One of the most basic and unspoken doctrine of our modern culture is that truth in general, and morality (what is good and right) specifically is relative. There is nothing absolutely wrong or right – it is relative to each person; what is wrong for you could be right for me. Moral questions are similar to preferences about our favourite food – I might think sushi is a dish served sent from heaven; you think pap and steak was forged from the bosoms of culinary heaven. The choice between the two is a matter of taste, there is no “matter of fact” to the issue. There are no moral truths to be discovered that are really objective and absolute – they are more matters of taste and opinion than matters of fact. To put it in the eloquent words of Nietzsche,“…there are no moral phenomena, there is only a moral interpretation of these phenomena”.
Benito Mussolini was the founder of Italian Fascism. He became prime minister in 1922 and soon after that established himself as a dictator: he killed political opponents, freedom of press and media was zero– he personally chose editors for newspapers. On his list of friends was Adolf Hitler. His list of accomplishments includes invading Ethiopia where he also used chemical weapons. It is his thoughts on moral relativism which interested me because Mussolini followed with rigor and consistency the logical and natural implications of moral relativism. In an interview he declared:
“If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and those who claim to be the bearers of objective immortal truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than Fascist attitudes and activity. From the fact that all ideologies are of equal value, we Fascists conclude that we have the right to create our own ideology and to enforce it with all the energy of which we are capable.”
In a world where there no moral facts and truths, where it is pure individual will and sentiment which determines what is moral – it is up to each individual to impose their own version of what is moral upon the world. Each individual must shape the world according to their own idea of what is moral because there are no absolute moral norms to be discovered and conform and submit to. Mussolini (and Hitler for that matter) embodied and demonstrated practically what Friedrich Nietzsche wrote about theoretically. Nietzsche realised the implications of life in the absence of moral absolutes, “But what is life? Here we need a new, more definite formulation of the concept “life.” My formula for it is: Life is will to power”. One possible interpretation of Nietzsche’s idea of the “Will to Power” is that life becomes a struggle for power to impose your will, shaping and conforming reality to your own will.
Nietzsche’s view of life is diametrically opposed to that of the ancients like Plato who dogmatically held to a belief that there existed a world of unchanging, eternal forms knowable only through the intellect. This world of forms consisted of the essences of all things such as justice, love, courage and these forms were not relative to some particular person or groups. Plato held that true knowledge (truth) lay in knowing the forms, and that the end of life (the good life) was to know the highest, ultimate and absolute form which is the good. Rather than imposing our will on reality, we discover and submit our will and intellect to the highest good. This however does not mean that Plato believed that knowing what the good is in particular situations was a straight forward thing; or that there were no moral dilemmas that we encounter in our daily life. It is difficult for me to see how a Mussolini could arise from following Plato’s philosophy consistently.