The Eff Word
posted at 12:51 am on September 7, 2009 by Doctor Zero
It’s the ultimate political epithet, the atomic blast that ends calm and measured debate. This makes those who seek to be reasonable and persuasive understandably reluctant to use the word… and those who aren’t interested in either reason or persuasion eager to hurl it at their opponents. There is nothing surprising about the visceral emotions conjured by the mention of its name. The history of fascism is written in the blood of innocents, on a scale that challenges the limits of human imagination.
Our natural repulsion from the concept of fascism, coupled with the way it has been cheapened by decades of use as a casual insult by the Left, makes it difficult for us to study it dispassionately. It is important to make that study, because fascism was not a mystical phenomenon, a curse inflicted on the Axis nations through the supernatural charisma of Mussolini and Hitler. Too many people recall the garish and horrifying trappings of Nazi Germany, and think “it couldn’t happen here.” It has happened here. It’s happening again now. We do ourselves no favors by refusing to see it, any more than we would be helping ourselves by throwing around baseless accusations of fascism where it does not exist.
Fascism, like communism and socialism, is a form of collectivist politics. As the great author H.P. Lovecraft put it, when describing the dark gods of his horror stories: “Many names, one nightmare.” These philosophies share a belief in the supreme power and virtue of the central State. Under communism, government owns the means of production – there is no private industry. In a socialist system, the State is nominally separate from private industry, but it siphons large amounts of money from the private sector to fund the socialist agenda. Fascism maintains private industry, but places it under the direct control of the government. Private industry still exists, but the State sets production goals, directly controls economic activity, and dominates the management of corporations. Industry becomes enslaved to political goals.
Modern audiences, raised on a steady diet of movies about World War II, think of fascism as either inhumanly horrifying, or completely absurd, and wonder how anyone in their right minds could have fallen for the fascist sales pitch. In fact, fascism did not seem absurd at all to the intellectuals of the early twentieth century. They thought a wise and all-powerful State, run by the most brilliant minds, would be able to engineer a more advanced society, much as engineers were designing increasingly advanced scientific marvels. The pioneering author of modern science fiction, H.G. Wells, was an outspoken advocate of authoritarian control by a benevolent government of geniuses and academics. His novel The Shape of Things to Come envisions such a government seizing control of the entire world to create a global utopia, called “The Dictatorship of the Air” because the government controls the technology of air travel – which it occasionally uses to drop bombs on those who resist. Here are some excerpts from a famous speech Wells gave to the British Young Liberals Society at Oxford in 1932, reprinted in Jonah Goldberg’s indispensable Liberal Fascism – a phrase Wells actually coins in the speech:
We have seen the Fascisti in Italy and a number of clumsy imitations elsewhere, and we have seen the Russian Communist Party coming into existence to reinforce this idea… I am asking for a Liberal Fascisti, for enlightened Nazis… And do not let me leave you in the slightest doubt as to the scope and ambition of what I am putting before you… These new organizations are not merely organizations for the spread of defined opinions… the days of that sort of amateurism are over-they are organizations to replace the dilatory indecisiveness of democracy. The world is sick of parliamentary politics…
The world is sick of parliamentary politics. This is an idea that occurs in every strand of collectivist thought. Collectivists only revere democracy until it has voted them sufficient power… then democracy becomes a cumbersome inconvenience that allows selfish, ignorant fools and corporate shills to interfere with the brilliant work of great men. The Democrats fleeing from town hall meetings are also sick of parliamentary politics, as is the President who defiles American government with dozens of unelected, unconfirmed, unaccountable “czars.” Parliamentary politics proved very inconvenient for the President’s health-care takeover and cap-and-trade bills, and have been driving global-warming cultists mad with frustration for years.
Why is fascism bad? It seems like a ridiculously understated question, similar to asking why cancer is bad, but the answer is important. The grisly ornaments fascism has worn in the past should not distract from the deeper reality of what it is, and why it fails. The essential flaw of fascism is that it elevates the State to control of its citizens, because controlling the economy requires control of the people. A corporation is a voluntary association of people, not an inanimate machine that can be reprogrammed painlessly by wise government advisers. The people who comprise corporations must be kept alienated from the government’s supporters – fascism requires enemies, and turns feral quickly. The government does not require a majority of the people to support it, in order to maintain power. It can make do with much less than fifty per cent, if they are sufficiently motivated and obedient. In fact, maintaining control through an energized minority is much easier than keeping the majority of the population on board, especially in a large country.
The proposition that enlightened government officials should control the economy sounds appealing to those who feel capitalism has not treated them well. No matter what name it operates under, fascism never works. It can’t work. Fascist control might produce short-term gains for its favored constituencies, and the sense of organization it brings might benefit a highly disorganized or demoralized population, such as prewar Germany, for a while. In the long run, fascism falls apart because political control is always less flexible and innovative than free-market competition. The political masters of the economy have a list of alternatives they will not consider, mistakes they will not admit to making, and explanations that simply cannot be true. Since they see the free market as inferior to their intellect and moral judgment, they never study it carefully enough to understand how it really works. They become highly adept at killing the geese that lay golden eggs.
Government is a terrible senior partner for any industry, because it has only one thing to bring to the partnership, and that is compulsive force. Everything government does is an expression of force: it collects taxes under the threat of imprisonment or death, blocks access to markets through licensing, and changes the rules of market competition through regulation. A well-run government uses force to protect its citizens, from external threats and internal lawbreakers. As the size of government swells, so does the amount of force deployed to enforce its will. This is inevitable, because force is what a government is. The fascist views private industry as a work horse, yoked to the will of the State… and when the State has exhausted its minimal patience trying to talk the horse into moving faster, there remains only the lash. Political control of the economy never produces the results that would be needed to keep the vital constituencies of the politicians happy, and the only method they can imagine to make their industrial horses work harder is to swing the whip, with increasing anger.
The fascist impulse expresses itself differently in different societies. In America, it was first embraced by President Wilson and the Progressives, because it made sense to them, and everyone else in the industrialized world was already doing it – if you’re unfamiliar with the intellectual literature of the Thirties, you would be surprised how often British and American academics fretted about “falling behind” marvelous, fascist Italy and Germany. Fascism’s second life in America began because socialism failed. The system of providing social benefits to an increasingly large dependency class, by taxing a dwindling group of productive citizens, went utterly bankrupt. This is dramatically illustrated by the failure of Obama’s health care plan, which even the most politically disinterested Americans can see we clearly don’t have the money to pay for, with trillions of dollars in debt towering over us. Exit the tax collector… enter the “czar.” When the American Left saw that it could no longer extract enough tax money from an increasingly grumpy, overtaxed electorate, it became logically necessary to compel industry to provide what the Left desires. Wrapping this strategy in high-minded language like “green jobs” does not change its essential nature.
The grim pathologies we associate with fascism come as consequences of its original sin, the assertion of direct State control over the economy. The cult of personality forms because the mighty politicians who command the economy must be brilliant supermen – how else could they handle the enormous task they have set for themselves? To support Obama’s domestic policies, you must believe he understands medicine better than doctors and insurance companies, knows more about monetary policy than all the banks he has asserted control over, and has a greater mastery of energy production than the industries he plans to destroy with the cap-and-trade bill. He even knows more about making cars than General Motors… and all of the other auto-makers combined, since the automobile market wanted GM to die, and Obama commuted the death sentence to community service. No wonder the media loves to photograph the man with a halo, and Hollywood celebrities pledge their obedience to him on their knees!
Fascism acquires militaristic aspects because a society organized for war is easier to control, and opponents of the State are more easily dismissed as traitors. The American fascists, evolved from socialists and liberals, dislike aggressive wars of military conquest, so they co-opt the language of warfare for domestic policy issues, declaring their policy preferences to be the “moral equivalent of war.” Fascism becomes violent because its supporters develop a tribal hostility to their domestic enemies, which eventually leads them to beat those enemies, and maybe bite off a finger or two. Fascism incubates racism because racial animosity is a powerful glue for holding constituent groups together, and milking them for political support.
Is America sliding into fascism? Not completely, or quickly… but it’s a potent venom, deadly in small doses. We should not dismiss the menace of fascism by reasoning that it always comes dressed in black uniforms and jackboots, patrolling the perimeter of concentration camps – so we’re in good shape as long as those horrors are not in evidence. We shouldn’t be fooling around with such a toxic ideology at all. No matter how noble the stated goals at the beginning of the collectivist journey, it always ends at the same destination. Promoting his latest propaganda film, Michael Moore said that “capitalism is evil, and you cannot regulate evil. You have to replace it with something that is good for all people, and that something is democracy.” This is more than just laughable hypocrisy from a millionaire leftist. Capitalism is the exchange of goods and services between free men and women. In the end, there is only one alternative to it, and it is not “democracy.”
Many names, one nightmare.