Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini's Italy (Studies on the History of Society and Culture)Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini’s Italy by Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve always been a student of history when I read and fascinated by fascism, nationalism, racism, and the like so this year in honor of Donald J. Trump I wanted to learn more about Benito Mussolini. I hear the “Trump is Hitler” chant but maybe I’m in the ‘Trump is more Mussolini than Hitler’ crowd, so this year I made time to read up on Mussolini and Italian Fascism. In the past, I’ve primarily read about the more dominant Hitler along with conflations of Hitler’s Nazism and Mussolini’s Fascism. As I read more, there’s a chance my previous reading has been heavily spiced with um Marxist historian takes on all this which maybe clouds my understanding, something I tried to be aware in my reading selections.

I started with The Doctrine of Fascism by Benito Mussolini himself, describing his take on fascism in his own words. I learned that Trump does not in fact have the best words, in fact he’s got nothing on 100-year-old Mussolini. Sad!

Next this year I read Fascism: A Very Short Introduction. I’m a big fan of the ‘very short introduction’ series. The books are very focused, cover the necessary ground, and lay a foundation for further reading.

“To the old liberal system, Mussolini presented the alternative of a new, “very strong,” and “virile” fascist state”

Next I dove into Mussolini’s Intellectuals: Fascist Social and Political Thought. A. James Gregor is no Marxist and makes that clear. The book was a refreshing take and interesting to read right now, watching the struggle in the Republican party over ‘Trumpism’. A premise of the book is that intellectuals and intellectual backing are required for any movement. While Fascism is often represented as an impulsive, physical, unthinking force it does and did not lack persuasive arguments of philosophers and writers.

“By beautifying politics, fascism reaffirmed the value of tradition-a tradition founded on hierarchy and respect for authority and drawing its aura from faith.”

I think last in my #Trump2016 Mussolini reading tour will be this book, Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini’s Italy. This is most immersive and sweeping history. It was a great read, and considering the content it didn’t take too long, although some of it was a chore because thinking why do I care about all of this? But the book is meant to explore the forces present in Italy at the time, Mussolini and his influences, and the outward manifestations of the party. Eventually I felt I had to care, after getting so far along. The book is heavily footnoted (100+ per chapter) so the material is well-sourced (40% of the book is attributions to sources). The chapters explore art, film, optics, doctrine, and other expressions of fascism in Italy.

“in the wake of the French revolution, the traditional embodiment of the sacred and its institutions (church and monarchy) were defeated, the myth of Christendom was shattered, and the hierarchical model of social relations had been liquidated.”

It was interesting to see how Mussolini’s own ideas and powerful personality shaped a time of rising nationalism, and disruptive social and political changes. Owners and workers in league with the powerful leader would remove the need for weak legislative bodies. Democracy was weak, a strong authoritarian state would restore the masculinity, the movement, the change. Even in the United States, oligarchs and other powerful elites were watching for elements to emulate. National arguments would be resolved by appeal to charismatic authority. The Caesarism, celebrity, and showmanship was fascinating and continues to work today. Being “above party” or outside the traditional party system, obeying hierarchy and unquestioningly performing rituals are all similar elements to movements today. It’s fascinating to learn about the Fascist critique of consumption-oriented, lazy democracy and liberalism 100 years of history later, and in these times.

“Sternhell argues that the revolutionary syndicalists’ Marxist revolt against materialism, in combination with the influence of “tribal” nationalism, prepared the soil for the birth of fascist ideology.”

Taken together my reading this year was an enlightening experience for me about Benito Mussolini and Italian – some might say the original – Fascism, more free of the explicit racial politics of Adolf Hitler. In light of the “rise” of Trump, I feel this has been a useful endeavor. I stand by my assertion that Trump is a third-rate knock-off American Mussolini, of course complete with a fake tan and a limited vocabulary, woefully shallow and ignorant and incomprehensibly proud of it. To call Trump Mussolini is to shame Mussolini. This entire election experience has led me again to doubt my faith in mass democracy.

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Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism: Religious Identity and National Socialism

Catholicism and the Roots of Nazism: Religious Identity and National SocialismCatholicism and the Roots of Nazism: Religious Identity and National Socialism by Derek Hastings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

OMG I finally finished the book…the last bit seemed like a bit of a slog and I thought I’d never finish but the last 40% of the book was all footnotes. I figured this book would be a slow read because it focuses like a laser on Munich from 1900-1935. The volume of footnotes speaks to the extensive research by the author, who details myriad players in the area at the time: Adolf Hitler, priests, pastors, and what seemed like hundreds of other völkisch leaders and participants along with the general sentiment of the time.

“in contrast to the NSDAP which, unlike secular non-Marxist parties, served as the most uncompromising defender of the Christian faith”

In times like we live in today when Know-Nothings paint Hitler as a leftist, Nazism as anti-religious or exclusively anti-Christian, and revisionist hacks proposing the Nazis were homosexuals, and on-and-on, it’s always preferable to read something rooted in harsh reality. I’m a history buff and often a student of totalitarianism, fascism, and the like, because history repeats. I’m also an atheist so admittedly some of the reasons I chose to read this book were scurrilous. But I was surprised to find the eventual climax to be very even-handed. I even finished the book thinking Nazi-related critiques of Pope Benedict XVI were unfounded and that the Catholic church by-and-large did repudiate the Nazi movement (more so than their fellow Christian Protestants). So while I did not find what I was expecting, I did find a very detailed review of the Christian (and anti-Christian) influences in Bavaria and Munich specifically in the early formative years of the NSDAP, and that was worth the read.

A few excerpts:

“the fact that such an elaborate völkisch-eugenics model was already laid out among Reform Catholic nationalists in Munich in 1914 is significant”

“to accelerate and radicalize anti-Semitic and anti-Marxist attitudes among Munich’s overwhelmingly Catholic population. The perceived linkages between Bolshevism, atheism, and the Jews”

“the most pressing threat being the issue that so consumed Faulhaber and others, the Jewish-socialist separation of church and state and the impending removal of mandatory religious instruction from Bavarian schools.”

“This speech is significant on at least two levels. First, it pledges Hitler’s personal devotion to his “Lord and Savior” in no uncertain terms and embodies the type of activist warrior Christianity that the Nazi movement would utilize to great effect over the course of the following year”

“In a well-publicized speech to the Ortsgruppe Augsburg on 13 June 1923, Haeuser emphasized the virtues of warrior Christianity, proclaiming, “We need men of action. If only there were more men like Hitler… who would put the words of Christ into practice: ‘I have not come to bring peace, but rather the sword.’”

“Once held up as paragons of the Nazi spirit of Positive Christianity, Catholic students were now forced to strip themselves of their overt Catholic identities in order to comply with the imperatives of the Third Reich.”

“It is possible, indeed necessary, to deplore the tragic and errant nature of inquisitorial zeal in thirteenth-century southern France while also recognizing its problematic, yet nonetheless real, contextual Christian legitimacy”

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Review of “Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution”

Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of EvolutionLife Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution by Nick Lane

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. It gave me a new respect for life. I’m have a pretty mechanistic outlook at this point, a ‘scientific materialist’ – there is no creator, no animating force. My wife probably got some chuckles as I shared passages of this book with her and talked about how reading this book is the best argument for creation I had encountered in some time. Certainly the book does not espouse such things but it does beautifully illuminate the earliest moments and tiniest details of life, all of which is mind-blowingly amazing. It was a wonderful read (I mean sure, science makes me sleepy but I read before bed so that’s perfect, and also science can make for interesting dreams #bonus). I thought a book with the title “10 great inventions of evolution” might be like, “Chapter 3: Thumbs” but this was well serious and way beyond anything like that. According to the Kindle I highlighted 94 passages. It was stunning read for me. The first chapter (life’s first great invention) is “life” — how life came to be on this planet (maybe, probably) and then throughout the book it’s made clear how we share so much in common with everything living. The last bit on the evolution of consciousness was riveting. In the end, great book about science, how we got here, what we (might) know and how we can know it. Fascinating and YAY SCIENCE! “The story that unfurls is more dramatic, more compelling, more intricate than any creation myth.”

“And that is why I said that, for the first time in history, we know. Much of our growing body of knowledge is provisional, to be sure, but it is vibrant and meaningful. It is a joy to be alive at this time, when we know so much, and yet can still look forward to so much more.”

“This world of marvels, it seems, springs from two deep accidents. On such tender threads hangs fate. We are lucky to be here at all.”

“a ‘consensus’ [genetic] tree can be built, giving the most probable relationship between all eukaryotic organisms. Such an approach is a far cry from gaps in the fossil record: we can see exactly how we are related to plants, fungi, algae, and so on (see Fig. 4.2). Darwin knew nothing about genes, but it is the fine structure of genes, more than anything else, that has eliminated all the distasteful gaps from the Darwinian view of the world.”

“Let me say that again, as I don’t know any other fact as shocking in all of medicine: a tiny change in the mitochondria halves our risk of being hospitalised for any age-related disease and doubles our prospects of living to 100.”

“The most specialised cells of all are the neurons of the human brain. Unlike more mundane cells, neurons are practically irreplaceable, each one wired up with as many as 10,000 synaptic connections, each synapse founded in our own unique experience.”

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