Post-Risorgimento Idealism: Historical Context of Giovanni Gentile’s Fascism, Mazzini and Carbonari Theosophists
NOTES ON GENTILIAN THOUGHT AND RISORGIMENTO IDEALISM IN RELATION TO BLAVATSKY AND THEOSOPHY
This explains the historical and philosophical context underlying theosophy versus fascism in a way most people have not considered. Let us for the time being forget what H.P. Blavatsky states about Central Asian origins of Theosophy, the origins of Zoroastrianism, the preserved magical knowledge of the priesthoods of Ancient Chaldea and India, and just focus on the historical contexts of the nineteenth-century. The student must take into account the context, beginning in particular with the rise of Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile as the two leading Italian intellectual tyros in their time trying to expand beyond Hegel’s Absolute Idealism. Similarly, the intellectual substance of Theosophy has been described rightly, as an objective idealism, but not an idealism that rejects the existence of matter.
Theosophy intervened in the great debate of the time occurring between scientific monism and Christian dualism. The Theosophical position however does not originate from Crocean, Hegelian, or Gentilian idealism, though it is able to make commentary on it. The metaphysical position of Theosophy has been identified with the Great Madhyamika, the Samkhya school and the Svabhavika doctrine in Indian philosophy.
The metaphysics of Croce and Gentile, both differing themselves, are connected to the historical context of the Italian Risorgimento. Croce and Gentile take two different trajectories, both trying to develop their own forms of monistic metaphysics, with Giovanni Gentile committing himself to radicalism. Fascism developed from a party, organically, founded by soldiers and veterans with political motive and political rivals.
Theosophy on the other hand does not articulate itself through a common political motive, as say the one that bound the revolutionary syndicalists, nationalists, Futurists and philosophical idealists in Italy and Gentile to radicalism as opposed to the development of Croce’s pragmatic idealism. Despite Mussolini being a leader of the radical right in a fight against the left, this is not even to mention Mussolini’s anarchist sympathies, ignored by historians, for he considered anarchists superior to socialists and communists.
The controversy over hidden political motive hung over the affairs of the Theosophical Movement, because while declaring it was not centered on political motive, nevertheless had an affect on the political world. The sponsors of H.P. Blavatsky are more than K.H. and Morya, and she was involved in spiritual and political affairs, and a web of international political drama and struggle surrounded her, and was beyond her. Political and military events in the period affected the work of adepts in regions such as Egypt, Syria and Greece. Several of adepts seemed perceptive when it came to political events.
As to Gentilian thought, I maintain, as some before me, that Gentile’s exposition is vital to understanding the intellectual substance of Fascism, which is an entirely different ideal taught by any Western intellectual, or self-identified Fascist of our era. Hence, historical context means everything here to understand the origins and doctrine of Fascism, for Gentile specifically designs it for an Italian audience, and an answer to the dilemma of Italy within the web of complex political events.
Many of the patriots, dignitaries and disciples involved in this history did in fact hold political motives, as written before regarding the Polish Jewish kabbalist, Max Theon, a teacher of H.P.B. As stated, H.P.B. also took the great trouble of involving herself in the struggles of Garibaldi and Mazzini. H.P.B. hence held an interest in Italian politics, since she associated herself with the Carbonarist association, ‘Young Europe’ based on the model of Young Italy. In Mazzini’s exile during much of the 1850s, H.P.B. had a meeting with Mazzini in London.
Henry S. Olcott recalled a period prior to the formation of the TS in 1875, in a conversation with a caller at her Irving Place apartment:
“Among her callers was an Italian artist, a Signor B., formerly a Carbonaro. I was sitting alone with her in her drawing room when he made his first visit. They talked of Italian affairs, and when he suddenly pronounced the name of one of the greatest of the Adepts, she started as if she had received an electric shock; looked him straight in the eyes, and said (in Italian) “What is it? I am ready.” (HENRY S. OLCOTT, OLD DIARY LEAVES, VOL. 1, PP. 15-16)
Olcott further adds in detail, that they had been “talking in the most friendly and unreserved way about Italy. Garibaldi, Mazzini, the Carbonari, the Eastern and Western adepts, etc” (ibid). Mazzini was perhaps, considered a Western adept, as with Agardi Metrovitch, the “half a Slavonian” in his ‘present incarnation,’ H.P.B. mentions. The also mentioned “Signor B.” was Signor Bruzzesi, Il Conte, sculptor and secretary to Mazzini, who became acquainted with H.P.B. and Metrovitch, a Carbonaro and Mazzinist, in Italy. Both early Theosophists, Metrovitch and Charles Sotheran were disciples of Mazzini. Charles Sotheran had been later kicked out of the Theos. Soc. by H.P.B. for being involved in political violence with socialists.
“Mazzini’s view of religion stressed the concepts of Progress, Humanity, and Duty, which are implicit in the above quotation. The enlightened approach to religion, in his view, is to regard it as an unfolding expression of humanity’s discovery of its own divine potentialities. HPB’s role in history was Mazzinian in that she contributed to the liberation of human thought from old orthodoxies, while lighting the path of the future by her synthesis of the secret traditions of all nations. Her sympathy for the Asian victims of European imperialism led her to detest the missionary activities which accompanied it. Mazzini proclaimed that Christianity was in ruins and a new religious force was needed to fill the void of skepticism. This may have contributed to HPB’s vision of the Theosophical Movement’s mission. The juxtaposition of her comments about the Carbonari, her relationship with Metrovitch, and Guenon’s allegations implies that Mazzini’s influence on her development was profoundly important.”
K. PAUL JOHNSON, THE MASTERS REVEALED, P. 42-43.
Rashid Rida, a disciple of Muhammad ‘Abduh recalled an explanation on the role of Masonry, and the motives of Jamal al-Din. This explanation partially explains the basis of those political motives.
“I asked him once what masonry really was, and he said that its role–now ended–in the countries in which it is found was to resist the authority of kings and popes who were fighting against knowledge and freedom, and that this was a great achievement and one of the pillars of European progress (…) He also told me that his membership and the Sayyid’s (Afghani) was for a political and social purpose.”
ELIE KEDOURIE, AFGHANI AND ‘ABDUH, P. 8.
This was the same simple purpose of Johann’s Adam Weishaupt ideal, as with the anti-Austrian political activities of the elusive Comte de Saint-Germain, and that of Giuseppe Mazzini, but specifically in the period and context of Italy’s revolution, the fight was for the redemption of Italy. Gentile loathed the fact, that Italy lived in the shadow of others, and had lost its glory. Italy was not respected among the European nations then, considered poor, weak and dirty. Gentilian thought is Gentile’s interpretation of Giuseppe Mazzini’s thought. Therefore, Fascism is considered a continuity of the efforts of the Risorgimento, both for this redemption of Italy, hence the rationale for the support of Italy’s intervention in the First World War.
In order for Italy to be redeemed, it was believed, Italy needed to make history through the victory of war. Gentile influenced Mussolini to accept the distinction of Fascism as an embodiment of Mazzinian ideas, in so far as Gentile understood Mazzini and Mazzini’s romantic ideas of progress. Liberals, mainstream Historians, nor Fascists tell you this today, despite certain scholars having already explained this. Gentile’s Fascism infused with Mazzinian philosophical idealism highly emphasized a call to:
- National mission (the destiny of peoples),
- An all-encompassing morality,
- Totalitarian unity,
- Selfless duty,
- Roman tradition of family,
- Centrality of the State.
Gentile interprets these to be the call of Mazzini’s republican idealism, which is infused into Fascism to create this civic religion. Gentile legitimately contested, that Fascism was positively committed to convictions such as equality, democracy, liberty, freedom and progress.
Gentile believed, that Fascism developed from liberalism:
“As far as I am concerned, liberalism is not reborn, because it never died. As all ideas, it is transformed in life, which is never lived in vain, and in which nothing is preserved unchanged. It is transformed, and now it is called fascism. . . .which is the most coherent, historically mature and perfect conception of the state as freedom. . . .” (Giovanni Gentile)
Gentile demonstrates his faith in the democratic masses and the best among them, when he stated that history is not made by the heroes, or by the masses, but by those heroes who sense the inarticulate, yet powerful impulses of the moving masses.
The heroes, he says have always been the few, an elite, who then proceed to inspire and galvanize the masses, and in this process of making history, “the masses find a person who succeeds in making explicit their obscure moral sentiments.” “The moral universe is that of the multitudes,” he says, “and the multitudes are governed and energized by an idea whose precise features reveal itself but to a few, an elite who then proceed to inspire masses and give form and life to history.”
It is though ironic, that after the failed days of Mazzini as Triumvir of his Republican Rome, Mazzini was reduced from a man of action to a theoretician. Similarly, when the Theosophical Society appeared to be crumbling from within, H.P. Blavatsky left Adyar to spend her days writing in London. Although, indeed, she had given her life and fortunes to her cause and proved herself in her life to be a woman of action. Hence, things that had often been said negatively about her, paled in comparison to the respect I had for her in her efforts and belief in her mission. In this mission, I too, believe. This mission was far more than the American revolutionaries had dreamt of, for the efforts of the American revolutionaries though an independent cause, were exactly in its basic constitution and argument, inspired by a long lineage of virtues, philosophy, legacy, heroes and sages.
It is certain, that Giovanni Gentile considered Mussolini could be guided, and be a hero. Gentile was wrong, and the path he chose was his alone. While Gentile possessed a moral philosophy, which he tried to infuse into Fascism, Fascism developed everything but that moral system. For Mussolini, there was no time. Fascism had to be pragmatic and adapt quickly to the situation at hand. Fascism, as Gentile expounds, relates to Zen Buddhism, the philosophy of the Shogun military dictatorships, and Stoicism.
Without Gentilian thought, Fascism is merely the reflected aspects and flaws of D’Annunzio’s and Mussolini’s psychology and a gang of thugs. The issues of the early party led it to shed such early notions, including members who defected, or left the party, to be replaced by zealots all-consumed by Jewish-Masonic conspiracies, and cracking the skulls in of their political opponents in the streets.
The way Fascism developed reflects the psychology of its leader. Gentile claimed the Fascist State was to be democratic, and Fascist revolutionary thought to be centered on freedom and liberty. This was understood through an ennobling spiritual philosophy and metaphysics. However, the modern Fascist today appears merely a Fascist, because of having fell too headlong into an internet rabbit-hole. and understands Fascism through propaganda reels, trying to find justification for one’s aesthetic racism.
In Gentile’s philosophy, life is seriousness, and man ought to learn of their inner spiritual nature, our place within the moral order of things, and our duty or individual responsibility to the progress of our evolution as a civilization. The humanism of young Gentile exists in Fascism, or “radical humanism” as he directly defined it.
Classical Republicanism has the belief in a deific and supernal quality in Man, that is shared with the ancient Stoics. It moves us to seek to conduct ourselves in life in a sense that aims toward self-development and self-transcendence. The totalistic or totalitarian view of things expressed by Gentile is Platonist, and Gentile continues to develop the anti-enlightenment romanticism and idealism of Hegel.
There are scholars who claim to unveil what they call Western illusions about Plato, arguing that the origins of Fascism and totalism can be found in the writings of Plato. Mazzini, Al-Afghani, Blavatsky, Gentile, and Theon despite being different persons with different philosophies all think as Platonists in their view of what constitutes the Good. This emphasis on the decadence of modernity they all share is not a “Traditionalist” argument. Anyone that has read Theosophical literature closely knows about cyclical time, and the Ages of Man.
The vices, failings, trappings, and degeneration of morality and order through the ages are all the same plea to bring to life once again a truly ennobling philosophy. Gentile not only emphasizes the necessity of the connection between thought, action, and will, familiar in the objective idealism of Theosophy, he shared at its basis this same plea, however through his own philosophy and interpretation of Mazzini.
The foundational elements of Fascism can be studied through these:
- Mussolini’s The Doctrine of Fascism
- The Manifesto of San Sepolcro
- The Verona Manifesto
- The Diary of the Will
- The Fascist Movement in Italian Life
- Palmieri’s The Philosophy of Fascism
- Gentile’s The Philosophic Basis of Fascism and The General Theory of the Spirit
- The Constitution of Fiume (and Fiume’s history and D’Annunzio’s view on it)
- History and Ideas on Giuseppi Mazzini and his disciples
- History on French Revolution, English Republicanism, and the Italian Risorgimento.
You may also study the instructive Carl Cohen’s “Communism, Fascism, and Democracy: The Theoretical Foundations” often used in introductory college courses on Political Theory. This book includes direct writings by Friedrich Engels, Robert Owen, Georg W.F. Hegel, Karl Marx, Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky, Mao Tse-tung, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Machiavelli, Friedrich Nietzsche, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Edmund Burke, Thomas Jefferson, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, John C. Calhoun, John Dewey, George Bernard Shaw, Russell A. Kirk, Norman Thomas, Friedrich A. Hayek, Pericles, Alexis de Tocqueville, and others.