Fascism vs. Capitalism
By Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
“Fascism” has become a term of general derision and rebuke. It is tossed casually in the direction of anything a critic happens to dislike. Even libertarians—themselves the epitome of anti-fascism—have been called fascists from time to time.
But fascism is a real concept, not a stick with which to beat opponents arbitrarily. The abuse of this important word undermines its true value as a term referring to a very real phenomenon, and one whose spirit lives on even now.
I describe the features of that system in chapters two and four, but for now we may say this. The state, for the fascist, is the instrument by which the people’s common destiny is realized, and in which the potential for greatness is to be found. Individual rights, and the individual himself, are strictly subordinate to the state’s great and glorious goals for the nation. In foreign affairs, the fascist attitude is reflected in a belligerent chauvinism, a contempt for other peoples, and a society-wide reverence for soldiers and the martial virtues.
The fascist takes his inspiration from the experience of war. During World War I, people from all over Italy, notwithstanding differences of region or dialect, found themselves joined together in a common enterprise. The war demonstrated what could be accomplished when people discarded their lesser allegiances and devoted themselves to the cause of the nation, which always means the national government.
Socialists tried to pretend that fascism was simply the most developed, if also decrepit, stage of capitalism. But the fascists made their opposition to capitalism perfectly clear. For the dueling systems of capitalism and communism they proposed to substitute a “third way.” The means of production would remain nominally in private hands, but the state would play a substantial role in production and allocation decisions. The classical liberal devotion to individual rights would of course be spurned in favor of collectivism, but in place of the communists’ appeal to the worldwide proletarian struggle, the fascists’ collectivism would be directed toward the nation.
Is it really so unreasonable to note that these principles have not entirely died out? In the US, the public obediently pays homage to the military, readily absorbing the most preposterous stories about “keeping us safe” and protecting our freedom. The free market economy is spoken of with contempt, and enlightened state control and public-private partnerships of various kinds are proposed instead. “Public service”—which always means service to the state—is urged upon the young. John T. Flynn noted that one of the characteristics of fascism was the substantial role the military sector played in the economy. He could scarcely have imagined the case of the US government in the twenty-first century, when its military expenditures are nearly as great as those of the rest of the world put together.
The second part of this book honors those people whose lives and careers represent the very opposite of the fascist state. These are people who devoted themselves not to propaganda and plunder, but to truth and social harmony. These names—among them Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt, Murray Rothbard, Ron Paul—will be familiar to many readers of this book.
Each of these men worked against the grain. Hazlitt enjoyed considerable prominence, to be sure, writing for the New York Times (if you can believe it), and his book Economics in One Lesson has sold in the millions. But when he wrote The Failure of the “New Economics,” a systematic refutation of John Maynard Keynes’s General Theory, he was nearly alone. Keynes had swept the boards, and the economics profession was in no mood to consider root-and-branch critiques.
And when we call to mind Murray Rothbard, Ron Paul, and Ludwig von Mises, we see men who likewise stuck to unpopular positions even though doing so meant far less prestige, fame, and influence than they deserved. The wonderful and unexpected result of their labors, however, is that the work of all of them is experiencing a renaissance among intelligent people. Murray’s work is read and studied far more widely today than it was during his lifetime—precisely because so many people today are seeking out principled men who spoke the plain truth, whatever the consequences for themselves.
Mises collected no salary from New York University, where he spent his academic career in the United States. His was an unpaid position. He survived because a group of businessmen who appreciated the significance of his work paid him a salary. His colleagues, meanwhile, scarcely gave him the time of day—what use had they for a reactionary throwback to the nineteenth century?
Today, however, nobody remembers any member of the economics faculty of NYU from 1957. The undistinguished academics who shunned Mises have long since been forgotten, while the work of Mises himself is being studied more widely than ever. Mises has had the last laugh.
There is a parallel here with Ron Paul. Ron spent most of his public life in obscurity. The Republican Party treated him like an alien. The media usually did not understand him, and when they did, they found him too dangerous to expose to the public. He spoke to modest crowds, saying exactly the same things he says today.
No one is going to remember the people Ron opposed in his presidential runs of 2008 and 2012. No one’s life was changed by Tommy Thompson, Duncan Hunter, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, or any of the others. As Tom Woods points out, no one ever said, “My life was changed forever when I encountered the philosophy of Mitt Romney.”
But Ron, the one the media and the political class treated with contempt, will not be forgotten. His books will be educating people for many years, long after we are gone. His courageous example will inspire as long as people respect truth-telling amid an avalanche of lies, and at considerable personal expense.
The parallel between these two men is not exact: Ron lived to see his own vindication, while Mises did not. Mises could scarcely have imagined the rising generation of bright scholars working in the Austrian tradition who would appear in the early twenty-first century. Ron watched as millions of people, most of them young, defied the finger-wagging of the anti-Ron establishment to cheer him, learn from him, and advance his message.
And this is one of the most encouraging aspects of the Ron Paul phenomenon: Ron’s success is proof that the establishment media is losing the control it once exercised in American society. In the old days, three television networks and a handful of newspapers laid out the limits of what was permissible to discuss and believe. The corporate state, and its wars and bailouts, were portrayed the way the regime wanted. Today, the official purveyors of information are struggling to stay afloat. The New York Times and the Washington Post are seeing their revenues plummet. The network news, meanwhile, has been surpassed by the internet as a source of information for the public.
This is no time for pessimism, despite the great many problems we continue to face. Imagine if, in the midst of the Nixonian stagflation forty years ago, we had been told that within our lifetimes the following things would happen: (1) the Soviet Union would collapse, and with it the case for the planned economy; (2) the official opinion molders’ monopoly would be decisively smashed; (3) interest in the Austrian School of economics would explode among American students; and (4) despite a media blackout, Ron Paul and his libertarian ideas would become a nationwide and even worldwide sensation that astonished the most seasoned veterans. We would have dismissed this as a fantasy.
That fantasy is today’s reality, so why all the pessimism? Not to mention that we have the fiscal implosion of the US government to look forward to. That can only be a boon to the cause of liberty.
These are perilous times—for the state. Its hold over the public mind is slipping away. Its Keynesian tools aren’t working to produce economic growth. The promises of the welfare state are certain to be broken. Public confidence in the state will continue to erode.
Again, this is no time for gloom. Perilous times for the state ought to be exciting times for friends of liberty. Our foe is the corporate state, described in detail in Part I of this book. Our strategy for victory is laid out by the great men chronicled in Part II.
The great struggle of liberty against power, which has been going on since time began, has reached a watershed moment. Let us not be mere spectators. With our pens, with our voices, with our contributions to our great cause, let us give history a push in the direction of freedom.
From Fascism versus Capitalism. Reprinted with permission.