century is often called the "short century". Its whole
tragedy, consisting mainly in experiencing totalitarianism, was
occurring over a span of 75 years: from 1914 to 1989. And at the
same time this period could be easily categorised into the sequences
of causes and results that form a narrative basis for telling the
history of this century. The collapse of Communism in its Soviet
version turns the course of the historical story to the end of the
World War II, when the Yalta Order was created. The war itself had
a cause easy to grasp in the person of Hitler and his plans to conquest
the world, whereas Nazism, similarly to Communism in its Stalinist
version, rose to power as a result of the process initiated by the
defeat of the German Empire and Bolshevik Revolution. The cause
for both these events was - in turn - the World War I.
Only at this
point in history - i.e. the summer of 1914 - the ease with which
we tell the story of the 20th century encounters severe
difficulty which is the question of the reasons for this war. How
come prosperous, liberal and civilised nations that for over 40
years were living in peace, in August of 1914 set out with wild
enthusiasm on mass and meaningless slaughter, which in retrospect
served only to enable Lenin, Mussolini, Stalin and Hitler to rise
of real meaning and causes of totalitarianism was deeply influenced
by the fact that the Western democracies defeated Nazism in alliance
with Stalin. And this very alliance - portended by anti-Nazi "people's
fronts" being formed in the 1930s - determined not only the
European post-war boundaries but also laid the foundations for the
way of understanding of fascism, obligatory in the post-war half-century.
The evil the world fought with between 1939 and 1945 assumed a specific,
abhorrent shape: nationalism and its most extreme form, that is
fascism. In the face of the fascist threat the differences between
the leftists and liberals diminished in importance - a binding agent
was the Enlightenment heritage regarded as a foundation of modernity.
part of anti-fascist democratic culture that developed in the 1930s
was to regard fascism as a counterattack of irrational forces defending
themselves against dynamics of the historical process originated
by the French Revolution of 1789 that initiated an epoch of progress
and democracy. Any resistance to revolutionary dynamics was regarded
as a "reaction", i.e. irrational traditionalism - because
the opponents of progress wanted a realisation of the retrospective
utopia, return to the pre-Enlightenment world based on authority,
superstitions and tradition.
however, an attitude of the radical right, that gave rise to fascism,
towards modernity was much more complex. They criticised modernity
for the sake of the upcoming future - the best illustrative example
of such an attitude were the so-called German revolutionary conservatives.
What they felt was not a melancholy for elapsing time but a great
enthusiasm, with which they welcomed a new age of history approaching
from the future. Seen in this perspective, the World War I determined
a specific turning point. On the one hand it fully revealed the
crisis mounting for a long time inside capitalistic and liberal
society built on the 19th-century ideals. Then, the war
had not destroyed the liberal world - it exposed its bankruptcy.
The world war transformed a state - wrote Junger in his "Total
Mobilization" - into a huge factory "mass producing armies"
only to "send them day and night to the battlefields"
where also mechanical slaughter was taking place. Thus the war revealed
the true, inhuman face of liberal modernity. On the other hand,
however, it triggered the forces that were to overcome the crisis
- it made possible for a "new heroism" to be born among
the war generation.
force searched for a new political form in which it could realise
itself. The logic of civilisational progress destroyed all the old
forms of collective life. Plutocratic liberalism was transforming
the old world into a "society" unceasingly producing and
standardising the world. Politics - in its liberal, i.e. democratic
form - was completely subordinated to social interests. State -
a perennial expression of the will to dominate and to fight - was
turned into a servant of these interests, because "society"
wanted safety and security, while fight implied risk.
Thus a nation
and totalitarian state became the new political forms for the revolutionary
conservatives. A liberal, industrial society was a prisoner of capitalism;
a nation was to become its ruler. Then, fascism was realising a
socialistic ideal - liberated labour from the tyranny of technology.
This process was to be of benefits to all members of national community,
and not only to one social class, as in case of Communism. To make
it possible, the nation had also to liberate the state, to liberate
it from long-lasting tyranny of technology and the "system".
So, the conservative
revolution (as a variety of fascism) was rightist in this sense
that it was supposed to be conducted in the name of the nation and
powerful state. A conservative element of the movement consisted
in this that the "new" was to be replaced by a metamorphosed
form of the eternal principle of life. At the same time the revolution
was also leftist ("progressive"), because in principle
it was rejecting a counterrevolution and straightforwardly
declared itself the next, more radical stage of history.
For the revolutionary
conservatives a key term was "modernity" - understood
as a system of capitalistic, industrial society. Although the left
declared against capitalism, yet - according to the revolutionary
conservatives - it was still in the centre of modernity. Thus a
leftist revolution was basically "reactionary". Only revolutionary
conservatism - that is fascism - offered truly radical criticism
of modernity and proposed a real vision of overcoming it. So, revolutionary
conservatism wanted to be - to use modern terminology - "post-modern",
while communism wanted to solidify and radicalise "modernity"
in a revolutionary way.
Does it mean
that we can put fascism and Nazism on the one plane with communism,
explaining at the same time - as Ernst Nolte - that it was a wrong
answer to the right question? It seems, however, that in this dispute
right was rather Francois Furet who in classification of evil awarded
primacy to Nazism. Communism and Nazism could be put on the one
plane because they had the common roots in the crisis of liberal
world of the 19th century. Thus, Nazism was not a mere
"reaction" to the emergence of Communism (as Nolte claims)
but there was rather a symbiotic interdependence between them. It
is true that in chronological order Lenin rose to power before Mussolini,
as Stalin was ahead of Hitler. In order of ideas, however, both
trends derived from one another - and already from the end of the
19th century, from the moment of anti-Positivistic breakthrough
in European culture when both the radical left and radical right
the thesis about the supremacy of fascism and Nazism in the order
of evil it is necessary to look again into the notion of common
origins of liberalism and Marxism in the spirit of Enlightenment.
It is true that the practice of Communism was in obvious contradiction
with the ideals of freedom and fellowship. What is puzzling, therefore,
is communist persistence to stick with the lie about its allegiance
to these ideals. Indeed, this very hypocrisy immanent to Communism
settles it below Nazism in the hierarchy of evil. Its cause, deeper
than a mere ill will and unctuousness
of totalitarian rulers, resided in the ideology itself - in the
described by the revolutionary conservatives entanglement of Communism
in modernity. Communism rejected capitalism and democracy because
the bourgeoisie treated them as a façade to the real, unequal social
relations. A proletarian revolution was to attain the ideals - betrayed
by the bourgeoisie - of the French Revolution which only adumbrated
but not fully realised the emancipation of man. As years ago demonstrated
J. L. Talmon in his book on the origins of totalitarian democracy,
and recently also Furet, Marxism-Leninism developed to the full
extent an ambiguous, dangerous heritage of the Continental Enlightenment
- the legacy of Jacobin project which in order to realise the ideal
of fellowship resorted to terror. It was this skilful reference
to the Enlightenment heritage and the myth of the French Revolution
of 1789 that allowed the Communists to seduce the Socialists, intellectuals
with leftist tendencies and all other "goodwill people".
So, the lie of Communism did not stem from the mere contempt for
the Enlightenment ideals but resulted from a striking discrepancy
in their essence - contradiction between theory and practice, between
a bright vision of the future and brutal methods of its realisation.
Socialism, on the other hand, claimed that it truly and radically
went beyond the horizon of the Enlightenment. Not only did it not
promise to realise the ideals of the French Revolution, but openly
rejected them. For this reason it did not have to resort to hypocrisy
and double standards. In a way characteristic of the "supermen"
it could despise all those whom it considered to be the "submen".
It was not tormented by an inner conflict between practice and ideological
theory. As it placed itself beyond good and evil, it could be radically,
brazenly, and frankly evil.
that is why National Socialism was eventually defeated by an alliance
that referred to the Enlightenment ideals - the alliance of Russia
that embodied the tradition of the totalitarian Enlightenment stemming
from the Jacobin terror, and of America and England, states embodying
the tradition of the Atlantic Enlightenment springing from the though
of Scottish philosophers of the 18th century and the
Founding Fathers of the American Republic.
after the year of 1989, it is evident that it is America
that turned out to be the victor who defeated both totalitarianisms;
moreover, it was America
that was the winner at every turning point in the history of the
20th century, both in 1918,
in 1945 and in 1989. And it was the Atlantic
Enlightenment that originated a new post-modernism, although very
different to the one of which the revolutionary conservatives wanted
to be the self-proclaimed prophets.