I recently had the chance to read two essays authored by Giovanni Gentile, one of the philosophical minds of Italian Fascism (kudos to Reactionary Future for making them available). These essays provide an important perspective for a Right long bathed in the doctrines of libertarianism, “small government,” and the belief that the American constitution is holy writ. Of particular interest are his words on the nature of the state:
From three separate quotes in The Doctrine of Fascism, co-written with Mussolini:
“[The State’s] functions cannot therefore be limited to those of enforcing order and keeping the peace, as the liberal doctrine had it. It is no mere mechanical device for defining the sphere within which the individual may duly exercise his supposed rights.
Fascism, in short, is not only a law-giver and a founder of institutions, but an educator and a promoter of spiritual life. It aims at refashioning not only the forms of life but their content – man, his character, and his faith. To achieve this propose it enforces discipline and uses authority, entering into the soul and ruling with undisputed sway. Therefore it has chosen as its emblem the Lictor’s rods, the symbol of unity, strength, and justice.
Fascism has restored to the State its sovereign functions by claiming its absolute ethical meaning, against the egotism of classes and categories; to the Government of the state, which was reduced to a mere instrument of electoral assemblies, it has restored dignity, as representing the personality of the state and its power of Empire.
This conception of the state rejects the fundamental idea of political Liberalism, which is that the state exists in order to protect the rights of citizens from each other and otherwise act as a neutral force in disputes. It does not exist to promote or suppress values or a particular vision of the common good. Each citizen has an equal right to advance their own vision of what is good, provided they do not violate any other citizen’s right to do the same.
However, the Liberal state’s rejection of a common good has resulted in the eradication of a common good from society as a whole. Opposition to political enforcement of religious or social norms became opposition to so-called oppressive norms altogether. The continuing march of secular, “post-religious” values against Christianity in the religious sphere is merely one manifestation of the phenomenon. Large sections of the Right, even the dissident Right, take part in this march when they oppose Islam on the grounds that it attacks the Liberal tradition. They portray this tradition as being fundamental to Western civilization.
In Gentile’s words, “Liberalism denied the State in the name of the individual.” In reacting against Liberalism, Marxism restored the individual to a historic socio-economic class. Gentile sees this criticism as valid; in his eyes, Fascism in turn bested Marxism by restoring the various classes to a cohesive social and national entity with its sovereign political center in the state.
Had Gentile lived in our day, he might have realized that it is possible to take his criticism of Liberalism much further. Gentile was writing at a time when the various abolitionist and moral crusading factions of the 19th century had only recently coalesced into the Progressive movement. In fact, his day saw crossover and mutual admiration between Progressivism and Fascism. In our time, Progressivism has turned into a force for the absolute emancipation of the individual from social roles, duties, hierarchy, judgement, and differentiation.
All political currents within the modern Liberal state take part in this project. One faction champions “muscular liberalism“; another demands that educational institutions must firmly adhere to Progressive social doctrine; indeed, the very bishops of the remaining state churches do not want to be seen as favoring any one religion. If anyone doubts the success of this agenda, the Millennial generation has decisively proved them wrong. We are the most moralistic and puritanical generation since that of the 1950s. The Boomers and Gen X are prone to calling Millennials crybabies. Perhaps they sense that we have abandoned their petty rebellions. But the morality which this generation so fanatically promotes is none other than that which has been inculcated into us by the Cathedral system: the media, the schools, the government, and even the corporate world.
The ideology of Social Progress is the child of Liberalism. But whereas classical Liberalism left judgement of individual goods and desires to social institutions, such as the Church and family, Progressive ideology seeks an active state role in removing judgement of individual goods and desires altogether. The Liberal parent sees the violation of personal consent as the only justification for state intervention; the Social Progressive child sees this violation as the only thing to be judged at all. To this end, it harnesses public education, “hate speech” laws, and so on. The promotion of mass immigration and the resulting multicultural ideology also aids this agenda by increasingly tainting ethical and social judgement with religious and ethnic tribalism.
How did Liberal neutrality become a normative, state-enforced political agenda? Gentile may provide us with an answer:
The authority of the State is absolute. It does not compromise, it does not bargain, it does not surrender any portion of its field to other moral or religious principles which may interfere with the individual conscience. But on the other hand, the State becomes a reality only in the consciousness of its individuals.
When Gentile outlines this view, he presents it as the Fascist answer to the “paradox of liberty and authority.” But this is why Gentile’s analysis does not go far enough. The evolution of Liberalism into the ideology of Social Progress proves that this lack of compromise, this refusal to “surrender any portion of its field,” is in fact a characteristic of the state per se. The statement which Gentile presents as normative is in fact positive.
This same observation is what leads Mencius Moldbug to reject libertarianism:
All schools of libertarianism, whether Rothbardian or Randian or (nearly-stillborn) Nozickian, rest on the idea of limited government. Note the intrinsic absurdity of this concept. If some government is limited by its own volition, it can abandon these limits at any time. (Historical experience suggests that the “sacred-document” trick is of extremely limited utility in preventing it from doing so.) If the government is limited by some external power, it is not a government in the usual sense of the word, and we should direct our attention to the limiting power.
It is at this point that the libertarian typically reveals his inner democrat, and suggests that the sovereign power of the People will preserve liberty. First, this hasn’t exactly worked in practice. Second, true sovereignty demands actual military superiority, which may have existed in 1787 but has certainly gone missing since then. If the military of any modern country faced off against the rest of its population, each side being united, the former would win every time. And third, the State can escape this check quite easily, because it can indoctrinate its subjects to despise rebellion and love its motherly care.
The conclusion is simple: the nature of the state is that sovereignty is conserved. Due to its role as the central sovereign power, the state – or rather, the people who make it up – must develop a common set of normative values in order to operate. Because the state cannot brook opposition to its legitimacy to rule, it must therefore promote and inculcate these values in the population. Liberalism’s distinguishing feature – that it imposes no common good on its citizens – is revealed as a sham. Secularism is not neutrality; it is how the state defends the faith of Social Progress against its more mystical competitors. Note: Social Progress cannot be measured, weighed, or mathematically described. It is a phenomenon unfolding teleologically through human history. It is no less mystical and unempirical than the Hindu Yugas.
The libertarian-anarchist would reply that this is proof of the fundamentally oppressive nature of the state, and that it should therefore be done away with.
This response is based on another sham: the idea that the state arises to due social contract and conscious decision-making and can therefore simply be abolished. The topic has been addressed elsewhere, and we won’t discuss it further in this article. However, it should be stressed that the mere rejection of the fiction of “limited government” doesn’t imply total state domination. It is not only possible but prudent and necessary for rulers to exercise restraint.
Singapore is an excellent example of a state which is often called authoritarian but in practice allows a large measure of personal liberty. What it does not allow is the liberty to subvert the state’s legitimacy and the social order; in this spirit, it differs not a whit from our own democratic polities, where any serious criticism of progressive mores falls on a spectrum from “fired from job” to “jailed for hate speech.”
For us who accept the state as a social and historical necessity – an emergent phenomenon in all large human societies – we must also come to terms with the power of the state to shape public mores and worldviews. Regardless of how liberal and above-the-fray its rulers would like to be, the state must and will promote some vision of a common good by logical necessity.
The question is not whether a state should actively promote a conception of the common good, but rather what conception of the common good that state will promote.
Those who stand with it are rewarded with favors and funding, and those who oppose it are suppressed. This suppression ranges from mere exclusion from power, influence, and respectable dinner parties, through criminalizing speech, all the way to stake-burning. Most states fluctuate.
In order to overcome the political schizophrenia which birthed the ideology of Social Progress, a different and greater vision of the common good must be advanced. The competition to establish such a vision is what both divides and unites all critics of Liberalism, both from the Right and the Left. One of the fundamental criticisms of Fascism from the Right, including by Julius Evola, was that it did not go beyond the state and nation. Italian Fascism tenuously accepted Catholicism, but never linked its teleological mission to a metaphysical and Divine order of the cosmos. Perhaps this stemmed from its suspicion of both the failed “reactionary” factions and of the intelligentsia which divorced thought from action.
The vision of the common good does not simply promote a set of abstract values, but determines the whole mission, order, and life of a society and the people who comprise it. It unites the social order and gives it purpose.
A worldview which recognizes this rejects the fiction of a neutral, liberal state and embraces the active and formative ethical state. It may be made eloquent in writing and thought, but it is made real and manifest through action and daily life.
That is why Islam is currently on the path to victory over both its Progressive and Rightist opponents. If the West is given an alternative, that order must and will do the same.