Right now, it’s really popular for hysterical people to scream that this country is headed to fascism and it MUST BE STOPPED! Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and, by God, this election must be set aside because it’s unfair that the Electoral College doesn’t just hand her the election.
Would they be saying the same thing if Trump had also won the popular vote? Yes! This is mostly because they don’t understand what fascism is, but also because they haven’t been paying attention.
The United States has been growing in fascist policies for a long time. We slipped over the edge as a nation in the Bush administration and Obama’s administration just deepened that movement. Whoever became president in 2016 would have continued the trend – except possibly if Rand Paul or Gary Johnson had become president and they just would have ended up dead.
If you live in Alaska, you’re thinking fascism arrived here around 1979 when Carter shut down all avenues to economic growth except large companies by locking up access to federal lands. But I digress.
The fact is that this was predicted a long time ago. In a letter written on March 19, 1944, Ayn Rand remarked: “Fascism, Nazism, Communism and Socialism are only superficial variations of the same monstrous theme—collectivism.” Rand would later expand on this insight in various articles and speeches. Google “The Fascist New Frontier” and “The New Fascism: Rule by Concensus.”
Rand grew up in Soviet Russia and knew better than to accept the traditional left-right dichotomy between socialism (or communism) and fascism, according to which socialism is the extreme version of left-ideology and fascism is the extreme version of right-ideology (i.e., capitalism). She characterized fascism as “socialism for big business.” (The Ayn Rand Letter (1971). Socialism and fascism are variants of statism so occupy one end of a continuum. The other end is held by liberty based on individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism.
The world conflict of today is the conflict of the individual against the state, the same conflict that has been fought throughout mankind’s history. The names change, but the essence—and the results—remain the same, whether it is the individual against feudalism, or against absolute monarchy, or against communism or fascism or Nazism or socialism or the welfare state.” Rand
The placement of socialism and fascism at opposite ends of a political spectrum serves a manipulative purpose, according to Rand as it is used to buttress the case that we must avoid “extremism” and choose the sensible middle course of a “mixed economy.”
If it were true that dictatorship is inevitable and that fascism and communism are the two “extremes” at the opposite ends of our course, then what is the safest place to choose? Why, the middle of the road. The safely undefined, indeterminate, mixed-economy, “moderate” middle—with a “moderate” amount of government favors and special privileges to the rich and a “moderate” amount of government handouts to the poor—with a “moderate” respect for rights and a “moderate” degree of brute force—with a “moderate” amount of freedom and a “moderate” amount of slavery—with a “moderate” degree of justice and a “moderate” degree of injustice—with a “moderate” amount of security and a “moderate” amount of terror—and with a moderate degree of tolerance for all, except those “extremists” who uphold principles, consistency, objectivity, morality and who refuse to compromise.
In both of her major articles on fascism (cited above) Rand distinguished between fascism and socialism by noting a rather technical (and ultimately inconsequential) difference in their approaches to private property.
Observe that both “socialism” and “fascism” involve the issue of property rights. The right to property is the right of use and disposal. Observe the difference in those two theories: socialism negates private property rights altogether, and advocates “the vesting of ownership and control” in the community as a whole, i.e., in the state; fascism leaves ownership in the hands of private individuals, but transfers control of the property to the government.
Ownership without control is a contradiction in terms: it means “property,” without the right to use it or to dispose of it. It means that the citizens retain the responsibility of holding property, without any of its advantages, while the government acquires all the advantages without any of the responsibility.
In this respect, socialism is the more honest of the two theories. I say “more honest,” not “better”—because, in practice, there is no difference between them: both come from the same collectivist-statist principle, both negate individual rights and subordinate the individual to the collective, both deliver the livelihood and the lives of the citizens into the power of an omnipotent government —and the differences between them are only a matter of time, degree, and superficial detail, such as the choice of slogans by which the rulers delude their enslaved subjects.
In the 1960s, most conservative commentators thought we were at risk from socialism, but Rand contrarily maintained that America was drifting toward fascism, not socialism. She believed this descent was virtually inevitable in a mixed economy. “A mixed economy is an explosive, untenable mixture of two opposite elements,” freedom and statism, “which cannot remain stable, but must ultimately go one way or the other” (“‘Extremism,’ or The Art of Smearing”). Economic controls generate their own problems, which generates demands for additional controls. The controls must be abolished or a mixed economy will eventually degenerate into a form of economic dictatorship. Rand conceded that most American advocates of the welfare state “are not socialists, that they never advocated or intended the socialization of private property.” These welfare-statists “want to ‘preserve’ private property” while calling for greater government control over such property. “But that is the fundamental characteristic of fascism.”
Rand wrote the most insightful analyses of a mixed economy—its premises, implications, and long-range consequences—ever penned by a free-market advocate. She compared a mixed economy to a system that operates by the law of the jungle, a system in which “no one’s interests are safe, everyone’s interests are on a public auction block, and anything goes for anyone who can get away with it.”
In doing so, she also predicted with eerie accuracy what would happen today. A mixed economy divides a country “into an ever-growing number of enemy camps, into economic groups fighting one another for self preservation in an indeterminate mixture of defense and offense.” Do you have goosebumps yet? I still have them every time I read that phrase.
The economic “chaos” of a mixed economy resembles the Hobbesian war of all against all in a state of nature, a system in which interest groups feel the need to screw others before they get screwed themselves.
A mixed economy is ruled by pressure groups. It is an amoral, institutionalized civil war of special interests and lobbies, all fighting to seize a momentary control of the legislative machinery, to extort some special privilege at one another’s expense by an act of government—i.e., by force.
Rand never claimed that America had degenerated into full-blown fascism. She thought our freedom of speech would win out over the lunacy. She did believe that the fundamental premise of the “altruist-collectivist” morality—the foundation of all collectivist regimes, including fascism—was accepted and preached by modern liberals and conservatives alike, and she wrote more than one scathing critique accusing conservative leaders of “moral treason.” There were times in her writing where she seemed to detest modern conservatives more than she did modern liberals. She was especially contemptuous of those conservatives who attempted to justify capitalism by appealing to religion or to tradition.
Rand illustrated her point in “The Fascist New Frontier,” a polemical tour de force aimed at President Kennedy and his administration. She began her 1962 lecture by quoting passages from the 1920 political platform of the German Nazi Party, including demands for “an end to the power of the financial interests,” “profit sharing in big business,” “a broad extension of care for the aged,” the “improvement of public health” by government, “an all-around enlargement of our entire system of public education,” and so forth. All welfare-state measures, this socialist-sounding platform concluded, “can only proceed from within on the foundation of “The Common Good Before the Individual Good.”
Rand then quote similar proposals and sentiments from President Kennedy and members of his administration, such as Kennedy’s celebrated remark, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what America will do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” Rand dismissed the idea of “the public interest”, complaining that Kennedy and other politicians used this fuzzy phrase without definition, except to indicate that individuals have a duty to sacrifice their interests for the sake of a greater, undefined good, which left those who wield the brute force of political power to define that actual meaning.
[T]here is no such thing as ‘the public interest’ except as the sum of the interests of individual men. And the basic, common interest of all men—all rational men—is freedom. Freedom is the first requirement of “the public interest”—not what men do when they are free, but that they are free. All their achievements rest on that foundation—and cannot exist without them.
The principles of a free, non-coercive social system are the only form of “the public interest.”
When I was reading these essays recently, I realized that Rand might as well be talking about today. We could substitute “President Obama,” for “President Kennedy” or “President Johnson” and her points would be even more pertinent than they were during the 1960s. It’s the same sense I got when reading Fahrenheit 451 and feeling like I was peeking into our living rooms today with our widescreen TVs and ear buds. I don’t believe in calling writers “prophets”, but Rand did warn us that this day was coming.
So what do we do about it?
Well, there is that whole “freedom of speech” thing. We might want to start exercising it while we still can.