Fascism revisited

In 1946, George Orwell presciently observed, “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.'” He also noted:

In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else… almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’.

Today, fascist (along with Nazi, homophobe, and racist, just to name the top few) is a favorite insult used by progressives against anyone espousing a philosophy or policy with which they find any kind of disagreement.

Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to use the word fascist in more of a historical context, associating it with the economic and social policies of progressive Europe in the 1930’s.

It’s not difficult to broaden your understanding of modern-era progressive European fascism if you have access to the Internet and a little time on your hands. For instance, here is an excerpt from a short essay written by Sheldon Richman, editor of Ideas on Liberty and a senior fellow with the Future of Freedom Foundation:

The best example of a fascist economy is the regime of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Holding that liberalism (by which he meant freedom and free markets) had “reached the end of its historical function,” Mussolini wrote: “To Fascism the world is not this material world, as it appears on the surface, where Man is an individual separated from all others and left to himself…. Fascism affirms the State as the true reality of the individual.”

This collectivism is captured in the word fascism, which comes from the Latin fasces, meaning a bundle of rods with an axe in it. In economics, fascism was seen as a third way between laissez-faire capitalism and communism. Fascist thought acknowledged the roles of private property and the profit motive as legitimate incentives for productivity–provided that they did not conflict with the interests of the state.

[…]

From 1922 to 1925, Mussolini’s regime pursued a laissez-faire economic policy under the liberal finance minister Alberto De Stefani. De Stefani reduced taxes, regulations, and trade restrictions and allowed businesses to compete with one another. But his opposition to protectionism and business subsidies alienated some industrial leaders, and De Stefani was eventually forced to resign. After Mussolini consolidated his dictatorship in 1925, Italy entered a new phase. Mussolini, like many leaders at this time, believed that economies did not operate constructively without supervision by the government. Foreshadowing events in Nazi Germany, and to some extent in New Deal America, Mussolini began a program of massive deficit spending, public works, and eventually, militarism.

Mussolini’s fascism took another step at this time with the advent of the Corporative State, a supposedly pragmatic arrangement under which economic decisions were made by councils composed of workers and employers who represented trades and industries. By this device the presumed economic rivalry between employers and employees was to be resolved, preventing the class struggle from undermining the national struggle. In the Corporative State, for example, strikes would be illegal and labor disputes would be mediated by a state agency.

Theoretically, the fascist economy was to be guided by a complex network of employer, worker, and jointly run organizations representing crafts and industries at the local, provincial, and national levels. At the summit of this network was the National Council of Corporations. But although syndicalism and corporativism had a place in fascist ideology and were critical to building a consensus in support of the regime, the council did little to steer the economy. The real decisions were made by state agencies such as the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction (Istituto per la Ricosstruzione Industriale, or IRI), mediating among interest groups. (emphasis added)

Maybe it’s just me, but I see far more parallels between current Obama Administration policy goals and European fascism, than anything that existed during the Bush Administration. As Kim pointed out yesterday, both Obama and Mussolini envisioned state regulation of the economy as a cure for capitalism’s supposed fatal flaw – the “boom and bust” cycle. But there is a distinct difference between the old-world goals of Mussolini and the post-modern vision of Barack Obama. For Mussolini, a modernist steeped in a worldview that valued certain groups of people above others, and taught that dominance of the weak by the strong was simply the natural order of things, fascism was a means of transforming Italy into a new Roman Empire.

In stark contrast, Barack Obama is undoubtedly post-modern, educated in universities that liberally dispense the best progressive, post-modern thought in America. It’s extremely doubtful that Obama wishes to turn America into a military superpower, or embark on a crusade of conquest throughout North and South America. Instead, Obama and his kindred spirits truly believe that by excising nationalism, cultural superiority, and militarism from their form of fascism, they will have succeeded in exorcising its demons. (Witness our current approach to foreign policy.) What they will accomplish, in their view, is the full realization of a progressive, benevolent, state-managed economy, free from greed and “boom-and-bust” cycles, and devoid of the self-centeredness, intolerance, and violence that hindered their ideological predecessors.

It goes without saying that conservatives have not fallen for this rainbow and unicorn-filled vision of utopia. We believe that the poison in fascism (or any other state-dominated political and economic system) lies in the excess power given to the state, regardless of how benevolent the management of that power is supposed to be. Coincidentally, we share this philosophy with our nation’s founding fathers, who envisioned a federalized, representative government constitutionally limited in its ability to interfere with the lives of its citizens.

History tells us that prolonged government interference in the market produces economic stagnation. Sheldon Richman concludes his essay thusly:

As World War II approached, the signs of fascism’s failure in Italy were palpable: per capita private consumption had dropped to below 1929 levels, and Italian industrial production between 1929 and 1939 had increased by only 15 percent, lower than the rates for other Western European countries. Labor productivity was low and production costs were uncompetitive. The fault lay in the shift of economic decision-making from entrepreneurs to government bureaucrats, and in the allocation of resources by decree rather than by free markets. Mussolini designed his system to cater to the needs of the state, not of consumers. In the end, it served neither.

This was not the vision that the Founding Fathers had for America. We should not allow it to be our destiny either.

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