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Fascism with Communist Slogans

July 10, 2019
Fascism with Communist Slogans

Ayn Rand once predicted that we were going to end up with “a fascist system with communist slogans.” This has been going through my mind as I’ve been watching the Democratic party primary contest. No, it’s not quite fascism—not yet. Nor is it quite communism—not yet (except maybe for Bernie). Yet most of the Democratic candidates seem to think that authoritarianism and even nationalism are great, and everything they denounce in the Trump administration they promise to do in their own administration, just so long as it’s dressed up in anti-capitalist slogans and signals their fealty to the Politically Correct side in the culture war.

The one candidate who is not (yet) an example of this is Joe Biden, who recently scolded Democrats who are opposed to any form of cooperation across the aisle by warning that, “if we can’t get a consensus, nothing happens except the abuse of power by the executive.” Democrats seem to have been puzzled by this statement because Biden said it as if it were a bad thing.

Kamala Harris, for instance, has made appeals to unilateral executive authority her specialty:

Kamala Harris has unveiled an ambitious set of policies as part of her presidential campaign that have a common theme: going it alone.

The California senator is proposing action on long-held Democratic values—legalizing undocumented immigrants, combatting gun violence, and ensuring women are paid the same as men for equal work.

But unlike many of her competitors, Harris would tackle those priorities with a novel set of executive actions that would require nothing from Congress.

Specifically, Harris has promised to give Congress 100 days to pass new gun-control legislation. If they don’t do so to her satisfaction, she says she’ll impose her measures by executive order. Harris explains, “The majority of my career I’ve spent in the executive branch, so exercising executive power is something that I do, and I’m used to.”

To complete the flavor of the thing, Harris’s signature moment at the first round of primary debates was when she endorsed forced busing of children to schools chosen by bureaucrats, rather than parents. I don’t think you could dream up an idea better calculated to the make the average person feel helpless before the power of entrenched authorities.

So the basis for Kamala Harris’s campaign is the premise that strongman rule is fine—we just happen to have the wrong strongman in office and need to replace him with a strongwoman who will mouth the correct “Progressive” bromides.

Not to be outdone, Eric Swallwell is pushing a plan to confiscate millions of guns from law-abiding owners, which, if he is serious about it, would mean sending the police door-to-door and into people’s homes in search of contraband. The only virtue of this plan is that it will never happen, at least not under Swallwell, because he is a single-issue candidate, and the only people who consistently vote on the single issue of gun control are gun owners.

Speaking of minor candidates, we also have Andrew Yang, a Silicon Valley hanger-on who has no chance of winning the nomination. Yet his candidacy is important for one reason: he is advocating a quasi-totalitarian control of digital communications, and nobody on the left can be bothered to object to it.

Earlier in the year, Yang proposed what amounts to a push for state-owned media, in the form of federally appointed and funded “journalism fellows.” That was paired with the creation of a federal “News and Information Ombudsman” empowered to act as a “fake news” cop. Yang declared, “We must introduce both a means to investigate and punish those who are seeking to misinform the American public.” This would be done under the FCC, which since its founding has had the latent power to abuse its control over broadcasters—a power easily actualized by presidential decree. It’s a wonder nobody has ever thought about it.

Oh, wait, they have.

Yang has since removed that proposal from his website, but now he’s back at it with another proposal to create a “Department of the Attention Economy” to regulate smartphones and social media:

As President, I will . . . [d]irect the Department to investigate the regulation of certain companies and apps. Many of these companies essentially function as public utilities and news sources—we used to regulate broadcast networks and newspapers and phone companies. We need to do the same thing to Facebook, Twitter, Snap, and other companies now that they are the primary ways people both receive information and communicate with each other.

Did anybody else notice that line about how we used to regulate newspapers? When was that, exactly?

I’m beginning to wonder if Andrew Yang’s campaign is just an elaborate Quillette stunt, like the stings that submit nonsense papers to Postmodernist journals, or the fake-woke Twitter feeds that exist only to trick “Progressives” into retweeting passages from Mein Kampf. This time, the idea is to show that you can get Democrats to placidly accept a regime of censorship, if you combine it with loud advocacy of trendy techno-socialist ideas like the Universal Basic Income.

Like the lady said, fascism with communist slogans.

Speaking of techno-censorship, we also have Elizabeth Warren openly calling on tech companies to suppress unsavory political speech.

Warren is the one who most specifically brings to the Democratic race the actual underlying political structure of fascism. The New York Times sums up Warren’s platform as “economic patriotism”:

Her proposals would tip power from executives and investors to workers and allow the federal government to more aggressively steer the development of industries. She has called for splintering technology companies, like Amazon, that millions of consumers rely on in their daily lives. She would reduce the rewards for entrepreneurs to build billionaire fortunes and for companies to create global supply chains, scrambling the incentives for work, investment, and economic growth. . . .

Her ideas resonate with a growing group of liberal economists who see evidence that free markets need more forceful government intervention in order to function properly and not just deliver spoils to the very wealthy.

All that guff about wanting markets to function properly is cover for the fact that this is not about markets at all. It’s about “allow[ing] the federal government to more aggressively steer the development of industries.” You can also ignore the part about not delivering spoils to the very wealthy, because the central theme of her proposals is massive cronyism.

As Kevin Williamson points out:

She argues that the Export-Import Bank—the premier corporate-welfare program in the United States, sometimes known as the “Bank of Boeing”—does not spend enough money subsidizing American businesses. How much more should it spend? Senator Warren does not say, but she does note that the Chinese version of the Export-Import Bank spends about 100 times what its American counterpart does.

Pointing out how Warren’s previous proposal for so-called “Accountable Capitalism” would force big companies to go hat in hand to Commerce Department bureaucrats for special government charters, I described this as a throwback to feudalism, when “all economic activity takes place only with the permission of the sovereign.”

But the most recent name for this economic system is national socialism—better known as fascism. Under national socialism, the government doesn’t bother to nationalize corporations. It just makes sure that they are creatures of the state who answer to the dictates of a strongman. It is an authoritarian approach to economic regulation, and that is the running theme behind Warren’s proposals.

The best proof of this is that the rising illiberal wing of the right absolutely loves Warren’s agenda. Here is Tucker Carlson, who has become the most popular voice of right-wing anti-capitalism.

Yesterday, Warren released what she’s calling her “plan for economic patriotism.” Amazingly, that’s pretty much exactly what it is: economic patriotism. . . . Many of Warren’s policy prescriptions make obvious sense: She says the U.S. government should buy American products when it can. Of course it should. She says we need more workplace apprenticeship programs, because 4-year degrees aren’t right for everyone. That’s true. She says taxpayers ought to benefit from the research and development they fund. And yet, she writes, “we often see American companies take that research and use it to manufacture products overseas, like Apple did with the iPhone. The companies get rich, and American taxpayers have subsidized the creation of low-wage foreign jobs.” And so on. She sounds like Donald Trump at his best.

Carlson calls for a political faction that would be “nationalist on economics, fairly traditional on the social issues.” What he is calling for is an authoritarian synthesis in which the government will tell us what to do in the boardroom and in the bedroom. Fortunately, I don’t think there is (yet) a broad market for this synthesis, though a number of conservatives are trying to talk themselves into the idea.

But the interesting thing is that a lot of Democrats already seem quite comfortable signing up for an authoritarian economics indistinguishable from Trump’s “economic nationalism.”

They just want it to be presented in the guise of leftist economic populism instead of right-wing traditionalism.

Right now some smartypants readers are probably objecting that there never was all that much difference between fascism and communism in the first place, that the differences were mainly stylistic. They’re right. That’s the point that is being underscored here: Big government always entails authoritarianism, no matter what rhetoric you use to sell it or which side of the culture war you try to couple it with.

The recent “Antifa” attack on Andy Ngo is a good reminder: a group of literal modern-day Blackshirts going out into the streets to beat up people who disagree with them. But somehow this time it’s different because they borrow their imagery and slogans from the communists.

It’s tempting here to fall back on the old observation that the far right and the far left bend back on each other and meet. But I think Ronald Reagan had a much more clarifying perspective on it back in 1964: “There is no such thing as a left or right, there’s only an up or down—up to man’s age-old dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism.”

And when you’re taking us on the way down, it doesn’t really matter which slogans you use.

We never got to the fascist system with communist slogans that Ayn Rand predicted back in the 1960s, and we’re still not quite there now. The reason we didn’t get there last time is because a lot of people on the right, partly thanks to Rand’s influence, rediscovered and championed individual rights and the principles of liberalism—real liberalism, the advocacy of freedom—as the alternative to both variations of authoritarianism.

That’s what we need to do again.

Robert Tracinski

Robert Tracinski is editor of Symposium, a journal of liberalism, and writes additional commentary at The Tracinski Letter.