Monday, July 3, 2017

Fascists and progressives

by George J. Dance

Alt.right author James Miller believes that "Fascism has an undeserved bad reputation." In his view: "Regardless of this reputation, Fascism is a very sensible economic and social ideology." He goes on to offer the following definition:
Fascism is an economic system in which a nation’s government plays a central role in monitoring all banking, trade, production, and labor activity which takes place within the nation. Such monitoring is done for the sole purpose of safeguarding and advancing the nation and its people. Under Fascism, the government will not approve of any business activity unless that business has a positive impact on the nation as a whole and the people of the nation — this is the axiom which determines everything under Fascism.[1]
Interestingly, this definition of fascism (which looks correct) also looks like a correct definition of progressivism, the economic philosophy of the Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, and every Democratic president since (save perhaps Truman and Clinton), and some Republican presidents as well (Gerald Ford, G.H.W. Bush).

Like socialism, fascism and progressivism are variants of statism: the belief that state control of society and the economy is necessary to bring about and maintain a good society. But while socialists try to achieve that control directly, through government ownership and increased government spending, progressives and fascists try to achieve it indirectly through regulation, oversight, and management of nominally private businesses and workers.

As the historical record shows, the fascist regimes of Germany and Italy, and the progressive regime of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, were composed of mutual admirers, who followed a similar politico-economic agenda.
  • The Nazi Party newspaper, the V├Âlkischer Beobachter, "stressed 'Roosevelt's adoption of National Socialist strains of thought in his economic and social policies,' praising the president's style of leadership as being compatible with Hitler's own dictatorial F├╝hrerprinzip" (p. 190).
  • Nor was Hitler himself lacking in praise for his American counterpart. He "told American ambassador William Dodd that he was 'in accord with the President in the view that the virtue of duty, readiness for sacrifice, and discipline should dominate the entire people. These moral demands which the President places before every individual citizen of the United States are also the quintessence of the German state philosophy, which finds its expression in the slogan "The Public Weal Transcends the Interest of the Individual"'" (pp. 19-20)....
  • Mussolini, who did not allow his work as dictator to interrupt his prolific journalism, wrote a glowing review of Roosevelt's Looking Forward. He found "reminiscent of fascism … the principle that the state no longer leaves the economy to its own devices"(pp. 23-24)....
  • Roosevelt never had much use for Hitler, but Mussolini was another matter. "'I don't mind telling you in confidence,' FDR remarked to a White House correspondent, 'that I am keeping in fairly close touch with that admirable Italian gentleman'" (p. 31). Rexford Tugwell, a leading adviser to the president, had difficulty containing his enthusiasm for Mussolini's program to modernize Italy: "It's the cleanest … most efficiently operating piece of social machinery I've ever seen. It makes me envious" (p. 32)[2]
Because (unlike socialism), fascism and progressivism do not directly challenge a country's economic status quo, they can appeal to the conservative as well as the totalitarian biases that I have argued exist in modern political societies.[3] However, like socialism, fascism and progressivism imply a radical restructuring of society, with state power vastly increased at the expense of individual rights and liberties.

This ideological symmetry can lead to tactical symmetries: for instance, historical fascism relied on tactics of political violence copied from those on the radical left (the anarchists and Bolsheviks).[4] Progressives, on the other hand, initially rejected those methods; one fundamental difference between progressives and fascists. That was because radical leftism and fascism were populist, bottom-up movements, while progressivism began as a thoroughly top-down, establishment movement. However, the mass-based, bottom-up progressivism that began in North America in the 1960's has increasingly also adopted political violence tactics from the radical left, further blurring the difference between the ideologies.


[1] James Miller, "What is Fascism," Kevin Alfred Strong blog, August 13, 2012.

[2] David Gordon, "Three New Deals: Why the Nazis and Fascists Loved FDR" (review of Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt's America, Mussolini's Italy, and Hitler's Germany, 1933-1939. Metropolitan Books, 2006). Mises Daily, September 22, 2006, Ludwig von Mises Institute.

[3] George J. Dance, "Why are there no libertarian countries?", Nolan Chart, April 29, 2017.

[4] Ludwig von Mises, "The Argument of Fascism," Liberalism: In the Classical Tradition (translated by Ralph Raico). Foundation for Economic Education, 1985, 29. Books / Digital Texts, Ludwig von Mises Institute. 

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