Ludwig von Mises Institute – by David Gordon
Lew Rockwell offers us in Fascism vs. Capitalism a provocative and insightful diagnosis of the political and economic ills of our time. The situation that we face, he says, is dire; but, fortunately, he does not leave us without remedy. To the contrary, the wisdom of Mises, Rothbard, and their colleagues in the Austrian School offers the means to rescue us, and the inspiring leadership of Ron Paul shows us the way to put their ideas into practice.
As the book’s title suggests, Rockwell finds “fascism” to be the key concept needed to analyze the modern American era. He is quick to deflect an objection:
“Fascism” has become a term of general derision and rebuke. It is tossed casually in the direction of anything a critic happens to dislike. … But fascism is a real concept, not a stick with which to beat opponents arbitrarily. The abuse of this important word undermines its true value as a term referring to a very real phenomenon, and one whose spirit lives on even now.
What, then, is fascism? To Rockwell, it is an aggressive nationalism and imperialism, together with domination of the economy by the state.
The state, for the fascist, is the instrument by which the people’s common destiny is realized, and in which the potential for greatness is to be found. Individual rights, and the individual himself, are strictly subordinate to the state’s great and glorious goals for the nation. In foreign affairs, the fascist attitude is reflected in a belligerent chauvinism, a contempt for other peoples, and a society-wide reverence for soldiers and the martial virtues.
To what extent does this conception of things apply to contemporary America? Rockwell demonstrates in detail that it applies all-too-well. Following one of his great predecessors, the Old Right stalwart John T. Flynn, he distinguishes eight “marks of fascism,” and for each one he illustrates its contemporary relevance. We have space to discuss only a few of these, but the reader is urged to read Rockwell’s complete discussion to grasp fully the strength of his analysis.
When the ordinary person thinks of fascism, he probably identifies it with the cult of the Leader, in the style of Hitler and Mussolini.
I [Rockwell] wouldn’t say that we truly have a dictatorship of one man in this country, but we do have a form of dictatorship of one sector of government over the entire country. The executive branch has spread so dramatically over the last century that it has become a joke to speak of checks and balances. What the kids learn in civics class has nothing to do with reality. … As for the leadership principle, there is no greater lie in American public life than the propaganda we hear every four years about how the new president/messiah is going to usher in the great dispensation of peace, equality, liberty, and global human happiness. The idea here is that the whole of society is really shaped and controlled by a single will — a point that requires a leap of faith so vast that you have to disregard everything you know about reality to believe it.
The increased power of the executive branch has been accompanied by a policy of militarism and war.
Ronald Reagan used to claim that his military buildup was essential to keeping the peace. The history of US foreign policy just since the 1980s has shown that this is wrong. We’ve had one war after another, wars waged by the United States against noncompliant countries, and the creation of even more client states and colonies.
US military strength has led not to peace but the opposite. It has caused most people in the world to regard the United States as a threat, and it has led to unconscionable wars on many countries. Wars of aggression were defined at Nuremberg as crimes against humanity.
At the heart of fascism lies state control of the economy. As Mises long ago pointed out, socialism can come about while the form of capitalism remains. In this type of socialism, the government dictates economic decisions and the ostensible business owners must obey its orders. It was precisely this pattern that Mises found in Nazism, and, unfortunately, it has become increasingly prevalent in America today.
The reality of bureaucratic administration has been with us at least since the New Deal, which was modeled on the planning bureaucracy that lived in World War I. The planned economy — whether in Mussolini’s time or ours — requires bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is the heart, lungs, and veins of the planning state. And yet to regulate an economy as thoroughly as this one is today is to kill prosperity with a billion tiny cuts.
Those devoted to freedom will of course reject fascism, with its blind power worship and dangerous economics, but what if one finds the fascist vision appealing? Can it maintain itself in power for the indefinite future? Rockwell does not think so; we have entered the period of “late fascism,” and the appeal of the “cult of the colossal” has passed from the scene.
The fascist style emphasized inspiration, magnificence, industrial progress, grandeur, all headed by a valiant leader making smart decisions about all things. This style of American rule lasted from the New Deal through the end of the Cold War. … Fascism, like socialism, cannot achieve its aims. So there is a way in which it makes sense to speak of a stage of history: We are in the stage of late fascism. The grandeur is gone, and all we are left with is a gun pointed at our heads. The system was created to be great, but it is reduced in our time to being crude. Valor is now violence. Majesty is now malice.
What, then, is the way forward? Rockwell looks to the great Austrians for an answer. By contrast with intellectuals who pander to the powerful, the Austrians
must go against the grain. They must say the things that others do not want to hear. They must be willing to be unpopular, socially and politically. I’m thinking here of people like Benjamin Anderson, Garet Garrett, Henry Hazlitt, and, on the Continent, L. Albert Hahn, F.A. Hayek, and, above all, Ludwig von Mises. They gave up career and fame to stick with the truth and say what had to be said.
Rockwell finds particular inspiration in the work of Murray Rothbard.
We all do well to emulate this master when we go about our work. When Rothbard would take on a subject, his very first stop was not to sit in an easy chair and think off the top of his head; instead, he went to the literature and sought to master it. He read everything he could from all points of view. He sought to become as much an expert in the topic as the other experts in the field. … There is another respect in which we can all emulate Murray. He was fearless in speaking the truth. He never let fear of colleagues, fear of the profession, fear of editors or political cultures, stand in the way of his desire to say what was true. This is why he turned to the Austrian tradition even though most economists at the time considered it a dead paradigm. This is why he embraced liberty, and worked to shore up its theoretical and practice rationale at a time when the rest of the academic world was going the other way.
How are the ideas of Mises and Rothbard to be put into practice? How can we enlist a wide public in the cause of liberty? Rockwell points to the career of Ron Paul. He
knew that the philosophy of liberty, when explained persuasively and with conviction, had a universal appeal. Every group he spoke to heard a slightly different presentation of that message, as Ron showed how their particular concerns were addressed most effectively by a policy of freedom.
Everyone interested in the future of liberty needs to read Fascism vs. Capitalism.
David Gordon is a Senior Fellow at the Mises Institute. He is author of Resurrecting Marx and An Introduction to Economic Reasoning and editor of numerous books including The Essential Rothbard, available in the Mises Store. Send him mail. See David Gordon’s article archives.
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 Rockwell discusses in detail Flynn’s outstanding book on the growth of fascism in America, As We Go Marching, published in 1944.
 Rockwell devotes an outstanding chapter to Guenter Reimann’s The Vampire Economy, which discusses in detail the takeover of the German economy by the Nazis.