The Fascist state
Since the attempt to oust Mussolini in 1924 failed, his government was actually strengthened. But Mussolini faced another obstacle. Some off his own radical comrades were once again threatening him. They weren’t happy with Mussolini’s concessions to the former Italian Nationalists or his soft approach to the opposition. They threatened a complete Fascist self-coup without Mussolini.
Mussolini then held a speech taking rhetorical responsibility for Giacomo Matteotti’s death for having created the movement and violence that resulted in it, without admitting any responsibility for ordering the murder itself. He did the typical thing of threatening with the chaos that would engulf Italy without Fascist violence and showed that he was above the rule of law by challenging parliament to prosecute him which, due to the Fascist majority and Aventine secession, never happened.
Soon opposition parties were banned, next labour unions then more and more of the opposition press, while Mussolini’s role as head of the government was changed to no longer be a mere primus inter paris and parliamentary control over the government was explicitly done away with. A one-party state with near autocratic power for Mussolini. The Grand Council of Fascism was the only body that could recommend Mussolini’s ouster. It received constitutional status in 1928. At the same time Mussolini removed the hardliners and dissidents as threat.
Mussolini had specifically emphasised during his speech that he alone held authority thereby attacking both the democratic opposition and renegade hardliners.
While Fascist hardliners had sabotaged Mussolini’s pact of pacification with the Radical Left in 1922 as well as his attempts to make the Fasci of Combat the Fascist Labour Party, Mussolini had still been trying to win over his former allies, including the Communists in parliament. Anti-Fascist Carlo Silvestrio was eventually convinced by Mussolini that he had had no role in the murder off Matteotti. Silvestrio came to believe it had been a plot to sabotage amongst other things a secret plan by Mussolini to form a coalition with the Christian Democrats and the Socialists.
Whatever the case, all coalition plans or official cooperation with Leftist parties were however completely ruined with Matteotti’s murder. The Christian Democratic and Leftist parties were banned, but then so were the secular Centrist and Right-leaning parties along with the Christian Democrats. The blackshirts who had opposed Mussolini were side-lined. He held the power. Without upsetting the army or King too much he had a lot of wiggle room. He could go semi-Socialist, Centrist and so on.
Under these conditions Fascism would implement its more radical economics policies. The regime also started a crackdown on the mafia and made beggars disappear from the streets. It earned the admiration of not just Churchill and FDR but Sigmund Freud, George Bernard Shaw and Thomas Edison.
Mussolini would write the doctrine of Fascism together with Giovanni Gentile during the early 1930s outlining Fascist ideology after the regime was fully established.
Mussolini’s regime was modern in that it was not a restoration of absolute monarchy but involved a one-party dictatorship. But it did preserve the monarchy in its semi-constitutional form as well as the legal status of the nobility, while vesting most actual power in the hands of the new Fascist elite.
It was a mix of old and new. Similar to the Togukawa-Shogunate in Japan which had also de jure preserved the monarchy and old aristocracy while placing control in the hands of the centralised Samurai state. A new meritocratic elite based on strength, an energetic hierarchy largely displaced the old one while nominally honouring it.
These all became standard elements of Fascism across the world. Like Communist states it developed one-party regimes. Unlike in Communist regimes, the party was officially subordinated to an elite leadership which wasn’t even nominally accountable to the rank and file, and there were only at most secondary elements of a collective leadership, with a single strong leader; a meritocratic autocrat, holding most power being the norm. At the same time this strong leader could function under a monarch with some power. Politically accidentalist when it came to the question of republic vs. monarchy, but consistently anti-democratic. Fascist tended to accommodate and even too an extent respect the existing monarchies in the countries where they came to power. The British Union of Fascists support the monarchy (with some actual power), the Dutch General Fascist League was led by an admirer of the Dutch queen, Republican tendencies tended to exist within Fascism but could be easily thrown out, as could be seen with the Falangists were republicans and ex-monarchist joined up with monarchist to form the united Falangist party, which received funding from monarchists while being officially republican and finally teamed up with the monarchist to fight the Popular Front.
The accommodation of the Catholic Church fit into this patter. Mussolini had attempted to reconcile with the Church as early as 1920. The negotiations for the Lateran Treaty took years to complete. There was no restoration of the Papal states but Vatican City became an independent state. Fascism never became a Catholic movement and while Catholicism was recognised as the state religion, other religions remained allowed with the exception of groups that eventually faced persecution as they were viewed as harmful sects (jehovah’s witnesses, Salvation Army and Pentecostals). But with Communism and Freemasonry banned, private property protected, no attacks on essential traditional morals and respect for Catholic education, Catholics could accept the situation.
In all this, its tolerance of minority religions mixed with an anticlericalism and yet respect for the traditional Church, and a semi-constitutional monarchy, Fascism ruled similar to early Liberalism, but with the parliamentary prime minister replaced with a strongman.
Fascism and democracy
Fascism is anti-democratic in the sense that it is opposed Liberal Democracy in almost all aspects, both in terms of coalition politics, dominance of parliament and even the majority will. Fascism’s radical elitism and notions of meritocracy set it apart from both Communism and also Nazism both which did believe in the will of the majority as the source of legitimacy. This was because Fascism rejected the equality of citizens even within the nation or the people. Communism rejected Liberal democracy for being to bourgeoisie ruled and Mein Kampf rejected the notion that the people could be well informed enough to constantly guide the political process and chose new leaders, yet both Nazism and Communist embraced majoritarianism as its core. They supported the manipulation of the majority. Nazism and Communism above all rejected the Liberal aspect of Liberal democracy. Both were also more firmly and fanatically republican.
Fascism only cares to represent what it regards as the best part of the people. Not based on ancestry, wealth or religious legitimacy, not even mere crude physical strength, but a sophisticated form of meritocracy.
Fascism and Totalitarianism
Fascism proudly proclaimed itself as establishing a totalitarian state, yet historians view the Fascist state as semi-totalitarian, in contrast to Nazi Germany and Communist dictatorships. Fascism respected the autonomy of the Church, the monarchy, the family and private property. This mild respect for traditional institutions and private initiative born from the ideology’s pragmatism prevented it from establishing a fully totalitarian society.
Francoism was and is not Fascism. The early Francoist state did include certain Fascist elements and it could be debated whether it should be classified as semi-Fascist. After WWII this quickly stopped, but during its ‘semi-Fascist’ and/or semi-Falangist phase, the early Francoist state, like Fascist Italy, was clearly a semi-totalitarian state.
In line with its semi-totalitarianism Fascism is collectivistic. The Fasces are a symbol off collective strength. Fascism favours a collectivism that does not erase or deny the unique positive qualities of individuals. Hence its rejection of horizontal collectivism and egalitarianism. This is party of why democracy is rejected, because of how it would discriminate against exceptional individuals.