Fascism And The Irrelevance Of ‘Truth’

Yesterday, a former student wrote to me, asking for clarification on something he had read in an online discussion group:

We [Fascists] don’t think ideology is a problem that is resolved in such a way that truth is seated on a throne. But, in that case, does fighting for an ideology mean fighting for mere appearances? No doubt, unless one considers it according to its unique and efficacious psychological-historical value. The truth of an ideology lies in its capacity to set in motion our capacity for ideals and action. Its truth is absolute insofar as, living within us, it suffices to exhaust those capacities. [From: Gregory J. Kasza, “Fascism from Above? Japan’s Kakushin Right in  Comparative Perspective,” in Stein Ugelvik Larsen, ed., Fascism Outside Europe (Boulder, Colorado: Social Science Monographs, 2001)]

My student asked:

What is being implied about fascism and ideology? What is being said from “fighting for an ideology means fighting for mere appearances?” Is the author implying that to the fascist, truth cannot be unquestioned and as a result, can potentially change?

I have not been able to procure a full copy of the paper so my remarks are limited to the excerpt above. In it, the speaker/writer claims that political and theoretical struggle for the fascists is not necessarily devoted to the pursuit of truth; a clash of competing ideologies is not a clash of competing truth claims. In one sense, a battle over ideologies, over competing systems of thought, is a kind of superficial battle for ‘mere appearances’–precisely because one ideology is not clashing with another to establish itself on the grounds that it is the ‘true’ or ‘correct’ one; but this clash becomes more than just a matter of appearance when we realize that the truth value of an ideology is independent of what the author terms its ‘psychological-historical value’; that the ‘truth of an ideology’ is found in its capacity to make us act. That is what of value to the fascist, the fact that a system of thought–theory–induces praxis, that it shortens the gap between the two, that it encourages those powers within us that make us act.

For the fascist then, truth is not the most important quality of a theory; a theory could be false in the conventional sense of ‘accurately corresponding to the actual state of affairs’ and yet still be a ‘good’ theory precisely because at a particular moment in historical time, marked by very particular material, economic, and political circumstances, it is able to get one class of political and social actor ‘moving’; it is able to make real this actor’s agency; it has found, magically, the key that unlocks access to a potential actor’s world-changing capacities. Theories of politics, according to the speaker/writer above, are theories of action; their value is judged accordingly. Do they make us act? To what ends? Are they effective? If the theory is effective in making us act to bring about the desired ends, it is a ‘true’ or better still, a ‘good’ or ‘useful’ theory. (This moving past the truth of a theoretical claim to its utility is a Nietzschean maneuver, visible in–among other places–‘On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense‘ and in many passages in Beyond Good and Evil.

One comment on “Fascism And The Irrelevance Of ‘Truth’

  1. kittenchow says:

    A couple of thoughts:

    It makes sense (not really, but it does seem to explain why people believe in religion) to say that the truth comes from its ability to mobilize the agent, but if a battle over ideologies is a battle for “mere appearances”, does this also entail that in the political debate that is going on in the break room between the liberal college intern with the conservative supervisor, there is nothing else to be gained from their discourse besides appreciating how much each person’s ideology is motivating himself or herself to act or think in a certain way?

    Furthermore, would we not be running the danger of allowing fascism to grow in influence to the point of gaining a majority in government if there is no way to convince its believers that their ideology is objectively false or that it has no philosophical underpinnings and only seems valid because it primarily appeals to the emotion? Or, does the fascist’s reasoning in the excerpt provide a self-regulating mechanic in that the social, political and economic climate where fascism can thrive could be only temporary and can eventually be overcome by another political ideology once the tides have changed?

    Regardless, many thanks for the interpretation. It leaves much to think about and it’s great to know that Nietzsche has something to say about this (though not taking your Nietzsche seminar when it was available has left me under-equipped in that regard for now..)

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