The Meaninglessness Of Political Labels

At the thread about the world’s most attractive female politicians, Alan K. Henderson notes that Alessandra Mussolini didn’t make the cut, though she’s got Hillary beat by a country mile. I’d never heard of her before, but she’s very interesting. She’s Il Duce’s granddaughter, and Sophia Loren’s niece, if Wikipedia is to be believed.

But what’s strange about the article (well, not so strange, actually, it’s typical) is the way the word “fascist” and the phrase “right wing” are thrown around freely, with very few references to actual policies that would justify such labels. It seems to contain many of the misconceptions described in Jonah Goldberg’s book. For instance:

Her relations with Gianfranco Fini, leader of the Alleanza Nazionale, never were very good, she announced; she then withdrew later, her resignation due to differences with him at least once.[9] This antagonism was exacerbated when Fini criticized some aspects of fascism, such as its antisemitism. She unsuccessfully challenged him for leadership of the party when he withdrew support for Benito Mussolini in a television interview in January 2002.

Note that there is an implicit assumption that there is something intrinsically anti-semitic about fascism. But one can understand why she might be upset about this slander against her grandfather because, for all of his other sins, there is zero evidence that he was anti-semitic. That was in fact one of the tensions between his regime and Hitler’s. It wasn’t just a coincidence that eighty percent of Italian Jews survived the Holocaust.

And of course, there was very little that was actually “right wing” about him, except that he appropriated the label late to differentiate himself, a man of the left all his life, and a national socialist, from the international ones in the Soviet Union.

And let’s puzzle out the next graf:

Mussolini suddenly left National Alliance on 28 November 2003, following the visit of party leader and the Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini to Israel, where he described fascism as “the absolute evil” as he apologised for Italy’s role as an Axis Power during the Second World War. Mussolini however defended the right of Israel to exist and declared that the world “should beg forgiveness of Israel.”

That hardly sounds like either a “right winger,” or anti-semite to me. Again, while it wouldn’t be inappropriate to apologize for being part of the Axis, Italy had nothing to apologize for when it came to its own treatment of the Jews, at least relative to the rest of Europe, or even with respect to the US, which refused to admit them in the thirties. So again it would be understandable that she would be upset about an apparent slander of her grandfather’s memory. The use of the word “however” in the last sentence implies that she would be expected to be opposed to Israel, when in fact there’s no reason to think that even her grandfather would have been.

This next one is hilarious, if you accept Jonah’s thesis:

Following her resignation, Mussolini formed her Social Action party, originally named “Freedom of Action”, and organized a far right coalition named Social Alternative. That was a surprising move, as Mussolini, during her political career, had always taken progressive stances on many issues, including abortion, artificial insemination, gay rights and civil unions. She has been an outspoken “feminist” and has been described by conservative commentators as a “socialist” and a “left-winger”.

So, what exactly is it that is “far right” about the coalition? They don’t say. We must simply take their word for it that it is. Is it possible that the move is not as “surprising” as it might be to people who don’t view the world through the conventional looking glass of fascism as “right wing”?

I loved this one:

In 2006 she responded to claims by effeminate Italian M.P. candidate Vladimir Luxuriathat she was a ‘fascist’ with the line “Meglio fascista che frocio” (“It is better to be a fascist than a fruit”).

Of course, she’s not necessarily admitting to be a fascist with that line, but she actually seems fine with the label, given that her grandfather invented it. Perhaps as a leftist, she understands fascism much better than most of her cohorts?

[Update late afternoon]

I missed this one. The very first sentence of the article:

Alessandra Mussolini (born 30 December 1962) is an Italian conservative politician…

So what is it that makes her a “conservative”? Her “progressive” views on abortion, artificial insemination, gays, civil unions? Her “feminism”? Or is it just that she’s an admitted fascist, and we all know that fascism is “conservative,” and “right wing”?

[Update a few minutes later]

Now that I think about it, she’s her grandfather’s granddaughter — a leftist who calls herself a fascist. Except unlike most European leftists, she’s not anti-Israel (and anti-semitic).

3 thoughts on “The Meaninglessness Of Political Labels”

  1. It’s a nice fisking, Rand, but I disagree with your headline (“The Meaninglessness of Political Labels”), unless you mean to have the implied suffix (“…In The Hands Of Some People”).

    I think the labels are actually very powerful, and descriptive, if they are used honestly — which is to say, if they accurately describe what peopel stand for, what they consider most important, et cetera.

    The difficulty comes from this power. Folks who intend to win political battles dishonestly, by an Orwellian twisting of words, abuse the labels, apply them inappropriately, and then, finally, attempt to redefine them to suit their convenience (“Freedom is slavery” et cetera).

    So I don’t think we should agree with the Left that words are meaningless in themselves, and it’s only the “higher truth” or the narrative that matters. I think we should, instead, fight back: insist that words be used precisely, and that their meaning not be twisted over time.

    “Fascism” was a precisely defined political movement. Its aims and methods are a matter of plain historical record. It’s reasonable to call someone who adheres to the same (or nearly the same) aims and methods a “fascist,” and that tells you something useful. But by the same token, it is vile to attach the label to someone with far different aims and methods — or to ascribe to the historical movement aims and methods which it did not have.

  2. Indeed. Fascism was quite different from Communism even if both regimes were totalitarian. For one the support bases were different: in communism it was farmers without land of their own and factory workers. In fascism support came from land and factory *owners* tired of endless strikes.

    Fascism was indeed more conservative. Compare the view on abortion at the time versus the one practiced in communist countries. Or the existence of private property even if it was subjected to state controls. For some reason Mussolini called it a “third-way” between communism and capitalism. Tighter state controls happened elsewhere as well. The USA forced aircraft patent pooling during WWI. The UK had rationing until the 50s. In a war economy shit happens.

    PS: Allessandra looks horrible in that wikipedia picture.

  3. The USA forced aircraft patent pooling during WWI.

    The USA did a lot more than that, even after the war (like jailing thousands of political enemies for their views). (Democrat) Woodrow Wilson was the first fascist (and racist) dictator, pre-dating and influencing Mussolini (as well as Hitler and Roosevelt). It’s interesting to speculate what would have happened had he not had the stroke.

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