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Liberalism


Ludwig von Mises

1
The Foundations of Liberal Policy

10. The Argument of Fascism

If liberalism nowhere found complete acceptance, its success in the nineteenth century went so far at least as that some of the most important of its principles were considered beyond dispute. Before 1914, even the most dogged and bitter enemies of liberalism had to resign themselves to allowing many liberal principles to pass unchallenged. Even in Russia, where only a few feeble rays of liberalism had penetrated, the supporters of the Czarist despotism, in persecuting their opponents, still had to take into consideration the liberal opinions of Europe; and during the World War, the war parties in the belligerent nations, with all their zeal, still had to practice a certain moderation in their struggle against internal opposition.

Only when the Marxist Social Democrats had gained the upper hand and taken power in the belief that the age of liberalism and capitalism had passed forever did the last concessions disappear that it had still been thought necessary to make to the liberal ideology. The parties of the Third International consider any means as permissible if it seems to give promise of helping them in their struggle to achieve their ends. Whoever does not unconditionally acknowledge all their teachings as the only correct ones and stand by them through thick and thin has, in their opinion, incurred the penalty of death; and they do not hesitate to exterminate him and his whole family, infants included, whenever and wherever it is physically possible.

The frank espousal of a policy of annihilating opponents and the murders committed in the pursuance of it have given rise to an opposition movement. All at once the scales fell from the eyes of the non-Communist enemies of liberalism. Until then they had believed that even in a struggle against a hateful opponent one still had to respect certain liberal principles. They had had, even though reluctantly, to exclude murder and assassination from the list of measures to be resorted to in political struggles. They had had to resign themselves to many limitations in persecuting the opposition press and in suppressing the spoken word. Now, all at once, they saw that opponents had risen up who gave no heed to such considerations and for whom any means was good enough to defeat an adversary. The militaristic and nationalistic enemies of the Third International felt themselves cheated by liberalism. Liberalism, they thought, stayed their hand when they desired to strike a blow against the revolutionary parties while it was still possible to do so. If liberalism had not hindered them, they would, so they believe, have bloodily nipped the revolutionary movements in the bud. Revolutionary ideas had been able to take root and flourish only because of the tolerance they had been accorded by their opponents, whose will power had been enfeebled by a regard for liberal principles that, as events subsequently proved, was overscrupulous. If the idea had occurred to them years ago that it is permissible to crush ruthlessly every revolutionary movement, the victories that the Third International has won since 1917 would never have been possible. For the militarists and nationalists believe that when it comes to shooting and fighting, they themselves are the most accurate marksmen and the most adroit fighters.

The fundamental idea of these movements - which, from the name of the most grandiose and tightly disciplined among them, the Italian, may, in general, be designated as Fascist - consists in the proposal to make use of the same unscrupulous methods in the struggle against the Third International as the latter employs against its opponents. The Third International seeks to exterminate its adversaries and their ideas in the same way that the hygienist strives to exterminate a pestilential bacillus; it considers itself in no way bound by the terms of any compact that it may conclude with opponents, and it deems any crime, any lie, and any calumny permissible in carrying on its struggle. The Fascists, at least in principle, profess the same intentions. That they have not yet succeeded as fully as the Russian Bolsheviks in freeing themselves from a certain regard for liberal notions and ideas and traditional ethical precepts is to be attributed solely to the fact that the Fascists carry on their work among nations in which the intellectual and moral heritage of some thousands of years of civilization cannot be destroyed at one blow, and not among the barbarian peoples on both sides of the Urals, whose relationship to civilization has never been any other than that of marauding denizens of forest and desert accustomed to engage, from time to time, in predatory raids on civilized lands in the hunt for booty. Because of this difference, Fascism will never succeed as completely as Russian Bolshevism in freeing itself from the power of liberal ideas. Only under the fresh impression of the murders and atrocities perpetrated by the supporters of the Soviets were Germans and Italians able to block out the remembrance of the traditional restraints of justice and morality and find the impulse to bloody counteraction. The deeds of the Fascists and of other parties corresponding to them were emotional reflex actions evoked by indignation at the deeds of the Bolsheviks and Communists. As soon as the first flush of anger had passed, their policy took a more moderate course and will probably become even more so with the passage of time.

This moderation is the result of the fact that traditional liberal views still continue to have an unconscious influence on the Fascists. But however far this may go, one must not fail to recognize that the conversion of the Rightist parties to the tactics of Fascism shows that the battle against liberalism has resulted in successes that, only a short time ago, would have been considered completely unthinkable. Many people approve of the methods of Fascism, even though its economic program is altogether antiliberal and its policy completely interventionist, because it is far from practicing the senseless and unrestrained destructionism that has stamped the Communists as the archenemies of civilization. Still others, in full knowledge of the evil that Fascist economic policy brings with it, view Fascism, in comparison with Bolshevism and Sovietism, as at least the lesser evil. For the majority of its public and secret supporters and admirers, however, its appeal consists precisely in the violence of its methods.

Now it cannot be denied that the only way one can offer effective resistance to violent assaults is by violence. Against the weapons of the Bolsheviks, weapons must be used in reprisal, and it would be a mistake to display weakness before murderers. No liberal has ever called this into question. What distinguishes liberal from Fascist political tactics is not a difference of opinion in regard to the necessity of using armed force to resist armed attackers, but a difference in the fundamental estimation of the role of violence in a struggle for power. The great danger threatening domestic policy from the side of Fascism lies in its complete faith in the decisive power of violence. In order to assure success, one must be imbued with the will to victory and always proceed violently. This is its highest principle. What happens, however, when one's opponent, similarly animated by the will to be victorious, acts just as violently? The result must be a battle, a civil war. The ultimate victor to emerge from such conflicts will be the faction strongest in number. In the long run, a minority -- even if it is composed of the most capable and energetic -- cannot succeed in resisting the majority. The decisive question, therefore, always remains: How does one obtain a majority for one's own party? This, however, is a purely intellectual matter. It is a victory that can be won only with the weapons of the intellect, never by force. The suppression of all opposition by sheer violence is a most unsuitable way to win adherents to one's cause. Resort to naked force -- that is, without justification in terms of intellectual arguments accepted by public opinion -- merely gains new friends for those whom one is thereby trying to combat. In a battle between force and an idea, the latter always prevails.

Fascism can triumph today because universal indignation at the infamies committed by the socialists and communists has obtained for it the sympathies of wide circles. But when the fresh impression of the crimes of the Bolsheviks has paled, the socialist program will once again exercise its power of attraction on the masses. For Fascism does nothing to combat it except to suppress socialist ideas and to persecute the people who spread them. If it wanted really to combat socialism, it would have to oppose it with ideas. There is, however, only one idea that can be effectively opposed to socialism, viz., that of liberalism.

It has often been said that nothing furthers a cause more than creating, martyrs for it. This is only approximately correct. What strengthens the cause of the persecuted faction is not the martyrdom of its adherents, but the fact that they are being attacked by force, and not by intellectual weapons. Repression by brute force is always a confession of the inability to make use of the better weapons of the intellect -- better because they alone give promise of final success. This is the fundamental error from which Fascism suffers and which will ultimately cause its downfall. The victory of Fascism in a number of countries is only an episode in the long series of struggles over the problem of property. The next episode will be the victory of Communism. The ultimate outcome of the struggle, however, will not be decided by arms, but by ideas. It is ideas that group men into fighting factions, that press the weapons into their hands, and that determine against whom and for whom the weapons shall be used. It is they alone, and not arms, that, in the last analysis, turn the scales.

So much for the domestic policy of Fascism. That its foreign policy, based as it is on the avowed principle of force in international relations, cannot fail to give rise to an endless series of wars that must destroy all of modern civilization requires no further discussion. To maintain and further raise our present level of economic development, peace among nations must be assured. But they cannot live together in peace if the basic tenet of the ideology by which they are governed is the belief that one's own nation can secure its place in the community of nations by force alone.

It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history. But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. Fascism was an emergency makeshift. To view it as something more would be a fatal error.

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