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(FASCISM and PHILOSOPHY – continued)

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Giovanni Gentile and Italian Fascism

Giovanni Gentile (1875-1944) described himself as "the philosopher of Fascism." He ghostwrote A Doctrine of Fascism (1930) for his country's prime minister, Benito Mussolini.

Philosophically he drew from Kant, Hegel and Marx – system builders. He had some admiration for Nietzsche, and he had a romantic view of historic leaders of Italian nationalism. He had been an academic – the Chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Palermo University from 1907 to 1914 and later at the University of Pisa. In 1923 he accepted Mussolini's offer of the post of Minister of Education.

Gentile admired Marx although with his fellow fascists he was opposed to class struggle. Their nationalism embodied a unified patriotic devotion to the state. He and fellow fascists viewed Italy as a single organic entity and unifying force that bound people together by their ancestry. Mussolini said:

For us the nation is not just territory but something spiritual... A nation is great when it translates into reality the force of its spirit.

Gentile's admiration for Marx can be compared to the youthful Adolf Hitler's admiration for the socialist labor movement marching together in a seemingly endless file through the streets of Vienna. What Hitler admired was the labor movement's mobilization for the sake of power. What Gentile admired in Marx was the unity of his system of thought, including its historicity. Gentile wanted to consider the fascist movement as historically progressive. He held to the idea of struggle and conflict moving history forward, but rather than between classes it was between weak and strong nations. In The Origins and Doctrine of Fascism, Gentile wrote that "mankind only progresses through division, and progress is achieved through the clash and victory of one side over another."

The Fascists believed in a national rebirth and in a new fascist man, Uomo Fascista as Gentile called it. This is vaguely similar to Nietzsche's Übermensch, which some have translated to Superman. But Gentile was misreading Nietzsche. In Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the protagonist contends that "man is something which ought to be overcome," that apes are a laughingstock to man and that man would be a laughingstock to Übermensch. Meanwhile, in the minds of some people in the world, Mussolini and fascist men displaying their superiority through pompous displays, swagger, bullying and chest beatings were in appearance ape-like.

Among fascists was the belief that they were acting with a purpose without which the world would be absurd. Gentile stood against the positivism that limited authentic knowledge to that based on sense experience. Fascist philosophy, claimed Gentile, was not skeptical, nor agnostic, nor pessimistic, nor passively optimistic. Fascism, he claimed, was man engaged in a moral and intellectual struggle in an exercise of free will in the creation of a new world.

Giovanni Gentile would remain loyal to Mussolini until his assassination in April 1944, eleven months before Musolini's assassination.

Copyright © 2009-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.

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