by Roger Koppl
We are all fascists now. That is true in an empty sort of way I suppose. Unfortunately, it is also true in a more historically accurate way. When I was in college “fascist” meant, “You are to the right of me and therefore bad.” Today, “fascists” in that old fashioned sense have turned the tables on the left. Now, “fascist” may also mean, “Your are to the left of me and therefore bad.” That pretty much covers the ground. By linguistic fiat all Americans are now “fascists.” Nothing could be less important. What matters is the other sense in which we have become, all of us, perfect fascists.
The real original fascism of Benito Mussolini and his followers combined militarism and collectivist economics with the leadership principle. Under Adolph Hitler, Germany’s National Socialist Party (the Nazis) adopted this basic model and turned it into something far worse than Mussolini and his gang of thugs ever dared to imagine. Nevertheless, Italian fascism was pretty nasty stuff. And when the war was going badly for them, they caved in to German pressure to round up the Jews for collective slaughter. No Hitler is rising in the American firmament, nor can we imagine genocide within our shores. But we have come dangerously close to the thuggery of original Italian fascism.
Let’s start with militarism. Thankfully, the current administration has taken a less bellicose posture than its predecessor. But we still have troops stationed in distant lands even though the Cold War ended twenty years ago, and they won’t be coming home soon.
The federal government still spends vast sums on “defense,” and those sums are not likely fall far or fast in the foreseeable future. Finally, we are still fighting a war of choice in Iraq, a nation that was no threat to our safety at the time of our attack. (Yes, I skipped over Afghanistan. Even if I am wrong to think it was proper and necessary to wage war against both Al Qaida and the Taliban, the reasonable case for war was too strong to count as a clear example of militarism.) Obama may be less foolish than Bush, but we have seen no clear signs that he will tear down the “military-industrial complex” that President Eisenhower warned us of.
Economic historians tell us that there was no “fascist model” of economics. Fascist economic writers mostly prattled on incoherently without proposing any clear plans for how the economic system would really work. Nevertheless, there is a kind of essence of fascist economics that distinguishes it from capitalism, communism, and traditional socialism. Fascist economist retains the form of private ownership while imposing state control on all aspects of economic life. The captains of industry are allowed to keep their lavish offices, but they take their orders from government officials.
In a fascist economy, private property and the right of contract are not attacked head on. They are covered over in a bramble of rules and regulations that render the distinction between “private sector” and “public sector” meaningless.
Long before George W. Bush or Barack Obama, the American economy had been covered over in a bramble of rules and regulations. Bush acted on the economic downturn of the end of his administration by bailing out Big Finance and forcing the nine largest banks to sell ownership shares to the federal government. The Obama administration has followed Bush’s example in the industrial sector by grabbing a majority share in GM stock. The combined efforts Bush and Obama to end the economic downturn have wiped out any meaningful distinction between the private and public sectors.
As our militarism has grown more entrenched, as our economic system has fallen more fully under state control, our personal lives have grown more dependent on the personal judgment of one named person, the President of the United States of America. Instead of pulling back from militarism and collective economics, however, we have chosen to place more and hope and more confidence in the specific individual who happens to be President or whom we would like to see become the President.
We worship the President or contender that we prefer and we vilify the Presidents and contenders we do not prefer. No one is neutral toward George W. Bush or Sarah Palin. Barack Obama is either a god or the End of America. We have grown increasingly convinced that our affairs will go well if – and only if – the right leader sits in the Oval Office. The President is no longer the servant of the people, but their holy savior. In other words, we have completed the move to fascism by adopting the leadership principle.
We have forgotten the foundations of liberty and we may not have long to save them from oblivion. The search to recover our lost heritage of liberty will begin when we question the leadership principle, when we begin to wonder what might keep our “leaders” from oppressing us. The search to recover our lost liberty will begin, in other words, when we remember to ask the question the ancient Roman satirical poet Juvenal asked: Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes? “And who will guard the guardians themselves?” The search to recover our lost liberties will have been put on the right path when we remember the marvelously compact lesson in good government provided by James Madison’s defense of the Constitutional system of checks and balances.
But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
Madison’s “auxiliary precautions” have been swept away by militarism, collective economics, and the leadership principle. It is time to recall the lessons of Juvenal and Madison. It is time to turn away from state power and the leadership principle. We are all fascists now. Let us remember, however, that we were once Americans and can be so again if we so choose.