Newsweek magazine, which has given us many of the most damaging deceptions about America in recent years (remember the “Koran-Down-the-Toilet” hoax?), now weighs in with a pretentious and embarrassingly ignorant cover story, “We Are All Socialists Now.” To be sure, the basic theme–that the huge “stimulus” and the big big big TARP is leading once-capitalist America down the dangerous road to socialism–is not limited to the skinny weekly. You hear it all over the place, from Right to Left, from talk radio to the evening news (or so I am told; personally, I haven’t watched an evening news broadcast since 1987).
There’s a element of truth to the basic theme (although not to the headline): the state is getting more and more deeply involved in business, even taking controlling interests in some private companies. And the state is even trying to “make policy” for private companies they do not control, but merely “help” with “infusions of capital,” as in the recent call for salary caps for certain CEOs. So state power is growing at the expense of corporations.
But that’s not socialism. Socialism rests on a firm theoretical bedrock: the abolition of private property. I haven’t heard anyone this side of Barney Frank calling for any such thing. What is happening now–and Newsweek is honest enough to say so down in the body of the article–is an expansion of the state’s role, an increase in public/private joint ventures and partnerships, and much more state regulation of business. Yes, it’s very “European,” and some of the Europeans even call it “social democracy,” but it isn’t.
It’s fascism. Nobody calls it by its proper name, for two basic reasons: first, because “fascism” has long since lost its actual, historical, content; it’s been a pure epithet for many decades. Lots of the people writing about current events like what Obama et. al. are doing, and wouldn’t want to stigmatize it with that “f” epithet.
Second, not one person in a thousand knows what fascist political economy was. Yet during the great economic crisis of the 1930s, fascism was widely regarded as a possible solution, indeed as the only acceptable solution to a spasm that had shaken the entire First World, and beyond. It was hailed as a “third way” between two failed systems (communism and capitalism), retaining the best of each. Private property was preserved, as the role of the state was expanded. This was necessary because the Great Depression was defined as a crisis “of the system,” not just a glitch “in the system.” And so Mussolini created the “Corporate State,” in which, in theory at least, the big national enterprises were entrusted to state ownership (or substantial state ownership) and of course state management. Some of the big “Corporations” lasted a very long time; indeed some have only very recently been privatized, and the state still holds important chunks–so-called “golden shares”–in some of them.
Back in the early thirties, before “fascism” became a pure epithet, leading politicians and economists recognized that it might work, and many believed it was urgently required. When Roosevelt was elected in 1932, in fact, Mussolini personally reviewed his book, Looking Forward, and the Duce‘s bottom line was, “this guy is one of us.”
As an economic fix, the Corporate State was not a great success, either in America or in Italy. Roosevelt’s New Deal didn’t cure America’s economic ills any more than Mussolini’s Third Way did. In both countries, however, its most durable consequence was the expansion of the ability of the state to give orders to more and more citizens, in more and more corners of their lives. In the first half of the twentieth century, that was hardly unique to the “fascist” states; tyranny was the order of the day in the “socialist” or “communist” countries as well (not for nothing were so many learned books written about “totalitarianism,” which embraced both “systems”). Paul Johnson writes of a “new species” of “despotic utopias,” and Richard Pipes went so far as to call both Soviet Bolshevism and Italian fascism “heresies of socialism.”
So I suppose to that extent, Newsweek has a certain point, although probably not what the authors of the cover story had in mind. For those of us more concerned with the future of freedom than with the pedantic subtleties, the key point is the political one: the great “rescue” to which our governors are subjecting us will challenge our commitment to freedom in many dramatic ways. It’s going to be a hell of a fight.