Actualism and the Fascist Historic Imaginary

This essay argues that, just like liberalism and communism, fascist ideology was based on a specific philosophy of history articulated by Giovanni Gentile in the aftermath of World War I. Gentile's actualist notion that history "belongs to the present" articulated an immanent vision of the relationship between historical agency, representation, and consciousness against all transcendental conceptions of history. I define this vision as historic (as opposed to "historical") because it translated the popular notion of historic eventfulness into the idea of the reciprocal immanence of the historical and the historiographical act. I further show that the actualist philosophy of history was historically resonant with the Italian experience of the Great War and was culturally modernist. I insist, however, that the actualist catastrophe of the histori(ographi)cal act was also genealogically connected to the Latin-Catholic rhetorical signification of "presence" that had sustained the development of Italian visual culture for centuries. Accordingly, I argue that the fascist translation of actualism into a historic imaginary was at the root of Italian fascism's appeal to both masses and intellectuals. Fascism presented itself as a historic agent that not only "made history," but also made it present to mass consciousness. In fact, I conclude by suggesting that the fascist success in institutionalizing a proper mode of historic representation in the 1920s, and a full-blown historic culture in the 1930s, may have also constituted a fundamental laboratory for the formation of posthistoric(al) imaginaries.