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Metanoia

by on March 30, 2020

Metanoia

by Marco M. Pardi

Attempts at reform, when they fail, strengthen despotism, as he that struggles tightens those cords he does not succeed in breaking.” C. C. Colton. Many Things in Few Words; Addressed to those who think. 1823.

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A reader, hopeful the Untied States will somehow come through the Trump regime and return to a functional democracy, suggested I write about how Italy survived Fascism. I very much appreciate suggestions and I will try herein.

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I suppose it is coincidence that I sit here writing this in the early Spring. For many people this is a period of Nature’s rebirth. But rebirth is a misleading concept since it implies that something rose from the dead. Sorry, but the dead don’t rise, at least not in physical form despite the enthusiasm for Easter. Metanoia is an elegant synonym for conversion, not rebirth. It is metamorphosis on a spiritual level.

Years ago I knew a young woman in Munich named Renate – “reborn”. I always wanted to ask her what she remembered about her previous life, but never did. But there were certainly those around her who remembered a previous life they seemed to want the world to forget. Some of the much older ones had been ardent members of the Nazi Party, and I suspected still would be had the Party itself survived. Some showed me photographs of themselves in their officer’s uniforms, complete with swastika armband. It showed me that, like those trees I had been certain were dead in Winter, there were threads of life in depths to which I was not normally privy.

Currently HBO is running a series titled, The Plot Against America. I do not know the average age of my readers or their typical background. But even if the reader has no personal experience with the Untied States of the late 1930’s and early to mid 1940’s the horrendous treatment of Jews and other minorities must rivet attention, and concern. The story line is that Charles Lindberg won the Republican presidential nomination to run against F.D.R. Lindberg, along with Henry Ford and many other highly placed figures including Prescott Bush, patriarch of the Bush political dynasty, was a leading light in the American Fascist movement so active in combating the Labor movement and the rise of the American Communist Party. The American Fascist movement was instrumental in stoking the virulent Red Scare that began in the ’30’s and lasted into the ’60’s.

As the Plot Against America series is currently playing I cannot say how closely it matches the portrayal of those years in the astounding academic study, Under the Axe of Fascism by Gaetano Salvemini (which I have). Nonetheless, it has sparked renewed – and largely new interest in how Fascism got started and how, officially at least, it was defeated in Italy. Why do I say “officially”? Because you can ban an activity but you can’t ban a held belief or feeling.

So how did it get started? To answer that we need to return to the period at the end of the First World War. Unified in 1870 by Garibaldi, Italy was officially a parliamentary monarchy until 1946. But growing dissatisfaction with the economic recovery after WWI coupled with the attraction of the Soviet Union empowered a young and aggressive Prime Minister Benito Mussolini to gather more power, especially with the help of the Roman Catholic Church. Both the Church and Mussolini’s Blackshirts were violently opposed to the growing labor movement, and especially the Soviet concept of communism. The monarch, King Victor Emmanuel III, stepped back from the conflict and effectively abdicated power to Mussolini. Soon after, Mussolini banned all political parties except his Fascist Party.

But what exactly was Fascism? In his autobiography (which I also have) Mussolini summed it up succinctly: Fascism is corporatism. This should sound so familiar to Americans as to obviate the need for explanation. Americans know it as the Military-Industrial Complex. It is the Dark Money from corporations which supports the party that gives them free rein to do as they please, this being accomplished through legislation passed by the wholly owned subsidiary known as the U.S. Congress. As the corporations plunder their way to the dizzy heights of the Stock Exchange they make sure to share the spoils with the politicians who enable them, thus perpetuating the power of those politicians. The military ensures access to the resources and the cheap labor needed by the corporations.

In a short time one’s chances for employment in Fascist Italy were based more on Party membership and connections than on qualifications. Obviously, this presented ethical problems to those who were already well educated in their fields and/or who came from families long established in those fields. People were careful to obtain Party membership and pay “lip service” as needed while keeping their own counsel. Put simply, what looked to the outside world like a monolithic Fascist State was in fact a hidden mosaic of sub rosa members of the previously existing Parties augmented by a growing resistance to the regime.

Yet, there were fractures. The country was divided by a class structure heavily weighted by family provenance more than mere money. My family, including those added by marriage, traced far back in higher academia, the arts, and the highest ranks of the military. Some of those roots developed into Fascist trees, others did not. The “middle class” of Italy was largely quiet, waiting to see the effects on business, while the lower class simply adjusted to a different yoke.

Beneath the veneer the mosaic of famous Italian disagreements waited for when it was safe to resurface. There may have been only one political Party, but there was a universe of different feelings and opinions. These manifested occasionally as the war dragged on. Many Italian troops saw the battles as just not their fight.

And then it came. The King had Mussolini arrested and imprisoned. The Germans turned on the Italians and freed Mussolini. The Italians captured him again and killed him; this was a blunder by those who captured him. Italy did NOT “switch sides”, as the simplistic American history books like to say. Italy overthrew a dictator and reformed itself. Various Italian factions, each looking to the long game, joined with the Allies to drive the Germans out of Italy. The mosaic of different values and nascent political parties, once thought dead, arose. The parliamentary system returned, this time without the monarchy. It had experienced metanoia.

Of course, the revolving door governments that followed were soon the butt of jokes especially in the Untied States. But many saw this as a laboratory experiment in democracy. When elected officials fail to perform to expectations they are voted out.

The Untied States have developed what amounts to a new quasi-class: Politicians. Making matters worse, this class has hardened into two sides. And many would say they are two sides of the same coin. Or Good Cop – Bad Cop; but both cops. Supposedly Trump was the anti-politician, sent by the people to overturn the tables in the temple and drive out the money changers. Unfortunately, too many people fail to understand that not all politicians hold public office. Many of the most radical ones are “special advisers” and other behind the scenes specialists. Trump, like several other famous “leaders” in history, is simply a rabble-rousing front man for these people.

The Untied States need a true metanoia, a metamorphosis away from a class of professional place holders and a return of power into the hands of the people. Violence is simply out of the question, though many domestic groups openly favor it. But this raises the question: Is the American public ready and willing to accept not just the power but also the responsibility to administer itself?

Throughout American history there have been – and are – several “issue Parties”, some larger and some smaller. But they routinely garner little general interest and, when they do seem to rise to the national stage only manage to drain votes away from some truly qualified candidates; their notable contribution is as a “spoiler”.

I have long and often advocated for an American Parliamentary system. There are several very successful models in this world. But I suspect that Americans are too entombed in “how it has always been” to take the courageous step of metanoia.

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12 Comments
  1. From Ray.

    Great blog Marco, as usual. The pandemic offers a rare opportunity to see what we’re all made of. For Americans it is a test to see if they can bring sense to their health care system. If not failing, it has certainly not been impressive given the high per capita cost of the system. If health care for all can’t even be achieved, I’m afraid there will be no hope of moving up a steeper slope to a more democratic parliamentary governance system.

    Like

  2. Thank you, Ray. I completely agree. Furthermore, as I alluded to in my last post, I do not think Americans have the sense of solidarity needed to generate the kinds of collective action required to bring abut these solutions. Just look at the historically low voter turn out each time. American voter turn out is consistently one of the lowest on the planet.

    Like

  3. Dana permalink

    Marco, thanks for this accurate history lesson. I don’t know much about the history of Fascism or that particular era. But history does repeat itself and it’s stunning to see all of the clear signs being completely ignored.

    I’m not sure what I else I can add. By the way, my middle name, Renée means “reborn.”

    Like

    • Thank you, Dana. Yes, I’ve probably outworn my welcome with a few folks regarding the rebirth of Fascism in the Untied States. But, it’s here.

      Yes, I knew that. As I said in response to someone’s question about reincarnation, I reincarnate every instant. So do you.

      Like

  4. Steve permalink

    I certainly don’t practice it every election, but I have voted third party in more than one. I’m as dismayed by the mindset that openly dislikes the offerings from the two parties but still. It’s for one of them as they are by me wasting my vote.

    There is a 1996 Halloween episode of The Simpsons that I always think of. Two aliens abduct and impersonate the candidates at the time, Dole and Clinton. They behave strangely and when it is revealed they are in fact aliens one of the aliens mocks the people and retorts- “What are you going to do about a third party? Go ahead, waste your vote!”. The American people end up voting for one of the aliens and are enslaved.

    Thanks for your perspective on Fascism. Hopefully, we can course correct soon.

    Ironically, when I got on this morning to finish reading your piece, the ad was a survey on how effective I felt Trump is.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks, Steve. I know the third party candidates are sometimes very attractive, but they usually fall into “issue candidates” that may well have proven less effective had they been elected.

    The Parliamentary system allows for the participation of a wider and more diverse array of voters rather than leaving the entire population with an either – or decision. As such, the job of the Prime Minister requires him or her to work much harder to unite the groups rather than just repay his own party for election.

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    • Steve permalink

      I would be all for a positive change to get citizens to realize we don’t have to be all hugs, but do need to understand we are a diverse people that need to listen as much as we talk in order to compromise
      .
      The current mentality is Thunderdome- you must belittle, humiliate and attempt to eradicate those who hold different beliefs. It’s an unrealistic viewpoint. Finger pointing and blaming the other side entirely for every woe that exists in your world view not only gets us further from that, but will also never open the opportunity to find any merit in another viewpoint. We need both sides of an argument detailing their experience and someone who is adult enough to moderate those sides when things inevitably get heated. This us vs them team sport mentality is how we get each side’s version of Trump, all bluster and with very little merit, from here on out.

      That said, we are a country that balks at the idea the metric system might be superior to ours and it is a much less significant change than our government structure.

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      • Thanks, Steve. At the risk of sounding like I’m finger pointing, the Thunderdome ethic you so convincingly portray evolved from a character named Newt Gingrich. His slash and burn approach to political and social dialogue was eagerly absorbed by his Party and is with us to this day. Trump is merely the latest iteration of the school yard bullies it elevated to office.

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  6. It’s been almost two decades since a “psychic” told me that my soul had been incarnated during many times of transition, but I doubt even the most gifted of soothsayers could have predicted what this world would become. Whether we like it or not, change has come. Our nation, once great, has become a laughing stock.

    America’s founding fathers declared their right to oust an unjust ruling body; had we their courage of conviction, the poltroon who leads the fool’s parade that our government has become would have been lifted from his jester’s chair and put into the street.

    The current medical emergency which keeps us apart could be the undoing of us all; it allows Trump access to the daily media while preventing his opponents from mounting an effective campaign against him. Of course, this may become a moot point if he and his minions (or is he the minion?) use this opportunity to postpone the upcoming election indefinitely. I read that he’s riding a wave of approval right now, which frightens me more than I can say.

    I take these issues seriously, both medical and political. I have to wonder, how deeply are they connected?

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    • Thank you, Rose. I think the daily pressers in which Trump and his entourage appear actually work against him. He is more incoherent b the day. But you do have a very good point about the invisibility of any opposition. That is very worrisome.

      The science tells us that, despite what we humans do, there is a chance of a second wave of this virus in the Fall. Of course, there are options to standing in voting lines, mail in being only one. But if the dictators of Russia and now Hungary are any examples, there could be a move to indefinitely postpone elections.

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  7. Elizabeth Martinez permalink

    I just read this post. For some reason it was in my social folder.

    Thank you for that info. Didn’t know about Mussolini being caught the second time and killed. I don’t see this country experiencing metanoia any time soon.

    Like

    • Thanks, Liz. Sadly, I agree. But we must remember that Clinton won the popular vote by over 3 million people in 2016. There may be enough to outweigh the electoral college this time.

      Like

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