liberal fascism


By Lincoln Secco*

One of the fundamental characteristics of a fascist is to say that he is not. He can declare himself as a Catholic who attends evangelical services; fighting corruption to get pleasure; defend military institutions but create your own militias

Jair Bolsonaro's government is fascist and liberal[1]. How was this possible?

After the military defeat of historical fascism[2], many liberals and conservatives rushed to disassociate themselves from that catastrophic experience. The philosopher Benedetto Croce saw in the phenomenon a parenthesis, a deviation from a European history whose meaning was the realization of the idea of ​​freedom. He went further: he refused to understand the phenomenon because he hated it.

Scholars of the Frankfurt School were highly suspicious of the post-World War II eradication of fascism and realized how long it could survive within liberal capitalist societies.[3].

The father of neoliberalism Von Mises saw good intentions in Nazism. Friedrich Hayek, who was much more an avant-garde propagandist than an outstanding economist, spread the notion that fascism was a mere deformation caused by state excess.[4]. Zbigniew Brzezinski preferred the term “authoritarianism” to justify the persistence of fascism in the Iberian Peninsula: they would be “technical dictatorships” and instrumental in the defense of democracy[5]. Not by chance, it also incorporated the concept of totalitarianism, developed by Hannah Arendt to approximate fascism and communism as totalitarian mass regimes.[6].

The list of authors could go on, especially if we incorporate the historiography that fed on the concept of populism. In the vulgar sense that came to be used in the northern hemisphere, it still has the same function of demonizing the left, equating it with neo-fascism. Totalitarianism and populism are words invoked to save the skin of the liberal center, which would be the only guarantee of the rational requirements of a normal life based on individualism, contracts and freedom.

However, the marriage of capitalism and democracy was an exception that prevailed for a short historical period in some European and North American countries, as Yasha Mounk, author of the best seller The people against democracy. (Company of Letters). Even so, he attributed the democratic crisis to the “populism” prevailing in countries as diverse as Poland, Russia or Venezuela.[7].

In Brazil

The end of real European socialism in 1989 would mark a wave of exaltation of liberalism in Latin America, but thinkers on the left and right already sensed a new turn towards fascism. In this regard Paulo Arantes[8] rescued an article by Edward Luttwak published in 1995[9]. The author, who was far from left-wing sympathies, foresaw that capitalism fueled by globalization and information technology would bring a “completely unprecedented personal economic insecurity of the working mass, from white-collar industrial and bureaucratic workers to middle executives” and that the right moderate and moderate left would offer either solution.

He described a group of middle strata of the population who were not exactly poor and, therefore, could not receive social benefits offered by the left. And we might add that they would also not be interested in a redistribution of income that would threaten their relative social position.

The moderate right, celebrating “the virtues of unbridled competition and dynamic structural change” would no longer interest those segments either. They would tend to join an “improved fascist party”[10].

In 1998 Fernando Haddad suggested the hypothesis that the collapse of the Soviet system and the developmentalist state would incline the semiperipheral countries towards neoliberalism and old fascism[11].


Antonio Negri, who visited Brazil before the political catastrophe of 2018, defined 1920st century neo-fascism very well as “the hard face of neoliberalism”. According to him, this “distinguishes it from the fascisms of the 30s-XNUMXs in which reactionaries were certainly in the political field, while in the economic field they could be relatively progressive, pseudo Keynesian”[12].

Still, this definition is not accurate even for the age of historical fascism which also resorted to liberal orthodoxy when it suited them. Historian Federico Chabod has shown that in its early years Italian fascism was more liberal than previous liberal governments: it abolished official subsidies and handed over state enterprises to private capital.

After the First World War, the old Giolitti, who marked an era in Italian politics, sought to improve revenue. To cope with the increase in state expenses incurred during the War, he demanded on September 24, 1920 that the shares be registered and not bearer in order to combat fraud. On the same day he raised the tax on inheritances and, in specific cases (distant relatives, eg) the tax could mean the confiscation of property.

The National Fascist Party program in 1921 provided for tax simplification, budget balance, publicity of taxable income (redditi imponibili)[13] and inheritances. But just thirteen days after the march on Rome that brought Mussolini to the presidency of the Council of Ministers, Giolitti's laws were repealed.[14] and that forgotten part of the fascist program.

pragmatic fascism

Mussolini put into practice the policy prescribed by Vilfredo Pareto, the theorist of elites: destroy political liberalism and institute economic liberalism; withdraw taxes from the privileged classes; and offer workers an education with religious dogmas in which he himself did not believe[15].

The old liberal politicians were satisfied and believed that the entry of fascists into the government cabinet would tame them and allow their absorption into the liberal system.[16], as had happened with the socialists. Coming from a bizarre composition of revolutionary syndicalism, socialism and nationalism, fascism had its base mobilized in the middle strata and attracted resentful people of all kinds. However, he would not have stabilized in power without that condescension of professional politicians. In addition, of course, to an alliance with big capital and the support of the army, police and judiciary[17].

Of course, Mussolini's policy changed: he imposed a personal dictatorship and, moved by new international circumstances, adopted a statist line: in 1939, in percentage terms, Italy had the second largest public sector in the world, only smaller than the Soviet Union.[18].

But pragmatic liberalism was not peculiar to the beginning of the Italian fascist regime. In Spain Franco initially adopted the corporate system and sought economic autarky, but in the 1950s he promoted his country's entry into the UN, economic opening and submission to the IMF. And the architects of Spanish liberalism were technocrats linked to Opus Dei, an ultra-reactionary Catholic organization.

Any fascist idea is disposable because fascism has none. He is pure action. He is an absolute opportunist. He lands in power changing costumes according to country, occasion and culture (or lack thereof).


There is not and never was a definitive political, ideological or economic project of the fascists. Not even the term "fascism" was generally claimed by them outside Italy. In England Sir Oswald Mosley (1896-1980) created the British Union of Fascists, but later changed the name.

One of the fundamental characteristics of a fascist is to say that he is not. He can quite naturally declare himself a Catholic who attends evangelical services; fighting corruption to get pleasure; defend military institutions but create their own militias; using the “revolution” to protect the Order; and eliminate former allies on behalf of one or the other as convenient.

The fascist clerical Dollfuss (1892-1934) repressed the Austrian Nazis until he was assassinated by them. But where the conservative fascist wing could dispense with the radical, it was done. Iron and blood if necessary. Romanian dictator Antonescu (1882-1946) crushed his more radical fascist compatriots in the Iron Guard. Franco arrested Spanish Phalangist politicians after using them in the Civil War[19]; the fasciomonarchist leader of the Portuguese blue shirts Rolão Preto (1893-1977) was involved in an attempt against Salazar and was expelled from the country. None of them wore the number of the beast on their foreheads.

* Lincoln Secco He is a professor in the Department of History at USP.


[1]    In a speech at Fiesp, General Hamilton Mourão, Vice President of the Republic, read a text that said: “Neoliberalism, or liberalism, is nothing more than the intransigent defense of the right to private property. Because where there is no property there is not the only economic system that has worked in the world, which is capitalism”. Consultation on 27/03/2019.

[2]    That was in force between the two World Wars.

[3]    Adorno, TW Education and Emancipation. Trans. Wolfgang Leo Maar. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1995, p.38.

[4]    SoaresThiago C. Make it New: Hayek and the Invention of Neoliberalism. USP, doctoral thesis, 2019, p. 162.

[5]    Fernandes, Florestan. Notes on the Theory of Authoritarianism. São Paulo: Hucitec, 1979, p. 5.

[6]    Arendt, Hannah. Origins of Totalitarianism. Trans. Roberto Raposo. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, p. 434.

[7]    Mounk, Yasha. The People against Democracy. Trans. C. Leite and Débora Landsberg. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2019, p.81.


[9]    Arantes, Paul. “Philosophy and National Life: Why Philosopher Today?”,

[10]  Luttwak, Edward. “Why Fascism is the Wave of the Future”, New CEBRAP Studies No. 40, November 1994, pp. 145-151.

[11] Haddad, Fernando. In Defense of Socialism: On the Occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Manifesto. Petrópolis: Voices, 1998, p. 65.

[12]  Negri, Antonio. “First Observations on the Brazilian Disaster”, in

[13]  Felice, Renzo De. Mussolini the Fascist. La Conquista del Potere. 1921-1925. Turin: Einaudi, 1995, p.759.

[14]  Chabod, Federico. L'Italia Contemporanea. Torino: Einaudi, 1961, p. 64.

[15]  Borkenau, Franz. Pareto. Mexico: FCE, 1978, p. 8.

[16]  Blinkhorn, Martin. Mussolini and Fascist Italy. London: Routledge, 1997, p.22.

[17]  Carocci, Giampero. Storia d´Italia dall´Unità ad Oggi. Milano: Feltrinelli, 1975, p.250.

[18]  Blinkhorn, Martin. Op. quote, p. 34.

[19]  Bernard, John. Labyrinths of Fascism. Porto: Afrontamento, 2003, pp.116-125.

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