The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."

Friday, October 28, 2022

Is Fascism Returning?A Reflection on the Centennial of the March on Rome


An image of the "March on Rome" of the Fascist blackshirts that took place a hundred years ago, in October 1922, and that brought Benito Mussolini to power in Italy. Look at him at the center of the photo: he already looked like an actor playing a role on stage, the strong man with a square jawline. It was a posture and a mask that he would maintain unaltered for more than 20 years as absolute ruler of Italy. That mask would eventually become him and devour him, taking him to his doom. Today, there doesn't seem to be any more space for such macho dictators, but totalitarianism is not gone, it is taking different forms. 

On July 25, 1943, the leader of the Italian government, Benito Mussolini, was arrested on orders from the King of Italy. That day, my grandfather was on vacation with his family on the hills. Coming back home by train, he walked out of the station without having read the newspapers of the day, so he was still wearing his Fascist party badge. Someone told him that it was not a good idea, but he refused to take it off and, for a few days, he stubbornly insisted on wearing it. It took several days before he was forced to realize that the days of Fascism were over.

I am telling you this story to show you that Fascism in Italy was not something imposed by jack-booted thugs wearing black shirts. My grandfather, surely, was not one: I remember him as a kind man who loved children. But, during its heydays, Fascism was a truly totalitarian phenomenon. It permeated every facet of life: at school, at work, in the family, everything. And it was diffuse in all social classes: from the nobility to the workers. But what was it, exactly? An idea? A political party? A person? A hallucination? Or what? 

Fascists saluted each other by outstretching their right hands in the "Roman Salute," which the Ancient Romans never used. They would recognize the "fascio" as a symbol of unity, a meaning that it probably never had in Roman times. They claimed to have rebuilt the Roman Empire by conquering a country, Ethiopia, that newer was part of the ancient Roman Empire. They shared with each other some typical ideas, such as nationalism, racism, the idea of self-sacrifice ("me ne frego,") and a love for uniforms and military parades. In terms of policies, Fascism was a mix of socialism, nationalism, paternalism, imperialism, and more, often in contradiction with each other. It could be anything, but, in practice, it was mainly one thing: Benito Mussolini himself, the Duce degli Italiani,  the absolute ruler of Italy. 

During the Fascism age, the propaganda machine of the Fascist party ran unopposed and saturated the Italians' worldview. The power of the Duce grew so much that it probably went beyond the expectations of his sponsors, and perhaps of Mussolini himself. It became a common slogan that "Mussolini ha sempre ragione" (Mussolini is always right), and he would bask in public ceremonies where he was revered by "oceanic crowds". The Italian people had completely delegated to him all powers. They had regressed to the role of children obeying the orders of their stern father. Mark Oshinkie correctly described this phenomenon as follows (not referred to Italian Fascism, but valid for it, too),

Overall, per Jean Piaget, they thought like eight-year-olds. And as did Cub Scouts, they exhibited a pack mentality: the dysfunctional kind. 

This image (author unknown) nicely summarizes the essence of Fascism, just as of all forms of totalitarianism:

How could it happen that so much power was bestowed on a single man? In part, Mussolini's success was due to sheer luck, but also to his capability to bluff, and his willingness of catching a good opportunity when it appeared. More than all, he was a master of propaganda, one of the first politicians in history to use the new mass media -- the press, movies, and the radio -- for self-promotion. As a politician, Mussolini knew even too well that all politics is based on finding someone to blame. And he was selling to his sponsor the idea to deflect the rage of the working class to foreign targets, away from the Italian elites. Pivoting on a series of myths that were already diffuse at that time, he blamed the troubles of Italy on the decadent Northern Plutocracies, the evil Soviet Communists, and the inferior African races. In this way, he managed to obtain support from those sectors of Italian society which had been fighting each other before Fascism: the workers, the financial sector, the industrial sector, the military, the intellectuals, and the King of Italy himself. 

But Mussolini was not just a politician. He was a great salesman, too, one of those people who don't just sell things, they sell dreams. He sold to Italians the dream of a new Roman Empire and that they, the descendants of the ancient Romans, would be the new masters of the world. And Italians bought that dream enthusiastically. For 20 years, Italy saw a wave of Roman symbols, banners, fascis, people dressed in togas, and speeches about the new Empire. If you visit Rome today, you can still see four maps of the expansion of the Roman Empire on the wall of the ancient Forum, placed there in 1934. A fifth map, now removed, depicted the modern Italian conquest of Libya and Ethiopia. Was it a political program? If it was, it failed miserably. But at the time, evidently, it looked like a good idea.    

For some 20 years, the Duce was Italy, and Italy was the Duce. You could say that he was playing the mythical role of the "Sacred King," concentrating on himself the glory and the responsibility for all that was happening, good and bad. And everything that happened was written in the Celestial Gantt Charts, up in the sky. Glory is a harsh mistress, and no man can keep his mind sane for a long time while staying at the top, surrounded only by adulators and sycophants. By the late 1930s, Mussolini had become a caricature of himself: his mask of strong-jawed man had devoured him, turning him into a bumbling fool who had lost contact with reality, and who threw Italy into a series of absurd wars that ended with a humiliating defeat. Mussolini played the role of the sacred king up to the end, when, in 1945, he was ritually sacrificed, atoning with his death the atrocities committed in his name.

And now, about our times: can Fascism return? And if so, in which form? Clearly, humans have a fascination for strong leaders and, today, Western media are quick to label a foreign leader as a "dictator" or a "new Hitler." But few modern leaders seem to be able to approach the level of power that Mussolini had. Our "color revolutions" borrow some elements that Mussolini pioneered with his March on Rome, but they are a different thing, piloted by foreign powers and designed to create chaos. In 2020, Donald Trump may have tried something like a "March on Washington," but his militia, despite including a propitiatory horned shaman, turned out to be pitifully ineffective. 

Should we conclude that the age of Fascism is over? Maybe it is, at least in the aggressive form that it had assumed with Mussolini and his imitators. But totalitarianism, surely, is not over. On the contrary, it is on the increase. We see it very well with the current rise of censorship, groupthink, propaganda, control, encroaching on personal freedom, and more. But all that is arriving without the presence of a "great leader," at the top. What's happening? 

I think that Simon Sheridan has a key observation, here. In examining the Covid story, he interprets it in terms of the "devouring mother" -- an archetype that goes in parallel with that of the sacred king, but that's different in many ways. From Sheridan's site

Drawing on the work of the great Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, Sheridan makes the case that the archetype that has been dominant in the west for several decades is The Devouring Mother, a shadow form whose primary qualities include gaslighting, emotional manipulation and guilt tripping all in the name of protecting her children. Sheridan switches between the microcosmic and the macrocosmic to show how The Devouring Mother permeates all levels of society from interpersonal relationships and employment through to large scale political and social movements including corona.

So, the West may have experienced an "archetype switch" during the second half of the 20th century, when propaganda moved from promoting the rule of dominating fathers (or sacred kings) to that of devouring mothers, also known as "castrating mothers." Sheridan's idea makes a lot of sense. When the corona pandemic appeared, no strong leader emerged with the promise of bombing the evil virus to submission. On the contrary, the strong man of 2020, Donald Trump, was positively damaged by his attitude that many perceived as callous and uncaring. At most, we saw the emergence of suave grandfatherly figures, such as Tony Fauci, who adopted gaslighting as his main communication tool. And "Science" took the role of the devouring mother.  

There is a logic in this archetype switch. A sacred king is a real person, while the devouring mother is an abstraction. From the viewpoint of the elites, an abstract archetype is much better. "Science" can be easily controlled by corrupting those who speak for it, the scientists. Instead, a great leader can hardly be corrupted: he has all the power, and so he can have everything he wants. Another advantage of having raised science to a god-like role is that if (when) things start going bad, politicians and officials can reasonably hope to be able to get off the hook (in a literal sense), by blaming the scientists for having misled them. Mussolini was hanged upside down, but you cannot hang science. That does not prevent the possibility that individual scientists will be hanged, just like the Nazis at Nuremberg. But the elites don't care about scientists.  

These phenomena are another step in the evolution of the communication technology we call "propaganda." It had its infancy in the 19th century, matured with the dictatorships of the 20th century, and is still growing and morphing into new forms that, sometimes, we have difficulties recognizing and understanding. In any case, technology is power, and the problem of power is control

The modern forms of propaganda are immensely powerful, even near divine if we see them as ways of "creating reality" -- once a prerogative of God alone. But whereas God is benevolent and merciful, propaganda definitely is not. Its main tool is hate, and it uses it with glee to exterminate huge numbers of people. 

The Covid propaganda campaign had started with a theoretically benevolent purpose: saving grandma from the threat of a deadly virus. And yet, it soon became a hate campaign against the evil "no-vaxxers." It may well be that the people who started the campaign were surprised themselves by how the small creature called "coronavirus" had been turned into a Chthonic deity, just as those who supported Mussolini were surprised to see him turning into a sacred king. Fortunately, the Covid story is clearly losing its grip on people's minds. Perhaps it is being suppressed by the same entities who created it, not wanting to lose control of their creature. For the time being, they have returned to the old and tested methods of hate-mongering, as we see in the current demonization campaign against the Russians. 

So, have we reached "peak propaganda"? Maybe, but it may also be that we'll see it morphing into something new and more sophisticated. The new creature called "Metaverse" may offer new avenues for the powers that be to control their subjects. But history always goes in cycles, old ideas come back and disappear, always the same and always different. In a century or so, we saw dictators take the shape of ancient sacred kings, the evil dragoness Tiamat reappearing as a minuscule peduncled creature, human sacrifices performed on an immense scale, and, recently, nearly all the churches of God worshiping a golden calf called "Science." What else are we going to see? 

In the end, it is the human mind that creates myths, gods, and monsters. It is keeps them alive, and gives them the power to harm people. Propaganda is just an amplifier of these powers -- evil is all in the mind of the believer. You have to resist this evil, and you can if you remember that reality is not what appears in TV or in the media. Reality is what you see and what you touch. It is your friends, your family, your partner, your children. It is the ground you touch, the flowers you see, the singing of birds. Just stay human, and Fascism will never return.  


  1. To blame science seems to miss the power and influence of the financial forces that direct and control (also lose control) of it.

  2. The 'devouring mother' hypothesis is fascinating, given Western culture has never been so blatantly narcissistic as in our time. As the child of a covert narcissist mother whose life has been severely affected along with my siblings, that definition is scarily close to what we experienced, gaslighting, manipulation, control, mental torture and exploitation in general. These are the kind of people who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near children, let alone to have their own to use as indoctrinated free labour, having been brainwashed since birth.

    The connection from doing that to children to also infantilising a whole nation of mostly nominal adults is logical, why wouldn't the techniques still work on them too. Basically it is the exploitation of generalised human psychological weaknesses that are a default flaw in our brains we defenceless against. That is why propaganda works so well, if it didn't, corporations wouldn't spend billions annually on advertising/marketing. And our billionaire rulers like Elon Musk wouldn't have just bought Twitter for $44 billlion so he could influence 230 million sheeple in one go.

  3. Thank You, Ugo.
    Penalizing individual initiative until it is feared is essential. Making "the unvaccinated" sub-human seemed to be working for a time, and is still working in the minds of some people and groups
    Your synthesis of a maternal smothering of initiative seems to fit the circumstances well.
    Fascism is the union of big-business and the state, and we can see that everywhere, as regulatory forms choke out all but larger corporations, due to regulatory economies of scale. This "success" does destroy economic efficiency and the ability to adapt, which may be fatal in times of rapid change.

    Mussolini was, perhaps misled and paid by the UK in his earlier days, as pictured. He sapped Italian wealth and diverted much of the Italian military to Ethiopia, so it was not available to Italy later.

  4. Many people confidently state that they would never behave like the Germans in WWII, where most of the population looked the other way, at least out of fear for themselves. Yet what ended up as a world wide experiment with the corona-virus drama, whether deliberately or not, showed how much power governments had relative to each other and how willing they were to abuse that for whatever wish list they always had on standby for an opportunity. Very few nations came out looking good, like Sweden, where the health authority has serious, genuine independence from government interference and the citizenry were treated as responsible adults.

    The people in most countries quickly fell into line, the majority because like children they simply believed whatever they were told and most of the rest via intimidation, like threatening loss of jobs, freedom of movement and access to social needs like education and medical care. People who obey unthinkingly that fast would sit on the fence and look the other way just as easily when a totalitarian regime takes over. A quick look at history shows many, many nationalities should look in the mirror when talking about genocide, unsurprisingly they are well represented among those nations with most power even today.

  5. What's also interesting is that the two main geopolitical rivals to the maternal West are "sacred kings" i.e. Putin and Xi. I think we forget that the old monarchies had centuries of trial and error built into their structure which protected not just the people from the king but the king from the people. As you mention, it's practically impossible to stay sane as someone who has been catapulted to a position of exaltation without any training. So, I think Russia and China are playing the same dangerous game that the fascists played and it's almost guaranteed there will be enormous pain when Putin and Xi die as those societies have been structured around individuals rather than roles.

  6. By the way, it is worth remembering the history of Mussolini himself. Until 1914, he was one of the Socialist Party of Italy leaders, the editor-in-chief of its main newspaper Avanti, i.e. a completely decent labor movement leader (until in October 1914, due to disagreements about the attitude to the world war outbreak with other Socialist Party leaders, he pogromized its headquarters).
    And somewhere in the 1920s, the Italian Communists leader, Palmiro Togliatti, at a meeting of the Comintern leaders, quite seriously proposed an alliance with Mussolini against Germany, Britain and the United States.
    These facts indicate that the future leader of the next fascism can hide under any guise for the time being, and some of his ideological opponents, even when he revealed his true face, may be mistaken about his essence.

  7. A fascinating post Ugo, I suspect that the art of propaganda will continue to grow as the energy crunch bites harder. It has been amazing to see how easy it is to buy opinions and guide narratives in today's "high tech" world where the ability to investigate a claim is at your finger tips. Logic, elementary application of a little math and just a scant review of historical context often reveals something totally different than the promoted narrative but this is never done in the media. I believe many have become intellectually lazy. But maybe it has always been this way and for those who search for depth and understanding, these tools allow us to see just how bad it has become. The devouring mother... Sadly I knew one of those!

  8. Science is not the devouring mother. Science is the activity of finding out how the world works. Science uses logic with discovered facts to build an ever more nuanced understanding of the world. Truth is the standard.

    Propaganda may or may not disseminate truth. Truth is not the standard. Goals accomplished is the standard.

    Confusion between the two happens because both use the same parts of the brain.

    We are not at peak propaganda. Far from it. Uncontrolled money is going to preserve its way of life. Humans gave money the breath of life, and money is both the dominating father and the devouring mother. Some will scream conspiracy of globalists while austerity is forced on the masses leading to a new world of serfdom. I do not do that. I only say globalists will do what globalists do. Stupid does what it does, like a duck does what a duck does. Communication between ducks not necessary. Servants of money will do what they do. Start wars if necessary.

    There is a long road to a world with 2 billion people and kings driving electric cars in a carbon neutral world. As only kings will have cars in the new world the propaganda needed to maintain cultural hegemony to make it all happen is hardly been tapped.

    Mussolini was quick to put Antonio Gramsci in jail. Causing the prison notebooks to be written. In his notebooks we discover cultural hegemony.

    Cultural Hegemony - The state and ruling capitalists, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin stock owning people, our bourgeoisie. These people maintain their power and control using cultural institutions. They worked for their inheritance don't you know? All hail the cult of Musk.

    The hegemonic culture of money uses ideology disseminated by cultural institutions to maintain itself. Cultural institutions are churches, schools and all forms of mass media. In time violence and coercion become secondary means of control. Only problem children even need to know what can be done.

    Mass media is our soup du jour. We are in the foothills of peak propaganda. Billionaires want their grandchildren to rule ours. Money is the standard and the rich will use mountains of propaganda to ensure their children rule.


  9. In the Middle East, the media bombards the consciousness of people with choreographed submissions like below - "the West is bad"....

    In the Middle East, senior officials aired by the media 24/7 bombarding the consciousness of people - "the West is no thoughtful and reckless".... (notice the background music is deliberately put to traumatise the audience even more - as if the sky will be falling in the next hour - ha ha ha)

    On the internet, common and regular professional voices in the field of Energy, like Nate Hagens, who were relentlessly educating people over the years that in-effect - Price what decides fossil fuels' level of consumption, therefore the finite nature of oil, coal and natural gas - comes secondary - hyped by useless PeakOilers - have started now talking about - how unpaid-for fossil fuels are precious when nature has taken millions of years creating and storing them safely underground...

    "Playing with truth" - Art Berman writes - "Today, the world has begun the descending arc of the Oil Age. The Second Cold War is a struggle to dominate remaining fossil resources...."

    That should have read, instead:

    Today, the world has begun the last descending arc of the Oil Age...

    The ongoing circus of our Western Civilisation is no less than a struggle to loot the little and last remaining one-off conventional fossil resources - the only real energy resources readily preserved on earth - now and in the future...

    It doesn't matter - crises-actors, 'scientists', lecturers, writers, armies of paid bloggers and commentators, fake Institutes, media, officials, war lords - and all the rest....

    It doesn't matter - whether Is Fascism Returning?, Communism returning?, Cold War returning?, Democracy returning?, Nazism returning?, Capitalism returning?, politicised & militant Islam returning?, Right retuning?, Left returning?...

    All are, actually , after the little remaining conventional one-off fossil resources - and how to manage looting them....

    "Energy cannot be looted - or it turns a curse"...

    "Energy, like time, flows from past to future"