Once More, with Feeling: Our System Is Not Socialism, but Participatory Fascism

I continue to encounter many discussions in which the author or speaker bemoans the economic order’s drift toward socialism or, in some cases, its actual existence as such. If this characterization were simply a matter of linguistic imprecision, it might not matter much. But it is much more than a matter of terminology, because one’s understanding of the nature of our current economic order hinges on how we characterize it.
Obviously the economic order that prevails in the economically advanced countries is not socialism. Indeed, these systems are commonly called capitalistic or market-oriented, notwithstanding the many types of government intervention that pervade their markets—various taxes, subsides, direct government production, and regulations galore. Some people refer to these systems as “mixed economies,” which at least helps us to recognize that they are not market economies in any pure sense, not even in an approximate one. But in calling them mixed economies, we gain no insight into their nature or operation.

For thirty years or so, I have used the term “participatory fascism,” which I borrowed from my old friend and former Ph.D. student Charlotte Twight. This is a descriptively precise term in that it recognizes the fascistic organization of resource ownership and control in our system, despite the preservation of nominal private ownership, and the variety of ways in which the state employs political ceremonies, proceedings, and engagements—most important, voting—in which the general public participates. Such participation engenders the sense that somehow the people control the government. Even though this sense of control is for the most part an illusion, rather than a perception well founded in reality, it is important because it causes people to accept government regulations, taxes, and other insults against which they might rebel if they believed that such impositions had simply been forced on them by dictators or other leaders wholly beyond their influence.

For the rulers, participatory fascism is the perfect solution toward which they have been groping for generations, and virtually all of the world’s politico-economic orders are now gravitating toward this system. Outright socialism is a recipe for widespread poverty and for the ultimate dissolution of the economy and the disavowal of its political leadership. Socialism is the wave of the past; everywhere it has been tried seriously, it has failed miserably. Participatory fascism, in contrast, has two decisive advantages over socialism.

The first is that it allows the nominal private owners of resources and firms enough room for maneuver that they can still innovate, prosper, and hence propel the system toward higher levels of living for the masses. If the government’s intervention is pushed too far, this progress slows, and it may eventually cease or even turn into economic regress. However, when such untoward conditions occur, the rulers tend to rein in their plunder and intervention enough to allow a revitalization of the economy. Of course, such fettered economies cannot grow as fast as completely free economies can grow, but the latter system would preclude the plunder and control that the political leaders now enjoy in the fettered system, and hence they greatly prefer the slower-growing, great-plunder system to the faster-growing, no-plunder one.

Meanwhile, most people are placated by the economic progress that does occur and by their participation in political and legal proceedings that give them the illusion of control and fair treatment. Although the political system is rigged in countless ways to favor incumbent rulers and their key supporters, it is far from dictatorial in the way that Stalin’s Russia or Hitler’s Germany was dictatorial. People therefore continue to believe that they are free, notwithstanding the death of their liberties by a thousand cuts that continues day by day.

Participatory fascism’s second great advantage over socialism is that when serious economic problems do arise, as they have during the past five years, the rulers and their key supporters in the “private” sector can blame residual elements of the market system, and especially the richest people who operate in that system, for the perceived ills. No matter how much the problems arise from government intervention, it is always possible to lay the blame on actors and institutions in the remaining “free enterprises,” especially the biggest bankers and other apparent top dogs. Thus, fascistic rulers have build-in protection against popular reaction that the rulers in a socialist system lack. (Rulers under socialism tend to designate foreign governments and capitalists and domestic “wreckers” as the scapegoats for their mismanagement and inability to conduct economic affairs productively and fairly.)

Americans do not like to admit that they live in a system that is most accurately characterized as participatory fascism. They insist that fascism requires death camps, goose-stepping brown shirts, comical yet murderous leaders in funny hats, and others hallmarks of the fascism that operated in Germany and Italy between the world wars. But fascism takes many specific forms. If you wish to see the form that it has increasingly taken in the economically advanced countries during the past century, just look around you.
That's what I keep saying! TPTB would never want Socialism. They like Fascism because when it all goes horribly wrong, they'll have (DO have) the "free market" to blame.

More Higgs:

Nothing Outside the State

A popular slogan of the Italian Fascists under Mussolini was, “Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato” (everything for the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state). I recall this expression frequently as I observe the state’s far-reaching penetration of my own society.

What of any consequence remains beyond the state’s reach in the United States today? Not wages, working conditions, or labor-management relations; not health care; not money, banking, or financial services; not personal privacy; not transportation or communication; not education or scientific research; not farming or food supply; not nutrition or food quality; not marriage or divorce; not child care; not provision for retirement; not recreation; not insurance of any kind; not smoking or drinking; not gambling; not political campaign funding or publicity; not real estate development, house construction, or housing finance; not international travel, trade, or finance; not a thousand other areas and aspects of social life.
The areas of life that remain outside the government’s participation, taxation, subsidization, regulation, surveillance, and other intrusion or control have become so few and so trivial that they scarcely merit mention. We verge ever closer upon the condition in which everything that is not prohibited is required. Yet, the average American will declare loudly that he is a free man and that his country is the freest in the world. Thus, in a country where more and more is for the state, where virtually nothing is outside the State, and where, aside from pointless complaints, nothing against the State is permitted, Americans have become ideal fascist citizens. Like the average German during the years that Hitler ruled Germany, most Americans today, inhabiting one of the most pervasively controlled countries in the history of the world, think they are free.
"The test of fascism is not one's rage against the Italian and German war lords. The test is — how many of the essential principles of fascism do you accept and to what extent are you prepared to apply those fascist ideas to American social and economic life? When you can put your finger on the men or the groups that urge for America the debt-supported state, the autarkical corporative state, the state bent on the socialization of investment and the bureaucratic government of industry and society, the establishment of the institution of militarism as the great glamorous public-works project of the nation and the institution of imperialism under which it proposes to regulate and rule the world and, along with this, proposes to alter the forms of our government to approach as closely as possible the unrestrained, absolute government — then you will know you have located the authentic fascist.

"But let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that we are dealing by this means with the problem of fascism. Fascism will come at the hands of perfectly authentic Americans, as violently against Hitler and Mussolini as the next one, but who are convinced that the present economic system is washed up and that the present political system in America has outlived its usefulness and who wish to commit this country to the rule of the bureaucratic state; interfering in the affairs of the states and cities; taking part in the management of industry and finance and agriculture; assuming the role of great national banker and investor, borrowing millions every year and spending them on all sorts of projects through which such a government can paralyze opposition and command public support; marshaling great armies and navies at crushing costs to support the industry of war and preparation for war which will become our greatest industry; and adding to all this the most romantic adventures in global planning, regeneration, and domination all to be done under the authority of a powerfully centralized government in which the executive will hold in effect all the powers with Congress reduced to the role of a debating society. There is your fascist. And the sooner America realizes this dreadful fact the sooner it will arm itself to make an end of American fascism masquerading under the guise of the champion of democracy."
-- John T. Flynn, As We Go Marching, 1944