Nietzsche on Conservatism1
The following is section no. 43 of “Skirmishes of an Untimely Man” from Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Twilight of the Idols.
Analysts of fascism have often distinguished between "generic fascism" which contains all of the elements of fascism assumed to be common to all types of fascism and particular variants of fascism such as especially Italian fascism and Nazism but also fascist or near fascist movements in countries such as Spain, Portugal and Romania. All fascists adopt a pessimistic view of human nature and the core elements of generic fascism include extreme nationalism, social Darwinism, authoritarianism and elitism. It is then argued that Italian Fascists gave relatively more theoretical emphasis to the totalitarian state and corporatist economic institutions than did German National Socialists but that in practice Nazi Germany could be described as more totalitarian in practice than fascist Italy. Racism and anti-Semitism are central to Nazism but not to Italian fascism.
Fascist ideologies, movements and regimes have also been defined partly by what they are against. Despite the claims by fascist ideologists to have constructed a synthesis of nationalism and socialism and the existence of some mildly socialist elements within fascist ideology, it is argued that fascism is essentially anti-liberal, anti-socialist and anti-conservative: these are the so-called "fascist negations."
Both conservatives and fascists adopt an essentially pessimistic view of human nature which is seen as in several respects flawed, imperfect and corruptible. However although conservatives would agree that to some extent human beings may be seen as driven not by reason but by basic emotions, impulses and self interest they would not give as much emphasis as do fascists to the irrational influences on human behaviour. Racism and anti-Semitism have been widespread for centuries and some conservatives in the past have been influenced by these prejudices but they have never reached the intensities seen in fascist parties and the vast majority of modern conservatives nowadays repudiate strongly racism and anti-Semitism as has recently been shown by the opposition of the UK Conservative Party to the activities of the BNP. Modern conservatives do express some concerns about levels of immigration but not for racist or anti-Semitic reasons
Conservatives and fascists would agree also that differences in genetic endowments generate natural differences in talents and abilities which mean that some individuals are far more suited than others for political leadership. This leads fascists to support rule by a political elite which would be unrestricted by the constitutional principles of liberal democracy whereas modern conservatives are strong supporters of liberal democracy believing that even if members of a particular government could be regarded as a political elite their powers should be restricted via effective parliamentary controls over the executive, the independence of the judiciary, regular free elections contested by competing political parties, independent mass media and wide ranging civil liberties. In the course of the C20th conservatives have come to accept that elite government will be acceptable to the people only if it is chosen on a relatively democratic and meritocratic basis. However modern conservatives are no great supporters of popular sovereignty believing that political decisions should be taken by government elites best able to take such decisions effectively. In actual practice socialist and liberal leader seem to share this view.
There have been important divisions among conservatives as to the desirable extent and direction of state activity. Some Conservatives from Disraeli onwards have argued that laissez faire capitalism left to its own devices would generate excessive economic inequalities which in Disraeli’s terms would divide the UK into “Two Nations” of rich and poor and that it was therefore desirable that the scope of government activity should be extended to encompass legislation to improve working conditions, housing and public health so as to create a more harmonious “One Nation” society. Other conservatives influenced by New Right ideas have accepted liberal-based beliefs in laissez faire and the market mechanism as well as a strong belief in the inevitability and desirability of economic inequality and the sanctity of private property. This set of beliefs combined with criticisms of excessively wasteful state bureaucracy and the evils of socialism have encouraged them to support limited government. It is very clear that both One Nation conservatives and New Right Conservatives would not support "totalitarian theories of the state espoused especially by the ideologists of Italian Fascism.
Both conservative and fascist ideologies have traditionally been strongly nationalistic. In the ideology of one nation conservatism as expounded from Disraeli onwards it was argued that it was essential to promote national unity as a means of ensuring national progress which would help Britain to expand the scope of its empire which through the importation of cheap raw materials would improve average living standards including the living standards of the poor. Social reforms should also be introduced to prove to the working classes that conservatives would govern in the interests of all of the people thereby gradually defecting the working class from their support for socialism which damagingly emphasised class conflict at the expense of national unity. In practice European imperialist expansion in the late C19th was often achieved by military force and these sentiments were subsequently wholly accepted by the Nazis and to a lesser extent by the Italian Fascists who now adopted the objectives of redrawing the map of Europe and Russia to their advantage.
It is to be noted that these objectives were accepted both by Italian conservative nationalists such as Corradini and by German conservative nationalists who sympathised with Hitler's militaristic expansionary foreign policy aims even if they would not have pursued them with the same single-minded brutality. However modern conservatives have retreated far from ideas of imperialistic nationalism meaning that their foreign policy objectives are distinctly different from both earlier conservative and fascist foreign policy objectives.
Conservatives argue that possession of private property is an important defence against excessive state power in that without private property individuals can work only for the state and live, be educated and treated only in state houses, schools and hospitals respectively. In societies with large private sectors one can seek private provision if one is dissatisfied with state provision and competition within the private sector is assumed to keep up private sector standards. ]Socialists ,of course, argue that private provision may result only in wasteful competition and that only the relatively rich can afford it.]
Insofar as conservatives believe in economic inequality this implies also that individuals should have the right to accumulate private property which in turn means that conservatives are supporters of capitalist private enterprise although as we have seen they may also support a not insignificant economic role for the state. Conservatives support economic theories which suggest that the private market mechanism can allocate resources more flexibly and efficiently than can systems of state economic planning and they emphasise also that whereas the market allocates resources in accordance with consumer preferences, in state planning systems it is the planners who determine what shall be produced so that production does not necessarily meet the needs and wants of consumers. This, the conservatives argue, results in all the inefficiencies associated with growing state bureaucracies as indicated in the economic inefficiency of UK nationalised industries and, on a grander scale, in the inability of former “Communist” countries such as the former USSR to generate good living standards for their citizens.
Fascist ideology originally contained elements of mild socialism. It was argued that unregulated laissez faire did lead to the excessive exploitation of the workers; that a powerful fascist state would work to ensure that both employers and employees would work more for the national interest than for their own narrow economic self -interest; and that the state would also introduce social reforms designed to improve the relative living standards of the workers. Fascists did not envisage mass nationalisation but they did envisage greater overall state control of the economy partly via the use of corporatist decision -making in the case of Italian Fascism. In practice the Nazis did not nationalise state industries but they did regulate them tightly to promote rapid rearmament while in Italy corporatist decision making, when it operated at all, operated primarily in the interests of the employers rather than the employees so that we may conclude that, broadly speaking, the Italian Fascist and German Nazi governments did not challenge the existence of private property although the Nazis certainly imposed important restrictions on the composition of national output prioritising "guns rather than butter."
The conservative perspective on human nature leads them also to be supporters of economic inequality as measured by statistics on the distribution of income and wealth. They argue in this respect that individual genetic differences in talent and ability must inevitably result in some economic inequality unless governments restrict the freedom of the more talented individuals to turn these talents to their own economic advantage. Economic equality, therefore, is inconsistent with individual freedom. Conservatives argue further that economic inequality is essential to generate the financial incentives for individuals to remain in further and higher education, to work hard and to invest their savings in productive enterprises all of which will result in faster economic growth and rising average living standards and that even the poorest will benefit indirectly from economic inequality as some of the benefits of faster economic growth “trickle down” to them.
According to conservatives economic inequality works with the grain of self-interested human nature to produce rising living standards for all whereas the socialist argument that individuals need only limited financial incentives because they can be encouraged to work for the good of the community operates against the grain of human nature and is therefore unrealistic and counterproductive. Although conservatives oppose economic equality modern conservatives at least support equality of opportunity or meritocracy. Meritocracy implies that individuals can gain well paid, high status occupations only on the basis of their own merits and not on the basis of social class advantage and/or nepotism and meritocracy is clearly essential if to secure the economic efficiency necessary to generate rising living standards for all.
Once again there are disputes between conservatives and socialists as to the relationships between economic inequality and equality of opportunity. Whereas conservatives argue that the imposition by governments of economic equality denies equality of opportunity to the talented and that equality of opportunity is possible in an economically unequal society, socialists argue that only government intervention to increase economic equality can secure equality of opportunity for the poorest members of society. Although fascist ideology did sometimes show traces of socialism fascist governments in practice did little or nothing to reduce economic inequality showing themselves in practice to be closer to conservatism than to socialism.
Conservatives have been renowned for their respects for tradition and gradual change. They have often been drawn to so-called organic analogies between the nature of the human body and the nature of societies as a whole and these analogies contain important linkages to conservative analyses of human nature, individualism, traditionalism, rationalism, social order and social change. In organic analogies just as the human body consists of inter-related limbs and organs whose development occurs in accordance with biological laws and whose functions are co-ordinated to enable the whole body to function effectively so too societies are seen as organic wholes in which individuals and existing social institutions are interconnected and each contribute to the stability of societies as a whole.
Long standing social institutions such as families, churches, schools and political systems must have continued to exist because they fulfil some useful functions. Therefore given the belief of some conservatives in the limits of human rationality and their inability to devise effective blueprints for wide ranging social change radical social changes to existing social institutions should be avoided since they may interfere in unexpected ways with the stability of society as a whole. For conservative supporters of the organic society social change should be gradual and involve only minor adaptation of existing social institutions in accordance with changes in social circumstances.
The conservative political elites which in several respects helped Hitler and Mussolini to power did so because they hoped thereby to halt the growth of radical socialism and to restore social order gradually creating the social conditions necessary for them to ditch fascism and return to power themselves after which the politics of conservative gradualism based on the political rule of traditional conservative elites and dominance of private enterprise could be re-established.
needs one more para and a conclusion