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Part 1 of 3
“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.