Strict machine: Oswald Mosley
Updated: Oct 1, 2022
Mussolini, Hitler, Mosley—one is not like the others; why? The answer is that one is Sir Oswald Mosley—born to rule—whereas the other two men were respectively from the small-time intelligentsia (schoolteacher, journalist) and the arts world. In other words, Hitler and Mussolini were modest men in a mass democratic society who ended up as leaders who wanted to entirely remake their respective societies. Mosley, by contrast, was born into the social strata that had ruled Britain for centuries—he was born into wealth and was naturally assured that he was born to rule in his blood. This distinguishes him from the other fascist leaders on the continent; it makes him somewhat more like Franco, a man drawn from his country’s military elite—and generally less like the continental fascists for whom the aristocratic ruling class was a decadent obstruction.
Who was Mosley really like? Churchill. He was much more like Churchill than he was like Hitler or Mussolini; and, in fact, the two men got on relatively well—and, in an act of class solidarity, Churchill tried to improve Mosley’s prison conditions when he was interned during the war (although Churchill was swift to press for Mosley’s detention as a “quick win” when he came to power amid the uproar and alarm caused by Dunkirk—so there was ambivalence there). Nevertheless, Mosley and Churchill were more alike than Hitler and Mussolini—they visited each other’s country homes before the war; and they were, effectively, as with all the English aristocracy, related to each other. Further, they were both adventurous and impulsive men who chopped and changed parties and had a flair for language—and, above all, they were both total narcissists.
They divided in practice because Mosley was younger and had lived through WWI; for Churchill, WWI was just something that happened on paper—it was never real for him and so he retained a basically Edwardian or late-Victorian outlook on the world; for Mosley, in the Royal Flying Corps and then the trenches, the war was very real and had “changed everything”—hence revolutionary change, of a particular sort, was required in Britain.
But what sort? Mosley started in the Conservative Party, switched Labour—flirted with the Independent Labour Party—founded his own party, “the New Party”, and then ended up as the leader of the British Union of Fascists (and National Socialists)—finally, he finished, post-war, as the leader of the Union Movement. Throughout his political career, Mosley was characterised by extreme impatience—things needed to be done now; he was a man in a hurry—and it is no surprise that the BUF’s newspaper was called Action!. As we shall see, this relates to Mosley’s fundamental weakness as a leader.
Mosley started as an aviator in WWI: aviation is inherently fascist because it combines an aristocratic sensibility with advanced technology—at a time when war had been reduced to a mince-meat machine, a factory that produced cadavers, the aviators in WWI maintained individuality and chivalry in a mass production age (they also live on the edge—the casualty rate was stupendous, Mosley himself injured his leg and acquired a permanent limp in the service).
However, Mosley was not a fascist initially. There were at least two tiny fascist organisations—modelled after Mussolini’s March on Rome—in Britain long before Mosley moved over to fascism; at least one was founded by frustrated lesbian policewomen—with considerable support from retired admirals and colonels. Yet this was not where Mosley ended up initially; as with Churchill, Mosley explored several other parties first. He started with the Conservatives—with his class—and then, frustrated by the lack of celerity, moved to Labour; he became this rare and exotic ultra-wealthy socialist who never really belonged in the party; eventually, he chaffed against it and left to form his own party, the New Party, and then, after a period where he entertained all modernisms—from Soviet planning to novel breathing techniques—he was left, almost by default, with fascism. Mosley would have probably changed again, being very protean, but unfortunately for him the war intervened—fascism became “absolute evil” and the Mosley name was mud, he spent his remaining years essentially in an attempt to recoup his reputation and make a contribution to British and European politics.
I do not admire Mosley. Basically, I think he suffered from the same faults as Churchill: he was a terrible over-indulged narcissist—and that means he was detached from reality. His desire for action, action, action concealed the fact that often he had no idea what he wanted to do and no long-term plan other than his own self-aggrandisement. This is a great way to seduce Mayfair belles, to flash the teeth and tweak the moustache like a pantomime villain before you throw the filly over your shoulder and into the back of your top-down sports car, to then tear off down the street pursued by her husband (horsewhip in hand); and yet it is not a great formula to attain or hold state power.
Frankly, Mosley was not very bright. He was always diplomatically described as “more athletic”—i.e. not the brains of the operation. This is evident from the fact that he struggled to control his temper, tended to impulsively lash out at people and undertake spur-of-the-moment actions—and also tended to do whatever he wanted. These facets to his character—also evident in Churchill—suggest an inability to delay gratification; and that suggests he was not very bright—action, action, action. So we have a vain impulsive man who is athletic, aggressive, and ambitious but not a strategic thinker—not a great combination for a leader. Really, Mosley would have been better off as dashing Squadron Leader Mosley (with a handlebar moustache); he was the type of man you want as a colonel, not a general or a Prime Minister—he would be an inspirational and dashing leader at the unit level, but he was not the man you needed to plan a campaign.
He was a brilliant public speaker—probably the best public speaker in his generation, and a match for Churchill in the previous generation. He knew exactly how to hold an audience—although, unfortunately, he began to suffer from his own ideology. At times, he began to become a robotic brr-brr-brr and bored people—the machine man, the Futurist man, cranked out his speeches like a gramophone (if it wasn’t for the razor blade fights in the back row, it would have been pretty dull stuff at times). Further, in a conscious choice, Mosley omitted all humour from his speeches—well, he was a humourless fascist, after all. This was in line with his inhuman persona; he wanted to re-inject absolute seriousness and elevated purpose into a decadent political system—the pathos of distance, this is not a joke (too many jokes for the democratic mass man, too much weakness and sentimentality). “Kit” was funny in private, though—and, really, how can you actually compete in a democratic system without humour (just look at Trump)? At a certain point, complete humourlessness—Mussolini, Hitler, Mosley—no longer makes you intimidating; it makes you ridiculous—a pompous bloviator.
He was also known to be intensely logical in his presentations; and yet intense logicality can sometimes betray a rigidity that characterises an inability to think creatively—very abstractly logical people are often detached from reality; and, indeed, when Mosley anticipated action his expectation was that the results would unfold in a logical, linear way (except reality is not like that).
This logicality was accompanied by an absolute faith in the experts—yes, fascism is trusting the experts. Mosley thought that Britain’s problems could be solved with more expertise—and I think this also concealed his intellectual insecurity; rather than think for himself, Mosley would consult with various experts to reach his conclusions—and this again links him to Churchill, for at one time Churchill suggested Britain needed a second “economic Parliament” staffed by experts, since Parliament was only fit to deal with 19th-century political questions and not the economic difficulties encountered in the 20th century (better solved by experts, men like Keynes—whom Mosley highly esteemed). The model Churchill proposed here is very similar to the fascist corporatist state, of which more anon.
Although Mosley would maintain he was hated for his integrity, he was at least partly hated because he joined and quit political parties at an astonishing rate—seduced the membership—and then blasted out on his own course. The general view was that he was conceited—thought too much of himself—and was overly ambitious, not prepared to wait his turn to rise up the party hierarchy. Mosley would have responded that his desire for speed was actuated by his wartime experiences—life on the existential edge—and the magnitude of the crisis that faced Britain, particularly the British working class (for whom he professed great concern). However, it was in his personality from the very start: he was always impatient, always getting into fights (e.g. at Sandhurst), always fashioning his chimerical image in the mirror.
Hitler and Mussolini definitely had narcissistic streaks; and yet I get the impression, particularly in Hitler’s case, that the narcissism was offset by some deep quasi-religious convictions. With Mosley, I am pretty sure it was mostly all narcissism—all style, no substance; and, indeed, he borrowed all his aesthetics, even his bodily postures, from Hitler—and so I could imagine Mosley as a Communist, just as at least one fellow aristocrat in the House of Lords crossed the floor to the Communist Party (not to mention the adventures of the aristocratic Mitford sisters).
So one reason Mosley was always a marginal figure in British politics was that he was a fake; he was basically a foreign import, modelled on movements that had indigenous appeal in Italy and Germany—yet those movements had appeal because Hitler and Mussolini spoke to something in the national characters of their respective nations. Mosley, being a copycat, had nothing particularly English to say—despite his aspiration to lead England to a renaissance.
This fact was represented in the membership the BUF attracted. Who fights England’s wars? Not the English. The country’s wars are fought by the Scots, the Irish, the Sikhs, the Gurkhas, the Fijians—various other Indians and colonial troops. The English are not interested in foreign adventures for booty or combat—the English are hobbits, the English want to stay at home. The phrase “Little Englander” is often deployed by the left to characterise “English racism”—and yet it was originally coined as a term against the Empire; the “Little Englander” wanted to tend his plot and not get involved in wars for a patch of desert in the Sudan. The English want to stay in the shire—the English don’t want to be swashbucklers or buccaneers.
So who joined the modern swashbucklers, the BUF? The Irish, the Welsh, the Scots—and, famously, East Londoners who were in conflict with Jewish immigration centred in “their manor”. Yet the East Londoners, the lumpenproles, were many themselves related to Huguenots who had emigrated to London centuries before (as, indeed, is Nigel Farage—another modern-day “frog”); and it was that French blood that was more ethnocentric and feisty—also being selected to be Protestant to a sectarian degree. The commonality with all these groups is that they are emotionally volatile (Celtic, Welsh) and ethnocentric—they are clannish, as in the Scots with their tartan colours and claymores. They want to fight, they want tribal unity—they respond to high-flown emotional appeals from a charismatic orator. They want to wander the world as soldiers of fortune, to fight—just as the Scotch-Irish for many years made a significant contribution to the American military.
Hence the BUF, contradictorily, was predicated on “British revival” and yet was only appealing to the more marginal groups in Britain, not to the country’s racial core—it attracted the ethnocentric people who like a dram and a punch up, in other words (how unEnglish). Similarly, around 12% of the organisation was Catholic—and British Catholic mags extolled the BUF as an instantiation of the Church’s social teaching; and yet Catholic representation was disproportionate, Catholicism is marginal to British life and seen as peculiar—modern England was founded on anti-Catholicism; really, Mosley appealed to a feudal throwback England—not the modern England he hoped to lead, aeroplanes and all.
This peripheral coalition was led by Mosley, an aristocrat and, therefore, a Norman—an ethnocentric Norseman, a member of the country’s ruling warrior caste. Indeed, Mosley’s whole worldview can only be understood with reference to his upbringing; his childhood was spent on a old, old family estate in Staffordshire—unlike more “towny” aristocrats who were absentee landlords in London, the Mosleys were centred on their rural possessions. They had a relation to the land and the people—they were “a nation unto themselves”; an autarchy, in other words. And if everyone had their place, as dictated by blood, then nobody would be left behind—the family, real noblesse oblige, would care for the widows and orphans; every man could be found a job somewhere, everyone had a place.
Although Mosley couched his political ideas in modernity’s aluminium mantle, he was, at heart, engaged in an attempt to turn Britain into a macrocosm of the family estate he grew up on—so that unemployment would be solved just as “old Joe Brown” (he’s bit slow, bless him) would be found “something to do” with the estate’s blacksmith (shoeing ancient shire horses, perhaps) rather than being thrown onto the streets, onto the dole, by rationalistic liberal individualists determined that “the market will decide”. And, indeed, Mosley’s family had land in Manchester—had practically sold the land upon which the world’s second industrial metropolis, after London, had been built; and in the process they tangled with liberal merchants and industrialists who wanted more political say and to do away with the old guilds, tithes, and privileges associated with the feudal world. So Mosley’s later quarrel with “finance capital” and the liberal order really recapitulated a centuries-long struggle by his own family against industrial modernity and the liberal politics that went with it.
You can see from the above quite how much Mosley differed from Hitler and Mussolini, neither of whom grew up in this aristocratic context—Mosley was fundamentally a patrician in outlook and wanted to reestablish the paternal relations he saw as a youth on a national scale; and so his concern for the working class and unemployment—the major themes in his political career, really—ultimately related back to this lost feudal world; and, in this sense, he was more like Julius Evola—an admirer of Metternich—than a modern leader “from the masses”, as were Hitler and Mussolini. Where Mosley differs from Evola is in his unabashed admiration for modernity’s technological developments, for speed—for aviation and innovation (his son, Max Mosley, was later involved in Formula 1 racing).
Hence the answer to unemployment and class struggle at the national level was corporatism: every sector organised by occupation—by experts, a parliament of experts for every sector—and so a person’s occupation, impartial and based on merit, would transcend class and lead to a new collective solidarity (modern feudalism); of course, this overlooks the fact that occupation and class are almost synonymous, so it is not clear that a corporate state would transcend class divisions—and, further, class itself is in the blood, so that the division would remain even if the state were rearranged in this way (aside from the fact that to rearrange the state in this way would destroy the accumulated knowledge latent in the state). In a sense, Mosley was not “racist” enough—not convinced that certain things were inherent in the blood; and so his corporatism contained within it the socialist optimism that man could easily be remade by state action.
There is little religious sensibility in Mosley, although, during his wartime imprisonment, he delved into philosophy—came to appreciate Goethe, cast himself as a Faustian figure engaged in the “necessary evil” that makes all growth possible—and saw the need for a reconciliation between Christianity and paganism; in particular, he described Nietzsche’s paganism as the antithesis, Christianity as the thesis—what he awaited was the synthesis. At this point, he began to soften and regret his earlier more violent statements—possibly because they landed him in prison, although this period also marked a deepening in his thought caused by forced inaction.
So the whole Mosley worldview, as it eventually came to be, paradoxically was not very attractive to the English. He mainly attracted “ethnic minorities” to his banner—Celts, Eastenders—along with military men (naturally more ethnocentric and feudal in outlook) and people who came back from the colonies to England during the depression and saw that the country was in a mess (in other words, self-selected adventurers and corsairs). There is some relation, in fact, to the Communist Party’s demographic—its strongholds were Red Clydeside and the Welsh valleys. Both the CP and BUF achieved similar membership enrolments (around 60,000 people at their maximum extents), from the Scots and Welsh—from colonial adventurers and military men for the BUF, from Jews and intellectuals for the CP. In other words, as many people have observed, the English are just not interested in extreme politics from either direction—hobbits do not do extremism (the Celts, the Normans, other minority groups do).
Hence Mosley’s failure to break through into the mainstream, as with the CP’s failure, can mainly be attributed to the fundamental English attitude—the English are not that tribal or ethnocentric; and they inherently dislike extreme positions (action, action, action). For sure, the economic crisis was not so severe in Britain as on the continent in the 1930s—and this helped to contain extremism—yet really, it is just not English to be extreme; nor is it English to be abstract—and both Communism and fascism were abstract ideas that were to be imposed top down, not practical activities; for the English, this was “no contact” territory—whereas on the continent, where “the intellectual” is esteemed, there was a vibrant respectable scene for both Communism and fascism. Further, England, as the first industrial nation, had long ago seen her peasants, artisans, and small shopkeepers vanish—and yet it was those demographics, the “little kings” who both disdained socialism and big corporations, who formed the backbone for continental fascist movements. Hence England neither had the demographics nor the attitude for fascism.
It is my conclusion that Mosley’s fascism could never have succeeded in Britain; it was hamstrung for two reasons: firstly, the leader was too impetuous and not strategically-minded enough to take power; secondly, the BUF—as with the Communists—could only move peripheral people, they could never speak to the English heartland; and this was partly because Mosley, being highly narcissistic, directly copied much from Hitler and Mussolini—yet those men were successful because they did their “own things” and came up with appeals that spoke to their own peoples at the right emotional level. In a sense, Mosley was still the patrician Norman playing “dress up”—looking for a novel idea that would allow an aristocrat to sway the masses in the 20th century; he would never have become a Communist—although it is imaginable—because he had a fundamental commitment to England and English institutions; fundamental reform, yet not complete abolition (i.e. of the aristocracy) was his view.
You have to remember that Labour was founded as a pressure group for trade unions rather than as a continental-style ideological party intended to implement socialism. In other words, Labour would never do away with Parliament—and, indeed, Mosley’s first political position in Labour saw him work with a trade unionist turned cabinet minister who entertained the King with his salty humour (“Bleedin’ heck, I’ve only gorn and become a ruddy cabinet minister in ’is Maj’s Govern’ment—what will the misses say, eh? Eh?”). Labour easily accommodated itself to the British system, and it was this accommodation that infuriated Mosley (action, action, action). While wiser and older heads suggested that Britain needed to ride out the economic depression with patience, Mosley wanted action—a mass road-building program, a massive expansion of public works…
Mosley met and went fishing with FDR; and, even when he led the BUF, he exchanged a friendly letter with “the American Stalin”. What this reflects, above all, is the degree to which the Anglo-American elites—this is even more true for Churchill—were (are) connected to each other in a way that transcends little “disagreements” over politics; and perhaps the Mitford Sisters, with their various commitments to fascism and Communism, sum this situation up very nicely. The connection with FDR is worth mentioning because Mosley greatly admired Keynes—described him as “a fascist economist” (Keynes demurred)—and, of course, FDR’s program and Keynesianism are related.
Essentially, whether it was Mosley or FDR or Attlee, the West was ultimately getting Keynes one way or another—and rule by “the experts”. Hence, in a sense, much of Mosley’s economic program was ultimately implemented—the only difference being that Mosley wanted to maintain the British Empire and institute autarchy just like the family estate; and yet, otherwise, his economic ideas were mostly Keynes all the way—full employment, public works, prime the pump. In this sense, we live under “fascism”, in its economic aspect, and have done for decades—a national socialism.
This is why, when it came to a revisionist biography to rehabilitate Mosley, it was Robert Skidelsky, a Jewish Labour supporter, who was chosen to do it; and his biography accordingly contains tart remarks about Enoch Powell, for Powell—being truly mean, not being a good socialist like Mosley—wanted to secure the money supply and ditch Keynes. For Skidelsky, Mosley’s support for Hitler notwithstanding, Powell was a really evil man—not even a socialist like that nice Mr. Hitler and that nice Mr. Mosley! In other words, Skidelsky’s approach to rehabilitate Mosley—warm words were also said by Labour leader Michael Foot—centred on the fact that Mosley was ultimately a socialist, albeit a socialist who took an eccentric route to attain his aims; and so he should be rehabilitated on that basis. Fascism is, of course, “national socialism”—the soldier’s socialism, feudalism with technology—so this makes perfect sense, although, ultimately, it does require a person to put much trust in the experts; and “the experts” have proven to be more corruptible than Mosley might ever have suspected.