By Bob Dorn
Most of us good liberals and progressives think Hitler when we hear the words “fascism” and “fascist”. But if we want to use those words we’d do better to think about Italy, which, after all, gave those words to history.
Mussolini comes to mind. That muscular and oversized skull atop his shoulders, looking pretty much like a pit bull’s, and the strutting swagger that suggested he could rip out your liver and eat it… well, you know. It’s not good.
So how’d he get the land of amore y vino to march off to kill Ethiopians as they searched for The New Rome? He got lots of help from an aesthetic movement in Italy called Futurism.
The Futurists, most of them painters, poets and their caffe-privileged supporters, idealized industry and force. Think of a nuclear-powered Cubism, all hard-edged and giddy over industrial design and mechanics. Its founder, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, put together in 1909 what he called his Manifesto of Futurism, some 11 principles that garbled together freedom with raw hatred, speed, misogyny, and violence.
Here’s Marinetti’s principle Number Nine:
“We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman.”
We will glorify war. Do we do that? Sure we do. We send Navy jets over the stadiums where the world’s most violent sport, NFL football, is played. We celebrate violence. We give kids video games of tanks blowing enemies into flying body parts. These are part of our own aesthetics.
This same Marinetti who wrote the torturous and tortuous Manifesto brought out a play, “Sexual Electricity,” in which human-like automatons influenced the human characters featured in this otherwise forgettable piece of literature.
Now, just before the NFL’s break for commercials and after it FOX TV gives us the eerie image of a giant robot made of impenetrable metal padding. The Futurists created that style ingredient more than 100 years ago.
By 1918 Marinetti had founded the Futurist Political Party and a year later merged it with Mussolini’s Partito Nazionale Fascista. It had taken little more than 20 years for an arts movement to convince a powerful minority of the Italians to embrace an unreasoning message combining state violence with notions outside of history, establishing a New Past that could be returned to.
Think again of those old newsreels and photos showing il Duce, Mussolini, with his arms folded across his chest and lips pooched arrogantly against an invisible foe. Nowhere is this patriotic pomp today more noticeable than in Republican presidential campaigning. Can you see Donald Trump, now? Ted Cruz?
The irrationality of the contemporary GOP owes a lot to Futurism, which thrived not just on physical conflict, but on intellectual contradictions as well; machines were powerful and sexy, the past is what we think it is, and truth is what we say it is.
Our own GOP supermen will accuse liberals and progressives of big government intrusions into daily life, and then turn mellow on wiretapping. They are proud of heritage but not to the point of accepting hungry and poor refugees from war-torn countries. The party’s past presidents made millionaires into billionaires and rang up huge deficits but now it won’t entertain raising taxes on obscene wealth to pay the costs of making war; it will tax, however, a disappearing middle class.
“These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism,” wrote the great Italian novelist and thinker, Umberto Eco, in his 1995 essay “Ur-Fascism” for The New York Review of Books.
There’s an awful lot of freedom of motion for politicians who’ve mastered the art of these impossible combinations. In fact, they win elections doing it. They create fear of immigrants and call the fearful brave Americans. They extoll the virtues of unrestrained capitalism while people are increasingly made homeless and hungry by it.
Think of those strange videos of Murrieta residents shaking their fists at helpless 5- and 6-year-old Central American kids on a Border Patrol bus, and of those Texas vigilantes aiming assault rifles at Bureau of Land Management agents trying to get Cliven Bundy to pay his grazing fees, and of the South Carolinian, Robert Lewis Dear, making the world safe for babies by killing three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic.
Here’s what Eco has to say about what at its best can be said to be a careless indifference to reason, and at worst fascism:
Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Goering’s alleged statement (“When I hear talk of culture I reach for my gun”) to the frequent use of such expressions as “degenerate intellectuals,” “eggheads,” “effete snobs,” “universities are a nest of reds.” The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.
The same politicians who conspicuously praise small business and individual initiative (whatever that may mean) attract the unlimited capital of Big Money in Super PACs dedicated to keeping the Big GOP in office.
Now we encounter another Italian curse the Republicans have embraced — the Corporate State.
Check out Mussolini’s explanation of the role of private capital and state objectives, written in 1935 in his Fascism: Doctrine and Institutions:
State intervention in economic production arises only when private initiative is lacking or insufficient, or when the political interests of the State are involved. This intervention may take the form of control, assistance or direct management.
Il Duce was the one who determined “when the political interests of the State are involved” and when its “intervention may take the form of control, assistance or direct management.”
Mussolini had already gotten busy establishing his corporate state by the time he’d written those words italicized above. Ministerial government divisions had been empowered to govern policy in 22 areas of production. For the automakers, for example, there was a government office that helped negotiate between owners and, supposedly, labor to establish automaking policy. But the old labor unions were abolished, strikes disallowed and the corporations gladly supported il Duce in return for their own security and profit.
“In 1936 the national Council of Corporations met as the successor to the Chamber of Deputies and as Italy’s supreme legislative body,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica essay on the Corporate State, making Mussolini’s government both executive and legislative, one and the same. He was the boss, then, officially and constitutionally.
Today, our GOP has gained control of the national legislative body, has a thin majority of the judiciary and all hell will break loose if the party wins the presidency.
We’re looking at fascism. It can be called unAmerican.
Correction: The original post stated that Temecula was the site of a confrontation between residents and Mexican children on Border Patrol buses. The location was Murrieta and the children were from Central America.