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Irredeemably or not, has America become a fascist state? How many products can you buy, services hire, or activities perform that are still utterly free from the hand of government? Where has law permitted state intrusion of dubious constitutionality, and in how many realms has law been abandoned to bureaucratic whim?

Explaining how modern America might make Mussolini jealous, the Austrian School libertarian guru and founder of the Mises Institute, Lew Rockwell, gives an informed and thought-provoking analysis on his eponymous website, in print and podcast.

After dispelling the associated pejoratives, Mr. Rockwell explains that:

Fascism is the system of government that cartelizes the private sector, centrally plans the economy to subsidize producers, exalts the police State as the source of order, denies fundamental rights and liberties to individuals, and makes the executive State the unlimited master of society. This describes mainstream politics in America today. And not just in America. It’s true in Europe, too. It is so much part of the mainstream that it is hardly noticed any more.

Since the 1930s America has increasingly fit the definitions of fascism, Mr. Rockwell explains, citing eight reasons which he elaborates in his commentary (quoting section headings): “(1) the government is totalitarian because it acknowledges no restraint upon its powers; (2) government is a de facto dictatorship based on the leadership principle; (3) government administers a capitalist system with an immense bureaucracy; (4) producers are organized into cartels in the way of syndicalism; (5) economic planning is based on the principle of autarky; (6) government sustains economic life through spending and borrowing; (7) militarism is a mainstay of government spending; and (8) military spending has imperialist aims.” This author finds his analysis largely immune to challenge.

25-Hitler_adHe notes that American household incomes, cannibalized by state expansion, have fallen since 1999, flat-lined since 1989 and scarcely risen since 1972 at the end of the Gold Standard, when politicians seized full control of money in order to buy financial, industrial, military and bureaucratic power, largely unchecked and unscrutinised.

Full-scale economic collapse was postponed by millions of women entering the workforce: “The intellectuals cheered this trend, as if it represented liberation, shouting hosannas that all women everywhere are now added to the tax rolls as valuable contributors to the State’s coffers.” Conservatives and libertarians may note that as mothers were often compelled to leave home for work, their children’s values were increasingly inculcated by state apparatchiks.

Mr. Rockwell describes the roots of fascism in early Twentieth Century Europe and America.  Mussolini, initially a socialist, attracted Italian socialists in droves as they saw a vast, powerful state as the means to achieve most of their progressive objectives, even though fascism was propelled by corporatist interests that they opposed traditionally.

Praise for Mussolini’s fascism abounded from The New York Times and America’s Establishment academia, while its political Left then still “had a very praiseworthy anti-corporatist impulse…generally opposed (to) war, the state-run penal system, alcohol prohibition, and all violations of civil liberties.” But,

In 1933 and 1934, the American left had to make a choice. Would they embrace the corporatism and regimentation of the New Deal or take a principled stand on their old liberal values? In other words, would they accept fascism as a halfway house to their socialist utopia? A gigantic battle ensued in this period, and there was a clear winner. The New Deal made an offer the left could not refuse. And it was a small step to go from the embrace of the fascistic planned economy to the celebration of the warfare State that concluded the New Deal period.

He quotes the Old Right, anti-FDR activist and co-founder of the America First movement, John T. Flynn, on brokering the devil’s deal:

“One of the most baffling phenomena of fascism is the almost incredible collaboration between men of the extreme Right and the extreme Left in its creation. The explanation lies at this point. Both Right and Left joined in this urge for regulation. The motives, the arguments, and the forms of expression were different but all drove in the same direction. And this was that the economic system must be controlled in its essential functions and this control must be exercised by the producing groups.”

28-leninburgerTheir success helps to explain why so many federal buildings, especially in Washington, DC, and built less than a decade before America’s 1941-1945 supposed “War against Fascism,” look as though they were designed for Benito Mussolini; replete with external Roman fasces and cod-Classical friezes in bronze, and European Arte Moderne statues in stone of sqat, burly, Italianesque farm-workers or industrial minions. There is nothing American about the architecture or its outside ornamentation, unlike the quintessentially American murals on the insides by Thomas Hart Benton and others. The newfound and intimidating might of American fascism was conveyed by the very-foreign edifice, while the message was softened indoors by painted Americana romanticism of sod-busters and farm-wives, Conestoga wagons and steamboats, intended for the recently disempowered but obedient subjects of the state applying for newly-required licenses or waiting to buy postage stamps. Like the incremental, Fabian fascism that Mr. Rockwell describes, these cultural nuances are now so fully-absorbed as to be invisible.

What transpired among socialists in 1920s Italy, and then in America under the New Deal, was replicated again in more modern times, when former Trotskyites saw advantage in a massive, militaristic, fully-fascist state and mislabeled themselves as Neo-Conservatives in order to get their hands on it.

Mr. Rockwell makes another point that is fascinating for genuine conservatives, on how fascism differs from the ideologies of communism and its handmaiden, socialism:

It is true that fascism has no overarching theoretical apparatus. There is no grand theorist like Marx. That makes it no less real and distinct as a social, economic, and political system. Fascism also thrives as a distinct style of social and economic management. And it is as much or more of a threat to civilization than full-blown socialism.

Is fascism, then, an ideology or is it another form of socioeconomic and moral poison, lacking a relentlessly consistent, Procrustean blueprint driven by what Dr. Russell Kirk scornfully termed “Defecated Reason”?

It is possible that fascism is not an ideology in the purest Jacobin or communist sense, but that it is a much older form of tyranny rendered more effective and relentless in a complex, industrial age with less community and hence less community scrutiny; circumstances under which a society grows more easily divided and conquered by the state. This might explain how America grew fascist without (so far) the hallmarked ideological personality-cults of a Hitler or a Mussolini.

It is alternately possible that fascism can be a Stealth Ideology, sometimes lacking a tell-tale text such as “Mein Kampf,” while incrementally leeching human liberty, quietly gnawing at tradition, actively opposing religious faith and replacing them with an unadvertised cult of brutality and state-worship. That, to take but one example, would explain ancient, hyper-militarised Sparta which also lacked a personality-cult or, so far as we know, a written ideological creed.

A related matter is sometimes touched upon in the author’s busy website, namely a potential modern, counter-fascist alliance among elements of the American Right, Left and libertarians.

Flynn, whom he discusses at some length in his article, was either a 1920s progressive who became conservative after the New Deal, or he remained consistently anti-war, anti-corporatist, pro-community and merely changed labels as he recognised a newer, bigger enemy. Similar analysis and redefinition may be underway, partly catalysed by the presidential candidacy of Dr. Ron Paul who seems to attract supporters across the conventional political divides.

It is a process of more than 20 years in fora such as Grover Norquist’s broad-based “Wednesday Group” or “Leave Us Alone Coalition,” in which (generally) right-wing organisations make a partial common cause with such figures as Ralph Nader, consumer groups and human rights advocates. That group, uniting in Washington more than one hundred libertarian, conservative and rightist organisation plus others opposed to intrusive corporatism, now has affiliated movements in virtually all US states.

Overall, this trend may herald an interesting political realignment, in which individuals and their factions find partially-shared reasons to oppose corporatism, interventionism and fascism in unison. If so, it would be a political reversal, or mirror-image, of the right-wing and left-wing statist alliance that put Mussolini into power and brought fascism to America.

It could shatter, like panes of glass, people’s conventional partisan identities and even the political parties themselves. But anti-fascist success will depend upon whether a sufficient number of voters prefer liberty to subsidy, whether they see the two major parties as equally corporatist, and if they recognise that the economic, social and moral costs of corporatism ever outweigh the table-scraps proffered by the state.

This growing alliance will appeal to those real conservatives who can suspend their beloved contrarianism and old enmities: the rock-ribbed conservative Professor Paul Gottfried now describes himself politically as a libertarian without sacrificing his values and nuanced thought.

That may not be a welcome prospect for all, but elements of anti-statist libertarianism, and some of the community-focussed, “small-is-beautiful,” conservationist (rather than conventionally environmentalist), civil libertarian, anti-interventionist, anti-imperialist and anti-corporatist values among portions of the Left, can appeal to Mecosta’s sons and daughters without us abandoning our traditionalism, faith, prudence and rejection of ideology. Reducing the size, scope and malevolence of the corporatist state would at least allow other values to compete.

There is attraction in what Mr. Norquist calls the “Leave Us Alone Coalition,” and pruning the tree that blocks all sunlight may reveal the road back home.

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Published: Dec 29, 2011
Stephen Masty
Stephen Masty (1954-2015) was a Senior Contributor to The Imaginative Conservative. He was a journalist, a development expert, and a speechwriter for three US presidents, British royalty and heads of government in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. He spent most of his adulthood working in South Asia including Afghanistan, and he was a writer, poet and artist in Kathmandu.
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5 replies to this post
  1. Here's how you tell. During Poland's darkest days, having been sold out by the West, languishing under a really boring form of commie ideology, the churches stayed quite full, no Russian dared to take the Crucifies off the schoolroom walls, and they gave us the Blessed John Paul. Compared to the heroic Poles, how are we doing?

  2. Love the last paragraph. I'm not sure that I am a libertarian at heart, but I do know that I am an anti-federalist and believe in subsidiarity, and a libertarian in the white house would be the best thing to happen to this country.

  3. John, London is now full of Poles (my club too) and how we love and respect them all! Twenty-five or thirty years ago I predicted that communism would survive in the West and we would need to find sanctuary in (then communist) Eastern Europe where communism would die fast and faith would survive.

  4. It is not true that fascism has no ideology. In fact that ideology can be summed very briefly:

    1) There is no transcendent objective, signified.
    2) Personal moral responsibility is a bourgeois notion to be rejected.
    3) Therefore the only remaining sumum bonum is the group will-to-power.

    Mr. Rockwell may not wish to highlight this as he most likely agrees with the first two principles, and only modifies the third by replacing ‘group’ with ‘individual’.

    Before it is in power, fascism takes the form of identity politics. When in power, fascism takes on the characteristic of ‘oriental despotism’ the State, or Caesar, is god; is Lord and Savior.Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato (“Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State”)

    • Lew Rockwell is a (definitely unorthodox) Catholic and has specifically written that libertarianism does not mean a freedom from bourgeois morality.

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