The Relationship Between Fascist Ideas and Fascist Leaders

In the study of political movements, of course, one must always distinguish between men of ideas and men of action, between intellectuals concerned with the integrity of ideological commitment and leaders concerned with the practical problems of exercising power. Beyond this, the relationship between fascist ideas and fascist leaders presents a particular problem of its own. Although politicians throughout history have not always told the truth, Mussolini and Hitler were the first to make a public creed of lying. The practice confounded their enemies and historians alike. Such men simply cannot be taken at their word, yet the quoted word is the mode of intellectual history. Confronting confessed liars compromises the traditional method of using quotations from speeches and writings to document arguments on the belief or motives of historical personalities. Historians, of course, are trained to distrust all human testimony. In dealing with testimony from the likes of Hitler and Mussolini, however, the safest course is to discount everything. In public discourse, both were notorious for working both sides of the street. Hitler’s strategy of the big lie is best explained by the man himself. Mussolini described his own method as the technique of the “Scotch douche,” gushing alternately hot and cold, radical and conservative, sounding reasonable at one moment and intransigent at the next, whatever the occasion demanded. The question, therefore, is not whether these leaders believed in certain ideas but whether we could believe them even if they said they did.


  1. Allardyce, Gillbert. “What Fascism Is Not: Thoughts on the Deflation of a Concept.” The American Historical Review 84.2 (1979): 367-88.

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Filed under Notes on History, Philosophy, Politics

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