The Reactionary Utopian
                    November 24, 2005

by Joe Sobran

     In 1956, at the height of the Cold War, the 
historian John Lukacs smiled skeptically at the notion 
that it was a contest between the opposing principles of 
capitalism and communism. Actually, he said, it was a 
rivalry between two broadly similar states, Russian and 
American, both of which might be more accurately 
described as "national socialist."

     Unfortunately, that term had already been taken, and 
nobody wanted it after 1945. But Lukacs was far from the 
only one who saw that it fit most of the regimes that had 
survived World War II. In his influential 1941 book, THE 
MANAGERIAL REVOLUTION, the former Communist James Burnham 
argued that the American, German, and Russian systems, 
despite superficial differences, were all variants of a 
new type of bureaucratic state, in which the actual 
control exercised by the burgeoning new "managerial" 
class was separate from nominal ownership.

     John T. Flynn saw Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal as 
an American transposition of Fascism. Garet Garrett, 
another critic of Roosevelt, understood that the United 
States was undergoing a revolution -- of the kind 
Aristotle had called "revolution within the form." 
America was not so different from its enemies as most 
Americans liked to believe. By now it's a little late for 
conservatism; most of the things worth conserving were 
destroyed a long time ago.

     Still, "superficial" differences can be important. 
If all modern states are versions of national socialism, 
I'd rather live under one with habeas corpus and freedom 
of the press than under one without them. I'd rather be 
permitted to speak my mind than forbidden to.

     But let's be clear about this. Americans are still 
permitted to do a great many things, though not as many 
things as their ancestors could take for granted. Fine. 
But permission isn't freedom. The privilege of a subject 
isn't the right of a free man. If you can own only what 
the government permits you to own, then in essence the 
government owns =you.= We no longer tell the state what 
our rights are; it tells us.

     Such is the servitude Americans are now accustomed 
to under an increasingly bureaucratic state. Permission, 
often in the form of legal licensing, is the residue of 
the old freedom; but we're supposed to think that this is 
still "the land of the free," and that we owe our freedom 
to the state, its laws, and especially its wars. The more 
the state grows -- that is, the more it fulfills the 
character of national socialism -- the freer we're told 
we are.

     President Bush, who is not exactly your 
philosopher-king type, would probably react with 
surprise, indignation, and bafflement if you called him a 
national socialist, since, after all, he thinks a fair 
amount of capitalism should be permitted, even 
encouraged; and he's really not all that different from 
most of our rulers. But that's the point. Few of these 
men really know what they think; they came in late in the 
game, and they play by the rules they see others playing 
by. What's philosophy got to do with it? (That was an 
elective course, wasn't it?)

     Let's put it this way. If our rulers were all 
shipwrecked on a desert island with no means of escape, 
they might eventually build monuments and skyscrapers; 
but can anyone imagine them creating free institutions? 
What sort of Republic would this be if it had been 
founded by the Bushes, Clintons, Kennedys, Bidens, and 
McCains? Its rallying cry would have been something along 
the lines of "Give me Medicare benefits or give me 

     This is not to insult them, merely to point out 
their shared premise: they all think from the perspective 
of power, of the rulers and not the ruled. They may be 
benevolent, in their way; but when they want to do 
something for their subjects, it goes without saying that 
they also reserve the right to do something =to= those 
same subjects. Controlling the nation's wealth, even 
under the guise of "capitalism," is always the main 
thing. It's "our" wealth, isn't it? Monarchy is so 
=over,= but rulers still love the first-person plural. As 
in "We owe it to ourselves."

     And even when the subjects criticize the rulers -- 
which is permitted -- the criticism itself assumes the 
same premise and perspective. After all, we're told that 
in a democracy the subjects themselves are the ultimate 
rulers. Hence the taxpayers themselves may wish for 
higher taxes to pay for their privileges, calculating 
that these will be chiefly exacted from others.

     And freedom? Well, under national socialism, freedom 
is where you find it.


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