater lovers of their kind. To do so may have the merely negative result of making them love nobody but themselves.)
3. It furiously defends the national interests of its country, and upholds the value to Italy of the late war.
4. It absolutely hates and repudiates class warfare; believes in a social inequality, or rather a social hierarchy, which results from natural inequality or difference of quality.
Its idea of class is at one with its idea of fitness: the intellect to its true work, the arms and legs to their true work; the able to direct, the strong, but less intelligent, to follow and co-operate: capital to be maintained as the only existing provision and security for labour and industry; labour to be progressively promoted, in proportion to its intellectual and practical progress, to a part in the administration of industry; land to be distributed into small proprietorships by a gradual and willing process.
5. It is a lawless believer in law—a rebel believer in authority; but when law is not administered, when authority is weak-kneed, when the law-abiding get the worst of it because the lawbreaker is immune, then it takes up the axe and rod and goes to work on its own account. Violence against violence, force in order to make a silence in which reason can be heard.
6. It does not believe, with Dr. Spengler, in the coming extinction of Western civilisation and is resolute to protect it from destruction. It is eminently anti-fatalistic. Hence the life-force of Fascism is intimately interwoven with the life-force of our existing civilisation and social order.
7. As against vague idealism, it holds to the sense of limit—to the demarcating lines beyond which the most intense effort cannot reach.
8. Its sense of individualism is completed by its sense of property, as essential to the former; and it will defend both to the end.
9. It will have no hypnotising shibboleths, no turning of the country’s cheek to its enemy, no holocaust of its own land.
10. It is an adoption of the principle of “direct action,” but not in the interests of any particular class. We shall undoubtedly see further developments of this social method: the seat of authority is not now always in the place where it apparently resides; the point of leverage has shifted. Fascism has had extraordinary success in the use of the method.
Now, whatever our sympathies may be, whether with Fascism or not, it is important to realise the circumstances which roused and, to some extent, come under the influence of Communism.
But now some of the dangers have justified it—i.e. subversionary agitation fostered by the uncertainty and hesitating action of rulers. For one of two things: the prevailing government was frankly Socialist, and even revolutionary, in which case it should not only have tolerated Communist outbreaks, but should have guided and reinforced them; or it was not Communist, nor even Socialist in character, in which case it proved itself not only weak, but dishonest.
It is patent that Fascism, could not have arisen and prevailed unless this condition of slackness and indecision on the part of rulers had coexisted with the violence and restlessness of the masses.
But now some of the dangers have been surmounted and the greatest one of all remains to be faced. Fascism is in power. Mussolini is premier. Will the movement keep its character? Will the leader keep his disinterestedness? We do not ask the question because we doubt—we only ask it because it is vain to ignore the danger.
Benito Mussolini has to face, in fact, a greater moral probation than his two great predecessors, and that is the moral risks of achievement, power, and success.
Machiavelli lived in poverty, for the most part, and probably did not guess that he bore a name that was to be immortal. Mazzini died in exile. Benito Mussolini is premier of his country, and can now take an open and official share in working out the destiny of Italy and that of the world.
Power is a danger to such men, and not simply for the vulgar reason that it may turn their heads, but much more for the reason that such power implies office, and that office implies routine, precedent, and the thraldom of custom. It is easier to break down the mechanism of a government than to use that mechanism without becoming involved in its wheels and springs. Mussolini has succeeded in doing the first. We have to see if he can also do the last.
We often say that we need, in these troublous days, a great social builder—a brain capable of setting the world in a new direction. As one who both admires Fascism and disapproves of it, I wonder, as I have often done, whether, it such a social saviour ever appear, it may not be on the soil of Italy that he will arise. For that land has a marvellous power of throwing up new and original types, and though Fascism will never save us all,
Fascism shows, us how much can be done by strong will and direct thinking. Fascism cannot save us all, because it is not wholly set in the way of moral and social advance.
Its recoil against internationalism has its excuse and justification, but it is a recoil that has left an aftermath of bitterness. The social regenerators of the future must not ignore the claims of patriotism, but they must be less arrogant and aggressive in their nationalism. Italy feels herself aggrieved, and with justice, on many points.