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A Specious Concept

539 words

vennerstudy [1]Translated by G. A. Malvicini

The American historian George Mosse has pin-pointed the specious nature of the theory of totalitarianism: it “looks upon the world exclusively from a liberal point of view.” In other words, totalitarianism is a concept elaborated by liberal thought in order to present itself in a favorable light, contrasting itself to its various enemies, all of which are confused together in a single, unholy category, according to the binary opposition of “us and them.”

The theory of totalitarianism reveals the intensely ideological character of liberalism.

It generalizes and reduces very different realities to a single category, hiding everything that distinguishes the different anti-liberal systems from each other. How can one compare the blank-slate, egalitarian, internationalist communist system, responsible for millions of deaths before the war, and elitist, nationalist Italian Fascism, to which only about ten executions can be attributed during the same period?[1]

mussolini-stalin-hitler [2]
This immense quantitative difference corresponds to essential qualitative differences. What liberalism refers to with the blanket term “totalitarianism” includes distinct realities that have only superficial appearances in common (“the one-party state”). The liberal theory of totalitarianism utilizes an ideological patchwork to justify itself negatively, by asserting its “moral” superiority. It is a kind of ideological sleight of hand that is devoid of scientific value.

In an interview dealing with this subject, Emilio Gentile — having defined himself as “a liberal critiquing the liberal historical interpretation of totalitarianism” — recognized that this interpretation involves three serious errors: “It first assimilates two very different things to each other, Fascism and Bolshevism. Furthermore, it considers rationality to be an exclusive attribute of liberalism, denying any form of rationality to the three anti-liberal experiments. Finally, the third error consists in transforming merely apparent similarities into essential similarities. In other words, one might consider Fascism, Bolshevism, and Nazism as three different trees with certain similarities, while liberal theory wants to make them into a single tree with three branches.”[2]

This amounts to asserting that the use of the word “totalitarianism” as a generic, universal term is scientifically abusive. As soon as the concept indistinctly covers everything that is opposed to liberalism, only paying attention to this negative criterion, it is emptied of meaning. It can now be applied to anything: Islamism, various exotic tyrannies, and why not the Catholic Church? This polemical device is as reductive as that used by the communists, when they wanted to reduce everything that opposed them to “capitalism” or “imperialism.”


1. We have already noted that beyond a few rare actions that can be imputed to the Italian secret service, the assassination of Matteotti and the street violence following the civil war of the twenties, and also excluding the war and colonizations, there were only nine political executions in Fascist Italy from 1923 to 1940 (and seventeen others from then on until 1943). Cf. the American historian S. G. Payne (Franco José Antonio: El extraño caso del fascismo español[Barcelona: Planeta, 1997], p. 32).

2. A conversation between Emilio Gentile and Dominique Venner in La Nouvelle Revue d’Histoire, no. 16, January-February 2005, pp. 23-26. On the same subject, I also refer the reader to my interview with Ernst Nolte, Éléments, no. 98, May 2000, pp. 18-21.

Source: Dominique Venner, Le Siècle de 1914: Utopies, guerres et révolutions en Europe au XXe siècle (Paris: Pygmalion, 2006).