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Fascism in the White House?

On the question lately raised of fascism in the Trump White House, it would be well to begin with a definition. Benito Mussolini himself thought that it meant everything in the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state. He intended fascism to be an integral program of nationalist politics with the state serving as the foundation of every individual right and value.

Giovanni Gentile, the movement’s foremost philosopher, explained in Origins and Doctrine of Fascism that the state should be the arbiter between capital and labor. To create class harmony, fascism “neglects nothing and excludes itself from nothing that involves the interests of the citizen, whether economic or moral.” He celebrated fascism as “before all else a total conception of life” far superior ethically to the oligarchy of liberalism and the class tyranny of communism.

Mussolini’s foremost biographer, Renzo De Felice, drew attention to the immense popularity of fascist ideas during the interwar period. The regime had achieved consensus, he wrote. An implication of his research concerned the possibility that fascism could return to popular favor in circumstances of crisis, when radical causes stand their best chance of gaining a politically significant following.

At the end of the Second World War, the prospects of a fascist revival appeared to be foreclosed. The horrendous image of Mussolini’s bullet-riddled corpse dangling head down from the roof of a gas station in Milan’s Piazzale Loreto might well have served as a death notice for the movement he had led to triumph 23 years before.

A neo-fascist party, however, sought to perpetuate Mussolini’s legacy in postwar Italy. In the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), which remained marginalized throughout the postwar era, pragmatic moderates and idealists of varying stripes coexisted uneasily.  

Neo-fascist true believers on the fringes of the MSI presented themselves as the revolutionary conscience of the party, but then formed their own extreme right-wing group, Ordine Nuovo. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, numerous other groups competed with the ordinovisti for the hearts and minds of the hard neo-fascist right in Italy. Their acrimonious feuds and rivalries notwithstanding, they shared the dream of overthrowing Italy’s democracy and establishing a new fascist order.

Like-minded fringe neo-fascist groups throughout Europe dedicated themselves to the cause of reversing the outcome of World War II, which in their view had ended with the subjugation of the people of Europe to the control of Washington and Moscow.

The man of ideas who exerted the greatest influence on Europe’s radical neo-fascists of this period was Julius Evola. They identified him as their maestro segreto. His complex intellectual biography included a Dada phase and then a deep dive into mysticism, what he called his “transrational” philosophic studies. He immersed himself in the occult world of magic, alchemy, and Eastern religions. Friedrich Nietzsche’s caustic denunciations of democracy, socialism, and feminism gave him his basic anti-modernist political philosophy.

In 1934, Evola published The Revolt Against the Modern World. This book made a very meager impression at the time of its publication. As a self-proclaimed super-fascist, he opposed the pragmatic compromises that Mussolini made. Especially galling to him were the Lateran Accords of 1929 with the Catholic Church, an institution the viscerally anti-Christian Evola assailed as one of Italy’s supreme misfortunes. He never enjoyed high standing with the regime and found a more receptive audience in Nazi Germany.

After World War II, however, The Revolt Against the Modern World became a cult book for neo-fascists in Italy and throughout Europe. They learned from Evola that the materialist values of modernity had subverted the vital organic traditions of aristocracy and hierarchy, which in the Western world had reached their supreme point of development in the Roman Empire. The progress culminating in modernity and celebrated in history textbooks in fact had led straight to what he habitually scorned as the wasteland of the postwar world.

Even before the Second World War, Evola feared the United States as a deadly bacillus for European civilization. In his postwar books, all of which became required reading for neo-fascists with any genuinely radical pretensions, he characterized the United States as the prime mover of world capitalism, the most destructively revolutionary force in history. Soviet communism, another bankrupt system, and American consumer society represented the final stages of the West’s decline and fall. The only hope for Europeans lay in an authentically fascist revolution against the dictatorships of capitalist plutocrats and communist bureaucrats.

Evola’s wholesale condemnation of America makes him an extremely odd ideological reference point for Steve Bannon, now a key figure in the Trump administration. With his much-quoted mention of Evola at a 2014 Vatican conference, Bannon almost single-handedly introduced the secret master of neo-fascism to the mainstream American audience. People in search of guideposts for the worldview of Trump or the advisers in his inner circle subsequently seized upon the name of Evola as a possible pathway to understanding. It is a pathway of limited utility.

Bannon’s 2010 film, Generation Zero, provides an illuminating introduction to his political philosophy. For Bannon, the triumph of the narcissistic 1960s counterculture over traditional American values has caused the country’s decline. In the film’s shorthand, Woodstock in 1969 presaged the financial meltdown of 2008. He calls for a return to the culture of moral responsibility enshrined in free-market capitalism and Judeo-Christian civilization. Only through such a revival can America become great again. The philosophy of the film comes mainly from the American Enterprise Institute, whose spokesmen and allies in the Republican Party have featured speaking roles.

Bannon commanded the Breitbart media empire before joining the Trump campaign team. That organization’s alt-right reputation for misogyny, racism, and xenophobia has followed Bannon into the White House. A person could be guilty of all three of these prejudices without being a neo-fascist. Moreover, Breitbart’s origins as a pro-freedom and pro-Israel advocate rule it out on principle as any kind of neo-fascist structure that Evola would recognize as such.

Evola interpreted the American conception of freedom as a license for capitalist piracy and debauchery of the planet. As for Jews, he did not share the Nazi racial obsessiveness about them. Jewish culture in general, however, offended him, and he would not have looked to Israel for anything but trouble.

As a philosopher of Western crisis, Evola could give Bannon some useful images for depicting the perilous state of the world today. For both men, all great things stand in peril. Their ideas about what those great things are, however, could not be more different.

For Bannon, the United States is the greatest country on earth and in danger of destruction from within by liberals. For Evola, American exceptionalism had meaning only in a thoroughly negative sense. To him, the United States had become an exceptionally malignant country, precisely because it embodied the worst features of free-market capitalism and Judeo-Christian civilization.

Fascism or neo-fascism may be on the rise today, but not at the Trump White House in anything remotely resembling their Evolian forms.

Richard Drake teaches history at the University of Montana and is the author of The Revolutionary Mystique and Terrorism in Contemporary Italy [1].

25 Comments (Open | Close)

25 Comments To "Fascism in the White House?"

#1 Comment By GS Razi On March 2, 2017 @ 7:40 am

Bannon is easily a right-wing christofascist. To return an increasingly diverse and rational country to the absurd ideas of Jesus of Nazareth or King David in these times is absurd. Why not just force creationism on us or destroy the separation of church and state?
It is rational thought and liberalism that has allowed the West to grow, not religious fanaticism and bigotry.

#2 Comment By corwin On March 2, 2017 @ 8:32 am

Regardless of what you want to call him, Bannon is going to be chaotic. He will be just fine, since he has plenty of resources to be able to weather the storm. For all too many of the rest of us who are just looking for a reasonable amount of stability and some growth, he will be devastating. And the worst part is that a lot of the problems will take years to become evident, but will take decades to fix.

#3 Comment By Karen On March 2, 2017 @ 8:41 am

There is more than one kind of fascism, and simply because Bannon’s view of the USA is positive and Evola’s wasn’t does not mean that Bannon isn’t an American fascist. Breitbart and Bannon share misogyny — and I believe the evidence shows that misogyny is their strongest animating passion, xenophobia, racism, and a worship of the police and military. A government that believes women belong locked in the kitchen; that foreigners have no place in the US and that defines ‘foreign’ as ‘anyone who isn’t Anglo-Saxon;’ and that hands the cops and army anything they want will be repressive, even if it eliminates consumer or environmental regulations. The Bannon regime is already fascist within the American context. Simply because it hasn’t adopted European versions of fascism means nothing.

#4 Comment By Rosita On March 2, 2017 @ 10:43 am

Very interesting analysis and eye opener. One thing that gives me grudging respect for Steve Bannon is he says what he means; and means what he says. I like the clinical and unsentimental dis-assembly of his worldview:

“For Bannon, the triumph of the narcissistic 1960s counterculture over traditional American values has caused the country’s decline. In the film’s shorthand, Woodstock in 1969 presaged the financial meltdown of 2008. He calls for a return to the culture of moral responsibility enshrined in free-market capitalism and Judeo-Christian civilization.”

I think at least 45% of the country have bought on to this worldview; for the rest of us who haven’t, having a clinical and unsentimental understanding of the fight ahead is a must.

#5 Comment By Ricardo Toledano On March 2, 2017 @ 2:24 pm

In Bannon’s world, there isn’t Jews coming from shtetls. Maybe if there were and they kept speaking Yiddish everyday and clinging to their culture he wouldn’t be so light on Jews.

Or he would be speaking about a Christian culture and not a Judeo-Christian one. Things like that played a major role in the Évian Conference and no one came to the defense of a Judeo-Christian civilization.

Thanks to the Fusionists, right wing movements in the Western world stopped caring about Jews in general.

Israel became an ally to the Western world against the enemy du jour: either the Arab nationalists under the influence of the Soviet Union or as a counter-weight against Islamism.

Bannon, however, found the receptacle for some sort of scapegoat with similar characteristics: Muslims.

I’m sure Bannon wouldn’t say he dislikes Muslims per se, just that he dislikes Muslim culture and the trouble it brings.

Bannon is a just a creature of its time, if you ask me, just like Evola was one of its own. Like Evola, he has reveries of undoing things that happened in the past.

They both appear to defend the other side of the coin for Whiggish History. One side only sees decadency and the other only sees a march of progress. Both are really naive visions, but both have very intelligent people defending versions of them.

#6 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On March 2, 2017 @ 2:35 pm

The irony is palpable (and profoundly hypocritical. Can irony be hypocritical?).
“For Bannon, the triumph of the narcissistic 1960s counterculture over traditional American values has caused the country’s decline. In the film’s shorthand, Woodstock in 1969 presaged the financial meltdown of 2008. He calls for a return to the culture of moral responsibility enshrined in free-market capitalism and Judeo-Christian civilization.”
The ‘traditional American values’, which led to the 1960’s counterculture (that is to say, the ‘culture’ needed to be ‘countered’), was/is the very establishment he now wants to demolish. It wasn’t white, pot smoking, ‘hippies’ and rock stars who sent 58,000 Americans to die in Vietnam. It wasn’t Timothy Leary, Country Joe and the Fish, and Joan Baez who led to Watergate. Geez. Anyone ever see “This is Spinal Tap”. There’s a scene in which Nigel (Christopher Guest) responds to a brutal, yet accurate and cogent review of an album with; ‘that’s nitpicking, isn’t it’? Alt-Right, White Nationalist, Economic Nationalist, Xenophobe, Islamophobe, Fascist, who cares? We could spend years trying to put a tag on him. Does it matter? Bannon is a Bannon. And Bannon is an intellectual child, who thinks he is a grown-up.

#7 Comment By peanut On March 2, 2017 @ 3:04 pm

“He calls for a return to the culture of moral responsibility enshrined in free-market capitalism and Judeo-Christian civilization.”

The fact that we learned to think of 1969 as a world of free markets and our own as an era of “socialism” is nothing short of stupendous.

Also, this sentence captures why Bannonism cannot be a coherent ideology: you simply cannot have a vibrant nationalism without a strong welfare state- unless that nationalism is wholly negative.

#8 Comment By Lee On March 2, 2017 @ 4:27 pm

Evola was neither a Fascist nor a “super-fascist”. Never a member of the National Fascist Party, he always remained somewhat skeptical and critical of the Fascist movement, and even more so concerning the “neo-fascism” of the post-war era. His views on the subject were originally published in his “Fascism Viewed From The Right”. Additional Evola material has since been translated, and has now been made recently available in a collection of essays published under the title “A Traditionalist Looks At Fascism”.

#9 Comment By MM On March 2, 2017 @ 4:36 pm

Two minds of thought:

1) There’s no such thing as generic fascism. Each instance has it’s own unique characteristics. This reminds me of Orwell’s quote from the late 1940s, whereby everyone and everything, right/left/center, had been labeled as fascist at one time or another. 2) Fascism has definite historical characteristics. From my Western Civ. college days, those included:

– Far-right, revolutionary, *youth* driven, nationalistic mass movement
– Totalitarian one-party state, civil liberties completely suspended
– State-managed industrial economy, anti-conservative, anti (classical)-liberal, anti-communist
– Foreign policy based on militarism and geographic expansionism
– Charismatic leader embodying the “soul” of the nation

For some reason, I just don’t see deconstruction of federal administrative agencies and bloc grants to the states as fascist. In fact, it sounds like old-school pre-1930s federalism.

And if the acid test of whether the President is a fascist is the fact that he’s white, male, angry at times, and appeals to a homogeneous segment of society, then that could very well describe Bernie Sanders…

#10 Comment By Three Parantheses On March 2, 2017 @ 5:10 pm

I read Evola once or twice. A mediocre essayist with more gusto than argumentation. Seems fitting to Fascist Italy, which was a joke even by standards of modern dictatorships.

#11 Comment By Ben Stone On March 2, 2017 @ 5:43 pm

The general public only has a passing understanding of the “alt-right”. It’s nothing more than a buzzterm they’ve heard of while driving to work or on the Yahoo homepage.

But the alt-right has many factions with differing ideologies. (Although white nationalism is a common thread).

Bannon is essentially what the alt-right itself calls a “Christian Traditionalist”. Go check out some of their hangout spaces online. (Read Lawrence Auster) You’ll never, ever go back after 5 minutes.

#12 Comment By EarlyBird On March 2, 2017 @ 7:51 pm

It’s simply idiotic and politically illiterate to call Bannon a “fascist.” He’s a lot of things, a couple of dangerous things, but he’s not a “facist.”

What makes him dangerous is that he is a radical with a very immature and half-baked world and historical view who has the ear of a president who is a narcissist who will do anything he’s told will make him an Historic Figure.

#13 Comment By vlad the retailer On March 2, 2017 @ 9:04 pm

I have not read Evola, and in fact just heard of him here. However aristocracy and anti-modernism are certainly are not hallmarks of fascism. I am not sure of what is meant by “hierarchy” here. Any society has some sort of hierarchy. Me, I just dream of what it would have been like if Roehm got the drop on Hitler in 1934.

#14 Comment By Jason Clouse On March 3, 2017 @ 8:55 am

Bannon and Trump are not fascists. They’re mercantilists.

Fascists wanted to control the market through relationships with business. Socialists wanted to control the market by taking over business. Mercantilists want to build empire by paving the way for business. Trump’s mercantilism is in the tradition of Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt.

The problem with all three philosophies is that they all distort the natural market processes that shape capital allocation to best meet the needs of individuals. None of them are free market approaches. We have not had free markets and in the United States since the early 19th century. Men like Hamilton and Lincoln preferred empire to capitalism. And Trump, although probably nowhere near as harmful in practice, proudly follows in that tradition.

#15 Comment By Ken Hoop On March 3, 2017 @ 5:13 pm

The Nazis rejected Evola after flirting with him as a man who wanted to revive the Roman Empire, which conflicted with Nordic rule of course.

#16 Comment By Ken Hoop On March 3, 2017 @ 5:18 pm

Mr. Clouse

Here’s the problem with your mercantilists who want to build an empire. The America they are trying to emulate, if you are correct, no longer exists, qualitatively, quality being assesed by their own standards.
Meanwhile certain areas of the world in whcih thye are trying to maintain empire, if not build empire, have more qualitative Culture extant than does the modern America.

I am certain that Lincoln and Hamilton would have recognized this and would tell Bannon NOT to maintain or build empire in this regions but rather come home and rebuild quality here.

#17 Comment By Kevin O’Keeffe On March 3, 2017 @ 7:34 pm

Half the people here sound like they’d be happier if Hillary had won. Bannon’s doing a fine job.

#18 Comment By Paul On March 4, 2017 @ 2:58 am

This article is deeply misleading. Bannon did not mention Evola in his Vatican speech. In the Q&A he reportedly said, ‘When Vladimir Putin, when you really look at some of the underpinnings of some of his beliefs today, a lot of those come from what I call Eurasianism; he’s got an adviser who harkens back to Julius Evola and different writers of the early 20th century who are really the supporters of what’s called the traditionalist movement, which really eventually metastasized into Italian fascism.’ The natural reading of this is that Bannon viewed Evola and fascism as cancer. Instead of countering the hyper-ventilating NYT article that falsely implied Bannon approved of Evola, Drake goes along with the flow and says Bannon’s mention of Evola ‘almost single-handedly introduced the secret mastermind of neofascism to the mainstream American audience’. It’s misleading to go along with the flow of the NYT attack, even if the article is at one level trying to distinguish Bannon and Evola.

#19 Comment By Frobisher Grove On March 5, 2017 @ 1:08 am

Bannon, by all appearances, is a neo-reactionary (NRX as the fool kids say). He has a Catholic dominionist world-view and an almost Aspergian obsession with ‘proper order’.

He is not dumb. Rather the opposite. And he is dangerous inasmuch his goals or ‘vision’ need be achieved through extra-legal and likely non-constitutional means. His objective is ‘state takedown’.

But despite his relative intelligence, the vastly superior quality of such in the thing he wants to usurp will likely prove his undoing.

#20 Comment By IranMan On March 5, 2017 @ 11:56 am

The answer is in “Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America” by Bertram Gross”, published in 1980!

Read it.

#21 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 5, 2017 @ 12:34 pm

I actually went back and watched the film in question. You know accusations about white nationalism are hard to rebut. Not because they are some unique target goal by the admin, but because it’s how the country was built. I doubt there has been much impact on that perspective, a lot of rancor, but unraveling the ethic and practice from the country’s existence regardless of party is easier said than desired, even by democrats and liberals.

It’s almost a so what. What is not true about the accusation is that the admin has any intent on instituting policies that would deliberately or intentionally benefit whites only. The return to a more objective standard for decision making and traditional societal foundations is not racist, fascist or anything of the kind. Nor is hearkening back to a more stable and the principles one thinks made it so, racist, fascist or anything of the kind.

It is however, the closest examination of liberal ideology that invaded the “american” psyche and lifestyle at the time. Had Mr. Bannon used a more objective standard, it would have made the case cleaner and clearer that on many issues, liberals were just wrong and careless. He focused on how destructive those ideas and methods used to advance them were and are. I think there’s plenty of room to challenge the context and content of what of those vary same advances.

What is also notable is that he focused his critique on those with the income having the leisure to make the attacks on tradition. That makes the scrutiny largely on whites. Sure there were riots in the cities, that’s not where the challenge to traditional values and structures occurred.

Those challenges came from whites with money, power, access an leisure to do so. I think it’s a valuable critique.

#22 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 6, 2017 @ 1:48 am

Just clarify the distinction:

blacks were responding to what they claim was unfair treament by law enforcement, equal access, employment equity to keep their families in tact.

Whites were complaining about going to Vietnam, the draft, course selection, ROTC, avoiding Vietnam, the rights for same sex practitioners, fee love, drug use, and of course the right to murdering children in the womb . . .

And while white academia bandied about its all one big smorgasbord of human rights, it’s obvious that the two groups agendas are light years part.

#23 Comment By John Blade Wiederspan On March 6, 2017 @ 11:06 am

There is no way to blend free market capitalism and Christian morality. Capitalism has no morals, it is amoral. If you can make more profit selling pornography than Bibles, you sell pornography. Any produce or service that yields a profit is offered to the public and moral judgements are irrelevant. And, here it gets tricky, only the State has the power to stop certain products/services from being on the market. I am a small c capitalist. No economic system is so dynamic and no system is more corrosive to cultural/social/religious institutions.

#24 Comment By Jeremy Taylor On March 6, 2017 @ 10:12 pm

As Lee said, Evola was not a fascist. He may have flirted with it briefly, but he can hardly be used as the standard of fascist beliefs. I’m hardly in lock-step with Evola, but this article presents a crude, if vague, caricature of him.

#25 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 9, 2017 @ 9:59 pm

“There is no way to blend free market capitalism and Christian morality. Capitalism has no morals, it is amoral.”

I am afraid Adam Smith would disagree. In fact, one of primary concerns was that those with the least should have access to the process on fair standing with all others.

He would challenge anyone who suggested that the process was merely some amoral scheme to make money. He saw it as a very moral model that demanded fair play or wouldn’t work. His position that such a model operating in truth would decrease income gaps and other disparities by empowering the less fortunate.

He would most likely weigh something te material you reference through a lens civil and personal propriety.

Amoral, anything but.