Michael Ledeen: His Fascination with Italian FascismHistorians in the News
On the antiwar Right, it has been customary to attack the warmongering neoconservative clique for its Trotskyite origins. Certainly, the founding father of neoconservatism, Irving Kristol, wrote in 1983 that he was proud to have been a member of the Fourth International in 1940. Other future leading lights of the neocon movement were also initially Trotskyites, like James Burnham and Max Kampelmanthe latter a conscientious objector during the war against Hitler, a status that Evron Kirkpatrick, husband of Jeane, used his influence to obtain for him. But there is at least one neoconservative commentator whose personal political odyssey began with a fascination not with Trotskyism, but instead with another famous political movement that grew up in the early decades of the 20th century: fascism. I refer to Michael Ledeen, leading neocon theoretician, expert on Machiavelli, holder of the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, regular columnist for National Review and the principal cheerleader today for an extension of the war on terror to include regime change in Iran.
Ledeen has gained notoriety in recent months for the following paragraph in his latest book, The War Against the Terror Masters. In what reads like a prophetic approval of the policy of chaos now being visited on Iraq, Ledeen wrote,
Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our own society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law. Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity, which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace. Seeing America undo traditional societies, they fear us, for they do not wish to be undone. They cannot feel secure so long as we are there, for our very existenceour existence, not our politicsthreatens their legitimacy. They must attack us in order to survive, just as we must destroy them to advance our historic mission.
This is not the first time Ledeen has written eloquently on his love for the
democratic revolution and creative destruction. In 1996, he
gave an extended account of his theory of revolution in his book, Freedom Betrayed
the title, one assumes, is a deliberate reference to Trotskys Revolution
Betrayed. Ledeen explains that America is a revolutionary force
because the American Revolution is the only revolution in history that has succeeded,
the French and Russian revolutions having quickly collapsed into terror. Consequently,
[O]ur revolutionary values are part of our genetic make-up.
drive the revolution because of what we represent: the most successful experiment
in human freedom.
We are an ideological nation, and our most successful
leaders are ideologues. Denouncing Bill Clinton as a counter-revolutionary
(!), Ledeen is especially eager to make one point: Of all the myths that
cloud our understanding, and therefore paralyze our will and action, the most
pernicious is that only the Left has a legitimate claim to the revolutionary tradition.
Ledeens conviction that the Right is as revolutionary as the Left derives from his youthful interest in Italian fascism. In 1975, Ledeen published an interview, in book form, with the Italian historian Renzo de Felice, a man he greatly admires. It caused a great controversy in Italy. Ledeen later made clear that he relished the ire of the left-wing establishment precisely because De Felice was challenging the conventional wisdom of Italian Marxist historiography, which had always insisted that fascism was a reactionary movement. What de Felice showed, by contrast, was that Italian fascism was both right-wing and revolutionary. Ledeen had himself argued this very point in his book, Universal Fascism, published in 1972. That work starts with the assertion that it is a mistake to explain the support of fascism by millions of Europeans solely because they had been hypnotized by the rhetoric of gifted orators and manipulated by skilful propagandists. It seems more plausible, Ledeen argued, to attempt to explain their enthusiasm by treating them as believers in the rightness of the fascist cause, which had a coherent ideological appeal to a great many people. For Ledeen, as for the lifelong fascist theoretician and practitioner, Giuseppe Bottai, that appeal lay in the fact that fascism was the Revolution of the 20th century....