Fascism: It Couldn’t Happen Here, Part I

If all goes well, there will be more than just this post. I’m planning a series discussing Fascism, the origins of the modern American state, and the reality of whether a fascist, authoritarian government, similar to Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany, could happen here. There are a lot of reasons for this series, but the most recent catalyst is this a comment. There are several things in the comment that demonstrate the commenter’s misunderstanding of what fascism is and what happened in this country during the New Deal. For example:

smedley butler and fdr stood up to the facists in the 1930s and 1940s.

Technically our commenter is correct, FDR stood up to Adolf Hitler, the Nazi’s and Germany’s quest to dominate Europe during WWII. However, given the context of the post he is responding to, he is definitely offbase. Here is the specific point that it appears he is responding to:

Even if he [ed: Ron Paul] is unsuccessful at forcing a brokered convention, his candidacy has inoculated a significant part of the U.S. electorate against making the same mistake our grandparents made in the late 1920’s and 1930’s when they embraced the fascism of Hoover and FDR, plunging the U.S. into a depression that lasted well into 1947.

Tarran, the author, is not discussing whether FDR confronted the Nazi’s (and the Japanese militarists and Italian Fascists) directly during WWII. Instead, he is discussing the political underpinnings of the New Deal itself, and FDR’s political beliefs. This is a fairly common mistake. People believe that, because they fought the Fascists in WWII, FDR and Churchill were not Fascists. It does not logically follow that FDR and Churchill were not fascist simply because they fought Hitler and Mussolini. Prior to late 1938 Italy and Germany were opposed to each other and, at least to some degree, Mussolini had sided with France and England as recently as 1936. During the Anschluss of Austria there was a quite real likelihood of Italy intervening militarily against Germany. Yet no one would claim that Mussolini was not a fascist. We cannot determine if FDR and the New Deal were fascist from a military conflict. Instead, we will have to look at the actions and characteristics of the man and the policies.

Another key fallacy is brought out in our commenter’s post:

over the past 75 years the social safety net has saved lives whereas the free market—the playground of both the facists AND the libertarians—has dictated the destruction of anyone and any thing that stands in the way of material profit.

It is an incredibly common belief that Fascists (to include Nazi’s, generally) believe in the free market and capitalism and that they are part of the right wing of politics. A cursory examination of the writings, speeches and actions of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo reveals this to be completely untrue. Understanding where Fascism and National Socialism fits on the political spectrum requires a bit deeper digging, all the way back to the Second International, the Zimmerwald Conference and an understanding of what constitutes the revolutionary left and reformist right of socialism. When a Communist refers to a National Socialist as “right wing”, he actually is referring to his position within the socialist framework. It is (and has long been) a vast misunderstanding of socialism to conflate National Socialism and Fascism (both socialist movements) with right wing conservatives, descendants of England’s Burkean Whigs.

It has been necessary to create a new method of understanding political orientation in order to undo the damage that this confusion has caused. One such system was created by Jerry Pournelle, known as The Pournelle Political Axes. Another one is explained by Liberty Papers founder, Eric, in his post A Better Political Spectrum. In either of these logical and well structured approaches to understanding politics we can see that National Socialists and Fascists are clearly not in the same portion of the political spectrum as libertarians and conservatives.

So, with this ground work established, let’s start with a common understanding of what Fascism and National Socialism are and how they relate to free market capitalism. First, some reference material and excerpts from them:

1. Mussolini defines Fascism

The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State.

2. From Wikipedia’s entry on Fascism

Stanley Payne’s Fascism: Comparison and Definition (1980) uses a lengthy itemized list of characteristics to identify fascism, including the creation of an authoritarian state; a regulated, state-integrated economic sector; fascist symbolism; anti-liberalism; anti-communism; anti-conservatism. He argues that common aim of all fascist movements was elimination of the autonomy or, in same cases, the existence of large-scale capitalism.

3. Ludwig von Mises Socialism argues that Fascism is an inevitable evolution of Socialism. He says in the preface to the second edition:

Neither is there any substantial difference between the intentions of the self-styled ‘progressives’ and those of the Italian Fascists and the German Nazis. The Fascists and the Nazis were no less eager to establish all-round regimentation of all economic activities than those governments and parties which flamboyantly advertise their anti-Fascist tenets.

4. Dr. Lawrence Britt wrote an article which appeared in the Spring 2003 edition of Free Inquiry, page 20, and was called “Fascism Anyone?”. The article is reposted here. In that article he includes 14 defining characteristics of fascism, which I’m going to list here:

  1. Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism.
  2. Disdain for the importance of human rights.
  3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause.
  4. The supremacy of the military/avid militarism.
  5. Rampant sexism.
  6. A controlled mass media.
  7. Obsession with national security.
  8. Religion and ruling elite tied together.
  9. Power of corporations protected. [note: this only applies to corporations that support the fascist government]
  10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated.
  11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts.
  12. Obsession with crime and punishment.
  13. Rampant cronyism and corruption.
  14. Fraudulent elections.

While I do not fully agree with Britt, this list of characteristics is going to be interesting when we start digging into the New Deal and FDR as the series progresses. In any case, he is describing characteristics and behaviors of a fascist government rather than the ideals, principles and philosophies they espouse. Reading Hitler and Mussolini is quite enlightening. We quickly discover that they do not believe in the free market, economic freedom or the independence of corporations from government regulation. If we remove their anti-communist rhetoric and listen to how they want to organize society it becomes remarkably clear that they are socialists with a strong nationalist and militarist bent. What is truly interesting is that this is rarely, if ever, made clear in political science courses, the media or any other common forum for discussing politics.

Given this, how does National Socialism and Fascism relate to Capitalism? Capitalism is a method of organizing economic life that calls for the state to not be involved in regulating the economic marketplace (among other things). Fascism does not allow for individual choice independent of the State. Capitalism cannot work if the individual is not free to choose within the marketplace. Fascism and Capitalism cannot co-exist. In fact, Capitalism is only possible within a Liberal society (not liberal in the sense that the political parties in the USA currently use the word, however, where it is roughly equal to progressive or democratic socialism).

In Part II we’ll start tackling the foundations of FDR’s politics and the New Deal.

  • bt

    As long as you and I understand that there is some crooked shit going on upstairs, I could care less what “it” is called.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2006/11/22/comrades-i-hereby-declare-the-revolution/ Adam Selene

    Shrugs, you might care less, but I think it is critical that we use political terms correctly. Their incorrect use has led to some very “crooked shit”, as you so eloquently put it.

  • John V

    Good start. Reminds me of a post I wrote a while back:


    I would just brush up your wording in the opening paragraphs where you repeat “betray” and “misunderstanding” or “lack of understanding” in a way that doesn’t make sense. it’s “betray an understanding” or simply misunderstand.

    Not trying to split hairs but it would help a lot.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2006/11/22/comrades-i-hereby-declare-the-revolution/ Adam Selene

    Good point, I cleaned up the first few paragraphs to read easier and added a bit more structure to the argument against the fallacy that one fact gives us proof that another claim is true.

  • http://www.no-treason.com Joshua Holmes

    Having met and discussed with a lot of socialists, I have to strongly disagree. For socialists, they are deeply focussed on the struggle between the working class and the ruling class. Some of them think that controlling the state is the means to control the capitalists. Other seem to think that capitalists benefit from the current system and that crushing the state is the way to bring freedom to the working class.

    As for myself, I am neutral on the capitalist-socialist distinction. The only thing I care about is that the vaguely Lockian ruels are folllowed. Beyond that, I couldn’t care less who owns the means of production.

    Oddly enough, there can be libertarian socialists. A libertarian fascist cannot exist.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/ Adam Selene

    You have to disagree with what? You haven’t said anything that contradicted me. A “libertarian socialist” is called an anarcho-syndicalist, by the way. And how can you be “neutral on the Capitalist-Socialist” distinction? Capitalism does not have room for the state to even regulate the market, or intervene in the market, or any of the other things that statists, whether they call themselves socialists, progressives, or anything else, want to do. The distinction is quite clear and basic.

  • Jamie

    “I’m planning a series discussing Fascism, the origins of the modern American state, and the reality of whether a fascist, authoritarian government, similar to Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany, could happen here.”

    It’s already here.

    Beginning in February, Americans flying on DOMESTIC flights will require permission and pre-approval from Homeland Security and from the TSA. Remember that we used to excoriate totalitarian Russia and Nazi Germany when they instituted these restrictions on domestic travel:


    “The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is taking significant steps toward implementing a key 9/11 Commission recommendation – uniform watch list matching by TSA – also known as Secure Flight.

    The program is designed to conduct uniform prescreening of passenger information against federal government watch lists for domestic and international flights. Currently, air carriers are responsible for checking passengers against government watch lists.”

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2006/11/22/comrades-i-hereby-declare-the-revolution/ Adam Selene

    Jamie, don’t imprint your political beliefs on this. I am working on something objective and historical. Fascism came to America long before the TSA, DHS, 9/11 and George W. Bush.

  • rst

    i dunno..lets look at some of the art in the good ol us

    “Hey Uncle Sam
    Put your name at the top of his list
    And the Statue of Liberty
    Started shakin’ her fist
    And the eagle will fly
    Man, it’s gonna be hell
    When you hear Mother Freedom
    Start ringin’ her bell
    And it feels like the whole wide world is raining down on you
    Brought to you Courtesy of the Red White and Blue…..Justice will be served
    And the battle will rage
    This big dog will fight
    When you rattle his cage
    And you’ll be sorry that you messed with
    The U.S. of A.
    `Cause we`ll put a boot in your ass
    It`s the American way”

    and the fascists sure love eagles too….http://home.comcast.net/~lowe9101/mussolini/4.htm

  • http://cherenkov-malthusmyfriend.blogspot.com/ Cherenkov

    I don’t think I’ve ever shot coffee from my nostrils so far before.

    Your definition of fascism is truly weird. Mussolini did create the word and he defined it as such:

    We have constituted a Corporative and Fascist state, the state of national society, a State which concentrates, controls, harmonizes and tempers the interests of all social classes, which are thereby protected in equal measure. Whereas, during the years of demo-liberal regime, labour looked with diffidence upon the state, was, in fact, outside the State and against the state, and considered the state an enemy of every day and every hour, there is not one working Italian today who does not seek a place in his Corporation or federation, who does not wish to be a living atom of that great, immense, living organization which is the national Corporate State of Fascism.

    Fascism or, as some call it, authoritarianism is here in America and will remain so until the free countries of the world unite in a war of liberation much like we did to free Europe from Hitler and Mussolini.

    I would also point out that peak oil will likely help bring the fascist state to fruition.

    Life After the Oil Crash

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2006/11/22/comrades-i-hereby-declare-the-revolution/ Adam Selene

    Cherenkov, what are you talking about? I didn’t define fascism in my own words, I used Mussolini’s, among others, to define fascism. Give me something specific that caused you to shoot coffee from your nostrils.

    rst, and anyone else reading this post, it has nothing to do with Bush and the current state of American politics. This post is an attempt to objectively look at the history of the 1930’s and ask some questions that most people seem to avoid.

  • John V

    Adam, I’m sorry that some of the comments here have been real head scratchers. I thought your post was very objective, well thought out and crystal clear.

    Some of what I’m reading in the comments just seems like contrived contrarianism.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2006/11/22/comrades-i-hereby-declare-the-revolution/ Adam Selene

    thanks for the input John.

  • Jonathan Bostwick

    The ideology behind fascism was not invented in the 1920s.
    To borrow Edward Abbey’s line about Neocons, its “as old as Babylon and as evil hell.”

    Worship of the State as above the individual and regimentation of industry to the will of the State was called “Fascism” in the 1930s, “Federalism” in the time of Hamilton, “Unionism” under Lincoln, “Progressivism” at the end of the 19th Century, “The New Deal” during the Depression, and today is known as “National Greatness conversation”.

  • Jonathan Bostwick

    Make that “National Greatness Conservatism”

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2006/11/22/comrades-i-hereby-declare-the-revolution/ Adam Selene

    What does that have to do with the price of tea in china, or this blog post?

  • Jonathan Bostwick

    I’d say it has a lot to do with “Fascism, the origins of the modern American state, and the reality of whether a fascist, authoritarian government, similar to Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany, could happen here.”

    Fascism in America is not something that happened during the New Deal or that will come about because of George W. Militarism, inflation, the subsidizing and consolidating of industry, the negation of property rights and self determination have been a part of American Politics since the Constitution and has been dominant, with few exceptions, for almost 150 years.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/2005/11/22/a-bit-about-kevin/ Kevin


    Let me sum up your definition of fascism:

    “anyone who disagrees with me.”

  • Jamie

    @Adam: Your words:

    “I’m planning a series discussing Fascism, the origins of the modern American state, and the reality of whether a fascist, authoritarian government, similar to Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany, could happen here.”

    In your intro, it seemed that there was some question about ‘whether’ it could happen. I was merely stating that it’s already here.

    “don’t imprint your political beliefs on this.”

    It’s rather difficult to have a discussion about political history without bringing politics into it.

  • Jamie

    @ Jonathan Bostwick:

    The most modern form of American fascism is Neoconservatism.

  • Adam Selene

    Jamie, you’re still overlaying what I’m writing with your political viewpoint. This series of entries has nothing to do with the current Administration.

  • Jamie

    “This series of entries has nothing to do with the current Administration.”

    It should. Fascism has ramped up exponentially under the Bush/Cheney/Chertoff junta.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/2006/11/22/comrades-i-hereby-declare-the-revolution/ Adam Selene

    It’s my blog post, not yours. If you want to write about the current Administration on your blog, feel free.

  • Jamie

    Cool. I’ll leave you to your masturbatory endeavor.

  • Adam Selene

    Or, perhaps, you should see where it goes instead of demanding that I deal with the issues you want dealt with. And why is the history of how our modern state came to be a “masturbatory endeavor”? Or is all history that doesn’t tackle the topics you want to tackle irrelevant?

  • tkc

    Give “Three New Deals” by Wolfgang Schivelbusch a read.

    Also, a few points from the Nationalist Socialist platform in Germany:

    In consideration of the monstrous sacrifice in property and blood that each war demands of the people personal enrichment through a war must be designated as a crime against the people. Therefore we demand the total confiscation of all war profits.
    We demand the nationalisation of all (previous) associated industries (trusts).
    We demand a division of profits of all heavy industries.
    We demand an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare.
    We demand the creation of a healthy middle class and its conservation, immediate communalization of the great warehouses and their being leased at low cost to small firms, the utmost consideration of all small firms in contracts with the State, county or municipality.
    We demand a land reform suitable to our needs, provision of a law for the free expropriation of land for the purposes of public utility, abolition of taxes on land and prevention of all speculation in land.
    The state is to be responsible for a fundamental reconstruction of our whole national education program, to enable every capable and industrious German to obtain higher education and subsequently introduction into leading positions. The plans of instruction of all educational institutions are to conform with the experiences of practical life. The comprehension of the concept of the State must be striven for by the school [Staatsbuergerkunde] as early as the beginning of understanding. We demand the education at the expense of the State of outstanding intellectually gifted children of poor parents without consideration of position or profession.
    For the execution of all of this we demand the formation of a strong central power in the Reich. Unlimited authority of the central parliament over the whole Reich and its organizations in general. The forming of state and profession chambers for the execution of the laws made by the Reich within the various states of the confederation. The leaders of the Party promise, if necessary by sacrificing their own lives, to support by the execution of the points set forth above without consideration.

    The last point is the corporatism that fascism supported. Note that it is nothing like a business corporation present in America today.

  • Jonathan Bostwick


    “The most modern form of American fascism is Neoconservatism.”

    After I made the post I smacked myself for missing the obvious. Today’s most common form of fascism, and the word used most often to smash dissent, is bipartisanism.