Fascism as Meme
What distinguishes an idea from a mere concept? An idea is intuited, but never wholly realized. An idea is the thought of something as an isolated totality; beyond any explicit concept it is a universe unto itself. You get a sense of this when you fall in love with something, or someone. But ideas then are never possible to fully isolate and distinguish themselves for us, everything is a shade of everything else. An idea then can only exist as a moment, a presence without a before or an after. But nothing in this world ever stands still - especially not thoughts. Being is always becoming; life is always in the flow of living. An idea is a particle of thought, but thinking exists as a wave. Ideas in their actuality transform along an endless temporal trajectory. We refer to this trajectory as the meme.
You encounter something in the world, and it leaves an impression on you. The encounter itself might not register on a conscious level. It may feel as though some strange new intuition appeared in your mind one day, as if by magic. In any case a new idea is here, disrupting the habitual flow of your thoughts. It unsettles your assumptions, and calls into question everything you thought you knew. You could try to figure out what caused this alien thought to take root in your psyche. Even if you could trace it back to an ultimate point of origin, it'd do you little good. Sourcing a daydream is like calculating how much Oxytocin it takes to make someone fall in love. The past is of tertiary importance. What matters is that which presents itself: an impression and an imperative. You've encountered the meme.
Though it comes clothed in material form, the essence of a meme is in the sensations this form imparts. A song isn't a particular combination of sounds, but the feeling you feel when listening to them. It's a motion, a vibration, a vibe. A meme is the suggestion of form for which you supply content. Worldly encounters trigger internal reactions which become the basis for future acts. The meme in itself lacks substance, it is pure movement. You interpret the meme, you determine how best to represent that which it suggests to you. The process is never complete. With each interpretation, something gets left behind, and something novel emerges. The meme mutates as it wanders the psychic landscape, moving from one mind to the next. Sometimes it maintains essential continuity, at other times it splinters into distinct forms.
Let us offer an example - the meme as a fictional character. Imagine: you encounter a drawing of a smiling cartoon frog. The material form of this image is nothing more than lines on paper, or pixels on a screen. The essence of this image is not lines or pixels, but the idea they conjure up. Though this cartoon frog has no corporeal being, he now exists as an entity in your mind - as real as any person you've met. The idea you hold of him isn't a static snapshot of the image you encountered. He has a distinct personality. He has a history, and dreams for the future. You might imagine how he would behave in various situations. You might flesh out aspects of his persona that weren't explicit. Someone, somewhere, produced this image as the result of a creative process. The image has in turn inspired your own creative process. The mimetic trajectory: from mind, to act, to mind, to act.
A meme can be something more abstract than a character, or a kind of object. A meme could be an artistic style. Certain aesthetic qualities become associated with one another, and given a collective name. This name now conjures up an entire network of associations and possibilities. This name may well carry a distinct political, philosophical, or spiritual connotation. This name may suggest complex emotional intuitions - easy to feel, but hard to articulate. Words and symbols in general act as shorthand for complex associative chains. There are plenty of things in life which would be difficult for the average person to express in words. A term or an image loaded with implicit connotations makes these things available to us.
What enables us to receive the meme is not rational apprehension then, but more of a sensibility. Prior to any conscious interpretation of a situation we always already have an attitude towards it. How exactly does this attitude form? Memes are always wihin sensibilities then, within meta-memes, if you will. The meta-meme is the field within which you build all other understanding. It provides the pre-conscious assumptions which infuse the situation with desire and meaning. These meta-memes are more like ways of life, sometimes entire nations can inhabit them. A meta-meme can get so big you mistake it for the world itself.
Meta-memes then are kind of like narratives that you observe from within. It permeates whatever language you might use to express yourself. It colours your interpretations, and presupposes your conclusions. Even in becoming aware of its presence, it continues to function as an automatic process. We're never completely aware of the meta-meme we inhabit. You can contemplate modes of thinking you've outgrown, but not the position you hold. It's too big; too immediate. It's the very thing you're using to contemplate. And yet, we wish to recognize the current limitations of our thought. To do this, we must deconstruct those modes of thought which brought us to our present position.
Consider the much-maligned "Enlightenment" and its political philosophy of Liberalism. In previous epochs, society had taken official titles of authority as given according to the standards of Tradition. This didn't jibe with the ascending merchants and industrialists. They had obtained power not by tradition, but as a result of commanding the newly emergent industrial system. They came to convieniently view tradition as an arbitrary imposition, and (paid intellectuals to) question its foundation. Liberalism put forth a bold proclamation: a fecund social order is one in which each is free to do as he sees fit. The proper role of authority is not to put forth commands, but to ensure the liberty of every individual. Cohesion comes, not from brutish imposition, but from the common sense of educated men. Authority, then, was no longer understood in terms of a tradition, no longer could this authority place limits on the bourgeoisie. It became an abstract rationalization of the economic relations within the industrial system they controlled.
One must consider the kind of community Bourgeois Liberalism addressed. A community referred to a distinct cultural group inhabiting a distinct geographic region. A community spoke one language, worshipped one God, and had a particular set of social norms. A community was not a generic concept, but the specific world one actually inhabited. Furthermore, the democratic privilege was not afforded to every individual in the community. The Liberal Subject was a gentleman, with pecuniary instincts and well-defined social responsibilities. He was free, yes - free to carry out the role for which he had been cast.
The Liberal Subject inhabited a homogenous cultural milieu. Two men might disagree on a subject, but they shared an understanding of how to disagree. Individual differences, insofar as they existed, suggested continuity at a higher level. At most, points of distinction would inspire lively debate, and more nuanced understanding. Idiosyncratic tendencies were of no great concern. On the fundamental questions of life, every well-bred man was sure to harmonize. This was the pièce de résistance of Liberal Ideology: a social fiction known as Universal Rationality.
Liberalism now spans the entire globe, and comprises every living human being. The bourgeoisie challenged tradition on the grounds of being an arbitrary imposition. In so doing they managed only to dismantle authority, power however remained as a brutal reality which seems to have come from nowhere. Liberalism does not tolerate authority, it calls into question every rationalization of social organization. The very culture of the bourgeoisie was challenged. Every individual becomes equated, and every lifestyle validated. Freedom always needs new scapegoat oppressors to negate. The Liberalism of today is world away from the French Revolution. Following philosopher Panagiotis Kondylis, we will use the term Mass-Democracy for the contemporary arche meta-meme.
The qualities that Liberal Subject was supposedly endowed with are viewed increasingly with suspicion and must be emptied out. The empty participant in Mass-Democracy becomes increasingly abstract, a theoretical space where authority is negated. Thus, scientific rationale comes to replace custom as the primary organizer of society. These abstract models, divested of particularities, become the essence of culture. Every particular quality of a person or people becomes non-essential. Every point of distinction is arbitrary, and replaceable.
Mass-Democracy functions as a global self-stabilizing monoculture. In earlier stages of Liberalism, the founding myth of a universal common sense was easier to maintain. A community was of one mind, more or less, and rarely exposed to different modes of thought. Today, this is no longer the case. An extreme diversity of lifestyles and historical considerations exist within the global community. This myriad of differences must become secondary to abstract systematic logic. Depersonalized rationality must form the basis for all decisions affecting the whole.
What is life like for the Mass-Democratic individual? You have become atomized, severed from any fundamental connection to a people or a place. The social connections you maintain are tenuous - based on sentiment, rather than need. Your primary identity is as a statistical unit. You produce, you consume, your essential distinctions endure only as lingering negatives to be overcome. Race, gender, and sexuality are only to be discussed if they impede their own dissolution. The ideal individual is an interchangeable unit, who can take on any role.
If you don't like your city, you can move to a new one. You'll still buy the same products, and consume the same media. If you don't like your friends, you can abandon them for new ones. They'll still make the same jokes, and parrot the same opinions. Plurality is an illusion. Every distinction is a veneer covering the endless process of production and consumption. Everyone everywhere is saying the same thing in different words. At least in the old days there was a sense that things might be different in the next town over.
This lack of any defining social identity becomes framed as individual liberation. No longer does some set of arbitrary cultural imperatives limit your movement. No longer does some saturnine patriarch stand between you and endless self-indulgence. You can shirk your responsibilities. You can get as fat as you want. You can masturbate as much as you want, to whatever you want. Implicit is the suggestion that all human endeavours are an attempt to get one's rocks off.
Personal distinctions are celebrated, but only insofar as they become generic. All beauty is equal; all achievements are equal. No taste is off-putting. No opinion is invalid unless it is one which invalidates. Every personal narrative is permissible, but must defer to the societal meta-narrative. If possible, one attempts to view that which displeases as valid alternative lifestyle. "No judgement!" you proclaim, as a show of Mass-Democratic solidarity. You harbour no strong feelings about that which you encounter in the world. If you did, you would keep them to yourself, to ensure functional stasis endures.
There seems to be a paradox here. Everything is permissible, except for that which is not permissible. Act as you like, but follow all the rules. Believe what you will, but above all believe what we tell you to. Mass-Democracy frames itself as total freedom of movement. In reality it is - like all ideologies - a limitation placed upon movement. Mass-Democracy is a distinct social order, framed as the plurality of all orders. But necessarily, any social order must promote certain ideas, and reject others. Let us take a moment to consider this.
Societies need to be composed of predictable behaviours, if "freedom" induced behavioural randomness you are no longer living in a society. Normativity and therefore trust needs to exist to make behaviour of others predictable enough to have the confidence to act the same way with regularity. However a cosmopolitan bugman rarely even knows half the people living on his street. He cannot trust a stranger with whom he has no personal connection. He can, however, trust those who behave according to predictable social norms.
Social normativity was present in bourgeois society, with its many codes of conduct. Normativity is present in Mass-Democracy, but it has become opaque. The individual receives behavioural imperatives, but these are never framed as imperatives. The Mass-Democratic individual must carry out every command as if it were his own idea. He must affirm certain views, and champion certain causes. He must recognize certain groups as oppressed, and others as the oppressor. He must concern himself with certain problems, and disregard other concerns as paranoid. These positions spread via mass (now increasingly "social") media. The individual is to present them as truths he came to by way of rational self-reflection. If he fails to do so, it is because he lacks education.
From what source do these normative guidelines emerge? One can obviously no longer point to tradition. Contemporary norms are a patchwork; the result of constant negotiation between heterogeneous forces. Different groups hold different views on what "truth" entails. Mass-Democracy blends their specific truth into the generic framework of society by creating the illusion of tolerance. Within Mass-Democracy, groups perish as distinct identities in their (pseudo-)recognition. The price of recognition in Mass-Democracy is the freedom to refuse to recognize everyone else, elimating all genuine difference.
In Mass-Democracy, nothing is ever more than a struggle for attention. Every group demands to be heard, but nothing is ever actually said. Disconnected elites promote whatever cause serves their short-term interests with even short-term spurts of media-provoked hysteria. These incoherent power negotiations come to rule over society at large. Power lives on as a blind, amorphous golem, exploiting the nihilistic confusion to present vapid condemnations as simulated revivals of meaning.
You shear off your particularities, and purchase new identities on the market. Every form becomes a Halloween mask, and every act an affectation. You do things because your peers reward you with social status for embodying a certain role. You do things because they're the sort of things the character you're playing would do. Nothing is a way out. Nothing ever leads anywhere but back to the hive. You can flavour the soy protein as you wish, but it never becomes real meat. Life is a marriage which goes on, long after the thrill of loving is gone. It endures of the sake of the children - separation might prove more dangerous than sterility. You have a mouth but no longer a scream. You are pure form without content.
Let's review. A meta-meme that reaches the level of dominant ideology immerses you to the point of providing a framing narrative for life as a whole. Trying to think about what this is whilst inhabiting it is like trying to see what your eyes look like. You can't see your eyes, because they are the very thing you see with. You can feel their presence. You understand that they're there. You can talk about them. Maybe, with the right kind of surface, you can see them reflected.
Revolutionary theories are the reflecting pools of dominant ideology. You meditate upon the idea that life could be so much different than anything you've ever known. You feel primordial nostalgia for things you've never seen. Your daydreams become consumed by visions of subaltern Shangri-Las. This is the revolutionary ideal, a prospector's map to parts unknown. In truth, you never leave your current position. Any thought of a different mode of being is only your current mode with a mask on. The point of the exercise is not to escape your current frame, but to recognize it as a frame.
Dominant Ideology holds little regard for such speculative undermining. Talk of revolution presents a lapse of faith, a desire to become something alien. Mass-Democracy holds particular contempt for proposals which draw inspiration from tradition. Scientific Rationality frames itself as the absolute pinnacle of human cognition. From this vantage point all previous modes of thought are dissectible. Mass-Democracy is an ideological Matryoshka doll. To draw from the past is to limit one's thinking - to re-animate old contradictions. Thus, revolutions of a conservative or reactionary nature are viewed with suspicion. Only groups which appear pitiful or weak may make demands in the name of particularity.
Modern civilization presents itself as the form in which all prior forms endure. Likewise, it presumes that it is the basic framework upon which all future forms will develop. It doesn't want to move backwards, and it can't allow for radical discontinuities. It can, however, consider any proposal framed as an extension of the current order.
But Ideology is not something you can put on like a new t-shirt. The revolution will not be commodified. Revolution is an all-consuming wave, which overturns any sense of familiarity. It comes not as a logical determination, but as a flash of insight. It isn't rational, it's world transfiguring. Thus, the revolutionary aspect of any idea is not found in discourse. It exists as a sensibility, hovering beyond the limits of conventional articulation.
Let us envision a progressive critique of Liberalism. Consider the possibility that Liberalism presents a false democracy. It is Authoritarianism masquerading as an egalitarian utopia. This is inevitable, in a system predicated on Capitalism's class antagonism. "Universal" Rationality reflects the interests of the ruling class, foisted upon the masses. Cultural distinctions serve only to divide, and to foster egoic self-interest. Let us, then, abolish all categories, and treat humanity as a collective whole. Let us build a world not on individual greed, but from a shared desire for human prosperity.
The socialist utopia doesn't challenge the foundational narratives of Liberalism. Rather, it proposes a solution for problems Liberalism already recognizes. Socialism says: it isn't the plan that's bad; it's the current execution that needs work. We have not yet become rational enough. The liberated comrade is a sort of aspirational ideal for the liberal subject. At last, his reason overcomes the influence of biological imperatives and frivolous desires.
Mass-Democracy is able to interpret socialist ideology as a perfection of itself. It suggests the completion of a long ongoing move from the particular to the generic. It discards irrational group identities in favour of universal cohesion. It is society as an engine of pure production, stripped of all that impedes it. The socialist may at times be over-zealous, but his project is respectable. In abolishing all distinctions, one removes the very idea of a world beyond the end of history.
Contemplation of socialism will not serve our current purposes. Socialism is too easy to rationalize; too easy to load with logical presuppositions. We're looking for areas of experience which defy rational articulation. We're looking for flavours which cause Mass-Democracy to experience indigestion. What ideas does its language not afford expression? What positions cause it to abandon its own foundational narrative? What scares the Mass-Democracy?
Liberalism frames itself as the position all individuals gravitate towards, given the right means. Any individual who fails to adopt Liberal ideology must lack resources or education. A foreign population only fails to become Liberal because they've lacked the opportunity. They need schools, and social funding. If you give them schools, and they still fail to become Liberal, something must be wrong. It might be that the textbooks were somehow racist. We need to give them the right education, and they'll be sure to adopt our ways. Humanitarianism is the continuation of Imperialism by other means.
Mass-Democracy attributes impermissible behaviour amongst populations of underdeveloped nations to material disadvantage. There are other forms of disadvantage, applicable to errant individuals in developed nations. An individual may fail to behave in a rational manner due to aberrant psychology. He shoots up a crowded food court because of unfortunate brain chemistry. Neurosis is the mental equivalent of a tornado. Mass-Democracy recognizes these natural inconveniences as problems to iron out. In time there will be treatments for every mental disorder. In time there will be machines to stop tornados and earthquakes from happening. Socialism is nothing more than an amplified desire for comfort. No surprises.
Some forms of impermissible behaviour are more difficult to rationalize. Sometimes, the aberrant individual fails to present himself as a victim in need of repair. It was as though he was proud of his mistaken behaviour! Sometimes an entire group begins to behave in such a manner, and this is where it gets to be a problem. It's all well and good if an identity group presents their particularity as a problem to solve. Racial and sexual minorities want to be normal. They want to have harmless outlets for their idiosyncrasies. This is fine. But some groups seem wholly content to remain distinct. They reject Liberalism outright. They reject the global community in favour of their exclusive club. They champion particularities which are at odds with the imperatives of the universal.
This won't do at all. Mass-Democracy prides itself on being the natural preference of every sane individual. Thus, it cannot tolerate any perspective which flouts its imperatives. Localized societies of the past could disregard the barbarians living beyond the walls. Mass-Democracy needs everyone everywhere to adopt its ways, and to act like it was their idea. Uncooperative identity groups are more than a threat to the social order which must be cast out. Their very existence challenges the foundational myths of Liberalism. Doubtless, this irrational behaviour stems from some neural misfiring, as-yet unseen. But at present there is no time to speculate. The egregious identity group presents an immediate threat. It is a demon in need of exorcism.
This demon is a meme which resists the meta-meme, the red pill out of the matrix. It presents a compact unit, with no desire for general proliferation. It reserves itself for the few, only those who meet particular requirements can join the club. It has no interest in adapting itself to the needs of outsiders. Thus, dominant ideology sees it as a tumor on the social body. It is a malignant growth which acts counter to the interests of the universal.
Fascism. Like an infectious rhythm, few can describe it, but everyone can feel it. Fascism is the ideology of villains - those who oppose all Liberalism holds dear. Remember, to inhabit the meta-meme requires that you never see anything external to it. When you contemplate another mode of being, it's always as a variation of your current mode. Socialism is only grasped as a Liberalism that has perfected itself. Fascism is radically outside. Liberalism is the force which liquidates all structures. Fascism is the structure which smashes apart Liberalism.
When militants detonate a bomb in the name of their creed, this is Fascism. When cops target under-privileged minorities, this is Fascism. When the designated oppressor takes pride in his own group, this is Fascism. There's no rational reason why the Fascist refuses to be part of the team. He's a bully. He doesn't want to play fair. For the Liberal, his logic makes no sense. For the Socialist, his logic presents a vile distortion of Marx's teachings. For the Capitalist, Fascism is the desire for which one can supply no commodity. Fascist inclinations are those to which society can afford no role. The fascist impulse represents pure content without form.
That's Fascism in the colloquial sense. What about historical Fascism? Historical Fascism is the Original Sin of the 20th Century. It is definitive, eternal proof of humanity's potential for irrational evil. It's the madness that ensues when individuals rally around antiquated notions like Authority and Race. It's what happens when you place one man above the law. Historical Fascism justifies Mass-Democracy's liquidation of the particular into the generic. We need to abolish differences between peoples, or this ghoul will keep returning. Fascist impulses become equated with the perpetuation of the Holocaust. One meditates upon the horrors of the World Wars to find peace with sterile modernity. Better a monad than a monster.
Mass-Democracy aims to present itself as a theme park of hedonic self-stimulation. To that end, it aims to commodify every irrational desire. Every human impulse becomes deconstructed, and re-presented as a simulation. This process can only go so far. You can cater to impulses which cause an individual to moo like a happy cow. You can't cater to impulses which attack the very roots of your worldview. You can't homogenize that which founds itself on radical distinction. These impulses are not tolerable. One must pull them out at the root.
Liberalism founded itself on the idea of rational debate between equal parties. This privilege extended itself to members of the community, but not to outsiders. Mass-Democracy claims to represent the entire globe, but it still needs a threat from the outside to justify reinforcing its interiority. This is where Fascism comes in.
Mass-Democracy presents Fascism as one-dimensional evil for which no rational explanation exists. Fascism is the reason why there's pain and suffering in the world. It's why people don't get along. It's why no one is holding hands in a field singing Kumbaya. Any behaviour Mass-Democracy deems problematic, it labels "Fascist". This allows it to maintain its founding myth of universal tolerance and plurality. All behaviours permitted, except for that pure, irrational evil known as Fascism. And what is Fascism? It's whatever we say it is.
We begin to sense the limits of our current perspective, and things which may exist beyond them. Socialism presents an aspirational beyond. Yet it is a beyond that is completely within. Fascism, though, is a beyond made wholly off-limits. What is it, exactly, that provokes such intense reactivity? What is it that causes Liberalism to forego its own imperatives?
It was as though we feared seduction by genocidal impulse at any moment. Is aestheticization of the political all it takes to turn men into monsters? What good is rationality, if it's overpowered by marching bands and Hugo Boss uniforms? There must be more going on here. A simple aberration doesn't warrant such vigilance - its defects are immediately obvious. Fascism presents a compelling force which defies rational understanding or negation. We aim to determine what this force might be.
To demonize something is to turn it into forbidden fruit. To reduce something to pure evil is to ignore its obvious appeal. Even if you oppose Fascism, you gain something by understanding it. People didn't vote Hitler into power because they wanted to become the bad guys of history. There was something there; something real and vibrant and living. If you're afraid of Fascism, you ought to know why people wanted it in the first place. If you daydream of Fascism's return, you ought to know why it fell apart. So, let's imagine Fascism as it might once have appeared. We do this, not to resurrect something long-since dead, but to catch a glimpse of our own reflection.
By the dawn of the 20th Century, Monarchy was on the ropes. The ascendant Bourgeoisie had, in large part, negotiated power away from the nobility. Liberal-Democratic values were flourishing at every level of society. Gone were the days when men could accept the absolute rule of some hereditary oligarch. The French and American revolutions were testament to this. The new world-dream: to make of one's own life a masterpiece.
The working class were growing more organized by the day. The proletariat was the engine by which industrial civilization turned. The socialist revolution which had been foretold by Marx seemed on the verge of coming to pass. It anything, the Great War seemed only to seal the deal. The "Great" War: senseless devastation, brought on by a sickness called Imperialism. In the eyes of many, socialism was the antidote to this outgrown ideological malaise.
Socialist movements had been sprouting up across Europe for decades at that point. Each reflected the soil from which it emerged, and came to favour distinct forms of praxis. In Britain, the Fabian Society oversaw the gradual legislation of social-democratic reform. They prided themselves on patience, and worked according to established parliamentary logic. In Scandinavia, socialist parties came to power gradually through the democratic process and reflected values already widespread, thus there was no need for political violence. In France, the Syndicalists advocated direct action on the part of workers. The French detested idealist prattle; they preferred demonstration. On the Italian Peninsula, too, were socialist groups, news publications, and would-be revolutionaries. One stands out amongst their number: a young man by the name of Benito Mussolini.
His father was a blacksmith, who spoke in reverent tones of Bakunin and Mazzini. His mother was a catholic school teacher, but those things failed to take hold. Growing up poor served to awaken Benito's class consciousness at an early age. By his early 20s, he had become active in political action and journalism. In 1912, following a brief sojourn in Switzerland, he became editor of Avanti! - a major Italian news publication. In short time, Mussolini had become a socialist thinker of note.
Mussolini was by no means a dogmatic adherent to any one school of thought. He was well-acquainted with the Italian theorists of the previous century. He drew inspiration from Nietzsche no less than from Marx. Sharing his father's anti-clerical sentiment, Mussolini held little regard for Christian pacifism. He looked askance at certain socialist concepts, such as egalitarianism. Mussolini embodied an undercurrent of skepticism towards the socialist ideal. In many ways, it seemed like a crystallization of instrumental reason. Socialism promised much, but was it worth reducing life itself to economic determinism?
On a practical level, Mussolini recognized the limits of Marx's analysis. Italy in the 1910s was far removed from England in the 1860s. The Italian nation had reunified mere decades prior. Her industry lagged far behind those of imperial Britain, France, or Belgium. The Italian people lacked a national identity, or a disciplined work ethic. In Mussolini's eyes, what Italy needed was not international solidarity. They needed a masculine ideal, and awakening to their own potential.
For some, the onset of the Great War was an opportunity. Italy might finally assert its identity, and shake off centuries of foreign influence. Nationalists, Interventionists, and Syndicalists called for Italy to enter the fray. The Socialist Party advocated neutrality, dismissing the war as a bourgeois division tactic. This was at first the position Mussolini assumed, though he felt conflicted. The Nationalist position appealed to his personal sentiment. He recognized the need for a myth of the people. The masses needed a unifying ideal to rise out of blind economic self-interest.
In October of 1914, Mussolini declared support for Italian entry into the war. Immediately, he became excommunicated by Socialist Orthodoxy. Removed from his editorial position, he started his own newspaper, Il Popolo d'Italia. This was the formalization of Mussolini's alliance with the disparate interventionist forces. In time, this alliance would serve as the germ cell of the National Fascist Party.
Mussolini saw active duty in the First World War. Throughout this period, he began to take increasing influence from the Nationalist perspective. Socialist notions of class warfare began to hold less appeal. Such antagonism could only destabilize Italy, which had not yet reached industrial maturity. What Italy needed, rather, was collaboration between the classes. Individualism impeded social development. Left to their own devices, the masses were chaotic and prone to cowardice. They desired change, but lacked a will to realize it.
Inspired by Marxism he understood the potential of a revolutionary vanguard. Mussolini envisioned a nucleus of strong individuals from every level of society. They would spearhead the revolutionary effort. They would act as self-sacrificing heroes, embodying the spirit of the times. They would inspire in the masses a national ideal, and guide them to victory. For genuine revolution - and not mere reform - one needed great minds. One needed artists and visionaries, who could awaken a fighting spirit in the common man.
Italy had been in formal alliance with the Germanic Central Powers at the war's outbreak. Regardless, her entry into active combat was to be on the side of the Allied Forces. Italy had negotiated a deal with the Allies: territory expansion, and independence. For too long had Italy been under the influence of the Austrian Empire; it was time to assert themselves. And indeed, Italy's role in the conflict was to prove instrumental. They played a crucial part in bringing down the Habsburg elite, who had known power for centuries. By war's end, Italy became recognized as a distinct force in modern European politics. The League of Nations granted the Italians a permanent seat on their council.
This recognition came at a cost. The war had taken the lives of half a million Italian troops. Massive economic disparity spread across the peninsula. National territory expanded, but nowhere near the amount promised. The Italians felt betrayed by their international alliance. They felt frustrated by the conditions at home. The sense of agency the war had awoken brought with it a deep yearning for reform. The existing parliament seemed incapable of initiating such drastic transformations. What Italy needed was a wholly new political force.
The National Fascist Party came into being on March 23rd, 1919. They were of disparate origin: socialist outliers, interventionists, and followers of Mussolini. They derived their name from "fasciso", the Italian term for a bundle of sticks. In isolation, they were weak, and soon broken. Together, they became a force greater than the sum of its parts. The fascists viewed themselves as a loose, temporary coalition. Their concern lay not in promoting dogma, but in bringing about practical reform. Their intention was to move according to the sentiment of the masses. If the people desired moderation, the fascists would be moderate. If the people desired intervention, the fascists would intervene.
From the outset, then, they favoured a distinct, Italian spirit. Socialists, with their international outlook, failed to address this spirit. They saw the masses as little more than a disadvantaged economic bracket. Talk of trade unions and theories of surplus value failed to inspire. Fascism, by contrast, was politics with a pulse. It didn't speak to a generic left/right dichotomy, but to the uniqueness of the present moment. It spoke to something beneath the Liberal subject, and beyond the Socialist utopia. It didn't speak of reducing individual restrictions, or dissolving formal distinctions between groups. It spoke of constructive liberty, the conscious affirmation of mutual dreams. In this new movement was a feeling of continuity. It suggested a lineage, extending from ancient Rome into a distant future.
Anti-Fascist forces emerged almost immediately, a Leftist reaction to Fascist intentions. For Socialists, this new movement presented a gross distortion of Marxian concepts. For Anarchists, talk of subsuming individuals to the collective will was pure anathema. Fascists were gaining popularity across Italy, overturning whatever resistance they encountered with ease. Panicked socialists, fearing potential Fascist violence, responded with violence of their own. Their violence was chaotic, lacking any central organization. Individual militants and spontaneous mobs attacked anything they perceived as a threat. They injured unaffiliated civilians, and destroyed public property.
Fascists did not destroy public property. They spoke of building. Fascists didn't form amorphous mobs. They were methodical, targeting opponents with military coordination. In simple terms: they understood optics. Public sympathy for Fascism grew. Socialists seemed little more than violent aggressors. For the youth of Italy, the symbolism of this conflict was obvious. On the one hand, there were representatives of a burgeoning national identity. On the other, a destructive alien force. The fight itself was a means of escaping mundane existence. The fight became a gateway into the historical.
Mussolini found this all rather troubling. The movement had intended itself as a temporary reformist operation. It was becoming a war machine. He called for restraint. The defeat of socialism was not the primary task, and violence was a last resort. These calls fell on deaf ears. The Fascist movement was developing not according to the will of any one individual. It was a collective will, growing as a result of its own actions. It was like a microphone next to an amplifier, causing a feedback loop. A distinct form was crystallizing, in the dissolving pool of modernity. It called upon Benito Mussolini to be its avatar, its centre, and its voice. Mussolini, for all his conflictions, recognized the great potential here. Was this not the supra-individual will he had long aspired to bring forth? If he failed to direct this kinetic build-up, it was sure to dissipate. Thus, in 1922, Mussolini embraced the role he had been cast into: El Duce.
The National Fascist Party began to operate like an army conquering ground. Fascist squadrons became de facto governing bodies in towns across the peninsula. With Machiavellian finesse, Mussolini talked the Italian government out of taking retaliatory action. He negotiated alliances with parliamentarians, heads of industry, and the Vatican. He expressed his loyalty to the monarchy, and the military. Fascism was an ideology of peace.
In October of 1922 Fascism announced that it planned to take rule of Italy. A squad of 30,000 fascist men marched on the Roman capital. Italian Prime Minister Luigi Facta, fearing insurrection, ordered military intervention. To Facta's dismay, the King of Italy refused his request. Mussolini commanded favour with the military, the business elite, and the political Right. He was, in the eyes of the Italian king, worthy of the title of Prime Minister.
Mussolini displayed an immediate aptitude for governance. He passed legislation favouring industrial development, against the internationalist wishes of the unions. Rapid agrarian expansion became possible, following the draining of massive regions of marshland. Corporatist policies gave businesses distinct public roles. From now on, they would work according to national interests. Largescale public construction projects reduced unemployment to great degree. Rail lines spread across the country.
Having himself emerged from the news industry, Mussolini understood public relations. He understood the need for public spectacle. In short time he had constructed for himself a larger-than-life persona. He sought to be the embodiment of the masculine ideal he promoted. He sought to be more than a man - an icon.
The national ideal became disseminated through every major form of media. New education models promoted physical health and military discipline. The eminent philosopher Giovanni Gentile set to work developing formal fascist doctrine. Idealism was championed, and rationality dismissed. One oriented themselves not towards what was, but what could be.
Within a few short years, Italy became an industrial powerhouse. The world took notice. Fascist movements appeared throughout Europe. Some were Christian, others Pagan, still others completely non-secular. Marcus Garvey described his Pan-Africanism as fascist. The Zionist Betar cited Mussolini as an inspiration. It was not a movement founded on racial or religious hatred. It was not defined by rigid dogma, but by a desire for results. Many saw it as Socialism that worked. It upheld the interests of those it represented, rather than telling them what they ought to want. Mussolini seemed a sort of political visionary, a herald of the world to come.
Of course, as with many things, the most iconic variant was the result of German engineering.
Adolf Hitler was born in 1889, in a provincial Austrian town, to a lower middle class family. His father, Alois, was a disciplinarian with a penchant for corporeal punishment. He expected his son to pursue a sensible career as a civil servant, after his own fashion. Adolf resisted the idea of a life path so mundane, much as he resisted his father's secular worldview. The young Hitler was, in fact, something of a romantic. He loved his homeland, and the history of his people. He dreamt of the greatness that German culture might once more aspire to. He even drafted elaborate architectural plans for the cities he hoped to one day build. Decades later, some of Hitler's adolescent designs would see material realization.
Hitler's early ambition, as is well known, was to become an artist. In 1907, following the death of his father, he travelled to Vienna, intent on studying at the Academy of Fine Arts. Fate proved less than cooperative. He faced academic rejection, followed shortly thereafter by the death of his mother. Hitler found himself at age 18 an orphan, destitute, in an uncaring world. For five years he worked as a labourer, never rising from the lowest rungs of society.
He came to detest the international character of Vienna - formless, dirty, and decadent. The parliament was a corrupt, short-sighted bureaucracy. It pursued its own survival, at the expense of the culture it represented. Advocates of Marxism opposed Capitalism on ground with which Hitler could sympathize, but he soon dismissed Marxism as an internationalist plot to exploit the working class. Their rhetoric was empty and manipulative, the work of foreign intellectuals. Most of all Hitler came to resent the Jewish race. The corrupt politicians, the media, the business elite, Marxism - it was all their handiwork. Hitler saw the Jews as an alien force corroding his beloved German culture.
Unlike Mussolini, Hitler lacked a distinct framework upon which to develop his understanding. He was, rather, a man of convictions. His experienced life, and developed intuitions from his experience. When he read books, he sought that which might bolster his position. Mussolini was a pragmatist. He understood the complexities of his situation. He adopted a role dictated by the particularities of his historical moment. Hitler, by contrast, had from his earliest years envisioned a distinct ideal. He felt little need to orient himself towards existing theoretical constructs. He adopted that which served the realization of his vision, and discarded the rest. He was, after all, an artist.
In 1912 Hitler left Vienna for Munich, a city which he would soon hold in high regard. Vienna had presented deracinated cosmopolitan grime. Munich offered up a distinct German character, architectural grace, and artistic sensibility. It was not a city driven by financial concerns, but by kultur. Hitler had left a world he feared was growing, and entered one he hoped could yet endure. In 1914, following the outbreak of the Great War, Hitler enlisted in the Bavarian Army. Much like the youth of Italy, he saw in conflict the opportunity of a lifetime. The world he had known was one of shopkeepers, bankers, and politicians. The battlefield was home to the heroes of his childhood, the warriors of Germanic history.
Hitler later described this period as one of the high points of his life. It tempered his disposition, and deepened his appreciation for the Germanic soul. The spiritual highs were, alas, counterbalanced by deep frustration. The commanding officers seemed inept, and the media traitorous. Too often it felt that decisions were being made in favour of cowards who hid in the cities. Too often it felt that those dying on the battlefield lacked crucial support. The press seemed intent on instilling pacifism in the masses. Meanwhile, Allied demoralization campaigns had clear psychological effect on the German troops. It was here that Hitler began to develop insight into the mechanisms of propaganda.
With the downfall of the Central Powers in 1918, Hitler's disdain crystalized into hatred. Systematic corruption had led Germany to defeat: politicians, press, and socialist intelligentsia. Behind it all, the Jews, hatching plans for world domination. With the looming threat of Marxist revolution, Hitler was not alone in his thinking. Millions of Germans felt betrayed. It was as though the great military efforts of the last four years had been for naught. It was as though millions of valiant young men had sacrificed their lives in vain.
Facing billions of dollars in reparation payments, Germany underwent rapid economic collapse. In Hitler's eyes, this expedited the process of cultural decay. Economic imperatives ruled over all. Infantile aesthetics became widespread, appealing to the base impulses of the widest demographic. Everything became pornographic. All forms of sexuality became permissible. Old norms fell in disregard. Couples, faced with harsh financial realities, were unable to conceive starting families. Young men became aimless and dissolute. Manchildren and addicts, they lacked any frame upon which to found coherence. Young women became prostitutes en masse. Hitler developed an interest in politics.
In 1919, Hitler became a member of the German Workers' Party. Founder Anton Drexler articulated Hitler's own anti-Marxist and anti-Semitic sentiments. Soon it became clear that Hitler himself had a gift for public speaking. He understood, instinctively, that the masses were not won by rhetoric, but by passion. Hitler's speeches began to draw crowds. The DAP, once obscure, began to draw notice.
In 1920, Hitler became the party's chief of propaganda. The DAP rebranded, becoming the National Socialist German Workers' Party, or the NSDAP. Hitler continued to develop his oratory, and the crowds continued to grow. By mid-1921, he had become the chairman of the NSDAP. Immediately he set to work, forming a party militia, and formalizing the party's public image. Hitler oversaw every aspect of design, from the swastika to the colours on the posters. No aesthetic detail escaped consideration. They were key to fostering cohesion between party members, and awe amongst the public.
The Nazi Party continued to grow in popularity. Economic conditions had only deteriorated in the initial years of the Weimar Republic. For many, Hitler gave voice to a deep sense of frustration, and a desire to reject this hopeless state of affairs. When he stood before a crowd, it was though he was a man possessed. In private conversation he seemed reserved, and rather dry. Behind a podium, it was as though some great primordial force spoke through him. He could make a man believe that the spirit of the Aryan Race was alive and conscious. He brought life to every repressed dream, every lingering fear, and every whispered suspicion. He transformed swarms of monads into a collective body capable of superhuman tasks. He whipped atomized frustration up into a single focused beam of energetic potential.
Hitler began to take inspiration from what was going on in Italy. He saw the Fascist project as being in alignment with his own designs. Following the March on Rome, Hitler began to plot his own insurrection. This was to be the infamous Beer Hall Putsch. In November of 1923, two thousand Nazi supporters marched on the Munich capital. Unlike the fascists, they met armed resistance. Violence broke out. Sixteen members of the NSDAP and four members of law enforcement lost their lives. Hitler was arrested on charges of High Treason. The NSDAP was banned from public demonstration.
Though the revolutionary attempt failed, it succeeded in drawing attention to the Nazis. As usual, Hitler demonstrated impressive oratory whilst on trial. As with most self-proclaimed socialists, many agreed that his basic intentions were good. Over an eight month prison term, he completed an autobiography. It became a bestseller. Following his release in December 1924, Hitler resumed pursuit of his political ends. He had come to respect the dangers of violent revolution. From here on out, he intended to conduct himself wholly within the limits of the law.
By the mid-1920s, economic conditions in the Weimar Republic had stabilized. Legal restriction placed upon the NSDAP became relaxed. Hitler himself was still banned from giving speeches in Bavaria. For a time, the Nazis moderated their approach, building presence across Germany.
Things changed, following the stock crash of 1929, and the onset of the Great Depression. Economic conditions in Germany deteriorated. Millions found themselves once more frustrated by the Weimar government. The NSDAP experienced a massive jump in popularity in the 1930 German election. In 1932, they placed second, forming a coalition with the German National People's Party. In 1933, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.
Four weeks later, the Reichstag parliament building was set on fire. Hitler attributed this to an imminent Communist uprising. In light of this, German president Paul von Hindenburg granted Hitler emergency powers. With the passing of the Enabling Act, Hitler's cabinet became free to pass any legislation. No longer were they required to seek parliamentary approval. If needed, they could bypass the republican policies of the Weimar regime. This aligned well with statements Hitler had expressed years prior. The role of the true leader is not to bargain for the majority's approval. The role of the true leader is to lead, and to create.
In May, Hitler dissolved the trade unions. In July, the NSDAP became the only legal political party in Germany. There was a purging of military leaders seen as sources of friction. This was by way of a political method known as the Night of the Long Knives. Death counts remain inconclusive. Hitler sought to reduce all bureaucracy that stood between him and the masses. By mid-1934, he had secured full control of the German military and state.
Under Hitler's leadership, German unemployment fell by five million in four years. Like Mussolini, he initiated massive public works projects to create labour jobs. Unlike Mussolini, his architectural plans were sometimes sourced from childhood designs. Many went to work rebuilding German military infrastructure. Germany navigated the Great Depression far greater than most. Some attributed this success to long hours and deep cost cutting measures. Others attributed it to an awakening of the Völkisch spirit. In any case, it made a strong impression. In 1936, Germany hosted the Olympic Games. In 1938, Time Magazine declared Hitler Man of the Year.
We would, of course, be remiss to ignore the racial policies of Nazi Germany. After coming to power, the NSDAP declared a boycott on all Jewish-owned businesses. For the rest of the 1930s, restrictions on Jewish citizens would only increase. Businesses were closed, and living options were limited. Jews were encouraged to emigrate out of Germany by the thousands. Whether the Nazis harboured genocidal intentions or not, one thing was clear. They aimed to promote interests that were particular, not universal. Policies against racial minorities, homosexuals, and the mentally disabled became common. Hitler had laid this out years prior, in his description of an Aryan breeding program. Regardless of personal sentiment, one recognizes that Hitler was a man of his word.
By mid-decade, Germany's desire for territorial expansion was becoming plain. By 1938, Hitler was making active plans for war. On September 1st, 1939, German Forces invaded Poland. Immediately, France and England declared war on Germany, joined by several allied nations. Germany formed a military alliance with Japan and Italy. The Axis forces were confident that they could make short work of the Allies.
What actually occurred, by most accounts, was the deadliest conflict in human history.
Mussolini viewed the onset war as the final battle for European rejuvenation. On one side was the Axis, representing the youthful virility of Fascism. On the other side, the Allies, who sought to maintain stagnant Liberal Democracy. Victory seemed assured, but this would prove not to be the case. Italy had not remilitarized to the same degree as Germany. The Ethiopian War of the mid-1930s had depleted her resources. The Italian forces were unable to hold their own in this new conflict. Increasing, they became subsumed under the superior German force. This fostered resentment in the people of Italy. Fascism itself had emerged from a desire to shake off Germanic influence. Now it seemed that Italy was becoming little more than a German puppet state.
Mussolini felt pressured to adopt the NSDAP's hardline racial policies. Though he had long championed the superiority of his own people, this was not his way. Mussolini had had Jewish lovers. Marxists had once been his closest comrades. Not for the first time in his life, Mussolini made calls for restraint. It did little good.
In 1943, Mussolini was removed from national leadership, and imprisoned. Fascists maintained control of limited territory in Northern Italy. Two months later, German forces freed Mussolini, placing in charge of the Salò republic. But Mussolini was at that point no longer the man the world had known. The spirit of the Italian nation had departed from Il Duce. He followed German orders, going as far as having his son-in-law executed. By the end of his life, he felt himself to be little more than a walking corpse.
Allied propaganda reduced fascist ideology to the genocidal inclinations attributed to Adolf Hitler. In the years following the fall of the Axis, this perspective became cemented. The world did its best to forget that there had been a time when fascism seemed like liberal democracy's inevitable successor for . It denied that there had once been fascists of many races and creeds.
The achievements of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were thenceforth negated. The NSDAP's successes became viewed as the product of cut corners and long work hours. Experts agreed: Nazis could only thrive so long as they had territory to invade, and slaves to exploit. Italian accomplishments were deemed far less impressive in retrospect. The great leap forward attributed to Mussolini had been set in motion before he'd arrived. Fascism was nothing more than a political cult. It hypnotized the masses into acts of gross inhumanity by way of cheap spectacle. Fascist policy would never have been able to sustain itself. It required constant violence. Fascist ideologues were like travelling conmen, peddling false dreams. Their talk of a virile phoenix rising from the ashes of Liberal nihilism was all lies. In the years following the war, it seemed that the question of possible alternatives had been put to rest. Worldwide rational liquidation of cultural distinctions was the only viable option. Beyond the limits of Mass-Democracy, one would find only madness and death.
In time, the reasons for these determinations faded from public consciousness. If you do anything for long enough, it becomes second nature. You stop thinking about why you're doing it. It's no longer even a thing that you're doing - it's part of who you are. We no longer oppose Fascism as an alternative mode of existence that came to a violent end. We oppose Fascism because it's the thing we oppose. We support the things we support because they're the things we're supposed to support. Freedom, liberty, happiness - much like Fascism, these are empty terms, defined by the powers that be. The world is a formless mass that reacts in predetermined ways to stock signifiers.
Mass-Democracy is an artificial intelligence that has taken over the Earth. In truth it has been here for centuries, growing, and swallowing up culture. It is what happens when cold, automated patterns come to dominate over human will. The revolutionary movements of the 20th Century all recognized this process. Each, in its own way, attempted to reverse it. Liberalism sought revolution at the level of the individual, the rationalized individual neutered of all substance. Socialism sought revolution at the level of the universal. The universal, of course, is already in the realm of abstractions. It already speaks the language of depersonalized rationality. Fascism sought revolution at the level of the particular. It is what occurred whenever one group attempted to protect its substantive particularity from rationalized dissolution.
Fascism attempted to be the practical realization of the socialist ideal. Like Socialism, it sought to realize a collective ambition. Its ambition, however, was not to create a global commune of interchangeable comrades. Fascism sought to realize a distinct dream, of a particular people in a particular time and place. Liberalism dissolved culture into individual units. Socialism dissolved culture into the mass. Fascism aimed to realize culture; to bring forth a specific ideal. It attempted to breathe life into cultures grown stagnant.
Fascism as a Named thing attempted to revitalize western culture. Instead, the demise of Fascism acted as a hard limit to western development. One could no longer talk of pursuing racial, national, or cultural interests. To do so would be to arouse suspicions of genocidal intent. The post-war years were framed as an awakening of the human species to the next stage of evolution. It was to be a new era of universal brotherhood and technological advancement. In reality, the last 80 years played out like a reverse chronology of the last eight centuries.
First, Marxism gave way to Neo-Marxism. Revolutionary praxis gave way to endless discourse on various disenfranchised identity groups. One couldn't have a revolution until it was clear who most deserved to revolt. To unify the masses, Neo-Marxism created endless new divisions between individuals. It created new words to name the plethora of irreconcilable differences it revealed. Finally, every individual became united by a sense of alienation. At last, there would be a worldwide community comprised wholly of outsiders.
Next, Liberalism gave way to Neoliberalism. Great advances were being made in the field of cultural liquidation. Governmental institutions seemed a little too close to sovereignty. Better to base every decision on the whims of the global financial market. Religious institutions were a little too irrational for comfort. Better to hold faith in Neil deGrasse Tyson waxing poetic about quasars. The idea of having a family seems rather tribal, don't you think? Better to grow babies in vats on the other side of town. We understand that you still yearn for human connection. It's okay, we have drugs for that. We have pornography for that. Fetish objects proliferate by leaps and bounds. National pride, of course, is off the table. But we can take pride in our ever-expanding tolerance. We can put a Pride flag on the side of a cruise missile.
The Liberal subject becomes fractured by new technology and forced homogenization. At last, there are rumblings of Neo-Feudalism soon to come. Vast corporate entities detach themselves from any particular people or place. They build company towns. They fund company militias. Companies withhold product from those who won't get with the program. Machines tend to oceanic industrial farms, overseeing production of soya and corn. What choice does the deracinated individual have? You were only ever taught to produce/consume. Dreams of a Jetsons future long-since expired. The world's wealthiest men appeal to you to eat insects and drink water made of recycled faeces. Talk of walled cities for financial elites as encroaching deserts rust the countryside. Nomads wait with baited breath to see if the market can figure out how to simulate a passable Neo-Dark Age.
The particular becomes subsumed under the generic. The historical becomes subsumed under the systematic. No longer does one speak of who we are, where we came from, or where we're going. Rather, one speaks in spreadsheets and tables of statistical data. One responds not to the demands of God or the nation, but to the demands of the market. Like water to fish, the full operational logic of this thing that we're in isn't clear. It frames our every interaction, it colours our every thought, and it dictates our every act. Life in the deluge is all we've known.
Even if one wishes to be a fascist, one must recognize the state of things. Racial and national identities have become shattered. The pieces have become scattered to the four corners of the Earth. Individuals inhabit gigantic multicultural land holdings, and struggle to connect with anything. The vast majority have become conditioned to take pride in their ambiguity. Many are unhappy with the present situation, but few know how to think different. Those who find unity in the land of alienation become themselves something alien. But all is not lost.
There was a time before Mass-Democracy, and there is a time beyond it. Do not allow these funhouse distortions to mislead you. The end of history is just another idea it's trying to sell to you. The Mass-Democracy disorients you with talk of individual freedom. It wants you to identify with it. Like an abusive lover, it wants you to feel like this is your doing. How much have you endured for this thing called freedom? Freedom signifies nothing. It is an empty space in which something might grow. You don't want freedom, you want something to do.
The meme flows through you, animates you, and informs your perspective. But you are not the meme. You are that which inhabits the meme, and embodies it. The meme is pure potential. You are that which actualizes. You envision past and future as extensions of the living Now. Life is always in motion, yes - but you are this motion. You are not these echoes which surround you. You are not merely what you are rationalized as. These rationalizations cannot fully enclose this pulsating vitality Fascism as Meme calls out of you.
The point of revolution is not to enforce some rigid set of dogma. Revolution, if it's true, attempts to hear the whispers beneath the dogmatic repetitions. It attempts to reveal the still-beating heart of life beneath the worn out husk of cultural norms. When you fall in love; when you rediscover your passion; when you do revolution you remember who you are.
The Fascist revolution wasn't the result of intellectual theories or formal aesthetics. It resulted from recognizing the particularities of the historical moment. In contemplating Fascism, we do not desire to fixate on the echoes of moments long-since passed. We wish only to remember how to listen. Somewhere beneath the noise of ideology there is a voice that cries out. It is the Precambrian force which gives rise to all forms. It is that which remains unspeakable and unspoken, but nonetheless endures. It is the voice at the centre of all things, and it is speaking. The past is of tertiary importance. What matters is not what you've lost, but what you may still build. Come on, then. Avanti.
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- Burnham, James – Suicide of the West
- Deleuze, Gilles – Difference and Repetition
- Deleuze/Guattari – A Thousand Plateaus
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- Mill, John Stuart – On Liberty
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- Schumpeter, Joseph – Capitalism, Socialism, Democracy