by Giovanni Gentile
Fascism is a recent yet ancient movement of the Italian spirit. It is intimately connected to the history of the Italian nation, yet it is not devoid of interest or meaning for other nations. Its immediate origins must be traced back to 1919, when a handful of veterans from the trenches [of War World I] gathered around Benito Mussolini, determined to fight energetically the then-dominant demo-socialist politics. Democratic socialism was blind to all but one side (that of immediate material consequences) of the Great War from which the Italian people had emerged at the same time weary and victorious. It diminished the moral value of the war, when it did not resort to outright denial, by presenting it to Italians in a crudely individualistic and utilitarian light. It claimed that the conflict had been little more than the combination of individual sacrifices, for which each and every party was to be repaid according to a precise evaluation of its suffering.
This claim resulted in an arrogant and threatening juxtaposition of individuals to the State; the neglect of the State's authority; a lowering of the prestige due to the King and the Army—symbols of a nation that transcends individuals and individual social categories—; the unleashing of basic passions and instincts, which bring about social disintegration, moral degeneration, and a self-centered and mindless spirit of rebellion against all forms of discipline and law. The opposition of individual and State is the typical political expression of a corruption so deep that it cannot accept any higher life principle, because doing so would vigorously inform and contain the individual's feelings and thoughts.
Fascism was, therefore, 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 individuals 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 focused on the end towards which it strives. The fatherland is, thus, a mission.
Hence Fascism's religious character. This uncompromising religiosity explains the fighting tactics adopted by Fascism from 1919 to 1922. Fascists were a minority, in the country and in Parliament, where a small nucleus of deputies were seated after the 1921 elections. The constitutional State was, therefore, antifascist and necessarily so, because it reflected its majority. Fascism was opposed precisely by this State that called itself "liberal", yet whose liberalism was of the agnostic and renunciatory kind that only pays heed to outward freedoms.
This state considers itself "liberal" because it is extraneous to the conscience of its free citizens and mechanically reacts to the actions of individuals. It goes without saying that this was hardly the state that socialists had envisioned. The representatives of such hybrid socialism, smeared in democratic values and parliamentarianism, were coming to terms with this individualistic conception of politics.
Nor was it the State that had fueled the ideals of the small minority operating during the heroic time of our Risorgimento, because those who fought for it were animated by the power of an idea to which individuals had variously submitted. That heroic time founded a State with the grand plan of making Italians, after granting them independence and unity.
This was the State against which Fascism took on, armed with the power of its own vision which, thanks to the appeal that any religious idea inviting to sacrifice exerts, attracted a growing group of young supporters. It became, thus, the party of the young (much as Mazzini's Giovane Italia movement had risen out of the riots of 1831 to fill a similar political and moral void). The party even had its hymn to youth that the fascists sang with joyful, exuberant hearts!
Fascism became, like Mazzini's Giovane Italia, the faith of all Italians who disdained the past and longed for renewal. Like other faiths, it confronted a fully actualized reality that must be destroyed and melted into a crucible of new energies, and forged according to a new ardent and uncompromising ideal. It was the very faith that had ripened in the trenches and in the reflection on the sacrifices that took place on the battlefields for the only worthy goal: the vigor and greatness of the fatherland. It was an energetic, violent faith, unwilling to respect anything that would stand in the way of the fatherland's vigor and greatness. This is how squadrismo arose.
Determined youths, armed, dressed in black shirts and organized in military fashion, placed themselves against the law in order to institute a new law—fighting the State in order to found the new State. Squadristi targeted the apologists for national disintegration, whose actions culminated in the general strike of July 1922, and finally dared to mount an insurrection on 28 October 1922, when armed columns of fascists first occupied public buildings in the provinces, and then marched on Rome.
The March on Rome caused some casualties during its preparation and execution phases, particularly in the Po Valley. Like all courageous events inspired by the highest moral goals, it was greeted first by marvel, then by admiration, followed by universal acclaim.
It seemed, for a while, that the Italian people had recovered the enthusiastic unanimity it had felt on the verge of war, but redoubled by the awareness of the nation's recent victory and invigorated by the belief that the victorious Nation was now on the path to recovering its financial and moral integrity.
This fatherland is the rechristening of those traditions and institutions that, amidst the perennial renewal of traditions, remain constant features of civilization. It is also prompts the subordination of all that is particular and inferior to that which is universal and superior. It is the respect of law and discipline; it is freedom to be conquered through the law by renouncing all that comes from individual choice and irrational, wasteful desires.
This fatherland represents an austere philosophy of life, marked by religious depth; it does not separate theory from practice, saying from doing; and it does not propose magnificent, but utterly unrealistic, ideals that change nothing in the misery of everyday life. Rather, it is a daunting effort to idealize life and express one's beliefs through action or words that are, themselves, actions.
Originally published by Serpentura, founder of the Fascist Movement on NationStates.