The Essence of Fascism (1941)

From Karl Polanyi
Jump to navigation Jump to search

[6] Union Theological Seminary
August 4th, 1941

The term F. covers various things
(a) a movement;
(b) a social system; and
(c) a philosophy of life which inspired the movement and is fulfilled by the system

My subject is the philosophy of life.

I. Historical Background

The origin of F. must be sought in the deep seated crisis of our industrial civilization with its two main institutions: political democracy and industrial capitalism.

At a definite point of their development these two came into conflict, notably in Europe. The post-War situation developed into an imminent danger to society as a whole: the danger of a deadlock of the political and economic system. The threat was expressed in the danger of permanent mass unemployment on the one hand; the failure of leadership by the party ridden democratic representative bodies.

The reasons for such a situation need no keep us here. Many people would put it down to the tension of the classes, and describe the crisis as one of class war. It is more probable that the tension itself resulted from a more general cause underlying the unsatisfactory working of the social system as a whole and closely linked with the very foundations of our industrial civilization.

In the consciousness of the masses it took the form of an impending crisis resulting from the untenable nature of the situation. The conflict between capitalism - the industrial system based on the private ownership of the means of production - and democracy, a system of representative institutions giving a preponderant influence to the masses of the working people, was the order of the day.

Obviously, it was an essential feature of such a situation that If there should be a crisis, democracy would tend towards socialist solutions, irrespective of the actual moral, intellectual and therefore effective political force at its disposal. The traditional ruling classes had the support of the lower middle classes in withstanding the claims of the working classes to a leadership for which they lacked the power and the programme, and ultimately even the working classes stood aside when the fascists made their bid for power. It is a fast of the utmost importance that the fascist movement succeeded without any serious resistance on the a{ge} (?) of democracy and the more radical the parties had been, the less resistance did they offer. No surer sign of a general spiritual crisis than the self-effacement of the democratic forces in the 1930ies could be imagined.

II. The Essence of Fascism

As a political religion Fascism is directed towards the destruction of the institutions of popular democracy.

But these institutions turned out to be rooted in the Christian tradition of Western Civilization. The connection was neither simple nor direct, but there it was, nevertheless.

[7] A radical attack on democracy must be an attack on the religious foundations of democracy.

Fascism is such an attack.

The two correlative concepts are the individual and mankind. A society consisting of individuals; the unity of the human world consisting of mankind.

Both ideas are basically Christian. On no point does Christian religion differ more widely from other religions than in the assertion of the Soul and of mankind. In its social reference Christianity is the discovery of the individual and of mankind. Fascism as a religious position is an attack on these two. Here you get the essence of F.

In respect to the Ethics of Christianity it is ultimate resignation or Satanistic glorification of evil. The former form is expressed in Dostojewski's Great Inquisitor; the latter in Nietzsche, or Klages.

Biocentric as against logocentric values. The naturalism of the pre-spiritual existence.

But Ludwig Klages philosophy qualified by refusal to return to the cave.

Intellectual superiority due to unbiased views on politics and economics. But the F. solutions are degenerative solutions: they solve the problem temporarily at the price of making the, insoluble in the long run.

A great corrective to liberal utopianism, which is responsible for the most outstanding weakness of Marxism. The early works of Marx however are entirely free from the anti-religious bias and are based on a religious anthropology of utmost importance. (Tillich has worked on this subject, though he did not know yet, I believe, the latterly discovered works.) The Marx-Lenin institutes edition [is] very misleading in its although accurate in a superficial sense.

The system:
The political system abolished; the economic made supreme. World Empire offered as solution, but without any ideas as ti the solution of the national problem and of motive for work.

A movement fruitful in its destruction but utterly unable to recognise the world.

A non-religious consciousness unable to cope with this situation. For it is unable to fix its aims beyond the changing conditions.

Table of Contents

[8] A/ The Philosophy of Fascism (as it stands, except for a chapter on

Italian Fascism (Pareto, Gentile, Mussolini)

German Synthetics (Spengler)
German Faith Movement (Bäumler, Blüher, Bergman, Hauer crew)

Metaphysics, Existentialists, Phenomenologists (Heidegger, etc.)

B/ The Sociology of Fascism (as it is outlined i.e.) a Theory of the Corporative State exclude the sociology of the Fascists

a/ Elite
b/ Following from "the sociology Fascism.

Prove that this ulterior and dependent sociology is determined by the general sociology of fascism. (On the other hand, explain in a positive fashion the constitution of the elite as well as of the following.

C/ The Economics of Fascism
The failure of Liberal Capitalism
The Problem of Interventionism

D/ The Politics of Fascism
How does the historical Fascist situation arise?

Text Informations

Original Manifestation: Union Theological Seminary, August 4th, 1941.
KPA: 12/07, 6-8