The Fundamental Illegitimacy of Facism and the Innate Desire for Freedom
IN THIS ARTICLE
This piece examines the ideologies and tactics used by fascist governments to validate and enforce their authority through Michael Mann’s work Fascists. By explicating Kant’s view of autonomy and progress, found in “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” and Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, it is demonstrated that people are fundamentally progressive beings with innate capacities for freedom. Moreover, explaining J.S. Mill’s view of the innate progressiveness and value of individuality in On Liberty, it is asserted that fascist demands of obedience are unnatural and inherently illegitimate.
As understood by sociologist Michael Mann, fascism comes in two types, the ideological and the practical, yet what unites the two is a common focus on statism through nationalism and economic equalization.1 That is, fascists try to solve problems stemming from economic inequalities and ethnic divisions by placing the nation-state above the individual while evening the economic playing field for those who ardently identify with them.2 At the same time, those who do not share the same level of approval for fascism become the “enemy” or “opposition.”3 Unsurprisingly, fascists work to debase the claims of their “enemies” through political attacks, conspiracy theories, charges of disloyalty, and physical violence.4To fascists, the ideological significance of violence is an important part of who they are since they understand themselves to be at “war” with mainstream governments.5 Consequently, by joining with like-minded individuals, and forming subcultural groups which usually feature militaristic ranks, fascists attempt to embody their “battle” with the status-quo through comradery.6 Lastly, fascism, as a counter-cultural belief system, necessarily needs an ideological “opposition” to thrive, because without an “enemy” there would be no “war” to wage.7
To Mann, Fascists – though usually highly-educated, idealistic, and fervent in their political views – nevertheless believe violence is a moral and efficient way to solve divisions in society.8 To fascists, it is the right of the nation-state to combat its “enemies,” to maintain its national character.9 In other words, fascists believe the nation-state should be homogenous, so the cultural aspects defining it remain untainted, even if it calls for physical force.10
Fascists claim that statism is the surest way to eradicate economic disparities in society. This ultimately leads to fascism’s goal of global totalitarian corporate bodies, vying for economic dominance.
Furthermore, fascists claim statism is the surest way to eradicate economic disparities in society.11 That is, the economic vision associated with fascism is unionization of the masses which would organically form a corporate entity or the state.12 To fascists, the surest way to achieve this financial arrangement is a blend of nationalism, to unite people and socialism to syndicate labor.13 Accordingly, this would lead to fascism’s goal of a nation where there is no interstate competition, but rather global totalitarian corporate bodies, vying for economic dominance.14
Obedience is central to fascist economic projects since it is when everyone plays his or her part for the benefit of the nation-state that it can take on other national economies.15 Accordingly, violence used against those who do not comply with fascists economic fantasies is moral since individuality is incompatible with obedience, and threatens the unity of the nation.16 To avoid disobedience, it is not uncommon for fascists leaders to prey on the masses through populist promises, and excessive praise of the “successes” of the nation.17
Moreover, absolute submission to the nation-state is paramount to fascist financial schemes since to dominate the world economically all laborers must work as one.18 In other words, fascists believe only cohesive labor forces can challenge the economies of other states since their oneness gels with the transcendent unity of the nation.19 Consequently, unquestioning and unwavering dedication to one’s workforce is crucial because without it economic inequality within the nation could emerge, stopping it from being a state in the fascist's sense.20 Lastly, through a fascist lens, ferocity against those who do not labor for the benefit of the nation-state is permissible since they jeopardize its economic mission.21
Fascist Methods of Enforcing Authority
Ideologically, fascists assert their authority through the convincingness of their claims.22 One fascist tactic of coercion centers on how it alone can prevent societal decay, as well as end the supposed impending doom resulting from so-called morally decadent times.23 In the eyes of fascists, the justification for influencing the masses in such a way derives from their belief in the exaggerated hardships they and their followers encounter.24 Hence, to appeal to the many, Fascism presents itself as the true political “third-way,” or the best blend of rightist and leftist ideologies.25
Another method of legitimizing fascist authority focuses on fascists influencing the common folk to support their agenda which is a product of their affinity for the latter’s traditional values.26 That is, fascists employ the cultural myths that everyday people acknowledge because they agree with the spirit of those tales.27 At the same time, fascists distort folklore to serve their nationalist and statist ideas, and in doing so hope to inspire people to mobilize by asserting themselves through the ballot.28
One reason why fascists initially support voting is due to it being the surest way to claim legitimacy, and thus, authority.29 By acknowledging voting as the best means to gain political power, fascists pave the way for others to be obedient to the nation-state since once voted into power, they can always claim they have a mandate from the people to rule.30 However, over time, fascists deemphasize the importance of voting, since they perceive themselves as the last and truest stage of political authority.31 Ultimately this leads to their disbelief in the need for alternative parties and even various candidates to run for office if a vigorous and charismatic fascist leader is already in place.32
At the more material level, fascists imbue their authority through paramilitary groups.33 By paramilitary groups, Mann is referring to the constant revolutionary outlook within the parameters of fascist maxims which its members hold.34 In other words, fascist paramilitary groups feature ideological dogmatists who employ violence to attempt to achieve the authoritarian nation-state dream.35 Furthermore, these groups believe the use of violence, when aimed at political rivals, is not only allowable but also ethical.36 Blinded by various sorts of propaganda, paramilitary associations ascribe to the view that the nation-state is supreme, and thus the rights of one lack importance compared to the well-being of it.37 Therefore, fascists believe that enforcing authority through any means including violence can be beneficial if it works toward preserving and perfecting their agenda.38
Violent “cleansing” of the nation-state is permissible to fascists, since they view those who do not fit their understanding of a good citizen as being deleterious to their project.39 In other words, killing and purging those who do not conform to fascists ideology is fine to fascists, if one performs it with the best intent for the nation-state in mind.40 Accordingly, by eliminating “enemies” of the nation-state, fascists believe their power increasingly solidifies, paving the way for less strife and the fulfillment of their purposes.41
Kant’s Understanding of Autonomy
To Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant, people can grow to think for themselves once they break free from the shackles of others thinking and deciding for them.42 This chosen process of maturing belongs to all people since they naturally conceive themselves as having the ability to will, and thus, the capacity for independence is a common feature of humanity.43
Furthermore, anyone who blocks another’s move toward self-awareness does so invalidly and with failed results.44 That is, Kant believes those who attempt to stop people from achieving self-consciousness do so futilely because mental development as a natural process occurs regardless of restraint.45 Also, since the mind naturally grows, those who try to stop it will fail, since people as innately volitional beings can never choose to stop willing or transfer that power to another.46 Thus, Kant views maturing and the capacity to decide as inherent characteristics of humanity.47
Kant refers to those who think independently as autonomous, or as possessing the matured cognizance of freedom resulting from their recognition and treatment of others as ends-in-themselves and not only as means to fulfill a purpose.48 Fittingly, he believes those who are autonomous freely decide to treat others with disinterested dignity since they acknowledge their commonalities as rational agents.49
As rational actors, people have the power to do what is right or wrong by themselves, though the autonomous agree with what Kant believes is the standard of morality that binds all people.50 To Kant, all people, by being innately volitional, can behave according to what naturally appeals to them.51 At the same time, as inherently rational beings, people can imagine a planet where all individuals act as they do, and if they can genuinely and logically agree with that behavior, they are not only being ethical but also autonomous.52 That is, Kant believes when people are both sovereign and subject to the principles they delegate and follow, they are maturely free.53
Kant’s Understanding of Progress
To Kant, if nothing obstructs people from growing mentally, they will naturally mature over time.54 Kant’s belief, when applied to politics, translates as support for nations which foster an air of freedom and allow individuals to progress into more enlightened persons.55 By doing so, nations can truly claim to be organic since they are acknowledging and guarding their citizens’ innate abilities to reason by allowing them to do so naturally.56 Hence, it is when the state aligns with the progressiveness of its people, that it can more easily claim legitimacy.57
That is, Kant does not believe people should have to submit to the state entirely since blind dogmatism and unquestioning allegiance can go awry quickly.58 Take for example the case of governments which claim to be perfect. To Kant, the dangers of those administrations are in their denial of the possibility of future progress. By stopping successive generations of advancement, Kant would claim that “perfect” governments null their right to rule since refusing progress makes for communities based on unnaturalness.59
Moreover, Kant believes that it is a right of younger generations to nullify the imperfect decisions of the past since that is the essence of political progress.60 In other words, political progress, as a concept, is the forward movement toward a complete nation.61 Accordingly, people are not infallible, and since they compose governments, their decrees are revisable, and as time unfolds, it is necessary for others to fix those maxims to meet the reality of their era.62 Hence, progress comes through revision, which Kant believes best expresses itself when a younger generation with good intentions, comes of age and fixes their forefathers’ mistakes.63
Governments that acknowledge others as more than just automatons cannot deny intellectual progress since it involves fulfilling people’s civic duties as well as their vocations as rational beings.64 That is, Kant believes governments must allow for progress since it is natural for people to want to reach a mature state of thinking, which lays the foundation for the intellectual advancements some careers entail.65 Accordingly, when governments endorse progress and are mindful of the intellectual contributions their people make, they are in some ways securing their future economic, ideological, cultural, and scientific achievements.66
Mill on Individuality
To political theorist J.S. Mill, individuality is the basis of progress.67 That is, history as humanity’s creation moves forward due to those who dare to question, challenge, and change society for the better.68 For a government to progress, it is only right for it to nurture and foster civil liberties since those who become individuals by themselves gravitate toward what is good for them and society.69 That is, Mill encourages people to gain as much experience as they can, as long as they do not infringe upon another’s right to do the same, and in doing so define themselves without the need of government.70 Therefore, when governments take a laissez-faire approach to personal freedoms, under the condition that no one harms another or the common good, they are positively progressing into the future.71
Furthermore, to Mill individuality is also important to avoid mediocrity.72 When government prohibits people from being themselves, pursuing intellectual interests, and being free in their self-regarding behavior, it prevents innovation, fresh ideas, and genuine passion for one’s work.73 Accordingly, in societies that are culturally, politically, and economically homogenous, there exists little willpower to be unique since those milieus are without social ladders.74 Consequently, those who wish to rise above have no reason to do so because their societies will never properly reward or recognize them as individuals.75 Finally, this lack of acknowledgment encourages people to passively settle instead of actively discovering what they can uniquely contribute to their communities.76
Governments that deter individualism run risk of never achieving their economic aims.77 Now, if there exists a disconnection between people’s talents and their vocations, due to the stifling of individuality, they are not truly working on behalf of their government.78 By alienating labor distorting people’s view of themselves, disharmony in the workplace, and lack of unity can arise.79 Thus, governments which bar individualism can never claim true solidarity because undedicated workers have no interests in their occupations, inviting laziness, sabotage, and strikes to occur and prevent its economic agenda.80
The Value of Uniqueness
To Mill, uniqueness has beneficial effects on society.81 One reason why he ascribes to this view is that when a government allows people to invent themselves, it produces a more active population, who work hard for the sake of their communities and themselves.82 That is, entrepreneurs, talented musicians, famous writers, as well as average dedicated people who provide for their families, would be unable to do so if it were not for government bolstering individuality through providing the personal freedoms needed to prosper.83 Hence, like Kant, Mill argues society flourishes from an air of independence because it is akin to the government making a long-term investment in the talents and skills it needs to thrive.84
Moreover, because society benefits from unique individuals who express themselves freely, without hurting others, it is justifiable that individuality is valuable to government too.85 Take, for instance, people who have a true passion for their career. First, to have such passion, they must have had the liberty to explore fields of work prior, since it is only then that a person learns which jobs do not suit them, and which career will. Once obtained, people as individuals know their career is valuable not only because of the hard work and dedication exerted to achieve their position, but more importantly because their civil liberties allowed them to decide, and know what is best for themselves. Thus, governments which enable people to become unique, by refraining from majorly interfering with their liberties are helping themselves advance, since valuing and guarding individual rights progresses populations, or the masses composing a nation.86
The opportunities arising from those who embrace freedom is another way to validate the value of being unique.87 That is, those who reap the rewards individuality offers, come to find that their civil freedoms did not harm their quest for success but instead aided in it.88 Therefore, to Mill, those governments which block and prevent people from being who they are and understand themselves to be through stifling political rights also cut off the opportunities for their national agendas to succeed.89
Why Fascism is Artificial Authority
From a Kantian perspective, fascism would be antithetical to people’s progressiveness, rendering it to be an illegitimate mode of authority.90 That is, supporters of fascism believe it to be the perfect form of government, but by ignoring the reality of humanity as a still developing species, they cannot truly expect all people to ascribe to it.91 Logically, this places fascists in a bind, since it is they who claim to be the embodiment of a nation-state’s all-encompassing spirit, yet the persistent existence of ideological dissent demonstrates that no such ethos is entirely capturable.92
In other words, no authority structure monopolizes a national character, and those who claim to hold such power lack proof since ideological strife is a process or a becoming.93 Thus, even if national characters do exist, they must be in a state of advancement, just as those who compose them.94 Accordingly, fascism cannot claim legitimate authority because if it were a perfect government, it would reflect a perfectly united people and not an internal struggle.95 Lastly, fascism is an invalid mode of authority, since as “flawless,” it is necessarily incompatible with people because they are evidently imperfect.96
Fascism cannot be a valid form of authority since it negates one’s freedom by demanding one to be dogmatic.97 That is, fascist demands of obedience defy individual autonomy since there is no room for debate in that system rather only submission.98 Consequently, by being unable to express oneself freely and by only allowing one to follow the will of the nation-state, fascism does not dissolve or change one’s innate agency, rather it denies it and only plants resentment.99 Finally, this pent-up aggression eventually leads to revolution, and upon success, it unveils fascist authority as artificial because revolutionaries could always point to their victory as validating the failure of their fascist's predecessors claim to power.100
Moreover, Kant would believe fascists methods of enforcing authority are also illegitimate. First, one cannot argue that a planet where all people engage in fascists tactics like murder, would be a good place to live.101 That is when one uses Kant’s categorical imperative concerning fascist penchants for killing that person cannot genuinely claim to agree since if all people murdered humanity would end quickly.102 More abstractly, if all individuals were killers, then they would not be treating one another as ends-in-themselves and rather as only means.103 Accordingly, there would be no respect between people as rational beings, which also would destroy fascist authority since it depends on the glorification of the nation-state, through venerating obedience.104
To Kant, obedience to fascist régimes is logically impossible because people can never reasonably decide and follow the authority tactics those governments embrace.105 In other words, one cannot claim fascist methods such as violence are ethically logical because a world of vehemence would spell the end of humanity.106 Consequently, one cannot logically decree that that tactic should be a binding moral law for all to follow since no one would exist if everyone engaged in it.107 Also, one cannot follow such a decree since if all people partook in deadly violence, the same would result, i.e.; humankind’s destruction.108 Hence, since the results of either declaring or submitting to force are unfavorably the same, it is irrational to believe in, and obey fascist approaches to authority.109
Like Kant, Mill would also claim that fascism is an illegitimate form of authority since it unnaturally forces people to follow its tenet of homogenous unity through a despotic culture regulating people’s lives for the benefit of the nation-state alone.110 To Mill, the problem with this fascist scenario is that wanting to be self-made is inherent to people, making it impossible for one's will to match the will of all eternally, and thus, indisputable totalitarian sovereignty is a myth.111 That is, Mill would not believe fascism is possible since, as individuals, people have differing taste and interests.112 Consequently, since people can be unique in their choices and passions, the possibility of all agreeing with each other, always, let alone fascist authoritarian rule, can never be a reality.113
From this, one may claim fascism is an illegitimate authority since it is illogical to believe that all people can truly operate as one, and even if they could, Mill would still believe it would be wrong.114 First, dissent and disagreement do not necessarily equate to disloyalty to a government; rather it is the only way truth reveals itself.115 That is, the freedom to engage in civil debate washes away falsehoods since debaters work to debase one another by providing objective evidence and sound arguments.116 If done without resorting to violence, Mill believes people can validate truth since examples and logic in the service of discovering certainty will naturally withstand the test of time.117 Hence, fascist governments by having zero tolerance for those who challenge the nation-state are illegitimate authorities because they are blocking people’s natural abilities to think, discuss, and find truths.118
Having discussed the basis of fascism and its tactics of enforcing authority, and exploring the work of Kant on his theory of autonomy and the categorical imperative, we find people have an innate capacity and desire for freedom that runs counter to necessary elements of fascism.
Furthermore, by addressing J.S. Mill’s views concerning the meaning and value of individuality, we further establish the fundamental nature of civil liberties to human civilizations. Finally, by exploring Kant’s take on autonomy and morality, as well as Mill’s more practical guide to the benefits of individualism, we have made clear the dangers, pitfalls, and fundamentally illegitimate nature of fascist regimes.
Mann, Michael. Fascists. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004). 1-388.
Mill, John Stuart. Currin V. Shields ed., On Liberty. (Indiana: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1956). 3-141.
Kant, Immanuel. Hans Reiss ed., “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” as found in Kant: Political Writings. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970). 54-60.
Kant, Immanuel. Lewis White Beck trans., Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, INC. 1997). 3-82.