The Best Description for Hitler and Mussolini, and their respective National Socialist and National Fascist Parties is, “Fascist”
The same is true for Francisco Franco who is historically seen as “less fascist” than Hitler and Mussolini, just as the same is true for for any other far-right militant nationalist authoritarian in any era (although each leader and party should be discussed on its own plank-by-plank).
This distinction of fascism as its own civil religion (and not as just “a type of socialism” for example) is specifically valid in the post WWI to WWII era when fascist ideologies became popularized around the globe.
These truisms are perhaps best evidenced by Mussolini’s National Fascist Party and later Republican Fascist Party, alongside his telling Doctrine of Fascism. This is because the Italian far-right populists accurately titled their party, unlike the far-right Germans and their confusingly named National Socialist German Workers’ Party (National Socialism is essentially code for National Populism AKA far-right fascism AKA a right-wing evolution of socialism focused on social hierarchy).
TIP: Fascism is an “evolution of socialism” sometimes called by different names like National Socialism (for instance, by Hitler). Despite what it is called in any era, the core ideology is the same. It is a totalitarian state-based civil religion with a social hierarchy that rejects Liberalism, Marxism, and Democracy. It is right-wing, not left-wing in absolute terms (although it is “to the left” of other ideologies on very specific issues due to its collectivist nature). In classical terms, it is can be described in-action, generally speaking, as a type of tyrannical timocracy (or despotic militarism). With that all in mind, fascism does have some left-wing and socialist qualities given its roots (in the way a military that provides healthcare is left-wing or socialist for example). If you are confused on the nuances, check out the difference between Communism and Fascism.
Hitler Meets Mussolini. Both Hitler and Mussolini are despots, dictators, tyrants, authoritarian populists, right-wingers, etc. We can use many terms, but the ones that speak to the uniqueness of their core ideology are Nationalism and Fascism. Specifically, the term Fascist describes ALL of this. This is true despite the early socialist and left-wing roots of fascism, Mussolini, and to some extent Hitler and his National Socialists.
What is Fascism?
Fascism is an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization. It often has intolerant views of “others” and is exclusive to a specific group of native nationals. It can be protectionist, but, in practice, it is often militaristic and imperialistic. With fascism the state is the highest good and social hierarchy is a basic principle, this is very different than the other socialist ideologies that tend to favor global social equality and statelessness and the liberal ideologies which favor individual liberty.
The actual Principles of fascism may change, but they are:
- Anti-specific religions (right-wing, exclusively focused on a small group)
- Pro-racial separation (right-wing, exclusively focused on a small group)
- Anti-civil rights for minorities (right-wing, exclusively focused on a small group)
- Anti-establishment (left-wing, against the elite; but right-wing, against the protections of the state; and right-wing, in practice the NAZIs became despotic tyrants who used the full power of the state)
- Anti-homosexual (right-wing, exclusively focused on a small group)
- Anti-abortion (right-wing, authoritative)
- Anti-intellectual (right-wing, exclusively focused on a small group)
- Anti-immigration (right-wing, exclusively focused on a small group)
- Pro-social programs for their “nationals” or in-group (left-wing, for social programs for a collective; right-wing exclusively focused on a small group).
- Pro-nativist worker (left-wing, for social programs for a collective; right-wing exclusively focused on a small group).
- Anti-Capitalism on paper (left-wing, against capitalism and toward socialism for the in-group on paper; right-wing, most were capitalists with a strict hierarchy in practice.)
Of all the fascists, Hitler was the most focused on racial separation; the others were more focused on nationalism. The later fascist movements tended to favor capitalism. They were militant right-wing populist authoritarian nationalists, but each faction and period has differences.
Fascism is therefore opposed to Socialism to which unity within the State (which amalgamates classes into a single economic and ethical reality) is unknown, and which sees in history nothing but the class struggle….. We are free to believe that this is the century of authority, a century tending to the ” right,” a Fascist century…. If liberalism spells individualism, Fascism spells government… Fascism desires the State to be strong and organic, based on broad foundations of popular [populist] support… Activism: that is to say nationalism, futurism, fascism… The Fascist State expresses the will to exercise power and to command…. Never before have the people thirsted for authority, direction, order, as they do now. – Excerpts from Mussolini’s Doctrine of Fascism that prove in one short essay all the points made, now we need only equate this with Hitler (who was further to the right on most issues, save his party’s socialist wing of Strasserists.)
In the years 1913 and 1914 I expressed my opinion for the first time in various circles, some of which are now members of the National Socialist Movement, that the problem of how the future of the German nation can be secured is the problem of how Marxism can be exterminated. – Hitler’s Mein Kampf where he states clearly what he means by National “Socialism”… a right-wing fascist type of nationalism with a few socialist elements.
NOTE: Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler, like Mussolini’s Doctrine, also describes a right-wing fascist ideology, but be warned, Mussolini’s Doctrine is a short, readable essay; Hitler’s book is a long-winded recount of his becoming a right-wing nationalist in the Nationalist Socialist party. In the text, Hitler speaks of how he was at first enamored by the Christian-Socialists like Lueger, but he also clearly illustrates his move away from socialism toward National Socialism (socialism for the in-group only, a type of fascism and one that notably gets less socialist over time in practice).
Why would anyone want to be a fascist; it seems negative? If you look closely, you’ll notice fascism is “anti-elite” and pro a very specific type of National. If you are of that nationality and feel beaten down by globalizing forces, this brand of social conservatism might offer you an identity and hope. I’m not justifying fascism. I actually have a healthy fear of extremes. I am trying to explain the appeal of Nationalism. The KKK felt cornered during Reconstruction. Hitler’s Nationalists felt cornered after WWI. Fascist groups thrive on hating others and promoting nationalism. In secure times, no one wants to be fascist. When people feel alienated and become afraid of losing their identity, we get more extreme groups like Fascists and Communists.
Fascism in Italy. Mussolini was an intellectual, reading his history he learned how to rally the plebs for war. Perhaps he should have read Machiavelli a little harder, or maybe he should have explained the Medici and banking to Hitler? To expect much from the radical left or right is folly.
Were Mussolini and Hitler Right-Wingers? By most measures, Hitler, Mussolini, and the other fascists were right-wingers. Mussolini’s Doctrine of Fascism stated, “We are free to believe that this is the century of authority, a century tending to the ‘right,’ a fascist century.” Mussolini often rejected labels and stated, “Fascism, sitting on the right, could also have sat on the mountain of the center… These words, in any case, do not have a fixed and unchanged meaning: they do have a variable subject to location, time and spirit. We don’t give a damn about these empty terminologies, and we despise those who are terrorized by these words.” There have been both left-wing and right-wing fascist movements. If we want to use left-right terminology, from a modern frame, it is certainly more appropriate to denote Hitler and Mussolini’s ideologies as right-wing. They exclusive and authoritarian, and those are both considered right-wing from a modern lens. However, going issues-by-issue, plank-by-plank, we can certainly denote left-wing elements of their ideologies too. Complexities aside, right-wing fascists is probably the best simple description of Hitler and Mussolini, their parties, and their politics.
Were Stalin and FDR Fascists? Any ideology that seeks sameness via state authority has fascists undertones. Stalin and FDR are “to the left” of Hitler and Mussolini on favoring inclusive social justice for all (ON PAPER), but that doesn’t mean state-based socialism programs don’t have any fascists qualities. In a complex conversation, many qualifiers can be applied to many different factions of many parties and party leaders. FDR was a social liberal and Stalin, an authoritative Communist despot. FDR followed the letter of the law and defended liberal values; Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini did not. We can make a case like this for Lincoln too, using state-power to force the policy of the South, but, let us not confuse America’s great thinkers defending American ideals with foreign despots hell-bent on world domination with their extreme ideology. For more of this line of thinking, see Hitler, Mussolini, Roosevelt by Cato’s David Boaz and the difference between Communism and Fascism.
TIP: In general, almost no ideology is inherently bad, instead ideologies become “bad” in extremes and when they become aggressive and break the implicit and explicit non-aggression pact inherent in the social contract. It is in the aggressive and extreme form that fascism and nationalism become corrosive to democracy.
If the NAZIs were Nationalist Fascists Why Did they Have “Socialist” in their Title?
Hitler didn’t name his party; he joined it after it was formed. In those years, although Hitler was a Nationalist. He started to idolize Mussolini and began to model his politics after him. Here we could note that Mussolini was originally a socialist, but this doesn’t speak to the conversation. By the time he formed his National Fascist Party, the movement that inspires Hitler, there was “very little remained of Mussolini, the socialist.”
Beyond that, there is another reason the German party had the words Nationalist and Socialist in them. Simply, in the post-WWI era, many of the German parties had the terms nationalist and socialist in their title, or they eluded to the terms.
Furthermore, Hitler was part of the Nationalist right-wing arm of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (the “NAZI” Party). That NAZI party originally also had a socialist wing, but that wing was phased out over time as Hitler took over and the party became more Nationalist and Fascist. This is especially true after the Night of the Long Knives where the Nationalist wing murdered their Socialist wing.
Ultimately, Hitler killed and jailed all the other party leaders and declared himself President and Chancellor AKA Führer und Reichskanzler. From this point forward, we can see his character in action.
Hitler and Mussolini’s Ideology in More Complex Terms, Understanding the Differences
Although we can accurately call Hitler and Mussolini fascists, they didn’t have the same ideology, and one shouldn’t see Italian Fascism and German Fascism as “the same.”
For example, Mussolini was less focused on taking a xenophobic stance toward other races. He wanted to create a master race of Italians, a new Roman empire, but he tended to frame it as lifting Italy up rather than pushing other races down. His stance on race was certainly far-right, but it wasn’t as radical his Hitlers. See an explanation of Italian Fascism and race. In fact, one could argue Mussolini moved right on some issues to stay in the good graces of Hitler over time. At one point Mussolini even lets persecuted Jews seek refuge in Italy. Although we are comparing tyrants, we can note differences and even use terms like right and left comparatively on an issue-by-issue basis.
For another example, where Hitler rhetorically favored the worker but kept the classes, and where the Communists wanted to abolish class, Mussolini sought to find ways for the classes to work together in his later Republican Fascist Party years.
Thus, for these reasons and more, one could describe Mussolini as a far-right, authoritative, extremist, fascist, nativist, populist, nationalist. He didn’t have some of the negative qualities Hitler did, and this is perhaps best understood by their differing backstories and cultures.
“We want to be aristocrats and democrats, conservatives and liberals, reactionaries and revolutionaries, legalists and anti-legalists—depending on the circumstances of the time, place and situation.” – Benito Mussolini wanted to make Rome great again, and he was an opportunist ideologically. Over time, he turned from socialism, liberalism, democracy, and more and became what is best described as a Nationalist Fascist (specifically an extreme, right-wing, nationalist, fascist like Hitler).
Documentary of Mussolini, dictator of Italy. Understanding Mussolini helps us to understand Hitler. Mussolini’s ideology is perhaps more common and more like modern fascism. It is also less extreme than the NAZIs obsession with being anti-semantic and anti-intellectual.