Italian Fascism: The Drive For Unity And Self-Government

As a fascism junkie I couldn’t resist ordering and reading the last work of the eminent historian Renzo De Felice (1929-1996) on a subject to which he devoted more than thirty years of his life. This preoccupation also led De Felice to produce an eight-volume study centered on the life of Benito Mussolini. In the foreword to Breve Storia del Fascismo (A Short History of Fascism), Falco Quilici, a friend of the late author, notes the extreme care with which De Felice searched all available archives for his massive research project. Moldering piles of scrap paper ( tutte pile di scartoffie) bearing on his subject found anywhere in Italy attracted the author’s attention; and he would personally search through these dusty piles for new data even after publishing his gargantuan work.

This short history of fascism that relates both the movement and its leader to the interwar period summarizes the leading points in De Felice’s eight-volume work. An astonishing fact for those who know little about the struggle between fascists and the Resistance in Italy is the relative paucity of those involved on either side of this confrontation that unfolded in the fall of 1943, between a German-controlled Italian fascist regime and various leftist militant groups. Only about 4 million Italians out of a total Italian population of 44 million played any role in this struggle.

The “myth” of a massive Resistance came along later to generate the useful image of the Italians as an antifascist people. The revenge wrought on collaborators was far more ruthless and indiscriminate than any persecution that Mussolini while in power initiated. Clearly the Salo Republic that il Duce presided over, in name only, which was established in Northern Italy after the Germans rescued Mussolini from internment (and after the King and the fascist Gran Consiglio had removed him from power and imprisoned him on July 25, 1943) behaved quite brutally. But this happened mostly owing to the de facto imposition of a Nazi German regime.

De Felice points to the aspect of overcompensation that characterized Italian fascism. The Italian peninsula was never truly unified in the nineteenth century by the House of Savoy based in Turin. Despite the presence of a national government and the availability of literature and operas that stressed Italian solidarity, deep regional and social divisions remained after the country’s apparent unification. The North and South were culturally and economically divided; and the owners of industry and the latifundia that dotted the Italian countryside stood in opposition to a radicalized working class and impoverished peasants.

Efforts were made to resettle Italian population, particularly from the south, in North African colonies, but in 1896 the Italians lost 18, 000 soldiers to 88,000 Abyssinian warriors in the Battle of Adua, a national humiliation that Mussolini tried to erase by attacking Ethiopia in 1936.

There was also the hope among Italian nationalists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that their country might complete the work of unification by taking the South Tyrol and Istria, on the Adriatic Coast, from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. That goal drove the Italian government into the First World War against the Central Powers, a disaster that resulted in 531, 000 lost lives and which did nothing to improve the country’s economic condition. We might also note that between 1890 and 1920 Italy lost 4 million of its countrymen to the US. 10 percent of our immigrants then arrived from Italy, and almost all of them came from the Mezzogiorno, the region extending south from Rome into Sicily.

The fascist regime was intended to overcome those problems left from Italy’s faulty unification in 1870. The parliamentary system that it put in place added to political difficulties by creating a spoils system between alternating ruling coalitions. Mussolini’s tirades against “the fetid corpse of liberalism” were aimed at the parliamentary corruption that preceded his advent to power in October 1922. A unified state, or one that claimed to be such, was the fascist response to Italy’s failed experiment in self-government.

According to de Felice, the Fascist Party of Italy remained in “a secondary position” relative to the Italian fascist state and indeed “could be easily sacrificed if the superior needs of the state required it.” Unlike the German National Socialists or the Soviet Communist Party, Italian fascism placed the state above party, race or just about anything else. This “fascistization of the state” presupposed the operation of a Duce, who would mediate social differences. This figure was indispensable to the entire balancing of interests and stood above the Italian monarchy and a subservient party structure.

A “totalitarian state,” or at least one that claimed to be such, would help Italy, or so it was hoped, rise above internal disunity and economic scarcity. This Italian state was seen to exemplify a “national revolution,” and so it claimed to fuse the nation with the political order. Despite the stunning architecture, marches, and iconography that came out of the fascist experiment, its creative answer to Italy’s earlier failed national revolution did not end well.


Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger Professor Emeritus of Humanities at Elizabethtown College (PA) and a Guggenheim recipient. He is the author of numerous articles and 15 books, including, Antifascism: Course of a Crusade (forthcoming), Revisions and DissentsFascism: The Career of a ConceptWar and DemocracyLeo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in AmericaEncounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and TeachersConservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right, The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Towards A Secular Theocracy, and After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State. Last year he edited an anthology of essays, The Vanishing Tradition, which treats critically the present American conservative movement.


The featured image shows, “Vittoria Alata” (Winged Victory),” by Mario Sironi, painted in 1935.

England’s Intrigues Before World War I

In a less ideological cultural world, Helmut Roewer’s investigation of the crucial role of the English government at the outbreak of World War I would be taken for granted. What Roewer diligently uncovered should not astonish any expert. The trick is that the author reveals to us what the anti-German intelligentsia has hidden or pushed aside for decades.

It has long been clear that Fritz Fischer and his followers could only prove the thesis of the belligerent German Second Reich, which triggered a Europe-devouring war for world domination, only by disregarding numerous sources. When the quirks attached to the Fischer thesis became apparent, anti-German historians like Hans-Ulrich Wehler and my dissertation supervisor, Hajo Holborn, tried again and again to patch up the fabric of the usual narrative. At least for me the measure was too high when I encountered an assessment of this kind by the German-American historian Fritz Stern forty years ago, who was serious when he said: Even if the Fischer thesis is not uniformly consistent, decency demands that we accept his botch-up out of moral considerations, in order not to let German nationalism out of the bottle.

How The Sole Guilt Thesis Began To Falter

In the meantime, numerous younger historians around the world have dispelled the sole guilt thesis. The burden of guilt was thus shifted to the Tsarist Empire and France, without dropping the position as a whole, that the Central Powers were most to blame for the outbreak of war. Every now and then the Serbian government is brought up and its connections with the assassination attempt on Franz Ferdinand and his wife are properly noted. It is also permissible to address the mobilization of the Russian armed forces along the German-Galician border on August 1, 1914. That was a pathogen that brought about the German declaration of war against Russia and the attack on Russia’s ally, France.

It is also permissible to point out that the French and Russian governments discussed war measures against Germany and Austria-Hungary in June 1914. On June 22, 1914, French President Raymond Poincaré assured the Russian Foreign Minister that if the Russians took up the fight first, they would enter into disputes against the Central Powers. The Australian historian Christopher Clark also added that neither the Central Powers nor the Entente allies could have imagined the extent of the devastating war. At most, the armed forces expected a “short, limited war” at the beginning.

In addition to this post-Fischer pattern, the Austrians allowed the outbreak of war through the enormous demands placed on Serbia. And the German government went catastrophically astray when it issued the Austrians a “blank check” to proceed against the hostile Serbs. The Central Powers are far from being absolved of all guilt.

Why England Has Received So Little Attention Thus Far

Helmut Roewer (here in the BN interview) now looks at the English way into the First World War in On the Way to World Domination. The contribution of the government of Sir Edward Gray, the British Foreign Minister, to the start of the war is under-emphasized for two reasons. The English are typically portrayed as partial outsiders in relation to the approaching storm. While they were allied with France and Russia against the Germans, the impression still exists that England was forced to make war on Germany because the neutrality it guaranteed for Belgium had been violated by the German armies. Until now, England’s concern has been recognized that a defeated France would have given Germany preponderance of power in Europe. Despite its initial wavering, England threw itself into the breach to ward off the aftermath of a devastating German victory. In addition, “liberal democratic” England enjoys a higher political value than the German Second Reich, which for the leading intelligentsia was already considered an authoritarian regime at that time.

England Wanted To Isolate Germany Since 1905

Historians, such as, Harry Elmer Barnes and Christopher Clark, who emphasize the shared responsibility of the armed forces on both sides for the outbreak of war, are somewhat sparing of the English government. They consider the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Gray, to be a minor player in the events that took place in August 1914. But because the Germans got the ball rolling, illegally overran Belgium and threatened France, did the English feel pressured to plunge into the fray. Roewer, on the other hand, focuses on the precarious foreign policy of the Gray government of 1905, which was aimed at isolating the Germans from the other European powers. Enemy encirclement was known to be successful and England benefited economically and politically from it.

To confirm his thesis, Roewer expands his field of vision retrospectively, from the run-up to the war to the long road leading to the outbreak of war. From this point of view he tries to measure the extent of the responsibility of Gray and his government confidants. It would be misleading, according to Roewer, to examine the war crisis that intensified in the summer of 1914 without a background that included the British government. Since the creation of his coalition government, the key figures in Gray’s cabinet had been trying to forge an anti-German front with the French and Russians. Influential press barons and the warring party in the cabinet discussed the “war in sight” behind the scenes, without the knowledge of the less contentious cabinet ministers, who were left in the dark.

Did England Plan World War I Together With The USA?

Immediately after the first act of war, Gray made the decision to weigh his country into the fray. He admitted this in his memoirs published after the war. On the other hand, Roewer’s attempt to assign the American government and the banking industry in the USA a steering role in the anti-German intrigues of Gray, Churchill and the like, is less convincing. The American elites of the time were determined to ensure an English victory. But that in no way justifies that something like divided war planning was going on.

Despite the participation of the American upper class in the English cause, it cannot be inferred thereby that the two countries forged a war plot with each other before the shooting started. If one wants to paraphrase the foreign policy of the Wilson government from 1914 until the declaration of war against Germany, then one can say that it was capable of doing everything possible to ensure that the British gained the upper hand over the Germans—but without entering the war directly. That was definitely not true neutrality. However, as Justus Doenecke abundantly demonstrates in his balanced treatment of Woodrow Wilson’s neutrality policy, the American president, who was admittedly pro-British, wanted to maintain a middle course between the war—inducing WASP Republicans and the anti-war elements in the Democratic Party.

Either Way, The US Was The Big Winner Of The First World War

Wilson never contained the wave of pro-British or anti-German sentiments of his colleagues; but he was willing to favor the British side without sending American forces to Europe. The German re-use of submarine weapons in 1917 to relieve the British hunger blockade allowed the American interventionists to force Congress to join the war. Without glossing over these machinations, it is fitting to make a distinction between American participation in British preparation for war and pro-British partisanship.

There is no question that the United States had many alternatives during the First World War that would have allowed it to maintain its position of power without using armed forces against the Central Powers. The American government was able to mediate peace, a prospect that the British, more than the Germans and Austrians, let slip away. Even a negotiated victory in favor of the Central Powers would hardly have brought the USA to its knees. They would have stood out brilliantly as the world power of the future, regardless of which side in Europe had better weathered the atrocities.

English War Propaganda Extremely Effective

How the ruling class was attuned, however, had to be taken into account. The committed Morgan banking house extended piles of bonds to the British, while the American ammunition manufacturers supplied arms to the Allies as often as possible. But that was hardly a coincidence. Those involved acted in this way because they were inclined to the anti-German or pro-British side. One has to come to this conclusion without treating the Central Powers as the more morally blameworthy side.

It was just as relevant that the English were more proficient with their war propaganda than the Germans. Common language, sensible use of the transatlantic telegraph wire, and the ability to effectively address the sensitivities of American elites and to shape them appropriately were inexhaustible advantages for the English advertisers. This in no way means to justify the American government’s course of war. The aim is to explain why the American involvement in the war happened. And there is no need to point out a conspiracy to understand this urge to intervene in war.

It was different with the English. A bustling cabinet cabal managed to enflame feelings on the continent. Roewer’s treatment of the history of American development up to the American entry in World War I therefore lags qualitatively behind his presentation of the English cabinet’s schemes. In the latter case, he limits his investigation to the actual warmongers without, as Fritz Fischer did with the Germans, degrading an entire nation. With the English, Roewer differentiates between the guilty and the rest who had been duped and lied to. With the Americans, on the other hand, he is not so careful with the innocent.


Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger Professor Emeritus of Humanities at Elizabethtown College (PA) and a Guggenheim recipient. He is the author of numerous articles and 15 books, including, Antifascism: Course of a Crusade (forthcoming), Revisions and DissentsFascism: The Career of a ConceptWar and DemocracyLeo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in AmericaEncounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and TeachersConservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right, The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Towards A Secular Theocracy, and After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State. Last year he edited an anthology of essays, The Vanishing Tradition, which treats critically the present American conservative movement.


The featured image shows, “General Officers of World War I,” by John Singer Sargent, painted in 1922.

Panajotis Kondylis: The Enlightenment As Reactionary

In an earlier article, I described Panajotis Kondylis as a philosopher “without a mission,” in the style of his follower, Falk Horst. Horst understands this simply and plainly: While Kondylis took a critical position derived from the Enlightenment, he rejected the dream images that some – if not all – Enlightenmentists attached to their worldview.

When Kondylis developed his deliberately value-free process, he took care to bring forward an optimistic vision of the future. Such a separation can also be found in his thick volume, Die Aufklärung im Rahmen des neuzeitlichen Rationalismus (The Enlightenment in the Framework of Modern Rationalism).

This procedure criticizes left right-wing ruler, who believe that anyone who is not enthusiastic about progress has reactionary intentions. The living as well as the dead, they further believe, pushed away egalitarian values because, according to Zeev Sternhell and Jürgen Habermas, they spurned human good.

Ethnic Differences, Irrational Folk Customs, A Preference For Order

This gallery of villains includes, among past figures of thought, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Comte de Buffon and Herder. All these pioneers of the modern age adhered to scientific methods to the best of their ability, but ended up – viewed from the left – on suspicious terrain. Ethnic differences, the defense of irrational folk customs and a preference for a strict order of authority arise from their work.

Because of these errors, these dissident scouts received bad marks from the progressives. Kondylis’ inability to achieve a well-deserved reputation stems from his distancing from the “principle of hope” (Ernst Bloch). What is meant is the utopian fermentation agent, for which our best-known advocates of the Enlightenment advocate.

The self-proclaimed party of progress ignores the ambiguity and contradictions of the pioneers they adore. They refuse to relate their heroes to the prevailing values of a bygone age. Rather, they are putting together a pedigree for their reform work, which lumps all preferred “predecessors” together. Anyone who contradicts this transfiguration loses his place at the round table.

Kant – A Racist?

Contrary to this notion, the Enlightenment adheres to a variety of approaches that our progressive Enlightenment thinkers could hardly satisfy. Even with the typical representatives of the âge des lumières one encounters pessimistic and anti-progressive aspects, as can be read in Henry Vyverberg in Historical Pessimism in the French Enlightenment. Vyverberg examines his main theme not only in exceptional or doubtful cases, but also in figureheads like Voltaire and the encyclopedists gathered around Diderot.

Enlighteners who strongly questioned a theory of progress were not marginalized. Just as widespread among these rational people was the creation of an order of hierarchically systematized ethnic groups – an exercise that has caused consternation among today’s do-gooders. Kant, for example, in his anthropology saw colored people as less developed than Europeans.

Most of the deceased Enlightenmentists would not have adapted themselves better than Kondylis to the templates of our progress priesthood. The endeavor to lure the Germans away from their special path also refers to carefully selected progressive traditions that some re-educators want to impose on their compatriots. However, pieces of evidence that clearly show that even among Western people of reason, “retrograde” positions can easily be found.

Voltaire And Democracy

For example, Voltaire turned up his nose at democracy, continually mocked the Jews and glorified Frederick the Great as the most sensible ruler par excellence. Furthermore, the advocate of natural rights and the social contract, John Locke, wanted to keep atheists and Catholics away from his desired civil society.

In the basic constitutions of the Carolinas, written by Locke (1669), this precursor of the Enlightenment ensured that the settlers of a prosperous North American colony should certify religious tolerance. In the following century, Voltaire could hardly contain himself when he praised this English freedom-thinker who wanted to grant freedom of belief to idolaters and pagan Indians.

Noteworthy, however, was Article 101 in the same document, which granted the slave master unlimited power over his subjects. So powerful was this authority that the master could kill his slaves with impunity. The purpose of this is to draw attention to a truism. It is a futile task if one tries to reconcile the mental figures of a distant epoch with our late modern values.

Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger Professor Emeritus of Humanities at Elizabethtown College (PA) and a Guggenheim recipient. He is the author of numerous articles and 15 books, including, Antifascism: Course of a Crusade (forthcoming), Revisions and DissentsFascism: The Career of a ConceptWar and DemocracyLeo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in AmericaEncounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and TeachersConservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right, The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Towards A Secular Theocracy, and After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State. Last year he edited an anthology of essays, The Vanishing Tradition, which treats critically the present American conservative movement.

Courtesy Blaue Narzisse. Translated from the German by N. Dass.

The featured image shows, “Voltaire Taming a Horse” by Jean Huber, painted ca. 1750 – 1775.

Antifascists

In Return of the Strong Gods, R.R. Reno makes this perceptive point: In “the second half of the twentieth century, we came to regard the first half as a world-historical eruption of the evils inherent in the Western tradition, which can be corrected only by the relentless pursuit of openness, disenchantment, and weakening. The anti- imperatives are now flesh-eating dogmas masquerading as the fulfillment of the anti-dogmatic spirit.”

Reno is entirely on the mark when he tells us that fighting the “dogmas” of the past has become integral to our political culture. In Western countries, particularly in Germany, this struggle has taken the form of a perpetual battle against fascism, which has become the hallmark of what is supposedly an almost uniformly evil Western past.

In pursuit of a fascist-free society, social engineers in government and education have trampled on freedoms and engaged in nonstop persecution of those who are regarded as standing outside of necessarily leftist, political conversation. In a book, in press with Cornell University, I undertake to show how utterly pernicious antifascism has become and how little it has to do with what was once understood as fascism or Nazism.

Antifascist bigots manufacture their own dogma to combat alleged “fascist” intolerance, which by now means disagreeing with progressive gatekeepers. “Fascist” is also attached to anyone who doesn’t march in lockstep with the antifascist elites and who therefore must be destroyed socially and economically to protect a multicultural society.

Where I depart from others who may agree with these premises is in my insistence that certain political developments promoted the antifascist anti-dogma dogma. The Russian or Japanese government does not push this as a state ideology. Only Western countries promote this stuff; and there may be something specific to these societies that predispose them toward antifascist crusades.

All antifascist countries have undergone similar political and educational experiences, although the Germans previewed this transformational process with the “democratic” reeducation inflicted on them by their American and British conquerors after World War II. Such conversions are not attributable simply to the “spirit of the age,” or because of moralizing on the editorial pages of the New York Times or Le Monde. The conversion to antifascism as a state-enforced doctrine, particularly in Western Europe, has happened incrementally for quintessentially political reasons.

Although we can trace back this antifascist fixation to an earlier point, the best time to start may be after World War II, when there were already an entrenched concept of antifascist education and a new stress on universal rights that were to be globally enforced. In the 1960s first in the US and then in other Western countries, an expanding crusade against racism and its supposedly twin evil of sexism was taking place. This enthusiasm gained in intensity, partly under state sponsorship, and brought along a government apparatus to fight “prejudice” and “discrimination.”

In the US, this undertaking was bound up with fighting racial discrimination, while in Europe it built on the struggle against Nazism and colonialism. But this crusade, once begun, just went on and on. It became ever more intrusive and obsessive and enjoyed the support of myriads of administrators, an expanding media empire and a state-subsidized educational establishment.

Throughout this conversionary enterprise, the focus has been on a constant enemy “fascism,” but never communism; and those who have wielded power have conjured up the specter of Hitler, or his right-wing stand-ins to underline the perpetual threat to democracy.

The point to be underlined is that identifiable turning points and coercive policies contributed to the problem that Reno mentions. There were also actors who helped advance a particular model of “liberal democracy,” which supplanted other less controlling and less radical forms of constitutional government.

Certain variables might have made this all-controlling ideology less oppressive and less pervasive, e.g., fewer young people having their brains laundered at our universities by madcap academics, a smaller electorate made up of long resident, literate property-owners, and the absence of a centralized administrative state that in the name of social policy set out to reconstruct the family.

All these factors, and other discernible ones, contributed to the rise and continuity of our antifascist state religion. Here concrete interests came together with ideology in a war against “the evils inherent in the Western tradition.” These evil supposedly culminated in fascism, understood as both Nazi tyranny and whatever obstacles the cultural Left was opposing at a particular time.

A major vehicle for this new dogma has been the managerial class ensconced in both government and corporations. Although this class could conceivably profess non-radical values, this is not the case at the present time. Its members are out to expunge such values and the culture that created them.

Admittedly the “flesh-eating dogmas” we are addressing make no sense to me as a coherent, demonstrable set of beliefs related to any reality that I can grasp. But I am interested in knowing who is benefiting from this crescendo of madness. The old question of “cui bono?” remains relevant here.

Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger Professor Emeritus of Humanities at Elizabethtown College (PA) and a Guggenheim recipient. He is the author of numerous articles and 15 books, including, Antifascism: Course of a Crusade (forthcoming), Revisions and Dissents, Fascism: The Career of a Concept, War and Democracy, Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America, Encounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and Teachers, Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right, The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Towards A Secular Theocracy, and After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State. Last year he edited an anthology of essays, The Vanishing Tradition, which treats critically the present American conservative movement.

The image shows, “Eclipse of the Sun,” by George Grosz, painted in 1926.

Panajotis Kondylis: A Skeptical Philosopher Of The Enlightenment

Falk Horst, the admirer of the socio-political thinker Panajotis Kondylis (1943-1998), published a substantial anthology a few months ago, entitled, Panajotis Kondylis und die Metamorphosen der Gesellschaft (Panajotis Kondylis and the Metamorphoses of Society).

Characteristic of the work of the late Greek scholar, who spent a large part of his life in Heidelberg and who mostly carried out his conceptual drafts in German, was his interpretative starting point based on claims to power. In contrast to other historians of ideas and social affairs, who are inclined to moralize, Kondylis never fought for the “good.” Although influenced by the Enlightenment, his editor, Falk Horst, is right when he speaks of a philosopher of the Enlightenment without a mission.

Kondylis dissected successive world views based on the Middle Ages; but he undertook his task as impartially as possible. He called this approach “descriptive decisionism,” which he differentiated from value-based understandings of human decisions and claims. And he called the scientific approach, which he pursued in his mature works, as “social ontology.”

First and Foremost A Social Being

Kondylis starts from the basic assumption that the human being cannot be separated from a certain social relationship. From his point of view, man is primarily a social being, whose relationship to fellow human beings and to the world outside must be taken into account through his position in a given hierarchy.

First and foremost, one takes care of self-preservation, which requires the cooperation of others, and then of defending one’s niche against opponents. In his small volume, Macht und Entscheidung Die Herausbildung der Weltbilder und die Wertfrage (The Formation of World Views and the Question of Value [1984]), Kondylis focuses on the combative and power-striving side of interpersonal interactions.

Moralism or Nihilism

Fundamental to his lengthy books on the Enlightenment, classical conservatism and the age of world politics is his use of a power-oriented perspective of interpretation. Even with scholarly disputes and strictly developed theoretical work, a fighting spirit that shapes all concerns can be discerned. The scientist sets his thesis against that of his opponent.

The Enlightenment thinkers set out to assert nature and sensuality against a medieval way of thinking. But the former participants went their separate ways when the question arose whether the struggle against the rejected metaphysics should result in a normative morality or in a nihilism that decomposes everything. The Enlightenment thinkers, the advocates of a rational morality like Kant and Voltaire, and nihilistic materialists like Holbach and La Mettrie, split into two opposing groups of thought.

The bourgeois society, which upheld the cultural world of the Enlightenment, had to wage a two-front war against conservatism, which wanted to reassert the ideals of a premodern social order, and against mass democracy, which advocates the equality and exchangeability of the crowd. Without considering this dialectical, militant thrust, Kondylis believes, successive ruling classes and leading ideologies can hardly be understood. Only with regard to a counterpart does the individual develop collectively, as being-like and abstract.

A Synthesis of Marx And Carl Schmitt?

Kondylis’ social ontology and anthropology is usually interpreted as an imaginative amalgamation of the thought of Marx and Carl Schmitt. It may be astonishing that Kondylis recognized Marx, but far less Schmitt, as a pioneer. He also generously admitted as influences in his world of ideas both Reinhart Koselleck, with whom he had a long-term correspondence, and his doctoral supervisor from Heidelberg, Werner Conze. He also mentioned Spinoza, whose theological and political treatise helped shape his concept of power.

But why did Kondylis treat Schmitt, whose friend-foe thinking he shares, almost neglectfully? It may be that Kondylis wanted to emphasize the originality of his terms. Just as relevant, as Horst’s anthology makes clear, Kondylis was radicalized in his youth when he had protested against the Junta of the colonels in his Greek homeland.

The Marxist character can be traced back to these youthful years, even if the mature thinker could hardly be classified as a Marxist or as a leftist. The focus on the course of history and socially determined major cultures point back to a Marxist-inspired focus. It is clear, however, that Kondylis like Koselleck and other leading German historians of ideas from the second half of the last century, was influenced by Schmitt.

The fact that Kondylis handled a single-track or overly simplistic view of the world is a common criticism of his anthropological and political perspective, which revolves around self-preservation and striving for power of the socially settled individual. But that presupposes that the social researcher Kondylis wanted to provide an overall picture of political, community and ideological action. Instead, his ideas can be used to shed light on human behavior and to provide insight into human motivation in individual situations.

Not An Optimist

For all his devotion to the Enlightenment and the associated insights, Kondylis by no means represented the optimistic view of the future which shaped eighteenth-century rationalism. He belonged to the group that Zeev Sternhell and Isaiah Berlin characterized as “les Contre-lumières,” and which were supposedly up to no good. These brooders used the critical approach of the Enlightenment to question and even devalue their final vision.

In other words: Kondylis understood his teaching assignment differently than the moralists he mocked. Apart from the decision-making of socially located and motivated individuals and groups, who act in the area of conflict, with other similarly determined beings, Kondylis cannot offer us a world-picture or a vision of the future. To his credit, he warns against those whitewashers who want to abolish our freedom and our sobriety.

Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger Professor Emeritus of Humanities at Elizabethtown College (PA) and a Guggenheim recipient. He is the author of numerous articles and 15 books, including, Antifascism: Course of a Crusade (forthcoming), Revisions and DissentsFascism: The Career of a ConceptWar and DemocracyLeo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in AmericaEncounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and TeachersConservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right, The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Towards A Secular Theocracy, and After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State. Last year he edited an anthology of essays, The Vanishing Tradition, which treats critically the present American conservative movement.

The image shows, “Phidias Showing the Frieze of the Parthenon to his Friends,” by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, painted in 1868.

Courtesy Blaue Narzisse. The German version translated by N. Dass.