All Commentary
Friday, February 1, 1974

A Reviewer’s Notebook – 1974/2

Who and what is a fascist? The word is used pejoratively, with as little precise meaning as is attached to the adjective “Red” by many well-meaning people who can’t distinguish between a Communist and an old fashioned libertarian or anti-Statist. The confusion about Fascism is the enemy of good foreign policy; it is also something that stands in the way of recognizing the many domestic weaknesses of democracy that prepare the way for the coming of a Caesar, or a Man on Horseback. Because of the practically universal obfuscation, any even half-way successful attempt to reach a true definition of Fascism is welcome.

In an ambitious book called Fascism (The Free Press $7.95), Paul Hayes, a Fellow of Keble College, Oxford, has made a strong effort to uncover the roots of the Twentieth Century’s second most malignant political phenomenon. (I say “second” because I believe Communism is an even bigger evil.) Professor Hayes struggles nobly with his problem, but he doesn’t quite overcome the many difficulties that inhere in the attempt to distinguish between various shades of authoritarianism, Nasserism, tribalism, military dictatorship, royal absolutism, or whatever. Nor is he quite as clear about the economic origins of Fascism as the late John T. Flynn, whose As We Go Marching has just been reissued in paperback by Free Life Editions, with a preface by Ronald Radosh ($3.45).

Professor Hayes realizes at the start that he is trying to get a grip on a most baffling problem. Mussolini’s Italy was surely a Fascist state. But it never really made an issue of race, even though, at Hitler’s proddings, it did do official obeisance to anti-Semitism during the short-lived period of the Rome-Berlin Axis. German Nazism was Fascism on all of Professor Hayes’s counts, accepting the myth of racial superiority along with the trappings of militarism, national socialism, economic corporativism, and worship of the leadership principle. But how does the Nazi form of totalitarianism differ from the Soviet Communist version? Bolshevism, in practice, has discriminated against Jews, not to mention Ukrainians, or Baltics, or Moslems when they exhibit too much awareness of their own religious heritage. The Soviets subscribe to the idea of the party elite, they “plan” industry, they are imperialist, and they suppress free trade unions. Nevertheless, Professor Hayes, even as John T. Flynn before him, distinguishes between Fascism and Communism.

The difference would seem to reside in contrasting attitudes toward the concept of ownership and in the divergent class origins of the two forms of totalitarianism. Fascism permits private property, subject to control of its uses; it also tolerates the existence of more classes than the proletariat. So there is a reason why neither Professor Hayes nor John T. Flynn chose to deal with the Marxist varieties of the totalitarian State.

Not Much Difference

For myself, I don’t see very much to choose between Brown and Red Bolshevisms. Fascism made use of the bourgeoisie and the private corporation, but the Lenin who approved the Nepmen private farmers in the days of the New Economic Policy was not a pure Communist, and Brezhnev is even now contemplating making deals with the capitalist Occidental Oil Company. On the other hand, as Professor Hayes recognizes, both German and Italian Fascism had their Marxist forebears. Mussolini had been a socialist, and Hitler depended on crossovers from the German Communist and Social Democratic parties to swell his ranks in the late Twenties and early Thirties. There are good reasons for regarding Fascism and Communism as variants of the same evil thing that denies the whole theory of inalienable individual rights.

Professor Hayes does a masterful job in isolating the various intellectual currents of the Nineteenth Century that coalesced into Fascist theory. There were the racial supremacists from Count Gobineau to Houston Stewart Chamberlain. There were the Hegelians who exalted the idea of the State. There were the militarists and the extreme nationalists. There were the theoreticians of economic autarchy, from List and Rodbertus and Dühring in Germany to Cunningham and George Bernard Shaw in Britain. There were the pre-Civil War American protectionists who encouraged German protectionists. There were the “rationalizers” who thought in terms of big cartels subject to national planning and the coercion of international trade by currency controls.

Setting the Stage

The Nineteenth Century thinkers who opposed the Adam Smith and Richard Cobden theories of unfettered competition were not Fascists, but they all combined to disseminate the Statist philosophy that was necessary for the triumphs of Mussolini and Hitler. And there was, of course, Nietzsche and his “will to power” that exalted strength for its own sake, even the strength that violated the laws of any given community.

Before we are through with Professor Hayes’s book we have had the equivalent of a good semester’s immersion in anti-libertarian thought. But we haven’t quite defined Fascism. Is Franco’s Spain a Fascist country? Paul Hayes, noting that Franco kept his country out of World War II, decides that Spain is simply a counter-revolutionary country. Franco used the Fascists in order to preserve a traditional Spanish conservatism.

By making an exception of Spain, Professor Hayes seems to be saying that authoritarian countries which refrain from international intrigue and expansionism are not Fascist. But then he confuses the issue by seeing Argentinian “peronismo” as a form of Fascism. Since Peron had no designs on his neighbors, how does he differ from Franco? The difference could be in Peron’s mobilization of labor to supply the bulk support of his regime. But Professor Hayes introduces a second note of confusion when he says that the “European fascist model was based on massive middle- and upper-class support together with a sizeable minority from the working class.” So it can’t be a major reliance on labor that distinguishes the true from the false Fascism.

Not that it makes much difference anyway: oppression is oppression no matter how the local details differ.

No One Really Wants It

What makes John T. Flynn’s thirty-year-old As We Go Marching a really superior book is Flynn’s way of showing that Fascism can come to a country even though nobody really wants it. Italy’s liberal politicians created Fascism by spending far more than could be recouped by taxation and then plunging their country into a frustrating war. Mussolini was simply the opportunist receiver of a ruined nation. Germany’s leftist and center parties made disastrous economic decisions, couldn’t cope with the problems created by the fantastic inflation, and failed to control the militarists. Looking at the tremendous growth of government debt and the ballooning of military expenditures in the U.S., Flynn warned us in 1944 that we could become a Fascist country by merely adding a war-minded dictatorship to New Deal-type economic interventionism. It could happen without anti-Semitism and with all our banners proclaiming that “Progressivism” had won its greatest victory.


EDUCATION IN A FREE SOCIETY, Edited by Anne Husted Burleigh (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc., 3520 Washington Blvd., 1973) 182 pp. $3.50.

Reviewed by Thomas Johnson

Of all the activities in which men engage, education development of the human mind is the most important. What sort of education should exist in a free society? In an attempt to answer this question as it pertains to higher education, two directors of Liberty Fund, Benjamin A. Rogge and Pierre F. Goodrich, wrote a position paper entitled “Education in a Free Society.” Four other well-known educators and writers (Gottfried Dietze, Russ ell Kirk, Henry Manne, and Stephen Tonsor) also presented papers at a seminar held in Indianapolis in 1971. Present were other educators and writers who discussed the ideas put forth by these men. The papers are here reprinted, and the discussion summarized. This makes for provocative, interesting reading.

Rogge and Goodrich take a strong stand on behalf of the need for a free enterprise approach to education. They recognize that “the educational arrangements currently in use in this country are grossly inefficient, inequitable, contrary to human rights, contrary to human nature, and destructive of the society of free and responsible men.” They present their idea of what an institution of higher learning should be like in a free society, which includes such matters as the selection of faculty members according to their promise as teachers, the income of faculty based on “their effectiveness in serving the purposes of the college,” decisions of policy to be made by the board and carried out by the administrators, the elimination of tests or exams (except those voluntarily requested by the student), grades and degrees, and all financing from private funds — preferably the college would be a profit-making concern.

The other participants, however, do not envision a radical restructuring of our educational institutions. They accept the idea of a grade giving, degree granting university, while urging reforms designed to revitalize the institution, restore proper authority to trustees and administration, and so on. Little do they realize that the scholastic environment by its nature subordinates the quest for truth to the student’s desire for grades, degrees, and certification. The system fosters obsequiousness, hypocrisy and mental lethargy.

Not even Rogge and Goodrich realize that in a free society there would and should exist only education businesses which would offer their courses of instruction to any paying customer, regardless of age, who wished to purchase this instruction. In a free society only the market demands would determine what is taught, how it is taught, and to whom it is taught, and the individual would possess full freedom of choice in determining the development of his or her own mind. A business setting is the only healthy, and free, environment in which proper mental development can occur.


LABOR LEGISLATION FROM AN ECONOMIC POINT OF VIEW by Gustavo R. Velasco (3520 Washington Blvd., Indianapolis, Indiana: Liberty Fund, 1973) 65 pp., $3.00.

Reviewed by Paul L. Poirot

That Benjamin A. Rogge would edit and write an introduction should be evidence enough of quality in a book on Labor Legislation from an Economic Point of View; but its value is doubly assured when the author is Professor Gustavo R. Velasco of Mexico City, lawyer, banker, author, teacher, and internationally recognized advocate of freedom. As Rogge points out, “He has long stood for free markets and free men in a nation where the ruling party has been formally socialist and in a world where the ruling practice has been somewhere between the interventionist and the socialist.” A clue to Professor Velasco’s purpose in this monograph comes in his opinion that instead of calling our age “the era of socialism” it would be more nearly correct to name it “the era of labor or of laborism.” Workers, of course, are interested in better pay, more free time, better working conditions, and more economic security. And the question is whether or not these objectives are likely to be achieved through the collective action of labor unions and government intervention.

To the arguments that “labor is not a commodity” and that workers are objects of “exploitation” by capitalists, Velasco answers by explaining the functioning of the market and concludes that “wage rates depend finally on the value that the wage earner’s fellow men ascribe to his services and achievement.”

So, what happens when government intervenes directly to force wages above market rates, or indirectly by delegating to labor unions the privilege of using coercion? What happens is that the least productive of the workers —or those with the least political clout — face unemployment; and consumers in general suffer the effects of relatively lower productivity. This is the inevitable consequence whenever force is used to prevent cooperation between willing buyers and willing sellers of any scarce and valuable resource. Or conversely, as Velasco says, “the only way of coordinating production to the highly variable conditions that result from the perpetually fluctuating desires and opinions of consumers, from scientific and technological progress, from the phenomena of nature, and from a hundred more circumstances, consists in not hampering the movements of the market.”

Once the pro-labor policies of government result in market distortions, the victims of such intervention are prone to demand cures which mean further intervention. The makers of laws which cause unemployment are pressured to create spending power — money — to subsidize idled workers back into the spending stream, if not into the productive process. The political actions which grant special privileges to labor unions are actions which also promote inflation.

Professor Velasco admirably summarizes in this brief volume the unforeseen disastrous consequences of pro-labor policies, and offers an extensive bibliography for those who would explore the issues at greater depth.

  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.