National Socialism Comes to America
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 Roosevelts 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 its 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, Id rather live under one with habeas corpus and freedom of the press than under one without them. Id rather be permitted to speak my mind than forbidden to.
But lets 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 isnt freedom. The privilege of a subject isnt 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 were 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 were 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 hes really not all that different from most of our rulers. But thats 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. Whats philosophy got to do with it? (That was an elective course, wasnt it?)
Lets 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 death!
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 nations wealth, even under the guise of capitalism, is always the main thing. Its our wealth, isnt 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, were 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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