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Eugene Kontorovich
When Fasces Aren’t Fascist « Back to Story

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I was interested to learn that the use of the symbol was revived in America in the wake of Mussolini's use of it and had not been a feature of 19th century American architecture. That doesn't really surprise, for the many reasons the author suggests.

Nevertheless the fasces had been a traditional symbol of republicanism, and is also a part of the iconography of French republicanism, and of the French Republic.

It was used prominently under the First Republic, appears on the Great Seal of the French Republic, first adopted by the Second Republic in 1848 and revived by the Third, Fourth and Fifth republics and in use today. And on the "National Emblem", adopted by the Third Republic in 1912 [or unofficial; there seem to be conflicting accounts but the symbol is omnipresent] and used on such things as letterhead, signage, and the markings of French diplomatic missions.

On the Great Seal, the fasces is prominently balanced between the upraised hand and the lap of a seated figure of Liberty. Said figure being the obvious example when the French designed the statue now in New York.

The fasces has also been variously used as a symbol of republicanism, of unity, or of public authority under law in many countries. It has been used in these latter capacities in countries that were not republics. As a symbol of the classical tradition, it may have been used as a motif in the France of Louis XIII.

Given its wide range and the role of republicanism and the classical tradition in general in the American founding, I can't see any reason the fasces is inappropriate as a motif in the institutions of the republic.

Sam Graff: The building in the logotype at the far left has more in common with Shreve, Lamb & Harmon's 500 Fifth Avenue than it does with Cass Gilbert's Woolworth Building. The bottom half of the logotype representation matches the asymmetric series of setbacks on 500 Fifth better than it does the resolutely square base of Woolworth.
albert constantine jr. June 30, 2014 at 10:27 AM
David Chase contributed his own thoughts on fascism (or at least on the label Fascist) in Season Four Episode 77 of "The Rockford Files", originally aired on 111177:

Rockford (James Garner): What can you do, lady?

Sky Aquarian (Valerie Curtin): My consciousness doesn’t lend itself to problem solving likes yours does, okay. I’m into an alternative lifestyle. I’m a seeker after truth. What’s so wrong with that?

Rockford: Your alternative lifestyle comes out of someone else’s pocket. You mooch, you borrow, you hardly work. Anyone who doesn’t go along with it is a fascist…all that love and freedom is another way of saying ‘me first’.

Sky Aquarian: I’m not into structured living or accumulated things. I’m into my consciousness.

Rockford: You’re practically unconscious 24 hours a day. What you’re into is having someone else do your thinking for you.
I went on a pilgrimage to a Frank Lloyd Wright church in Oak Park Il and took the wrong main road so had to go up the side street. It was a joy! Half a mile away I saw a monolith in granite. I was in awe! I could not take my eyes of it. I did not know what it was. I parked and entered the building. Still in awe I realized it was a suburban Post Office. After 70 years of neglect it was not as beautiful as the day it first opened as part of the Roosevelt New Deal. But it still had majesty. I broke into the secretary's office still in awe and after some banter proceeded to the manager's office with the secretary in pursuit and surprised the manager's management. I pirouetted around and proceeded to hug a cabinet door. Where upon I spoke in amazement to the staff. The door was 5 by 2 feet and about half inch thick one piece of oak. Except for the 1960s suspended ceiling the room was still grand. I gave praise and apologized for my intrusion. Then proceeded to exit. Whereupon for the first time framed in the Post Office door was the object of my journey – the small almost insignificant church, which I was seeing for the first time in the flesh, having been distracted by a mere Post Office.

Why this ramble on the symbol of state power. Well USA power dwarfed what I latter realized was a beautiful small church, Dr Who Tardis like, with an abundant and well thought out interior. But the small sects needs were different to state needs.

And this article reminded me on my own architectural education by that great Robert Crumb precursor Osbert Lancaster who showed the two socialist states of the 1930s CCCP & Germany having the same monumental grandeur except one failed to have capitals on its columns. Kontorovich reminds me that there was another socialist state then also – the USA hiding its symbols in full view of the citizen who was employed to build it and possibly preventing the civil war that the CCCP so hoped that 1929 would start.

But that's another story!
Paul Barlow:
When I was barely into my teens, I had a bit of a weight problem, and my father used to take me swimming, for exercise, to the Jewish Community Center YMHA in Elizabeth, NJ. The pool was open late evenings, which fit his work schedule. The building itself dated from around the time of WW One.
The indoor pool had a decorative strip of swastikas all around the upper inside of the pool, clearly visible through the bluish chlorinated water. Inlaid into the ceramic surface. Probably around 1917 or 1918.
Very ironic for a pool in the local YMHA.
The YMHA there is long gone, the building itself is now, I believe, a senior citzens residence. I wonder if the pool is still there in the basement, water long gone.
Fascinating article! I never know what I am going to learn when I read this publication.

There is a reason for the expression, "carved in stone". Short of demolishing the structures or sandblasting the fasces away, there is no way to undue these buildings' architectural history.

This is shocking. It is something that I almost wish I didn't see. Almost. appreciate truth too much to be ignorant about things even if they are very disappointing. I have long thought it is a mistake to make heroes of anyone. People have feet of clay (or worse). When you see statues, tributes of/to people that were murderers, thieves, tyrants, pedophiles, etc. how idiotic.
Don,

So much of City-Journal's stuff is must read that they are sure to get a lot of readers. The trouble is that smart readers don't have much left to say after reading the (often overwhelming) articles and the less-than-perceptive figure they can tie the article contents in with their current obsession.

Another factor might be overly-generous comment moderation. You can see the difference between the comments at Commentary (when they were allowed) and TownHall. Both contained informative articles but the commentators on one of them formed a poisonous community.

As annoying as it is for us, the Left has a similar problem (note the venom at DemocraticUnderground and HuffingtonPost).

I think a lot of the people involved assume their beliefs are obvious conclusions (they aren't) and explain other people thinking differently by assuming either idiocy or malice (both of which are good reasons for political exclusion).

Why the odd ardour? I think a lot of those people are engaged in vitriol as a means of self-definition, not as a response to public-policy questions.
Departing from the Mussolini mode, it has always been interesting to me that adorning the Department of Agriculture's South Building in Washington, D.C., along the Constitution Avenue side of the building, is a ribbon-like relief of swastika running the length of the building. It was architecturally built into the design of the building. I know Southwest Indian tribes used a swastika-like designs, theirs being constructed in a different pattern than it was used in Nazi Germany, but, nevertheless, when you walk up the steps to go into the building you are staring at a ribbon of apparent swastikas on a very prominent Federal building
It is Cass Gilbert not Charles.
What about the Mercury dime (1916-45) which has the fasces on the reverse?
Samuel D. Albert June 23, 2014 at 2:06 AM
The name of the architect of the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D. C. is Cass, not Charles, Gilbert.
But if they were done in conscious imitation of Mussolini, then they *were* fascist. As Jonah Goldberg has demonstrated, the Left loved fascism back then (and perhaps still does, even if they don't know it); fascism is in fact a left-wing movement. Granted, Mussolini's brand wasn't as bad as Hitler's, but you can't claim you like freedom and admire him.
Architect Charles Gilbert? Actually Cass Gilbert, hardly unknown for his designs of multiple state capitols, as well as the Woolworth Building,
which seems to be the tall building at the far left of the logotype above.
Interesting article, very informative. But why does the City Journal and its 'comments' section consistently attract as readers so many extremist right-wing kooks? The CJ is supposed to be a conservative journal, not a favorite site of hate- filled cranks.
I was just in Rome with one one of my nephews and grand-nieces. I told them the story of the fasces and Mussolini, showing them the symbol on the ralway bridge over Via Aurelia leading to the Vatican City railway. I appreciate your story of a facinating story of history gone wrong. None in Europe, for their anti-Semetic laws did more to protect their Jewish citizens in Italy and their occupied lands than Mussolini's cohorts, according to the Jewish philosopher, Hanna Arendt. Franco of Spain is another story of saving Jews from the Nazis on a massive scale is still another historical mystery to be understood.
Brian Richard Allen said it first so now I don't have to.
Brian Richard Allen June 22, 2014 at 5:38 PM
How quaint that the traitor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose treasonous expansion of fascistic federal-government power makes even the fascistic expansions of Richard Milhous Nixon and of Barry Soetoro (AKA 'Buraq Hussayn Obama' -- or something) pale into insignificance, would send the Soviet Agent, Hopkins, (KGB code name 'Zamestitel' - 'Deputy') to source from the self-described 'modified Marxist:' Mussolini.

'Oh, what a tangled web we weave: When first we practise to deceive?'

Brian Richard Allen
Forgot the Liberty head dime with the fasces on the reverse? The most common, daily contact with the symbol.
"In republican Rome, the chief magistrates were protected in public by lictors: bodyguards who each carried a fasces, a bundle of 12 rods tied together and surrounding outward-facing axes."

The axe indicated the power of capital punishment. Fasces carried inside the city of Rome had no axe blade; within the city, the power of life and death rested with the people through their assemblies. But during times of emergency, Rome might choose a dictator for a limited time, who was the only magistrate to be granted capital punishment authority within Rome. Lictors attending the dictator kept the axes in their fasces even in the city of Rome, a sign that the dictator had the ultimate power in his own hands. (from Wikipedia, edited by me for length)

So the fasces with the axe head, as on the Supreme Court frieze, does have the specific meaning: We can have you killed.