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Fascist is a contemptuous word, an insult meant to end discussion and label the target as not worth listening to. It is often the knee jerk reaction of the left to those they hold in contempt. What might surprise many is this was not always so, that there was a time that fascism was fashionable among the world’s progressive elite and admired by many on the left.

In the first part of the twentieth century the countries of Europe were ripe with those seeking an alternative to the old capitalist system. Something more modern and reliable for a new more modern age. One of the alternatives getting lots of press at the time was socialism. This interest in socialism especially stepped up after the overthrow of the Czar in Russia and the rapid industrialization that followed. In the United States unions and a large number of the progressives saw promise in socialists ideology and even went to study communist Russia in action. When Lincoln Steffens, the famous progressive, return from a trip to Russia he declared “I have seen the future and it works.” In Italy a young Mussolini was also taken with socialist dogma and was a big fan of one President Wilson. Eventually Mussolini would end up leaving the Socialist Party because of their anti-military stance and opposition to Italy’s involvement in WWI but he would continue to consider himself a socialist until he died. In Germany a man named Adolf Hitler also became disenchanted with Marxian dogma for its anti-nationalism. They would both seek a third way.

Mussolini created his third way by starting a new type of socialism, a nationalistic type of socialism. He called his new socialism Fascism. Fascism like traditional socialism would seek total control of the means of production but saw no need for formal ownership. He also discarded the old socialist international dogma and embraced nationalism. As Hitler rose to power he too would emulate Mussolini’s new socialism, he called his German version National Socialism.

Mussolini and his new socialism soon became the toast of the town among a large percentage of the intellectual left. Called affectionately the Duce (pronounced Dŏ-cā meaning Duke), he was the darling of the progressive world as was Hitler for awhile. The progressive hero George Bernard Shaw would call Mussolini and Hitler “great Progressives.” There was no greater invite for a progressive at the time then one to a party where Mussolini was in attendance. Even one of the premier singer and song writers of his day, Cole Porter, wrote the line “You’re the top! You’re the great Houdini! You’re the top! You are Mussolini” into one of his hit songs. (a good short history of Mussolini can be found here) Hitler too was admired for the miracles he seem to be accomplishing in Germany. For many even Hitler’s talk of eliminating the weak (which to him was Jews and others) was acceptable from a man transforming a country like he was (after all  Marx and other socialist as well as many progressives had said similar things).

In America it was widely heralded that the Roosevelt administration‘s NRA program was America’s try at Fascist’s magic. Shortly after his inauguration the New York Times reported Washington was “strangely reminiscent of Rome in the first weeks after the march of the Blackshirts, of Moscow at the beginning of the Five-Year Plan.…America today literally asks for orders” adding that Roosevelt “envisages a federation of industry, labor and government after the fashion of the corporative State as it exists in Italy.”  This may seem strange today but one must remember that at that time Mussolini was still a hero of the left and being called a Fascist was not yet considered an insult.

It took World War II to make fascism fall from liberal graces. Old die hard socialist, many of whom had saw fascism’s willingness to let the illusion of private ownership continue as a deal with the devil, quickly re-labeled this new socialism as far right capitalism. This fraudulent definition of fascism hold’s sway even to this day. Fascism of course at its heart is an economic system that, like traditional socialism, sees free markets and private control of the economy as abhorrent. The main difference between traditional socialism and fascism is how they dealt with the dilemma of how to control the means of production for the “greater good.” Fascism took a more practical less idealistic approach that was in the end just a more efficient form of evil. Unfortunately the fascist idea of state control of nominally private businesses for the “greater good” did not die with Mussolini.

Today far from smoldering on the trash heap of history fascism lives on under new names. European Social Democracy, progressive policies in the U.S, and even reform minded communists have embraced fascist like policies. Mussolini may not be celebrated in name but, if imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, his accolades today come from across the globe. Some are nationalist but many are not. Some are moving right to fascism from communism while most are coming from the left. They skip the corporates used in traditional fascism for that would be too obvious, coalitions and advisory boards are the terms of the day instead. Still in the end they are all converging to a Brave New World of government control.

Today Black Shirts are not out attacking political foes with clubs, modern fascism has moved beyond brute force to a more sophisticated happy face fascism. Sure it has its underhanded propaganda forces like Media Matters but the message is one of a governmental helping hand. As Jonah Goldberg shows in his book “Liberal Fascism” the liberal left are now embracing much of what they decried a little more then a half-century earlier. They have found that by seeking control over ownership they can have the best of both worlds. The ability to direct commerce as they see fit and private scapegoats to blame for their failures (Read also Thomas Sowell’s reflections on this subject).  In Ed Klein’s book The Amateur he describes how President Obama believes the economy should be run by corporate boards made up of big business and unions working under the umbrella of the government.  This is of course a quintessentially fascist method of controlling the economy. Obamacare and the auto company bailouts were examples of Obama’s philosophy on business, unions, and government in action. It seems to have been totally ignored that the scope and methods used in these programs were straight out of Mussolini’s playbook. Of course Obama is not the only leader taking his ques from Mussolini, many other world leaders are also doing the same.

What is allowing this unmistakable trend towards fascism, not only in the U.S. but across the globe, is the great subterfuge that the socialist pulled off after World War II. By miss classifying fascism and disavowing its socialists roots they have successfully blinded the world to their slow embrace of its core concepts.  Would they accepted government involvement in private enterprise like happened with GM and Chrysler if they were knowledgeable of how fascism worked?  Even Mayor Bloomberg’s overreach in trying to regulate eating habits of people is something that can be traced back to the NAZI doctrine that private eating habits are a public concern.

The truth is today the rabid iron fisted fascists that ruled Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal may be gone but they have been replaced with friendlier versions with new names. They are moving to take government control of private enterprise, dictating who will be allowed to succeed and who won’t and telling the populous how to live their lives. They keep the charade of capitalism and sprinkle in some competition to keep people on their toes but let their be no mistake, they are not capitalist.

In the end we must remember there is no substitute for freedom and the last best hope for a free world lies in the United States. Just like in the second world war, America is only hope to stop this new advance of fascism. If the slide towards state control is not stopped in America it will not be stopped anywhere.

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”  George Santayana

(Other articles of interest on this subject: The Economic Leadership Secrets of Benito Mussolini, Forbes Magazine and Fascism, The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics published by the Library of Economics and Liberty)

The Conservative Mind

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