4/16/2023 - Politics and Society

Is it fascist liberalism?

By Marcos Pascis

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Much is said of the "right height" in the country, referring to the liberal ideas, however, the most disagreeing voices draw a similarity between the ideas of liberalism and fascism, a relatively diffuse corpus of ideas proper to the 1930s and 1940s; which results in perhaps a bad historical and concept error, the contrast of the Argentine nationalist groups effectively close in their ideological positions to fascism.

Liberalism produced rivers of ink in search of its definition, from a merely political philosophy as Judith Shklar states, to positions close to the “pours facing life” of court Rortyano, passing through moral definitions of “no aggression” like those of J. S. Mill and its Principle of harm. In addition, several authors link to liberalism with the left-spectrum, such as T. H. Green or L. Hobhouse, since, in their aspiration to support the individual so that the maximum reach of their moral and epistemic faculties, presuppose the direct action of the state as the baluarte for that purpose.

Others, on the other hand, linked liberalism with right-wing postures, as is the case with R. Nozick and his statement that the state's distributive action (in addition to the security and justice that are contemplated) affects the individual's side restrictions, enslaving him to pay taxes and thus, transforming him in the middle for an end. Besides all definition, it is clear that liberal ideas have the focus on the individual, their autonomy and freedom, and from this axiological basis, more or less statistic postures arise.

Fascism, on the contrary, implies anti-liberal and corporatist ideas and topics, however, the right Argentina in the years where the alternatives to liberal democracy were preceded, between 1922 and 1945, were not always fascists. First of all, we must define fascism, which, similar to liberalism, had a broad theoretical development, existing thousands of definitions, so we could understand fascism as a corpus of mobile ideas, interpreted differently on the basis of local conditions, which revolve around biologicism, anti-liberalism and anti-individualism, and where, besides, there is a revolutionary aspiration and modernizer.

Category: Right in Argentina

In order to understand the context of the right and its ideas, it must be based on reform of 1912. Law 8,871, whose genesis lies in the reformist liberals who decanted themselves by the reform of the electoral system. In the face of the defase that had the political system in relation to the dynamism that produced the agro-exporting economy, both in terms of wealth and demographics and immigration, the law sought the effective participation of individuals in the elections, efectivizing the rivadavian ideal of universal suffrage, and the formation of organic political parties. But the result was the inability of the ruling dome to systematize a party of such characteristics, which I devino in the presidential victory in 1916 of Hipólito Yrigoyen and the UCR. Sucessively the provincial bastiones of the elites linked to conservatism fell by the polls and federal interventions.

Thus, right-wing ideas and discourses articulated around the criticism and opposition to the political participation of the masses by the results it generated, due to its availability for the “cooptation” of a charismatic leader, like Yrigoyen. There were also ideas around the abuse of state institutions, with repeated federal interventions, and the overwhelming executive power over the rest of the powers. The right had no anti-democratic ideas, but a rejection of the abuse the government made of it, so it can be said that these ideas were related to republicanism. As you can see in the words of César Pico in The Number in 1931:

Let us begin by declaring that the participation of the people in the government cannot be denied when it comes to those matters which are of particular interest to them, and that even in the same concrete constitution of the State the harassment of the community is essential, be expressed, be implied.

In addition, there was a clerical component linked to the Hispanist nationalism of court among intellectuals. Thus, there was an emergency of intellectual companies of this nature: in 1917 the Social Athenaeum of Youth was founded, of a traditionalist and Catholic character, with the participation of young people like Tomás Casares and Atílio Dell 'Oro Maini that a decade later were active participants of the intellectual companies. In 1922 the Catholic Culture Courses were established and in 1928 the Criterion magazine was founded, among other magazines.

The Bolshevik revolution of 1917 reinforced the fears of “the right” to the expansion of socialism. In 1919, these ideas articulated in response to the left and the fear of "maximalism", materializing in the Argentine Patriotic League whose president was Manuel Carlés, who was then a federal interventionist. Without a programmatic ideary, they were “fighting conservatives” who sought to protect with violence the Constitution from leftist and leftist threats, also moving away from the revolutionary essence of the Fasci di Combattimento.

The election victory of the UCR in 1928 represented a hard blow to the Republican right, as shown by the creation of the magazine The New Republic the previous year. This was founded by the brothers Irazusta and participated intellectuals such as Tomás Casares and Ernesto Palacio, in addition to having the direct support of José Félix Uriburu. The hopes of avoiding personalism and the condition of autonomy were buried with the return of Yrigoyen. He had come, therefore, what Lugones consecrated as “the hour of the sword.”

On September 6, 1930, a group of military personnel overthrew Yrigoyen. Two different groups joined: the Justo-Sarobe chain and the uriburist current. The first saw the corrupt democratic process by political violence and the presence of a mass of “untrained electors”. So they understood the debugging of the institutions and the elimination of Sáenz Peña law as imperative for the correct functioning of democracy. The second, in a minority, appealed for a more honorable reform of the post-forcing institutions of federalism and autonomy, as well as changing legislative representation to a corporatist model, with the aim of avoiding the abuse of central power against the individual, enrolled in a community. At the economic level for both currents, the state should only provide a legal framework for the free performance of market forces.

Then, it can be said that the republican ideas of defense of federalism and the division of powers, anti-personnelism derived in anti-yrigoyenism, the fear on the left, that effective vote could come to situate in power, and corporativism in some minority groups, were identified as a horizon of agglutinating ideas for the heterogeneous right-wing groups, anchored to the status quo, of September. The ideas of intellectuals were present in politics through a “simbiotic” relationship: politicians appealed to the ideas of intellectuals as a source of ideological legitimacy and intellectuals appealed to politicians because they had access to institutions and could generate changes.

Moreover, external events impacted the ideas and the way intellectuals understood their reality. The Nazis were considered “paganos” by their “civic religion” and by their totalitarian state, but at the same time praised for their anti-Semitism, social mobilization and state planning. Fascism was well seen by the aspects related to the mobilization of the masses, corporatism and militarism, similar to Nazism, but the national element, proper to Italian culture, makes it impossible for intellectuals to see the Duce regime a model to “import”. The opposite occurred with Francoism and its corporatism, where the state was the grouping of “natural” corporations spontaneously generated, unlike fascism. The Spanish civil war was seen as a “cross” by hispanity against the enemy “communist and atheist”.

Lastly, the Wall Street Crack in 1929 impacted right-wing ideas, as it had disastrous repercussions for free trade and capital flow. This meant new functions for the state, perhaps the most important was the ability to modify relative prices. At a time of crisis in the trade and deflation scale, the state began to look at itself, appealing to the replacement of imports and the internal market. The right-wing intellectuals began to radicalize and approach their positions to fascism and their economic and social policy; they fostered a type of state and clerical corporatism, which organized society hierarchically. The Italian corporate teacher Gino Arias, exemplifies this vague idea:

"There is therefore no need to admit, neither liberalism nor socialism, nor statism, but the Tomist doctrine, eternally alive, which presents us a state that harmonizes, directs, moralizes and unifies the multiple economic initiatives, according to the moral laws of rational utility or 'secundum se'"
After Uriburu's death in 1932, right-wing intellectuals began a literary production path guided both by the disenchantment with the government and with the example of the European regimes. The government of Concordance appealed first to the restriction of suffrage and then to fraud to achieve electoral victories. This elitist element of the regime opposed the popular appeal in the ideas of right-wing intellectuals. By undermining popular sovereignty in the praxis, the government appealed to the Catholic institution as a legitimate source, creating “the myth of the Catholic nation”.

The tendency for the popular and for the mobilization of the masses in the ideas of the right, distan of the antiplebeyo elitism of 1916 or 1928. Like the ideas related to the role of the state, charging importance in social relations, in addition to the imposition of a legal and normative framework, and in economic planning and internist market.

The Argentine right, embodied in the “nationalists”, approached their ideas to fascism (known not as the Italian regime, but as the corpus of anti-liberal ideas) and began to formulate certain negative conceptions around democracy and elites, which by their results would degenerate into a “social revolution”, in a chaotic and anarchical situation. Liberal democracy, on a day with free trade, was considered a regime established in the territory. Although there was an unfolding between the democratic praxis and its ideological basis, the difference is diffused and only responds to the pragmatism of the moment. This democracy, according to the previous reconstruction, led to the creation of an anti-national elite, which because it was the representative of punctual interests such as foreigners or “majoria”, did not rule for the national body in its entirety; this is the phenomenon I called “the elite mass”.

This combination of democracy, liberalism and an anti-national elite damaged the country's social and economic development, and therefore its inhabitants. The increase in poverty and pauperism contrasted firmly to nationalists, with the pomposity of elite life.

In view of this situation, nationalists built a corpus based on local pre-concepts and mainly foreign ideas and examples. Thus, liberal democracy, with its egalitarian fundamentals and the representation of individual interests through suffrage, would step into an organized state through the representation of corporations, in which individuals would form part and see themselves represented, similarly to the Italian, German and Spanish regimes. With this, a hierarchical and functional society, proper to the “naturality” of the Latin Americans, would arise because it is “land of conquest”. And so, the national body, composed of its various parties organized hierarchically, would function in such a way that the interests of everything, that is, the nation, will benefit, and with this the conditions of the least apron.

Public policies had their genesis and praxis in the “good elite”, politicians who would not rule for the majority, but for the nation, and therefore would not be isolated from society, avoiding the rejection of the populus and a possible revolutionary reaction.

These distributive policies found their justification in Catholicism, with religion being their axiological basis and tomism their philosophical basis. The maintenance of private property, subordinated to the State, with social claims and uses, was justified by the criterion of justice of tomism, so by eliminating the probability of material and commercial exploitation that the nationalists considered present in liberal democracy, it would protect the person and his rights. Catholicism should be the “spiritual head” of this totalitarianism because there was a profound Hispanic root, coming from the Conquest and that, through religion and language, united, as a red thread, the Latin American nations, and framed them in a larger project, as a nationalist intellectual afamado José María Péman states:

Hispanity in its entire width is the one that can give the formula of the only legitimate totalitarianism, that is, Christian totalitarianism, where it truly saves everything: the Nation and the State, of one part, and of another the dignity of the human person, the Spirit, the culture: all that is in danger in Europe.

Final words:

In conclusion, the comparison between liberalism and fascism is an oxymoron, since the axiological bases of the liberal current, based on the individual, their freedom and autonomy, are antithetical to the fascist postulates, based on the exaltation of the masses, and the inscription of the individual to the collective and this to the state, where the representation of individual interests is replaced by corporatism.

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marcos pascis

Marcos Pascis

Hello, my name is Marcos, I am a historian and teacher, Magister in historical research by the University of San Andrés. Interested in political ideas, cultural exchanges and public policies.

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