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Ideology and Iraq

Eric Margolis, writing in the latest edition of The American Conservative, has done a wonderful job breaking down the reasons behind the disintegration of the “Coalition of the Willing” in Iraq. However, he made one of his more curious statements with regard to one of those few governments that were remaining solidly with the Bush Administration:

Italy’s conservative prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has also come under intensive popular pressure to pull his nation’s 3,000 troops out of Iraq. Over 80 percent of Italians oppose military involvement there. But ideological solidarity between Berlusconi’s coalition partners on Italy’s neo-fascist and neo-Mussolinist far Right and the Pentagon’s neocons is helping keep Italy committed, though doing so has caused Berlusconi’s popularity to drop sharply.

Taken together with Mr. Margolis’s remark that Jose Maria Aznar, the then-Spanish Prime Minister, backed Bush on “ideological grounds,” one could come away from the article with the impression that the major political forces supporting this war in America and in at least some European states were “hard-line conservative,” radical right or “neo-fascist” forces. This is simply incorrect, regardless of what implications such a view might have for the highly conservative but anti-Iraq war Right.

The article’s characterisation of the Italian government’s motives for remaining in Iraq is erroneous, and while this is a small detail in an otherwise excellent article it combines a number of oft-repeated and unfortunate stereotypes about neoconservatives and their fellow travellers in the world, particularly the view cultivated in Europe that neoconservatives and President Bush represent some fanatical right-wing junta. For readers of TAC and most conservative or rightist observers of the contemporary scene, this view is painfully absurd.

It cannot be stated too strongly that neoconservatives have nothing in common with any far or radical Right that can be legitimately so called. Neoconservatism does share many traits with the worst kind of hypernationalistic fascism (e.g., the adoration of the leader, the veritable cult of will and strength, the hollow concept of the Nation given purpose and meaning by the state, the constant insistence on war, action and power in world affairs, to name only a few of the more atrocious qualities), which is only to underscore its revolutionary ideology and the nihilistic nature of its views. Neoconservative contempt for tradition and Christianity is actually much worse than what was shown by most Italian Fascists. One might even say that, when compared to neoconservatism, Italian Fascism is a moderate and reasonable form of revolutionary nationalism.

It can also not be stressed too strongly that fascism is not principally rightist, however inadequate such terminology of right and left may be to describe political affiliations, even though fascists may adopt and then pervert several virtues valued by authentic rightists by turning them into hollow mockeries of those virtues. In this neoconservatives excel their predecessors, as they have hijacked and distorted American patriotism and the desire for a strong national defense into the crudest jingoism and militarism in ways that would probably have struck some old-line fascists as dishonest and cowardly.

As a matter of fact, the National Alliance in the Italian governing coalition has gone to great lengths to abandon whatever fascist inheritance it once possessed in order to become acceptable to fashionable European opinion in a way that real rightist parties in Europe have refused to do. There is not, to my knowledge, any “ideological solidarity” between Gianfranco Fini, the leader of the National Alliance, and any neoconservative. Though quite genuinely fascistic in the worst sense–the amoral worship of power and violence in the cause of the ideological Nation–neoconservatives are more likely to charge their enemies with fascism or some attitudes associated with it than any other group. For these people to associate in any way with the National Alliance, whether it is technically “post-fascist” or not, would make no sense whatever according to their own rigorous willingness to purge political dissenters.

The reasons for Italy remaining committed to the coalition in Iraq are not so much ideological in nature, except in the broad sense that Mr. Berlusconi seems to have accepted some of the ideas of American hegemonism and “democratisation” in his enthusiasm to align his government with an America for which he has always possessed great admiration and affection. Plus, it is a way for Italy to play a larger role in international affairs and to attempt a shift of power within the European Union away from the Franco-German core. Above all, the political affiliations of the pro-war groups depend largely on the individual circumstances of the various countries involved (the Polish and Hungarian governments that supported the war were “ex-communist,” while the conservative and far right parties in those countries have generally opposed the intervention as far as their countries are concerned).

As has been the case in most other European countries, the real far Right in Italy has presumably found the Iraq war to be an atrocious waste and entirely irrelevant to the interests of Italy. There may, of course, be individual exceptions, but these exceptions would only serve to show that the neoconservatives do not find any allies on the far Right, because the far Right is their worst political enemy and the one least likely to compromise with their globalist and internationalist views.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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