The rise of fascism in Italy, and especially in Germany in the 20’s and 30’s triggered a rather large and complicated debate.
Namely: what is fascism, and how did it work?
Most political and economic debate in the 20’s was based around the rise of the Soviet Union – international socialism versus a pure capitalist conception of economics and society. (I don’t think calling it classical liberalism would be true).
Fascism did not fit into the generalization of ‘capitalist’ or ‘socialist’. For most people, it remains a mystery. Nazi means the “National Socialist Party”, but there was little or nothing socialist about it. Similarly, it’s command economy and government input does not fit with a classical liberal economic model.
Part of the importance of this debate was evaluating the threat posed by fascism. To understand it, to label it was to raise the alarm about Germany.
Behemoth, by Franz Neumann, is an attempt to fully document and lay bare the truth of the Nazi regime. He engages in legal analysis, economic analysis, ideological and political theory debates. Published in 1941, one senses that he feel obligated to fully document everything so that there can be no doubt about the ultimate aims and ends of Nazi Germany. Behemoth, is an Old Testament monster, paired with Leviathan. Thomas Hobbes wrote his famous Leviathan based on the idea of a sovereign based on popular will, that presided over civil society – are general conception of the modern state – but he also wrote an essentially unpublished book called Behemoth about the puritan Long Parliament. Hobbes basic argument was that the arbitrary, capricious nature of the Long Parliament represented no state, and no law at all.
And this is the final conclusion of Neumann’s Behemoth: “No known absolutistic or counter-revolutionary theory fits National Socialism, because National Socialism has traits that radically separate it from them and because it has no theory of society. The ideology of National Socialism contains elements of idealism, positivism, pragmatism, vitalism, universalism, institutionalism – in short, of every conceivable philosophy. But these diverse elements are not integrated, they are merely used as devices to establish and extend power and to carry on propaganda.”
Mussolini is quoted as saying “We Fascists have always expressed our complete indifference toward all theories…We Fascists have had the courage to discard all traditional political theories, and we are aristocrats and democrats, revolutionaries and reactionaries, proletarians and anti-proletarians, pacifists and anti-pascifists…Everything I have said and done in these last years is relativism by intuition.”
Really, fascism is an expression of cynicism and nihilism; and outburst of angst and frustration. As Neumann says, “no philosophy can be held responsible for National Socialism”. The closest political theory that the Nazi state seems to accord to the political theory of the restoration of the French Monarchy after the French Revolution, where the state is regarded as a natural fact and at the same time as a divine institution, which accepts the domination of the weak by the strong and rejects civil rights, parliament,s and human reason. (Hegel well called this “fanaticism, mental imbecility, and hypocrisy.”)
The thing that sticks in my mind about the Nazi state was its essential foundation in violence, greed, and lust for power. Neumann points out that “propaganda is violence committed against the should…not a substitute for violence, but one of its aspects.”
Because jargon and slogans wear thin, terror must supplement propaganda displays: “…insistence upon activism in place of thinking means that men shall never have the freedom and time to think for themselves…the technique of National Socialism -to make the action of an authoritarian apparatus appear as the spontaneous activist of the masses…Magic becomes the concern of National Socialist culture.”
Neumann identifies four ‘pillars’ of the Fascist state: the army, the large industrial cartels, the Nazi party, and the old prussian state bureaucracy (including the judiciary; the legal undermining of the Weimar democracy is especially pathetic). The sad experience of the Weimar Republic is a tale of the judicial and bureaucratic bodies undercutting the democratic government, while the large industrial concerns squeezed out the labour unions and small to medium size businesses.
Ultimately the Nazi state was power grab, and the trappings and ideology of the Nazis can be seen as merely the tinsel (the adoption of marxist terminology and rhetoric seems to vividly confirm this) to cover a counter-revolution seem as a “revolutionary.”
The insanity of the Nazis was due to the historical and personal circumstances of WWI, the economic reality of the depression which hollowed out normal people’s wealth and forced the democratic socialistic forces of Germany on a collision course with the army and the big corporations. The insanity that led ultimately to the Holocaust was in the fundamental break with reality that had to be made to force the working population of Germany to buy into the Nazi state and power and ultimate aim of reckless expansion.