Mr. Tanner, who lives in Moscow, Idaho, is a retired American diplomat and freelance writer.
Epithets are always good political weapons. If they are well chosen, they paint the opponent’s reputation so black that further discussion is no longer required. If an opponent is inherently evil, then one has no reason to expect that rational discussion and debate would produce any useful result. Therefore, once a political opponent has been appropriately labeled, that person can be shouted down and driven from the podium without the need of further discussion.
Using epithets is obviously not engaging in logical political discourse, but politics isn’t about logic, it’s about winning and who gets to use legal force for their own advantage. Anyone who looks seriously at the American political system can only conclude that elections are won on an emotional level, not through rational debate. Usually, the politician who scares the voter the most is the one who wins.
Lovers of individual freedom generally agree that politicians, news commentators, and government bureaucrats who want to increase the size and power of government, raise taxes, further limit personal freedom, and give us socialized medicine are misguided at best, or crooked, power-hungry thieves at worst. If we believe that they support evil ideas, shouldn’t we use an epithet that makes it clear what we think about them? Ultimately, freedom can only be won by those willing to fight for it, and the first weapons in any fight are fighting words.
We need a single-word epithet that paints the enemy as black as we believe the enemy to be.
Words like statist, liberal, or conservative simply don’t get the blood boiling. Use them, and the listener yawns and continues to ignore well-reasoned arguments. More important perhaps, the targets of such sweet-sounding epithets usually accept the words as compliments that explain what they consider themselves to be.
To be effective, an epithet must make the target angry. An effective epithet must also have a basis in truth. The best epithet is one that describes a truth that the targets refuse to recognize about themselves and their political positions. By making an angry target deny the truth of the epithet or to try to explain it away, we might finally get a rational, logical discussion going as we explain why the epithet does honestly apply.
There is a very appropriate epithet that fits perfectly everyone who favors more government control of business, the economy, society, and health care. But first some political and philosophical background.
With the collapse of Communism as a threat to our modern society, it’s not surprising that the two most damning political epithets that can be hurdled these days are Fascist and Nazi, the second epithet being an even more dangerous mutation of the first evil. Those who usually throw those hated epithets think they know what they accuse an opponent of being. In the popular mind, the two words are assumed to mean anyone who is a bigot, a racist, an extreme nationalist, or a political ultra-conservative.
If we examine the political evolution that produced fascism, we find that fascism has an entirely different meaning. Once we understand what that meaning is, it’s easy to understand why it is that while the epithet fascist is so popular with liberal politicians and commentators, little is ever written about fascism as a political philosophy. Liberal statists don’t want the public to know that when they point the finger of fascism at someone else, they are pointing four fingers at themselves.
From a logical perspective, a fascist may be a racist, a bigot, an ultranationalist, a violent sociopath, or a blond Swede, but all racists, bigots, ultranationalists, sociopaths, and blond Swedes are not fascists. Fascism is a specific form of government, just as feudalism, monarchy, socialism, communism, and constitutional democracy are specific forms of government.
The roots of fascism are found in the French Revolution. While the American Revolution was founded on the philosophical idea that all men should be free, and that the primary role of government should be to guarantee that freedom, the intellectuals and politicians of the French Revolution argued that government should guarantee not only freedom, but economic equality as well.
While this is an appealing idea, the reality is that as government goals, freedom and economic equality are mutually exclusive. When people are free, those with greater intellectual capacities, creative abilities, physical prowess, initiative, or good luck will probably end up with the most economic wealth. The only way a government can create economic equality is to take wealth forcibly from the most productive members of society and redistribute it to less productive citizens. The economically successful lose their freedom so that the unsuccessful can share the wealth. The more economic equality the government guarantees, the more it must restrict the freedoms of its most productive people.
The original political philosophy that promised both freedom and equality was socialism. Socialism proved to be a powerful rallying cry for revolution in economically backward countries where tyrants ruled, especially in countries where foreign tyrants ruled. However, intellectual supporters of the socialist dream soon discovered that it was hard to sell socialism in democracies or even in those nondemocratic countries where rulers had allowed the population a degree of economic freedom.
The voters in the Western democracies not only didn’t want socialism, they were terrified of the prospects of a violent socialist revolution. In the United States, most citizens quickly decided that socialism was un-American.
Not willing to give up the impossible dream that a government could guarantee both freedom and equality, the utopians proposed an alternative to socialism: the idea of a strong, nationalistic government which would allow private enterprise and privately owned property, but would control and regulate it to ensure that the property owners and entrepreneurs served the public good instead of their own selfish greed. Under this scheme, politicians promised that they could achieve the goals of socialism without the otherwise inevitable pain of revolution and confiscation.
It is not surprising that these utopian intellectuals began calling themselves Progressives. What they were proposing was progressive socialism rather than revolutionary socialism. They also pre-empted the word liberal, redefining the liberalism of the American founders which held individual freedom as the ideal of a limited government into modern American liberalism in which the government limits individual freedom in order to ensure economic equality.
The Promises of Progressivism
Academic economists like John Maynard Keynes threw in the promise that a strong central government could also smooth out economic cycles of boom prosperity followed by bust depression. Progressive democratic government thus not only promised freedom and equality, but also the good life of economic prosperity and perpetual growth.
The liberal democracies proved to be especially vulnerable to this philosophy which promised the voters significant improvements in their economic station without the need for great sacrifice on their part. While the successful and wealthy did have to pay the bill, initially, the bill presented extracted only a minor portion of their personal wealth and they accepted the argument that it was a cheap price if they were to avoid a socialist revolution.
In America, this system of progressive, socially engineered economic democracy was adopted so slowly that only a few thinkers recognized that it represented a total and complete break from the philosophy of government as espoused by those who wrote the American constitution. By the mid-1930s, this progressive idea that a strong government could resolve all problems of human society had thoroughly permeated the popular political thought of Western democratic governments.
This philosophical counterpoint to socialism in which people were permitted to retain property and personal wealth while the state regulated how private property and wealth would be used to achieve the common good was given a name by Benito Mussolini when he founded the Fascist Party in Italy. He promised to give the Italians the same things that Roosevelt promised to give Americans. Mussolini called the political process for doing that Fascism.
In like manner, Adolf Hitler promised the Germans equality and prosperity through regulation and control of private wealth and industry. Hitler called his movement National Socialism (which was shortened to the acronym Nazi) because he was promising the same utopian benefits as the socialists promised, but without the pain of the immediate confiscation of all property and wealth. Like the democratic progessives, the fascist tyrants argued that the fascist way to prosperity and equality was the only hope for defeating the Communists.
Fascism was and is a political philosophy in which a strong central government permits, but regulates and taxes, private wealth and property in order to achieve the utopian socialist ideal.
Hitler played on frustrated national pride and used hate and envy of the German Jewish population in selling his fascist dream. To be a fascist one must not necessarily hate the same things the Germans hated at the time Hitler rose to power. But hatred is an inevitable by-product of fascism.
A primary fallacy of fascism and socialism is the belief that intelligent, selfless people can be found within any society—people who are so wise and knowledgeable that they can determine what constitutes the common good and what individual sacrifices are necessary to achieve that good. The fallacy dictates that such wise citizens are morally entitled to do whatever is necessary to ensure that all other members of the society make the necessary sacrifices. Other members of the society have a moral obligation to make the personal sacrifices, even if in making them, they suffer a significant decrease in the level of their own comfort and personal happiness. By definition, anyone who resists making such a personal sacrifice is deemed an immoral, evil, selfish beast who deserves whatever punishment the state decides to inflict.
Because fascist controls of business and private property can never produce the promised result of equality, freedom, and economic prosperity any more than socialist promises can, fascist politicians must always be looking for someone to blame for their failures while continuing to promise even greater future economic and social miracles. Both socialists and fascists must demonize those who object to the state taking over control of their property, businesses, and lives in order to justify the violence that the political leaders will inflict on them. Fascism and socialism grow only in the soil of envy and hate.
Like socialism, fascism has fatal flaws that can lead to excesses like those of Nazi Germany just as socialism led to the gross excesses of violence in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and on down to the killing fields of Cambodia. But the excesses of racism, the violent suppression of minority views, ruling class elitism, and aggression against other states are symptoms of fascism, not descriptions of the political-economic system.
Hitler picked the German Jews as hate targets. Modern fascist politicians demonize Wall Street bankers, entrepreneurs, well-paid CEOs, pharmaceutical and insurance companies, illegal immigrants, creative financial managers, gun owners, fundamentalist religious leaders, and dead white guys who wrote criticism pointing out the fallacies of fascism and socialism.
World War II started out as a confrontation between the two competing utopian systems for building a brave new world. Hitler expected that the democratic fascist countries of England and the United States would either support his efforts, or remain neutral. How we ended up on the side of the most extreme socialist country in the world rather than the most extreme fascist country requires a complicated historical examination beyond the scope of this essay.
Nevertheless, once Germany was defeated, the ongoing world-wide struggle immediately reverted back to a conflict between fascism and socialism and continued on for another 45 years. The primary issue of the Cold War was never freedom or slavery; it was whether total state control would be achieved through Communist revolution or through progressive subversion of the democratic process.
Now that socialism has collapsed under its own weight, we will next learn how long it will take democratic fascism to collapse because of the same fatal flaws in economic and political theory that are common to all socialist systems.
Much of modern American liberalism is fascism and always has been. We ought to start calling it that. By calling it what it really is, we can draw attention to what is happening in our country and explain why we keep losing freedom while violence and hate grow and spread through our society.