Benedetto Croce, anti-fascist (liberist) philosopher

The Manifesto of Fascist Intellectuals was first published in Il Mondo, then by most Italian newspapers on April 21, 1925 — the national, anniversary-day celebration of the Founding of Rome (ca.  April 21, 753 BC). 

Nowadays, all sorts of people call their political opponents “fascist,” often on the shakiest of rationales. It might be a good idea to look up this original document, for a good idea what politics’ “f-word” originally meant. Here is an excerpt:

Fascism was . . . a political and moral movement at its origins. It understood and championed politics as a training ground for self-denial and self-sacrifice in the name of an idea, one which would provide the individual with his reason for being, his freedom, and all his rights. The idea in question is that of the fatherland. It is an ideal that is a continuous and inexhaustible process of historical actualization. It represents a distinct and singular embodiment of a civilization’s traditions which, far from withering as a dead memory of the past, assumes the form of a personality focussed on the end towards which it strives. The fatherland is, thus, a mission.

The manifesto was written by Giovanni Gentile, in support of the regime of Benito Mussolini.

The Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals, written by philosopher Benedetto Croce [pictured, above] in response to the Manifesto of the Fascist Intellectuals by Giovanni Gentile, sanctioned the unreconcilable split between the philosopher and the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini, to which he had previously given a vote of confidence on October 31, 1922. 

The manifesto was published by Il Mondo on May 1, 1925, which was Workers’ Day, symbolically responding to the publication of the Fascist manifesto on the Natale di Roma, the founding of Rome (celebrated on April 21). The Fascist press claimed that the Crocean manifesto was “more authoritarian” than its Fascist counterpart — a typical leftist dismissal of what used to be called “liberalism” — in Italian, liberismo — but which Croce dubbed liberism, to distinguish it from the dirigiste quasi-socialisms of self-described “liberals” of the time.

The two articles, above, appear annually on their respective dates on — now I reprint them because I think we should pay some attention to the actual words and arguments of both our opponents and allies, and not conscript them into our fantasies and flame wars merely for their temporary convenience and ultimate confusion.

Now, David Ramsay Steele’s advice on the meaning of fascism is worth considering. He warns of treating definitions as somehow not conventional, but intrinsic to, well, an object we point at. Definitions are conventional, and what Mussolini meant by fascism started out as one thing and ended up as another, but the career of the term has largely hijacked by Marxists, who needed a scapegoat and to deflect away from their own beloved regimes’ astounding failures. That being said, it is weird to call somebody something by a term they never used, and even shunned. We have to tread carefully here. Whom should we call socialists and fascists? Only those who called themselves socialists and fascists?

I don’t think we should call anyone a fascist whose ideas are not very close to Mussolini’s, who rejects the label, and whose intellectual heritage is markedly dissimilar.

But I have argued with left-leaning friends making my case that, say, today’s grass-roots Republicans are nothing like fascists, and that the Democratic Party has far more fascistic elements than does the ideology of everyday Republicans, but who, nevertheless — away from conversation with me — immediately revert to calling Reaganites and Trumpians “fascists.”

Deeply anti-intellectual and dishonest, both. But that is how I see leftism in general.

Though, interestingly, what do I call these people? Leftists? Progressives? Those are two currently acceptable-to-them terms. But they used to call themselves liberals. And that was not acceptable to me. The best term is Mises’ term for them, statist — or the French, etatist — but that is an exonym, not an endonym.

If leftists can call everybody not a leftist a fascist, I can call them statists, and with far more warrant. For the term was designed to encompass all forms of activist state policy and ideology above a limited state, whether limited by constitutional law, balance of countervailing powers, custom, or ideology. Fascists and socialists and progressives and communists and, frankly, most everyone, are statists. They are flavors of the cold, cold popsicle. Only those of us seriously seeking to limit the state are anti-statists.

Il Popolo, May 1, 1925.