TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Is all Political Extremism Anti-Capitalist?

Each Tuesday in the TELOSscope blog, we reach back into the archives and highlight an article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Timothy Stacey looks at Luciano Pellicani’s article “Was Fascism Revolutionary?” from Telos 122 (Winter 2002).

With wave after wave of Islamic extremist attacks across the globe in the last decade, two schools of thought have begun to emerge: the idealist and the realist. The idealist school says that Islam is dangerous; the realist school claims that economic deprivation is the chief cause of terrorism. Both schools are based on the presupposition that liberalism itself has nothing inherently provocative about it. Crucially, both sides ignore that liberalism can of itself be offensive—not because, as some media pundits suggest, its values are hard to swallow, but because it strictly has no values. There is something distinctly inhuman to this aspect of liberalism that is alienating to those that are new to the liberal rationale.

It is in this sense that Luciano Pellicani’s article “Was Fascism Revolutionary?” is worth a read. Pellicani explains that fascism was based on a ubiquitous, but only here and there politically recognized, mistrust of liberalism. Fascism was not revolutionary, in the sense of being unprecedented, because it shared its grievance with communism. This offers the modern liberal reader some much needed perspective into the Islamic extremists’ plight. Extremist Islam’s aversion to liberalism is neither mysterious nor unprecedented. Liberalism’s lack of values, widely understood to have fueled communism, also fueled fascism, as exemplified in the latter’s animosity towards the bourgeoisie:

Fascism was an epochal phenomenon characterized by the “revolt against bourgeois society, its moral values, its political and social structures, its lifestyle.” It emerged as an intellectual and moral resistance to the atomization brought about by the industrial revolution, and ended up in the “exultation of what was conceived as a unit of fundamental solidarity, the nation.” In the name of the nation, it launched a revolutionary call to arms. (69)

Equally, Islamic extremists today claim to be offended by the degenerate behavior condoned by liberalism. The Muslim nation can be thought of as Islam per se and globalization can be considered a threat as imminent and divisive to Islam now as industrialization was to Germany and Italy in the 1920s. Islamic terrorists admonish that the inevitability of global liberal hegemony has left them with no option but violence. In this sense, too, they agree with communism and fascism:

In the sense of a rapid military concentration of forces and of energetic action by a firm and compact military organization, and in the sense of a precise system using its own forces, logistic committees, mobilization, etc., as well as the merciless annihilation of the adversary, when this is necessary and dictated by circumstances. (73)

The similarity in justification for violence suggests a similar hopelessness in the face of the liberal leviathan. Simply, all political extremism is anti-liberal. If liberalism has an extremist wing, it is extreme anti-extremism. It is the mistrust of value-laden, and therefore implicitly irrational, ideas. Strictly agnostic in terms of the values underpinning production, liberalism implies free-market capitalism. Therefore all extremism is implicitly anti-capitalist, hence so many extremists are offended by the logical consequences of capitalism: a marketplace whereby the only value is monetary and so anything goes. In liberal societies, when certain groups, necessarily not liberal because not agnostic, claim to be offended by certain products—be they movies, play-toys, or what have you—the impact, direct or indirect, that criminalizing such a product will have on the wider economy plays a major role in deciding the outcome of the dispute. Again the promise of fascism is eerily similar to that of Islamic extremism:

By gaining power with that singular coup d’état that came to be called the “march on Rome,” and by installing the one-party dictatorship, fascism proclaimed through Alfredo Rocco that the age of the liberal state, agnostic about the supreme national values, had ended and that the new state would become the “guardian of public morality.” Furthermore, “in the name of this high duty,” it would intervene “to repress the lies, corruption and all forms of deviation and degeneration of public and private morality.” (73)

Liberalism is anti-value, ergo all extremism is anti-anti-value. When we fight in the name of liberalism, we often suggest that we are fighting for freedom to have whatever values we see fit. Ironically, however, as the liberal-capitalist model progresses, this freedom is more and more defined by the right not to have values. Perhaps the emergence and re-emergence of Islamic extremism is the last throe of idiocy before the liberal rationale finally takes over the globe; perhaps it is one instance of a periodical phenomenon that ought to be addressed. Either way, we do well to remember that violence against liberalism is not a new phenomenon and it is not our values that are hated. I have said that all extremism is anti-liberal. But if we can have a sensible debate about the woes of liberal neglect, all anti-liberalism need not be extremist. Pellicani’s “Was Fascism Revolutionary?” by showing fascism to be symptomatic of a wider distaste with liberalism, is a step in just this direction.

Read the full version of Luciano Pellicani’s article “Was Fascism Revolutionary?” at the TELOS Online website. If you are affiliated with an institution that is an online subscriber to Telos, you have free access to our complete online archive. If not, you can purchase 24-hour access to this and other Telos articles at the low rate of $5/article.

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