“The Fascist State… is a force… which takes over all the forms of the moral and intellectual life of man” (Mussolini 1932, p.307). Fascism was an absolute form of government that arose in the 1920’s that placed heavy emphasis on the power of the state. Much like a monarchy, the Fascist state considered the common people to be a means of production and treated them as so.
Thomas Hobbes has made a similar argument for an absolutist government, although he claims that it is in the best interest of the people to have that form of government. His argument for absolutism is an argument for an over-centralized, totalitarian government with absolute control that does not reflect the common good of the people.
One of Hobbes main arguments is the need for the people to be secure. This security is given to them via the social contract through the power of the state. It is because Hobbes need for security that he argues for an absolute leader. He adds that the monarchy is the best government because it is absolute. The leader does not have to argue with anyone and he does not have to answer for his mistakes.
“Now in monarchy, the private interest is the same with the public. The riches, power, and honour of a monarch arise only from the riches, strength and reputation of his subjects. For no king can be rich, nor glorious, nor secure, whose subjects are either poor, or contemptible, or too weak through want, or dissention, to maintain a war against their enemies” (Hobbes 1651, p. 143). Not only will an autocrat provide security but he will also want to strengthen and enrich his subjects, because it will in turn benefit him. For Hobbes’ statement to be accurate the autocrat must be extremely benevolent. As history has told us this tends to not be the case.
In most instances the autocrat looses touch with the common person and the common good. The common good is to be defined as what will bring the largest amount of good to the people while respecting all liberties and freedoms that are inherent. Hobbes’ view of absolutism as the only defensible form of government does not adhere to the basic principles of the common good. What Hobbes’ believes to be beneficial to the populace still tends to only benefit the elite and autocrat.
Benito Mussolini was the first absolute leader of a truly Fascist state. He was not the founder of the ideology, but he was the champion behind its causes. “Against individualism, the Fascist conception is for the State; and it is for the individual so far as he coincides with the State” (Mussolini 1932, p. 306).
Benito Mussolini was most concerned about the general welfare of the state; he argued that the individual had certain freedoms and liberties, just as long as they had the state’s interests in mind. For example, Mussolini allowed private property to still exist, but freedom of speech or the press was strictly prohibited.
Fascism, as would absolutism, puts an extreme emphasis on the State being the central actor on the international stage. “Fascism, in short, is not only the giver of laws and the founder of institutions, but the educator and promoter of spiritual life. It wants to remake, not the forms of human life, but its content, man, character, faith” (Mussolini 1932, p. 307).
In Mussolini’s mind, the Fascist state will control every aspect of life, including the spiritual realm. This is where Fascism and other forms of absolutism would differ, some offer explanations involving class struggle while some allow religion to fill that gap. While Mussolini argues that Fascism is not just a political theory, but rather a way of life that involves discipline and a love for the state (Mussolini 1932, p. 307). When the common people gain the discipline and love for the state, then the Fascist State will be fully realized. Of course the State plays an integral role in helping the people gain their discipline and love and the means by which the government persuades are not always ethical.
If Hobbes could have his say on Fascism he would claim it to be in the best interests of the people. The absolutist Fascist state would provide the maximum amount of security available for that state.
“For Fascism, society is the end, individuals the means” (Rocco 1926, p. 315). The Fascist State is not just an ordinary autocratic state, rather it is a force that grows and expands with every person it conquers. Fascism views the common person as a utile object, one that is good for work, until it can no longer work; then you discard them.
The ability to dehumanize all common people and see them as a means of production is one of the most startling aspects of the Fascist State. For any person who believes in freedoms and liberties Fascism poses a problem
Mussolini’s ideologies are just a modern day example of what a Hobbes-approved government might look like. A state centered creation with supreme control derived from a single leader or an all-powerful cabinet of sorts. This is an over-centralization of government; all of government rests in the hands of one person or a few. This can create many problems. The reliance on an absolute leader will highlight the weaknesses of that leader. Leaders such as Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein were supposedly crazy at the end of their reigns, because of their immense power.
When no one can say no, and the absolute can have whatever they want, this creates many problems. It was said that Hussein and his sons had so much power that they became addicted to many drugs, sex along with many other sensuous activities. Hitler was also said to be addicted to methamphetamine along with a number of other drugs. Does the desire to immediately pleasure ones self, whether it is sex, drugs or invading countries, occur because of the power. I would say yes. It seems that when one person is given absolute power they react in a negative manner. Well, what about a council of absolute rulers, won’t they tend to keep each other in check? So that one doesn’t gain too much power or get into nefarious activities.
This is a harder question to answer, primarily because there are few examples of absolute councils. In a way the Soviet Union was controlled by an absolute party, although there were still party leaders and a party chairman. So it wasn’t a true absolute council, it was more like an absolute council with a hierarchical design. Can a true absolute council even exist for an extended period of time? I would say no. Eventually the power struggle would result in one person consolidating the power; much like Josef Stalin did in the Soviet Union. I would tend to agree with the old axiom that absolute power corrupts absolutely, no matter who is in control.
“A monarch cannot disagree with himself, out of envy, or interest; but an assembly may; and that to such a height, as may produce a civil war” (Hobbes 1651, p. 144). Hobbes argued that an absolute monarch was the best form of government. His arguments stem from his need for a secure state, without security the state will dissolve and the state of nature will remain. I strongly disagree with this argument for an absolute monarch for many reasons, primarily because it infringes upon the rights of the people.
Hobbes of course argues that the absolute monarch will want his people to be strong and rich. But if they are strong and rich they will put up more of an opposition, because it is not in their best interest to be ruled by an absolute monarch. For the monarch to be absolute he will have to show off his power. He does this by executing dissenters and quelling any and all opposition. Is this moral? No, of course not, but it is necessary to maintain the absolute control. Why does Hobbes favor absolutism? It has more to do with his fear of other forms of government, rather than his adoration for an absolute leader.
“The difference between these three kinds of commonwealth, consisteth not in the difference of power; but in the difference of convenience, or aptitude to produce the peace, and security of the people; for which end they were instituted” (Hobbes 1651, p. 143). The fears of Hobbes are highlighted in his disgust of other governments. He believes democracy to have too many interests; it’s too messy and can easily lead to anarchy and civil war when there are disagreements. He fears democracy will lead to a lack of security resulting in the state of nature.
The other form of government, aristocracy, which is a government led by a part of a group, can lead to an oligarchy. It may be an oligarchy of a family, by wealth or military power. I would tend to agree with Hobbes on the argument that an aristocracy is a poor form of government. An aristocracy is eerily similar to a tyranny; it just adds more factions and interests. Hobbes had it right when he wrote that a monarchy is best because it doesn’t have competing views, when comparing a monarchy to an aristocracy.
Absolutism fails because it does not provide social discourse, economic opportunity, basic human rights and checks and balances. Without these measures a leader will be corrupt and infringe on the rights of the governed. Hobbes would argue that as long as the leader provides security then all is well. Why be concerned with all of that other stuff, when life could be worse.
His arguments assault the principles of democracy, but yet I feel as if Hobbes would argue differently had he live in the 21st century. Security is important for the United States, and it seems as if the United States provides its citizens with an adequate amount of security. The U.S. is arguably the strongest state in the history of the world, leading to the most prosperous economy the world has ever seen. If Hobbes would have had this knowledge, and been aware of the strength of the United States, would he still be arguing for an absolute monarchy? I would say no.
I believe he would say that the United States government has absolute control over its people, because it does. But yet it allows the people some basic freedoms and liberties that cannot be infringed upon. He would see that the people are content, because they have a say in the process of government, but yet the state is still the absolute sovereign. I would argue differently, the people are the rulers; there is no absolute council or person. Rather a system of documents, and active participation that leads to constant change and advancement towards a higher goal of world security and peace. When the people voice their dissent the government cannot act negatively towards them, rather the people are allowed to voice their displeasure. It is because of this that the people rule. There is no need for an absolute leader.
Hobbes argument is simple. He favors one leader, who is absolute. Many people would consider this to be called a dictatorship, but as long as security is provided the government is good. He is fearful of what democracy and aristocracy can turn into, but is less fearful of living under a tyrant, because security will still be provided.
The government Hobbes describes is quite similar to the Fascist State of Italy that was absolutely ruled by Mussolini from the early 1920s to the mid 1940s. The dictatorship of Mussolini was violent, corrupt and created an illusion of what the common good really was. Instead of aiding the people and strengthening them, the state was all powerful and the military was strengthened. Millions of Italians suffered greatly because of his absolute leadership, and it eventual led to a significant decrease in security.
My argument is that Hobbes assertions are incorrect, absolutism will always fail because it is not truly in the best interest of the people. Human nature says that an individual will always do what is in their best interest, when a government infringes upon this right, the people revolt. Thus, democracy is the best form of government, because it provides for the common good, while recognizing rights and liberties and providing sufficient security.
Hobbes, Thomas. 1651. “The Leviathan.” In Classics of Modern Political Theory: From Machiavelli to Mill. New York: Oxford UP, 1997. 120-152.
Mussolini, Benito. 1932. “The Doctrine of Fascism.” In Ideals and Ideologies, Terence Ball and Richard Dagger. New York: Pearson Longman.
Rocco, Alfredo. 1926. “The Political Theory of Fascism.” In Ideals and Ideologies, Terence Ball and Richard Dagger. New York: Pearson Longman.