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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fascism and the American Political Spectrum

In recent history, this ugly monster of a word reared its head with the announcement that National Review editor-at-large Jonah Goldberg would be writing a book on the Left's connections with fascism. Even before the provocatively titled Liberal Fascism came out, detractors from all sides call it a farce, a giant lie and a stain on the memory of those killed fighting the Nazis. After the book came out, countless reviewers barely read it, since they knew it was wrong, and tossed off non-sequiturs and half-truths to defeat an argument hundreds of pages and footnotes in length. Few reviewers actually took the book to task for mistakes or logical missteps both perceived and real. The monster was awakened. Even more recently, though, has been the use of the monster against President Obama by the more populist, more polemic of the right (and some of the far left). The monster now stomps through message boards, Twitter, Facebook groups and probably thousands of heated political debates. The monster, my good people, is the placement of fascism in the political spectrum.

Liberal-Conservative: Europe and America

To explain where Fascism goes, its relation to its position and its relation to the ideologies around it, we must start with what the political spectrum is. The basic left-right political spectrum began during the French Revolution with the seating of legislators in the French parliament. Those dedicated to republicanism and anti-monarchism sat to the left of the King while those supporting the old regime and the old order sat to the right. This easy way identification of liberals (which meant individual, individualist, etc back then) and conservative (which meant monarchists, authoritarians, reactionaries at the time) soon became the mainstream political spectrum in the Western world.

In Europe, conservatism was and still is connected to the monarchies. Many European countries still have kings and queens, though they are mostly figureheads. During the late 1700s and the 1800s, conservatism were the monarchist reactionaries in Spain, the Burbons in France, the Empire Loyalists that fled America during the Revolution. In contrast, European liberalism stood for republicanism, individual liberty, checks and balances, smaller state control and, for some, the abolition of the monarchy. The ideas that sparked the American Revolution were, during the time of the Revolution, known as liberal ideas.

For America, that spectrum shifted drastically after the victory over the British. A new order was established based that was far from the absolutist and constitutional monarchies of Europe. This order was based on a small, even flimsy, federal government and strong, individual states. The federal government consisted of an popularly elected House of Representatives and house of senators elected by state legislatures. Unlike many European nations, the executive office and the legislature were purposely split and isolated from each other to prevent any destructive collusion that may come of a power hungry president. Along with that, a separate but equal branch of judges were created to balance the powers of the president and the Congress. It's job was to interpret the laws passed by the Congress and signed by the president. After the ratification of the Constitution and the creation of the Union, this new order became the established order. The liberals now had to defend the old regime instead of attacking it. The liberals of Europe became the conservatives of America.

The New American Spectrum

Now, saying all Americans became conservatives is wrong, as not all Americans wanted the Union. Many famous Americans, including some of our Founders, were happy with the decentralized confederation that arose after the Treaty of Paris. Patrick Henry and the authors of the Anti-Federalist Papers thought the then proposed Constitution would take away from individual liberty and state sovereignty. And, in a way, they were right, in that some state powers in confederacy were given to the new federal government. The solution between the Anti-Federalist and Federalist beliefs was the Bill of Rights, a list of ten amendments to the Constitution that spelled out the individual rights of Americans and their home states, as well as the areas of these rights the federal government could not tread.

These ideological divisions of our first leaders is where the new American political spectrum began. Like Europe, the liberals were wary of the federal government and felt that the individual's liberty was the most important thing to the nation. The conservatives were the supporters of the federal government and its stronger central powers, but they also supported the Bill of Rights and the federalism that kept states sovereign from the federal government's encroachment.

An example of this is the difference between our second president, John Adams, and his friend, rival and eventual successor, Thomas Jefferson. Adams has always been a supporter of natural rights and individual liberty, but he did not have a high opinion of the people as a self-governing entity. Well read in Roman and Greek history, he knew the implications of letting the mob run the government. Jefferson, on the the other hand, was not a fan of a strong central government and had a romantic vision of the farmer citizen. He had reservations about George Washington's as well as Adams's governance. Most of all, had a deep hatred of Alexander Hamilton's designs for the nation through the Treasury. During his presidency, Jefferson tore down many of the ideas and laws that Washington and Adams had put up in the belief they detracted from individual and state liberty.

Enter Socialism

This division between Constitutional conservatives (called Federalists) and individualist liberals lasted up until the heyday of the Industrial Revolution in America. The Civil War, one of the first Industrial Age wars, had just ended and the country was rebuilding from the bloodshed. European immigrants who had come before, during and after the war had brought with them an idea that become a revolutionary idea in Europe: socialism. An idea that had already co-opted the European liberals, as seen in the revolutionary year of 1848.

The rapid industrialization and urbanization of America had created a new class of working people that did not hold to the anti-government farming citizen nor had the designs on free markets or new roads like the centralizing city dweller. These new workers had little, lived on little and worked for the new industrial bosses. They were the proletariat. They organized into unions, syndicates and various other groups to fight, as a mass, against real or perceived abuses by their employers. The working class grew and grew, and with that growth came the spread of socialism across America. Jefferson's iconic liberal American, the farmer citizen, had been overtaken by the factory worker.

The spread of socialism drastically effected the scope of American politics. The liberalism of the Anti-Federalists shifted further and further right as the revolutionary communists and anarchists stuck at their defense of the old order, the old Constitution and the outdated views on national government. Those who still held to the classical liberal beliefs found themselves standing by the conservatives they used to battle. By the time Franklin Roosevelt was elected in the 1930s, the decades long battle between conservatives, classical liberals and socialists had come to a head. No longer did individual rights and a limited federal government hold the left in American politics. Socialism had taken it and secured it. Liberal now meant “group” and not individual.

This new left-wing, the left of big, paternal government, can said to have been brought to the public by President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson, the first president with a PhD, had the belief that America should become an organic state. People working together for a collective goal set by the smartest of Americans (FDR's “brain trusts”, the countless czars of Obama). This technocratic view was compounded by Wilson's socialistic economic views. Under the name of War Socialism, the Great War gave Wilson room to temporary nationalize most of the economy, with resources being commanded by a War Industries Board, a precursor to the post-WWII military-industrial complex. Wilson also created America's first totalitarian secret police that clamped down on antiwar speech (which wasn't by right-wing isolations, but antiwar socialists), incited the first of the violent Red Scares, militarized American society as well as RE-segregating the federal government. All these things were done by a leftist Democratic president still idolized for his progressive stances. When FDR campaigned, he linked his ideas to Wilson's War Socialism and, when elected, achieved one of the largest peacetime militarizations of a society in American history.

The Left's Right: Fascism

Now that I've gone through the original European spectrum and its changes in the New World due to American independence and the introduction of socialism, it's time to toss in the monster: fascism.

The American left, as well as most of the Western world's left, either do not know of, do not care for or outright lie about its connections to the rise of fascism in Europe and its short appearance in America under Wilson. This is due, most of all, to the genocide committed by the Nazis. No mainstream American ideology wants that on their record. It's also safe to say the peacenik influence of the 1960s on many of the Left have let it forget the violent and destructive pre-Vietnam War era history. But like 1800s America and the abuses against the Indian Nations, the Left should not try to ignore or cover up crimes made in its name by people it holds as heroes.

The rise of European fascism correlates to the fall of European conservatism. With the defeat of the Central Powers and their monarchies, as well as the collapse of Russia and the rise of Russian Communism, the political situation of Central and Eastern Europe became violently chaotic. Communists saw openings and attacked. Germany, Austria and Hungary all had communists attempt coups or even create short lived nations. Even Italy, who was on the winning side of the war, fell into political disarray post-war. The European post-war situation, as compared to the relatively sanguine American post-war situation, looked deeply hopeless.

But, ho!, look to the north! To Switzerland! There be the hero Europe has been waiting for! From the Alps, from his exile, came Italy's new strongman: Il Duce, Benito Mussolini. Mussolini was born and raised as a socialist and a nationalist. For years he wrote and organized for Italian socialist groups. He even began his own paper, which not surprisingly, advocated socialist solutions. But something wasn't right for Mussolini. Socialism's trend was to advocate worldwide worker brotherhood and a worldwide war against the higher economic classes. Mussolini was much too nationalistic to care for a worker in Kursk when the workers in Rome were suffering. Mussolini believed deeply in the greatness of the Italian state and its Roman roots. There was no way he could reconcile the anti-nationalism/terroristic anarchism that turn of the century socialists adhered to and the deep love and ambition he held for his countrymen.

The mistake, or the purposeful misdirection, of calling fascism right wing is that its a half truth. Fascism is in right wing... of the left! From the outside (the far outside), fascism does look like any other reactionary, right-wing European ideology. It's for empire, strongmen leaders, and citizen submission to the state. But, if you look closely, specifically at its social economic beliefs, one will see that despite cracking down on socialists and communists, it was not the opposite of industrial socialism, but its rival.

Fascism's goal was a classless society, like communism, but not through a class war, but class inclusion. Instead of destroying the clergy, the businessmen, the trade unionists; fascism incorporated all the classes under a single class: the national citizen. This is what gives many the idea that fascism was of the right, because of its extreme nationalism. Yet, the extreme nationalism is what puts communists and fascists into struggle, but its not a struggle of conservatives against liberals, but socialists against socialists. They have the exact same goal, but two different ways of doing it. A similar ideological conflict happens between communists and anarchists. Communists want utopia by taking power while anarchists want utopia by destroying power. Same goal, same side, conflicting ways. Conservative social views are based on biblical or natural order, and do not believe in any kind of utoipian classlessness. The Nazis has a much more hierarchal social view within its classlessness, which also lead many to believe in its right-wing origins, but, again, if you look closer, Nazism assailed the traditional German culture and attempted to replace it with a secular religion based on perverted pre-Christian German paganism, another thing conservatives in both Europe and America do not adhere to.

Added to the leftist social goal of fascism, their economics do not follow free market ideology, which American and other Western rightists advocate. Fascists enforce strict regulation on the economy which put industries pretty much under the thumb of government without actual nationalization. This is called corporatism. The economy is “cartel-ed” into different sections which private barons (almost always party members) rule and produce on behalf of the state. Trade unions are incorporated into a national union under fascist control (this aspect is ignored when leftists say fascists clamped down on trade unions). Communists, in contrast, grab for absolute power over the economy. The entire economy is planned (Stalin's Five Year Plan, Mao's steel quota, etc) and products are rationed based on the mantra of “each according to its need”. So, you see, fascism may use the market more than communists, but they hardly take tips from Milton Freidman when conducting economic policy. Like social policy, fascism fights from the left, not the right.

Conclusion: Understanding the Political Spectrum

This article was written in response to some friends asking the difference between communism and fascism and how it relates to the political spectrum. But to truly understand the political spectrum and which ideology goes where, one must realize that the spectrum has never been static. Imagine the original left-right spectrum, with monarchism on the right and republicanism on the left. At the time of its creation, the far left were anti-monarchists with dreams of new Roman-style republics and the far right were supporters of total monarchical control of the state.

Republicanism – Constitutional Monarchy – Absolute Monarchy

The creation of the American democratic republic and its quick rise to power put monarchists to the center right, with republicanism taking the center-left.

Anti-Federalists – Federalists – Constitutional Monarchy – Absolute Monarchy

With the creation of socialism and its anti-monarchism, its advocation of the democratization of the workplace and its atheism, the spectrum once again shifted, with the republicans moving right in defense of the American republic and republican ideals.

Communists – Socialists – Anti-Federalists – Federalists – Constitutional Monarchy – Absolute Monarchy

I could go on and add fascism, direct democracy, Islamism and so on, but you can see how with the creation of more revolutionary, anti-traditional, anti-old regime ideologies, the further right the former left goes until, in the case of American liberals, they are actually called far right in mainstream American politics: the classical liberal and the libertarian.

And that ironic and sad epiphany brings me to my final point. When you look at a nation's political spectrum, you're only looking at a slice of the overall global spectrum. The American far right, libertarians, are far left when compared to Saudi Arabia's absolutism monarchy. American liberalism, the center-left, is considered far right to communist states like Cuba and North Korea. Or to really throw you off, in communist Yugoslavia, where the liberals were socialists who wanted some individual freedom while the conservatives were Tito's Stalinists, the spectrum does not match the words used. Tito, while being considered a conservative communist, was defending the far left while the dissenters were pushing for center-left. The key to this entire long winded mess is to figure out what is the zero-point ideology a country has, and then from there, see who is to the left and to the right.

I know very few people find this interesting, let alone try to make sense of it like I've tried, but ideological accuracy is as important as knowing Magna Carta, the Gettysburg Address and the words to “I”m a Bill on Capitol Hill”. Without accurately defining and placing ideologies on the global political spectrum, we are apt to make massive mistakes with our history, which in turn, as shown by the far left's creeping to the American center, confuses and clouds us from seeing where a person, a group or an idea really belongs. If we forget how extreme some ideas are, we may have to deal with extreme consequences in the future.


Online Liberal said...

Wow, that was not only boring, but pointless.

Oh, I see the link recommending a Jonah Goldberg book, that explains it.

Welcome to the internet. Please try to keep up.

Anonymous said...

Online Liberal:

Your attempt at pithiness makes you look like you're in 4th grade. Nice job!

yukio ngaby said...

You've taken on a huge topic with this post-- probably something that can't be done with any justice in something smaller than a book.

You should probably be sure to draw the connection between socialism and Marxism as well as their roots in Hegel. You might also want to bring up the Frankfurt School and their connection to Columbia University.

I wouldn't be so quick to connect Wilson with socialism. I don't read him as a socialist personally. Instead, he seems more of a Southern Democrat/Idealist. We should remember the Republican party's connection with Progressives at the time as well as the Democrats' backward traditionalist conservativism of the time and the fact that Marx really didn't seem to shape either significantly.

Jordan said...

I don't really consider Wilson an actual socialist, party and ideal. But his love of Hegel and his economics were socialistic. His nationalism and his anti-communism/anti-immigrant views clearly weren't of the international socialists of the day.

yukio ngaby said...

Not to get into an argument with you, but I would still wouldn't link Wilson to socialism. Yes, some of Wilson's policies would line up with socialism, but socialism isn't a set of policies without historical context, but a formal political theory. Without the form and theory, it isn't socialism-- even including a love of Hegel.

Wilson's nationalism was highly informed by the times, WWI being, in some part, fought for national identity and succeeding in a great deal of upheaval and re-definition of the concept.

I think socialism, after fits and starts (FDR, etc.), found its real lasting acceptance into mainstream US federal politics in the '60s and was confirmed by Johnson-- an interesting but tragic (for us) figure. It was there that the liberal was forced into a choice. This was what resulted into the fusionism of the New Conservatives (is that the right label? I can't remember off the top of my head)and the incorporation of classical liberal ideals and values into conservatism.

Jordan said...

That was probably a tad sloppy on my part. There's a reason the old Progressives were never accepted socialists nor were they considered fascists or any other label of the day despite their overlapping ideas, they just didn't fit in to any broad label. American Progressives were a class of their own.

And I do believe they were called the New Conservatives, but I've heard them called Buckley Conservatives and Fusionist Conservatives.