Fascism and Liberalism Political Ideas


The term ‘fascism’ appeared comparatively recently - in the early 20th century. In its narrow sense, the term ‘fascism’ originally referred to the massive political Italian movement under Benito Mussolini and later acquired a meaning of common ideology and political regimes in various countries (Skirbekk & Gilje 2001). The term itself derives from Italian word fascio, which means ‘bundle’ or ‘union,’ a part of the name of Benito Mussolini’s radical political organisation Fascio di combattimento. Being the first who used the term fascism in its ideological meaning, Mussolini formed several main principles of the ideology, particularly in relation to the state.


In order to promote fascism, Mussolini rejected the individualism of liberal approaches and tried to build a totalitarian regime, which quickly spread around the world. The present paper will argue that fascism appears to be a weak ideology that needs to avoid democratic and liberal regimes to exist. In order to evaluate the question, this paper will first consider the main principles and features of fascism and Italian fascism in particular. Next, the concept of liberalism in terms of its view on individuality, individualism, and relation to the state will be reviewed. Finally, the connections and differences between fascism and liberalism will be distinguished.


Fascism, in the broad meaning of this term, is an ideology of supremacy. Before the general crisis of capitalism, the bourgeoisie occasionally resorted to the authoritarian control techniques. Social and theoretical backgrounds of the ideology were formed before the creation of the first radical authoritarian nationalist political party and leaned on several ideological movements. Previously, European society contented itself with the ideas of rationalism, liberalism, and conservatism. However, after the World War I and the chaos it brought, the most radical move was to escape previous ideologies and change them into something dramatically opposing.

According to Heywood (2000, p. 174), there are several main features of fascism ideological core. First, it presupposes anti-rationalism as rejection of limited mind and reversion to will and sees it as the most powerful vital force. Second, fascism implies struggle as a part of natural selection and the way to be the fittest and survive. Next, it suggests leadership and elitism as unquestionable and most desirable features of power and domination; socialism as a way to reach national class solidarity; and ultranationalism as the idea of a reborn, independent, self-sufficient leading nation.

In this way, it becomes vivid how previously satisfying concepts of rationalism, tolerance, equality, and democracy changed into quite the opposite notions. In fact, there had never been a better time for the splash of ideological revolt. Bertrand Russell (1936, p. 93), for instance, states that fascism developed as the most natural reaction to long lasting traditions of humanism and tolerance that eventually originated into the worldview of irrationalism. According to Gregor (1979, p. 53), Mussolini himself believed that fascism was a philosophy of rationality and high intellect, a practical and pragmatic approach.

Nevertheless, the propaganda of fascism succeeded among the public as an irrational idea of radical struggle. It was attractive in comparison to the perspective of silent inactivity and consent with social plagues and national humiliation. From this point of view, fascism is a result of extreme emotional disturbance of the nation that is driven to the desperation. In this case, masses are ready to absorb the most drastic ideology, especially the one that not only promises swift actions and changes, but also advocates uniqueness, elitism, and superiority.

Nevertheless, humanism denial does not bring fascism to the denial of a human as an individual. It highly values the personality in its confluence with the State’s ideology. The concept originates from the idea of Nietzsche’s ?bermensch who struggles for rising over himself and reaching the heights of self-creation. Mussolini experienced great influence of German philosophy while creating theoretical backgrounds of fascism. He explains that in fascism theory, the ultimate value of a human lies in being a perfect physical, moral, and intellectual weapon which serves for the sake of the State, ideology, and humankind (Mussolini 1968). From this viewpoint, fascist stands as a highly spiritual individual serving to the gods of higher law, fatherland, and regime (Gentile 1925).

Mussolini’s rule in Italy where fascism first originated as a substantive concept should clearly be considered. Lang (2004, p. 78) points out that the founders of Italian fascism were aware of responsibilities and did their best to adjust to the new philosophy of Italian history, culture, and traditions. In the fight of Italian people against forthcoming communism, fascism gave ideological background to this struggle. It also justified the idea of national revival and pathos which was extremely popular at that time. Italian fascism became embodiment of the idea of active minority struggling in war and revolution in the name of national idea of statehood. The fact that most Italians at that time felt that new regime defended their right to freedom is especially prominent (Schnapp, Stampino & Sears 2000).

In the course of this struggle, the leader of organisation, Benito Mussolini, formulated fundamental principles of fascism and eventually published those in his work The Doctrine of Fascism. In this essay, Mussolini introduced a new understanding of spiritual life, state, evolution, philosophy, ethics, religion, history, liberty, and other ideologies such as individualism, liberalism, pacifism, Marxism, socialism, etc.

A chapter dedicated to the rejection of economic liberalism is particularly significant. Mussolini gives a short overview of the origins and development of liberal doctrines, bringing his narration to the idea that each society that accepts liberal ideas as leading is doomed to decay in chaos and anarchy. At the same time, Mussolini denies any links between liberalism and fascism. However, in the next chapter he admits that every ideology is based on the wreckages of its predecessors, pointing out that fascism concepts are centred on action and realisation and not merely on theory and contemplation. As for the state organisation, Mussolini correlates the development of the state in all its spheres with the manifestation of national spirit.

In other words, he views state’s higher law as the ultimate power that governs, explains, and directs individual in life (Mussolini 1968). It is worth noting that Lenin who criticises the main idea of state in his work The State and Revolution offers the organisation of undivided power directly backed by the armed force of people as an alternative (Lenin 1970). Although his ideology was supposed to offer a new solution, it still backs on the mass of individuals. In its turn, this mass needs to obey the higher force for the sake of common idea that is higher than aims of each separate individual.

Liberalism in its turn stands for quite an opposite notion, proclaiming the right on individual’s self-actualisation as the highest priority. As well as numerous ideologies, it is formed on the backgrounds of theories which were developed in the Enlightenment period. For this reason, the notion was subject to considerable changes. Shklar (1998, p. 3) points out that for many years of ideological conflicts, liberalism might lose its primary identity completely. During the Enlightenment period, liberal ideas were radical as they questioned the absolute power of monarchy and aristocracy and criticised the feudal system. Bell (2014) notes that before the term ‘liberalism’ had first been used in a political meaning in the early 19th century, it denoted aristocratic convictions and attitudes. It is fair to say that economic reasons forced liberalism to grow from ideological theory to a powerful political force dominating in most European countries.

Heywood (2000, p. 31) distinguishes the following main features and principles of liberalism: the individual as a primary value; individual freedom as a natural right that cannot be restricted or damaged; reason and rationalism as a guarantee of personal development; justice as a warrant of equality of opportunity; toleration and diversity.

As for the state's role in liberalism, its priority is to protect the right of individual to choose their own way, while its rights are restricted by the rule of complete non-intervention into individual’s choice. It does not presume that each individual is completely autonomous, but it gives a freedom to choose any lifestyle (Beckman 2001). The only reason which justifies the intrusion of the society into the freedom of action of its member is reciprocal self-defence. Liberals believe that relying on the state and putting the responsibility for one’s future on higher authorities turns independent individuals into blind adherents of the most favourable party or regime (Smith 2002). In this way, more responsibilities only enlarge the power and influence of the higher law. Moreover, this society leans to become passive and inactive, which implies further degeneracy of people, state, and individuals.

Nevertheless, liberalism is not a cure from the social stagnation. It does protect individual's freedom, safety, and right to make one’s own choices, but it does not guarantee reasonable development of the society. Stapleton (1997, p. 32) states that in case liberalism merely increases the power of popular voice without being able to raise the general tone of public life, it will outgrow in a permanent degradation of humanity. It is also notable that Italian liberalism having appeared before World War II was rather a philosophical notion than a political program (Adler 1995). Moreover, Italy needed more complex and administratively strict plan, and liberalism could not respond to the demand of that time (Scheuerman & Caldwel 2000).

Nowadays, the Mussolini’s decision to reject the individualism of liberal approaches becomes clear, as these two ideologies are strictly antipodal. Fascism acknowledges an individual as they match with the doctrine of the state, while liberalism leaves only the most necessary functions to the state and supports an individual beyond state’s regime. Liberalism accepts the state with the minimum of functions, possessing limited strategies to guide order and protect the country from exterior threats. In other words, liberalism treats an individual and the society as constant notions, while state is a secondary, self-regulating object (Neureiter 2011).

Fascism considers the state to be a unity of individuals connected by a single idea, functioning for the sake of the state itself. It does not care about every single individual and their freedom, but tries to adjust the personality for the convenience of its own ideology and power. Nation and state do not stand for quality anymore, as it is quantity that matters (Berezin 1997). The thoughts and feelings of a fascist have to be of a national and ideological kind, while liberalism stands for the freedom of any manifestation.

At the same time, fascism may miss the fact that substitution of individuals’ original impulses deprives a person of a substantial part of their motivation. Without a doubt, in case a person consciously accepts the domination of a higher law and its unconditional supremacy, they may associate the wellbeing of the regime with their own wellbeing. In this case, an individual will perform at their maximum, though it has proven to be a rare case. More often, a person faces an inner protest to the limitation of freedom, which can make them quite ineffective.

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Many scholars find these two ideologies not as polar as they may seem. As it has been already mentioned, ideologies do not simply go out of fashion and cease to exist but overflow into other theories and ideas. Umberto Eco, who has had a chance to be a witness of Italian fascist regime during World War II, writes that fascism resembles a game, as it is so changeable that it may fast alter into something else, showing only a partial family resemblance with the original. Eco (1995, p. 8) believes that fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises, and the humanity should be alert to any mild manifestations of its features. He obviously does not mean fascism hiding under classic ideas of liberalism, democracy, humanism, etc.

It is clear that these ideologies are also subject to natural changes dictated by development of the society and new demands of present time. Jonah Goldberg (2009, p. 32), the author of the work Liberal Fascism, believes that after the world has seen the horrific consequences of fascism and Nazism, people tend to believe that present generation has certain immunity to these ideas. The danger hides in the most unexpected places, and modern fascism can be softened by a number of factors. In modern times, fascism could turn into something that Goldberg calls nice or may appear under the name of liberal fascism, which, however, remains fundamentally right-wing.


In conclusion, the most radical ideologies such as fascism derive from the complex of more liberal theories. On the opposite, history shows a spirally development of theories and ideologies, where one idea may be repeated and paraphrased until no one can recall where it originally came from. Present research has clearly shown that Mussolini was wrong to reject the individualism of liberal approaches. As the father of fascism, Mussolini did not have either ability, or political background to encourage liberal ideas in his regime. The demand of his time was the creation of strict, radical, and fierce plan to gain the power into the hands of a dictator. It soon became obvious that this plan was doomed to failure and resulted in a big tragedy. According to some scholars, some wreckages of fascism theory spread into modern liberalism, which only proves that Mussolini was not right to avoid liberal approaches in his regime.

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