From Democracy to Authority

  • Elizabeth Cullingford


Yeats’s interest in fascism was initially motivated by his desire to corroborate the historical speculations formulated in A Vision. The first edition predicted the triumph of communism before the end of the primary, democratic gyre, but Yeats expected the counter-impulse in his own lifetime. Since Mussolini appeared as ‘the antithesis of democracy’,1 Yeats originally thought that fascism might be the first stirring of the antithetical gyre. During the twenties, however, fascism was purely an Italian movement, and Yeats as a nationalist of the school of John O’Leary could not involve himself in international politics. He therefore remained an observer, and his work in the Irish Senate between 1923 and 1928 was almost totally unaffected by fascist influence. In 1933, however, Ireland seemed to be producing a home-grown variety of fascism, and the rule against international politics applied no longer. For less than a year Yeats gave qualified support to the Blueshirts, but abandoned them before their collapse. When in October 1935 Mussolini invaded Abyssinia, Yeats’s disillusionment with fascism was complete. No Irish nationalist, still engaged in conflict with the British Empire, could accept the sacrifice of another small nation to a renascent Roman Empire. After this date Yeats never again, except for tactical anti-British reasons, spoke with approval of any fascist regime. Fascism also disappeared from his prophetic thinking: his vision of the future in the 1937 edition of A Vision is occupied entirely with ‘socialistic or communistic prophecies’.2


International Politics Irish Time Centripetal Movement Democratic Gyre Fascist Regime 
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© Elizabeth Cullingford 1981

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  • Elizabeth Cullingford

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