fascism

Parsing Political Philosophy (II)

This is a work in progress. The first version is here. This version expands the range of political stances by adding Despotism to Anarchism, Minarchism, and Statism. Also, this version goes into more detail about the differences between various stances. I’m leaving the first version in place because I’ve linked to it and quoted from it often, and because some of the descriptive material complements this post.

INTRODUCTION

The aim of this post and its predecessor is to find more precise political labels than Democrat, Republican, left, right, center, liberal, conservative, and libertarian. I want to show, for example, the dimensions of agreement and disagreement between a so-called liberal who wants government to dictate certain aspects of human affairs, and a so-called conservative who wants government to dictate certain other aspects of human affairs. Are they not both statists who merely have different agendas, or are there deeper differences between them? And what about the so-called libertarian who espouses some views that are anathema to many on the left (e.g., free markets) and other views that are anathema to many on the right (e.g., legalization of marijuana and harder drugs)? Are such views coherent or merely provocative?

Any one person’s political philosophy — if he may be said to have one — is likely to consist of a set of attitudes, many of them logically irreconcilable. This, I believe, is due mainly to the influence of temperament on one’s political views. It is a rare human being who does not interpret the world through the lens of his preferences, and those preferences seem to be more a matter of temperament than of knowledge and reason. Even highly intelligent persons are capable of believing in the most outlandish things because they want to believe those things.

I therefore admit that my search for more precise political labels may be — and probably is — both quixotic and reductionist. But it can, at least, shed some light on real differences — and real similarities — among various lines of political thought.

THE ESSENCE OF POLITICS

Political views, and their essential differences, cannot be organized into a taxonomy without first defining politics and its essential issues.

Politics is the means by which human beings regulate their behavior, which usually (but unnecessarily) is divided into social and economic components. The purpose of regulating behavior — whether the regulation is explicit or implicit, imposed or voluntary — is to sustain or change the modes of human interaction, and the outcomes that derive from human interaction. Some political stances are incoherent because their principles cannot yield the preferred outcomes (e.g., redistribution, a favored policy of left-statists, actually makes the poor worse off because it stifles economic growth). But incoherence does not prevent a political stance from becoming popular, or even dominant.

THE BASELINE POSITION: TRADITIONAL CONSERVATISM

The following sections of this post culminate in a taxonomy of political philosophies, which is given in a table at the end of the post. In that table, I take as a baseline a political stance that I call Right-Minarchism. It represents traditional conservatism, as it would have played out in practice under the kind of true federalism represented in the Articles of Confederation.

What is the traditional conservative position? I begin with a redaction of Russell Kirk’s “Six Canons of Conservative Thought“:

1. An understanding that political problems, at bottom, are moral problems.

2. A preference for tradition — which incorporates beneficial change — over the shackles of statism and the chaos that must ensue from anarchy.

3. Recognition that change is not the same thing as change for the better (reform), which emerges from tradition and is not imposed upon it.

4. An understanding that a flourishing civil society requires order, without which freedom is available only to despots and predators.

5. Faith in traditional mores and reliance upon them, in the main, to maintain a regimen of order that enables freedom — ordered liberty, in other words. Traditional mores are supplemented but not supplanted by the rule of law, impartially administered and no more intrusive than is required for ordered liberty.

6. Knowledge that property and liberty are inseparably connected, and that economic leveling is not economic progress.

For an elaboration on the role of government, I turn to Michael Oakeshott:

Government, … as the conservative in this matter understands it, does not begin with a vision of another, different and better world, but with the observation of the self-government practised even by men of passion in the conduct of their enterprises; it begins in the informal adjustments of interests to one another which are designed to release those who are apt to collide from the mutual frustration of a collision. Sometimes these adjustments are no more than agreements between two parties to keep out of each other’s way; sometimes they are of wider application and more durable character, such as the International Rules for for the prevention of collisions at sea. In short, the intimations of government are to be found in ritual, not in religion or philosophy; in the enjoyment of orderly and peaceable behaviour, not in the search for truth or perfection…. To govern, then, as the conservative understands it, is to provide a vinculum juris for those manners of conduct which, in the circumstances, are least likely to result in a frustrating collision of interests; to provide redress and means of compensation for those who suffer from others behaving in a contrary manners; sometimes to provide punishment for those who pursue their own interests regardless of the rules; and, of course, to provide a sufficient force to maintain the authority of an arbiter of this kind. Thus, governing is recognized as a specific and limited activity; not the management of an enterprise, but the rule of those engaged in a great diversity of self-chosen enterprises. It is not concerned with concrete persons, but with activities; and with activities only in respect of their propensity to collide with one another. It is not concerned with moral right and wrong, it is not designed to make men good or even better; it is not indispensable on account of ‘the natural depravity of mankind’ but merely because of their current disposition to be extravagant; its business is to keep its subjects at peace with one another in the activities in which they have chosen to seek their happiness. And if there is any general idea entailed in this view, it is, perhaps, that a government which does not sustain the loyalty of its subjects is worthless; and that while one which (in the old puritan phrase) ‘commands the truth’ is incapable of doing so (because some of its subjects will believe its ‘truth’ to be in error), one which is indifferent to ‘truth’ and ‘error’ alike, and merely pursues peace, presents no obstacle to the necessary loyalty.

…[A]s the conservative understands it, modification of the rules should always reflect, and never impose, a change in the activities and beliefs of those who are subject to them, and should never on any occasion be so great as to destroy the ensemble. Consequently, the conservative will have nothing to do with innovations designed to meet merely hypothetical situations; he will prefer to enforce a rule he has got rather than invent a new one; he will think it appropriate to delay a modification of the rules until it is clear that the change of circumstances it is designed to reflect has come to stay for a while; he will be suspicious of proposals for change in excess of what the situation calls for, of rulers who demand extra-ordinary powers in order to make great changes and whose utterances re tied to generalities like ‘the public good’ or social justice’, and of Saviours of Society who buckle on armour and seek dragons to slay; he will think it proper to consider the occasion of the innovation with care; in short, he will be disposed to regard politics as an activity in which a valuable set of tools is renovated from time to time and kept in trim rather than as an opportunity for perpetual re-equipment. (Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, New and Expanded Edition, pp. 427-31)

In what follows, I synthesize Kirk and Oakeshott, and call the result Right-Minarchism.

A TAXONOMY OF PHILOSOPHIES

I begin with a rough sorting of political philosophies:

  • Anarchism is a fairly coherent (if implausible) philosophy of non-government, propounded by persons who usually call themselves anarcho-capitalists (probably because it seems a more respectable label than “anarchist”).
  • Minarchism is a somewhat more diffuse but still coherent philosophy of minimal government, propounded by persons who usually call themselves libertarians, over the objection of anarchists, who claim to be the only true libertarians.
  • Anarchists and minarchists dwell in the big tent of libertarianism.  Where anarchists are fairly monolithic in their views (government is evil because it must always be based on coercion), minarchists are of varied stripes, which I delineate below. My analyses of anarchism and minarchism span the range of libertarian ideas, so there is nothing more for me to say in this post about libertarianism as a political philosophy.
  • Statism comprises a broad set of attitudes about government’s role, propounded by “types” ranging from redneck yahoos to campus radicals, each type proclaiming itself benign (for some, if not for others). But each type would — in thought and word, if not deed — set loose the dogs of the state upon its political opponents and the vast, hapless majority. Statism, because it is so powerful and pervasive a force, merits further analysis — more aptly, dissection — into its main types.
  • Despotism is perhaps the inevitable outcome of statism. Despotism may be “hard,” as with the USSR under Stalin and Germany under Hitler, or “soft,” as with innumerable “social democrat” regimes, including the controlling regime of the United States. Under despotic rule there is no dividing line between the state’s power and individual liberty. The state can — and will — dictate to its subjects about anything.

Thus the four broad philosophies that I parse in this post are anarchism, minarchism, statism, and despotism. Here is more about each of them:

Anarchism

Anarchists believe that no one should govern others; rather, all human interactions and joint functions (e.g., a group’s efforts to defend itself against predators and enemies) should be undertaken through voluntary agreements, including contracts with private defense agencies.

Central to anarchism is the dual principle of non-coercion and non-aggression: conjoined prohibitions against the imposition of one’s will upon others and, therefore, the use of force except in self-defense or the defense of others. (Are there loopholes for dealing with imminent, predatory threats and teaching children to behave? Only an anarchist knows for sure.) Government, by definition, imposes its will by exerting superior force. Government, therefore, is illegitimate.

The non-aggression principle is the undoing of anarchism. Anarchy (purely consensual anarchy) cannot prevail. Non-aggression often is met with aggression. Anarchists (were there a viable group of them) would fall prey to well-armed aggressors (both from within the group and outside it). This inconvenient fact is of no account to doctrinaire anarchists. They are focused on the world as they would like it to be, and have little time for the world as it is, except to object when it isn’t to their liking — which is all of the time.

Minarchism

The Central Tenet: Limited Government

Minarchists are united in but one respect: Government, being inevitable if not necessary, must be kept within strict bounds. Given the inevitability of government, it is better to control it than to be controlled by it. It is therefore better to design an accountable one that can be kept within its bounds (or so minarchists hope) than to suffer an imposed regime, most likely an oppressive one.

Why do minarchists prefer strictly limited government? There are two reasons. The first reason is a desire to be left alone, or more elegantly, a deontological belief in the natural right to be left alone. (Most anarchists are deontologists.) The second, consequentalist, reason is that voluntary social and economic transactions yield better results than government-directed ones. Friedrich Hayek makes that argument, at length and successfully, in his essay, “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” Here is a small sample:

As Alfred Whitehead has said in another connection, “It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.” This is of profound significance in the social field. We make constant use of formulas, symbols, and rules whose meaning we do not understand and through the use of which we avail ourselves of the assistance of knowledge which individually we do not possess. We have developed these practices and institutions by building upon habits and institutions which have proved successful in their own sphere and which have in turn become the foundation of the civilization we have built up.

What Hayek says is true not only of economic institutions but also of social ones. The seemingly uncoordinated price “system” guides economic actors toward better ways of meeting ever-changing human wants with limited resources. The social “system” accrues behavioral norms that guide individuals toward peaceful, constructive coexistence with their compatriots.

The Protection of Negative Rights

Whether deontological or consequentialist, minarchism holds that the central role of government is to protect citizens from predators, domestic and foreign. Such protection cannot be absolute, but government’s evident ability and willingness to dispense justice and defend the nation are meant, in part, to deter predators.

More generally, the ideal government is restricted to the protection of negative rights. Such rights, as opposed to positive rights, do not involve claims against others; instead, they involve the right to be left alone by others. Negative rights include the right to conduct one’s affairs without being killed, maimed, or forced or tricked into doing something against one’s will; the right to own property, as against the right of others to abscond with property or claim it as their own; the right to work for a wage and not as a slave to an “owner” who claims the product of one’s labor; and the right to move and transact business freely within government’s sphere of sovereignty (which can include overseas movements and transactions, given a government strong enough to protect them).

To a minarchist, then, rights are limited to those that can be exercised without requiring something of others (e.g., transfers of income and property). The one necessary exception is the cost of providing a government to ensure the exercise of rights. That cost must be borne, in some arbitrary way, by citizens who, on the one hand, see no need for government (i.e., anarchists) and by citizens who, on the other hand, have differing conceptions of rights and how the cost of protecting those rights should be shared.

More about Property Rights

Minarchists (like anarchists) are fierce defenders of property rights. Minarchists hold that we own what we earn (or what is given to us, freely, by others who have earned it). The right to property is a negative right, in that the enjoyment and use of that which is ours need not deny anyone else the right to enjoy and use that which is theirs. (Acts of enjoyment and use, however, must not infringe on the negative rights of others.) The denial of property rights (in whole or in part) is theft, whether committed by a private party or government. (The “public use” clause of the Fifth Amendment is applied legitimately only when government must take property, with “just compensation” in order to execute one of the few legitimate functions of government.)

There is an economic justification, as well, for minarchists’ defense of property rights. People generally use that which they own more carefully and more productively than that which they do not own. This tendency — which springs from the same psychological source as the tendency of individuals to care more for those who are closest to them — yields less waste and greater output. That outcome benefits everyone, not just the owners of economic resources.

The Role of Civil Society

There can be more to minarchy than the protection of negative rights. In the view of some minarchists, government legitimately serves the broader (but related) purpose of protecting civil society. Other minarchists have no use for what they see as the strictures of civil society; they wish only to be left alone. In their introverted myopia they fail to see that the liberty to live a peaceful, happy, and even prosperous life depends on civil society: the daily observance of person X’s negative rights by persons W, Y, and Z — and vice versa. That is so because it is impossible and — more importantly — undesirable for government to police everyone’s behavior. Liberty depends, therefore, on the institutions of society — family, church, club, and the like — through which individuals learn to treat one another with respect, through which individuals often come to the aid of one another, and through which instances of disrespect can be noted, publicized, and even punished (e.g., by criticism and ostracism).

That is civil society. And it is civil society which, many minarchists aver, government ought to protect instead of usurping and destroying as it establishes its own agencies (e.g., public schools, welfare), gives them primary and even sole jurisdiction in many matters, and funds them with tax money that could have gone to private institutions. Moreover, some minarchists aver that government ought to tolerate a broad range of accepted behaviors across the various institutions of civil society, as long as government also protects the negative rights of association and exit: the right to associate with persons of one’s choosing, and the right to live and work where one prefers.

The centrality of family, church, club, and the like, to civil society reflects a fundamental fact of the human condition: We tend to care more for those who are close to us than we do for those who are unrelated to us by blood or a direct social bond of some kind. Charity and civilization begin at home.

A Note about Left-Minarchism

This branch of minarchism attracts pseudo-libertarians who proclaim their dedication to liberty from one side of the mouth while supporting statist restrictions on liberty from the other side. The hypocrisy of left-minarchism is discussed in the table below, and by Bill McMorris in “Conservatives Will Embrace Libertarians When Libertarians Stop Embracing Government” (The Federalist, February 26, 2014).

Statism

I come now to statism, about which less need be said than about minarchism. Statism is notable mainly for its failure to understand, respect, or protect negative rights and civil society.

The Essence of Statism: Control

Statism boils down to one thing: the use of government’s power to direct resources and people toward outcomes dictated by government. Statism is orthogonal to the libertarian worldview of anarchists and minarchists.

The particular set of outcomes toward which government should strive depends on the statist who happens to be expounding his views. But all of them are essentially alike in their desire to control the destiny of others. (Two excellent posts that spell out the essential sameness of statism, whether it comes from the “left” or the “right,” are John Ray’s “The American Roots of Fascism” and Eric Scheie’s “Rule by the Freest.”)

“Hard” statists thrive on the idea of a powerful state; control is their religion, pure and simple. “Soft” statists profess offense at the size, scope, and cost of government, but will go on to say “government should do such-and-such,” where “such-and such” usually consists of:

  • government grants of particular positive rights, either to the statist, to an entity or group to which he is beholden, or to a group with which he sympathizes
  • government interventions in business and personal affairs, in the belief that government can do certain things better than private actors, or simply should do many things other than — and sometimes in lieu of — dispensing justice and defending the nation.

The distinctions between “hard” and “soft” are, for my purposes, less important than the particular kinds of positive rights and interventions preferred by statists of various stripes. I parse the variety of statists later in this post.

Feeble Excuses for Statism

Statists give various excuses for their statism. Here are three, the second and third of which are mentioned above:

  • Government is the community. (This is an odd thing to say, given that politicians elected by a minority of the populace, and often a bare majority of voters, are able to dictate to the non-voting majority. The main virtue of  many an appointed official is that he represents a particular interest group, which is a far cry from “the community.”)
  • People (or certain kinds of people) can’t do such-and-such for themselves. (This claim is credible only because government has destroyed much of civil society by fostering dependency instead of personal responsibility; by blunting entrepreneurship, business formation, and economic growth through taxation and regulation; by breaking up families through various welfare programs; by usurping many of civil society’s functions (education, care of the elderly, and charity being the three most obvious); and by heavily taxing those who would have the means to underwrite the educational and charitable institutions of civil society.)
  • Certain kinds of activities and industries must be regulated because we can’t trust certain so-an-so’s to do the right thing. (This claim is tantamount to saying that (a) only certain outcomes are acceptable, (b) risk — which is necessary to progress — can be controlled by politicians and bureaucrats, and (c) the superficial knowledge and judgments of those same politicians and bureaucrats are adequate substitutes for the vast amounts of knowledge resident in free markets and free social institutions.

The reality from which statists avert their eyes is this: Even in a “democracy” such as ours, where government is supposed to be the people’s servant, it is in fact operated by power-hungry politicians and their often-arrogant minions. The arrogant attitudes of elected and appointed officials toward the “communities” they supposedly serve are revealed by the lavish offices and perquisites they arrange for themselves. The higher they rise on the scale of political power, the more god-like they become, to themselves at least. Constituent service is a means of garnering votes — a necessary evil, handled by staffers whenever possible, and paid for by taxpayers. (A politician naturally take a more personal interest in big contributors seeking attention and favors.)

The Bottom Line about Statism

No recitation of the character and limitations of government really matters to a statist. Government is at once a statist’s god and bully of first resort.

Despotism

In “democratic” nations, despotism arrives as an outgrowth of statism. It arrives by stealth, as the state’s power becomes so pervasive and so entrenched in statutes, regulations, and judicial decrees that liberty becomes a hollow word. Every sphere of existence — religious, social, economic — is subject to interference and control by the state. The state may not exercise full control in every instance, but it has the power to do so, rhetoric about liberty to the contrary notwithstanding.

America’s despotism is “soft,” compared with the despotism of the USSR and Nazi Germany, but it is despotism, nonetheless. If you think it hyperbolic to call the America a despotism, think again, and again, and again, and again, and again. The dividing line between statism and despotism is a thin one, and if you will follow the links in the two preceding sentences, you will find many reasons to believe that America has crossed over into despotism. “Soft” verges on “hard” when myriad organs of the state — from the IRS to local zoning departments — can persecute and prosecute citizens on almost any pretext. The only saving grace is that the victims of America’s “soft” despotism still have recourse to the courts and sometimes find relief there.

REFINING THE TAXONOMY

These statements implicate several political issues:

1. Toward what social and economic outcomes ought human endeavor be aimed? The “aiming” need not be deliberate but, rather, the natural result of voluntary, cooperative action in accord with social norms.

2. Who should determine social norms, and how?

3. What behaviors should obtain?

4. How should norms be enforced?

5. What is the proper role of the state?

6. When the norms and actions of the people and the state are in conflict, how should the conflict be resolved?

7. Who benefits from the imposition of norms by the state, and who is harmed by those impositions?

8. Who should pay for functions of the state?

9. What should happen when the state exceeds its authority?

10. With respect to the foregoing matters, how should dissent acknowledged and accommodated?

The answers to those questions lead to a taxonomy in which Minarchism is divided into Right-Minarchism (the traditional conservative stance, fleshed out with its implications for governance), and Left-Minarchism. Statism is divided into Left-Statism and Right-Statism. I leave Despotism and Anarchism intact. Both stances have nuances, but both are baleful enough without being proliferated.

The following table delineates each of the six philosophies in terms of the ten questions listed above. I have placed Anarchism last, not only for convenience but also because it is the least probably of the six options.

Taxonomy of political philosophies

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Related posts (mainly about America’s slide into statism and despotism, and the consequences thereof):
Unintended Irony from a Few Framers
Freedom of Contract and the Rise of Judicial Tyranny
The Constitution in Exile
What Is the Living Constitution?
True Federalism
FDR and Fascism
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
The People’s Romance
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Fascism
What Happened to Personal Responsibility?
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
The Left
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
The Divine Right of the Majority
Our Enemy, the State
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
The Left’s Agenda
The Meaning of Liberty
Understanding Hayek
The Left and Its Delusions
A Declaration of Civil Disobedience
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Society and the State
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
Don’t Use the “S” Word When the “F” Word Will Do
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
The Capitalist Paradox Meets the Interest-Group Paradox
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Is Taxation Slavery?
A Contrarian View of Universal Suffrage
Well-Founded Pessimism
Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Spending Inhibits Economic Growth
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
Defining Liberty
Conservatism as Right-Minarchism
The World Turned Upside Down
Secession Made Easy
More about “Secession Made Easy”
A Better Constitution
Progressive Taxation Is Alive and Well in the U.S. of A.
“Social Insurance” Isn’t Insurance — Nor Is Obamacare
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War
Defense Spending: One More Time
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament (see also the links at the bottom)

The View from Here

You know what happens when a law is enacted to protect a “minority,” don’t you? The minority acquires privileged status in the eyes of the law. Any action that is claimed to deprive the “minority” of its rights brings the wrath of the state down on the purported offender. And the same law enables members of the “minority” to attain jobs, promotions, and university admissions for which they are otherwise unqualified.

My opening paragraph is prompted by the likely passage of a “gay rights in workplace” bill by the U.S. Senate. The bill is unlikely to be approved soon by the U.S. House of Representatives, but I won’t say “never.” Many members of the GOP are eager to seem “nice,” and enough of them might vote with Democrats to pass the bill and send it to B.O. for signature. Such an act of appeasement will, of course, go unrewarded by voters of the left. But panicked lawmakers are immune to logic, and devoid of principles.

The “gay rights” issue is only a symptom of America’s decay. The official elevation of gays to privileged status is of a piece with several other developments: the very possible failure of efforts to derail death-dealing Obamacare, the equally likely failure of efforts to curb murderous abortion (the gateway to involuntary euthanasia), the ever-growing dependence of Americans on an unaffordable welfare state, an unchecked regulatory apparatus, feminized and gutted defenses, groveling before enemies, and the suppression of dissent in the name of “rights,” “social justice,” “equal protection,” and other Orwellian catch-phrases.

It is altogether evident that America soon will be an irreversibly effete, statist, inhumane, and appeasing realm. In it, every truly beneficial impulse — like those that energized America’s revolution against Britain, the framing of a Constitution that promised the preservation of liberty, the defeat of oppressive regimes in wars hot and cold, and the creation of the world’s most dynamic and productive economy — will be squelched.

The barbarians within, and their willing dupes, are in the saddle. It can happen here, and it is happening here. America is about to become the land of the unfree and the home of the weak-kneed.

*     *     *

Related reading: Joe Herring, “I Am Now a Dissident (and You Should Be Too!),” American Thinker, November 6, 2013

Related posts:
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Putting Hate Crimes in Perspective
The Cost of Affirmative Action
Why Not Just Use SAT Scores?
The Face of America
Affirmative Action: A Modest Proposal
Race, Intelligence, and Affirmative Action
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy
Affirmative Action, One More Time
Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values
Same-Sex Marriage
“Equal Protection” and Homosexual Marriage
The Course of the Mainstream
A Contrarian View of Segregation
Much Food for Thought
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
After the Bell Curve
A Footnote . . .
Schelling and Segregation
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
Black Terrorists and “White Flight”
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice: Part IV (with links to earlier parts of the series)
Timely Material
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy, Revisited
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Let Me Be Perfectly Clear…
FDR and Fascism
An FDR Reader
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
Is There Such a Thing as Society
The People’s Romance
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Fascism
Conspicuous Consumption and Race
An Honest Woman Speaks Out
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
The Interest-Group Paradox
Parsing Political Philosophy
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
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A New, New Constitution
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Perils of Nannyism: The Case of Obamacare
More about the Perils of Obamacare
Health-Care Reform: The Short of It
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
First Principles
The Shape of Things to Come
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
Is Liberty Possible?
The Left
Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Due Process, and Equal Protection
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
A Moral Dilemma
A Conversation with Uncle Sam
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I Want My Country Back
The “Forthcoming Financial Collapse”
Undermining the Free Society
Our Enemy, the State
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“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Government vs. Community
The Evil That Is Done with Good Intentions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
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Externalities and Statism
Taxes: Theft or Duty?
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
The Meaning of Liberty
The Left’s Agenda
Substantive Due Process and the Limits of Privacy
In Defense of Marriage
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
A Declaration of Civil Disobedience
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Society and the State
Are You in the Bubble?
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
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The Eclipse of “Old America”
The Capitalist Paradox Meets the Interest-Group Paradox
Genetic Kinship and Society
How Not to Cope with Government Failure
Riots, Culture, and the Final Showdown (revisited)
Where We Are, Economically
The Economic Outlook in Brief
Is Taxation Slavery?
Obamanomics: A Report Card
Well-Founded Pessimism
A Declaration of Independence
The 80-20 Rule, Illustrated
America: Past, Present, and Future
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
America: Past, Present, and Future
Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead
Economic Horror Stories: The Great “Demancipation” and Economic Stagnation
The Fallacy of the Reverse-Mussolini Fallacy
“Conversing” about Race
Economics: A Survey
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
Why Are Interest Rates So Low?
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Spending Inhibits Economic Growth
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
The World Turned Upside Down
“We the People” and Big Government: Part I
“We the People” and Big Government: Part I (continued)
“We the People” and Big Government: Part II (first installment)

The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union

As empires die, the barbarians usually gather at the gates, preparing a final rush. Unfortunately our savages are already inside. They are in the public schools, the universities, and downtown in the cities. They make our movies, set social policy from afar, instill appropriate values in our children. They do not know that they are savages. They now rule us, and there is nothing we can do about it.

Except watch. Vast disasters make splendid theater. This one is going to be a doozy.

– Fred Reed (Nekkid in Austin, iUniverse, 2002)

Reed is right. He must be right because he agrees with me about America’s future. (See “Well-Founded Pessimism” and “America: Past, Present, and Future.”) Reed also agrees with me about the causes of that future.

Some would say that “we” have done it to ourselves. But that is wrong. The truth is that some of “us” have done it to the rest of “us.”

Who are the doers? Reed gets it partly right, but he (like most social observers) overlooks the “secret” ingredient: leftist lying and treachery. (Though he is alert and scathing about one of its powerful instruments: political correctness.*)

Leftists lie to themselves and to others. The purpose of these lies is to advance collectivism, and to do so at the expense of America’s economic and military security.

By collectivism, I mean not just the obvious things (e.g., government control of the economy, income redistribution). Collectivism also embraces forced egalitarianism, regardless of differences in ability, skill, and effort — and to the detriment of freedom of speech, freedom of association, and property rights.

As for the willingness (eagerness) of leftists to forgo economic and military security, consider just a few examples: It is the left that opposes free trade. It is the left that constantly calls for higher taxes on “the rich,” to punish success and deter growth-producing investments. It was the left that sniveled about Reagan’s “dangerous and provocative” arms buildup — the buildup that brought the USSR to its knees. It is the left that, since the “McGovern revolution” of 1972 has turned the Democrat Party into a party of military weakness and appeasement — appeasement of Soviet and Chinese Communism, of Islamic terrorism, and of any other “ism” but American patriotism.

Leftists lie to themselves (engage in magical thinking) in order to justify (to themselves and the gullible) their upside-down woldview. Thus, for example, they embrace the pseudo-sciences of climatology and macroeconomics, which justify costly and aggrandizing state action (e.g., limitations on the use of fossil fuels, the conscription of scarce resources by government in the name of “stimulus”). Perhaps the biggest lie that leftists tell themselves is that they really believe in collectivism and egalitarianism, when they patently do not.

Leftists lie to others — usually deploying the lies they tell themselves  — in order to advance egalitarian collectivism and weaken America. There are the straightforward lies about policy matters as the need to combat man-made global warming by adopting expensive and inefficient “solutions” (think “green” energy, for example), and the effectiveness of “stimulus” spending. Beyond that, there are hoaxes and the Big LIe about Communism, the effects of which burden America more than two decades after the purported demise of Communism. (Note to reader: Hitler, inventor of the Big Lie, was a leftist — not a demented conservative, as later Big Liars would have you believe.)

Before I elaborate on the Big Lie and its accompanying treachery, I will set the stage by say a bit about a kind of “little lie” that appeals to leftists: the hoax.

What kind of political gain accrues to a hoax? Sympathy for a favored “minority group” — usually blacks, women, and persons suffering from real or feigned gender confusion. Beyond sympathy, of course, there is the hope of favored treatment through changes in social norms, forced and reinforced by codes of conduct, and statutes. Favored treatment means more-than-equal treatment for a “minority group” and less-than-equal treatment for persons not in the “minority group” — for example, the erosion of rights (property, speech, and association), and the loss of jobs, promotions, and university admissions.

Prominent, politically inspired/exploited hoaxes of recent times include:

  • The “rape” of Tawana Brawley, a black female
  • The fatal beating of Matthew Shepard, supposedly because of his homosexuality (more here)
  • The “rape” of a black female members of Duke University’s lacrosse team

What about the Big Lie? Well, the aim is the same: to twist the truth and advance the left’s domestic agenda:

the repudiation of ordered liberty of the kind that arises from evolved social norms, and the replacement of that liberty by sugar-coated oppression. The bread and circuses of imperial Rome have nothing on Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, Obamacare, and the many other forms of personal and corporate welfare that are draining America of its wealth and élan. All of that “welfare” has been bought at the price of economic and social liberty (which are indivisible). (For a broad enumeration, see this post.)

In foreign affairs, the left’s agenda is the erosion of America’s military and economic might, because (insert one or more of the following morally relativistic-politically “realistic” positions):

  • No other country [at present] poses a military challenge to the U.S. [As if this were a permanent condition which would survive prolonged decimation of America's armed forces.]
  • it is wrong for America to attack other countries. [Always? Even when those other countries are hotbeds of terrorism?]
  • Other countries (e.g., Iran) ought to have nuclear weapons if they want them; after all, the U.S. has them. [Well, why didn't we offer the A-bomb to Japan instead of using it to end World War II and save millions of lives?]
  • America is nothing special and doesn’t deserve to be stronger and richer than other countries. [Easily said when you are protected by America's strength and benefit from its quasi-free and still potent economic system, but would you really weaken and impoverish America -- and yourself -- just to be "no better" than, say, a sub-Saharan country?]
  • “We” must rely in international institutions instead of being the word’s policeman and/or bully. [Rely on ‘international institutions’ even if they are controlled by states that wish ill on America, states that promote ideals other than America’s (professed) ones of liberty and equality of opportunity.
  • The inevitable “convergence” of Communism and capitalism will lead America down the path of socialism and accommodation with the USSR, so we might as well relax and enjoy it.

Reasonable people may disagree about the necessary size and shape of America’s defenses. Reasonable people may disagree about the wisdom of a particular military operation. Reasonable people may disagree about the threat posed by Iran. But reasonable people will not hold the preceding convictions as absolutely and fervently as they are held by leftists, without regard for the facts or the consequences for the liberty and prosperity of Americans.

For decades, the left indulged in one of its biggest Big Lies — a lie perpetrated with the clear purpose of fostering collectivism and military weakness — anti-anti-Communism:

… Whittaker Chambers experienced this [Big Lie] at its punishing extreme. Chambers, probably the most famous American ex-Communist ever, was a former courier for Soviet military intelligence, subsequently an editor at Time magazine, and, in passing, curiously, the English translator of the 1923 Austrian novel Bambi, which became the 1942 Disney cartoon. His exceedingly wise decision to retain hard evidence attesting to his espionage work in the 1930s helped convict, most sensationally, Alger Hiss— the Ivy-educated, well-connected former State Department official and progenitor of the United Nations, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and all-around poster boy of the Liberal Establishment. Starting in 1950, Hiss served four years in jail for perjury charges related to Soviet espionage.

Then what happened? Did a thankful President Truman crown Chambers in laurels and congratulate him on behalf of a grateful nation for exposing a Communist conspiracy metastasizing at the highest levels of the federal government?

Never has a simple “no” been less adequate…. At one point in his testimonial [Witness], Chambers encapsulates the physics of anti-anti-Communism this way: “I had been warned repeatedly that the brunt of official wrath was directed, not against Alger Hiss as a danger, but against me for venturing to testify to the danger.”

It bears restating: Officialdom was enraged not by the danger posed by Hiss, a Soviet military intelligence agent “continuously since 1935,” but by Chambers for testifying to the danger….

… When did anti-Communism itself— the philosophical and political drive against state domination of the individual— become a radioactive inheritance of perceived bigotry and mass hysteria to be passed down, gingerly, generation to generation? …

The so-called McCarthy Era is the obvious place to search for answers, since the narrative we can all recite tells us that the Red-hunting Republican senator from Wisconsin was himself singlehandedly responsible for the evisceration of ideological opposition to Communism— anti-Communism— rendering said anti-Communism into a kind of disease. The remedy was said to be a steadying dose of anti-anti-Communism, despite the often heavy pro-Communist side effects. McCarthy accomplished all of this, the same narrative goes, with his crude zealotry and wild overreach, hectoring and destroying American innocents who had the misfortune to be dragged before his investigatory Senate committee for nothing. “Name one Communist or Soviet agent ever identified by McCarthy,” goes the perpetual challenge to this day, regardless of evidence from both Soviet and American archives that corroborate FBI reports, sworn testimonies, and other facts amassed in support of innumerable McCarthy investigations into the Soviet penetration of the federal government…. (Diana West, American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character, St. Martin’s Press, 2013**)

What was the Big Lie of anti-anti-Communism? The story line went like this: Communism stands for a noble ideal (regardless of what Communism invariably looks like in practice), and the Soviet Union’s expansionism is merely defensive. Any criticism of the Soviet Union — including criticism of its espionage and infiltration of the U.S. government — is therefore bad. Anti-Soviet (anti-Communist) views must therefore be discredited.

This story line was advanced by Communist agents working inside the U.S. government, with the help of the usual suspects: academics, show-biz types (with a few notable and ostracized exceptions), and politicians and bureaucrats — many of whom agreed with the story line and others of whom sought election and advancement by placating the left and, at the same time, adopting the “sophisticated” posture of moral relativism and political realism.

By 1995, when the collectivist cause needed no special protection — having advanced from FDR’s New Deal to LBJ’s Great Society, and having been consolidated in the years since — the U.S. government finally released materials amassed by the Venona project,

a long-running secret collaboration of the United States and United Kingdom intelligence agencies involving cryptanalysis of messages sent by intelligence agencies of the Soviet Union, the majority of them during World War II….

During the initial years of the Cold War, the Venona project was a source of information on Soviet intelligence-gathering activity that was directed at the Western military powers. Although unknown to the public, and even to Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, these programs were of importance concerning crucial events of the early Cold War….

… Sometime in 1945, the existence of the Venona program was revealed to the Soviet Union by the NKVD agent and United States Army SIGINT analyst and cryptologist Bill Weisband….

To what extent the various individuals were involved with Soviet intelligence is a topic of dispute. While a number of academics and historians assert that most of the individuals mentioned in the Venona decrypts were most likely either clandestine assets and/or contacts of Soviet intelligence agents, others argue that many of those people probably had no malicious intentions and committed no crimes [emphasis added].

Well, of course, “many of those people” were innocent. But many were not. Among the many non-innocents:

And that’s just a sample of a long list of known Soviet agents. Did you notice the presence on the list of the Rosenbergs, as well as a large number of government officials (Alger Hiss among them)? Protestations and “proof” of the innocence of the Rosenbergs, Hiss, and others were key components of the Big anti-anti-Communist Lie.

America’s hollow victory in the Cold War brought with it the end of anti-Communism and anti-anti-Communism as political preoccupations. But the Big Lie lives on, in the service of a collectivist and weak America. How could that have happened if America “won” the Cold War? The bitter truth is that every living person of influence in the U.s. was raised during the reign of the Big (anti-anti-Communist) Lie or in the succeeding generations that were (and are) dominated “educators” who persist unto this day in spreading  the gospel of collectivism at home and weakness abroad. (It is not a sign of strength to kill a few terrorists at long distance with armed drones or to back with words and deeds the efforts of anti-American insurgents aiming to replace one kind of tyranny with their own.)

The lamentable truth is that America’s political elites, their enablers in the academy and the media, their financial backers, and their constituents and dupes (the “masses”) have together succeeded in yoking America with “soft” despotism:

Soft despotism is simply a more polite term than fascism (or socialism) for pervasive government control of our affairs:

Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by “a network of small complicated rules” might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called ‘hard despotism’) in the sense that it is not obvious to the people. Soft despotism gives people the illusion that they are in control, when in fact they have very little influence over their government. (Source: Wikipedia.)

Soft despotism is “soft” only in that citizens aren’t dragged from their houses at night and executed for imaginary crimes against the state — though they are hauled into court for not wearing seatbelts, for smoking in bars, and for various other niggling offenses to the sensibilities of nanny-staters.

Despite the absence of arbitrary physical punishment, soft despotism is despotism, period. It can be nothing but despotism when the state holds sway over your paycheck, your retirement plan, your medical care, your choice of associates, and thousands of other details of your life — from the drugs you may not buy to the kind of car you can’t drive, from where you can build a house to the features that your house must include.

“Soft despotism,” in other words, is too soft a term for the regime under which we live. I therefore agree with Tom Smith: “Fascism” is a good descriptor of our present condition, so I’ll continue to use it.

Consider Obamacare, which — unlike Hillarycare — may survive:

When Obama was campaigning on behalf of his health care law one mantra was repeated ad nauseam: If you like your current plan, you can keep it. To put it gently, this hasn’t turned out to be the case, as more and more employers are opting to drop health coverage for their employees, pushing them onto the insurance exchanges…. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Instead of subsidizing retiree health premiums directly, IBM will give retirees an annual contribution via a health retirement account that they can use to buy Medicare Advantage plans and supplemental Medicare policies on the exchange, as well as pay for other medical expenses. Retirees who don’t enroll in a plan through Extend Health won’t receive the subsidy. [...]

Few employees can now count on big companies to provide retirement health care. Only 28% of large companies that offer health benefits to employees offered retiree coverage in 2013, down from 34% in 2006 and 66% in 1988, according to a 2013 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This is huge. Far from being a status quo law, Obamacare has become a weapon of mass destruction against traditional employer plans…. (“Obamacare Is Destroying Employer-Based Health Plans,” Via Media, September 9, 2013)

Anyone who knew anything about the likely effects of Obamacare knew that it was sold with this purpose in mind: To undermine employer-based plans and, thus, to garner support for single-payer (i.e., government-provided) health insurance. That, in turn, would practically complete government’s takeover of health care in the U.S., given its control of everything else involved in health care through regulation and the power over providers that accompanies Medicare and Medicaid. (This, too, probably shall not pass.)

And healthcare is but one aspect of an economy that has been commandeered by government spending and regulation, in the name of and for “the people.” For it is well known that most Americans oppose government spending and regulation, in the abstract, while supporting those very things when push comes to shove. (See, for example, this and this.)

Not that the state of the economy will matter much when America is no longer able to effectively defend its citizens and their legitimate overseas interests:

… The fate of the free world no longer rests with the US. It now rests with Putin. He and the mullahs in Iran, presented with the spectacle of the preening narcissist in the White House gazing in rapt adoration at his own reflection, are surely laughing fit to bust.

And why shouldn’t the First Narcissist preen? For he has achieved precisely what he wanted, his true goal that I described in this blog when Obama first ran for President: to extend the reach of the state over peoples’ lives at home, to emasculate the power of America abroad, and to make the free white world the slave of those he falsely characterised as the victims of that white world’s oppression…. (Melanie Phillips, “Putin Checkmates America,” Melanie’s Blog, September 15, 2013)

(Norman Podhoretz delivers a more elaborate version of Phillips’s thesis at “Obama’s Successful Foreign Failure,” The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2013.)

And the Big Lie continues, transmogrified from anti-anti-Communism to anti-anti-Islamism:

[S]hortly after 9/11, a time when some among us were beginning to realize that what we were all hearing 24/7 on cable, on NPR, in The New York Times, from all the experts … was out of sync with what we were watching before our eyes. In other words, the narrative—“ Islam is peace”— was not supported by the evidence: Islam is violence. Islam is slavery (Sudan). Islam is forced conversion (Egypt). Islam is child rape (Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, South Yorkshire, too). Islam is pillage (Somalia). Islam is religious cleansing (Iraq). Islam is death for apostasy (Swat Valley, Harvard University, too8). Islam is censorship (everywhere). Islam is conquest (Cyprus, Israel, Kosovo, Philippines, the 751 government-ID’d no-go zones of France). Such fact-based observations, of course, trigger charges of that sin of sins—“ Islamophobia” (“ racism” being its domestic twin)— but does mere name-calling (“ Islamophobe”) make these serious crimes and their real victims go away? In our world, yes. Over nearly a century of Big Lies we have learned to discount fact and disable logic. As in a frustration dream, the crimes, the victims, and their suffering vanish in today’s magic word, “Islamophobia.” What remains— slanderous allegations of “prejudice,” permanent brands of “bias”— triggers the revulsion reflex in the postmodern brain, still programmed to be vigilant against racism, lynch mobs, the KKK, and the like.

Extant or not, functional or not, these usually faux stimuli create outrage Islam exploits as “Islamophobia.” … This pattern is very old. In pre-McCarthy times, the all-powerful word that stopped the logic process cold was “Red-baiter.” …

… Islam, we are told, has nothing to do with anything bad. How could it? Islam means “peace,” said the forty-third president of the United States. No, in fact, Islam means “submission.” There’s a huge difference, and it explains why Islam celebrated the fall of the Twin Towers in Gaza, Kabul, and Queens. Dhimmitude, already evident in our society, goes a long way to explain why we didn’t dare show that we had noticed.

What we were witnessing was the marshaling forces of the latest, greatest Big Lie…. I saw how … this Big Lie was actively pressed on us by cadres of agents of Islam and their own armies of useful fools: members of the Muslim Brotherhood fobbed off as advocates of a pluralistic, American Islam, the Iran Lobby, Saudi princelings, the international Islamic bloc now known as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Bush administration, the Obama administration, practically anyone on a TV soundstage. All “reasonable people,” they peddled the same Big Lie: Islam is a religion of peace.

The history of the decade that followed, then, became a stuttering story of mongrel words and phrases (from “Islamofascism” to “violent extremism”) and morphing suffixes (“ ist,” “ism”). It was a time of now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t terminology (jihad, jihadist, sharia, mujahideen, shahid, taqqiyya, jizya, caliphate). Apt phrases became verboten (“ Islamic terrorism,” “Muslim violence,” “Islamic jihad”), as did concepts uniquely or characteristically Islamic: religious supremacism, censorship, slavery, pederasty, “honor killings,” “grooming,” and totalitarianism, among others. We may have intuited that “apostasy” did not go out with Galileo, and that beheadings did not end with the French Revolution, but  … Islam is a religion of peace. The real threat, we decided to believe, or thought we had no choice but to believe (or just didn’t think), is “violent extremism.”…

Limiting our brains to this empty phrase, however, has done extreme violence to our thought processes…. After all, if the problem is “violent extremism,” what’s the problem? Have a nice flight….

Islam is the totalitarian threat of today. However, because we continue the “deceit and double-speak” we adopted in response to Communism, we are unable to deal with the new threat— the new Communism of today. We deal with Islam the same way we dealt with Communism: Having been subverted and undermined, we apologize and converge.

As [Geert] Wilders asked, What is wrong with modern Western man? Did something happen to him? I think the answer is yes: Communism happened to him. Solomon aside, there was something novel under the Communist sun; under the shorter-lived Nazi sun, too. In his 1998 book Century of Horrors: Communism, Nazism, and the Uniqueness of the Shoah, Alain Besançon explains what that was: “Communism and Nazism set out to change something more fundamental than mores— that is, the very rule of morality, of our sense of good and evil. And in this, they committed acts unknown in prior human experience.”

And in this, our world was transformed….

Where “good” and “evil” are old-fashioned and laughable (and bracketed by quotation marks), moral relativism takes hold— Lenin’s universal legacy. Solzhenitsyn wondered what would happen next: “But if we are to be deprived of the concepts of good and evil, what will be left? Nothing but the manipulation of each other.”

The manipulation of each other through the manipulation of narratives….

… All these decades later, no one wants information or to open their eyes to the Muslim Brotherhood’s self-described “civilization jihad,” either. It hurts our heads. It exhausts our limited lexicon of ideology…. (Diana West, op. cit.)

*     *     *

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the ascendancy of FDR, his “Brain Trust,” and the New Deal. It is an anniversary to be mourned, not celebrated. Mourned because it means that Americans’ prosperity and liberty have been eroded and imperiled by eight decades of leftist lies and treachery.

Thus the land of the free and the home of the brave has become the land of the handout-seeker and the home of the appeaser. That is the unfortunate state of the Union in 2013.

*     *     *

Related reading:
Arnold Kling, “Our New Technocratic Masters,” Askblog, February 3, 2013
Victor Davis Hanson, “The Glue Holding America Together,” RealClearPolitics, June 28, 2013
Victor Davis Hanson,”Liberal Apartheid,” RealClearPolitics, July 8, 2013
M. Stanton Evans, “In Defense of Diana West,” cnsnews.com, September 13, 2013

*     *     *

Related posts:
The Course of the Mainstream
FDR and Fascism
An FDR Reader
The People’s Romance
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Fascism
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
The Interest-Group Paradox
Parsing Political Philosophy
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
The Shape of Things to Come
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
Is Liberty Possible?
The Left
Our Enemy, the State
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
Where We Are, Economically
The Economic Outlook in Brief
Obamanomics: A Report Card
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Well-Founded Pessimism
Is There Such a Thing as Society
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
America: Past, Present, and Future
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
The Fallacy of the Reverse-Mussolini Fallacy
__________
* From Fred Reed (op. cit.):

Feminists wanted congress to pass a vast program of funding for every left-wing cause that incited enthusiasm in the sterile nests of NOW. They called it the Violence Against Women Act, and men deferentially gave it to them. Of course to vote against it, no matter what it actually said (and almost no one knew) would have been to seem to favor violence against women. A law to exterminate orphans, if called the Domestic Violence Prevention Act, would pass without demur.

There followed yet more male deference to female desires. When women wanted to go into the military to have babies, or a Soldier Experience, men couldn’t bring themselves to say no.

When the women couldn’t perform as soldiers, men graciously lowered standards so they could appear to. It was the equivalent of helping a woman over a log in the park, the legal and institutional parallel of murmuring, “Don’t worry your pretty little head about a thing.”

On and on it went. The aggregate effect has been that women have gained real power, while (or by) managing in large part to continue to exact deference and, crucially, to avoid the accountability that should come with power. A minor example is women who want the preferential treatment that women now enjoy, and yet expect men to pay for their dates. In today’s circumstances, this is simple parasitism.

Today men are accountable for their behavior. Women are not. The lack of accountability, seldom clearly recognized, is the bedrock of much of today’s feminist misbehavior, influence, and politics. Its pervasiveness is worth pondering.

** West’s book is controversial — to put it mildly — even among conservatives. Key charges and counter-charges about American Betrayal can be found here:

Ronald Radosh, “McCarthy on Steroids,” FrontPage Mag, August 7, 2013

John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, “Was Harry Hopkins a Soviet Spy?,” FrontPage Mag, August 16, 2013

Diana West, “Published: The Rebuttal in Three Parts [links provided],” dianawest.net, September 10, 2013

West’s style — breathless, repetitive, discursive, often logic-challenged — should not blind you to the essence of her argument, which I have tried to capture in the quotations from her book. Read American Betrayal, read the entries in the debate, consult your own knowledge of America’s past 80 years (if you have much knowledge of those times), and judge for yourself. But don’t commit what I call the fallacy of particularism, which is to discredit an entire thesis because the supporting argument is incorrect in some particulars. (That’s how O.J. got off: “If it [a glove left near the murder scene] doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”) West may not be right about every detail; she has, in my estimation, got the big picture right. For example, even if West is wrong in her assertion that FDR’s right-hand man, Harry Hopkins, was a Soviet agent, she is right about his baleful influence on the foreign and domestic policies of the U.S. government. And his influence lives on.

Don’t Use the “S” Word When the “F” Word Will Do

Every once in a while, Bill Vallicella (Maverick Philosopher) warns against calling Obama a socialist. Here’s a sample:

It is a tactical mistake for libertarians and conservatives to label Obama a socialist. For what will happen, has happened: liberals will revert to a strict definition and point out that Obama is not a socialist by this strict definition. Robert Heilbroner defines socialism in terms of “a centrally planned economy in which the government controls all means of production.” To my knowledge, Obama has never advocated such a thing. So when the libertarian or conservative accuses Obama of socialism he lets himself in for a fruitless and wholly unnecessary verbal dispute from which he will emerge the loser.

It is enough to point out that the policies of Obama and the Democrat Party lead us toward bigger government and away from self-reliance, individual responsibility, individual liberty, and sound fiscal policy.  If you want to use the ‘S’ word, you can say that Obama & Co. are pushing us in the direction of socialism.  But calling him a socialist is tactically inadvisable.  Never forget that the whole point is to remove him and his gang from positions of power.  To achieve that goal we need to persuade large numbers of fence-sitters that  that he is leading us down the wrong path.  That persuasion is less likely to happen if we come across as extremists who misuse language….

It’s good advice, and not just for the reasons given by Vallicella. It seems to me that persons of the left — and I mean to include so-called left-of-center “liberal” moderates as well as their “bomb-throwing” brethren on the hard left — suffer a not-fully requited passion for government control of almost everything. As long as it’s their kind of government and as long as their livelihoods are unaffected by what that government controls, of course.

How can so-called “liberal” moderates and “bomb-throwers” be brothers under the political skin? Simple. The so-called moderates like to say that they are against socialism — saying that is what makes them so-called moderates. Yet, whenever a something comes to their attention that they consider unjust, unfair, inequitable, and so on, their knee-jerk response is that government ought to “do something” about it, or to endorse (without thought) the usual and inevitable call for government to “do something” about it. In sum, so-called moderates differ from “bomb-throwers” mainly in being less honest with themselves and others about the depth of their attachment to socialism.

As Vallicella says, leftists will argue that Obama isn’t a socialist. But they will do so only because they know “socialist” is a scare word. And they don’t want their “boy” tainted by a scare word. So they will get technical and defend him (and themselves) by denying that he is in favor of something scary

But, really, they don’t care. To be a socialist is a good thing, even for the so-called left-of-center moderate who tries to conceal his true feelings from himself.

And that is the real reason why it is counterproductive to call Obama a socialist. To be thought of as a socialist (i.e., a lover of big, all-powerful government) is high praise to a large chunk of the citizenry. Daniel B. Klein explains:

Government creates common, effectively permanent institutions, such as the streets and roads, utility grids, the postal service, and the school system. In doing so, it determines and enforces the setting for an encompassing shared experience—or at least the myth of such experience. The business of politics creates an unfolding series of battles and dramas whose outcomes few can dismiss as unimportant. National and international news media invite citizens to envision themselves as part of an encompassing coordination of sentiments—whether the focal point is election-day results, the latest effort in the war on drugs, or emergency relief to hurricane victims — and encourage a corresponding regard for the state as a romantic force. I call the yearning for encompassing coordination of sentiment The People’s Romance (henceforth TPR)….

TPR helps us to understand how authoritarians and totalitarians think. If TPR is a principal value, with each person’s well-being thought to depend on everyone else’s proper participation, then it authorizes a kind of joint, though not necessarily absolute, ownership of everyone by everyone, which means, of course, by the government. One person’s conspicuous opting out of the romance really does damage the others’ interests….

TPR lives off coercion—which not only serves as a means of clamping down on discoordination, but also gives context for the sentiment coordination to be achieved….

[N]ested within the conventional view that government is not a mammoth apparatus of coercion is the tenet that society is an organization to which we belong. Either on the view that we constitute and control the government (“we are the government”) or on the view that by deciding to live in the polity we choose voluntarily to abide by the government’s rules (“no one is forcing you to stay here”), the social democrat holds that taxation and interventions such as a minimum wage law are not coercive. The government-rule structure, as they see it, is a matter of “social contract” persisting through time and binding on the complete collection of citizens. The implication is that the whole of society is a club, a collectively owned property, administered by the government…. ["The People’s Romance: Why People Love Government (as Much as They Do)," The Independent Review, v. X, n. 1, Summer 2005, pp. 5–37]

Which brings me to the “f” word: fascism. This is the core meaning of fascism:

Fascism is a system in which the government leaves nominal ownership of the means of production in the hands of private individuals but exercises control by means of regulatory legislation and reaps most of the profit by means of heavy taxation. In effect, fascism is simply a more subtle form of government ownership than is socialism. [Morris and Linda Tannehil, The Market for Liberty, p. 18]

That is a proper definition of fascism. It is proper because it is devoid of the emotional baggage that the word carries because of its association with the (rightly) despised regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, and lesser figures of the past and present. (That Hitler’s party was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party – Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei — is an inconvenient fact, and therefore one that is ignored by the left.) Fascism is not — I repeat — not synonymous with such things as concentration camps and the Holocaust. Those were vile  aspects of Hitler’s regime, but they were not fascistic as such. But — and this is a big “but” — it is the lingering memory of concentration camps and the Holocaust that invests “fascism” with its emotional baggage.

The emotional baggage carried by “fascism” can be very useful to libertarians and conservatives who want to see the back of Obama and his crew of brown-shirts. Why? Because, the Tannehills’ definition of fascism fits Obama’s regime (and that of his spiritual predecessors) like a bespoke suit.

If only Romney could find copywriters who had the skills to connect Obama and fascism — subtly but convincingly.  The evidence is there, it’s just a matter of connecting the dots. The word “fascism” couldn’t be used, of course, because it’s a smear word, and its overt use would backfire. But the word could be implied by factually describing the thrust of Obama’s policies, then adding punchlines like these: “Policies that were disgraced long ago”; “Is this the America you want your grandchildren to inherit?”;  “Utopia comes at a high price.” The punch lines would be accompanied by newsreel clips that do not show Hitler, Nazis, or Nazi rallies, but which unmistakeably depict the Germany of the 1930s. Let viewers connect the dots.

Am I going too far in calling Obama a fascist? I think not. Fascism is simply another manifestation of The People’s Romance:

Notwithstanding the arguments of political scientists – who would distinguish fascism from other collectivist –isms such as communism, socialism, or national socialism (Nazism) – these distinctions are really irrelevant because all these forms of collectivism are equally pernicious to, and destructive of, individual rights and freedom. Leftists like to use the terms fascism or fascist as pejoratives because they naively believe that socialism is somehow less evil than collectivism of “the right” – that the murder of millions of people killed by Lenin and Stalin in the Soviet Union, by Mao in Red China, or by Pol Pot in communist Cambodia somehow was less evil than the murder of millions of people killed by Hitler’s regime in Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s regime in fascist Italy. Leftists have no legitimate claim on the truth, and neither do they have any monopoly on use of the terms fascism or fascist as pejoratives. [David N. Mayer, "2008: Prospects for Liberty," MayerBlog, January 11, 2008]

*   *   *

…B.C. Forbes, the founder of the eponymous magazine, denounced “rampant Fascism” in 1933. In 1935 former President Herbert Hoover was using phrases like “Fascist regimentation” in discussing the New Deal. A decade later, he wrote in his memoirs that “the New Deal introduced to Americans the spectacle of Fascist dictation to business, labor and agriculture,” and that measures such as the Agricultural Adjustment Act, “in their consequences of control of products and markets, set up an uncanny Americanized parallel with the agricultural regime of Mussolini and Hitler.” In 1944, in The Road to Serfdom, the economist F.A. Hayek warned that economic planning could lead to totalitarianism. He cautioned Americans and Britons not to think that there was something uniquely evil about the German soul. National Socialism, he said, drew on collectivist ideas that had permeated the Western world for a generation or more.

In 1973 one of the most distinguished American historians, John A. Garraty of Columbia University, created a stir with his article “The New Deal, National Socialism, and the Great Depression.” Garraty was an admirer of Roosevelt but couldn’t help noticing, for instance, the parallels between the Civilian Conservation Corps and similar programs in Germany. Both, he wrote, “were essentially designed to keep young men out of the labor market. Roosevelt described work camps as a means for getting youth ‘off the city street corners,’ Hitler as a way of keeping them from ‘rotting helplessly in the streets.’ In both countries much was made of the beneficial social results of mixing thousands of young people from different walks of life in the camps. Furthermore, both were organized on semimilitary lines with the subsidiary purposes of improving the physical fitness of potential soldiers and stimulating public commitment to national service in an emergency.”

And in 1976, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan incurred the ire of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), pro-Roosevelt historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., and The New York Times when he told reporters that “fascism was really the basis of the New Deal.” [from David Boaz's "Hitler, Mussolini, Roosevelt: What FDR had in common with the other charismatic collectivists of the 30s," a review of Wolfgang Schivelbusch's Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933–1939]

Obama’s regime is nothing less than a new New Deal — on steroids.

Related posts:
FDR and Fascism
Fascism
The People’s Romance
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Fascism and the Future of America

Hank Williams Jr. and Hitler

Better late than never. This is the about equating Obama with Hitler, as Hank Williams Jr. did earlier this month.

Aaron Goldstein of The American Spectator doesn’t like Hitler analogies:

[C]omparing anyone to Hitler who hasn’t committed genocide (or aspires to do so) only serves to trivialize the evil committed in his name and ideology.

I must disagree with Mr. Goldstein. Specifically, Hitler was not only a genocidal maniac but also a despot who commandeered Germany’s economy and society and molded them to suit his ends.

My money says that Obama — like FDR, his presidential role model — is greatly inclined in the same direction. Consider, for example, the evident willingness of a senior administration official to curb speech critical of Islam as a form of racial discrimination, the administration’s overt attack on freedom of religion, and Obama’s attack on bullying as another way of curbing speech. Obama’s attempt to seize the health-care industry — along with the auto and financial industries — may generate more headlines, but his insidious efforts to stifle Americans’ basic freedoms says volumes about his fascistic mindset.

Related posts:
Calling a Nazi a Nazi
FDR and Fascism
The People’s Romance
Fascism
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Fascism and the Future of America
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Invoking Hitler
The State of the Union: 2010
The Shape of Things to Come
I Want My Country Back

Fascism and the Future of America

Many commentators, including me, have said that our government is either fascistic or well on its way to being fascistic. What I mean when I refer to fascism in America — and what most commentators mean — is this:

[A] system in which the government leaves nominal ownership of the means of production in the hands of private individuals but exercises control by means of regulatory legislation and reaps most of the profit by means of heavy taxation. In effect, fascism is simply a more subtle form of government ownership than is socialism.

The central point is the scope of government power, which in recent months has gone from big to bigger, with the threat of becoming biggest.

Whether the United States has, at last, descended into full-blown fascism (as defined above) is less important a question than whether and how we might ascend to a better place. I will visit the possible future after assessing our present condition and its causes.

FASCISM OR SOFT DESPOTISM?

Soft despotism is simply a more polite term than fascism (or socialism) for pervasive government control of our affairs:

Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by “a network of small complicated rules” might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called ‘hard despotism’) in the sense that it is not obvious to the people. Soft despotism gives people the illusion that they are in control, when in fact they have very little influence over their government. (Source: Wikipedia.)

Soft despotism is “soft” only in that citizens aren’t dragged from their houses at night and executed for imaginary crimes against the state — though they are hauled into court for not wearing seatbelts, for smoking in bars, and for various other niggling offenses to the sensibilities of nanny-staters.

Despite the absence of arbitrary physical punishment, soft despotism is despotism, period. It can be nothing but despotism when the state holds sway over your paycheck, your retirement plan, your medical care, your choice of associates, and thousands of other details of your life — from the drugs you may not buy to the kind of car you can’t drive, from where you can build a house to the features that your house must include.

“Soft despotism,” in other words, is too soft a term for the regime under which we live. I therefore agree with Tom Smith: “Fascism” is a good descriptor of our present condition, so I’ll continue to use it.

THE CAUSES OF OUR PRESENT CONDITION

In spite of my preference for “fascism” to describe our present system of governance, I do concede an advantage to Tocqueville’s usage: It suggests the mechanism by which we got to where we are, that is, “overrun by ‘a network of small complicated rules’.” (Well, the rules aren’t small, but we are overrun by a network of them.) By “we” I don’t mean to imply concerted action on the part of the whole populace. There is a more insidious mechanism at work, which I call the interest-group paradox:

Pork-barrel legislation exemplifies the interest-group paradox in action, though the paradox encompasses much more than pork-barrel legislation. There are myriad government programs that — like pork-barrel projects — are intended to favor particular classes of individuals. Here is a minute sample:

  • Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, for the benefit of the elderly (including the indigent elderly)
  • Tax credits and deductions, for the benefit of low-income families, charitable and other non-profit institutions, and home buyers (with mortgages)
  • Progressive income-tax rates, for the benefit of persons in the mid-to-low income brackets
  • Subsidies for various kinds of “essential” or “distressed” industries, such as agriculture and automobile manufacturing
  • Import quotas, tariffs, and other restrictions on trade, for the benefit of particular industries and/or labor unions
  • Pro-union laws (in many States), for the benefit of unions and unionized workers
  • Non-smoking ordinances, for the benefit of bar and restaurant employees and non-smoking patrons….

You may believe that a particular program is worth what it costs — given that you probably have little idea of its direct costs and no idea of its indirect costs. The problem is that millions of your fellow Americans believe the same thing about each of their favorite programs….

It is the interest-group paradox which has brought us to our present condition. Since the advent of American fascism in the New Deal, both of the major parties have vied for votes by promising more things to more interest groups. Many interest groups have been mollified, if not satisfied, but most of their members — not to mention the vast, silent minority of unrepresented voters — have in fact been made worse off because the price of their mollification is the mollification of other interest groups.

Thus we have become freighted with massive tax and regulatory burdens. The cumulative effect of the twin burdens is astoundingly large, and is likely to grow under the present regime:

Had the economy of the U.S. not been deflected from its post-Civil War course [by the advent of the regulatory-welfare state around 1900], GDP would now be more than three times its present level…. If that seems unbelievable to you, it shouldn’t: $100 compounded for 100 years at 4.4 percent amounts to $7,400; $100 compounded for 100 years at 3.1 percent amounts to $2,100. Nothing other than government intervention (or a catastrophe greater than any we have known) could have kept the economy from growing at more than 4 percent.

What’s next? Unless Obama’s megalomaniac plans are aborted by a reversal of the Republican Party’s fortunes, the U.S. will enter a new phase of economic growth — something close to stagnation. We will look back on the period from 1970 to 2008 [when GDP rose at an annual rate of 3.1 percent] with longing, as we plod along at a growth rate similar to that of 1908-1940, that is, about 2.2 percent. Thus:

  • If GDP grows at 2.2 percent through 2108, it will be 58 percent lower than if we plod on at 3.1 percent.
  • If GDP grows at 2.2 percent for through 2108, it will be only 4 percent of what it would have been had it continued to grow at 4.4 percent after 1907.

The latter disparity may seem incredible, but scan the lists here and you will find even greater cross-national disparities in per capita GDP. Go here and you will find that real, per capita GDP in 1790 was only 3.3 percent of the value it had attained 201 years later. Our present level of output seems incredible to citizens of impoverished nations, and it would seem no less incredible to an American of 201 years ago. But vast disparities can and do exist, across nations and time. We have every reason to believe in a sustained growth rate of 4.4 percent, as against one of 2.2 percent, because we have experienced both.

These numbers are only a proxy for the loss of liberty associated with the massive growth of government in the U.S. Economic stagnation is the inevitable outcome of punitive taxes and burdensome regulations, all adopted in the name of one or another “good” cause. Those who cannot stand to see others rise above them are doomed to suffer the consequences of leveling, unless they happen to be co-conspirators in the erection of the fascistic state (or whatever you want to call it).

ANOTHER VIEW OF HOW WE GOT HERE, AND WHERE WE’RE HEADED

James V. DeLong, in a recent article (“The Coming of the Fourth American Republic,The American, April 9, 2009), advances a similar view as to the causes of our present condition:

[T[he New Deal … radically revised the role of government. The process of economic growth was tumultuous, and the losers and dislocated were constantly appealing against the national political commitment to “let us do.” The crisis of the Great Depression provided a great opportunity, and it was seized. Starting in the 1930s, the theoretical limitations on the authority of governments—national or state—to deal with economic or welfare issues were dissolved, and in the course of fighting for this untrammeled power governments eagerly accepted responsibility for the functioning of the economy and the popular welfare.

…Remaining limits on governmental authority were eliminated by the dialectic of the civil rights revolution, in which the federal power over commerce was expanded to meet moral imperatives, and the new standards were then fed back into regulation of commerce.

Inherent in the expansion of governmental power was the complicated question of how this unbridled power would be exercised. As the reach of any institution expands, especially anything as cumbersome as a government, it becomes impossible for the institution as a whole to exercise its power. Delegation to sub-units is necessary: to agencies, legislative committees and subcommittees, even private groups.

The obvious issue is how these subunits are controlled and directed. The theoretical answer had been provided by the Progressive movement (the real one of the early 20th century, not the current faux version). Much of the Progressive movement’s complaint was that special interests, often corporate, captured the governmental process, and its prescriptions were appeals to direct democracy or to administrative independence and expertise on the theory that delegation to technocrats could achieve the ideal of “the public interest.”

The real-world answer imposed by the New Deal and its progeny turned out to be special interest capture on steroids. Control comes to rest with those with the greatest interest or the most money at stake, and the result was the creation of a polity called “the Special Interest State” or, in Cornell University Professor Theodore Lowi’s terms, “Interest Group Liberalism.” Its essence is that various interest groups seize control over particular power centers of government and use them for their own ends.

It is this combination of plenary government power combined with the seizure of its levers by special interests that constitutes the polity of the current Third American Republic. The influence of “faction” and its control had been a concern since the founding of the nation, but it took the New Deal and its acolytes to decide that control of governmental turf by special interests was a feature, not a bug, a supposedly healthy part of democratic pluralism.

In DeLong’s analysis, the First American Republic, which lasted until the Civil War, was  the “alliance-of-[S]tates polity.” In the Second American Republic, following the victory of the Unionist cause in the Civil War,

sovereignty belong[ed] to the nation first and the [S]tate second, and … the nation rather than the [S]tate claim[ed] a citizen’s primary loyalty…. The shift [from the First Republic] was traumatic and took decades to complete, but eventually the [S]tates became largely instruments of federal policy, except for a few areas in which conformity is unnecessary or special interests have managed to preserve [S]tate autonomy for their own purposes.

What lies beyond the Third Republic’s special-interest state? According to DeLong, it goes like this:

This Third Republic has had a good run. It was wobbling in the late 1970s, but got bailed out by a run of good luck—Reagan; the fall of the USSR; the computer and information revolution; the rise of the Asian Tigers and the “BRICs”; the basic dynamism and talent of the American people—that kept the bicycle moving and thus upright.

It could continue. It is characteristic of political arrangements that they go on long after an observer from Mars might think that surely their defects are so patent that they have exhausted their capacity for survival…. The culture, the people, are astonishingly creative and productive, and may demonstrate a capacity to keep the bicycle moving faster than the demands of the Special Interest State can throw sand in the gears.

But it is more likely that the Special Interest State has reached a limit.

This may seem a dubious statement, at a time when the ideology of total government is at an acme, but it is not unusual for decadent political arrangements to blaze brightly before their end. Indeed, the total victory of the old arrangements may be crucial to bringing into being the forces that will overthrow it. In some ways, the grip of the aristocracy on 18th-century France tightened in the decades leading up to 1789, and the alliance-of-states idea could have lasted a while longer had the Confederacy not precipitated the crisis. So the utter triumph of the Special Interest State over the past 15 years, and particularly in the recent election, looks like the beginning of its end.

A catalogue of its insoluble problems includes:

Sheer size. The usual numbers concerning the size of government in the United States are that the Feds spend about 20 percent of GNP and other levels of government at least another 16 percent. These do not reflect the impact of tax provisions, regulations, or laws, however, so an accurate estimate of how much of the national economy is actually disposed of by the government is impossible. Whatever it is, it is growing apace, and the current administration is determined to increase it considerably.

Responsibility. As the government has grown in size and reach, it has justified its claims to power by accepting ever more responsibility for the economy and society. Failure will result in rapid loss of legitimacy and great anger…. And as the government’s reach extends, any chance that it will meet its self-proclaimed responsibilities declines.

Lack of any limiting principles. There is no limit on the areas in which special interests will now press for action, nothing that is regarded as beyond the scope of governmental responsibility and power. Furthermore, special interests are not limited, cynically trying to get an undeserved economic edge or subsidy…. Inevitably, special interests try to convert themselves into moral entitlements to convince others to agree to their claims. The problem is that many have convinced themselves, which means that no half loaf satisfies. The grievance remains sharp, and compromise immoral….

Conflicts. The Special Interest State could get along quite well when it simply nibbled at the edges of the society and economy, snipping off a benefit here and there, and when the number of victorious interests was limited. But the combination of moral entitlement, multiplication of claimants, and lack of limits on each and every claim is throwing them into conflict, and rendering unsustainable the ethic of the logrolling alliances that control it.

The guiding principle is that no member of the alliance will challenge the claims of any fellow member. But this principle has a limit, in that unlimited claims cannot help but impinge eventually on each other….

We are in a crisis of legitimacy. The concept of legitimacy, the right to rule, is the single most important factor in political life. The particulars of how it is gained and lost are infinitely varied, according to the culture and history of the polity….

In the United States, legitimacy is conferred by elections, but it is not total. Through the ages, the basic question mark about democracy as a form of government has been that 51 percent of the electorate can band together to oppress the minority—“the tyranny of the majority” is a valid concern. To address it, the United States has a formal written Constitution to guarantee basic rights, but it also has an unwritten constitution that sets limits on how far the winners can push their victories….

Over the past few years, political winners have become increasingly aggressive, culminating in President Obama’s recent “We won” as an assertion of an unlimited mandate. Losers have become increasingly restive, ready to attack the legitimacy of the winners’ victory….

[I]f each party is regarded by the other as a principle-free alliance of special interests, eager to claim the government so as to loot the other side, then a large chunk of legitimacy is lost. All that remains of that concept depends on the government’s ability to deliver overall economic prosperity and national defense, and if the rulers falter in either of these realms, they will receive no slack. Nor should they.

Given these trajectories, and the lack of any mechanisms for altering them, it is hard to see how the polity of the Third Republic can continue, and, as former Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Herbert Stein said: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” The question is whether the landing will be hard or soft….

[I]t is difficult to see any self-correcting mechanisms in the Special Interest State. Quite the reverse; the incentives all seem to be pushing the accelerator rather than the brake….

So what will the Fourth American Republic look like, and how will it come about? The answers are shrouded in the mists of a highly plastic future, and depend to a large extent on the outcome of the current economic crisis. If that grows severe, the change will be quick and explosive. As noted, an American government that presides over a depression will immediately lose the Mandate of Heaven—the Lady will reclaim the sword.

If this immediate crisis is alleviated, then change may have to await the next one, which will certainly come as more and more sand gets thrown in the gears of the Special Interest State and the bicycle eventually stops….

Two possibilities for change seem most promising. The first is a third political party that explicitly repudiates the present course and requires that its members eschew the legitimacy of the Special Interest State. This would require a certain almost religious fervor, but the great tides of history and politics are always religious in nature, so that is no bar.

This second would be more bottom-up. The Constitution has a residue of the original alliance-of-[S]tates polity that has never been used. Two-thirds of the [S]tate legislatures can force Congress to call a constitutional convention, and the results of that enterprise can then be ratified by three-quarters of the [S]tates. So reform efforts could start at the grassroots and coalesce around [S]tates until two-thirds of them decide to march on the Capitol….

IS THERE LIFE BEYOND FASCISM?

In my view, the Third Republic is unlikely to end soon, unless:

  • Obama’s “stimulus” policies — including his efforts to nationalize a large part of the auto industry and all of the health-care industry — fail spectacularly (e.g., we slip deeper into recession, there is a massive backlash against health-care nationalization).
  • Obama continues to follow the path of accommodation and appeasement in foreign and defense policy, and the United States suffers a devastating setback (e.g., a terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 or worse). (The setback need not be a direct result Obama’s policies; it would nevertheless be perceived as such.)
  • One of the preceding occurs on the watch of Obama’s successor — presumably a Democrat, if Obama doesn’t fall on his sword.

Absent a débâcle, the special-interest state will not run its course until some of its main constituencies turn from cooperation to conflict — which they will do when their collective greed for an ever-larger share of an ever-weakening economy turns them against each other.

There is a temptation — perhaps born of conflict-avoidance or a fear of seeming callous — to hope against débâcle and for a graceful dénouement. But there will be no graceful dénouement, just a long, messy descent into harder times, harder despotism, and perhaps even subjugation by an coalition of opportunistic enemies. So, for the sake of my grandchildren, I hope for an early débâcle.

Fascism with a “Friendly” Face

This is the core meaning of fascism:

Fascism is a system in which the government leaves nominal ownership of the means of production in the hands of private individuals but exercises control by means of regulatory legislation and reaps most of the profit by means of heavy taxation. In effect, fascism is simply a more subtle form of government ownership than is socialism.

A fascistic government  — even a totalitarian one — will try to secure broad political support for itself. Scapegoating is a common technique for developing political support. Scapegoating, when successful, fosters the belief that the country’s economic and/or social problems — the ones that the fascistic regime promises to cure — are due to the actions of particular, identifiable groups of citizens. Another common technique is the suppression of dissent, which stifles critical commentary while imparting to the timid masses a lesson in the value of submissiveness to the regime.

Successful scapegoating serves two purposes. First, it turns public scrutiny away from the regime’s mistakes and misdeeds and toward the supposed misdeeds of the scapegoated groups. Second, scapegoating helps to build public support for the regime by identifying it as a force for good, as opposed to the scapegoated groups, which are painted as sources of evil.

Fascism, despite its prevailing image in the popular mind, need not come about through the efforts of black- or brown-shirted thugs. If you will re-read the opening definition of fascism, it should remind you of the present state of affairs in the United States, given that the federal government has assumed de facto control of two leading industries — financial services and automobile manufacturing — the first of which is central to the operations of America’s businesses.*

How did the United States get to this point? Through the “democratic” process, that’s how — without a shot, without a coup, without a foaming-at-the-mouth dictator. The citizens of the United States — enough of them, anyway — have, over the past eight decades, elected the members of Congress and the presidents (and, indirectly, their judicial appointees) who have brought us to our present state. The grinning FDR was a fascist; the smiling Obama is acting like one (see first footnote). Thus “Fascism with a ‘Friendly’ Face” (alternative title: “Bread and Circuses Redux“).

I now turn to the unfriendly face of fascism, that is, to scapegoating and the suppression of dissent. There was scapegoating a-plenty under FDR, as exemplified by his attacks on “economic royalists.” According to FDR, among many other rabble-rousers of the time, “the rich” were to blame for the Depression and were standing in the way of recovery. That FDR’s demonization of “the rich” and his schemes for centralizing power in Washington were the real obstacles to recovery is a fact that eluded his second-rate mind and which still eludes most Americans (even  a Nobel laureate). (For much more, you should buy and read FDR’s Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression, which I own and have read critically. It’s repetitive and a somewhat dumbed-down, but generally on the mark.)

We are seeing, under Obama, a renewal of scapegoating. It is evident in his plans to soak “the rich,” which would (among other things) lead to income redistribution. As if the the recession could be cured by raising taxes on the very group that is most responsible for economic growth. As if very high incomes were the result of some kind of conspiracy and not symptomatic of a dynamic, growing economy. (For more about income inequality, see this, this, this, this, this, this, and this.) Scapegoating also is evident in Obama’s attack on hedge-fund managers who refused (how dare they!) to roll over and allow the holders of Chrysler bonds to suffer for the benefit of the UAW, to which Chrysler owes its (hoped for) demise. (One hedge-fund manager’s brisk and appropriate response to Obama’s attack is here.)

Then there is Obama’s decision to join the Left’s campaign to pin the “torturer” label on the Bush administration, thereby legitimating that campaign. We might yet witness the unprecedented spectacle of an incoming U.S. administration trying members of the previous administration for what amount to political “crimes” against Leftist sensibilities.

Obama’s ascendancy, though achieved by a fairly narrow popular-vote margin, has emboldened the Left (in and out of government) in other efforts to scapegoat conservatives and suppress conservative views; viz.:

  • this report from the Department of Homeland Security (especially the footnote on page 2) and related commentary (e.g., here, here, here, and here), all reminiscent of 1964, when Barry Goldwater was vilified (successfully) as an extremist because he stood against the concentration of power in Washington;
  • denunciations of the “tea party” movement (e.g. here and here);
  • efforts by universities and public officials to suppress dissent (e.g., here, here, here, and here), most notably Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s proposal to give the president authority to shut down the internet; and

Regarding the suppression of dissent, it is noteworthy that Obama’s has tagged Cass Sunstein (a Chicago crony) to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the White House. (See this article for more about the likely direction of OIRA under Sunstein.) My biggest concern about Sunstein, who figures to be a strong influence on Obama, is his embrace of the oxymoronical thing known as “libertarian paternalism.” (For an exposition of its flaws, see this post and its predecessors, linked therein.)

“Libertarian paternalism” is nothing more than a dressed-up version of paternalism, in which the government is used to “nudge” people toward making the kinds of decisions that Sunstein and his ilk would make. That is to say, Sunstein (like too many other bright individuals) likes to believe that he knows what’s best for others. (That conceit is demolished in the posts mentioned at the end of the preceding paragraph and in these posts by an avowed utilitarian.)

“Libertarian paternalism” may seem innocuous, but there’s more to it than a bit of “nudging” (hah!) by the one-ton gorilla in the room (i.e., the federal government). Perhaps the most frightening item on Sunstein’s paternalistic agenda ties into Sen. Rockefeller’s proposal to give the president the power to shut down the internet — which amounts to the power to control the content of the internet. And make no mistake about it, Sunstein would like to control the content of the internet — for our own good, of course. I refer specifically to Sunstein’s “The Future of Free Speech,” in which he advances several policy proposals, including these:

4. . . . [T]he government might impose “must carry” rules on the most popular Websites, designed to ensure more exposure to substantive questions. Under such a program, viewers of especially popular sites would see an icon for sites that deal with substantive issues in a serious way. They would not be required to click on them. But it is reasonable to expect that many viewers would do so, if only to satisfy their curiosity. The result would be to create a kind of Internet sidewalk, promoting some of the purposes of the public forum doctrine. Ideally, those who create Websites might move in this direction on their own. If they do not, government should explore possibilities of imposing requirements of this kind, making sure that no program draws invidious lines in selecting the sites whose icons will be favoured. Perhaps a lottery system of some kind could be used to reduce this risk.

5. The government might impose “must carry” rules on highly partisan Websites, designed to ensure that viewers learn about sites containing opposing views. This policy would be designed to make it less likely for people to simply hear echoes of their own voices. Of course, many people would not click on the icons of sites whose views seem objectionable; but some people would, and in that sense the system would not operate so differently from general interest intermediaries and public forums. Here too the ideal situation would be voluntary action. But if this proves impossible, it is worth considering regulatory alternatives. [Emphasis added.]

A Left-libertarian defends Sunstein’s foray into thought control, concluding that

Sunstein once thought some profoundly dumb policies might be worth considering, but realized years ago he was wrong about that… The idea was a tentative, speculative suggestion he now condemns in pretty strong terms.

Alternatively, in the face of severe criticism of his immodest proposal, Sunstein merely went underground, to await an opportunity to revive his proposal. I somehow doubt that Sunstein, as a confirmed paternalist, truly abandoned it. The proposal certainly was not off-the-cuff, running to 11 longish web pages.  Now, judging by the bulleted list above, the time is right for a revival of Sunstein’s proposal. And there he is, heading the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The powers of that office supposedly are constrained by the executive order that established it. But it is evident that the Obama adminstration isn’t bothered by legal niceties when it comes to the exercise of power. Only a few pen strokes stand between Obama and a new, sweeping executive order, the unconstitutionality of which would be of no import to our latter-day FDR.

Where will it all end? As I argue here, the United States already has descended into statism. The further descent into ingrained fascism is but a fine-tuning exercise for the vast, Left-wing alliance, which consists of public-school “educators,” liberal-arts academics, and their sycophantic students; Hollywood and New York celebrities and their hangers-on; “artists” and “intellectual workers” of most stripes; well-educated, upper-income, professionals who live in and around major metropolitan areas; and hordes of politicians (local, State, and national), who foster and benefit from the prejudices of the alliance. This broad alliance patronizes idealistic twenty-somethings, blacks, Latins, and labor-union members — the four groups from which its favored political candidates draw decisive support at the polls.

The Leftist alliance scorns America and its traditional (but largely abandoned) values of personal responsibility and respect for the persons and property of others. The alliance exalts, instead, the politics of entitlement and envy, of class, ethnic, racial, and gender conflict. As a result, the alliance has succeeded in demolishing the long-standing consensus that the main constitutional functions of the federal government are “to establish Justice, provide for the common defence,” and ensure the free movement of goods and persons among the States.**

Where will it all end? Unless we are roused from our Leftist idyll by some-one or some-thing, it will end in an Orwellian nightmare. The state will control our lives, in minute detail, from conception (and the prevention thereof) to death (and the means thereof).
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* For some views about our descent into fascism (even where it isn’t called that), see these posts of mine:
Things to Come
Reclaiming Liberty Throughout the Land
Are We All Fascists Now?

See  also these posts and articles by other writers:
Fundamentally Different
Obama the Planner
Obama: The Grand Strategy
The Death of Democratic Capitalism?
Tarred by TARP
Elizabeth Warren’s Holy Crusade
Pay Limits May Apply to Toxic-Asset Relief Program, Report Says
Environmentalists Are Funny. Right?
EPA’s Endangerment Finding
EPA Says Greenhouse Gases are Threat to Public

** The preamble to the Constitution also mentions “insur[ing] domestic Tranquillity,” “provid[ing] for the general Welfare,” and “secur[ing] the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” These injunctions — aside from a few specific, textual grants of power for dealing with insurrections — merely reflect the Framers’ hopes for the nation’s future under the auspices of the new Constitution.