Thursday, March 9, 2017

Searching For The Origins Of Fascism

Not too long ago I argued that Bonapartism in the nineteenth century was the predecessor of Mussolini fascism in the twentieth, the emphasis on a militaristic dictator emphasizing strong nationalism that smothers all groups into following the national leader.  However, it turns out that Napoleon Bonaparte had his own model.  When he invaded Russia he carried a book with him written in 1733 called Conjurat de Nicholas, dit de Rienzi, about Cola di Rienzo.

Cola di Rienzo seized power in Rome in 1347, declaring a revived Roman republic and attempted to conquer Italy and declared that he wished to conquer the whole world.  His rule did not last long and he fell from power after trying, but he took power under the first use of a red flag in political history, and he had a grandiose notion of himself, to put it mildly, giving himself the title "Nicholas, Severe and Merciful, Deliverer of Rome, Defender of Italy, Friend of Mankind, and of Liberty, Peace, and Justice, Tribune August.."  He was also the first person in history to write with a silver pen, with which signed official decrees.

The astute Luigi Barzini in The Italians (p. 117) claims that he was the pure Italian hero and describes him as having the following characteristics (one sentence):

"These are: literary, artistic, vague and contradictory ideas, practically unrelated to the contemporary world, the vast ambition to dominate all Italy, to re-establish the Empire, and, in the end the rest of Europ; the dream of building a 'new State,' inspired  by ancient history, in which peace, law and virtue would prevail; a genuine love for his people,his country, and their glorious past, a love so  intense it could be confused with self-love, as if he identified himself with Italy and the Italians; and the desire to  avenge his peoples' ruin and humiliation, which he attributed solely to the wickedness of others."

Addendum:  Wagner's obscure early opera, "Rienzi," is about this figure.  Wagner was Hitler's favorite composer.

 Further Addendum:  Two further points.  One is this matter of classical fascism tending to draw on both Left and Right politically, at least to obtain power, although then generally going Right.  Rienzo (or Rienzi) also had this, often labeled a "populiat," he opposed the aristocracy and the Church, much like the French Revolution and then Napoleon,  who drew off the FR.  Of course, Napoleon later declared himself Emperor, made peace with the Church, and handed out his own aristocratic titles.  Rienzi wanted to be emperor, but did not get that far.

The other is the matter of appealing ot ancient (or past) glory of the nation.  Like Rienzi, for Mussolini this was Ancient Rome,  and indeed the word "fascism" comes from the Latin "fasces," for a bundle of sticks held together by a rope, symbolizing the unity of the nation's people.

So, Rienzo/Rienzi tried to make Rome (and Italy) great again, as did Mussolini, and so with Napoleon and France, and others since elsewhere...

Barkley Rosser


Anonymous said...

Not only was Wagner Hitler's favorite composer (at least that's what Dolphi claimed, I've heard he actually spent more time listening to Lehar), but it was apparently hearing a performance of Rienzi as a young man in Vienna inspired him to climb the heights. I've also heard that the conductor of that performance was Mahler, of course a Jew, as was Lehar.

Gene O'Grady said...

The link between Wagner and Hitler runs very deep. While Wagner started out being more or less a progressive during the 1848 revolutionary upheavals he turned virulently anti-Semitic and German nationalist in his old age, which views were carried on by his wife, Cosima, the daughter of Liszt, who would become close to Houston Stewart Chamberlain, whose book, the The Foundation of the Nineteenth Century, published in 1899, essentially codified Nazi doctrine of a race war between Aryans and evil Semites. Both Chamberlain and Cosima liszt von Bulow Wagner would live long enough to meet Hitler and lay their hands of approvoal on him at Bayreuth in 1923 just prior to his botched beer hall putsch in Munich.