December 30, 2016

1928. Mussolini Rejects Democratic Rule

Mussolini Condemns Popular Sovereignty
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini speaks to a crowd at Pizza San Marco in Venice alongside a group of Black Shirts on June 15, 1934 (source)
This article is part of a series of posts on how newspapers covered the rise of fascism.

From The New York Times, March 3, 1928:
Condemns Popular Sovereignty in Report Explaining New Electoral Bill
Measure Gives Fascista Council Control of All Nominations to Parliament
Premier Denies Intention of Abolishing Chamber Entirely or Setting Up an Oligarchy

ROME, March 2 — The principles on which popular sovereignty and representative government are generally thought to rest are condemned by Premier Mussolini in a report accompanying the new Fascista electoral bill distributed in the Chamber today.

By the system he proposes geographical representation is abolished and the voter's role is confined to approving or rejecting, without possibility of choice between individual men, a list of 800 candidates for Parliament, half of them named by the Fascist Grand Council and the other half nominated by the guilds or corporations into which Fascismo has organized Italian life.

Premier Mussolini denies, however, that he aims to abolish parliament or elections altogether.

He voices sharp criticism of the electoral system existing in other countries as antiquated and unsuitable to a modern nation. The fundamental defect of most electoral systems, says the report, is that they are based on the dogma of popular sovereignty.

Holds Masses Incapable of Choice

"The error of such a conception is evident," he writes. "The masses are quite incapable of forming their own minds, much less of choosing men. Democracy, in other words, does not exist in nature. Where 100 persons gather they are fatally led by two or three individuals, who drive them according to their own interests and their own inclinations.

"The problem of government therefore cannot be solved by trusting in the illusory dogma of popular sovereignty, but it can be solved by the wise choice of a few leading spirits. If, however, the system of selection is not well organized, the unworthiest usually come to the top. To leave the choice of candidates to an electorate which is composed of an amorphous mass of heterogeneous individuals really means to abandon choice to a few intriguers."

Nor does the system of letting each party choose its own candidates, who are then submitted to the electorate, work any better, Premier Mussolini says, because the choice of candidates is assumed by political parties which often are the most unscrupulous, the least mindful of the nation's interest and the most opposed to constituted authority. Both of these systems, he holds, really took the choice of candidates out of the hands of the electorate, placing it in those of party organs.

"The dogma of popular sovereignty," he concludes, "therefore in practice is the sovereignty of small minorities composed of intriguing demagogues."

Condemns Local Representation

But the faults Premier Mussolini finds with existing electoral systems do not end here. Most of them are founded on a geographical basis, the Deputies which are sent to Parliament being representatives of their own particular town, city or region.

This, the Premier says, tends to make the legislative body too heedful of local affairs, losing sight of national affairs. He adds that fosters "churchsteeple politics" and has the drawback that a great scientist, a great writer or great artist who lives far from his home town does not have the slightest chance to enter Parliament.

"Finally," says Premier Mussolini, "all existing electoral systems neglect the reality of life which is that, isolated, individuals do not exist or have negligible value. Society is not merely a conglomeration of men, but the resultant of a series of minor groups which coexist organically. To ignore these minor groups means to have a totally false idea of social life. This is especially grave for those who seek in popular representation the perfect expression of the will of the people."

Most of the defects of the above systems are eliminated by the new Fascista proposals, Premier Mussolini goes on to say. The Fascisti candidates, he explains, will be designated by organizations representing the productive forces of Italy, thus doing away with the geographical faults of the present systems and the danger of nominations being exclusively the work of intriguing politicians.

Council Revises Nominations

These names will then be revised by the Fascista Grand Council, which, he says, eliminates any residual danger of such results, while "churchsteeple politics" renders possible the inclusion of any notable national figure which has been overlooked by the trades unions or guilds. Finally, the candidates chosen by the Grand Council will be submitted to the electorate, which can either accept or reject them. The electorate, he says, though deprived of the right to choose an individual Deputy or one who will be bound to represent local interests in Parliament, still has a check on the Government and can always show its disapproval of the Government's policies by rejecting all the candidates submitted to it.

Premier Mussolini states positively that the Fascisti have never had any idea of abolishing Parliament altogether.

"Some people may have thought," he writes, "that the logic of Fascista doctrine should finally lead to the abolition of the Chamber and all elections. This deduction, however, does not correspond to the Fascista conception of the modern State. Fascismo never intended to build up a completely autocratic regime or inaugurate a Government by police.

"On the contrary, Fascismo wishes to create a regime of authority with a strong Government possessing ample powers but founded on the masses and keeping close to the masses. No Fascisti ever dreamed of placing the government of the nation in the hands of an oligarchy.

"All who have Fascismo at heart wish instead to create a regime whose ruling class can always draw from the people the men necessary to its constant renewal.

"There is no doubt that an assembly comprised of men who, owing to their origins and the way in which they are designated, are at the same time interpreters of the interests of the groups which compose the nation and the enlightened organs of great national interests, must necessarily find a place among the constitutional organs of the State."