It is a testament to what semblance of reason there is in Western politics today that, since World War II and the fall of Nazism, whenever and wherever it is invoked, the term ‘fascist’ is almost universally pejorative, spoken with a contempt that almost invariably exceeds the user’s knowledge of its true meaning. However, it is precisely that disconnect—between its common usage in American culture and the true meaning of the word—that must be repaired as a crucial step in the defense of our political language and the clarity of our ideas.
What is fascism? It is a term so politicized and abused as to serve as a litmus test of any reference book’s capacity for intellectual discrimination and clear conceptualization. Merriam-Webster asserts that fascism “stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition”[i]—but, then, so does communism. How, by this, is one to distinguish them? The same source emphasizes that fascism “exalts nation and often race above the individual,” but there have certainly been fascist dictatorships that paid little mind to the issue of race—Mussolini, perhaps the definitive fascist dictator, dismissed the significance of race altogether; nationalism is certainly a frequent quality of fascism, but the two are separate and distinct concepts, so there is clearly something more to fascism than simply the belief in the nation as a primary unit of political consideration. Though any of these factors may coincide with fascism, inciting or arising from it, not one provides a conceptual common denominator for all fascist regimes, a definition by essentials that distinguishes the concept of fascism from all other social systems, making it a term viable for rational use and interpretation.
Fascism, defined by essentials, is a form of socialism in which citizens retain ostensible ownership of private property, incurring the cost of its maintenance and preservation, but in which the state maintains final say over the property’s use and disposal. In this way, it is distinct from communism or pure socialism, in which property rights are abrogated and government shoulders the full burden of costs. If we correctly understand the right to property, however, as meaning a right of usage and disposal, it soon becomes clear that though all three are equally deplorable denials of individual rights, fascism would seem to be the most contradictory concept among them—and, for that reason, often the most difficult to recognize and comprehend.
Americans, having never lived under fascism nor having had any significant contingent of their national politics openly ascribe to the term, are prone to gross misconceptions as to what precisely merits its use. American leftists in particular have tried for generations now to characterize policies of conservatives as fascistic. This writer has heard it said by reputable sources (though lacks citable evidence) that the trend dates back to American college professors in the wake of World War II, who, in an attempt to forget their pre-war accolades of European fascism, began promulgating the now-popular notion that the greatest extreme of American liberalism was pure socialism, whereas the greatest extreme of conservatism was fascism. The history of the conservative/fascist conflation is a bit more observable in mainstream media, where it demonstrably goes back at least as far as 1964, when Walter Cronkite said of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater that he was “going places, among them Nazi Germany.” In today’s political climate, such smears are most frequently tossed about by second-rate leftist editorial outlets and the politically illiterate in reference to the Tea Party.
Any honest defender of individual rights must begin by recognizing the very spotted past (and present) of American conservatives and the Republican Party. What is intriguing about these claims of perceived fascism, however, is that the term is not being applied in those more condemnable episodes of Republicans’ history, in which they have deviated from the principles of individual rights with assaults on free speech or attempts to impose religious beliefs through law—and certainly not when Republicans first crafted their own version of the Affordable Care Act in the 1990s. Rather, the cries of ‘fascism’ seem to emerge in those instances when Republicans turn further in the direction of freedom, of individual rights, and of capitalism—that is, at the times when they are the farthest from anything resembling fascism. Could Goldwater, perhaps the most free-market Republican candidate of the last fifty years, ever honestly be conflated with the most murderous, highly controlled, and socially engineered dictatorial regime in history? Could the Tea Party, explicitly constituted upon principles of “free markets, fiscal responsibility, and constitutionally-limited government,” ever honestly be equated with Mussolini, that symbol of fascism, who said, “fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived in their relation to the State”?
In truth, no mistake of that magnitude can ever be deemed intellectually honest. The politics of capitalism and fascism are without a trace of overlap or agreement. Capitalism, in stark contrast to all others, is “a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.”[ii] Granted: neither Goldwater in 1964 nor the Tea Partiers of today are examples of true capitalists. Yet, by the increasing virulence with which leftists apply the term ‘fascist’ to every greater degree of capitalist principles shown by conservatives, it becomes clear that it is not dictatorship, but the principles of the free market that the leftists condemn.
Having come to a clearer understanding of the term ‘fascism’, it is prudent to ask: if the term cannot be rationally applied to groups such as the Tea Party, have there been echoes of it elsewhere in American politics? Tragically so. One need only look to the Nazi Party’s ‘Twenty-Five Points’ to find the extent of the parallel between fascist economic policy and our own. The ‘Twenty-Five Points’ asserts, “We demand that the state be charged first with providing the opportunity for a livelihood and way of life for the citizens”: welfare. “If it is impossible to sustain the total population of the State, then the members of foreign nations (non-citizens) are to be expelled from the Reich… Any further immigration of non-citizens is to be prevented”: protectionist anti-immigration policies. “We demand an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare”: Social Security. “The State is to care for the elevating national health”: Medicare, Medicaid, ObamaCare.
This trend of statism, though failing to find solid footing until the New Deal era, emerged early in the twentieth century. The persona of the unilateral, anti-republican executive was first presented to Americans in the form of Teddy Roosevelt, who said, “I believe in power…I did greatly broaden the use of executive power…The biggest matters I managed without consultation with anyone, for when a matter is of capital importance, it is well to have it handled by one man only …I don’t think that any harm comes from the concentration of power in one man’s hands.” As fascism emerged to the vanguard of politics in Europe in the 1930s, it found many admirers on the American left, among them Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was quoted saying, “There seems to be no question that [Mussolini] is really interested in what we are doing and I am much interested and deeply impressed by what he has accomplished and by his evidenced honest purpose of restoring Italy.” Though the remark was made prior to Mussolini’s more violent days, FDR’s comment illustrates American statists’ receptivity to fascist economic policies. Roosevelt’s head of the National Recovery Administration, Hugh “Iron Pants” Johnson reportedly so admired fascist political philosophy as to have at times carried around a copy of Raffaello Viglione’s book The Corporate State through his daily life and to have paid tribute to Mussolini at the time of his (Johnson’s) retirement.
After the war, though the enamor of explicit fascism had long passed, policies such as JFK’s “New Frontier”, LBJ’s “Great Society”, and Richard Nixon’s wage and price freezes recalled the coercive, welfare-driven, and price-controlled economic programs of pre-war Germany and Italy. Kennedy went so far as to intervene in a labor dispute in which the U.S. government had no significant stake for the petty aim of repaying his political debts to union leaders. In so doing, he laid the troubles of a whole national economy on a few businessmen, condemning, “a tiny handful of steel executives whose pursuit of private power and profit exceeds their sense of public responsibility.” That President Kennedy reneged upon his public responsibility of first and foremost defending the individual rights of Americans—among them the freedom of trade—in order to pursue his own political power and profit was a point largely lost on a population that had grown complacent to interventionism in the post-New-Deal era. By the time of Nixon’s proclamation that “We are all Keynesian’s now,” the incestuous relationship of government and industry had become a tradition. Though it would be alleviated in the “swing to the right” of the 1980s, it has never fully left us.
Moving into the present, one finds a semblance of Mussolini’s explanation that “[f]ascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power” in President Clinton’s ideal of “business and government… working together to promote growth and broadly share prosperity.”[iii] What ‘partnership’ can be forged with an entity defined by its monopoly on the use of force? What constitutes ‘working together’ in a relationship between businessmen who must produce to succeed and the bureaucrat whose authority is final and unchallengeable? How does one adhere to the epistemological requirement of success in a marketplace—reason—in the presence of initiated force? The contradictions are infinite.
President George W. Bush’s TARP program, giving over $700 billion in aid to save Wall Street after the financial meltdown of 2007, spelled the apex of a fifteen-year trend of increasing government manipulation of housing markets, Wall Street, and banking. Spanning two presidential administrations and fueled by the assent of countless numbers of congressmen, senators, and appointed officials, a system of regulation and control, of collaboration between government and industry, had unleashed a crisis that swept all by storm, but which all had endorsed. The solutions proposed—President Obama’s stimulus package— brought more of the same, along with bold declarations after the auto-industry bailout that the president intended “to do the same thing with manufacturing jobs, not just in the auto industry, but in every industry.”[iv]
The pattern to observe is a plain one. Throughout the twentieth century, where American politicians have encouraged the growth of the state and its control over industry, they have done so not through nationalization in purely socialist fashion, but through regulation, controls, and persistent reminders in speeches and policy positions that businessmen work for the good of ‘the country’, ‘society’, ‘the whole.’ Ayn Rand once wrote that, “[t]he trend in this country is toward a fascist system with communist slogans. But what all of today’s pressure groups are busy evading is the fact that neither business nor labor nor anyone else, except the ruling clique, gains anything under fascism or communism or any form of statism—that all become victims of an impartial, egalitarian destruction.”[v]
The American economy today is plagued by an unfathomable web of regulations; an impossible tax code; massive subsidies for industry; an increasingly abusive culture of environmental policy, eminent domain laws, and antitrust suits; such doomed and gargantuan social welfare programs as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare); and a Washington culture composed of increasingly statist liberals and complacent, establishment Republicans too bound by years of political debts and faulted, mixed-economy logic to fight for individual rights. In such a political climate as this, to accuse the advocates of limited government of supporting anything resembling fascism presents an irony beyond measure and demonstrates the depths of the modern left’s intellectual bankruptcy.
[i] “Fascism.” Merriam-Webster Online. (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fascism)
[ii] “Capitalism.” The Ayn Rand Lexicon. http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/capitalism.html
[iii] “Transcript of Bill Clinton’s Speech to the Democratic National Convention” The New York Times. 9/5/2012. Accessed online. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/05/us/politics/transcript-of-bill-clintons-speech-to-the-democratic-national-convention.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)
[iv] “Obama: Let’s Repeat Auto Bail-Out With Every Industry” Breitbart. (http://www.breitbart.com/Breitbart-TV/2012/08/09/Obama-Lets-Bail-Out-All-Industries)
[v] Rand, Ayn. “The Moratorium on Brains.” The Ayn Rand Multimedia Library. (http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=reg_ar_moratorium) Audio. Accessed online.