Italian Statistics, Fascist Demography and the Racial Welfare State

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/05/italys-fertility-day-posters-sexist-echoes-of-fascist-pastGiven the formation of a Northern League-5 Star Movement (Lega-M5S) coalition government in Italy, including the appointment of Lega’s Lorenzo Fontana as the Minister for Families and Disabilities, along with Matteo Salvini’s (also Lega) appointment as Deputy Prime Minister, and a proposed “crackdown” on migrants, I thought I would post parts of a paper of mine on fascism and population theory, those directly about Italian fascism. 

The excerpts below are a small part of a broader discussion and analysis, addressing the relative absence of discussion about the significance and history of both fascist demographics and what fascist welfare policy means in the detail. Here are the directly relevant parts:

Fascism is often treated as an extraordinary political event, the seizure of state power—one whose analysis thereby begins with and turns around questions about the political ascendancy and decline of parties, groups and figures. In that sense, a more rigorous analysis of fascism is preemptively circumscribed by a distinction between purportedly ‘valid concerns’ (about population numbers) but ‘misguided’ fascist solutions, in part because the framework of a ‘counter-hegemonic’ anti-fascism, from Gramsci to Poulantzas, concedes the premise of national-popular sovereignty that underwrites fascist concepts of demography and the racial welfare state while focusing instead on the legitimacy or otherwise of fascist representation. This ‘counter-hegemonic’ or political anti-fascism is dangerously limited in that it always arrives too late, both theoretically and historically. As with fascist theories of population, it concedes the metaphysical claim that populations and ‘the people’ are an ahistorical organic entity which the state more or less adequately but subsequently represents, and identifies fascism at the point where fascist parties take government.

For fascists, population theory means the organization of a racial welfare state and the realization of a fascist demos that both displaces (and limits) the franchise as a mechanism of political legitimacy and structures population policy as a more or less explicit racial demography.

Key to fascist demography is the specious distinction between presumably natural and artificial means of population composition and growth and the very boundaries of discrete populations, which are converted from abstract enumerations using statistical conventions to an organic entity, the living personification of a singular culture and race. On the one hand, the ratio of births and deaths (defined as ‘natural’) and, on the other, immigration (which is stripped of its proportional corollary of emigration and defined as ‘artificial’), enclosed within a boundary that is no more outside of historical and social conditions than the circumstances which give rise to birth and mortality rates. […]

In his self-titled “Speech of the Ascension,” Benito Mussolini, declared that while “[s]tatistics has expanded its jurisdiction over all phenomena of life,” the aim of the National Fascist Party was to “take great care of the future of the race.” By his view, that meant investing the simple aggregate of a population with racial properties, the resurrection of a conscious, singular people. Indeed, Mussolini delivered this speech on the day of the Catholic feast day of the Ascension in 1926. To that end, he announced the fascist demographic policy of increasing the size of the population through an increase in the birth rate.

Where Malthus’ austere Protestantism imagined a cataclysmic “overpopulation,” Mussolini drew on Catholicism to urge the moral imperative of an increase in sexual-racial reproduction so as to avert the senescence of a purportedly racial-national heritage.

Yet both Malthus and Mussolini presupposed a role for an authoritarian state in welfare policy, exercised through the regulation of sexual conduct (and, by implication, women’s bodies), and guided by hypothetical predictions derived from more or less elaborate statistical formulations.

For the famous Italian statistician Corrado Gini, best known for his statistical formula measuring the wealth distribution within a national population (the ‘Gini coefficient’), and who was undoubtedly the most prominent government statistician of the Italian fascist government between 1926 and 1932, that argument was more than explicit.

In his 1927 essay “The Scientific Basis of Fascism,” Gini contrasted a liberal understanding of society as “an aggregate of individuals” with a “nationalistic theory,” for which society is “a true and distinct organism of a rank superior to that of the individuals who compose it, an organism endowed with a life … and vital interests of its own,” in which welfare policy meant the “coordination of the desires of the current generation with the with the interests of all the future generations which are to constitute the future life of the nation.”

For Gini, fascism not only encapsulated this understanding of a re/productive nationalist futurity—it imbued algebraic formulations with life, norms and a teleology, converting statistical aggregates into organic entities, frequency distributions into measures of racial-national well-being, and furnished a justification for fascist “measures of restraint upon individual liberties” as the necessary sacrifice based on forecasts of births, deaths and fertility (102-104).

Gini was not a professional latecomer to fascism, pressured by the threat of dismissal to take the 1933 loyalty oath. Nor was statistics peripheral to Italian fascism. He had been signatory to Giovanni Gentile’s Manifesto degli Intellettuali del Fascismo (Manifesto of Fascist Intellectuals) in 1925, which defended Italian involvement in World War One and the violence of the fascist squadrismo in 1922 as the necessary action which subordinates individuated reckonings of use-value and sacrifice, and health and welfare, to the transcendent and uncompromisingly religious task of the renewal of an ancient fatherland and the state’s authority. […]

 

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