Totalitarianism from Above: Legal Paths of Fascist Self-Representation

Sunday, January 5, 2020: 3:30 PM
Gramercy East (New York Hilton)
Ernesto De Cristofaro, University of Catania
In the European political and social context of the twentieth century, the phenomenon of totalitarianism is one of the most important elements. The concept of the “totalitarian state” was forged to represent the irruption of a new form of organization of civil coexistence and of the modus operandi of state institutions. Among the elements that shape the physiognomy of the totalitarian state, one can isolate: a strong social mobilization of the masses that tends to overcome the classic forms of representative connection between citizens and government and replace them with rituals of identification of an emotional charismatic character; the exclusive dominion of a single party and of a single ideology that eliminates any possible dissenting opinion or concurrent party aggregation; the use of violence for the construction of consensus and order; the tendency of the political sphere to absorb every aspect of social life - education, artistic production, economy, segmentation of the social body on ethnic-community bases - so that the state and society become a co-extensive whole. According to Hannah Arendt, the two historical experiences that most clearly summarize the meaning of the expression "totalitarian state" are Soviet communism and German Nazism. Yet that expression was first coined in Italy by opponents of Fascism and then claimed directly by the regime, and specifically by Mussolini with the famous formula “Everything in the State, nothing against the State, nothing outside the State” (1935). This paper argues that new light can be shed on the meaning of totalitarianism by examining how Italian legal and political science in the period 1922-1945 used the formula “totalitarian state,” what the implications of that legal engagement were, and what it reveals about perceptions and self-representations of the process of state transformation.
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