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Good Fascists and Bad Fascists

Mises Daily: Wednesday, August 08, 2012 by

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[This article is excerpted from chapter 10 of As We Go Marching (1944).]

First let us state our definition of fascism. It is, put briefly, a system of social organization in which the political state is a dictatorship supported by a political elite and in which the economic society is an autarchic capitalism, enclosed and planned, in which the government assumes responsibility for creating adequate purchasing power through the instrumentality of national debt and in which militarism is adopted as a great economic project for creating work as well as a great romantic project in the service of the imperialist state.

Broken down, it includes these devices:

  1. A government whose powers are unrestrained.

  2. A leader who is a dictator, absolute in power but responsible to the party which is a preferred elite.

  3. An economic system in which production and distribution are carried on by private owners but in accordance with plans made by the state directly or under its immediate supervision.

  4. These plans involve control of all the instruments of production and distribution through great government bureaus which have the power to make regulations or directives with the force of law.

  5. They involve also the comprehensive integration of government and private finances, under which investment is directed and regimented by the government, so that while ownership is private and production is carried on by private owners there is a type of socialization of investment, of the financial aspects of production. By this means the state, which by law and by regulation can exercise a powerful control over industry, can enormously expand and complete that control by assuming the role of banker and partner.

  6. They involve also the device of creating streams of purchasing power by federal government borrowing and spending as a permanent institution.

  7. As a necessary consequence of all this, militarism becomes an inevitable part of the system since it provides the easiest means of draining great numbers annually from the labor market and of creating a tremendous industry for the production of arms for defense, which industry is supported wholly by government borrowing and spending.

  8. Imperialism becomes an essential element of such a system where that is possible — particularly in the strong states, since the whole fascist system, despite its promises of abundance, necessitates great financial and personal sacrifices, which people cannot be induced to make in the interest of the ordinary objectives of civil life and which they will submit to only when they are presented with some national crusade or adventure on the heroic model touching deeply the springs of chauvinistic pride, interest, and feeling.

Where these elements are found, there is fascism, by whatever name the system is called. And it now becomes our task to look very briefly into our own society and to see to what extent the seeds of this system are present here and to what degree they are being cultivated and by whom.

In the light of all this we can see how far afield we can be led by those who seek for the roots of fascism by snooping around among those futile crackpot or deliberately subversive groups which flourish feebly under the leadership of various small-bore führers. Some of these groups are outright anti-American like the Bundists. Such an organization had nothing to do and can have nothing to do with introducing a new system of society into America. Its object was to assist Hitler in so far as it could in his war aims here. It was an enemy organization — and an incredibly foolish one.

Then there are various groups that are just anticommunist or anticommunist and anti-Semitic, confusing two things as one, like the Christian Fronters, numbering a few hundred nonentities. There are others that are little different from those old exclusion movements — the Know Nothings, the A.P.A., the Klan — directing their fire against some racial or religious group. They are thoroughly evil things, but they have little and in most cases nothing to do with the introduction of fascism in America. Most of them have no more notion of the content of fascism than the gentlemen who write books about them.

It is assumed that because the Nazi movement in Germany and the fascist movement in Italy began with small groups of nobodies led by unimportant people, fascism will come in the same way here. It is, of course, possible that the great American fascism may rise thus. We have but to see the flowering of the Ham and Eggs crusade in California[1] and the Townsend movement everywhere[2] to realize the possibilities of a powerful movement organized by unimportant leaders.

But when fascism comes it will not be in the form of an anti-American movement or pro-Hitler bund, practicing disloyalty. Nor will it come in the form of a crusade against war. It will appear rather in the luminous robes of flaming patriotism; it will take some genuinely indigenous shape and color, and it will spread only because its leaders, who are not yet visible, will know how to locate the great springs of public opinion and desire and the streams of thought that flow from them and will know how to attract to their banners leaders who can command the support of the controlling minorities in American public life. The danger lies not so much in the would-be führers who may arise, but in the presence in our midst of certain deeply running currents of hope and appetite and opinion. The war upon fascism must be begun there.

"But when fascism comes it will not be in the form of an anti-American movement or pro-Hitler bund, practicing disloyalty."

There is one other phenomenon that has appeared which seems to contain some danger of infection. The war has brought us allies. One of them is Russia. And already we have seen how our friendly collaboration in the war enterprise has led to a good deal of nonsense about the Russian government. We are willing to believe that it is no longer antireligious. There is a notable mitigation of the severity with which we appraised communism and the tolerance with which we have forgiven the purges and brutalities of the Soviet regime.

But we also have fascist allies. And not only do we look with indulgence upon their policies because they are our allies but also because instead of being aggressors they are victims of bigger and more powerful fascists. Thus we had a fascist regime in Austria under Dollfuss and later under Schuschnigg. The dictator Dollfuss[3] was pursued by the dictator Hitler but he was the close friend and collaborator of the dictator Mussolini. He had his own record of suppressions, notably that dreadful cannonading of the workers' homes in Vienna. But all this is forgiven and overlooked when Hitler's assassins murder him.

Similarly we overlook the fascist structure of Schuschnigg[4] because Schuschnigg was a profoundly religious man and because he, too, was kidnapped and spirited away by the irreligious Hitler. But Austria was a fascist country. There is no doubt about the fact that Schuschnigg was an honest man, a true patriot prepared to sacrifice himself for Austria, and that he was, in addition, a man of deep and genuine religious nature. All of which warns us once again that we must not make the mistake of supposing that the several ingredients of fascism, taken separately, are evil, and that only evil men espouse this new order.

The same can be said for Portugal where the dictator, Salazar,[5] is a man utterly without the offensive personal characteristics of either Mussolini or Hitler; no ranting, posturing, saber rattling, no pageantry. On the contrary, he is an aesthete, living a life of frugality, a devout Catholic, his office wall adorned with but a single ornament, the crucifix of Christ, at whose feet he is a humble worshiper. The fascist regime of Portugal is a curiosity among the fascist orders of Europe. Its admirers, of which there are great numbers in this country and Europe, like to call it a "Christian Corporativism." This it is, modeled on the old medieval guild form of government so much admired and earnestly urged upon Britain and America by some of her most devout socialist and other leaders, such as Hobson and Cole. The case of Portugal is, however, a very special one, molded by peculiar conditions and saved now by the war and Portugal's alliance with England.

Greece conformed more nearly to the standard pattern of fascist countries, yet because Greece was so cruelly assaulted by Mussolini and made so glorious a defense and because she is now our ally, we do not think of her as essentially wicked because she is fascist. Metaxas,[6] warrior and admirer of the German military system, mounted his cannon in the streets of Athens, liquidated the parliament and the constitution, banished his opponents, branded all opposition as communist, and set himself up as dictator. He put an end to freedom of the press, told editors they "must follow him like soldiers in battle, never consulting, criticizing, or exchanging opinions with him." He instituted a ruthless regimentation of ideas in the schools and told university professors: "I cannot allow any one of you to have ideas different from those of the state."

He went into power without any program. He made vague promises of the good life, told the Greeks he was "the first peasant and the first artisan" of Greece, went through all the standard welfare measures, minimum wages, eight-hour laws, pensions, free medical services, etc., accompanied by all the well-known fascist techniques of regimentation. And of course he spent money that he borrowed and made the army the greatest project of all, telling the people that "their turn will come someday."

Many of these dictators had their purges — Kemal Pasha,[7] for instance, to whom we now refer with admiration as "that great man," yet who, when his old colleagues seemed to be getting a little out of hand, had them strung up by the dozens and gave a great ball the night they were being bumped off.

What I am driving at is that we are in a way of doing for fascism what we began to do for the trusts in the early 1900s. We began to talk about "bad trusts" and "good trusts." Now we are coming around to recognizing "bad fascism" and "good fascism." A bad fascism is a fascist regime that is against us in the war. A good fascist regime is one that is on our side. Or to repeat what I have already said, a bad fascist regime is one that makes war upon its neighbors and persecutes the Jews; a good fascist regime is one that is jumped on by some stronger fascism and does not alter the long-standing attitude of the country toward either Jews or Christians. And from this beginning there are plenty of Americans who have descanted at length upon the magnificent achievements of Mussolini and the better side of the German regime.[8] And so we flirt a little with the idea that perhaps fascism might be set up without these degrading features, that even if there is to be totalitarian government it is to be just a teeny-weeny bit totalitarian and only a teeny bit militarist and imperialist only on the side of God and democracy.

Editor's Notes

[1] From an EH.NET book review of Daniel J.B. Mitchell's Pensions, Politics, and the Elderly:

The deteriorating economic conditions of the Great Depression and the concentration of frustrated elderly voters in Southern California were the fuel for an array of political movements pushing for increased pensions. The most exotic of these was probably the Ham and Eggs movement. [...] The Ham and Eggers collected enough signatures to put their plan on the California ballot as Proposition 25 in November 1938. Under the plan, based on an idea of Irving Fisher, anyone qualified to vote in California and aged fifty or older without a job would receive $30 of "warrants" every week. Each $1 warrant would require a two-cent tax paid weekly to keep the note valid until redeemed. The warrants would be legal tender for payment of state taxes. The idea was that to avoid paying the weekly tax on the money, people would spend it immediately, thus boosting the economy.

[2] According to Wikipedia: "Dr. Francis Everett Townsend (January 13, 1867–September 1, 1960) was an American physician who was best known for his revolving old-age pension proposal during the Great Depression. Known as the 'Townsend Plan,' this proposal influenced the establishment of the Roosevelt administration's Social Security system."

[3] In "The Meaning of the Mises Papers," Hans-Hermann Hoppe writes, "During this period Mises was chief economist for the Austrian Chamber of Commerce. Before Dollfuss was murdered for his politics, Mises was one of his closest advisers."

Why was Austria's eminent free-market liberal advising a militant interventionist? In "The Cultural Background of Ludwig von Mises" (PDF), Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn offers this explanation:

Given the opposition Mises encountered at the university, he looked for steady employment in the Handelskammer, the semi-official Chamber of Commerce. After 1920, the Austrian government was mostly in the hands of the Christian Social Party, a Clerical–Conservative party, which eventually fathered the dictatorship of Dollfuss and his Patriotic Front. This party had to fight the international socialists, and, later, the National Socialists. Mises, as an agnostic and a genuine Liberal, had no innate enthusiasm for the Christian Socials, but, judging Austria's precarious situation dispassionately, knew that a decent, responsible man had to collaborate with that government.

[4] "Kurt von Schuschnigg became Chancellor following Dollfuss' death, continuing to rule in the same authoritarian manner as his deceased predecessor." Richard M. Ebeling, "The Economist as the Historian of Decline: Ludwig von Mises and Austria Between the Two World Wars" (PDF).

[5] From Wikipedia: "António de Oliveira Salazar (April 28, 1889—July 27, 1970) was the President of the Council of Ministers of Portugal (Prime Minister) and the de facto dictator of the Portuguese Republic from 1932 to 1968. He was the founder and leader of the Estado Novo (literally, New State), the authoritarian right-wing regime that presided and controlled Portugal's social, economic, cultural and political life from 1933 to 1974."

[6] From Wikipedia: "Ioannis Metaxas (Greek Ιωαννης Μεταξας, April 12, 1871–January 29, 1941) was a Greek General and the Prime Minister of Greece from 1936 until his death in 1941."

[7] Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881–1938) was the founder and the first President of the Republic of Turkey. See Wikipedia.

[8] See David Gordon's book review, "Three New Deals: Why the Nazis and Fascists Loved FDR."