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Western Values vs Asian Values: Benito Mussolini and Western Collectivism

In two of my earlier posts I talked about the myth of Asian collectivism and Western individualism. In future articles I will examine several aspects of this myth. Here I would like to show an example of Western collectivism, in order to demonstrate that individualism is by no means a 'Western' concept, but simply one of the many values developed in the West over the course of its long history. In fact, a civilisation is never a homogeneous and coherent whole, but a combination of different cultural phenomena.

The idea that East Asia is more collectivist than the West is based on the wrong assumption that family ideology, epitomized in the principle of filial piety, is the only true form of collectivism. While it is true that a Confucian-style family ideology never existed in the West, it would be a mistake to overlook the fact that the West developed its own collectivist worldviews and systems of thought. The four most important ones are: Christianity, nationalism, Communism, Fascism.

In this post I will focus on Fascism and its own collectivist ideology. In the following excerpt, Benito Mussolini, the founder and leader of Italy's National Fascist Party, explains his vitalist vision of life, society and history.

We should bear in mind that the notions of 'West' and 'Western democracy' have always been fluid. In the 1920s and 1930s, many right-wing and left-wing movements rejected democracy. Especially, the Fascists and, later, the Nazis considered Italy and Germany as not being part of the Western world, and denounced democracy as a decadent, chaotic form of government.

You will also probably notice some similarities and parallels between Mussolini's ideology and the ideology of other political parties that exist nowadays (I won't name them, but you might probably understand which ones I'm referring to).

Moreover, it should be remarked that many authoritarian parties of the 20th century shared a similar political vocabulary. Mussolini had been a socialist and Marxist before he became a staunch nationalist. His Fascist Party tried to synthesize leftist ideology and nationalist doctrines.

After Socialism, Fascism combats the whole complex system of democratic ideology; and repudiates it, whether in its theoretical premises or in its practical application. Fascism denies that the majority, by the simple fact that it is a majority, can direct human society; it denies that numbers alone can govern by means of a periodical consultation, and it affirms the immutable, beneficial, and fruitful inequality of mankind, which can never be permanently leveled through the mere operation of a mechanical process such as universal suffrage. 
The democratic regime may be defined as from time to time giving the people the illusion of sovereignty, while the real effective sovereignty lies in the hands of other concealed and irresponsible forces. Democracy is a regime nominally without a king, but it is ruled by many kings - more absolute, tyrannical, and ruinous than one sole king, even though a tyrant ...
A party which entirely governs a nation is a fact entirely new to history, there are no possible references or parallels. Fascism uses in its construction whatever elements in the Liberal, Social, or Democratic doctrines still have a living value; it maintains what may be called the certainties which we owe to history, but it rejects all the rest, that is to say, the conception that there can be any doctrine of unquestionable efficacy for all times and peoples. Political doctrines pass, but humanity remains; and it may rather be expected that this will be a century of Fascism. For if the nineteenth century was the century of Individualism (Liberalism always signifying individualism) it may be expected that this will be the century of collectivism, and hence the century of the State ...
The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative ... The Fascist State has drawn into itself even the economic activities of the nation, and through the corporative social and educational institutions created by it, its influence reaches every aspect of the national life and includes ... all the political, economic and spiritual forces of the nation ...
Fascism is the doctrine best adapted to represent the tendencies and the aspirations of a people, like the people of Italy, who are rising again after many centuries of abasement and foreign servitude. But empire demands discipline, the co-ordination of all forces and a deeply felt sense of duty and sacrifice; this fact explains any aspects of the practical working of the regime, the character of many forces in the State, and the necessarily severe measures which must be taken against those who would oppose it by recalling the outworn ideology of the nineteenth century ... for never before has the nation stood more in need of authority, of direction, and of order.
Benito Mussolini

(quoted in: Overbeek 1999, pp. 406-409)

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