Administrative State, Angelo M. Codaville, Babylon Bee, Benito Mussolini, Classical Liberal, Constitutional Republic, Corporatism, crony capitalism, Dan Klein, Democracy, fascism, FDR, Federalism, Friedrich Hayek, G.W.F. Hegel, Hitler, Il Duce, Joe Biden, Joseph Stalin, Majoritarianism, Nationalism, New Deal, Semi-Fascism, Sheldon Richman, Socialism
When partisans want to make sure they get their way, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to hear them claim their opponents are “anti-democratic”. Well, one-party rule is not democratic, just in case that’s unclear to leftists prattling about “hunting down” the opposition. We now have those forces hurling cries of “fascism” and “semi-fascism” at political adversaries for opposing their use of the state’s coercive power to get their way and to punish political enemies.
The U.S. is not a democracy; it is a constitutional republic. The reason it’s not a democracy is that the nation’s founders were wary of the dangers of majoritarianism. There are many checks on unbridled majoritarianism built into our system of government, including the many protections and guarantees of individual rights in the Constitution, as well as federalism and three branches of government intended as coequals.
In a short essay on democracy, Dan Klein refers to a mythology that has developed around the presumed democratic ideal, quoting Friedrich Hayek on the “fantasy of consensus” that tends to afflict democratic absolutists. Broad consensus is possible on many issues, but it might have been an imperative within small bands of primitive humans, when survival of the band was of paramount concern. That’s not the case in modern societies, however. Classical liberals are often derided as “anti-democratic”, but like the founders, their distaste for pure democracy stems from a recognition of the potential for tyrannies of the majority. Klein notes that the liberal emphasis on individual rights is naturally at tension with democracy. Obviously, a majority might selfishly prefer actions that would be very much to the detriment of individuals in the minority, so certain safeguards are necessary.
However, the trepidation of classical liberals for democracy also has to do with the propensity for majorities to “governmentalize” affairs so as to codify their preferences. As Klein says, this often means regulation of many details of life and social interactions. These are encroachments to which classical liberals have a strong aversion. One might fairly say “small government” types like me are “anti-pure democracy”, and as the founders believed, democratic processes are desirable if governing power is distributed and restrained by constitutional principles and guarantees of individual rights.
Democracy has vulnerabilities beyond the danger posed by majoritarian dominance, however. Elections mean nothing if they can be manipulated, and they are easily corrupted at local levels by compromises to the administration of the election process. Indeed, today powerful national interests are seeking to influence voting for local election officials across the country, contributing substantial sums to progressive candidates. It’s therefore ironic to hear charges of racism and anti-democracy leveled at those who advocate measures to protect election integrity or institutions such as federalism.
And here we have the White House Press Secretary insisting that those in the “minority” on certain issues (dependent, of course, on how pollsters phrase the question) are “extremists”! To charge that someone or some policy is “anti-democratic” usually means you didn’t get your way or you’re otherwise motivated by political animus.
Biden and others are throwing around the term fascism as well, though few of these partisans can define the term with any precision. Most who pretend to know its meaning imagine that fascism evokes some sort of conservative authoritarianism. Promoting that impression has been the purpose of many years of leftist efforts to redefine fascism to suit their political ends. Stalin actually promoted the view that anything to the right of the Communist Party was inherently fascist. But today, fascism is an accurate description of much of Western governance, dominated as it is by the administrative state.
I quote here from my post “The Fascist Roader” from 2016:
“A large government bureaucracy can coexist with heavily regulated, privately-owned businesses, who are rewarded by their administrative overlords for expending resources on compliance and participating in favored activities. The rewards can take the form of rich subsidies, status-enhancing revolving doors between industry and powerful government appointments, and steady profits afforded by monopoly power, as less monied and politically-adept competitors drop out of the competition for customers. We often call this “corporatism”, or “crony capitalism”, but it is classic fascism, as pioneered by Benito Mussolini’s government in Italy in the 1920s. Here is Sheldon Richman on the term’s derivation:
‘As an economic system, fascism is socialism with a capitalist veneer. The word derives from fasces, the Roman symbol of collectivism and power: a tied bundle of rods with a protruding ax.’”
Meanwhile, Hitler’s style of governing shared some of the characteristics of Mussolini’s fascism, but there were important differences: Hitler persecuted Jews, blaming them for all manner of social problems, and he ultimately had them slaughtered across much of Europe. Mussolini was often brutal with his political enemies. At the same time, he sought to unite an Italian people who were otherwise a fairly diverse lot, but once Mussolini was under Hitler’s thumb, Italian Jews were persecuted as well.
Angelo M. Codevilla provides an excellent account of Mussolini’s political career and the turns in his social philosophy over the years. He always considered himself a dedicated socialist, but the views he professed evolved as dictated by political expediency. So did his definition of fascism. As he took power in Italy with the aid of “street fighters”, fascism came to mean nationalism combined with rule by the administrative state and a corresponding preemption of legislative authority. And there were concerted efforts by Mussolini to control the media and censor critics. Sound familiar? Here’s a quote from Il Duce himself on this matter:
“Because the nature of peoples is variable, and it is easy to persuade them of things, but difficult to keep them thus persuaded. Hence one must make sure that, when they no longer believe, one may be able then to force them to believe.”
Here is Codevilla quoting Mussolini from 1919 on his philosophy of fascism:
“The fascist movement, he said, is ‘a group of people who join together for a time to accomplish certain ends.’ ‘It is about helping any proletarian groups who want to harmonize defense of their class with the national interest.’ ‘We are not, a priori, for class struggle or for class-cooperation. Either may be necessary for the nation according to circumstances.’”
This framing underlies another basic definition of fascism: a system whereby government coercion is used to extract private benefits, whether by class or individual. Codevilla states that Mussolini was focused on formal “representation of labor” in policy-making circles. Today, western labor unions seem to have an important, though indirect, influence on policy, and labor is of course the presumed beneficiary of many modern workplace regulations.
Modern corporatism is directly descended from Mussolini’s fascist state. The symbiosis that exists between large corporations and government has several dimensions, including regulatory capture, subsidies and taxes to direct flows of resources, high rates of government consumption, rich government contracts, and of course cronyism. This carries high social costs, as government dominance of economic affairs gives rise to a culture of rent seeking and diminished real productivity. Here is Codevilla’s brief description of the transition:
“Hegel, as well as the positivist and Progressive movements, had argued for the sovereignty of expert administrators. Fascist Italy was the first country in which the elected legislature gave up its essential powers to the executive, thus abandoning the principle, first enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, by which people are rightly governed only through laws made by elected representatives. By the outbreak of World War II, most Western countries’ legislatures—the U.S. Congress included—had granted the executive something like ‘full powers,’ each by its own path, thus establishing the modern administrative state.”
Mussolini saw Italian fascism as the forerunner to FDR’s New Deal and took great pride in that. On this point, he said:
“… the state is responsible for the people’s economic well-being, it no longer allows economic forces to run according to their own nature.”
The Babylon Bee’s take on Biden and fascism would have been more accurate had it alluded to Mussolini, but not nearly as funny! The following link (and photoshopped image) is obviously satire, but it has a whiff of eerie truth.
Biden’s slur that Republicans are “anti-democratic” is an obvious distortion, and it’s rather ironic at that. The nation’s support for democratic institutions has always been qualified for good reasons: strict majoritarianism tends to disenfranchise voters in the minority, and in fact it can pose real dangers to their lives and liberties. Our constitutional republic offers “relief valves”, such as “voting with your feet”, constitutional protections, and seeking recourse in court. Biden’s party, however, has a suspicious advantage via control of election supervision in many key urban areas of the country. This can be exploited in national elections to win more races as long as the rules on election administration are sufficiently lax. This is a true corruption of democracy, unlike the earnest efforts to improve election integrity now condemned by democrats.
Joe Biden hasn’t the faintest understanding of what fascism means. He uses the term mostly to suggest that Trump, and perhaps most Republicans, have authoritarian and racist sympathies. Meanwhile, he works to entrench the machinery and the breadth of our own fascist state, usurping legislative authority. He is buttressed by a treacherous security apparatus, “street fighters” under the guise of Antifa and BLM, and the private media acting as a propaganda arm of the administration. Joe Biden, you’re our fascist now.