Friday, November 19, 2004

A Dedicated Follower of Fascism

The mainstreaming of European fascism continues:

Silvio Berlusconi named Gianfranco Fini, the leader of Italy's former neo-fascists, as his new foreign minister yesterday in a move that offered the heirs of Benito Mussolini's Blackshirts the prospect of new international political respectability. The appointment was the result of complicated manoeuvring within the prime minister's conservative coalition. It was also the reward for years of effort by Mr Fini, 52, to drag his party, the National Alliance, into the mainstream.

While he has softened his position on many issues over the years, Mr Fini remains a hardline conservative and his outlook is likely to win him friends in George Bush's new administration.

This article weirdly fails to discuss Fini's former neofascist group, which was called Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI). It was formed in 1946 to keep fascism alive in postwar Europe. It was far from popular in following decades, and when Fini took over its leadership, he understood the importance of giving it an acceptable public face.

Accordingly, Fini pursued the mainstreaming strategy typical of American fascists: he repudiated the worst excesses of racism, and bemoaned the injustice of the Holocaust, while simultaneously rallying the faithful with coded language. For instance, he said that Mussolini was the "greatest statesmen" of the 20th century, and complained about Europe's loss of "cultural identity" after the Allies prevailed. The party made gains through Fini's close relationship with Berlusconi.

Fini ended the MSI in 1995, and it was reborn as the National Alliance. It's widely agreed that at that point, Fini broke completely with fascism. I'm skeptical, mainly because so much of the MSI followed Fini into the National Alliance; a sudden mass repudiation of fascism is possible, of course, but the popularity of such tactics for mainstreaming fascism gives ample grounds for suspicion.

And of course, much hinges on the definition of "fascism." At the least, Berlusconi's ideal Italy is certainly modeled after Mussolini's vision of the corporatist state. Beyond that, I tend to agree with Professor Roger Griffin’s reading of fascism as "'palingenetic ultra-nationalism' – extreme populist nationalism focused upon national 'rebirth' and the eradication of presumed national decadence."

I'd say that's a fair thumbnail description of the motivation behind America's "Culture Wars." And I'd argue, too, that this type of ultra-nationalism, devoted to some mystical idea of national rebirth, engenders precisely the sort of free-floating hysteria that can easily be channeled towards racism, as well as violence against "unpatriotic" or "decadent" scapegoats. That's what worries me about mainstreamed matter what its official positions are, its emotional underpinnings make its adherents very malleable and very suggestible. In a sense, they're "sleepers," waiting for a sign from on high to attack the "enemy."


Arne Langsetmo said...

A Billy Bragg fan, eh? Maybe he didn't originate the phrase, but the "delicate flower of fashion"/"dedicated follower of fascism" transmogrification was one I first heard from Mr. Bragg. Kudos to ya.


Phila said...


Actually, I was thinking of the Kinks' song, "Dedicated Follower of Fashion."