fascism, sternhell

snichols/bbogert hithere at hopf.dnai.com
Fri Sep 22 01:47:29 MDT 1995

I finally found your summary of Sternhell. I'd like to see your summary of
I appreciate your reticence in proposing yet another thread -- couldn't we
be talking about something more constructive? -- however, Sternhell can seem
eerily relevant.

        1. Sternhell (brilliant name) condemns the irresponsibility of past
generations of intellectuals." [T]he liquidation of French liberal democracy
in less than six months .... was an eloquent demonstration of the ceaseless
destructive criticism directed every morning for fifty years against both
the principles of liberalism and the function of the democratic regime."
(p.255) (Short chorus from "Oklahoma")

        What kind of unwitting treasons may we be participating in today?
Journals of polite opinion invite progressives to abandon the failed
rhetoric of class consciousness and instead become the moral conscience of
an increasingly greedy world.  What lies at the end of this maddening road?

        Sternhell: "The Sorelians shared with the democratic reformists the
conviction that capitalism, far from containing the seeds of its own
destruction ... seemed unlikely to sink in the foreseeable future into a
catastrophic crisis." (p.25) [Perhaps things are different today. Of course,
the Italians felt capitalism was healthy; it was just Italy that was sick.]

        "The essence of Sorel's contribution to the critique of Marxism ...
was his idea of an ethical imperative that enabled the Marxist mechanism of
revolt to fulfill its historical function. Precisely this use of an ethical
criterion rendered Sorel, together with many revolutionary syndicalists,
incapable of restricting his allegiance to the proletariat.  Anyone who
accepted the Sorelian model ... the general strike and the idea of violence,
was finally bound to be cut off from the working class." (p.154, revised
syndicalist ideal of "society of free producers" included _all_ producers,
as opposed to parasites)

     2. Sternhell attributes the decline of some Sorelian syndicalists into
fascism, their inability to weather reversals, to their reliance on myth, an
expectation of apocalypse (the great general strike) that did not come
about. (World War I and the Russian Revolution were not good enough,
apparently - cheap shot.)  Unlike other leftists, they lacked the safety
valve of faith in vanguard or volume III of Capital.  On the other hand, a
longing for a great break-through, a great cleansing was an enduring theme
for generations of European intellectuals. "[T]he hearts and minds of the
European intelligentsia tended to side with the great antimaterialist
rebellion... It was in the often unconscious attraction of its ideology of
rupture that the great power of fascism resided." (p.249)

        It would seem to me that the Left, as well as the Right, could use
moments of transcendence, when one experiences a feeling of possibility that
may not be immediately analytically justifiable.  How else does one gather
the courage to think? (We don't need myths, but a few good legends wouldn't

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