One of my favorite movies is Conan the Barbarian, the 1982 release starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. I like this movie more because of the magnificent score by Basil Poledouris than because of any merits the film possesses, although it is a good movie. Not too long ago, I was wasting time, looking up things on Wikipedia when I came across some interesting comments in its article of Conan the Barbarian.
Ebert was disturbed by the depiction of a “Nordic superman confronting a black”, in which the “muscular blond” slices off the black man’s head and “contemptuously [throws it] down the flight of stairs”. His sentiment was shared by Adam Roberts, an Arthurian scholar, who also said Conan was an exemplar of the sword and sorcery films of the early 1980s that were permeated in various degrees with fascist ideology. According to Roberts, the films were following the ideas and aesthetics laid down in Leni Riefenstahl‘s directorial efforts for Nazi Germany. Roberts cautioned that any political readings into these sword and sorcery films with regards to fascism is subjective.
Robin Wood, a film critic, suggests that in most cases, there is only a thin veneer between individualism and fascism; he also said that Conan is the only film in that era to dispense with the disguise, openly celebrating its fascist ideals in a manner that would delight Riefenstahl.
I am not a movie critic and I neither know nor care if there are Fascist or individualist themes in Conan the Barbarian. What I would like to know is, why in the world would anyone think that Fascism and individualism are in any way connected. Here is what Benito Mussolini had to say about individualism. Since Benito Mussolini is the man who created Fascism, I think he would know more than anyone else what it is all about.
Against individualism, the Fascist conception is for the State; and it is for the individual in so far as he coincides with the State, which is the conscience and universal will of man in his historical existence. It is opposed to classical Liberalism, which arose form the necessity of reacting against absolutism, and which brought its historical purpose to an end when the State was transformed into the conscience and will of the people. Liberalism denied the State in the interests of the particular individual; Fascism reaffirms the State as the true reality of the individual. And if liberty is to be the attribute of the real man, and not of that abstract puppet envisaged by individualistic Liberalism, Fascism is for liberty. And for the only liberty which can be a real thing, the liberty of the State and of the individual within the State. Therefore, for the Fascist, everything is in the State, and nothing human or spiritual exists, much less has value, outside the State. In this sense Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State, the synthesis and unity of all values, interprets, develops and gives strength to the whole life of the people.
In the Fascist State the individual is not suppressed, but rather multiplied, just as in a regiment a soldier is not weakened but multiplied by the number of his comrades. The Fascist State organizes the nation, but it leaves sufficient scope to individuals; it has limited useless or harmful liberties and has preserved those that are essential. It cannot be the individual who decides in this matter, but only the State.
Fascism, like Communism, Nazism, and many other “isms” is a collectivist totalitarian ideology. If there it any political ideology based on individualism, it would be classical liberalism, what most people think of as democracy. Under classical liberalism, the state exists for the purpose of protecting the rights of the individual. Persons are believed to have inalienable rights which no government may justly take away. Under Fascism, and other forms of Socialism, the individual exists to serve the state, or the race, or the working class, etc. Individuals have, as Mussolini said, rights only insofar as these rights benefit the state. Fascism and individualism are not linked but are opposites.
I think I know where the mistake lies, though. Fascism, like Communism, was a revolutionary ideology. Fascists sought to do away with existing traditions and institutions and reorganize society on a more authoritarian and regimented basis. People generally seem to believe that revolutionaries of any sort seek to do away any restraints on the individual, despite the fact that Fascists and Communist made no secret of their plans for a post-revolutionary dictatorship and that their political parties tended to be organized along military lines even before they seized power. And, in fact, revolutionaries do often preach indulgence to weaken society and make it easier to overthrow. The Bolsheviks preached free love before the Revolution. Afterward, they turned into puritans. Thus we have idiots who wear Che Guevera shirts because he resisted the Batista dictatorship, never mind that the Castro dictatorship that followed made Batista look like Thomas Jefferson.
I might hope that someone reasonably well informed would know better. Perhaps film critics don’t know very much about political ideologies.