Commemoration of Fascism
by G. A. BORGESE
THERE was no celebration last October of the March on Rome — birth date, back in 1922, of Italian and world Fascism. As for the Duce, his physical deterioration was the one occasion granted him for front-page publicity in this season of destiny. Once more by chance a successful selfdramatizer, he let everybody know that in the month which saw him slip from power to prison (July, 1943) he lost fifty pounds, one third of his all. This was news.
Along with it the duodenal ulcer, the venereal record, all the carnal misery that had been an open secret in his country for decades, were bared at last to international crowds. At intervals, pictures dimmed by the radio transmission showed him: still one of the living, still incredibly waving a salute to the Führer, but nearly unrecognizable, with the skin molding the skull, with the famished looks of his youth and all youth gone, and a smile as pale as from the beyond.
The thinning of his body provided with inspiration those very writers who in his heyday had lifted him to the magnificence of Augustus. No less cheap than then, they now depicted his personal emaciation as the counterpart of his vanished empire. That Empire had extended from below the equator to across the Alps. With Africa and Sicily and Naples and Rome and Tuscany in the grip of the invader, it had shrunk to the Po valley, once his cradle and Fascism’s. Such had been the march from Rome. The exits all around were ringed with fire.
Infamy itself, which is glory of a sort, was withheld from him, at least in the measure he was entitled to claim. For there is no gainsaying that in the time between defeat and despair, through the long breathing spell between fall and doom, he did his best to live up to his standards. Yet the world at large would not pay attention to the uniqueness of his misdeeds. Greatness, even in evil, was refused to the Duce; a talion for the man who craved greatness at all costs all his life. Try as he might, it was the consensus that he had been nothing but a clown until the war, and a puppet thereafter.
It is the consensus that he had better wipe himself off the face of the earth, tracelessly, if feasible. For, featherweight though he is, he is still an encumbrance — or a nuisance at least. Hence the telltale mystery story of his captivity. Badoglio, too open-minded to kill him, had him arrested (in an ambulance, as befitted a sick man) on July 25, 1943, spirited off to a southern islet, removed to more distant shores across the Tyrrhenian Sea, rushed back to the mainland and perched on a peak of the Central Apennines, for an opera bouffe conspiracy of Fascists and Nazis to locate him easily there on September 12, and to forward him easily therefrom on a Nazi plane to his second wind, Duce again and chief of the Italian Fascist Republic. No such thing could have eventuated if the victors had wanted him, sealing his fate in a clause of the unconditional surrender. They did not want him. Badoglio interpreted their wish; he kept the unclaimed martyr off the path of the advancing invasion.
A British writer, Cassius, before the Duce’s downfall, had his laugh in a narrative fantasia he entitled “The Trial of Mussolini” — which of course was not feasible; since Churchill, for example, who after all is the leader of the victor democracies, would be subpoenaed as a star witness in behalf of the defendant — Churchill who until September, 1938, eve of Munich, heralded loudly the Duce as the greatest man in history, greater than Cromwell and Washington; who, even after Mussolini had stabbed France in the back and had lunged at the British Empire, still kept assuring the Italians that they had in him a “great man,” the “one man, one man alone” — who had slipped, alas, into the “one mistake, one mistake alone” of attacking the British Empire.
All his crimes and murders, including the murder of his own nation, had been lavishly pardoned or extolled; and could he be convicted and punished on the score of an error if, as common sense and natural law suggest, to attack the British Empire is an error, however extra-size, rather than rigorously a crime? Hang the Kaiser? This Caesar? Apart from all other considerations, the millions would be shocked who have been taught of late he was a puppet, a scarecrow, with no existence of his own. The operation would look no less petty, while uglier, than the execution in effigy of a fictional villain.
He, on the other hand, is not merely a helpless piece in the game. As long as his brief candle lasts, he may have his say. No magic is required to divine how he must feel in the solitude and fear hedging him like the traditional tyrant in the fifth act. Less and less vocal, the Duce zigzagged from sea to ridge, from emergency capitals to shifting headquarters — until he borrowed a more permanent shelter in the mansion of a money magnate by the Lake of Garda.
The scenery of blue waters and fine mountains is haunted by the spirit of D’Annunzio, who aged and died in his schizoid hermitage on a near-by cliff. Repeatedly in his last years he wrote to Mussolini, his disciple: “Die not in thy sheets.” As a matter of fact he, the poet, did die in his sheets, amply in time (1938) not to see the wreckage of the country he had loved, if not as a mother at least as a mistress. It was the disciple who was left in the lurch. Words, his own, from the years of defiance, must resound with ghastly sarcasm in his inner ear—those he tossed more than once to the “alala” of his “square legions”: “If I advance, follow me; if I step back, kill me.” Hardly any space is now available for retreats, let alone advances.
What — if the silence of the last pause can suggest such words — what about not dying in his sheets? Dying “memorably”? Not much in his career points to spontaneous courage; but synthetic mettle may prove hard. While tottering in the aftermath of the Matteotti murder, he said to a female interviewer: “They do not know that I am a wild boar.” Death, Samson-like under more ruins, might be after all his only chance left for a “great life” as he meant it.
REFUGEES from Italy have been suspected of magnifying, in a kind of inverted patriotism, their local devil, this pygmy. They know.
To be sure, he would be a mystic geographer who identified the Mississippi with its ultimate headspring in the Little Elk Lake on a slight elevation in Minnesota about 2500 miles from its mouth in Louisiana. He would be the travesty of a historian who held that world Fascism and Mussolini’s Fascism of the early twenties were one and the same thing.
Nevertheless there, somewhere in the Po valley, sometime between the late teens and the early twenties, was the ultimate headspring, on a slight elevation of Italian history. The headspring of Fascism was the rioting of a band of intellectual desperadoes, lunatics, and amateur arsonists, in quest of nothing but self-expression and fun. It was psychological (psychotic) in nature, thoroughly uneconomic and unpolitical, lyrical in its own fashion, unrationalizable, a Jacquerie of the mind, the gratuitousness of perversion. Mussolini provided them with a label and a uniform, fused their individual jerks in a gregarious push.
More robust waters ran presently into the meager black stream of the beginnings, merged it in their tempo and volume. It was on the one side the transparent greed and fear of landlords and profiteers, yearning for ultimate revenge on the Socialism (they named it Bolshevism) that had kept them trembling, and against which they hired gunmen as barons of previous ages had hired bravoes. It was on the other side Nationalism, carrying the hoary, stupid foam of a thousand-year-old complex of the Italian intellectual class: Roman primacy; resurrection of the Roman Empire.
At the confluence with Germany, ten years later, the name itself gradually paled — at least in Western usage — superseded by Nazism. Almost simultaneously, another major tributary carried the turbulences released by the world-wide financial collapse, the muddle of unemployment, the ethical and political defaults of the democratic powers. The crisis of the liberal society was interpreted by its deserters as a final catastrophe. Fascism — or Nazism — swelled to a plenary mysticism of despair with fitful nostalgias for obscurantist counterreformations restoring man to the bliss of serfdom, or with convulsive yearnings for liberation in barbaric uprisings.
Indeed, all that we have seen and are going to see is colossally bigger than the tiny black rivulet at the headspring of world Fascism. That rivulet is all but dried up while we write. The little black man on his “slight elevation” may well perish unsung. But Fascism rolls forth.
SMALL seers are overprecise in their predictions, thus exposing themselves helplessly to the irony of the unfolding facts. Observed from this angle, Mussolini appears to belong in a somewhat higher class, careful as he was to wrap his soothsayings in the ambiguities that befit a prophet. In 1932 he felt sure that within ten years all Europe would be “Fascist or fascistized.” If in his final straits he still has a moment’s leisure to interpret his old oracles, he might contend that he was right, “as always.” He might argue that ten or twelve years after his dictum, regardless of the military events, Fascism has conquered all Europe, and the world.
There would be some truth in his claim. War, as often stated, is a struggle and an embrace alike, with contagion and cross-breeding. The process of contamination, with the anti-Fascist victors fascistized at growing speed by the losers, has been followed all through the war with growing concern by such as had expected a David to slay that Goliath.
Five main symptoms should be listed: —
First. The anti-Fascist powers have endorsed and annexed the Fascist doctrine of total destruction, especially from the air, aimed indiscriminately at the whole body of the enemy nation. That the doctrine failed to provide Fascism with victory was a lesson that did not intimidate Fascism’s adversaries.
Second. As nihilist destruction was paramount in military warfare, according to the Fascist mind, so was corruption its main instrument in political warfare. Quislingism was its original name. The democracies borrowed and expanded the method to the limit. Its further denominations were Darlanism, Giraudism, Mikhailovitchism, Badoglism. Others are in store. While the habitats of the surrendering or liberated nations are still aflame, the souls themselves of those nations are surrendered to ethical disintegration.
Third. Likewise, those nations are supposed, as soon as democratic victory is achieved, to surrender to bodily disintegration, or national dismemberment. Until 1918 and later it was a common assumption all over the world that the national entities were permanent and entitled, on the whole, despite defeat and loss, to self-determination. Fascism and Nazism made a clean slate of this superstition; they tampered freely, in imagination and deed, with maps and populations. The democracies, having thrown to the wind the paper called in its day Atlantic Charter, heeded the lesson.
Fourth. It was German Fascism, hesitantly preceded and sluggishly followed by Italian Fascism, that first confessed as a religious tenet the racial theory. Judaism was its target. Now statesmen and columnists in growing numbers are clamoring for the Nazi theory to be applied in reverse, assigning to the whole of Germanism the fate that Nazism assigned to Judaism and deciding once for all that Evil is of German parentage.
Fifth. A characteristic of Fascist and Nazi planning was, as everybody knows, absurdity. Nevertheless, there was at least a surface plausibility in the German delirium. It was theoretically conceivable that a combined victory of Germany and Japan might divide between the two main victors the old continents, with some kind of vacuum, somewhere in inner Asia, between uncompetitive greeds, while the European satellites from France to the Black Sea might rotate around the German sun, adding to its momentum rather than detracting from its supremacy.
In this fifth respect as well as in the other four, the victors have taken, or strive to take, inspiration from the vanquished. The Axis system is being replaced, in the victors’ daydream which they call planning, by the Grand Alliance: a combination of Anglo-American and Russian forces claiming world rule. The issue at this point is not a comparison between the social and ethical values in behalf of which each ally is scheming the Grand Alliance, and the values of tyranny, dubbed authority, and of slavery, dubbed organism, which made the gist of the Nazi-Japanese plan.
A comparison at such a level is otiose. The issue is a comparison from the angle of “realism" and actual feasibility. The Nazi-Japanese plan envisioned in a sphere of hypothetical thinking an addition of forces which were of a homogeneous or, so to speak, arithmetical nature. Nazi conquest, Mediterranean empire, Japanese militarism could hypothetically go together. No ultimate disagreement in social purposes and historical beliefs headed the prospective victors for insoluble conflicts between themselves. In our case, what binds together Russia and the West is the purpose, already virtually achieved, of defeating Hitlerism.
That purpose is transient and negative by its very nature. A lasting world order, founded on what the victors fear, not on what they love, on what they one by one reject, not on what they jointly desire, is an irrational operation with an alignment of negative forces sapping whatever positive adherences might outlast the battle. As long as the economic and political purposes of the West and Russia do not fit together, at least in their main trends, a WesternRussian guarantee of world order is a promise impossible of fulfillment, a coalition without coalescence — hardly less absurd, although for different reasons, than was the Nazi-Fascist master plan, and hardly less alien to reality.
IN THESE and in other ways we are being affected, infected by what we hated and still say we hate, injecting “realism,” expediency, super-Machiavellism of the lion-fox make, power politics at its crudest, profusely into ourselves. And there is a shiver, not of unmixed thrill, in reading the daily tabulations of the mileage that separates us, on four converging fronts, from the terminus — Berlin. For as we advance in the military field, approximately at the same rate of speed we recede from the former purpose — now scoffingly called ideology. The prompter the victory, the closer an indescribable ordeal — unless we change our hearts. The lair, Berlin, we hardly can expect to find inhabited by the supermen or superbeasts we hunt. It is not they we shall meet there. It is ourselves — when no battle’s din and fire will screen from our own consciences the symbols we abjured as our fortunes grew.
One or two testimonials from the first satellite capital we liberated, Rome, contain forecasts of spiritual subversions that are in the making, and in whose making we had and have a share. A Roman anti-Fascist was asked by an American correspondent, Ed Johnson, “What do these people want most from us, now that we are here?” “Give us,” the Roman unreliantly replied, “something in which we can believe.”
A more comprehensive dialogue was reported by the same correspondent a few days later. “A friend who is now in the civil government and who for years was a daring and effective worker in the antiFascist underground warned me about drawing any sweeping conclusions about Italy from the people one meets these days in the streets and cafés. ‘People who are worth a pinch of salt don’t loiter around the streets these days,’ he said. ‘Most worth-while people have found a place where they can devote their energy to the rebuilding of a decent Italy. Or else, like most of the Squadristi, they have gone north with the Germans.’ I suggested that it seemed strange to hear him apply the term ‘worthwhile’ to those Fascists who had chosen to pull out and throw in their lot with the Nazis. Did he, for example, consider the murderers, kidnapers, and extortionists of the Squadristi to be worth-while citizens? ‘They were monsters and we will kill them all,’ he replied, ‘but we could give them our hand. They were evil, but they were men of courage, and they stuck by what they believed.’”
A few weeks later squads of native Fascists and stubborn native snipers fought against the insurgent anti-Fascists and the oncoming armies of liberation in the streets of Florence. Not many days thereafter squads of French Fascists fought, against the armies of liberation in the streets of Marseilles and in the Cathedral of Paris when the foreign Nazis had quit already. Many a survivor and his comrades elsewhere may be replacing the maquis and partisans in their vacated undergrounds.
These are landmarks on a perilous road. We had better look straight at what they mean. It is the road to the self-spiritualization and self-rehabilitation of Fascism while it dies as a political power — a self-acquittal at the moment, so to speak, of passing away. Spurred by our confusion, aware of our apostasies, instructed — so they think — of racialism seething in America, of imperialism mounting in Britain, of Pan-Slavism wearing the insignia of Socialism, a number of them may choose to die hailing their native or foreign Führer, or even to insist with their last breath that “he was always right.”
Führers and Duces might envision, while the curtain falls, conveyance to immortality as stowaways on the ship of history. Their atrocity they would try to smuggle as the desperate defense of the European fatherlands, their cynicism as a challenge, however unsuccessful for a time, to hypocrisy and plutocracy. There might be a place for Hitler — so unaccountably tricksy is history — near Barbarossa in the Kyffhäuser; one for Mussolini beside Cola di Rienzo. Leisure might be available in the final unemployed days of the Duce for browsing again in the lurid biography his teacher D’Annunzio wrote of the Roman rhetorician and demagogue who six centuries ago undertook singlehanded to resurrect the glory and power that had been Rome.
The last chapter itemizes in ornate sadism the end and funeral rites of the fallen hero. First pierced with a dagger through the underbelly, he died at once; but a belated killer split his skull with the sword. The rabble which he had been so competent in rousing closed in from all sides, maimed and riddled him with posthumous wounds. Then the corpse, or as much of it as was still handy, was hanged and left for a couple of days to pollute the air, finally to be surrendered to the “filthy Jews” of the Ghetto, who burned the residue on a pyre of thistles.
But “the winds and the centuries, discordant alike, took the ashes and the memory.” Thus ends the obituary.
Why not? With the measures of right and wrong, of true and false, grown shaky in the hands of the victors, the winds of fame may prove as discordant as those that took the ashes and the memory of Cola. The leaders of Fascism, while “slamming the door,” may bid for their shares in the fictional hereafter of their Siegfrieds and Caesars — thence, quite actually, to prompt other generations to more riot and ruin.
As FOR Italy today, while the phantom of the Homan Empire recedes at last to an irrevocable past, the man who happened to be the ultimate and most tragic of its necromancers may glory, if not any longer in the pomp of his conquests, at least in the magnitude of his devastation. That he was a nihilist by nature, a spirit of chaos, many knew long since. That Italy, which he too loved (as the gunman loves his gun), would have some day to pay the price was apparent to all who cared. Yet nobody anticipated so totalitarian a ruin. D’Annunzio, in a vast hymn, had celebrated his own tutor, Nietzsche, as a “Destroyer.” The appellative, whatever distinction may be drawn from its literal meaning, is more appropriate for D’Annunzio’s disciple.
A revival of the nation will emerge from the depths — we do not know when. For our time there is no overstatement in the sentence, so insistently repeated, that this is its worst catastrophe in history. The first wave, the barbaric invasions, left its culture paramount in a world where the invaders sought spiritual rule from the invaded. Maturation through an age of transparent darkness came to fruition in those astonishing three hundred years of a newborn Italy from Communes to Renaissance. The French and the Spaniards swooped on the country grown too rich and soft; they looted and disfranchised it; yet the wound did not reach its vitals, while its intellectual primacy, slow to fade, and the resilience of its regional and municipal originalities still made up for the loss of wealth and political autarchy.
Napoleon, two hundred and fifty years later, trampled Italy again, but also awoke her; and the insolence and greed of his soldiery and bureaucracy were half absolved by the promise, not totally disingenuous, of national resurgence. Moreover, none of those three floods had swept the whole country; there were provinces and islands spared from their impact, where life could store its warmth and try anew; much of private and public life went its wonted ways hardly touched by wars, whose immediate radiation often did not extend much beyond the boundaries of the battlefield. But the fourth catastrophe, 1943-1944, hit everything everywhere.
The country, valued as an estate of tangible assets, had not much to show these last four centuries on a par with the legacy of its arts. Nazi oppressor and Western liberator, the pursued and the pursuers, have been stumbling for more than two years over its marble and brick, lopping towers, cracking altars, pulverizing the bridges that festooned the Arno, mangling Florence, lighting in a final glare of TNT Peruginos and Mantegnas, turning to ashes colors and forms where the most beauty-loving of all peoples, after Greece, had celebrated not so much its own labor and genius as the dignity of the whole human mind.
Disruption, not all of it Italian-made, of other values enshrined in Time goes together with the demolition in space. The Risorgimento, which was the word and deed of Italy in the nineteenth century, did not stand out in the popular knowledge of the larger nations. It captivated nonetheless the attention and commanded the respect of the best historians, in English and the German language alike, as one of the finest things of modern history, so fascinatingly paired in it were gallantry and gentleness, so devoted to each other love of country and universal humanism, with some kind of saintly halo on such images as Garibaldi and Mazzini. Now all that those men and generations did lies dead; and granted that much of the doom was a suicidal call from Italy herself to the Fascist killer and the Nazi gravedigger — yet by that grave there should be place, in reverence to the past and dedication to the future, for some Healer bidding the dead to rise and walk.
But England, or the oligarchy that controls her will, has long silenced in herself the Shelleys and Brownings for whom the Italian Risorgimento was a dawn of Man. The grave of a nation is a firmer ground for imperial lifelines than the unpredictable motions of a living being. Since the Italians wanted empire, it is fit retaliation for them to fill a place in the empires of others. First, during the ascendancy of the Nazi Empire, they climbed down step by step; then, after the Spanish war, they slithered fast from a visionary primacy to the fact of servitude. Nazism, which had been Fascism’s foster-child and protégé, put it up as a poor relation; soon it infiltrated, then garrisoned frankly, what remained of the Fascist Empire; Caesar’s mask slipped from the quisling face.
In due time, as the liberating armies surged from Libya toward the Po, what fell from the German Empire fell to the British, with the independence earned in the Risorgimento now a sham in the “sphere of influence” and subtler bonds substituted for the broken chains. A crypto-Fascist monarchy, a Bourbon combine of feudalism and bigotry, capped by a Savoy rajah, and counterfeiting in permanent corruption the dignified stabilities of British royalty, was the proposition of British imperialism for its protectorate in the Mediterranean. America, at present a colossal body of power with no will of its own, and Russia, at present an enormous cloud of world threat or world promise, — nobody is able to say which, — nodded singly and jointly a provisional consent.
Meanwhile the Twelfth-Hour Duce, the fugitive of September, 1943, from accomplice justice, was granted what reprieve he needed to defile what emblems still stood pure in the memory of the Risorgimento. Unseated by the Savoy monarchy, he grabbed as a weapon of adventitious revenge the Mazzinian battle cry of the Italian Republic; he even fell back, at least in words, on the socialism of his recreant youth— Parthian shots meant to blind the minds of his dwindling crowds and, perhaps, to perplex the march of the Western victors. True, Republic and Socialism, People and Liberty, Europe and Humanity, were all through that ferocious year live things in the minds of the guerrillas who, adding Italian blood to the much blood shed by the foreign liberators, made the earth burn under the Nazi heel and dogged with relentless menace the march of Fascism to its last refuge.
Those, however, among them whom the NaziFascist noose or bullet missed were disarmed hurriedly by the AMG, under penalty of death, with “certificates of merit” and priorities in job-seeking, as soon as contact was established between them and the victors they had been prodded to help win. What they did was no less grim and great than what was done by the French underground, but the limelight was denied to them; a thick veil of silence, made of planned censorship and of halfinvoluntary absent-mindedness, was drawn between their feats and the sight of the world.
For, if the powers that be have decreed that Italy must lose her personality and step down to a colonial status, it must also be decreed that the Italians are unable to fight and die for a cause — a mass, not a people. Were the world allowed to think that they too are able to fight and die for the cause that should unite, not subjugate, the nations, it might also approve of their claim that they are also entitled to live — even to protest, even eventually to rise against the verdict that expels them from the community of the free. This must be avoided.
True, no Vansittart is visibly brandishing over fallen Italy big scissors of dismemberment. Although the clauses of surrender stipulated in September, 1943, are evidently so immoral that the victors insist, even against the wish of the vanquished, on keeping them secret, it is fair to assume that no thorough territorial disembowelment was prescribed. Outward zones alone, rumor has it, should bleed with well-meaning amputations, such as Trieste’s, about which the surgeons feel strangely self-conscious when it should be clear that the Italians, if they realized how they sinned, ought to take them even without anaesthesia.
Otherwise, if they like to stick together in one sub-national body, they may. It seems also that no order in council aligns them by the millions for slave labor in master countries, or marshals them by the millions, each with his bundle of rags, for departures without returns from the acres of their fathers. Punishments of this magnitude suit taller culprits. Degradation, with what it entails in economy and culture, will be enough for the Italians, a destiny more bland — and more final.
Thus the will to primacy of the crazed few boomerangs on all, forcing them to the abject place. Thus their interesting provincial vagary, Fascism, grown to be a universal insanity, reacts on the remote source and engulfs their country in the monstrosity of the consequences.
CHRISTIANS or humanists, we cannot help thinking in terms of conversion and progress. It is inherent in the articulations of our minds to remember more vividly the summits when we are deepest in the gorge, to repeat that the dawn is nearest when the night is darkest.
It is a mere act of faith, yet as legitimate as it is necessary, to believe that the days, or years, of world Fascism are numbered, and to interpret the unparalleled fits of nationalism and imperialism we are witnessing as the impetuous flashes that precede extinction. It is faith, which is the evidence of things not seen, yet countenanced by knowledge and reason, to trust that Russia, whatever the detours, will walk the ways that were shown her by the Christian Tolstoy and where she met the Jew Marx. It is not necessarily a political science for Pollyannas to assume that Paine and Whitman, Henry George and Thoreau, do not lie full fathom five below the surface of America and that America, who was the pupil of England in liberty and excelled the teacher, will be the teacher of England in justice.
Italy, who bore good and evil seeds in the long course of her fertility, who also happened to bear — halfheartedly, half unwittingly — the first germs of world Fascism, is not by far one of the strongest and largest members of the body of mankind. Yet it is Gospel truth that if one member, large or small, of the body rots, the whole body will rot. It is a patent fallacy to suppose that Italy, however secondary and distant, can be condemned to lie a Job among the nations without any contagion spreading from that stretcher to the whole of society. She might start trouble again if she could — with the extenuating circumstance, this time, of offended justice. Were she too weak for that, she might instruct more potent neighbors to start trouble again.
A psychologist of the masses, Gustave Le Bon, whose authority is not always impaired by his biological superstitions, held that the basic trends of a national being are irreducible. It will be difficult to persuade the leading classes of Italy that no other assignment should be available for Italy than a menial and subaltern one; that the nation whose great language they speak, whose universal style is ingrained in their every fiber, should survive, a superannuated Cinderella, in the sculleries of a palatial world controlled by the Big Three or Four or Five.
Two paths, winding through the ruins, call the Italians to a choice. One, visible for a short while only, leads finally to the underground of hatred and conspiracy: Neofascism. Mussolini, when trying in vain to arouse the Italians to the fight he wanted, warned them that the alternative to fight and victory was “ national obliteration.” Ill-advised democrats in the West have been echoing, more or less automatically, Mussolini’s thought, and doing their bit to drive into the Italian mind, albeit unwittingly, the doubt whether Mussolini was not right, “ as always.”
The other path, beyond the ruins, leads the Italians to the rediscovery and reinterpretation of what has been the basic trend of their collective thought for a score of centuries and more. The concept of human unity became the permanent essence of the Roman Empire; it was inherited, and lifted to the purpose of a spiritual superstate, by the millennial endeavor of the Roman Church; it built a twice-three-aisle cathedral, not yet ashes, in Dante’s Comedy and Monarchy; translated into modern and secular terminology, it designed the World Republic of Leopardi and Mazzini.
Romans and Florentines in this field of knowledge and hope have been guides — not of tourists alone. If the Italians are allowed to walk on that road again, if intoxication and folly of victors do not bar it to them, they are likely to help themselves and others toward more acceptable vistas.
No sooner had the outmost provinces of Italy been liberated than a remarkable little editorial was printed in a Catania tabloid, the Corriere di Sicilia, August 25, 1943. The wrong of Fascism, it stated, was to look backward, to ancient Rome; hence the wreck we contemplate in Rome and the world. “The only possible Roman Empire of today is world coöperation, with all the other Romes partaking equally in the common task.” He who worded such plain truths so plainly was presumably an American soldier-writer of Latin descent and background.
His words anyhow had a familiar ring for Italian ears. Elizabeth Barrett had voiced them in her Mazzinian English, from the Florence that is no more, nearly a century ago. “Civilization perfected,” she said, “is fully developed Christianity.” She said to the Italians of her day: —
Of earth’s municipal, insular schisms. . . .
Bring us the higher example; release us
Into the larger coming time. . . .
In slightly different terms: as the curtain, or tombstone, falls on Fascism, we gain a more comprehensive insight into its character and career. It was perversion and dementia. It was the fact, or imagination, of power substituted for the idea of justice. It also was a diagnosis of real diseases that lamed and lame the half-civilization we call democracy, with total brutality offered as the remedy. It also was the wrong answer to a right problem. The problem was: How shall we make order and establish authority in the anarchy of the nations? The answer was: Roman Empire, German Empire. That answer is dust. The problem is bequeathed by the dying to the living; as all epilogues are prologues.