I don’t believe it but — according to many leftists, Democrats, pundits, and media outlets — Donald Trump is a fascist, a Nazi, a Hitler-in-the making. That’s the scare story that’s been peddled since it began to look as if Trump had a serious chance of becoming the GOP nominee. (Please excuse the superfluity of synonyms for “leftists” in the first sentence.)
There’s something about Republicans that causes leftists to invoke the “H” word — Hitler, that is — and its close substitutes: Nazi and fascist. I have a little story that illustrates the tendency and suggests its cause. I was visiting Austin years ago and fell into a discussion with my brother-in-law and his wife, who were and are both ardent leftists and active in local Democrat politics. They had recently moved to the affluent Northwest Hills section of the city, ostensibly to enable their daughter to attend the schools in that part of the city, which are by reputation better than the ones in South Austin, where they had been living. Northwest Hills is mostly white; many of the whites are Jewish; and the non-white population is mainly of East Asian origin and descent. Blacks and Hispanics are seldom seen in Northwest Hills, except as employees of the city and businesses in the area, and as nannies and yard men. South Austin is much less affluent than Northwest Hills, and far more heavily populated by Hispanics.
The brother-in-law and his wife were apologetic about their move. Though they didn’t put it this way, they had revealed themselves as hypocrites about ethnic diversity and their supposed sympathy with the “less fortunate.” But their hypocrisy was excused by their concern for their daughter’s education. (A classic example of leftist hypocrisy, in the same mold as Democrat presidents — Clinton and Obama most recently — who sent their children to private schools in mostly black D.C.) They were especially chagrined because they (and their leftist ilk) referred to the denizens of their new neighborhood the Northwest Nazis. The appellation arose from the fact that Northwest Hills was then (and still is) markedly more Republican than the surrounding parts of heavily Democrat Austin.
I thought to myself at the time, how utterly wrong-headed it is for leftists — who are ardent fans of dictatorial statism — to refer to Republicans as Nazis. Republicans generally oppose the left’s dictatorial schemes. (I chose to keep my observation to myself rather than incite a fruitless and possibly acrimonious discussion). But leftists like my brother-in-law and his wife — who are given to equating Republicans with fascists, Nazis, and Hitlers — are themselves ardent proponents of the expansion of the fascistic state that has been erected, almost without pause, since the New Deal. (See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this.) It’s Through the Looking Glass logic:
‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”’ Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”’
‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,”’ Alice objected.
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master—that’s all.’
The “logic” of applying such labels as Hitler, fascist, and Nazi to Republicans strikes me as psychological projection. That’s not a new explanation, but it’s a sound one, as you’ll see.
I have been looking at the differences between the Left and the Right of politics since 1968, when I submitted my Master’s dissertation on that subject. And my aim has been to understand WHY Leftists behave like SoBs so much of the time. How is it that implementing Leftist policies always results in harm and destruction of some sort, if not mass murder?
So my interest has been not only in Leftist claims and policies but also in their underlying psychology. I think, in fact, that it is only at the psychological level that Leftism can be understood. And, in that, I find myself in a degree of agreement with Leftist psychologists. Leftists never stop offering accounts of the psychology of conservatives, adverse accounts, of course. It is one of the more popular fields of research in psychology. So Leftists are most emphatic that you need to delve into the psychological realm to understand politics. In any argument on the facts they will be defeated by conservatives so impugning the motives of their opponent is essentially all that they have left.
I am VERY familiar with the Leftist claims in that regard. Most of my 200+ academic journal articles were devoted to showing that the research they relied on in support of their claims was flawed, often hilariously so.
But there was one redeeming feature in their research. In purporting to describe conservatives they usually were quite clearly describing themselves! An accusation that they never seem able to let go of, despite much contrary evidence, is that conservatives are “authoritarian”….
* * *
The concept of “authoritarianism” as an explanation for conservatism has been like catnip to Leftist psychologists. They cannot leave it alone. It first arose among a group of Jewish Marxists in the late 1940s and was published in a 1950 book called “The authoritaian personality” under the lead authorship of a prominent Marxist theoretician, Theodor Wiesengrund, who usually used as his surname the stage name of his Spanish dancer mother — Adorno.
The theory underlying it failed in all sorts of ways so it fell out of favour after the ’60s, though it still got an occasional mention. For more on the Adorno work see here.
In the first half of his first book in 1981, “Bob” Altemeyer gave a comprehensive summary of the problems with the Adorno theory and submitted that it had to be discarded. He then went on to put forward a slightly different theory and measuring instrument of his own that rebooted the concept of authoritarianism as an explanation of conservative thinking.
That theory and its accompanying measuring instrument (the RWA scale) also soon ran aground, however. Altemeyer himself admitted that scores on the RWA scale were just about as high among Leftist voters as Rightist voters — which rather ruined it as an explanation of conservatism. The death knell came when it was revealed that the highest scorers on the RWA scale were in fact former Russian Communists! Right wing Communists?? For more on Altemeyer’s confusions see here. Or more concisely here.
So the RWA scale lost most of its interest after that, though it is still cautiously used on some occasions — e.g here.
But … Leftist psychologists did not give up. A group of them including Karen Stenner, Stanley Feldman, Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler revived the old ideas and invented a new questionnaire to measure the concept. And reading their “new” theory is like a trip back into the 1940’s. Conservatives are still said to be sad souls who live in a state of constant and unreasonable fear.
The amusing thing is that there is some reality behind their theory. The key word is “unreasonable”. How much fear is “unreasonable”? Is all fear “unreasonable”? Obviously not. Fear is an important survival mechanism. We would all be eaten by lions etc. without it. And conservatives do fear the probable results of the hare-brained schemes put forward by Leftists. Conservatives are nothing if not cautious but to the superficial thinkers of the Left, that caution seems like fear. So from a conservative viewpoint Leftists are not fearful enough. They do not fear the “unforeseen” and adverse side effects that invariably accompany any implementation of their schemes.
So, despite the laughable psychometric characteristics of their new measuring instrument, which I set out yesterday, they have in fact achieved some grasp of reality. They have just not grasped that caution can be a good thing and have not thought deeply enough about the distinction, if any, between caution and fear. So all their writings amount to little more than an adverse value judgment of things that are in fact probably desirable.
So why all the mental muddle from them? Why does the old “authoritarianism” catnip keep them coming back to that dubious concept? Why have they not learnt from its past failures? Easy: It’s all Freudian projection. They see their own faults in conservatives. The people who REALLY ARE authoritarian are Leftists themselves. Communist regimes are ALWAYS authoritarian and in democracies the constant advocates of more and more government control over everything are the Left. The Left are the big government advocates, not conservatives. What could be more authoritarian than Obama’s aim to “fundamentally transform” America? It is the Left who trust in big brother while conservatives just want to be left alone.
It’s true that conservatives have respect for authority, which isn’t the same thing as authoritarianism. Respect for authority, where it’s earned by authority, means respect for the civilizing norms that are represented in a lawful institution when it acts within its traditional bounds. For example, conservatives respect presidents when they strive to restore and sustain the constitutional order; conservatives therefore disrespect presidents who blatantly violate that order.
What about Mussolini and Hitler, who are usually thought of as right-wing dictators and therefore labeled as conservative? I return to John Ray, who has this to say about Mussolini:
Let us listen initially to some reflections on the early days of Fascism by Mussolini himself — first published in 1935 (See the third chapter in Greene, 1968).
“If the bourgeoisie think they will find lightning conductors in us they are the more deceived; we must start work at once …. We want to accustom the working class to real and effectual leadership“.
And that was Mussolini quoting his own words from the early Fascist days. So while Mussolini had by that time (in his 30s) come to reject the Marxist idea of a class-war, he still saw himself as anti-bourgeois and as a saviour and leader of the workers. What modern-day Leftist could not identify with that?…
“If the 19th century has been the century of the individual (for liberalism means individualism), it may be conjectured that this is the century of the State.
This is Mussolini’s famous prophecy about the 20th century in the Enciclopedia Italiana….
“Laissez faire is out of date.”
To this day the basic free market doctrine of “laissez faire” is virtually a swear-word to most Leftists. Quoted from Smith (1967, p. 87)….
And Mussolini’s “Fascist Manifesto” of 1919 (full translation by Vox Day here) includes in Fascist policy such socialist gems as (I quote):
* The nationalization of all the arms and explosives factories.
* A strong progressive tax on capital that will truly expropriate a portion of all wealth.
* The seizure of all the possessions of the religious congregations and the abolition of all the bishoprics, which constitute an enormous liability on the Nation and on the privileges of the poor.
* The formation of a National Council of experts for labor, for industy, for transportation, for the public health, for communications, etc. Selections to be made from the collective professionals or of tradesmen with legislative powers, and elected directly to a General Commission with ministerial powers.
* A minimum wage.
* The participation of workers’ representatives in the functions of industry commissions.
Elsewhere, Ray says this about Mussolini and his aims:
“Fascism” is a term that was originally coined by the Italian dictator Mussolini to describe his adaptation of Marxism to the conditions of Italy after World War I. Lenin in Russia made somewhat different adaptations of Marxism to the conditions in Russia during the same period and his adaptations came to be called Marxism/Leninism. Mussolini stayed closer to Marx in that he felt that Italy had to go through a capitalist stage before it could reach socialism whereas Lenin attempted to push Russia straight from semi-feudalism into socialism. Mussolini’s principal modification of Marxism was his rejection of the notion of class war, something that put him decisively at odds with Lenin’s “Reds”….
Mussolini’s ideas and system were very influential and he had many imitators — not the least of which was Adolf Hitler….
…Mussolini was quite intellectual and his thinking was in fact much more up-to-date than that would suggest. He was certainly influenced by Marx and the ancient world but he had a whole range of ideas that extended beyond that. And where did he turn for up-to-date ideas? To America, of course! And the American ideas that influenced him were in fact hard to miss. They were the ideas of the American “Progressives”. And who was the best known Progressive in the world at that time? None other than the President of the United States — Woodrow Wilson….
Ray takes up FDR’s resemblance to Mussolini, and defers to Srdja Trifkovic’s “FDR and Mussolini: A Tale of Two Fascists,” which includes these observations:
Genuine conservatives … may argue that FDR and Mussolini were in fact rather similar. They will point out both men’s obsessive focus on strong, centralized government structures, their demagoguery, and especially their attempt to overcome the dynamics of social and economic conflict through the institutions of the corporate state.
For all their apparent similarities, however, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a more deleterious figure than Benito Mussolini, and his legacy proved to be more damaging to America than Il Duce’s was to Italy. This is not a case of good versus bad, or of two equal evils, but of bad versus even worse: Roosevelt was a more efficient, and certainly more successful, fascist than Mussolini.
(See my “FDR and Fascism” and also follow the links therein.)
As for Hitler, I return to John Ray and his monograph, “Hitler Was a Socialist“:
It is very easy to miss complexities in the the politics of the past and thus draw wrong conclusions about them. To understand the politics of the past we need to set aside for a time our own way of looking at things and try to see how the people involved at the time saw it all. Doing so is an almost essential step if we wish to understand the similarities and differences between Nazism and Marxism/Leninism. The following excerpt from James P. O’Donnell’s THE BUNKER (1978, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, pp. 261-262) is instructive. O’Donnell is quoting Artur Axmann, the Nazi youth leader, recalling a conversation with Goebbels in the Hitler bunker on Tuesday, May 1, 1945, the same day Goebbels and his wife would kill themselves after she killed their children.
“Goebbels stood up to greet me. He soon launched into lively memories of our old street-fighting days in Berlin-Wedding, from nineteen twenty-eight to thirty-three. He recalled how we had clobbered the Berlin Communists and the Socialists into submission, to the tune of the “Horst Wessel” marching song, on their old home ground.He said one of the great accomplishments of the Hitler regime had been to win the German workers over almost totally to the national cause. We had made patriots of the workers, he said, as the Kaiser had dismally failed to do. This, he kept repeating, had been one of the real triumphs of the movement. We Nazis were a non-Marxist yet revolutionary party, anticapitalist, antibourgeois, antireactionary….
Starch-collared men like Chancellor Heinrich Bruening had called us the “Brown Bolsheviks,” and their bourgeois instincts were not wrong.
It seems inconceivable to modern minds that just a few differences between two similar ideologies — Marxism and Nazism — could have been sufficient cause for great enmity between those two ideologies. But the differences concerned were important to the people involved at the time. Marxism was class-based and Nazism was nationally based but otherwise they were very similar. That’s what people said and thought at the time and that explains what they did and how they did it.
“Stalin and I are the only ones who envisage the future and nothing but the future. Accordingly, I shall in a few weeks stretch out my hand to Stalin at the common German-Russian frontier and undertake the redistribution of the world with him.”
…Consider this description by Edward Feser of someone who would have been a pretty good Presidential candidate for the modern-day U.S. Democratic party:
He had been something of a bohemian in his youth, and always regarded young people and their idealism as the key to progress and the overcoming of outmoded prejudices. And he was widely admired by the young people of his country, many of whom belonged to organizations devoted to practicing and propagating his teachings. He had a lifelong passion for music, art, and architecture, and was even something of a painter. He rejected what he regarded as petty bourgeois moral hang-ups, and he and his girlfriend “lived together” for years. He counted a number of homosexuals as friends and collaborators, and took the view that a man’s personal morals were none of his business; some scholars of his life believe that he himself may have been homosexual or bisexual. He was ahead of his time where a number of contemporary progressive causes are concerned: he disliked smoking, regarding it as a serious danger to public health, and took steps to combat it; he was a vegetarian and animal lover; he enacted tough gun control laws; and he advocated euthanasia for the incurably ill.
He championed the rights of workers, regarded capitalist society as brutal and unjust, and sought a third way between communism and the free market. In this regard, he and his associates greatly admired the strong steps taken by President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to take large-scale economic decision-making out of private hands and put it into those of government planning agencies. His aim was to institute a brand of socialism that avoided the inefficiencies that plagued the Soviet variety, and many former communists found his program highly congenial. He deplored the selfish individualism he took to be endemic to modern Western society, and wanted to replace it with an ethic of self-sacrifice: “As Christ proclaimed ‘love one another’,” he said, “so our call — ‘people’s community,’ ‘public need before private greed,’ ‘communally-minded social consciousness’ — rings out.! This call will echo throughout the world!”
The reference to Christ notwithstanding, he was not personally a Christian, regarding the Catholicism he was baptized into as an irrational superstition. In fact he admired Islam more than Christianity, and he and his policies were highly respected by many of the Muslims of his day. He and his associates had a special distaste for the Catholic Church and, given a choice, preferred modern liberalized Protestantism, taking the view that the best form of Christianity would be one that forsook the traditional other-worldly focus on personal salvation and accommodated itself to the requirements of a program for social justice to be implemented by the state. They also considered the possibility that Christianity might eventually have to be abandoned altogether in favor of a return to paganism, a worldview many of them saw as more humane and truer to the heritage of their people. For he and his associates believed strongly that a people’s ethnic and racial heritage was what mattered most. Some endorsed a kind of cultural relativism according to which what is true or false and right or wrong in some sense depends on one’s ethnic worldview, and especially on what best promotes the well-being of one’s ethnic group
There is surely no doubt that the man Feser describes sounds very much like a mainstream Leftist by current standards. But who is the man concerned? It is a historically accurate description of Adolf Hitler. Hitler was not only a socialist in his own day but he would even be a mainstream socialist in MOST ways today. Feser does not mention Hitler’s antisemitism above, of course, but that too seems once again to have become mainstream among the Western-world Left in the early years of the 21st century.
I have barely scratched the surface of Ray’s writings about fascism, Nazism, and the left. Based on the writings of Ray (and others), and on my own observations, I have no doubt that the American left — from Woodrow Wilson (if not Teddy Roosevelt) to the present day — is aligned with the political aims of Mussolini and Hitler.
Which isn’t to say that there haven’t been a few dictators who may rightly be called conservatives because of their defense of traditional institutions and their willingness to suppress real threats to those institutions, namely, socialism and communism. Franco and Pinochet spring to mind as leading examples of such dictators. But compared with Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, they were rank amateurs in the arts of repression and murder. Had they not come to power, the people of Spain and Chile would have suffered under regimes similar to those of Castro and Chavez, which have impoverished and repressed the people of Cuba and Venezuela.
What about Donald Trump? Based on his appointments to date — with the possible exception of Steve Bannon — he seems to be taking a solidly conservative line. He isn’t building a government of bomb-throwers, but rather a government of staunch conservatives who, taken together, have a good chance at rebuilding America’s status in the world while dismantling much of Obama’s egregious “legacy”: onerous energy regulations (due to Obama’s embrace of the AGW hoax), Obamacare, the push for a higher minimum wage, opposition to school choice, racial politics in the Justice Department, the reinflation of the low-income housing bubble, and other meddlesome manifestations of Obama’s hopey-changey war on America.
I said some nasty things about Trump during his campaigns for the GOP nomination and the presidency. On the basis of his performance since the election, it seems likely that I was wrong about him as a prospective president (though perhaps not as a person). Like so many of his critics, I was put off by his vulgarity, his seeming dismissal of constitutional values, his “liberal” reputation, and his apparent ignorance of the details of many issues. All of that may have been well-designed electoral camouflage — a way of distracting the left-dominated media while he smuggled in a conservative agenda that could restore America’s standing in the world, revitalize its economy, and reweave its shredded liberty.
Will Donald Trump be a perfect president, if perfection is measured by adherence to the Constitution? Probably not, but who has been? It now seems likely, however, that Trump will be a far less fascistic president than Barack Obama has been and Hillary Clinton would have been. He will certainly be far less fascistic than the academic thought-police, whose demise cannot come too soon for the sake of liberty.
In sum, Trump’s emerging agenda seems to resemble my own decidedly conservative one.