Lawrence Dennis
The Coming of American Fascism



IN THE preceding chapter, in opening up the topic of national planning as one of the order imperatives indicated by the present situation, we saw the importance of ultimate values as subjects for discussion, choice, and realization, in connection with any national plan. In this chapter we shall stress the force aspect of national planning. For it is this phase of planning which draws the heaviest fire of critics of fascism, and it is a refusal to see the inevitability of the force factor in the realization of social values which condemns most reformers to futility. A few of the main points of this emphasis may be summarized at the outset.

First, social situations represent always a balance of power, or of the resultants of mighty pressures bearing upon every individual. It may be said that the social situation rests on consent only if it assumed that those who are powerless against the coercion applied consent to what they do not like but cannot alter. Except for. marked deviates, who are the exceptional cases, individuals tend to behave as the resultants of force pressures brought to bear upon them may be expected to make them behave in given situations or cases. In other words, there has never been a free society in which men and women enjoyed sovereignty over their choices or conduct. The free society which serves as the premise of so much liberal attack on fascism is the ideal of philosophical anarchy, and not the reality of any society that ever was.

Second, all government, liberal, no less than fascist or communist, has to be a monopoly of force and violence, or, as one great statesman once called it, a perpetual conspiracy of power. The chief objective of this conspiracy is everywhere today, and usually has been in times past, the realization of a given scheme of social values which were both rationalized and cherished by those in power. Much present-day liberal criticism of fascism or the authoritarian State implies, when it does not actually make the charge, that the non-liberal States correspond to no social philosophy, to no moral imperatives, to no collective ideals, but merely to the caprice of the given dictator or governing oligarchy in power.

These implications or charges must seem absurd if one takes a calm view of demonstrations of support given to these governments by millions of people, whom it is not reasonable to assume insane or hypnotized by a single man or a small group of men. It serves no useful intellectual purpose to call what I like liberty, and what I dislike license, or to say, when the law suits me, that there is not coercion but freedom, and, when the law does not suit me, that it is coercive and oppressive. These tricks of argument or propaganda merely amount to saying that government is coercive only when it coerces me or when it coerces others in ways of which I disapprove. If I do not approve of the values or social objectives of a government, why not say so, instead of saying that I do not approve of coercion and that I love freedom? Every one disapproves of certain coercions and wants certain liberties, all of which merely proves that the ultimate value is the thing.

Third, the more complex the technical scheme of social organization, that is to say, the more machines and techniques there are in use, especially in the economic processes, the more of government is required in order to realize the social plan or public order. Robinson Crusoe could enjoy all sorts of liberties from government coercion, but he was deprived of all sorts of advantages which are only possible under a system of complex governmental coercion. Government coercion is not a function of a dictator's caprice or of the malevolence of certain people under any system. It is a function of the complexity and interdependence of the ruling scheme of social organization.

Fourth, coercion of human conduct, whether by organized government or the blind play of impersonal forces and fortuitous events, cannot have a quantitative measurement which is either valid or useful. We cannot demonstrate scientifically that there is more or less freedom or coercion under any one of the three systems, capitalism, fascism, and communism, than there is under the other. Under any one of the three systems we can point out different liberties and different coercions, or liberties and coercions for different classes. But how can we measure the liberties of American millionaires and high ranking officials of the fascist parties or the communist party? And what is the quantity of coercion represented by the plight of twenty-five million Americans who are forced to accept a charity which humiliates them and does not properly take care of them, or of eleven million negroes who are forced to accept a status which is understood not to make them entirely happy, or of an indeterminate number of politically proscribed persons in Germany, Italy or Russia? What is the scientific coercion and liberty meter which gives the American, Russian and German indexes of liberty and coercion? It cannot be the subjective expressions of feeling of those who speak for one class of the proscribed to which they belong and not for all the insulted and injured of the world.

Fifth, it is the total social result or situation, from the point of view of a given individual or a given group, which furnishes the only satisfactory subject for evaluation and comparison so far as social conditions are concerned. The force factors are instrumental in every social scheme.

Sixth, the inevitable uniqueness of a social plan for a given nation at a given moment makes coercion necessary to realize that plan. Many people nowadays seem to reason that, inasmuch as planning is a new discovery--which it is not--and a good thing--which is purely a question of the plan and the point of view--the more plans, planners and planning, the better. In other words, let everybody have a hand at planning. The fact, of course, is that only one social plan can be operative in one country at one time if it is to enjoy public order. If two plans are operative in the realm of deeds, and not merely in the realm of dreams, speculations and wishes--the realm of liberal reformers and socialists--it may be said civil war is either in course or in active preparation. The uniqueness of liberal capitalism as the operating system of one country at one time is best exemplified in the law of property.

The reasons why a given nation can have only one social plan operative at a time seem too obvious, on careful thought, to need any elaboration. Briefly, it may be said that the reasons are much the same as the reasons why traffic must keep either to the right or the left and not follow the individual preferences of drivers. There can be no social order if every individual reserves, and exercises freely, the right to make certain choices according to his own preferences rather than according to the dictates of a unique social plan of the community in which he lives. Our Supreme Court, in ruling on a citizenship case, has held that even a woman wishing to become a naturalized American citizen may not take the oath of allegiance with the reservation that in the matter of fighting for her country she will obey the voice of conscience instead of the voice of the state. Freedom of conscience under liberal capitalism has never been an absolute freedom.

No minority, religious, racial, or cultural, can be allowed to inculcate doctrines or impart social attitudes violently inconsistent with social order. For, after all, social order, and not individual or group self-expression, must be the highest ultimate value of any social plan. Individual or group self-expression in ways incompatible with social order is simply another term for social anarchy. This does not mean that different races, religions, and groups, may not be allowed to flourish and maintain certain group peculiarities, provided none of their peculiarities seriously jeopardize the social plan. To hear many liberals talk these days, one would suppose that the end of social organization was to make the world safe for minority self-expression. Certainly Christianity, when in political control, whether through the Roman Catholic Church or any one of the Protestant sects, has never followed this principle, nor did the Jews when they were a nation.

To say that individual self-expression should be the major objective of the social plan, but that such expression must not infringe any of the rules of the social plan, is merely to say, in different words, the same thing fascism, or, for that matter, every other social order, has said in some form or other. The imperatives of social order always fix the limits of individual self-expression. And the imperatives of social order have always to be interpreted or made explicit by someone other than the person who violates them. Whether a crowned king, a gowned judge or an executive committee, called by whatever name it may be, has the last word as to what the imperatives of social order demand in the way of limitation of individual selfexpression, the facts remain that these imperatives always impose restrictions on human conduct, these imperatives are always interpreted by a few persons in power and not by every citizen for himself, and these imperatives are always interpreted and enforced with a view to the realization of some given social scheme.

Liberal teaching constantly raises the question whether the individual may express himself contrary to the order imperatives of the social system, but liberal practice never allows that question to become a real issue. The individual under liberalism, as under every other system, is perfectly free to say and do what may be considered safe by those in power. The only real issue, so far as the concepts of freedom or the right to individual self-expression may be concerned, is one of fact rather than one of principle. It is always an issue how much latitude those in power can and do allow to individual conduct, or how large is the list of safe things to say and do. Contrary to the implications of liberal argument and propaganda, there is no issue between a system which allows what it considers unsafe utterances and acts, and a system which does not allow such utterances and acts. The issue or choice is always between the fact of one ruling class which has one field of safe utterances and acts, and the fact of another ruling class which has another field of safe utterances and acts.

The idea to stress at this time in the interests of larger tolerance or more freedom is that great differences in forms of selfexpression are necessary to accommodate widely different human personalities. The case for tolerance is only good when grounded on the factual basis of the widely divergent requirements of different personalities-of personalities whose differences can never be eliminated by education, indoctrination, or any sort of conditioning. It is not necessary in the interests of public safety, and it is altogether bad from the point of view of efficient social mechanics, to try to force an intellectual whose taste runs to unitarianism or some cult of modernist ethical teaching, and another person with a different make-up who finds an elaborate mass or an old-fashioned revival meeting best suited to his spiritual needs, to accept a standardized religious service or to forego any religious service whatever. Nor is it necessary to force lovers of grand opera and jazz, or lovers of Proust and Elinor Glynn, to accept a standard form of dramatic musical or literary entertainment. It is necessary only to prevent the pulpit, the press, or any associational activity, from being used by leaders in ways to defeat the national plan.

To those who boast of the tolerance shown by liberal capitalism to minorities, to different religions or to divergent opinions, it has only to be recalled that we did not tolerate polygamy among the Mormons, and that we do not tolerate thousands of religious practices which are as old as history. Our liberal order tolerates many widely divergent teachings, it is true, but definitely draws the line against many teachings and public utterances. In war time, for instance, it does not tolerate appeals from the pulpit to men in uniform to obey the commandment "Thou shalt not kill." The reasons why utterances or actions dangerously subversive of public order are tolerated nowhere needs no explanation.

It remains to perfect formulas for the tolerance of safe differences of ways, safe preferences and safe expressions of opinion or criticism. And it is desirable, for reasons which the liberals have excelled at pointing out, to have the area of tolerance as broad and inclusive as possible. But there must be no nonsense about tolerance in an absolute or unlimited sense. Such nonsense will not help tolerance today. In times of war and revolution, those in authority often err grievously in exaggerating the requirements of safety. To correct these errors, it will not be found helpful to assert absolutes which are wholly untenable in honest discussion and impossible of application by a social order which aims to survive. It will rather be helpful to the enlargement of tolerance to attempt to distinguish realistically between what is safe and what is unsafe, in a given situation, for the maintenance of a given set of values. It may be safe to allow a fundamental discussion of values which is critical of some of them, or an exposure of evils or mistakes, or the gibe of a vaudeville comedian or a popular cartoonist against the government. It may not be safe, however, to allow ministers of religion to incite to civil disobedience or nonconformity with state-dictated standards of conduct.

The right formula, or the ideal balance between repression and tolerance, can best be sought if the mind is freed of liberal norms, or impossible and nearly meaningless verbalisms, such as free speech, free press, freedom of conscience, and so forth, and if an attempt is made quite simply to determine the minimum of governmental repression compatible with safety for a given plan in a given situation. This formula will have to rely mainly on executive judgment and responsibility rather than on juridical norms and judicial interpretation and enforcement.

For public safety has highly elastic requirements varying enormously according to the place, moment, total situation, and scheme of values, to be realized. Any charter of liberties becomes necessarily an absurdity after a few years, for no plan of public order and means to its realization can long, be appropriate to changing conditions. If the theory of verbal norms and judicial interpretation and application be followed, the fundamental law, or the highest social ideals or objectives, will soon be lost sight of in the development of a juridical science or static scheme of ideas and practices which will quickly try to free itself of the nuisances of reality and try to operate entirely within a closed realm of logic--a logic that assumes the realities it requires for its purposes and disregards any refractory realities of experience.

Only an executive can insure the widest measure of tolerance, and he can do this only if he has the widest power to adjust formulas to changing conditions. And, after all, what is safe for the maintenance of public order can only be determined from day to day by a central authority charged with the responsibility of maintaining order. If the lovers of tolerance would only see that tolerance is not an absolute which the state can give or withhold in any quantity it sees fit, quite independently of imperatives of the ruling scheme of values, but that tolerance has always to be fitted into a workable and unique plan of social order, they would concern themselves more with the problems of choosing the plan and making it effective, and less with categorical demands for more tolerance.

The explicitness of government uses of force, and the noticeability of sudden change in the application of force for the achievement of new or different objectives, make state exercises of power, call them what you will, the subject of considerable misrepresentation and misconception where a new social system like communism or fascism is involved. The more governed by political government a community is, the more recognizable will be the force factors, but not necessarily the more coercive. The reason, let it be emphasized, is not that human conduct is more subject to coercion or less free, in the aggregate or on the average, where there is more government or a new social scheme. The reason is that, to whatever extent government purposively coerces to realize given social objectives, the coercion has to be explicit and vested with the personality which attaches to government (e.g. The State versus John Doe). Such coercion is more explicit than that of the pressures of impersonal and anonymous forces over which the individual can have little or no control, and of the operation of which he ordinarily has little understanding.

It may be said that the coercion most keenly felt is the most important or oppressive. To this it need only be answered that where the coercions of government, social custom, or economic necessity, are of long standing and efficient application, the people subject to them are no more conscious of them than habitual motorists are conscious of frustration by traffic lights, or than habitual travellers in the subways and elevators are conscious of frustration in these unnatural and, often, extremely uncomfortable modes of transportation. Those who accept without conscious resentment the discomfort of crowded subways or elevators feel amply compensated by the superior speed and facility of transportation thus afforded them. They do not discuss subways or elevators in terms of claustrophobia, as many liberals discuss government in terms of liberty and constraint, or in terms wholly irrelevant to the points of paramount public interest in the thing discussed.

When the coercions of government or custom take a new turn, as a result of revolutionary change in social objectives, they naturally have the faults of newness, of a new shoe, for instance. To these faults are, of course, to be added those of inefficient and inexperienced application by new personnel in government. A small business or professional man in this country whose very livelihood had always depended on his most servile yessing of his economic dictators in the market, might well consider it an outrageous tyranny if a new set of superiors dictating new social imperatives were suddenly added, by the inauguration of a fascist regime, to those already in authority and power over him. If any one is here disposed to interpose the reminder that under the present system one is free to choose one's boss, one's customer, or one's banker, I can only take time to say in reply, "Tell it to the unemployed and the farmers who are on the dole."

One of the strongest arguing and operating points of liberal capitalism has always been the fact that its most vital and often its harshest coercions, those of economic necessity, under a given regime of property distribution and deprivation, legally enforced with the might of the State, have been applied with impersonality, anonymity, and a large measure of irresponsibility. If a man loses his job, home, or business, through changes he could not control, he is supposed to have no one but himself to blame. For, although the acts of others in power, whether in government or big business, may have contributed largely or almost entirely to his misfortune, there is no one in power with any significant degree of responsibility for the consequences of his economic or political acts. So far as the running of business or finance is concerned, most people today are pretty well disposed to concede this point without argument. For there are few corporation or bank stockholders who are foolish enough to cherish the illusion that their property rights give them any real control over those who manage their property.

So far as the running of government is concerned, however, the delusion of 18th century theories of political democracy, plausible only in the days when the town meeting could be an important factor, still persist. Thus it may be said that the economic misfortunes of the United States were duly charged up to the Republican Party in the results of the elections of 1932. But, if one looks at all below the surface of political changes, one must see that the defeat of a political party or candidate can be called a punishment only in a highly qualified sense. It can never be said to amount to a real conviction of misconduct, negligence, or even bad judgment. In most cases, individuals pass out of political life for reasons wholly unconnected with any expression of public censure, however much their acts may be considered censurable or even censured by a majority vote at the polls. The way the system works, every important political and economic figure has a good alibi for public opinion, and a perfect immunity for legal purposes, so far as the consequences of his acts may be concerned.

Our attachment to the liberal principle of separation of powers, and our liberal hostility to coordination of authority and a permanent governing class, necessarily make for irresponsibility in the use of power-political or economic. It is only in the fields of specific offenses against the State, the person, and property, or fields chiefly covered by the criminal law and the laws of torts, that personal responsibility can, as a practical matter, be enforced to any significant extent. As for the responsibility which is supposed to be implicit in our electoral system, it is farcical, due to the way the system necessarily operates.

For example, a governor of a state may direct the militia and police, and the powers of his office, in ways to prevent labor from making an effective use of economic weapons like the strike and the picket, thus materially contributing to the imposition on thousands oŁ mine or factory workers of an economic status more unfavorable than that which they might win if allowed by the governor a freer use of certain economic weapons at their command. He may also appoint members to a state public service regulation commission, a factory inspection service, or a bank superintendent, who will give the utilities, the manufacturers, and the bankers, regulation pretty much as they like it. This governor of the Tweedledum Party is finally beaten at the polls by the gubernatorial candidate of the Tweedledee Party, who, in the campaign, exploits the partiality of his rival the Tweedledum governor to the mine owners, factory owners, and employers generally.

Does this electoral result mean that any significant measure of political responsibility has been established thereby? Not in the least. The outgoing governor of the Tweedledum Party is not sent off to shiver in a petty governmental function in Alaska, or to sweat in a similar function in Panama or the Philippines. Oh, no; he goes back to the practice of law, to cash in on the policies for which he has been punished by defeat. His punishment takes the form of increased professional income, all legitimately and honorably supplied him by the interests he so faithfully served while in office. And the incoming governor of the Tweedledee Party continues the same partiality to the same interests, for he, too, is a lawyer who has to think of making an honest living when, sooner or later, he has to go back to private life. He, therefore, uses his term in office to build up good will and friendships among those who can be his best paying clients when he leaves office.

It is no meaningless coincidence that about seventy per cent of the men in Congress are lawyers. It is the calling which makes the political payoff easiest to give and to take with perfect legality and decorum. The law, however, is not the only calling in which the pay-off is easy.

It is not strange that there are so few cases of technical graft in political office. judicially established. It is strange that there are so many, when the payment of graft in legal and conventionally proper ways is so easy. What makes it easy, primarily, is the simple fact that almost every official in office is constantly thinking of business or professional opportunities when he leaves office. Often, the official in office has interests which can be legally and properly helped while he is still in office. If one undertook to compile the concrete examples of what is being said somewhat generally in these paragraphs, one would be writing the case histories of tens of thousands of American political careers, including those of Presidents and chief justices of the Supreme Court, where the on-again, off-again, make-a-million-in-the-interval tradition has been duly established.

In making these obvious observations about our political customs, it is only fair to remark that nothing said here should be taken as expressing a personal censure of American Presidents, Supreme Court justices, and public officials of all ranks, who have followed our good traditions. In England and other liberal countries, of course, it is a tradition that a judge may not return to the private practice of law. In those countries, civil service and public service traditions much closer to those of fascism or an authoritarian state have been developed. We, however, have been more faithful to the authentic liberal prepossessions against a governing class. We have carried liberalism in this respect to its logical extreme or a practical absurdity. But no one is to blame for doing what is both legal and good form.

Political responsibility of any significant sort is possible only under a system in which political officials, at least of the executive and judicial branches, with few exceptions, have only a public career open to them once they have put their hand to the plough. It is not punishment or censure to be beaten for a ten- or twenty-thousand-dollar-a-year public office, the expenses of which are much greater, to take up a hundred-thousand-dollar-a-year law practice or position as an official in a corporation, working for the interests one has favored while in office. And it is not to be expected that the average office-holder, while in office, can fail to be influenced in his official acts by consideration of what will be good for his future personal livelihood.

In this connection, it is also to be remarked that public opinion in this country tends to rank a man in his profession or business according to the amount of money he makes and leaves behind him. Under liberal capitalism, it may be said that for the vast majority of cases, the only real sense of responsibility which operates strongly on official conduct is that of behaving so that a good law practice, job, or money making proposition, will be waiting for the official-within the law and good usages-when he has to leave public office, as our traditions demand that he must do-with a few exceptions in the cases of judgeships for life.

Not only is irresponsibility a result of non-professional government, or rather government by men whose profession is making money at the law or something else, but corruption and incompetence are also inevitable concomitants of such a system. The bitter truth is that the majority of the American people feel definitely that government is a graft or a racket for most office holders, and rather admire the successful for getting away with as much as they can without getting caught. The system, by making certain types of corruption of public officials legal and proper, makes the corruption of mass standards of honesty inevitable.

The other result is that of an incompetence which is also inevitable if few public officials are allowed to acquire the experience and expertness which only a lifetime devotion to one profession can give. It is a deplorable blindness, and one of the products of liberal indoctrination, that the people believe that public interest can best be maintained by ever so often giving a new gang of ambitious lawyers a chance through public office to get experience, contacts, and good will, to enable them to get ahead later on.

The point, of course, of this lengthy and digressive discussion of a peculiar phase of American liberal government is that power over the destinies of the people is exercised under our system by individuals quite as much as under any so-called authoritarian system of national planning, but that the operation of our present system tends to make all exercises of power, whether economic or political, largely irresponsible.

Fascist planning does not involve the introduction of force as a new principle, and quantitative measurements of coercion and freedom are impossible. Any new scheme of planning has to be pursued with the power of the state. It is essential to have these general principles clearly understood, both by way of answering the liberal or conservative attack on fascism as a phenomenon of coercion, in contradistinction from liberal capitalism, a system of freedom, and by way of meeting the counter proposals of innumerable schools of socialists and liberal reformers who would solve our social problems without involving themselves with the problems of government and coercion.

When planning enters the realm of reality, it enters the realm of force and coercion. And this is seen in the cases of millions who are forced to suffer privation and humiliation under liberal capitalism, as well as in the cases of millions under the authoritarian systems who are forced to accept various impositions of the state plan. The idea that one social plan gives freedom while another imposes coercion is like the idea that the difference between a horse and a cow is that the one has a head while the other has a tail.