Being a lecture delivered by Sir Oswald Mosley at the English Speaking Union on Wednesday, 22nd March 1933.
OUR opponents allege that Fascism has no historic background or philosophy, and it is my task this afternoon to suggest that Fascism has roots deep in history and has been sustained by some of the finest flights of the speculative mind. I am, of course, aware that not much philosophy attaches to our activities in the columns of the daily press, and when you read that I was to lecture on “The Philosophy of Fascism,” probably many of you said: “ What has this gangster to do with philosophy?” However, I trust you will believe that those great mirrors of the public mind do not always give a very accurate reflection, and while you only read of the more stirring moments of our progress, yet there are other moments, which have some depth in thought and constructive conception. So far it is to some extent true that the Fascist philosophy has not assumed a very concrete and definite form, but you must remember that the Fascist faith has only been in existence little more than ten years: it is a growth of the last decade. Already, however, its philosophic background is capable of some formulation, and that has happened in a far shorter space of time than a corresponding development in any other great political faith of history. Just as the Fascist movement itself, in several great countries, has advanced towards power at a phenomenal speed, so the Fascist faith and philosophy as a permanent conception, an attitude to life, has advanced far more quickly than did the philosophies of the older faiths. Take Liberalism: A very long interval elapsed between the writings of such men as Voltaire and Rousseau, and the final formation of the Liberal creed in the hands of English statesmen at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century.
In fact these great political movements and psychological upheavals only very slowly crystallised into a definite system of thought, as well as a system of action; and in the Fascist case it is probably rather soon to expect at the end of ten years, that it should have assumed a concrete crystallised form.
Nevertheless I believe that Fascist philosophy can be expressed in intelligible terms, and while it makes an entirely novel contribution to the thought of this age, it can yet be shown to derive both its origin and its historic support from the established thought of the past.
In the first instance, I suggest that most philosophies of action are derived from a synthesis of cultural conflicts in a previous period. Where, in an age of culture, of thought, of abstract speculation, you find two great cultures in sharp antithesis, you usually find, in the following age of action, some synthesis in practice between those two sharp antitheses which leads to a practical creed of action. This conception may seem to you to suggest, to some extent, a Spenglerian approach; and it is quite true that the great German philosopher has probably done more than any other to paint in the broad background of Fascist thought. But it is a very broad background. It is a great background of world history from which a Fascist suggestion emerges. Not very much more than that. And possibly he is inhibited from coming nearer to the subject by his innate pessimism, which, in its turn, I would humbly suggest to you arises from his entire ignorance of modern science and mechanical development. If you look through the Spenglerian spectacles, you are bound to come to a conclusion of extreme pessimism because they obscure the factor which for the first time places in the hands of man the ability entirely to eliminate the poverty problem. And I believe it is our German philosopher’s misunderstanding of this immense new factor which leads him to his pessimistic conclusion. Nevertheless, that in no way invalidates his tremendous contribution to world thought.
You will rightly deduce that my suggestion of the marriage of seemingly antithetical cultures leading in the following age of action to the production of a philosophic child of the period, which is expressed in action, has some derivation from Spenglerian thought. But I think I can show you how in actual practice that thesis works out in the Fascist case. I would suggest to you that in the last century, the major intellectual struggle arose from the tremendous impact of Nietzschean thought on the Christian civilisation of two thousand years. That impact was only very slowly realised. Its full implications are only today working themselves out. But turn where you will in modern thought, you find the results of that colossal struggle for mastery of the mind and of the spirit of man. There was a religion which, so far as the West was concerned, had broadly dominated human thought for many centuries. And suddenly, for the first time, that religion and that thought was effectively challenged, and its foundations for the moment at any rate, were shaken. It was denounced with furious energy and with extraordinary genius—fundamentally denounced.
I am not—as you will see later—myself stating the case against Christianity, because I am going to show you how I believe the Nietzschean and the Christian doctrines are capable of synthesis. But at this point it is necessary for me to examine the essential differences in these two creeds, and to see where the differences have accumulated and where the resemblances emerge. Nietzsche challenged, as you are aware, the whole foundations of Christian thought. He said, in effect: ‘ This is the religion of the slave and of the weakling. This is the faith of the people who are in flight from life, who will not face reality, who look for salvation in some dreamy hereafter—the salvation which they have not the vitality nor the manhood to seize for themselves here on earth. It is derived from a spirit of weakness and of surrender.’ He denounced it in a great phrase, if I remember rightly, as ‘ the religion which had enchained and enfeebled mankind.’ And in place of this faith he created the conception of the superman, the man who faces difficulty, danger, goes forward through material things and through the difficulties of environment, to achieve, to win and to create, here on earth, a world of his own. It was a challenge to the whole basis, not only of thought but of life. And it rocked to its foundations the thought of the world. It must have appeared, to those who were seriously concerned with that controversy at the time, that one or other of those creeds must emerge victorious, and one or other must die; that any combination, any synthesis of those conflicting doctrines was entirely out of the question.
Now I believe, as it so often happens in daily life, that creeds which appear to be so dissimilar are in fact susceptible of some reconciliation when examined more closely, and indeed of a certain synthesis; and I think I can show you that actually, in the Fascist doctrine today, you find a complete wedding of the great characteristics of both creeds. On the one hand you find in Fascism, taken from Christianity, taken directly from the Christian conception, the immense vision of service, of self-abnegation, of self-sacrifice in the cause of others, in the cause of the world, in the cause of your country; not the elimination of the individual, so much as the fusion of the individual in something far greater than himself; and you have that basic doctrine of Fascism— service, self-surrender—to what the Fascist must conceive to be the greatest cause and the greatest impulse in the world. On the other hand you find taken from Nietzschean thought the virility, the challenge to all existing things which impede the march of mankind, the absolute abnegation of the doctrine of surrender; the firm ability to grapple with and to overcome all obstructions. You have, in fact, the creation of a doctrine of men of vigour and of self-help which is the other outstanding characteristic of Fascism.
Therefore we find—I think I can claim—some wedding of those two great doctrines expressing itself in the practical creed of Fascism today. And that, in fact, works itself out in our whole attitude to life. We can bring it down to the smallest details of general existence. From the widest and most abstract conception we can come down to the most detailed things of daily life. We demand from all our people an overriding conception of public service, but we also concede to them in return and believe that in the Fascist conception the State should concede, absolute freedom. In his public life, a man must behave himself as a fit member of the State, in his every action he must conform to the welfare of the nation. On the other hand he receives from the State in return, a complete liberty to live and to develop as an individual. And in our morality—and I think possibly I can claim that it is the only public morality in which private practice altogether coincides with public protestation—in our morality the one single test of any moral question is whether it impedes or destroys in any way the power of the individual to serve the State. He must answer the questions: “Does this action injure the nation? Does it injure other members of the nation? Does it injure my own ability to serve the nation?” And if the answer is clear on all those questions, the individual has absolute liberty to do as he will; and that confers upon the individual by far the greatest measure of freedom under the State which any system under the State, or any religious authority has ever conferred upon the individual.
The nearest approach to that moral test was possibly the approach of Greek civilisation, which in organisation had, of course, a conception of the State not far inferior to the Fascist conception today.
That attitude, that philosophic background imposes upon the Fascist certain very clear rules of social conduct, which amount to a detailed challenge to the existing order of things, though we will not go deeply into this detail, beyond showing that these broad principles are susceptible of reduction to detail. For instance, we regard as ridiculous a system in which a man may be fined if he even risks injury to himself by taking a drink after the hour when it is legal to do so, but who, in his public capacity as a greater or lesser public figure, may with complete impunity take action which may threaten the whole structure of the State. If he risks the slightest harm to himself, the whole force of the law is mobilised against him; yet in his public capacity he may threaten the whole life of the Nation: he may threaten the very pillars of the State.
The Fascist principle is private freedom and public service. That imposes upon us, in our public life, and in our attitude towards other men, a certain discipline and a certain restraint; but in our public life alone; and I should argue very strongly indeed that the only way to have private freedom was by a public organisation which brought some order out of the economic chaos which exists in the world today, and that such public organisation can only be secured by the methods of authority and of discipline which are inherent in Fascism.
To return to the philosophic side, however, we find naturally imposed upon the Fascist by his philosophy a certain discipline in his life, an ordered athleticism, as I would call it, and a sense of trust in leadership, a belief in authority, which are alien to other movements. And here we are brought at once into collision with the fundamental tenets of Socialism and Liberalism. Socialism differs, of course, sharply from Liberalism in its conception of economic organisation; but in philosophy I think there are few Socialists or Liberals who would disagree that they really have a common origin if we go back far enough in the Voltaire-Rousseau attitude of life; and above all the latter. Now may I suggest to you the fundamental difference which here arises between Liberalism and Socialism on the one hand, and Fascism on the other? Rousseau, in our view, either made a big mistake, or was much misunderstood. Rousseau said equality. We reply, If you mean equality of opportunity, yes; if you mean equality of man, no. That is an absurdity. I believe personally that if he is properly read, Rousseau meant equality of opportunity, that the main attack of Rousseau was aimed—and rightly aimed—at the decadent system under which he lived. He said, in effect: “It is preposterous that this idle, decadent nobility of France” (as they undoubtedly were at the time) “should claim for themselves privileges which are throttling the life of the nation. Equality of opportunity is a fundamental thing. Let those rule who are fitted to rule. Let no man rule because his grandfather proved himself fitted to rule.” It was a revolt against privilege, an affirmation that the man of talent and of capacity should be the man to conduct the affairs of a great nation. But that doctrine was seized upon by his later disciples as meaning the equality of man, that all men were equal.
From that construction arises the whole fallacy, as we see it. It is a manifest and clear absurdity. One man, in mind and physique, differs immensely from another. It is not a question, as Socialists often say, of moral or spiritual equality. That is a totally different thing. Morally and spiritually, the man who sweeps the floor of a big business may be vastly superior to the manager of that business. But the question is, which man is fitted to do which job. What is the proper function that he has to perform? Some people are good at one thing and some at another. Certainly we eliminate altogether the social class conception from Fascism because that rests upon the chance of heredity; but we do say that certain people are fitted by nature to do certain things, and others are not. And once you adopt that basis of thought, you challenge the whole conception of democracy. You challenge the belief that every question in the world, however complicated, can be settled by anybody, however inexperienced; and indeed viewed in that light, it is a preposterous thing that a technician in Government or in anything else can be instructed by people who look at the subject for about five minutes in the year. If I walked into an engineering shop, watched the engineer doing his job, and then began to tell him how to do it, he would tell me—and rightly—that I was a presumptuous ass. Similarly, that a man who has made no study whatsoever of the country’s problems should be expected to put down his mug of beer upon the counter and walk to the polling booth and give detailed instructions as to how his country is to be governed during the next four years, seems to us a preposterous notion. “All men are equal and all men are equally qualified to pass an opinion upon any subject, as long as it is a subject so complicated as the government of a country:” that is the interpretation placed by Social Democracy upon the writings of Rousseau and that conception is evidently absurd. It is, however, the philosophic basis of the whole democratic system. We therefore challenge that basic conception that all men are equal to adjudicate upon all problems. We take and make our own the equality of opportunity and we stand—and must stand—against the conception of privileged heredity. When a man has proved himself, he may rise to the greatest positions in the land, and our whole educational system must be so devised. But he shall not be at the top just because his father or his grandfather was there before him. And so on the one hand we challenge the privilege of the Right, and on the other hand we challenge the preposterous doctrine of the Left that all men by gift of nature are equal.
Now you may say, and say perhaps with some truth, that these doctrines have been heard before, that this was the basis of Bonapartism, or to go back still further to its origin, was the basis of Caesarism.
It is, of course, true that Fascism has an historic relation to Caesarism, but the modern world differs profoundly from the forms and conditions of the ancient world. Modern organisation is too vast and too complex to rest on any individual alone, however gifted. Modern Caesarism, like all things modern, is collective. The will and talent of the individual alone is replaced by the will and ability of the disciplined thousands who comprise a Fascist movement. Every Blackshirt is an individual cell of a collective Caesarism. The organised will of devoted masses, subject to a voluntary discipline, and inspired by the passionate ideal of national survival, replaces the will to power and a higher order of the individual superman. Nevertheless, this collective Caesarism, armed with the weapons of modern science, stands in the same historic relationship as ancient Caesarism to reaction on the one hand and to anarchy on the other. Caesarism stood against Spartacism on the one hand and the Patrician Senate on the other. That position is as old as the history of the last two thousand years. But they lacked, in those days, the opportunities for constructive achievement which are present today, and the only lesson that we can derive from the previous evidence of this doctrine is simply this, that whenever the world, under the influence of Spartacus drifted to complete collapse and chaos, it was always what Spengler called the “great fact-men” who extracted the world from the resultant chaos and gave mankind very often centuries of peace and of order in a new system and a new stability. And it was done, and it has been done, by modern Fascist movements, “by recognising certain fundamental facts of politics and of philosophy. Again you have a certain wedding of two seemingly conflicting doctrines. We are often accused of taking something from the Right and something from the Left. Well, it is a very sensible thing to borrow from other faiths; to discard what is bad and keep what is good; and directly you get away from the old parliamentary mind, you of course see the wisdom of any such course. And Fascism does, of course, take something from the Right and something from the Left, and to it adds new facts to meet the modern age.
In this new synthesis of Fascism, coming rather nearer to our immediate situation, we find that we take the great principle of stability supported by authority, by order, by discipline, which has been the attribute of the Right, and we marry it to the principle of progress, of dynamic change, which we take from the Left. Conservatism—to call it by the name by which it is known in this country—believes in stability and supports it by its belief in order; but where Conservatism has always failed in the modern world is in its inability to perceive that stability can only be achieved through progress: that a stand-pat resistance to change precipitates the revolutionary situation which Conservatism most fears. On the other hand, the Left has always failed to realise, thanks to their Rousseau complex, that the only way to get progress is to adopt the executive instruments by which alone change is made possible.
We have, therefore, come to this conclusion: that you can only have stability if you are prepared to carry through orderly changes, because to remain stable you must adapt yourselves to the new facts of the new age. On the other hand you can only have the progress, which the Left desires if you adopt the executive instruments of progress, namely, authority, discipline and loyalty, which have always been regarded as belonging only to the Right. By uniting those two principles, we achieve the basis of Fascist faith and Fascist organisation.
Again you will say: “This is once more Caesarism or Bonapartism. It has ceased to be a matter of purely individual leadership. The machinery with which we are dealing is much too large for any single individual to handle alone. So it has become a collective Caesarism—the leadership of an organised and disciplined mass, bound together in a voluntary discipline by ideals of national and world regeneration which passionately inspire it. But the basic principles remain the same; and, therefore, while your Fascist movement may perform the purpose which Caesarism has performed before, may bring order out of the chaos which the conflict between Spartacus and reaction has evoked, may for a few years or a few centuries give great peace to the world, it yet carries within itself its own decay, and does not really achieve what we believe to be necessary.”
I believe the answer to that case, which is the only really valid case, is that always before, the factor of modern science was lacking. You have now got a completely new factor. If you can introduce into your system of government a new efficiency, and everyone admits that such movements when they come to power are at least efficient: if you can bring to government for even a few years an executive power and an efficiency which gets things done, you can release—and you will release —the imprisoned genius of science to perform the task which it has to perform in the modern world. Whatever our divergent views on the structure of the State and economics may be, I think we must all agree that it would be possible, by sane organisation of the world, with the power of modern science and of industry to produce, to solve once and for all the poverty problem, and to abolish, once and for all, poverty and the worst attributes of disease and suffering from the world.
Therefore, if it is possible to have an efficient form of Government, you have available for such a system, for the first time in history, an instrument by which the face of the earth might be changed for all time. Once the essential has been done, once modem science and technique have been released and have performed their task, once you have changed your political and philosophic system from a transitory and political to a permanent and technical basis, there will be no more need of the politics and of the controversies which distract the world today. The problem of poverty will be solved, the major problems will be banished as they can be, and as everybody knows they can be, if modern science is properly mobilised. Then mankind will be liberated for the things in life which really matter.
Therefore, while it is perhaps true that certain of these phenomena in the eternal recurrences of history have been seen in the world before, and seen with great benefit to mankind, yet never before have the great executive movements possessed the opportunity to complete their task which modern science and invention now confer upon them.
At a moment of great world crisis, a crisis which in the end will inevitably deepen, a movement emerges from a historic background which makes its emergence inevitable, carrying certain traditional attributes derived from a very glorious past, but facing the facts of today armed with the instruments which only this age has ever conferred upon mankind. By this new and wonderful coincidence of instrument and of event the problems of this age can be overcome, and the future can be assured in a progressive stability. Possibly this is the last great world wave of the immortal, the eternally recurring Caesarian movement; but with the aid of science, and with the inspiration of the modern mind, this wave shall carry humanity to the further shore.
Then, at long last, ‘Caesarism,’ the mightiest emanation of the human spirit in high endeavour toward enduring achievement, will have performed its world mission, will have expiated its sacrifice in the struggle of the ages, and will have fulfilled its historic destiny. A humanity released from poverty and from many of the horrors and afflictions of disease to the enjoyment of a world re-born through science, will still need a Fascist movement transformed to the purpose of a new and nobler order of mankind; but you will need no more the strange and disturbing men who, in days of struggle and of danger and in nights of darkness and of labour, have forged the instrument of steel by which the world shall pass to higher things.