Abstract: we establish a useful distinction between fascism (a combat reflex, and fundamental tactic), and totalitarianism (more general than fascism).

Roger Cohen points out that (East German) totalitarianism is remote to East German teenagers (IHT, Feb. 4, 2008). Indeed the East German regime, towards its end, was totalitarian. But earlier on, communism (Soviet style) was certainly not only totalitarian (as defined by the authors of the words, Gentile and Mussolini) but it was also, in its Lenino-Stalinian version, what we call fascist. Totalitarianism has to do with having just one mind for the multitude, fascism has to do with using that mind to kill.

(OK, this is my own terminology. “Total” means the whole, everybody agrees to that one. For the idea that fascism is deadly, I go back to the Romano-Franco-American symbolism: a murderous axe, surrounded by We The People, ready to strike: a lethal symbol, which the Romans, and then the Franks, brandished, for, by now, more than 25 centuries… This is not how the Twentieth Century Italians used “fascismo”… but what did they know? Not much, that’s for sure…)

The term “totalitarianismo”, employed in the writings of the philosopher Giovanni Gentile, was popularized in the 20th century by the Italian fascists under Benito Mussolini. The original meaning of the word as described by Mussolini was a society in which the ideology of the state had influence, if not power, over most of its citizens.

Fascist is more of combat reflex, when the group fight as if of one mind, the later being strongly provided by the leader. It’s blatantly exhibited by threatened, or threatening, baboon troops. Fascism is how baboons win wars against lions at the watering hole. Fascism is much stronger than totalitarianism, because it implies the later, Verily, it works by using the later. The mind of the average member of the troop becomes part and parcel of the mind of the leader, allowing the troop to fight as one super organism (discipline makes the strength of human armies too, for the exact same reason). So great is this combative advantage (the facist instinct), that it has got to be anchored in human ancestry as inherited psychobiology.

Mussolini, originally a wily socialist politician, invented his own fantastic, self serving elucubration of what he called “fascism”. Although he claimed antique Rome’s fascism as an ancestor, Mussolini style fascism had little to do with historical fascism (as found in antique Rome, the Franks, and revolutionary republics of the 18C, the USA and France). Those had to do with justice and the “E Pluribus Unum” principle. Nor did fascism, Mussolini style, had to do with the ethological reflex that the term “fascism” should depict (to be denied at civilization’s risk).

The fascist reflex is generally activated by terror. Maximal deadly fight against maximal deadly terror is a euphemism for fascism. (That is why overdoing it in “the fight against terror” will activate the fascist reflex.) Looked at it that way, fascism can be a good thing (that was the point the Roman republic and its Merovigian, and Franco-American successors made).

The fascist reflex can also be abused by autocrats to establish a totalitarianism they profit from.

Stalin admitted having killed dozens of millions of Soviet citizens as he was doing his thing (outdoing the Nazis). The Nazis were actually out-fascized by Stalin. If Hitler was a fascist, so was Stalin.

Many people and thinkers who wanted to be viewed as of the socialist persuasion insisted to call Stalin’s fascism, “totalitarianism”, as if there was a difference. In this they followed Hitler, and Stalin, and Mussolini, who all had interest to claim there was a huge difference, a deadly contrast between Stalinism and Hitlerism. Thus they were themselves justified to use each other to go out and kill (whoever they decided was in the way, or they liked the teeth of).

This illusionary, erroneous contrast between “fascism” (as defined by Mussolini) and “totalitarianism” (as defined by the Soviets) also allowed a lot of “left” thinkers (especially countless French philosophers, such as Sartre, Althusser, etc…) and, on the other side, Nazi thinkers (Heidegger, etc…) to claim that they were right when they promoted totalitarianism, war, dictatorship and deadly methods of mass coercion (in other words, fascism), so as to fight … the other side. In the same way flying butresses in a cathedral “fight” each other, as they lean against each other. They could be, precisely because they were the same. That illusionary difference also served as excuse and conceptual background to justify holocausts such as the one which occurred in Cambodia (the instigators of the later had been instructed in Paris).

ONLY EVIL CAN DEFEAT EVIL, SO IF ONE WANTS TO BE EVIL, NOTHING LIKE DEPICTING ONE’S OPPONENT AS EVIL FIRST (on a miniature scale, this tactic has been successfully used by both sides in US politics in recent decades, something Obama seems to be alluding to). Many so called socialists, by depicting their opponents as “fascist” implicitly wanted to proclaim that they were as far from fascism as could be imagined (an application of the “big lie” technique dear to Hitler). Whereas in truth our semantics replace them where they belong, as pure and simple fascists.

All these categories, terror, totalitarianism, and fascism need to be made very precise, because not only are they at the core of the war against terror, but not having studied them carefully in a timely manner led to both the fall of the Athenian democracy and of the Roman republic (with civilization shattering consequences). Another lack of timely study led to the fall of France, in 1940, and the near end of civilization, while the USA basked in treachorous obliviousness until Japanese Zeroes showed up over Pearl Harbor for Christmass 1941.

Western Civilization in the Middle Ages survived and thrived, because the Franks, and their successor regimes, were able to keep in check the totalitarian and fascist tendencies both in their ruling states, and in the Catholic church (they could do this, because Francia was ruled by philosophical meta principles higher than Catholicism or fascism). The case of Islam, a totalitarianism and fascism squarely directed against the democratic, anti theocratic core of the West, is of course completely different: it was made to call a paradise the very pitfall the Franks had extracted Romanitas from, so it made a virtue out of hell.

In 2003, as more than 80% of the US population totally accepted to be of one small nasty gullible mind with Bush about invading the other side of the planet, for oil, while claiming it was to be good, totalitarianism was in action.  More awareness of the symptoms of totalitarianism would have helped to awaken to its occurence. Totalitarianism is often the last stage before fascism, and, indeed, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died.

P/S 1: The definition of totalitarianism from Gentile: “Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato.” (“Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State”.) So nobody has to die, versus the fact that fascism, as identified in Rome, was symbolized by a terrible looking weapon (an axe, soon generalized by the Franks as a double battle axe).

P/S 2: Arendt and Hayek, to their credit, argued that there was not much difference between Hitlerism and Stalinism: both were totalitarian. But, in light of the considerations above, one should have pointed out more strenuously that they were both of this sort of totalitarianism whose justification is the extermination of the opposition (murder): in other words, according to our own semantics, fascism.

Patrice Ayme

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  1. Vanessa Corey Says:

    [In 2003, as more than 80% of the US population totally accepted to be of one small nasty gullible mind with Bush about invading the other side of the planet, for oil, while claiming it was to be good, totalitarianism was in action.]

    What evidence can offer as reasonable proof of this statistic?


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      As G. W. Bush was invading and deliberately destroying Iraq (by violating the Geneve Convention pertaining to the mandate, by the occupying power, to maintain civil order, including police and administration, and thus leaving the country to pillage and thugs) his approval ratings were well above 80%. Better than Obama ever did. I listened to Fox News religiously at the time, watching in disbelief as officials of the government of the USA came to say that the war would actually be profitable, because of Iraqi oil (that violated another Geneva Convention, the one prohibiting the occupying power from stealing the country it occupies).

      BTW, as I point out in my latest essay, not nationalizing the undercapitalized banks, as the Obama administration is doing, is in violation of the law. Still, Obama is very popular, but not as much as Bush was, when he violated the Geneva Conventions, which, after all, are also part of the law of the USA.



  2. Says:

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  3. Kim Says:

    Some really superb articles on this web site, thanks for contribution.
    “Such evil deeds could religion prompt.” by Lucretius.


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