Cole Porter Says Mussolini is De-Lovely!


In the one of the comments to today's first post (about Nazis, Stalin, and Slavoj Zizek), reader D Anghelone did us all a great favor by linking to David Ramsay Steele's wonderful article, The Mystery of Fascism.

Ramsay Steele recovers the bizarre, hugely favorable reception accorded Mussolini by the glitterati of the day (ardent fans included not just Ezra Pound but also George Bernard Shaw and Sigmund Freud). Those of you familiar only with the ditty about Mussolini biting Hitler's weenie (and now it doesn't work) will be surprised to learn that Il Duce gets a big shout-out from Cole Porter, the subject of De-Lovely, currently flopping in theaters everywhere: "You're the top!," sang Porter in one of his signature tunes. "You're the Great Houdini! You're the top!
You are Mussolini!"

More seriously–and more on point with the conversation raised below–Ramsay Steele helps explain why, despite being branded as "right-wing," fascism is best understood as a manifestation of a left that set itself against liberalism:

Fascism began as a revision of Marxism by Marxists, a revision which developed in successive stages, so that these Marxists gradually stopped thinking of themselves as Marxists, and eventually stopped thinking of themselves as socialists. They never stopped thinking of themselves as anti-liberal revolutionaries.

Whole thing here. Well worth a read.

NEXT: 4,000 Annulments

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  1. This quote suggests that a lot of fascists were ex-Marxists. Is that the case? What is the true historical pedigree of both systems?

    I would argue that they have the same historical pedigree of ALL of today’s modern “isms” – the Enlightenment. Which is why Shannon Love is right to discuss the Enlightenment when she makes remarks about Fascism, but why she is wrong to say that Fascism rejected the Enlightenment.

    The Enlightenment spawned good and bad fruit in other words.

  2. The common ground between fascists and communists on economic matters has become an issue of routine discussion within the Indian press. On multiple occassions, Hindu extremists and Communist parties have joined ranks within Parliament to oppose free-market economic policies, and when the Communist-backed government began to push left-of-center economic policies a couple of months ago, some Hindu extremist groups were among the first to applaud them for it.

  3. Power Corrupts, beeaaa-tch!

  4. Paul,

    That’s back when it was called “corporatism” (something that Churchill in the 1920s and 1930s oddly enough praised). Anyway, your comments do not demonstrate that Fascism and Communism have a common and exclusive historical pedigree; I think my comments are really what explains their similarities – that they are both children of the Enlightenment, as liberalism.

  5. “Fascism began as a revision of Marxism by Marxists” etc

    That particular argument is just not very convincing. You could just as easily argue that american neo-conservatism is best understood as being of the left because so many major neo-cons were marxists of some stripe at some point in their life. But does that make them or the policies they favour any less conservative today ?

  6. joe:

    “There are similarities between fascism and communism. There are similarities between fascism and monarchism. There are similarities between communism and anarchism. …”

    This is true but not really revealing. There are not equal numbers of similarities between each of the pairs you list. I’m reminded of “Best In Show” when the young lady married to the 90 something year old millionaire remarked that of course they had things in common, “We both like soup …”

  7. joe,

    Sticks and stones may break my bones but you are still a bureaucrat.

  8. “I think there’s a pretty big difference between regulating (or contracting heavily with) privately-owned industries, as fascists and other capitalists do ..”

    At some level of regulation, saying that I own something doesn’t really mean anything. If you control the output, you own the factory.

  9. Joes says: “There are similarities between fascism and communism. There are similarities between fascism and monarchism. There are similarities between communism and anarchism. There are similarities between anarchism and libertarianism. There are similarities between libertariansim and liberalism. There are similarities between libertarianism and conservatism…”

    Please explain what, in your view, the similarities between communism and anarchism are. I had never thought them too alike.

  10. Both the U.S. and France have traditionally had a passion for massive public works projects (e.g., TVA, 1960s NASA, our new Mars mission, the Bourbon canals, that massive fucking bridge the French are building right now, “gran projets,” etc.) – that doesn’t make either fascist or communist.

  11. Andy,

    Communism and anarchism share a belief against the legitimacy of private property as well as a belief in a Stateless society, although Marx did prescribe a little detour to Statelessness called the “dictatorship of the proletariat” just to make sure we were all in the correct state of mind when we got there! 🙂

  12. “Ultimately, they attempt to achieve the nearly exact same goals but using different methodology.”

    Paul, at the risk of nit-picking, I would have thought they have the same methodology but different goals! What goals would you say communism and fascism share?

    Nevertheless, I certainly agree that free markets have nothing to do with fascism. But tune up that oratory because leftists will argue that laissez-faire economics is fascistic because it allows the strong (Big Business) to conquer the weak (the average joe (cough!))!

  13. This isn’t a political comment, but a Cole Porter comment. I haven’t seen Delovely yet, but Cole Porter was well known for singing his own songs with goofy off-the-cuff lyrics at parties. One example is “You’re the top, you’re the breast of Venus/You’re the top, you’re King Kong’s penis.”

    I wonder if the authors of that article mean that there is a print version of the song with the Mussolini lyric, or if Porter just belted it out at parties a few times.

    1. Carolyn, The original lyrics were Houdini/Mussolini. The American Progressives and intellectual elite were enthralled with Mussolini. To them, he was the “benevolent dictator” they sought.

  14. Will is correct, and gets my award for concise reporting. Good man.


  15. Ahh yes, Nick, that special ditty. In our fifth grade modified version of it we tortured poor Deborah Sweeney on a regular basis. Of course in today’s enlightened era, they’da tossed every one of us rotten heartless little bastards outta school permanently for singing such a tune about an innocent little girl.

  16. I would have said “two authoritarian dogs . . . “, but its a nice quote.

  17. Sticks and stones may break my bones but you are still a bureaucrat.

    Speaking of which, and going where angels have fled, did anyone view “The Fog of War” in light of these all the above?

    What are the McNamaras? Wilsonian – New Deal – statist – internationalist – determinedly anti-communist and anti-fascist. What is the mystery of WTF-label that they are.

    Course McNamara has that dead-ice quality of scientific management but that may be a separate matter.

  18. JL sez, “If you control the output, you own the factory.” Follow the money. Compare how Lennin and Stalin handled businessowners, vs. Benito and Adolph.

    andy, just to be brief, both communism and anarchism call for the abolition of the state (usually after an interim period of revolutionary government which is just temporary, they promise). Both are based around critiques of the types of state capitalism that peaked in fascist countries in the 30s and 40s. Both seek to abolish the institutions that protect private property, espcially rent-seeking ownership. Both set up the outsider/inverstor owner, who has no personal or cultural ties to the people and land he’s controlling, as the bad guy.

    fyodor, I don’t argue that “laissez-faire” capitalism is facsist, but that state capitalism is. In many cases, however, the distinction is pointless, because so many conservatives make laissez-faire, capitalist arguments on behalf of corporatist/state capitalist policies. In my opinion, laissez-faire vs. mixed economy/welfare state liberalism is an intramural spat between two branches of the liberal family tree – one brach that can account for the industrial revolution, and one that cannot.

    will, fascism did not seek to eliminate social classes – the master race/nation/ethnicity was to be ruling class, and the mud people (however defined) to be their helots.

  19. Ironchef, you’ve taken the philosophy of the Brady Center, but changed its object from firearms to governments. The state is merely the tool of those who weild it.

    A thing is neither good nor evil; it is its use that makes it so. – Aquinas

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