The Libertarian Folly of Quoting Benito Mussolini
The Libertarian Folly of Quoting Benito Mussolini
written by A. L. Hart Havens on June 1, 2022
In the previous article, Liberated Services presented an in-depth analysis of two non-NATO Western European countries, Sweden and Finland, and announced a continuation of the topic in today’s edition. However, a decision was made to postpone part two of this series to a later date after a situation came to light that is in need of being promptly addressed. On that note, this article contains a very important message for libertarians who enjoy engaging in philosophical debates with proponents of illiberal ideologies.
The dismissal and mockery of libertarian viewpoints by mainstream media and mainstream society at large as an antiquated, naive, and uncompassionate philosophy has placed a heavy burden on proponents of genuine libertarianism to present the merits of free markets, free speech, and small government to open-minded listeners in a well-refined, logically sound, and factually flawless manner.
While libertarians are typically well informed and can be considered formidable debaters when compared to run-of-the-mill politicos — which is in part attributable to the superiority of the libertarian ideals of truth, merit, and reason — there is one popular libertarian talking point in particular that is unfortunately based on a misunderstanding of historical circumstances.
The misguided idea at hand is essentially as follows: Fascism is an economic system featuring a union of government and big corporations as defined by Benito Mussolini (the man who coined the term), and based on this definition, modern-day America is a fascist country. This article will explain why this idea is ill-conceived and why libertarians should refrain from quoting Benito Mussolini in general, and especially in debates with individuals who embrace authoritarian worldviews.
This is because there are some intellectually inclined and well-read Marxists out there who make a point of studying the writings of their political and ideological adversaries. These leftists are acutely aware of the folly of quoting Benito Mussolini and they are actively prepared in political discussions to bait libertarians into doing so with the aim of publicly schooling them and creating the appearance of having dismantled the libertarian argument.
In view of this, today’s analysis will methodically expose the flaws of invoking Benito Mussolini for the purpose of equating modern-day American corporatism to historical Italian fascism. And with this in mind, it should be emphasized that the criticism in this article is offered in a thoroughly friendly and constructive manner designed to help libertarian-minded individuals avoid walking into the aforementioned trap.
Furthermore, it is important to underscore at the very outset that the critique presented below should under no circumstances be interpreted as a personal attack or as an attempt to cast doubt on the conscientiousness or intellectual capacity of the writers who perpetuate the idea. In fact, most of the prominent authors who subscribe to this idea are unquestionably highly intelligent, insightful, astute observers of international affairs and possess a great wealth of economic, civic, and historical knowledge. On this very specific point, however, they are sorely mistaken.
What is Fascism?
The term fascist has in recent years become a favorite insult of anyone and everyone engaged in confrontational political discourse. It is a preferred pejorative across many different political persuasions, all of which coincidentally have very different ideas about what fascism actually constitutes. In light of this, fascism is a term that has effectively been rendered meaningless in the context of most conversations.
Generally speaking, conservatives tend to use the term to denote authoritarianism and the suppression of free speech, while leftists use it synonymously with bigotry and racism. Furthermore, libertarians equate fascism with collectivism, statism, and corporatism, while many people understand the term solely in specific historical reference to self-described fascist governments that existed in the 20th Century.
However, there is a specific libertarian school of thought that goes a step further in asserting that fascism should be viewed as economic system. And just to be clear, the advocates of this viewpoint are not concerned with isolating and criticizing the ill-conceived economic attributes of fascism (which some libertarians would call economic fascism), but instead they view the concept of fascism in and of itself as an economic system.
While this perspective would undoubtedly strike the vast majority of both casual and scholarly observers as having an extremely narrow focus, people certainly have the right to define terms as they see fit. However, if we take the liberty of viewing fascism from this particular angle, then terms like conservativism, liberalism, and leftism could just as easily be defined as economic systems.
For what it’s worth, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines fascism as “a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”
This definition will surely leave many unsatisfied, and on this note it is worth quoting the renowned British mainstream historian Sir Ian Kershaw, who stated that “trying to define fascism is like trying to nail jelly to the wall.”
In any event, people who define terms in a manner that deviates sharply from the way that they are commonly understood should be prepared to explain the reasoning behind the definitions that they use. In the case at hand, the libertarian authors who contend that fascism is an economic system featuring a marriage of big government and big business base this assertion on what they believe was Benito Mussolini’s understanding of the term, the man who coined the term during the early stages of World War 1.
But if these authors are wrong in their assessment, and Mussolini in fact did not view fascism as an economic system promoting a union of big government and big business, then logic would dictate that the whole basis of the fascist America argument collapses. And as shown below, this is precisely the case.
Mussolini’s Doctrine of Fascism
First of all, the notion that Mussolini viewed the essence of fascism solely or primarily in economic terms is patently ridiculous. This is obvious to anyone who has taken the time to read his approximately 350-page autobiography entitled My Autobiography, which was dictated in Italian and published in English at the encouragement of the former US ambassador to Italy, Richard Washburn Child, who also wrote the book’s foreword. The autobiography was published in 1928, six years after Mussolini’s March on Rome and ascent to power.
The same goes for Mussolini’s 1932 seminal essay entitled The Doctrine of Fascism, which set out the basic tenets of Italian fascism, as well as his 1935 book entitled Fascism: Doctrine and Institutions, which explained these tenets in greater detail.
While these writings do give mention to the economic aspects of fascism, it should be noted that Mussolini’s conception of fascism was a method of bringing about a national Italian revival that would resurrect the civic, spiritual, and imperial greatness of the Roman Empire. To him, fascism instilled a mindset of strict discipline and combat-readiness in defense of the Italian nation and as a means of overcoming the failed ideas of liberalism, pacifism, democracy, and communism.
Furthermore, Mussolini’s violent suppression of an attempted communist takeover of Italy in the wake of widespread Marxist agitation across Europe following World War 1 was a feat lauded by none other than the renowned Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises. And although Mises was critical of fascism on the whole, he presented an undeniably non-economic perspective of Italian fascism, stating in 1927 that “it cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.” More on Mises below.
Those who nonetheless insist on defining fascism as an economic system may be prompted to unleash a popular quote which they ascribe to Mussolini: “Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” As a side note, the word properly is sometimes used in place of appropriately.
There are several problems with this quote, however, the first of which is that there is no verifiable evidence whatsoever that Mussolini ever actually said or wrote that. No such statement appears in any of the original Italian-language texts of his most important works or speech transcripts that could have possibly given rise to this translation, and it is not included in his 1928 English-language autobiography.
Furthermore, the authors who use this quote rarely cite a source, and when they do it is almost always attributed to the 1932 Enciclopedia Italiana (Volume XIV), in which The Doctrine of Fascism was first published as part of the encyclopedia’s larger entry on the topic of fascism. Liberated Services made the effort to obtain access to an original hardcopy of this encyclopedia and can confirm that no statement appears in Mussolini’s essay or in the remaining section about fascism that could reasonably give rise to the English translation of the quote shown above.
And although it cannot be ruled out with absolute certainty that he ever said it — as Mussolini was a highly prolific writer and speaker throughout his 30-year political career — the origin of the quote would most certainly have been discovered by now after numerous historians, scholars, and amateur researchers have gone to great lengths trying to locate it. One investigative journalist even offered a reward a number of years ago to anyone who could identify the source of the quote’s origin, but to no avail. In light of this, Liberated Services regards the quote to be fake.
In a brief word to our readership, if you believe that Mussolini did in fact say or write “Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” in English or made an equivalent statement in Italian that produced this English translation, please contact Liberated Services citing the original text and page number (or providing a link to the original video) and you’ll receive an honorable mention in an upcoming article as having made a valuable contribution to resolving an important historical uncertainty.
Although the real originator of this quote is unknown, it is quite possibly the creation of American socialists of the day seeking to discredit Mussolini as a greedy capitalist at a time when the United States was engulfed in the spirit of Rooseveltian socialism. And despite a number of little-noticed documented instances of its usage that can be traced back several decades, it was a 2002 article written by the late syndicated columnist and self-described left-libertarian Molly Ivins that served to popularize the quote in the English-speaking world.
Twenty years ago, with the Enron-Arthur Andersen accounting scandal making a major imprint on the American political landscape, Democrats and leftists had seized the opportunity to associate big corporations with fascism in an attempt to cause political damage to then-president George W. Bush.
It should not be forgotten that spewing vitriol against Bush, big corporations, and the Iraq War was very much in vogue among leftists two decades ago. This may strike the younger readers of this article as quite peculiar given that leftists nowadays have undeniably become militant supporters of big corporations and US military interventionism and have even developed a certain fondness of George W. Bush in view of his open disdain for Trump supporters.
Ivins, who was a frequent and harsh critic of Bush, provided no source for the quote in her article, but that didn’t stop leftists from spreading it with the ostensible aim of creating an ideological connection between Bush and Mussolini (and by extension Hitler). Unsurprisingly, leftist interest in the quote declined sharply in the Obama years and even more so during the Trump presidency when big corporations began engaging in persistent woke virtue signaling. Today, it appears that the majority of people still using the Mussolini quote are of libertarian and adjacent persuasions.
The 22 Corporations of Fascist Italy
If the aforementioned quote (“Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.”) is indeed fake, what basis is there then to view fascism as an economic system, given that the entire argument rests upon Mussolini’s understanding of the term?
And even in the unlikely event that one of our readers manages to ascertain a verifiable source for the quote (and we certainly encourage you to look), it would do little to preserve the validity of the argument that fascism is an economic system based on a union of big government and big corporations.
This is because Mussolini (like most politicians) made many contradictory statements over the course of his 30-year political career. The potential identification of a single quote in which he conceptualizes fascism through an economic lens would need to be weighed against the vast multitude of statements that Mussolini made to the contrary, such as the following in The Doctrine of Fascism:
“Fascism believes now and always in sanctity and heroism, that is to say in acts in which no economic motive — remote or immediate — is at work.”
“Fascism is a religious conception in which man is seen in his immanent relationship with a superior law and with an objective will that transcends the particular individual and raises him to conscious membership of a spiritual society.”
Advocates of the fascist America idea may at this point in the discourse draw attention to other Mussolini quotes touting the principle of corporatism, of which many do indeed exist. However, the key difference to take note of here is that the fake quote presents fascism as synonymous with corporatism, whereas the real quotes present corporatism as merely an element of fascism.
These quotes on corporatism reveal yet another serious flaw in asserting that modern-day America is a fascist country because it is ruled by a merger of big government and big corporations. And this is because the argument is based on an egregious misunderstanding of the terms corporation and corporatism as conceived by Benito Mussolini.
First of all, The Doctrine of Fascism and Mussolini’s other works make it crystal clear that the corporations he described do not refer to commercial stock corporations like BlackRock, Google, and Pfizer or the Italian equivalents of the day.
The Italian words used by Mussolini to describe his national economic program are corporazione and corporativismo, which are unfortunately typically translated as corporation and corporatism (presumably because the word pairs sound like perfect matches). However, a more accurate and less misleading translation of corporazione would be corporative or guild, while a better translation of corporativismo would be corporativism.
The government-managed corporazioni represented the 22 rigidly organized industrial subdivisions of the fascist Italian economy and were overseen primarily by the National Council of Corporations. Each corporation was basically a syndicate tasked with unifying the interests of that particular economic segment’s pertinent government ministries, businesses, employees, craftsmen, merchants, labor unions, professional associations, consumers’ organizations, etc. into a single corporate group working collectively toward a common goal.
Ludwig von Mises offered some insight into this system and explained that “the economic program of Italian Fascism did not differ from the program of British Guild Socialism as propagated by the most eminent British and European socialists.” Mises correctly understood that the fascist Italian government under Mussolini did not seek to further the interests of large stock corporations. It is also evident from this statement that Mises did not view fascism in and of itself as an economic system.
So without further ado, the 22 corporations of the fascist Italian economy are shown below:
Grains; Vegetables, Flowers, and Fruits; Wine, Viticulture, and Vegetable Oils; Livestock and Fish; Metalworking and Metallurgy; Machinery and Engineering; Liquid Combustibles and Fossil Fuels; Paper and the Press; Building Construction; Water, Gas, and Electricity; Mining and Extraction; Glass and Ceramics; Internal Communications; Sea and Air; Professions and Arts; Social Security and Credit; Entertainment; Hospitality; Textiles; Clothing; Chemicals; Wood
This list makes it abundantly clear that Mussolini’s conception of corporations had absolutely nothing to do with for-profit stock corporations or big businesses as the term is commonly understood in today’s English-speaking world. By the way, the Italian-language term for stock corporation is società per azioni.
Due to the obvious potential for confusion, someone who doesn’t speak Italian and hasn’t studied Mussolini’s writings in sufficient detail cannot reasonably be expected to be cognizant of these subtle albeit crucial terminological distinctions.
Now, it goes without saying that there is no shame in not being well-versed in the tenets of Italian fascist ideology, but people who repeatedly quote Mussolini to justify a divergent definition of such an important historical term could reasonably be expected to have at least familiarized themselves with his ideals, policies, and doctrines.
And while wishing to avoid coming across as impolite, and reiterating that this article wholeheartedly seeks to provide constructive criticism in an amicable manner, it is worth gently pointing out that the libertarian authors who frequently cite Mussolini as the basis of their definition of fascism don’t appear to have actually read any of his writings.
Interestingly, advocates of the fascist commercial stock corporation narrative also appear eager to quote Mussolini on corporatism in an attempt to highlight the differences between fascism and communism, but when understood correctly, these statements actually showcase the economic similarities between communism and fascism — particularly Italian fascism.
In fact, the fascist Italian economy was organized in such an incredibly rigid manner that Italy’s economic policies were at least in spirit closer to the Soviet Union than to other fascist countries. In essence, fascist Italian corporatism was a highly bureaucratized system of economic central planning in which the government refrained from officially acquiring ownership of the means of production.
Given that Mussolini did not view fascism as an economic system and did not use the term corporations to refer to large companies, insinuations that il Duce would be drooling over and having wild dreams about today’s dubious alliance between the US government and powerful stock corporations are simply unfounded.
It should be stressed here that these libertarian authors’ entirely warranted criticism of the unsavory alliance of big business, big tech, big pharma, and big government that rules the day in 21st Century America could be conveyed quite effectively in the absence of abstract terms. Entering Benito Mussolini and fascism into this discussion is not only completely unnecessary, but the fallacies and falsehoods upon which this idea is based act as a detriment to the furthering of libertarianism’s superior ideals.
It would be much more expedient to simply refer to this arrangement as corporatism, as Jeff Berwick does in his 2020 book entitled The Controlled Demolition of the American Empire, which mentions Mussolini in passing as the term’s originator without granting him any exclusive definition rights.
Other fitting terms that potentially capture the essence of today’s grievous state of affairs include corporatocracy, corporate welfarism, and crony capitalism. But irrespective of the designation selected, an excessive focus on terminological nuances will likely only serve to confuse readers and detract from the actual objective at hand.
Understanding Mussolini, Marx, and Mao
In closing, it should be reiterated that the critique presented in this article should by no means be perceived as a way of shaming, belittling, or patronizing people who have previously used the fake quote or pursued the flawed line of argumentation, especially given the high potential for confusion resulting from the unfortunate popularization of misleading translations from the original Italian-language texts.
And as stated above, many of the prominent individuals perpetuating this misguided idea are well-educated, inspirational thinkers who have done a great service to society by explaining and promoting the would-be merits of a genuinely free-market society. And it is also worth repeating that this article’s primary aim has been to draw attention to the libertarian folly of quoting Benito Mussolini in the interest of broadening the knowledge base and sharpening the debate skills of this article’s readership.
To those who are interested, many of Mussolini’s writings, including The Doctrine of Fascism, are available for viewing at archive.org (free of charge and no obligation to create an account). Skeptics of the assertions made about Mussolini throughout this article are encouraged to look for themselves at what he actually wrote by reading the original texts (or translations thereof) rather than relying on what other people claim that he wrote, said, thought, or meant.
This applies not only to Mussolini, but also to Marx, Mao, and any other important historical figures who are often quoted by conservative and libertarian pundits. There is much that can be learned from studying the mindset of individuals whose authoritarian philosophies and illiberal worldviews have had such a profound impact on the course of human history and continue to shape the minds of millions of people today. And this is best achieved by reading the original writings in their entirety without the filter of someone else’s interpretation.
Finally, remember to reach out to Liberated Services if you are in possession of verifiable proof that Benito Mussolini was in fact the originator of the quote: “Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” Also, don’t hesitate to provide feedback on the article if you have a comment or an opinion that you wish to share.
And since today’s analysis really only scratched the surface of the topic of Italian fascism, readers can look forward to a continuation of this topic down the road that will address feedback on this article and will also explore the ideas of several prominent Italian fascist philosophers and place them in direct comparison to the ideas of renowned libertarian thinkers.