The Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals (1925), by Benedetto Croce

The fascist intellectuals, after meeting at a congress in Bologna, have published a manifesto addressed to fellow intellectuals from all nations to explain and defend the political decisions of the fascist party.

When undertaking such an endeavour, these eager gentlemen must have forgotten a similar and infamous manifesto that, at the beginning of the war in Europe, was published by the German intelligentsia and gathered, then, virtually universal disapproval, so much so that the Germans themselves later viewed it as an error.

Intellectuals—those who cultivate science and art—may exercise their right and perform their duty as citizens by joining a party and serving it faithfully. But, as intellectuals, their sole duty is to focus on raising all men and all parties equally to a higher spiritual sphere—through research, criticism, and the creation of art—enabling them to fight the necessary battles with even more beneficial results.

To overstep these limits of the role assigned to them, to confuse and contaminate politics, literature and science, is a mistake per se, but an even more egregious one when it is done to sponsor deplorable violence and abuse, and to justify the elimination of the freedom of the press.

Publicly exposing the tribulations of one's country is not a considerate gesture either, on the part of the fascist intellectuals, because foreigners will judge them, as it is to be expected, without the benefit of knowing the context of diverse and distinguishing interests that move a nation's political life.

In essence, the manifesto is a haphazard piece of elementary schoolwork, where doctrinal confusion and poor reasoning abound: XVIII-century atomistic constructs derived from political science are confused with democratic liberalism, and again with the (primarily historical) concept of Liberism, or with the cyclical rise to power and fall of political parties, by which progress is maintained to occur through opposition and conflict. In other parts, with naive rhetorical passion, the intellectuals celebrate the submission of individuals to the greater good, as if this were the crux of the matter, whereas it really is the capacity of authoritarian regimes to bring forth the highest moral standard. Yet again, there are passages where, consciously and dangerously, institutions from the realm of economics, such as trade unions, are likened to those from the realm of ethics, such as the legislature, and the convergence of the two is advocated— rather, the mingling of the two—, which would result in mutual corruption of their raison-d'être or, at the very least, in mutual obstruction.

Let us leave aside the well-known and arbitrary interpretations and manipulations of historical events, for the battering of doctrines and history is a trivial matter, in the manifesto, when compared to the abuse made therein of the word "religion". According to the fascist intellectuals, Italy is now blessed with a religious war, marked by a new gospel and apostolic followership fighting old superstitions, oblivious to death, which, nonetheless, is still above it, and which it will ultimately have to heed. Symptoms of this religious war are, in their opinion, the hatred and rancour that put Italian against Italian in a previously unfathomable conflict.

It sounds like dark humour, to us, when the hatred and rancour felt by adversaries of the fascist party are dismissed as "religious differences", while that same party slanders all members of other political factions as "un-Italian" and "foreigners", and, by so doing, factually becomes foreign to their eyes, an oppressor, introducing thus within the country feelings and behaviours otherwise reserved for the enemy in wartime. As dark a pleasantry is to elevate to the rank of religion the suspicion and animosity that permeate our society and have even deprived the youth in our universities of the ancient and trust-building belief in shared and juvenile ideals—pitching them, instead, one against the other because of man-made differences.

What the new gospel would be, what the tenets of the new religion, the new faith—the verbose manifesto does not provide any clear answers. Rather, its eloquent silence on the matter uncovers, for the unbiased observer, a bizarre concoction of calls for authority and demagogic discourse; of proclaimed respect for the law and urged breach of some laws; of ultramodern concepts and ancient, stale ones; of absolutist tendencies intermixed with Bolshevik approaches; of irreligiousness accompanied by subservient flattery to the catholic Church; of loathing for culture while longing for a sterile culture deprived of its basic premises; and of mystical non-sense muted by cynicism.

While it is true that the present government has taken a few credible initiatives, nothing in them belies original thought to suggest that fascism has, indeed, created a new political system.

We do not believe that this chaotic and ineffable "religion" is worth reneging our long-held faith, which for the past two and half centuries has been the very soul of Italy as it resurrected itself and became modern. That same faith was born of truth-loving, of justice-seeking, of civic and individual selflessness, of zealous intellectual and moral upbringing, of a quest for freedom, which is the strength and only path towards progress.

We look back at the men who worked, enlisted and gave their lives for their country during the Risorgimento, and we see them offended and upset by the words and actions that are put forth in their name by our adversaries— grave warnings to those of us who bear the standard high.

Our faith is not an artificial and abstract construct, nor an obsession born of poorly documented or understood theories; rather, it is the fruit of our tradition, which has become the core of our beliefs, a forma mentis et animi.

The authors of the manifesto echo the trite thoughts that moved, during our Risorgimento, but a minority, without realising that therein lay the weakness of Italy's political and social fiber. Instead, they almost seem to delight in the fact that most Italians appear, nowadays, indifferent to the profound disagreements between fascists and their adversaries.

The Liberals never delighted in this [lack of interest, TN], striving instead to grow as much interest in the political arena as possible, whence come many of their most debated decisions, such as the establishment of universal suffrage.

The very support that Liberals showed towards fascism, when the movement began, was motivated by the hope that, through it, renewed interest in political life would bring fresh ideas to the table, no matter whether conservative in nature or advocating change.

Never did the Liberals advocate keeping the majority of the nation inert and indifferent by meeting its basic material needs, precisely because they knew that doing so would betray the raison-d'être of Risorgimento and adopt the evil means of absolutist regimes.

We will not despair or abandon our quest, not even in the face of today's purported indifference and inertia, not even when confronted with the breaches [of the law, TN] that limit freedom.

What matters to us is knowing what we want, and wanting something that is intrinsically good. The current political struggle in Italy will at least serve to revive our people's interest in liberal methods and institutions, so that they may be better and more concretly understood and, ultimately, loved with more awareness.

Perhaps one day, looking serenely at the past, our arduous and dangerous strife will appear inevitable on the path towards a rejuvenated Italian nation, which will be more mature in its political education and will have recognized its duties as a society.