Monday, May 28, 2018

PE of Fash Week IV: Confederate Monuments and the Historic Imaginary (Reading List)

This class is directed at tracing the line from fascist social theory through fascist philosophy of history to fascist aesthetics. For the most part, the class focuses on Italian Fascism and its parallels with US white nationalism in this regard. This is important not only because of the central place that mythologizing the past around artifacts has in fascist political practice, but also because of the central place that culture has in fascist political theory.

For the fascist, social change goes from culture to politics to economics. Marxists, it should be noted, perceive this chain of causality in exactly the reverse order, though beginning in the 1920's, Marxists began to explore a mutual determination between these three phenomenon. The fascist reasoning, grafted onto liberal Enlightenment reasoning, posits that any nation is driven by the will of its people through culture. This culture shapes the form of political outcomes which ultimately shape economic outcomes through policy. For fascists, the form of government is irrelevant to this phenomenon. In actuality, this is a far more compelling argument under representative systems than authoritarian or directly democratic ones.

The "required" readings present three perspectives on fascist philosophy. Finchelstein, taking the view of the "short 20th century" which posits a periodization breaking at the outset of World War I, focuses on the internal contradictions of fascism -- namely, the disavowal of theory as a theoretical position. Sternhell takes a "long 20th century" view, periodizing the beginning of the 20th century in the 1880's, aiming at illustrating the continuity and coherence of fascist philosophy. Fogu focuses almost exclusively on Mussolini and Gentile, unpacking their philosophy of actualism to understand their approach to deceptive historiography.

Where Finchelstein's approach leads him to consider fascism as a reaction to contemporary events and ideologies such as the Treaty of Versailles, the Russian Revolution, nationalism and imperialism, and syndicalism, Sternhell's long view focuses on structural developments such as mass politics, quantitative social science, and quantum mechanics, as well as developing philosophies such as nihilism, nominalism, and abstract aesthetics.

Thus, where Finchelstein sees fascism positioning itself as an alternative to the Enlightenment, Sternhell posits that fascism was merely an answer to lingering questions Enlightenment universalism was unable to answer regarding the construction of distinguishable societies, distinct nations, and discrete states. Where liberalism and Marxism were able to explain the constitution of society and assert what made a state just, both were unable to explain the origins of these phenomena through appeal to their universalist perspective. Fascism, through its organicist particularism, was able to do so by positing each society-nation-state as a living entity.

This living entity, according to Fogu's reading of Gentile and Mussolini, was responsible for curating history itself to justify the nation's continued existence through the state. For Gentile's actualism, history as a discipline takes its methodological form on the basis of the philosophy of history which is itself a function of the status of philosophical inquiry. Philosophy itself is historically contingent, depending upon what is maintained as 'canon' which is ultimately a function of what historical scholarship deems important. This circularity, for the fascist, is steered by historic events that are retained in national memory. Being the best positioned to craft such events, the state, according to fascists, is the ideal entity to push the historic.

Taking this logic into the 21st century United States, white nationalists seek to curate a history which preemptively justifies a white American ethnostate by valorizing that US history which encapsulates it. In the US, that historic event is the cause of the South in the US Civil War. The preservation of Confederate monuments, like the misrepresentation of Roman artifacts in Fascist Italy, represents not an object of historical inquiry, but historical assertion: This is the history we must defend by making it the future.

"Required" Readings

Federico Finchelstein 2008 On Fascist Ideology

This article highlights the tension between fascism's position that action should take precedent over theory on the one hand and the development of a body of theoretical literature justifying that position.

Claudio Fogu 2003 Actualism and the Fascist Historic Imaginary

This article discusses the philosophical underpinnings of fascism, in particular a philosophical position introduced by fascist philosopher Giovanni Gentile. Gentile's presentation of the relationship between history and philosophy ultimately led him to embrace a state form that put forward a conveniently fictionalized history to justify the state.

Zeev Sternhell 2000 Fascism: Reflections on the Fate of Ideas in the Twentieth Century

This article discusses some of the foundational questions about statehood and nationhood brewing immediately preceding the classical fascist era and charts the various philosophical positions that coalesced into fascism. Sternhell has a tendency to overemphasize fascism's influence from the left because his research is generally focused on the relationship between the French anti-Marxist socialist left and the nascent fascist movement.

My Writing

Sculpting the Present

My article "Sculpting the Present" in The Leveller discusses the fascist reasoning behind why Richard Spencer and crew chose to 'Unite the Right' around a confederate monument in Charlottesville.

Popular Pulbications

Spencer Sunshine Steve Bannon's "Washed Out" Antisemitism
Ruth Ben-Ghiat Beware of President Trump's Nefarious Language Games
Susan Sontag Fascinating Fascism
Alexander Reid Ross A Brief But Very Informative History of How Fascists Infiltrated Punk and Metal


Paul Jaskot - "A Plan, a Testimony, and a Digital Map: Analyzing the Architecture of the Holotcaust"
Ruth Ben-Ghiat - "Italian Fascism's Empire Cinema"
"This Timeline Shows Confederate Monuments Are About Racial Conflict"
Jack Smith IV - "Why Do Confederate Monuments Fall So Easily?"

Book for Further Reading

Claudio Fogu 2003 The Historic Imaginary: The Politics of History in Fascist Italy
Roger Griffin 1991 The Nature of Fascism