10.1.4 Unity and the Absolute State

Gregory Millard

Unity is another important internal fascist goal. Fascism strives to subordinate all social divisions to the overarching cause of national rebirth. In practice, this means the absolute primacy of the state. “The behavior of all taken together [must] be ‘single willed’ or ‘totalitarian,’ heroic, committed and sacrificial—[as a prerequisite] to the accomplishment of the [fascist] revolution’s omnibus purpose” (Gregor & Gregor, 2006, p. 249). True, fascists in power generally did not attack churches, private property, or businesses (unless they were Jewish owned). The Vatican and the Italian king remained important centres of influence and power throughout the life of Mussolini’s regime (Kershaw, 2022, pp. 51-114). And contrary to fascist self-mythologizing – e.g., the legend that Mussolini “made the trains run on time” – Italy and Germany were often administratively chaotic. So fascist states did not reliably, in practice, apply absolute control over all aspects of social life, as, for example, the Soviet Union came close to doing under Joseph Stalin, or Cambodia did under Pol Pot; but the fascist sees the state as entitled to do so, if its leaders wish. As Nazi party theorist Alfred Rosenberg argued, for the Nazi, “there is no law as such” (cited in Paxton, 2005, p. 84).


Totalitarianism, as per the article linked, can be defined as a system in which a state penetrates and coordinates “all aspects of life among an entire population” in order to refashion society in alignment with comprehensive ideological goals. Mass mobilization and the systematic use of terror are among the typical signatures of such regimes. Prominent examples of totalitarian regimes include Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, Cambodia under Pol Pot, China during the Cultural Revolution period, and contemporary North Korea.


Fascism thus recognizes no valid limits to state power in principle. Indeed, since the state is the expression of the nation, if the state were to limit its own power and self-expression it would be a sign of weakness, vacillation, and degeneracy. This refusal to accept limits on the power of the state, thereby granting no legitimacy to constitutional or legal rights nor other legal or procedural limitations, has led some analysts to argue that fascism is totalitarian by nature (e.g., Arendt, 2009; see Paxton, 2005, pp. 211-213, and Passmore, 2002, pp. 18-23). Mussolini himself embraced this label.


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