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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Thinking about American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas

American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His IdeasAmerican Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas by Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some time ago I mentioned to my wife that I’d been experiencing strange existential crises, and I had just noticed and it was odd to me. She replied that perhaps I was having a ‘mid-life crisis’, and yep, because she’s smart and that sounds about right. She thought for a moment and asked if I had read any Nietzsche lately. I considered this wonderful advice as she is trained and degreed in philosophy and has a wonderful mind for such things and I respect her opinions greatly. It’s not like she would or could say ‘have you read your Bible lately?’, so I thought ‘read Nietzsche’ was a splendid suggestion worth exploration. So I hunted around for a work that appealed to me, and I settled on American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas. It appealed to me because of the American perspective and academic qualities. At first the reading was ponderous; dense and difficult. I had only vague recollection of ‘Nietzscheism’, a Will-Durant knowledge of his life and philosophy. I recalled that I thought we were in some agreement. He was an Existentialist, maybe a Nihilist, antireligious and smart. But reading American Nietzsche with that knowledge and recollection of the man and his philosophy was what was making the reading difficult and ponderous. I took a break for other books.

2015-05-03_11-55-19When I returned, first I elected to read the surprisingly great Nietzsche: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Tanner. It was an excellent read, great overview, nice balance, and not at all surprising given the good reviews. I thought this would be enough preparation but I became so interested to read Friedrich Nietzsche’s words (or at least a good approximation) I chose to read The Antichrist, as translated around 1920 by H.L. Mencken, whom I have always admired as a great American. This book The Antichrist blew me away and I will never forget it, I will revisit it again and again, and I with any luck I will search for other valuable translations of it to read later. I also was inspired to immediately acquire a version of Thus Spoke Zarathustra that I greatly anticipate consuming later.

So here the digression ends and I return to American Nietzsche, better-prepared for what it contained. I re-read the first 20% #Kindle or so that I had managed to get through and picked it up from there. I found myself consumed by its dense material, and I could barely put it down. I found it then to be a quick read (relatively) and marveled at the scholarship, the minutiae, the great attention paid to every detail and myriad angles. It’s fascinating really and as I understand it a new perspective on an essential philosopher. I loved the book, highlighted it galore and I will refer back to it from time-to-time. I feel like when I read Zarathustra it will be like I’m reading the Bible and it may spiritually fill a cold scientific atheist like myself. And all this to relate that at first, I did not understand my wife’s suggestion that I read Nietzsche of all things to address a midlife crisis. But in the end, I found a meaning and substance that surpassed any expectation I had. I learned about myself and the world we live in and it connected dots in my head that make me feel like a better and more evolved human. It’s like my wife told me to listen to Jesus, but said Nietzsche, because of course.df486242cd5256fb0b2dc07b156e9af1

I’d recommend Nietzsche to anyone. This American Nietzsche book is interesting, certainly dense, academic, dwells on small things, repetitive, but it doesn’t create an outsized view as much as illuminates areas of study, ties in interesting and important figures and relates the explosion of Nietzscheism, not because of propaganda or enforcement but because of obviousness and inevitability. It’s an interesting read if you are into that sort of thing but I’d definitely suggest at least a minimal background or it may feel more a slough.

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