Fascism on Pearl Harbor Day

Monday, December 10th, 2007

I did not realize that Jerry Pournelle (Lucifer’s Hammer) wrote a dissertation on how the political spectrum has more than one dimension, and the old left-right dichotomy doesn’t really work:

The notion of a “left” and a “right” has been with us a long time. It originated in the seating arrangement of the French National Assembly during their revolution. The delegates marched into the Hall of Machines by traditional precedence, with the aristocrats and clergy entering first, then the wealthier bourgeois, and so on, with the aristocracy seated on the Speaker’s right. Since the desire for radical change was pretty well inversely proportionate to wealth, there really was, for a short time, a legitimate political spectrum running from right to left, and the concept of left and right made sense.

Within a year it was invalidated by events. New alliances were formed. Those who wanted no revolutionary changes at all were expelled (or executed). There came a new alignment called “The Mountain” (from their habit of sitting together in the higher tiers of seats). Even for 18th Century France the “left-right” model ceased to have any theoretical validity.

Yet it is with us yet; and it produces political absurdities.

He chooses two political axes: Attitude toward the State and Attitude toward planned social progress.

He returns to this idea while discussing Fascism on Pearl Harbor Day:

Most people today believe that Fascism is a “right wing” movement. I say “right wing” in quotes because I don’t believe the left-right political spectrum is a very useful tool for political analysis, but that’s another story already told; but to the extent that “left” and “right” have meaning, Fascism, a movement started by the Syndicalist-Socialist labor leader Benito Mussolini, certainly was a “left wing” movement. The successful deception to put it on the “right” was a tactic of the Communists, who tried to build an “anti-Fascist” coalition that would attract respectable people like J. Robert Oppenheimer. Of course the Communists were perfectly willing to make common cause with the Fascists in opposing the Socialists, but that’s another matter.

The theory of Fascism, to the extent that it has a self-consistent political philosophy, accepts the Marxist theory of history as a series of class struggles; but whereas Communism seeks to end class warfare, Fascism believes social classes are inevitable. Mussolini was undoubtedly influenced in this belief by the brilliant work of Vilfredo Pareto, whose work demonstrated that power is always distributed unevenly, there will always be elites, and attempts to destroy class structures only replace one kind of social class with another. (The history of Communist societies and the nomenklatura are instances of successful predictions of Pareto’s theories.)

Since social classes are inevitable, but class warfare cripples the state, the solution to the problem is for the State to stand above the social classes and force them to work together, preferably in equity and fair play. Fair play or no, though, the important thing is to make the classes cease their warfare and stop cancelling each other out, so that there can be social progress and national greatness. Hitler was Mussolini’s disciple from the 1920s until the Austrian Anschluss. For a demonstration of the “left wing” nature of his thought, get a copy of Leni Riefenstahl’s brilliant propaganda film The Triumph of the Will. In particular see the sequence in which thousands of laborers do a manual of arms with shovels, as the voiceover speaks about the relationship of “the classes and the masses.”

Italian Fascism and its copiers including Francisco Franco’s Phalange brought representatives of all social classes and institutions into the government, and in Italy the Grand Council of Fasces was the supreme legislative and policy body in the Kingdom; when in 1943 the Council voted no confidence in Mussolini as Duce, the King dismissed him.

Fascism had supporters in other countries. Franklin Delano Roosevelt resorted to a number of Fascist devices, including the “Blue Eagle” NRA; traces of this syndicalism remain in regulations governing the product of citrus fruit and milk to this day. Huey Long of Louisiana, himself sympathetic to the fascist theory of history and government, pointed out the fascist elements in Roosevelt’s programs, and famously said that when Fascism came to the United States it would be in disguise.

The great conflicts between Fascism and Communism during the 1930s were not due to any great theoretical difference between the two philosophies; instead it was a power struggle pure and simple, each convinced that the other had stolen the other’s clothes.

This is relevant to today’s news in that the Bush plan for ending the mortgage crisis could have come right out of Mussolini’s play book. It requires the loan companies to cooperate and devise rules, all reminiscent of the NRA. Note that the Democrats are quite in favor of the plan, only they want it to go farther and be under more government (bureaucratic) control. Neither has any trust in the free market.


The Fascist view, that government needs to step in and ameliorate class warfare by forcing the classes to work together, is not altogether a bad thing. It is certainly the case that class warfare can cripple a state and hurts everyone.

The problem with Fascism is the general problem of overly powerful government: instead of learning about economics and the forces of the market place, or inventing something new, or even working hard and saving money, the key to success is manipulation of bureaucracies. That can be through nepotism — my cousin Takagora in personnel will ship you to Point Barrow if you don’t promote me — or through demagoguery, through intimidation or persuasion; but manipulation of the bureaucracies becomes the key to great success. If you read fiction written in India about conditions under the Permit Raj after Indian Independence, or examine life in Pakistan today, you will find illustrative examples. And of course for the very rich and powerful there’s also direct influence over the government at the policy level.

We’re going to intervene in the housing finance market. Given the stakes, there’s no chance it will be ignored.

Huey Long would be pleased.

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