• The Reality of Red-State Fascism

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    Year’s end is the time for big thoughts, so here are mine. The most significant socio-political shift in our time has gone almost completely unremarked, and even unnoticed. It is the dramatic shift of the red-state bourgeoisie from leave-us-alone libertarianism, manifested in the Congressional elections of 1994, to almost totalitarian statist nationalism. Whereas the conservative middle class once cheered the circumscribing of the federal government, it now celebrates power and adores the central state, particularly its military wing.

    This huge shift has not been noticed among mainstream
    punditry, and hence there have been few attempts to explain it — much
    less have libertarians thought much about what it implies. My own take
    is this: the Republican takeover of the presidency combined with an
    unrelenting state of war, has supplied all the levers necessary to
    convert a burgeoning libertarian movement into a statist one.

    The remaining ideological justification was left to, and
    accomplished by, Washington’s kept think tanks, who have approved the
    turn at every crucial step. What this implies for libertarians is a
    crying need to draw a clear separation between what we believe and what
    conservatives believe. It also requires that we face the reality of the
    current threat forthrightly by extending more rhetorical tolerance
    leftward and less rightward.

    Let us start from 1994 and work forward. In a stunningly prescient memo,
    Murray N. Rothbard described the 1994 revolution against the Democrats
    as follows:

    a massive and unprecedented public repudiation of President
    Clinton, his person, his personnel, his ideologies and programs, and
    all of his works; plus a repudiation of Clinton’s Democrat Party; and,
    most fundamentally, a rejection of the designs, current and proposed,
    of the Leviathan he heads…. what is being rejected is big government in
    general (its taxing, mandating, regulating, gun grabbing, and even its
    spending) and, in particular, its arrogant ambition to control the
    entire society from the political center. Voters and taxpayers are no
    longer persuaded of a supposed rationale for American-style central
    planning…. On the positive side, the public is vigorously and fervently
    affirming its desire to re-limit and de-centralize government; to
    increase individual and community liberty; to reduce taxes, mandates,
    and government intrusion; to return to the cultural and social mores of
    pre-1960s America, and perhaps much earlier than that.

    This memo also cautioned against unrelieved optimism,
    because, Rothbard said, two errors rear their head in most every
    revolution. First, the reformers do not move fast enough; instead they
    often experience a crisis of faith and become overwhelmed by demands
    that they govern “responsibly” rather than tear down the established
    order. Second, the reformers leave too much in place that can be used
    by their successors to rebuild the state they worked so hard to
    dismantle. This permits gains to be reversed as soon as another party
    takes control.

    Rothbard urged dramatic cuts in spending, taxing, and
    regulation, and not just in the domestic area but also in the military
    and in foreign policy. He saw that this was crucial to any
    small-government program. He also urged a dismantling of the federal
    judiciary on grounds that it represents a clear and present danger to
    American liberty. He urged the young radicals who were just elected to
    reject gimmicks like the balanced-budget amendment and the line-item
    veto, in favor of genuine change. None of this happened of course. In
    fact, the Republican leadership and pundit class began to warn against
    “kamikaze missions” and speak not of bringing liberty, but rather of
    governing better than others.

    Foreshadowing what was to come, Rothbard pointed out:
    “Unfortunately, the conservative public is all too often taken in by
    mere rhetoric and fails to weigh the actual deeds of their political
    icons. So the danger is that Gingrich will succeed not only in
    betraying, but in conning the revolutionary public into thinking that
    they have already won and can shut up shop and go home.” The only way
    to prevent this, he wrote, was to educate the public, businessmen,
    students, academics, journalists, and politicians about the true nature
    of what is going on, and about the vicious nature of the bi-partisan
    ruling elites.

    The 1994 revolution failed of course, in part because the
    anti-government opposition was intimidated into silence by the Oklahoma
    City bombing of April 1995. The establishment somehow managed to pin
    the violent act of an ex-military man on the right-wing libertarianism
    of the American bourgeoisie. It was said by every important public
    official at that time that to be anti-government was to give aid and
    support to militias, secessionists, and other domestic terrorists. It
    was a classic intimidation campaign but, combined with a GOP leadership
    that never had any intention to change DC, it worked to shut down the
    opposition.

    In the last years of the 1990s, the GOP-voting middle class
    refocused its anger away from government and leviathan and toward the
    person of Bill Clinton. It was said that he represented some kind of
    unique moral evil despoiling the White House. That ridiculous Monica
    scandal culminated in a pathetic and pretentious campaign to impeach
    Clinton. Impeaching presidents is a great idea, but impeaching them for
    fibbing about personal peccadilloes is probably the least justifiable
    ground. It’s almost as if that entire campaign was designed to
    discredit the great institution of impeachment.

    In any case, this event crystallized the partisanship of the
    bourgeoisie, driving home the message that the real problem was Clinton
    and not government; the immorality of the chief executive, not his
    power; the libertinism of the left-liberals and not their views toward
    government. The much heralded “leave us alone” coalition had been
    thoroughly transformed in a pure anti-Clinton movement. The right in
    this country began to define itself not as pro-freedom, as it had in
    1994, but simply as anti-leftist, as it does today.

    There are many good reasons to be anti-leftist, but let us
    revisit what Mises said in
    1956
    concerning the anti-socialists of his day. He pointed out that
    many of these people had a purely negative agenda, to crush the
    leftists and their bohemian ways and their intellectual pretension. He
    warned that this is not a program for freedom. It was a program of
    hatred that can only degenerate into statism.

    The moral corruption, the licentiousness and the intellectual
    sterility of a class of lewd would-be authors and artists is the ransom
    mankind must pay lest the creative pioneers be prevented from
    accomplishing their work. Freedom must be granted to all, even to base
    people, lest the few who can use it for the benefit of mankind be
    hindered. The license which the shabby characters of the quartier
    Latin enjoyed was one of the conditions that made possible the
    ascendance of a few great writers, painters and sculptors. The first
    thing a genius needs is to breathe free air.

    He goes on to urge that anti-leftists work to educate
    themselves about economics, so that they can have a positive agenda to
    displace their purely negative one. A positive agenda of liberty is the
    only way we might have been spared the blizzard of government controls
    that were fastened on this country after Bush used the events of 9-11
    to increase central planning, invade Afghanistan and Iraq, and
    otherwise bring a form of statism to America that makes Clinton look
    laissez-faire by comparison. The Bush administration has not only faced
    no resistance from the bourgeoisie. it has received cheers. And they
    are not only cheering Bush’s reelection; they have embraced tyrannical
    control of society as a means toward accomplishing their anti-leftist
    ends.

    After September 11, even those whose ostensible purpose in
    life is to advocate less government changed their minds. Even after it
    was clear that 9-11 would be used as the biggest pretense for the
    expansion of government since the stock market crash of 1929, the Cato
    Institute said
    that libertarianism had to change its entire focus: “Libertarians
    usually enter public debates to call for restrictions on government
    activity. In the wake of September 11, we have all been reminded of the
    real purpose of government: to protect our life, liberty, and property
    from violence. This would be a good time for the federal government to
    do its job with vigor and determination.”

    The vigor and determination of the Bush administration has brought about a profound cultural change, so that the very people who once proclaimed hatred of government now advocate its use against dissidents of all sorts, especially against those who would dare call for curbs in the totalitarian bureaucracy of the military, or suggest that Bush is something less than infallible in his foreign-policy decisions. The lesson here is that it is always a mistake to advocate government action, for there is no way you can fully anticipate how government will be used. Nor can you ever count on a slice of the population to be moral in its advocacy of the uses of the police power.

    Editor
    & Publisher
    , for example, posted a small note the other day
    about a column written by Al Neuharth, the founder of USA Today,
    in which he mildly suggested that the troops be brought home from Iraq
    “sooner rather than later.” The editor of E&P was just blown away
    by the letters that poured in, filled with venom and hate and calling
    for Neuharth to be tried and locked away as a traitor. The letters
    compared him with pro-Hitler journalists, and suggested that he was
    objectively pro-terrorist, choosing to support the Muslim jihad over
    the US military. Other letters called for Neuharth to get the death
    penalty for daring to take issue with the Christian leaders of this
    great Christian nation.

    I’m actually not surprised at this. It has been building for
    some time. If you follow hate-filled sites such as Free Republic, you
    know that the populist right in this country has been advocating
    nuclear holocaust and mass bloodshed for more than a year now. The
    militarism and nationalism dwarfs anything I saw at any point during
    the Cold War. It celebrates the shedding of blood, and exhibits a
    maniacal love of the state. The new ideology of the red-state
    bourgeoisie seems to actually believe that the US is God marching on
    earth — not just godlike, but really serving as a proxy for God
    himself.

    Along with this goes a kind of worship of the presidency, and
    a celebration of all things public sector, including egregious law like
    the Patriot Act, egregious bureaucracies like the Department of
    Homeland Security, and egregious centrally imposed regimentation like
    the No Child Left Behind Act. It longs for the state to throw its
    weight behind institutions like the two-parent heterosexual family, the
    Christian charity, the homogeneous community of native-born patriots.

    In 1994, the central state was seen by the bourgeoisie as the
    main threat to the family; in 2004 it is seen as the main tool for
    keeping the family together and ensuring its ascendancy. In 1994, the
    state was seen as the enemy of education; today, the same people view
    the state as the means of raising standards and purging education of
    its left-wing influences. In 1994, Christians widely saw that Leviathan
    was the main enemy of the faith; today, they see Leviathan as the tool
    by which they will guarantee that their faith will have an impact on
    the country and the world.

    Paul
    Craig Roberts
    is right: “In the ranks of the new conservatives,
    however, I see and experience much hate. It comes to me in violently
    worded, ignorant and irrational emails from self-professed
    conservatives who literally worship George Bush. Even Christians have
    fallen into idolatry. There appears to be a large number of Americans
    who are prepared to kill anyone for George Bush.” Again: “Like
    Brownshirts, the new conservatives take personally any criticism of
    their leader and his policies. To be a critic is to be an enemy.”

    In short, what we have alive in the US is an updated and Americanized fascism. Why fascist? Because it is not leftist in the sense of egalitarian or redistributionist. It has no real beef with business. It doesn’t sympathize with the downtrodden, labor, or the poor. It is for all the core institutions of bourgeois life in America: family, faith, and flag. But it sees the state as the central organizing principle of society, views public institutions as the most essential means by which all these institutions are protected and advanced, and adores the head of state as a godlike figure who knows better than anyone else what the country and world needs, and has a special connection to the Creator that permits him to discern the best means to bring it about.

    The American right today has managed to be solidly
    anti-leftist while adopting an ideology — even without knowing it or
    being entirely conscious of the change — that is also frighteningly
    anti-liberty. This reality turns out to be very difficult for
    libertarians to understand or accept. For a long time, we’ve tended to
    see the primary threat to liberty as coming from the left, from the
    socialists who sought to control the economy from the center. But we
    must also remember that the sweep of history shows that there are two
    main dangers to liberty, one that comes from the left and the other
    that comes from the right. Europe and Latin America have long faced the
    latter threat, but its reality is only now hitting us fully.

    What is the most pressing and urgent threat to freedom that
    we face in our time? It is not from the left. If anything, the left has
    been solid on civil liberties and has been crucial in drawing attention
    to the lies and abuses of the Bush administration. No, today, the clear
    and present danger to freedom comes from the right side of the
    ideological spectrum, those people who are pleased to preserve most of
    free enterprise but favor top-down management of society, culture,
    family, and school, and seek to use a messianic and belligerent
    nationalism to impose their vision of politics on the world.

    There is no need to advance the view that the enemy of my
    enemy is my friend. However, it is time to recognize that the left
    today does represent a counterweight to the right, just as it did in
    the 1950s when the right began to adopt anti-communist militarism as
    its credo. In a time when the term patriotism means supporting the
    nation’s wars and statism, a libertarian patriotism has more in common
    with that advanced by The
    Nation
    magazine:

    The
    other company of patriots does not march to military time. It prefers
    the gentle strains of ‘America the Beautiful’ to the strident cadences
    of ‘Hail to the Chief’ and ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever.’ This
    patriotism is rooted in the love of one’s own land and people, love too
    of the best ideals of one’s own culture and tradition. This company of
    patriots finds no glory in puffing their country up by pulling others’
    down. This patriotism is profoundly municipal, even domestic. Its
    pleasures are quiet, its services steady and unpretentious. This
    patriotism too has deep roots and long continuity in our history.

    Ten years ago, these were “right wing” sentiments; today the
    right regards them as treasonous. What should this teach us? It shows
    that those who saw the interests of liberty as being well served by the
    politicized proxies of free enterprise alone, family alone,
    Christianity alone, law and order alone, were profoundly mistaken.
    There is no proxy for liberty, no cause that serves as a viable
    substitute, and no movement by any name whose success can yield freedom
    in our time other than the movement of freedom itself. We need to
    embrace liberty and liberty only, and not be fooled by groups or
    parties or movements that only desire a temporary liberty to advance
    their pet interests.

    As Rothbard said
    in 1965:

    The doctrine of liberty contains elements corresponding with
    both contemporary left and right. This means in no sense that we are
    middle-of-the-roaders, eclectically trying to combine, or step between,
    both poles; but rather that a consistent view of liberty includes
    concepts that have also become part of the rhetoric or program of right
    and of left. Hence a creative approach to liberty must transcend the
    confines of contemporary political shibboleths.

    There has never in my lifetime been a more urgent need for the party of liberty to completely secede from conventional thought and established institutions, especially those associated with all aspects of government, and undertake radical intellectual action on behalf of a third way that rejects the socialism of the left and the fascism of the right.

    Indeed, the current
    times can be seen as a training period for all true friends of liberty.
    We need to learn to recognize the many different guises in which
    tyranny appears. Power is protean because it must suppress that impulse
    toward liberty that exists in the hearts of all people. The impulse is
    there, tacitly waiting for the consciousness to dawn. When it does,
    power doesn’t stand a chance.

    Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail], former editorial assistant to Ludwig von Mises and congressional chief of staff to Ron Paul, is founder and chairman of the Mises Institute, executor for the estate of Murray N. Rothbard, and editor of LewRockwell.com. See his books.

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