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Interpretations of the Origins of Fascism Author(s): Roberto Vivarelli Source: The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 63, No.

1 (Mar., 1991), pp. 29-43 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2938524 . Accessed: 17/09/2013 11:51
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of the Origins of Fascism* Interpretations


Roberto Vivarelli
Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa

Two preliminarywarnings are in order before I turn to the subject of this article. The first concerns the word "origins." As is rather common with words, "origins" can have more than one meaning. In the present article I want the term to be limited to the actual circumstancesowing to which the fascist phenomenon came to life. Only by studying these circumstances, I believe, can we graspthe real natureof fascism. Fromthe very beginning, for example, the relation between words and deeds among Mussolini and his followers was very peculiar, and words were used not to state any firm conviction, nor to outline a definite political programbut, rather,to arouse emotions that would generate support for a changeable line of action. Language, that is, was used by fascists not as an instrumentof persuasionbut as a means of deception.' As a result, the fascist movement from its inception presented itself as a purely political phenomenon-that is to say, as a movement created for action which acquired national relevance through a skillfully executed plan ending with the seizure of power. But when in October 1922 Mussolini became Italy's prime minister, his contemporaries had no idea of what was in store for them. There was no such thing as a fascist blueprint for government, simply because fascism was not an intellectual movement with anything comparableto a doctrine; and, in fact, among the fascist rank and file one finds at that time the most bizarre and varied collection of people. Consequently-and this is my second warning-the origins of fascism must be studied in situ, namely, in Italy, and they must be understoodfirst of all within the context of Italian history. Such a statement might appeara mere truismwere it not that in most currenthistorical studies, and particularlyin the English-speakingworld (indeed a very large area), due Italy has been practically to sheer ignoranceand subsequentmisrepresentation

* This is the revised version of a paper presentedat the International Conference on Fascism, National Socialism, Antisemitism, Holocaust: Links, Interactions,Differences, Tel-Aviv, Bar Ilan University, December 11-14, 1989. ' See the pertinentremarksin Gilbert Allardyce, "What Fascism Is Not: Thoughts on the Deflation of a Concept," AmericanHistorical Review 84 (1979): 378-85. But the deceptive characterof fascism had been beautifully caught in Thomas Mann's Mario und der Zauberer (1930).
[Journal of Modern History 63 (March 1991): 29-431 ? 1991 by The University of Chicago. 0022-2801/91/6301-0002$01.00 All rights reserved.

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expelled from the historicalmap of modem Europe.2Such an exclusion exacts a price and bringscertain results, one of which is the incapacityto understand a good deal of what went on in Europe during the last two centuries; and it certainly preventshistoriansfrom graspingthe reality of fascism. Fascism, at least in its origins, speaks Italian;and in orderto understand what fascism was and how it came to life one must first restoreItaly to the place it has occupied in the history of modem Europe.

The very novelty of fascism and the fact that, when Mussolini gained power, nobody knew where Italy was going made it very difficult for to understand contemporaries the fascist phenomenonand to interpret it. Since 1923, however, there have been a series of attempts from various quarters making use of a variety of perspectives. I will easily resist the temptationto review them all, not only because it has alreadybeen done3 but also because for a historical understanding of fascism most of these interpretations, advancedbetween 1923 and 1945, are of no help. I prefer, first, to emphasize those works published before 1945 which, in my opinion, made a significant contributionto the history of the origins of fascism and still deserve to be considered; second, to see how the question was presented from 1945 on during a new phase of study; and finally, to suggest a revised point of view grounded in a more accurate historical perspective, the result of belated wisdom and a numberof new studies. Among the works published between 1923 and 1945 the first which deserves our attention is Luigi Salvatorelli's Nazionalfascismo, which appeareda few months after the March on Rome.4 Though it is a collection of articles, it also contains a perceptive introduction in which Salvatorelli stresses very convincingly the relationshipbetween the type of nationalism that permeatedthe mentality of a so-called piccola-borghesia umanistica and fascist ideology. Salvatorellidefined nationalismas an e'tatdesprit ratherthan an accomplished political doctrine. This anticipated the more extended illustrationof Italiannationalismto be found some years later in the pages of a fascist but nevertheless great historian, Gioacchino Volpe. Volpe, in fact,

2 Here I am not so much thinkingof the state of Italian studies in English-speaking countries, which is another story, but of the way Italian history is treated, or mistreated,in general works concerning the history of Europe. See, e.g., with regard to the work by NormanStone, E. Galli della Loggia, "Da Oxford, con approssimazione: I numeri sull'Italia," La stampa (Turin), June 10, 1986. 3 Renzo De Felice, Le interpretazioni delfascismo (Bari, 1969). 4 Luigi Salvatorelli, Nazionalfascismo (Turin, 1923).

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will groupthe differenttrendsthatcompoundednationalismunderthe label of "vario nazionalismo italiano."5 Salvatorelli was writing when no one yet knew what direction Mussolini was going to take. Two years later, after the Matteottiaffair, a fascist regime was established that bore the unmistakablefeatures of a dictatorship. This experience dispelled many doubts about the nature of fascism and many illusions, still held up to that time by contemporaries, that Mussolini's movement would prove to be compatiblewith the traditionof the liberal state. Now, with the cards on the table, Mussolini's break with that traditionwas clear. After political liberties were officially brushed aside people could no longer pretendnot to know what it meant to be a fascist. Therefore, in their consciences if not in public, all citizens were compelled to take sides; and, since open political opposition soon became impossible, one of the ways to take sides against fascism was to write about it. In a few cases this was done indirectly even by some who remained in Italy. More commonly, however, and more directly, the origins of fascism were investigated by those who had left Italy after 1925. Let us consider in chronological order the most significant works on this subject produced after 1925. The firstof these works is GaetanoSalvemini's The Fascist Dictatorship in Italy, published in 1927 and 1928.6 Salvemini was already a well-known historian, a professor at the University of Florence, who was forced to leave Italy in the summer of 1925. From that time until his returnafter the end of the war he set himself the task of debunking the active work of fascist propagandists.In contrast to the false image they were creating, Salvemini wanted to expose the true face of fascist Italy to international public opinion. Forhis denunciationto be effective it had to be believed, so it was crucial that his charges be clearly motivated and supportedby solid documentation.As a professional historianhe was well equipped to satisfy both these conditions. In fact, in a numberof writings covering many aspects of Mussolini's policy, Salvemini was the first student of Italian fascism to use scholarly standards while confrontinghis topic. The results are still of the utmost interest today; but here we must limit our attentionto those works concerning not the whole history of Italian fascism but simply its origins. This is the subject of Salvemini's The Fascist Dictatorship in Italy, where one finds a full account of the development of fascism from the foundationof the first Fasci in 1919 up to the 1925 turn of events. From the very lively picture he paints, three elements emerge to form the frameworkof Salvemini's interpretation.The
G. Volpe, Italia moderna, vol. 3, 1910-1914 (Florence, 1952), pp. 274-313. Gaetano Salvemini, The Fascist Dictatorship in Italy (New York, 1927; London, 1928).
6

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first is fascist violence. Over and over again, through the painstaking recollection of a numberof episodes, Salvemini shows that fascist violence was not simply the by-productof a harsh political struggle taking place in a period of intense emotions; it was, instead, systematic brutalitywhose aim was to reduce every opposing voice to silence, leaving no room for any form of open dissent. The second element concerns the figure of Mussolini, who Salvemini reveals as a cynical opportunist and a shrewd demagogue extremely skillful in manipulatingwords and in presentinga different image of himself to each audience he faced, as well as the main sponsor of violence, which he recognized as a most effective political weapon. The thirdelement concerns the behavior of the ruling class and, of Salvemini's interpretation more particularly,of the people in government. It is Salvemini's contention that the secret of Mussolini's victory lay in the benevolent attitudetowardhis movementby which the variousministersin office made possible its advance. Salvemini was urged on in his denunciationby immediate political reasons, namely, the need to warn Westerncountries against the danger of fascism by revealing the true natureof Mussolini's dictatorshipand its brutality.At the same time he had also grasped some of the basic elements of a critical of fascism, to which we will returnlater.7 interpretation While outside of Italy most attention could concentrate on the fascist phenomenonin itself, in Italy one could approachthe question of the origins of fascism only indirectly. Therefore it was more prudent to turn one's attentionto the history of the Italian liberal state with the implicit purpose of seeing what the relation was between the liberal state and fascism and what internalreasons, if any, had contributedto the collapse of liberal institutions. Two classic works along these lines were publishedas early as 1927 and 1928 by Gioacchino Volpe and Benedetto Croce.8 While they are primarily histories of Italy from the unificationto the eve of the war, both works also of the origins of fascism. From Croce's pages contain implicit interpretations it would seem that fascism stems from the crisis producedby the war and that it had no direct connections with liberal Italy. This is why it has been said repeatedlythat in Croce's view fascism was a mere parenthesisin the history of Italy. In contrast, for Volpe fascism appears as the accomplishmentof a process that had its roots in the Italian Risorgimentoand that was supported by whoever favoredItaliannationalism, from the time of unificationuntil the
7 On Salvemini's interpretation of fascism, see Roberto Vivarelli, "Salvemini e il fascismo," in Atti del Convegnosu Gaetano Salvemini:Firenze 8-10 novembre1975, ed. Ernesto Sestan (Milan, 1977), pp. 139-56; and Nicola Tranfaglia, "Gaetano Salvemini storico del fascismo," Studi Storici 29 (1988): 903-23. 8 G. Volpe, L'Italia in cammino:L'ultimocinquantennio(Milan, 1927); B. Croce, Storia d'Italia dal 1871 al 1915 (Bari, 1928).

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Great War. Neither of these two works, however, was of much help for understandingin concrete terms the reasons why the Italian liberal state had manifested so many signs of weakness after the war. The man who in those years more directly set out to answer that question was a well-known student of economics, Luigi Einaudi. As the editor of the Italian section of the Carnegie Foundationseries on the social and economic history of the World War, in 1933 Einaudi published the concluding volume of his section, La condotta economica e gli effetti sociali della guerra italiana.9 Here he clearly presentsthe factors which, accordingto him, made the Italianliberal state too weak to stand the many tensions of the postwaryears. It is somewhat ironic, I might add, thatthe meaningof Einaudi's work, though understoodperfectly well by the fascists, was not understood at the time or even later by antifascists or by the scholarly world at large. This work does not appearin bibliographieson the origins of fascism. Nevertheless, in Einaudi's pages we do find an answer to that question-one that in many ways, although formulated in very different terms, is similar to the answer that a young origins, AlexanderGerschenkron,was Americanscholarof Middle-European to give a few years later about Germany in his Bread and Democracy in Germany.'0 On the grounds of very direct experience as a student of the Italianeconomy, Einauditoo pointed out the close relation between economics and politics and the fatal political consequences for liberal institutions produced by the recourse to protectionismin 1887. Einaudi was convinced that, in grantingprivileges and in favoring a nationalisticpolicy, that turn to of the Italianstate, protectionismhad somehow sealed the unpopularcharacter which had actually given up being the guardianof individual rights and the promoter of the general interest. And, according to him, those pernicious effects made it impossible for the liberal state to stand the test of universal l suffrage and free elections after the end of the war." Einaudi's work appearedin 1933-a year in which, with Hitler's ascendancy, the power of fascism was expanding. From that moment on, the history of Europeentered a most dramaticstage. It is against this setting that one must understand the importanceof what is still one of the majorworks on the origins of fascism, La naissance dufascisme: L'Italie de 1918 a 1922, by Angelo Tasca (under the pen name of A. Rossi), published in Paris by
9 Luigi Einaudi, La condotta economica e gli effetti sociali della guerra italiana (Bari, and New Haven, Conn., 1933). '0 AlexanderGerschenkron,Bread and Democracy in Germany (Berkeley, 1943). " For a close scrutinyof the way Einaudicame to form his judgment, see Roberto Vivarelli, "Liberismo, protezionismo, fascismo: Per la storia e il significato di un trascurato giudizio di Luigi Einaudisulle origini del fascismo," in his Ilfallimento del liberalismo: Studi sulle origini del fascismo (Bologna, 1981), pp. 163-344.

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Gallimardin 1938.12 Tasca's work is written in a terse and brilliantprose. It is very detailed, yet it goes straightto the issues Tasca intends to single out. It provides a well-documented picture of Mussolini's rise to power in 1919-22 and draws succinct but vivid portraits of the main dramatis personae. All this would be enough to give it an outstanding place in the literatureon the origins of Italian fascism; but Tasca adds to this a highly original contributionconcerning the Socialist party's role in making Mussolini's victory possible. In particular,he points out the responsibility of that socialist currentcalled "massimalismo," which had alreadygained control of the party in 1912 under Mussolini's leadership and which became an overwhelming majority after the end of the war. In so doing Tasca was opening the way to a new line of researchwhich, on the one hand, called for closer attention to the impact of the Russian revolution in Italy and to the reasons for that impact, but which, on the other hand, remindedevery careful readerthat in Italy the most extreme version of socialism had prevailed long before Russia even stirred. This fact by itself opens up a very baffling question, namely, how revolutionarysocialism could prevail in Italy in spite of liberal institutions. Shortly after the publication of Tasca's work the tragedy of the war fell upon Europe, leaving no room for historical speculation. In 1942, however, from safe American shores Salvemini traced a new picture of the origins of 13 In this work, which remained unpubfascism in his "HarvardLectures." lished for a number of years, Salvemini recast his previous interpretation, makingmore room for the traditional political forces thatcontrolledthe liberal state and adding the crown and the church to those culprits who shared responsibility for Mussolini's victory. Thus the question was raised once again of the relationbetween liberal Italy and fascism and, more precisely, of the substance of the liberal state beyond its appearances-that is to say, the question of the actual working of its institutions and the quality of the liberalism professed by its ruling class. In this way the whole political tradition of Italy was placed in question. Salvemini was not alone in this concern. One year later, in 1943, and in a revised edition in 1944, Luigi Salvatorelli published an important essay, Pensiero e azione del Risorgimento, which is quite relevant to our subject even though it appearsto deal with a previous period.'4 In reviewing the moral and intellectual forces that promoted Italy's unification Salvatorelli reexamined Italian political tradi12 A. Rossi [Angelo Tasca], La naissance du fascisme: L'Italie de 1918 a 1922 (Paris, 1938). 13 G. Salvemini, The Origins of Fascism in Italy, ed. and with an introductionby R. Vivarelli (New York, 1973). 14 Luigi Salvatorelli, Pensiero e azione del Risorgimento (Turin, 1943).

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tions, pointing out that a genuine liberalismhad indeed existed. His intention was to look at the past in order to understandthe present: to see whether fascism representedcontinuityor disruptionin relation to the ItalianRisorgimento. His answer was unequivocal: the Italian Risorgimento had been inspired by a liberal tradition of moral and intellectual values that first nationalismand then fascism had rejected. Thereforefascism deserved to be called "Antirisorgimento." The question Salvatorelli was leaving wide open was, Why had that liberal traditiongraduallylost groundand eventually been overturned?

This, roughly, was the situationat the end of the Second WorldWar.If we now turn to the new phase of study that opened up in 1945 and went on for about twenty years, it is notable that, all in all, very little attentionwas paid to the worksjust mentioned. Salvemini's works were totally ignoreduntil the beginning of the 1960s. l5 Perhapseven more significantis the fate of Tasca's work. An Italian edition of his book did appear in 1950 in a revised and enlarged edition, and with a long and most importantpreface.16 In it, Tasca explained in great detail the reasons for his particularconcern with the role Italiansocialism had played in paving the way to fascism, and he pointedout how tragic it had been for the history of Europe that during the Second Internationalsocialism had turned its back on democracy. In Italy in those years this line of reasoning was bound to meet with more rejection than agreement, and, ironically, when in the middle of the 1960s Tasca's work reappeared with another publisher and started circulating in an already differentsituation,thatimportantprefacewas left out, deprivingthe text of an 17 The fact is thatright afterthe war the prevailingtrend essential commentary. among Italian students of contemporary history was influenced by the Communistparty, which was imposing both a highly doctored version of its own history and an interpretation of the origins of fascism that would fit into a very narrowscheme of class struggle. And if the evidence did not tally with these two accounts, then the evidence had to be eitherdistortedor suppressed. Forcedinto this sort of straitjacket,an interpretation of the origins of fascism could not go very far. Of course there are some exceptions to this dispiriting picture. In 1950, for instance, in Paris, Federico Chabod delivered some
15 The Italiantranslation of both The Fascist Dictatorship in Italy, and the so-called HarvardLectures, appearedfor the first time in G. Salvemini, Scritti sul fascismo, a cura di R. Vivarelli (Milan, 1961), vol. 1. 16 A. Tasca, Nascita e avvento del fascismo (Florence, 1950), the preface on pp. ix-lxxvii.
17 A. Tasca, Nascita e avvento del fascismo (Bari, 1965), con una premessa di Renzo De Felice.

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remarkablelectures on contemporaryItaly in which he also dealt with the origins of fascism. 18 But the original mimeographedcopy of this work had a very limited circulation,and an Italiantranslationappearedonly in 1961, after Chabod's death.'9 Another important work was Storia d'ltalia nel periodo fascista, by Luigi Salvatorelli and Giovanni Mira, published in 1956.20 However, both of these works treatedthe whole history of the fascist period, and thus their attentionto the problem of its origins was necessarily limited. For a real shift marking the beginning of a new investigation based on a critical scrutiny of published and unpublishedsources we must wait for the 1960s. But this new direction was anticipated in 1956 by Nino Valeri's brilliant book Da Giolitti a Mussolini.2' Valeri was a lavish man who, particularlyin the last part of his life, did not have the patience to sift the vast amount of material with which any student of modem times is confronted. However, he did have a real knack for finding the most significantdocument in any huge file, and he had a perceptive mind. His book puts together, chapterby chapter,a short discussion of some very basic questions concerning the origins of fascism, and it includes a related appendix of documents. The discussion is not thoroughand the documentationis sparse-but Valeri's remarks are priceless. Above all, by using Giolitti and D'Annunzio as reference points, he brilliantly succeeds in showing how incompatible Giolitti's frame of mind was with the culture expressed by D'Annunzio, for whom words did not have and were not intended to have any relation to empirical reality. In so doing Valeri made a great contribution to our understandingof Mussolini's success, not so much because of Mussolini's dependence on D'Annunzio, which is an open question, but because he showed how a generationtrainedin D'Annunzio's prose could easily swallow fascist propaganda.Valeriwas, in addition, the first studentof fascism to use and reveal the importanceof documents kept in public archives. About ten years laterValeri'slesson began to produceconsistent fruit. With the publication in 1965 of Renzo De Felice's first volume of Mussolini's a new trendin the historiography of modernItaly got underway, biography,22 reopeningthe whole questionof the origins of fascism on the groundsof fresh and much more extended documentation.One can disagree with De Felice's interpretation and with a numberof his particularstatements-as, in fact, I
8 Federico Chabod, L'ltalie contemporaine, Conferences donnees a l'Institut d'etudes politiques de l'Universite de Paris (Paris, 1950). '9 Federico Chabod, L'Italia contemporanea(1918-1948) (Turin, 1961). 20 Luigi Salvatorelliand Giovanni Mira, Storia d'Italia nel periodofascista (Turin, 1956). 21 Nino Valeri, Da Giolitti a Mussolini: Momenti della crisi del liberalismo (Florence, 1956). 22 Renzo De Felice, Mussolini il rivoluzionario, 1883-1920 (Turin, 1965).

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still do.23 But no srenousstudentcan neglect to take into account the material that De Felice has presentedhere for the first time, and for this we must be gratefulto him. Other researchershave followed De Felice's lead, reviewing the years duringwhich fascism emerged and came to power by studying new published as well as unpublishedsources. For our purposes it will suffice to mention Paolo Spriano, who, having studied the socialist movement in Turin and the occupation of the factories, wrote a soundly revised history of the Brunello Vigezzi, whose painstakingworks on the years Communistparty;24 1914 and 1915 cleared up many crucial questions about Italy's entry into the war (a topic closely relatedto the origins of fascism);25and myself, who in the same years producedthe first volume of a large piece of research(still in the making) on the origins of fascism.26 Since then a number of other monographic studies have appeared, dealing with local history as well as more circumscribedtopics, that have significantlyincreasedour factual knowledge of the circumstances under which fascists came into power. To review this vast literature,however, would lead us astrayfrom the purposeof this article, which is to draw some broad conclusions about the shape of our current interpretation of the origins of fascism.
* * *

In an attemptto rescue it from the undeservedneglect into which it seems to have fallen, I would like to startmy reevaluation by calling attention to an essay by Hugh Trevor-Roper,"The Phenomenonof Fascism," which appearedin 1968.27This important piece of research does not deal simplywith Italybut aims to shed some lighton the European background againstwhich, in Trevor-Roper's opinion, the whole fascist phenomenonmust be placedfor a properunderstandsome particularpoints are factually ing. As in most general interpretations, wrong and some particular statementsare questionable.Nevertheless, Trevor23 See my review of De Felice's work, "Benito Mussolini dal socialimo al fascismo," Rivista storica italiana 79 (1967): 438-58. 24 Paolo Spriano, Socialismo e classe operaia a Turindal 1892 al 1913 (Turin, 1958), Torinooperaia nella grande guerra (1914-1918) (Turin, 1960), L'occupazione delle fabbriche: Settembre1920 (Turin, 1964), and Storia del Partito comunista italiano, vol. 1, Da Bordiga a Gramsci (Turin, 1967). 25 Brunello Vigezzi, L'Italia di fronte alla prima guerra mondiale, vol. 1, L'Italia neutrale (Milan and Naples, 1966), and Da Giolitti a Salandra (Florence, 1969). 26 R. Vivarelli, Il dopoguerra in Italia e l'avvento delfascismo (1918-1922), vol. 1, Dalla fine della guerra all'impresa di Fiume (Naples, 1967); a reprintof this work underthe title of Storia delle origini delfascismo: L'Italia dalla Grande Guerra alla marcia su Roma, along with a second volume, will come out at Bologna in 1991; a third and final volume remains to be written. 27 Hugh Trevor-Roper,"The Phenomenonof Fascism," in European Fascism, ed. S. J. Woolf (London, 1968), pp. 18-38.

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Roper'sessay drawsa clear and useful distinctionbetweenthe two components of fascist ideology-namely, clerical conservatismand dynamic nationalismand, above all, it makes the important point that, like the graftof a shoot upon older stock, fascism gained its strengthfrom a long tradition of reactionagainst liberalism andthatantiliberalism was indeedat its verycore. Now, if we areready to accept this view-and the more I study the history of fascism the more convincing I find it-we are confronted with another question, one that Trevor-Roper left aside but one that is.neverthelessquite compelling. Once we recognizein the historyof Europepriorto 1914 the presenceof a basic conflict andits enemies;andonce we know thatafter1918 that betweena liberaltradition conflictis revivedby the emergenceof fascism-so thatif we painta picturewith a broadbrushfrom the FrenchRevolutionto the Second WorldWarwe can see the continuityof a political strugglearoundliberalism-then the questionthat begs an answeris, Whathappenedto this conflict as a resultof the FirstWorld War? In otherwords, whatwas the meaningof thatwarwith regard to the conflict betweenliberalismand its enemies? Some years ago an American historian, Arno Mayer, wrote a book which intended to show that in Europe the Ancien Regime persisted until 1918.28 While Mayer's thesis may be overstated, his book is a valuable reminderthat a numberof aspects pertainingto the Ancien Regime still existed in Europe around 1914 and that most of those aspects were actually wiped out by 1918. But if this is so-if the First World War marked the end of the Ancien Regime-then a reconsiderationof its ideological meaning is in order. It is time, I believe, that we recognize in the years 1914-18 the dramatic confrontation of two basically differentideas of the state which had faced each other all throughthe nineteenthcentury. It is time we recognize that beyond the many lies of war propaganda,and in spite of the personalfeelings of many actors, Wilson's and his followers' contention that the Entente war was a crusade for liberalismcontained a basic truth. This ideological dimension of the war still awaits its historian,al-though it was expressed in many documents of the tinm, some in favor of the liberal state and others against it. Among the latter I would like at least to single out that most impressive manifesto of German conservatism, Thomas Mann's Betrachtungeneines Unpolitisehen. Mann's work, it seems to me, still belongs to a conservativepolitical tradition startedby Burke, which in Germanytook a very original turn in the name of what F. Meinecke called a "konservativerNationalstaatsgedanke.'29 Whatever direction this traditiontook and whatever new garb it adopted, the fact
Mayer, The Persistence of the Old Regime:Europe to the Great War(New York, 1981). 29 F. Meinecke, Weltburgertum und Nationalstaat (Munich, 1962), chap. 12, pp. 244 ff.
28 Amo

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remains that until the war it still rested on very solid religious, intellectual, and political foundations, and it was part and parcel of a ChristianEurope. And yet with regardto this traditionMann's Betrachtungenconstituteda real Schwanengesang:by the end of the war the very frame in which it was formed had been smashed. We do not pay sufficient attention, it seems to me, to the fact that the collapse in 1918 of the last vestige of the Ancien Regime implied also the end of traditionalconservatism. From 1918 on no political power could be justified any longer in the name of God. As a result, antiliberalism was stripped of any religious or intellectual frame, with the result that any reactionagainstthe liberalstate was actually reducedto sheer violence. In the name of what traditional principles could fascism move against liberal institutions? Furthermore,if at the end of the war liberalism and its twin brother,democracy,had carriedthe day what chance was there for its enemies to rekindle the fight? And who could these enemies be once the Ancien Regime was gone forever? True, in Eastern Europe the war had opened the way to a communistrevolutiontotally alien to liberalism;but communismwas equally alien to traditionalconservatism, and so an alliance between these two branchesof antiliberalismwas inconceivable. Nevertheless, communism did play a crucial role in stirringup a new wave of reaction against the liberal state, reviving an old fear of socialism which had its roots in 1848 and 1871. And if until the war antiliberalism had taken a strong stand against the principles of 1789, after the war the new target was soon the revolution of 1917 -a shift thatmade an enormousdifference, since presentingthe conflict as a civil war provideda new battlegroundin which the use of violence could easily be justified. Signs of this new wave of reaction, in which antiliberalism is now disguised as antibolshevism, are already visible by 1919 in many European countries. Only in Italy, however, did the new conflict between liberal and antiliberal forces involve from the very beginning the whole nationalcommunity,giving rise to a true fascist movement which would soon gain power. That is precisely why, as I said before, in orderto understand the origins of fascism one must turn to Italy. The opening sentence of Salvemini's "Harvard Lectures" is worth recalling: "Of the three European countries now under dictatorial rule, Russia, Italy, and Germany [Salvemini was writing in 1942], Italy alone had formerly a democratic form of government." Therefore it was only in Italy, Salvemini reminds us, that dictatorship followed the collapse of longestablished liberal institutions. Consequently, in studying the origins of fascism the first question that requires an answer is why this collapse occurred.30 It has to be ruled out-and this is the firstpart of the answer-that
30 I have discussed this point in the introductionto Ilfallimento del liberalismo (n. 11 above).

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in Italy the collapse of liberal institutions was mainly due to fascism. Mussolini displayedan uncommonshrewdnessin turningto his advantageany weakness of the democratic system; in so doing he certainly aggravatedthe situation. But the reasons for that weakness are quite independentof fascism and must be explained independently. One of the most common explanationshas been, and at times still is, that the general instabilityof the system was due to the war. In shakingtraditional values, in upsettingthe political and social order,the war had created-it has been said-a revolutionarysituation, which in Italy had particularlyserious repercussionsboth because of the way the country had entered the war and because of diplomatic problems after its end. This is all very well, but such an answer neglects to consider properlytwo facts. The first is that in Italy, as well as in the rest of WesternEurope, the end of the war actually opened the way to democracy.In Italy the first free elections with universalmale suffrage were the elections of 1919. The second fact is that the Italianpolitical system was alreadyon the verge of a crisis before 1914 for reasons which obviously had nothing to do with the war. A second explanationfor the collapse of liberal institutionshas been that in Italy those institutionswere seriously shaken by the attack of revolutionary socialism. As we may remember, this is precisely the answer advanced in 1938 by Angelo Tasca;and it certainly contains a large amountof truth.More' recent studies have confirmed Tasca's thesis in general terms. On the internationalscene, Arno Mayer's Political Origins of the New Diplomacy, publishedin 1959, has rightly pointed out that one of the main reasons for the failure of Wilson's policy was the fact that the so-called forces of movement (namely, the socialists) had been progressively spellbound by the Russian revolution and turned their back on democracy just when it most urgently needed their support.31 On the domestic scene, a vast numberof monographs on local situationsas well as on general aspects of socialist policy during the years 1918-22 have proved beyond any doubt how fatally damaging revolutionarysocialism was in upsettingthe Italianparliamentary regime and in spreadingall over the countrythe fear of a civil war.32 It is well known how well this fear played into the hands of the fascists. And yet this is not the
Arno Mayer,Political Origins of the New Diplomacy (New Haven, Conn., 1959). In addition to Tasca's work, see, e.g., Pietro Nenni, Storia di quattro anni (1919-1922) (Rome, 1946); Alessandro Roveri, Le origini delfascismo a Ferrara, 1918-1921 (Milan, 1974); Ivano Granata, "Socialismo e fascismo nei comuni del Lodigiano (1919-1922)," in Movimentocontadino e fascismo nel Lodigiano (19151930), a cura di B. Bezza (Milan, 1983), pp. 31-89, and Sindacato e crisi della democrazia: La Camera del lavoro di Milano dallo "splendore" del biennio rosso allo scioglimento (1919-1925) (Milan, 1986); and Vivarelli, Storia delle origini del fascismo (n. 26 above), vol. 2.
32 31

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whole story. Revolutionarysocialism was a Europeanphenomenon, and in those years the Russian revolutionstirredup emotions throughoutEuropeand gathereda following which would soon form the various Communistparties. But only in Italy among the main European countries did revolutionary socialism (under the name of massimalismo) gain the leadership of the Socialist party as early as 1912; only in Italy did the Socialist party come out unanimously against the war from the very beginning; only in Italy did the whole Socialist party line up with the Bolsheviks and, in 1919, unanimously and only in Italy did revolutionarysocialism gain join the ThirdInternational; vast popular support all over the country and did the Russian revolution become a popular myth. All these peculiarities demand an explanation, for which I believe one has to go a little furtherback in the history of the liberal state. In short, I would suggest that the success of revolutionarysocialism in Italy was mostly due to the unpopularcharacterof the liberal state. Why was the liberal state lacking in popularsupport?In previous works I have already addressedthat question, the complexity of which cannot be done justice to in a few words.33Here I will limit myself to pointing out just one simple fact. On the eve of the war, when the Italian government granted universal male suffrage, popularfeelings remainedat best alienated and often hostile to the state. This was the situationwhen Italy enteredthe war; and this is why some years ago I suggested that, in contrastto Germanyand inverting Fritz Stem's formulation, in Italy we can properlyspeak of a failure of liberalism.34 Now, then, we can finally ask, What was the relationbetween the failureof Italianliberalism and the rise of fascism? In examining the period of history in which we still live, it seems to me that too often we neglect to consider what the real revolutionof our times has been. Priorto and directlyconnected with phenomenasuch as the industrialand the Frenchrevolutions, there was, I believe, a radical change in the religious as well as in the intellectual frameworkof Europe-one thatquickly involved all aspects of public life and that I think we might call a liberal revolution.35 It was precisely this revolutionthat introduceda totally new idea of liberty, which soon produced devastating effects. Due to this change the modern state is no longer a religious society-that is, a community of believers conforming to the rules
33 See, e.g., R. Vivarelli, "Italia liberale e fascismo: Considerazioni su di una recente storia d'Italia," Rivista storica italiana 82 (1970): 669-703. 34 In Ilfallimento del liberalismo (n. 11 above), pp. 5-22. And see F. Stem, The Failure of Illiberalism: Essays on the Political Culture of Modern Germany (New York, 1972). 35 Though I read it in a very different key, the phenomenon has been somewhat perceived with regardto the origins of fascism by Ernst Nolte: see Charles S. Maier, The UnmasterablePast: History, Holocaust, and German National Identity (Cambridge, Mass., 1988), pp. 25-27.

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of the same church-as is clear if we look at that country, the United States, where the effects of this change have been most visible. And in additionto this most radical transformation,every person's social station is now exposed to wind of economic change. It is the price of an open society. the unpredictable Under these circumstancesit is not at all surprisingthat liberalism has met with very greatresistance. Nor is it surprisingthat with the gradualdecline of traditionalvalues and traditionalconservatismthis resistanceto liberalismhas found new ways to express itself. The most notable of these new ways was nationalism, understood not just as those movements in favor of national unificationbut also as that new aggressive drive toward national expansion which grew up in Europe after 1870 in already unified countries. And in a numberof cases this new resistanceto liberalismtook the shape of radicalism. It is rathercommon in our studies to lump together these various forms of radicalreaction to liberalism, which we find abundantlyfrom 1890 to 1914, underthe label of fascism. This tendency must be firmly resisted. I think that with regardto the history of the liberal state these forms of radicalilliberalism are rather ephemeral, playing a very marginal role in the fate of liberal institutionsand in the origins of fascism. And, once again, this is precisely what we learn from the Italian case. Indeed, priorto 1914 Italy too exhibited nationalistictendencies as well as a number of examples of a radical illiberalism. Nevertheless, left to themselves, these forces never endangeredthe life of the liberal state. Those who want to know what was wrong with the Italian liberal state can safely leave aside these external forces and direct their attention, instead, to the internalcontradictionsthat made its institutions unstable. The same considerations apply to the period after 1918. The ingredientsof a fascist reaction were already available at the end of the war. There was Mussolini with his newspaper;the Fasci were founded in March 1919; and nationalismhad found in D'Annunzio a charismaticleader. However, the history of the years 1919 and 1920 in Italy can very well be studied leaving fascism in the background. Only from the end of 1920 when, confrontedwith urgent social and political problems, liberal institutions proved incapable of offering viable solutions, did fascism become a phenomenon of national relevance. But Mussolini's success was due to the fact that from the end of 1920 his movement was sponsored by the forces of traditionalconservatismwith which it practically merged. Eventually,fascism would succeed in defeating a liberal state which, for its own reasons and because of its own faults, had alreadylost all vitality. This is why Salvemini was right in pointing out that the secret of Mussolini's victory was precisely the support he found in the liberal state itself.

From this story we can perhapsdraw a general lesson. Today we live in a institutionsis rapidlyincreasworld where the demandfor liberal-democratic

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ing. The alternativeto liberalismmay no longer be fascism, but whatevernew forms it takes, the reaction to liberalism is bound to be a brutaltyrannyquite incompatiblewith the principlesof Westerncivilization. And yet liberalismis a very delicate plant, and in order to work liberal institutionsrequire many specific material circumstances and even more spiritual and intellectual conditions. As the Italian case after the First WorldWar clearly shows, the formal existence of a liberal democraticgovernmentcertainly is not enough. Democracywas a challenge which, in 1922, Italy lost. In other terms, in most parts of the world, it is a challenge still.

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