[“The Fascist Dream” is the third and final part of Maurice Bardèche’s Qu’est-ce que le fascisme? (What is Fascism?) (Paris: Les Sept Couleurs, 1961). ]
Dictatorship is perennial. The Romans suspended the freedoms of the republic when the fatherland was in danger. The Convention did the same. The regime of the “fatherland in danger” is an authoritarian regime imposed in serious cases to ensure the independence and the salvation of the country. Warring nations, cities under siege, a country divided by civil war are necessarily governed according authoritarian methods regardless of the political personnel in place at the time.
These methods are characterized by limitations on traditional freedoms and in particular a certain discipline on freedom of discussion. This discipline, according to each case, can be voluntary or imposed. The purpose of these interim authoritarian regimes is, for the duration of the crisis, to unite as a bundle all the forces of the country and not to allow private interests or foreign influences to divert for private benefit the forces necessary for the common defense.
This authoritarian conduct of the nation that the people accept, and sometimes even call for, in times of crisis, can it become a standard method of government, once the danger has passed? Fascism is an affirmative answer to this question. Fascist parties claim that the habitual abuse of freedom is what leads to periods of danger when the independence and life of the nation is at risk. They feel the need to prevent the return of these crisis periods and accept some national discipline as normal. They also believe that the current conditions of political life put all countries in a constant state of danger and that the measures necessary to insure their independence and salvation must be taken now, if they do not want to be disarmed when dangers arise.
Fascism is, first of all, a pragmatic treatment suggested the crisis itself, or the threat of a crisis. Thus it arose in all countries of the world, and that is why it has so many different faces. This defensive reaction takes its form and inspiration from the image that the most aware and vigorous men of each country have of their past and the genius of their race. All fascism is a reaction to the present, and all fascist reaction is a resurrection of the past. Fascism is, in its essence, nationalist, thus its aspirations are often untranslatable for foreigners, and sometimes unexportable. And this explains the idea that even objective opponents of fascism have of it, namely that it can only promote national consciousness, which is useless to foreigners, and that it can only lead to a politics of prestige, selfish expansion, and conquest.
This is the most common misunderstanding of fascism—at least of the ones worth examining. And the facts seem to support this interpretation, since the two most famous examples of pre-War fascism can be cited in support of this conception.
But this thesis does not take into account changes that the fascist idea underwent during the war as the face of the modern world appeared more clearly. Furthermore, it does not take into account the actual content, which replaced the various instinctive versions of fascism and which also emerged under the pressure of war and in reaction to the moral world in which we have lived since the end of hostilities.
The evolution of fascism during the war has escaped almost all observers, who were eager to condemn and scarcely concerned with exact history. At the beginning of the war, fascism was nationalist, arrogant, imperturbable. It affirmed the triumph of certain human qualities over a certain human mediocrity. It imposed this triumph over all complaints; it promised nothing; it cared little about being admired or supposedly imitated.
But then the gigantic character of the war, the apparition of the two great poles of modern times from the mist in which they were barely discernable, made the fascists realize both the fragility of fascism and also its meaning. Then the government of Hitler spoke to Europe: it appeared as a future, as a reward, as a rehabilitation. It hardly matters if he was sincere or trying to deceive. For those who fought and lived for fascism, the fascist idea had a dramatic new content, which it did not have before.
They were told that fascism was the best defense against communism and also the struggle against a destructive liberalism. But now they knew that fascism was a vital struggle, a desperate defense. They knew that a fascist victory was the only chance to establish a third order, a third world and that the defeat of fascism condemned men, for who knows how long, to the sterile opposition of liberal democracy and communism.
They also knew that the idea of European unity was not merely a propaganda theme: this unity is necessary; it is the only way to save us from the two monsters that had appeared; and if fascism lost the war, they knew this unity would not be realized, for Europe would be a conquered land; it would become part of the United States or Soviet Russia; it would become a dependent land, a new type of colony; it would never have the opportunity to realize this original conception of politics, this new idea of man that only it could support.
That Ribbentrop lied, that Goebbels lied, that they still dreamed of annexations and hegemony, is of no importance whatever. The fascist idea changed and took its definitive form without them. It arose among those who fought, those who fell, those who would soon be proscribed and condemned. It arose from sacrifice and then from persecution. It is the baptism of ideas by history. Fascism may not have survived the victory of fascism. Its paradoxical resurrection today, its resurrection with a new face, under so many new faces, is the result of this spontaneous life in combat, in the crucible, in destruction. “If a grain dies, I say to you . . .” The grain is dead, rotted in every way, and today the earth is parched, the earth is heaving with a new life that we recognize.
The war also taught fascists why they are fascists. The propaganda of the victors purported to show “the true face of fascism”: they spotlighted the Warsaw ghetto and the extermination camps; they exhibited thousands of cadavers and demanded justice. But fascism is not responsible for the corpses, nor for the war, nor especially for the illegal and subterranean war which for the first time was employed against civilians instead of against combatants. We detached fascism from the methods of extermination which have been used wrongly under horrendous conditions by showing that fascism does not result in racism and thus fascists need not accept responsibility for a policy to which their doctrine does not lead.
As for the war crimes that are not a consequence of an aberrant interpretation of racism, but which are attributed to the brutality of fascism: the democracies and the communist countries have shown through their conduct of war that these do not belong to one camp, but that all sides committed crimes. Moreover, the invention of the subversive war and the illegal interference with civilians by acts of war originates from the procedures of defense that military authorities had accepted for the protection of their troops, and this reactions by authorities is not peculiar to fascist countries. The armies of democratic countries, placed in the same circumstances, had to defend themselves too, contrary to their better natures, by methods that pain the conscience of every soldier, but are an inevitability of subversive war. Examples that could be cited are present in everyone’s mind: they only prove that no nation, no regime, can escape the fate of repression when the adversary makes self-defense inevitable. This is confirmed by the facts we learned that campaigns about atrocities are nothing but instruments of propaganda. One always protests the wrongs one has suffered and ignores those that one commits. These atrocities are certainly one of the most serious blemishes of our time. But the use made of them by dishonest and hypocritical intellectuals is no less vile.
While the adversaries of fascism pretend that the war showed “the true face” of men who think differently from them, the fascists for their part discovered the conceptions of man and order for which they are fighting. In particular, they understood that they did not fight for the resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire or for Caesar’s legions, and the Teutonic knights, centurions, samurai, and Crusaders were only geographical and accidental versions of the image they carried within them. They understood what they risked losing in defeat, what they were in the process of losing, comparing their own ideas of life and man to those offered by liberal democracy and communism. They became aware of fascist man, a moral type too new to have found its historian. Fascist man was in them. He had been cast into the darkness by the immense shadow of the statue of the Gestapo that had been hoisted up with great fanfare to stand in the public place of history. Today, fascist man is back. And the Gestapo has changed sides.
This new image of man is what is essential. The characteristics of fascism, we have seen, are disputable, and only a small number of those we have examined have been retained in a logical definition of fascism. The single party, police methods, propaganda, Caesarism, the very presence of a Führer are not necessarily attributes of fascism; still less an alliance with reactionary politics, the refusal of control and open membership to the masses, the inevitability of prestige operations and military raids.
A firm and stable direction of the nation, the primacy of the national interest over private interests, the necessity of a discipline loyally accepted by the country, are the true political foundations of fascism, those that emerge from its very definition. Power may be exercised in a fascist state by a central committee, a council, or a junta as well as by a designated leader; such rule need not be brutal and abusive. It can also be tolerant and supple. The essential political instrument of fascism is the role that it grants to a minority of disinterested and committed militants capable of leading by the example of their own lives and to bear the message of a just, loyal, and honesty polity. The famous fascist methods are thus constantly and ceaselessly reevaluated. What is more important than mechanisms is the idea that fascism has of man and freedom.
1. John 12:24—Trans.
Fascism opposes another image of man to the democratic one, another conception of freedom to the vaunted democratic one.
Democracy puts no limits on freedom beyond prohibiting harm to others. Democrats are quick to discover that one might harm the government without harming others, and their codes are filled with political offenses. But they have never admitted that without harming others individually, one can still harm the nation as a whole through the abuse of freedom.
Fascism opposes this anarchic concept of freedom with a social conception of freedom. It does not permit that which harms the nation. It permits everything else. It is wrong to believe that it is in the spirit of fascism to limit individual freedom or freedom of thought. Nothing has changes in the everyday life of a country when it becomes fascist: contrary to the famous saying, when someone rings the doorbell at seven o’clock, it must be the milkman.
But fascism does not allow someone to carve out empires by capturing the minds of fools. The public is not a pond where you can fish all year round and where well-equipped pirates have the right to haul fortunes up in their nets. Everyone can think what he wants and say it. But the diversion of people’s wills must be punished in a well-regulated country, just like the theft of electricity. It is not reasonable that the law protects rabbits but does not protect our minds.
The anarchic freedom of democracy does not just permit the diversion of the popular will and its exploitation for private interests, it has still more serious consequences. It opens life on all sides to every inundation, to every miasma, to every foul wind, without barriers to decadence, exploitation, and above all mediocrity.
It makes us live on a steppe that everyone can invade. There is a word for purely negative order: the defense of freedom. But this freedom is like a drug you try once, it is a chrism one receives, and then man is abandoned defenseless on the steppe. Monsters make their nests on this steppe: rats, toads, serpents turn it into a sewer. These swarms have a right to grow, like nettles and crabgrass.
Freedom lets in anything. All the filth that others want to rid themselves of has the absolute right to settle on the steppe, to speak out, to appeal to the law, and also to mix our blood with the Negroid dreams, whiffs of witchcraft, cannibal nightmares—monstrous flowers carpeting unfathomably foreign brains. The emergence of a mongrel race in a nation is the real modern genocide, and modern democracies systematically promote it.
As for mediocrity, it rises like an insidious poison in those peoples who have received educations but not goals and ideals. It is the spiritual leprosy of our time. Nobody believes anything; everyone is afraid to be duped. The democratic state gives no one a mission. It gives nothing but a hollow voice, a freedom without content, without face, which we squander in seedy pleasures. Everyone is chained by his own selfishness. Everyone is disgusted to see his own image, and that of his shabby happiness, in his neighbor. And they hate these mirrors of their misery.
Can fascism be a faith? That is a big word. Our religions are dying; they are bloodless; man awaits new gods. No image of the city can replace the gods. But the destiny of men can still be a reason to live. If our lives are condemned to the night, the joy of building, the joy of devotion, the joy of love, and also the feeling of having faithfully fulfilled our human duties are still an anchor to which we can we cling. These avenues that we have traced for ourselves have saved the men of our time who did not resign themselves to mediocrity and disgust.
The fascist dream sees these routes to joy as open to all men. There is no true fascism without an idea that shows all the prospects of a great work. And true fascism is precisely to involve the whole nation in this work, to mobilize the whole of it, to make each worker a pioneer and a soldier of this task and thus to give him the pride of having fought in his rank. The spirit of fascism consists above all in endowing each with the greatness of the task accomplished by all and thus giving an inner joy, a deep engagement, a vital goal that will enlighten and transform their lives.
It is false to think that this idea must be expressed by a policy of conquest. That is the facile and vulgar form of great enterprises that no longer belongs to our time. The creation of national infrastructure, the realization of a just social order and a healthy people, the transformation of our lives according to the modern world, the propagation of our influence and example are beautiful and difficult tasks to which each can contribute in his own way.
When everything is an adventure it communicates the spirit of adventure. Transforming Corrèze can be as exciting as organizing an airmail service, but it is necessary to inject the idea that this is an exciting enterprise. Fascism recognizes this irreplaceable mystique of achievement. It is a sign of degeneration when the worship of a man is substituted for the task to be accomplished and when the nation nourished with nothing more than words, authority without a program, portraits disguised as principles: it is nothing more than a donkey with a policeman trailing behind him.
Thus fascism leads to a different social morality than democracy, and it seeks to develop a human type that the democracies ignore or combat.
The democrats believe in the natural goodness of man, in progress as the course of history. They think that all parts of the personality merit equal development. For them, the state does not make men moral, it merely teaches them to read; education is a panacea that can work miracles. Democracy does not intervene to establish its own image of man. Its fine ideal exists nowhere. One cannot even say that the men in charge choose subjects to suit their agenda, like leaders of seminars. Democracy is only concerned with diplomas. Democracy distributes awards for excellence. She places her best pupils in the Pantheon. But in 100 years, she has not produced a single hero.
Fascists do not believe in the natural goodness of man; they do not believe that progress is the irreversible direction of history. They have this ambitious idea that man has the power to create, at least in part, his own destiny. They think that the revolutions of history of course have causes and preparations of all kinds, but that they are ultimately determined and driven by the energy of a man or of a group, without which these revolutions would not have occurred. Thus they regard victories and defeats as the result of a mixture of remote causes, the chances of the moment, and the stubborn will of men, which cannot be equated, and they do not abandon the hope that man can, through the force of prudence and energy, withstand events. In particular, they believe the responsible course is to develop in their people the qualities that would permit them to survive and not give in to adversity.
The purpose of the fascist state is to shape men according to a particular model. Unlike democratic states, fascist states do not hesitate to teach morals. Fascists think that the will and energy available to the nation are its most precious capital. They make it their highest priority to encourage the collective qualities that shape and preserve the national energy. They seek to develop such national qualities as discipline, a taste for order, love of work, the sense of duty and honor. In the practice of everyday tasks, these national moral principles are expressed in a sense of responsibility, a sense of solidarity, awareness of duties of command, the feeling of being at home in an accepted order and in an important task.
These feelings are not taught in schools with phrases written on blackboards. If education is to arouse them in a child, it is the regime itself that must develop them in men, with justice in the distribution of the national income, by the example it sets, by the tasks that it sets forth.
Discipline does not arise in action with the stroke of a magic wand or in response to a grandiloquent appeal: it is a mark of esteem that a people gives to those who lead them, and a regime must earn this every day by the seriousness of its actions and the sincerity of its love of country. The discipline of a nation is a weapon that is forged like the discipline of an army. It is understood to be a treasure that must be guarded. But it is above all the reward of men who give themselves entirely to their work and are themselves exemplars of courage, selflessness, and honesty.
This cohesion of the national will is, moreover, possible only in a clean country. No regime should be more concerned with honor, honesty, moral health than an authoritarian regime, and it must first of all be implacable in this regard with its own officials. This has not always been seen in the past. But there are many other things that we have not always seen in the past. Such self-discipline is the only thing that legitimates the discipline one demands of others.
But the policy of cleanliness is more than just that. It is also about the systematic elimination of all that discourages, sullies, and disgusts. I am not talking about pornographic magazines whose suppression the churchgoers and moralists believe will save the nation. Mostly, I am speaking of fortunes amassed without work, unjustified success, triumphant crooks and scoundrels, the spectacle of which is infinitely more demoralizing and harmful than the buttocks of cover-girls. I do not want the reign of Virtue, much less of the moral order. But I regard it as obvious that one cannot ask a people to love their work and to do it with seriousness and precision without removing from social circulation those who insult our work and our conscience by their manner of getting rich.
Fascism does not merely propose another image of the nation but of man. Fascism prizes some human qualities above all others because the very same qualities appear to give strength and duration to the state as well as meaning to individual lives. These are the qualities that have been required in all times of men who participate in difficult and dangerous enterprises: courage, discipline, the spirit of sacrifice, energy—virtues required of soldiers in combat, pioneers, sailors in peril. These are peculiarly military and, so to speak, animal qualities: they remind us that the first task of man is to protect and subdue, a calling that gregarious and pacified city life leads us to forget, but that is awakened by danger and every difficult achievement where man finds his natural adversaries again: storms, catastrophes, deserts.
The animal qualities of man have engendered others which are inseparable from them, because they belong to a code of honor that was established in danger: they are loyalty, fidelity, solidarity, selflessness. These qualities are the foundations of relations between men at all times, even in hours of uncertainty and abandonment. They constitute a system of mutual commitments upon which all groups of men can live. The rest of morality is nothing but a series of applications, which always vary with time and place.
These qualities that are functional, so to speak, and that the fascist dream takes as essential, in turn give rise to others which are their refinements, which always with time and place, and which become essential in their turn, to the extent that the human animal is more aware of who he is and what he is worth. These qualities are luxuries that military societies gave themselves as they took shape and constituted their hierarchy. They include pride, scrupulousness in vows, generosity, respect for a courageous adversary, protection of the weak and weaponless, contempt for liars and respect for those who fight fair.
These civic qualities still stir obscure palpitations when our decadent cities honor those who, in the past, made it their business to fight and to be fully men. They were found in both military and religious Orders, among the Saracen princes and samurai. They constitute, at bottom, the sole code that military societies have recognized according their vocation; they are essential to the honor of the soldier.
We are told that later the warrior monks became thugs and sodomites, robber barons, and cutthroat princes. When have wealth and above all power not degraded? It is the idea that matters. This beautiful human beast, this healthy human beast dreamed fascism.
It is certainly sad that the mud of war has rendered him almost unrecognizable, that the fury of war has effaced him like a statue in the desert, scoured by the winds of vengeance and hate. I do not say “this is what was.” I say: “this is what might have been and sometimes was.” This is the fascist dream, which was the dream in the hearts of a few.
The defeat of fascism should not make us forget that the image exists, that it still remains grand, and that others may find it again under new names. The very term fascism will no doubt founder, because it is too freighted with calumnies, because it is lost in a sea of shadows under a malignant mist. But what does the word matter? We all know that Spartan order, Spartan man, is the sole shield that will remain when the shadow of death rises before the West. Lenin prophesized that fascism would be the last form taken for survival by the societies that do not surrender without a fight to Communist dictatorship. If the West no longer has strength, if it disappears like an old man drowns, we can do nothing for it. But if it rises to defend itself, Lenin’s prophecy will come true. Under a different name, a different face, and no doubt without any projections of the past, in the form of a child we do not recognize, the head of a young Medusa, the Spartan order will be reborn: and paradoxically, no doubt, it will be the last defense of Freedom and the good life.