What Is Fascism Essay

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The Doctrine of Fascism was written during a turbulent period in the social and political history history of Italy. It had been a decade since the Fascist March on Rome, but the Fascist movement lacked a coherent identity. Fascism was largely a by-product of a generation being tested in war. The changes brought on by the First World War were so dramatic that much of this generation ‘refused to see any continuity with the past’.[1] Mussolini was a one of this generation and it was for this generation that the appeal of Fascism was strongest. In the Fascist view, the movement offered a change from the old ‘complicated and confused’ parliamentary system.[2][3] Consequently, it was not particularly difficult for the party to build up and maintain its support, as long as it offered change. Nevertheless, once the Fascists had been in government for some time, it became necessary to form a coherent doctrine if the party wished to be taken seriously for much longer.

The document was written in 1932 by Benito Mussolini,, was in fact written by two separate authors. Both men were fascists, but of very different political backgrounds. Mussolini had fought in the war and had been a staunch socialist in his early years. The other author, Giovanni Gentile, was far removed from this, having originally been a liberal and spending the war lecturing on philosophy.[4] It would seem the only trait these men initially shared was a strong sense of nationalism. Gentile, who is known as ‘the philosopher of Fascism’, was charged with writing the first part of the ‘Dottrina’.[5] Although this the party objected to Gentile’s authorship, he remained the primary author of the section entitled ‘Fundamental Ideas’. Therefore, the first section is primarily a statement of his neo-Hegelian worldview, which cemented the link between Gentilian philosophy and official Fascist doctrine.[6] However, this was not reflected when the document was published in the Enciclopedia Italiana, although Gentile was the editor of that publication. Mussolini himself wrote the latter part, though he was given full credit for authorship of the entire document in the Enclopedia. Those parts written by Mussolini are primarily concerned with explaining fascism’s practical, rather than its philosophical, origins and the political positions of that movement. In short, it can be said that Gentile lays the groundwork by giving a clear formulation of the Fascist worldview and Mussolini explains fascism in its ‘practical manifestation’ as Gentile would put it.

By the time this document was written, Mussolini’s Fascist movement had already taken power. Consequently, it could no longer pose as a ‘movement against ideology’ itself. It needed a coherent political structure, both in theory and in practice. It is made quite clear that this is the intended purpose of writing the ‘Doctrine of Fascism’. The PNF simply could not govern a country without some consensus among its members. After all fascists were not initially united by their political ideology. The movement contained monarchists and republicans, as well as variety of other politically opposed positions.[7] Consequently, Mussolini was able to proclaim that fascism had ‘no formal ideology’. Instead, fascists were united by a shared ethos of heroism, duty and national sacrifice.[8] If the PNF was to prove itself capable of government, it needed to present a united, or at least partly united front. This is ultimately why the doctrine was written.

Mussolini and Gentile almost certainly wanted the ‘Doctrine of Fascism’ to be read by as many Italians as possible. Thanks to years of state initiatives taken by the early Italian government, the battle against illiteracy in Italy was almost won before 1922.[9] Therefore the ‘Doctrine’ was accessible to the vast majority of the population. Even for those who could not afford the Enciclopedia, it would have been available through Italy’s public libraries, as it was a state approved publication.[10] It is beyond doubt that the authors would want the population to understand the fascism in the same way they did, i.e. in a positive light. Consequently, the Doctrine is designed to appear reasonable, while playing on the anti-democratic cynicism of the Italian reader.

It is fairly obvious that the document is not the most reliable source one could find.. It is certainly invaluable in understanding fascism as it was perceived by its adherents in Italy. However, the Fascist movement had existed for some time beforehand and many fascists would have their own view of the ideology. Some certainly would have preferred to keep it as a ‘movement against ideology’. Consequently, there were a number of ‘anti-Mussolini’ fascists in the squadrisiti.[11] The philosophical underpinnings of Fascism according to Gentile were developed some time after Fascism itself. Therefore, fascism can not be properly understood from this document alone, although it is a good source for understanding the fascist worldview. Mussolini’s portion of the document, however, does discuss fascism’s real political background to some extent. He does so in a manner which shows how Fascism developed from socialist opposition to liberalism and evolved to confront socialism over the theory of class struggle and its theoretical ties to a democratic order.[12] It must be conceded that the document is quite straightforward about the totalitarian character of fascism. However, it is more valuable for understanding fascism according to fascists than it is as an account of fascism itself. A few assumptions are mad by Mussolini and Gentile in the text. Unsurprisingly, they make the assumptions necessary for the fascist worldview to be a reality. Some are certainly true, such as classical liberalism being in decline. It is also assumed that all ‘theories according to which mankind would achieve a definitive stabilized condition at a certain period in history’ are false. Happiness is viewed as being impossible upon earth and life is viewed as struggle. This is presented as the defining characteristic of the fascist and the antithesis of the ‘flabby materialistic positivism of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, it is assumed that Gentile’s actualist worldview, which is presented in the first part, is the true reality. All further points in the document continue based on this assumption. This combination of philosophy and politics is reminiscent of the Marxist worldview. Indeed, Mussolini saw Marxism as useful insofar as it served as an inspiration for mass organisation’.[13]

Naturally, this source is biased. It is Fascism defined by two of its principle proponents. It almost by definition portrays Fascism in a uniquely positive light. It consequently has all the relevant convictions. According to the doctrine, the nineteenth century was one of ‘flabby materialistic positivism’ and the eighteenth century is presented as one of individualistic delusions. Fascism is represented as the necessary next step in the political history of mankind. It presents it not strictly as a political theory but as a way of injecting new life into the decaying political order. Fascism is presented, paradoxically, as an ideal opposed to idealism. Fascism is presented as a state of things where the state and society evolve together organically, reflecting the notion of the corporate state. It does not claim to aim for a final stage in the development of mankind, as fascists did not believe there was a final stage.[14]

In spite of the problems mentioned above, the document can certainly provide some insights into the fascist movement, as well as the social history of Italy during this time. After all, it is designed to appeal to the Italian mindset. It is certainly an invaluable document for understanding the Fascist perception of the world. It is certainly valuable for understanding the peculiar worldview of the fascist at a time when fascism was thriving, and when it almost seemed certain that it would replace the old liberalism of Europe.

The Doctrine of Fascism, despite its shortcomings, is an invaluable resource for the study of fascism and necessary reading for anyone wishing to fully understand the movement. It is perhaps one of the most important documents in the history of that movement and it gives the reader a comprehensive account of official fascist philosophy. Nevertheless, it would be a great oversimplification to take the doctrine as a definitive account of the movement, which did not have a single face.


  1. ↑Eric Hobsbawn, The Age of Extrememes: 1914-1991. (London, 2009), 22
  2. ↑Trans. Mario Hazon, Speeches of Benito Mussolini on the Italian economic policy during the first decennium, (Rome, 1933), 14
  3. ↑Josh Bruman, Italy and Mussolini: Italy 1900-45, 2
  4. ↑A. Gregor Giovanni Gentile: philosopher of fascism (New Brunswick, 2005) , 1
  5. ↑A. Gregor Giovanni Gentile: philosopher of fascism, 2-3
  6. ↑A. Gregor Giovanni Gentile: philosopher of fascism , 3
  7. ↑Tracy H. Koon, Believe, Obey, Fight, (London, 1985), 91.
  8. ↑Tracy H. Koon, Believe, Obey, Fight, (London, 1985), 91.
  9. ↑L. Minio Paluello Education in Fascist Italy (London, 2007) 29
  10. ↑Guido Bonsaver, Censorship and Literature in Fascist Italy (Toronto, 2007), 206
  11. ↑Stanislao G. Pugliese, Fascism, Anti-Fascism and the Resistance in Italy: 1919 to the present (Lanham, 2004), 143
  12. ↑Joseph Alois Schumpeter Capitalism Socialism and Democracy, 235
  13. ↑ Anthony James Gregor, Young Mussolini and the Intellectual Origins of Fascism (Berkeley, 1979), 57
  14. ↑Noel O’Sullivan Main Tenets of Fascist Ideology In: Aristotle A. Kalis (ed) The Fascism Reader (London, 2003), 159


Bonsaver, Guido. Censorship and Literature in Fascist Italy. Toronto, 2007.

Bruman, Josh. Italy and Mussolini: Italy 1900-45. Harlow, 1985

Gregor, A. J. Young Mussolini and the Intellectual Origins of Fascism. Berkeley, 1979.

Gregor, A. Giovanni Gentile: philosopher of fascism. New Brunswick, 2005.

Hazon, Mario (Trans.), Speeches of Benito Mussolini on the Italian economic policy during the first decennium, (Rome, 1933)

Hobsbawm, E. The Age of Extremes. London, 2009.

Koon, Tracy H. Believe, Obey, Fight. London, 1985.

Minio Paluello, L. Education in Fascist Italy. London, 2007.

O’Sullivan, N. ‘Five Main Tenets of Fascist Ideology’ In: Aristotle Kallis (ed.) The Fascism Reader. London, 2003

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