“All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” - A reworking - January 5, 2015



Nearly two years ago, I wrote a blog on this subject; I enclose most of it below, then update it for the present.    

This famous line from Benito Mussolini was his simplified understanding of fascism.

People confuse the economic programs of fascism v. socialism. In the simplest definition I know, fascism exists when the means of production, to use Marx’s term, are in private corporate hands, but controlled by the state, for the benefit of the state. Socialism, on the other hand, exists when the state owns the means of production directly. The best way for me to give you a way of remembering this difference is to tell you of the way my high-school physics teacher differentiated chemistry from physics. He said, “If is smells, it’s chemistry. If it doesn’t work, if’s physics.” Change “chemistry” to “fascism” and “physics” with “socialism,” and you have a working definition for both of these economic disasters.

These two theories, born in economics, whether they evolve or our understanding of them evolves, eventually are understood as political theories. Neither has worked for long as an economic success, though fascism can last a long time before society collapses. In my understanding, the political changes we are witnessing in our country are not socialist but rather a (so far rather tame) form of fascism.

Like those from many other ages who think that the world was made new with their appearance, we may be under the false idea that socialism and fascism are wholly new. They are not, though the names are fairly new.

Socialism, I think, is the proof in political terms of original sin. How else to take Einstein’s definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results? Socialism has been tried for thousands of years, including most definitely the founders of Christianity and the experiment that became the United States. It pops up in rich societies and poor, promoted by educated people and illiterates. It attracts people whose motivation is love of neighbor and those who distrust everyone, for reasons of altruism (please note, I’m not saying “charity”) and for reasons of punishment. The New Testament contains passages that are pro-socialist (“they had everything in common.”  Acts 4:32; cf. Acts 2:44) and those that are anti-socialist (“If any one will not work, let him not eat.” 2 Thessalonians 2:10).

Many may find that holding everything in common an inducement to happiness, but the experiment is usually abandoned over time. This is an important factor, because the one recurring aspect of socialism is that it does not work. Over time, free people almost always notice this, as they grow poorer in spirit and in abundance, and they often very peacefully change their minds. Indeed, what seems inextricably the case with human beings and socialism is that eventually they either abandon it or amend it to account for human nature, which (1) ties people together in tight bonds more likely as families rather than as societies and (2) takes into consideration that individuals have varying levels of talents, ambitions, energy, and responsibility. In short, though the worth of each may be acknowledged by God, humans tend to judge one another by characteristics, some inborn and some developed, that set one person apart from another. The answer given by the Dodo bird in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland about who won a competition that no one kept track of was, “Everyone has won, and all must have prizes.” This works especially well with small children and those who listen to Dodo birds. Most adults abide more closely to St. Paul: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

Fascism, though, is another case entirely. Because it intertwines the rules of the state and the private economic entity (in modern times, we call it the corporation, though we can see this way of governing thousands of years ago, before the age of corporations), because, we might say, it creates accomplices from private people for the benefit of the state (and, of course, themselves), it creates a living and growing cadre of the powerful to dominate society. These people offer what could be called secondary benefits to a vast and perhaps unwashed populace, who together manage a force of numbers to enlarge and direct a center, a state, in which Mussolini’s dictum is enshrine.

Soon bread and circuses will suffice to keep the secondary beneficiaries loyal. Extricating ones way out of fascism must be much more difficult than doing so from socialism, if the record of man’s history is any proof. Socialisms come and socialisms go, like the women in the room talking of Michelangelo. Fascist societies, on the other hand, fall by their own internal greed and corruption or change through violence.

Both socialism and fascism hitched their wagons to the state, but in quite different ways. Marxist socialism was supposed to witness the disappearance of the state. It never quite got that far, of course, though we were left with the unmentioned understanding that the state lived on as the party. Though Soviet Communism was always much more controlling of the personal lives of their citizens than was the Nazi Party, the Communists never had more than a small number of people attached to the party whereas the Nazis virtually demanded that all those whom they thought were not sub-human become attached to the Nazi Party.

Unlike Soviet Communism, Nazi and Italian fascism were more honest about the centrality of the state. They allowed what we could call private ownership, but it is not the kind of “private” that we speak of in America. It is ownership by trusted functionaries (oddly enough, perhaps the best current example of this is Putin’s Russia).

Even more important than the differences in internal control is what happened after the demise of Nazi fascism compared with the end of the Cold War and the fall of Soviet Communism. Solzhenitsyn (and many others too) wrote about the way in which the Germans sought to restore their country by fully admitting the horror that had occurred, punishing the worst offenders, seeking forgiveness from others and working toward aiding countries and peoples they had harmed, passing laws to condemn remnants of the Nazi followers, making sure that young people understood the terror that had occurred and did not look upon the crimes of the Nazis as heroic.

No such thing occurred at the end of the Cold War . . . no admission of the evil that was brought about, no aid to the millions that were killed, no prohibition of the Communist Party. The KGB lowlife billionaire who heads Russia now said that “The breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.” Excuses for Soviet crimes continues not only in Russia itself but throughout the West. Without confessing the horrors of Communism, without taking responsibility and seeking forgiveness, there will be no growth, no honor, no renewal. Fascism allowed this; Communism has not.

I bring up these points about the difference between the end of fascism and the end of Communism (assuming that there is an end) because we are living through a period in which the truth is itself on trial, where the admission of error is the exception, not the rule, where, to once again quote Solzhenitsyn, “we never make mistakes.” Indeed, in a quote from The Observer (29 December 1974), he wrote, In our country the lie has become not just a moral category but a pillar of the State.”

Is this to be our fate too? By ignoring the lie, we become complicit in the lie. No great society has ever been sustained by lies.