Dennis Lawrence - The Coming American Fascism

Author : Dennis Lawrence
Title : The Coming American Fascism The Crisis of Capitalism
Year : 1936

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Every social situation has an unlimited number of aspects. Unworkability of the existing system is the particular aspect of the present social situation in the United States which, to the fascist way of thinking, seems most challenging to thoughtful analysis and immediate action. It is the unworkability of a given social system in a changed set of conditions which is most responsible for revolutionary social change. Feudalism, for instance, gave way to modern capitalism, not because any number of the people at any given moment decided that they would prefer a new social order, but because a series of discoveries of new lands and inventions of new machines and techniques created new conditions, among them the rise of a new business class, in which the feudal system could not work. This is not to state a thesis of rigid economic determinism or an exclusively materialistic interpretation of history. It is to recognize that changes in things act on preferences as well as changes in preferences on things. It seems a fairly sound generalization to say that no social group, after debating the merits of the existing order versus those of a possible successor, proceeded to scrap the old and adopt the new as long as the old system was maintaining a semblance of order or working. Indeed, it is a part of the process of maintaining order and making a given social system work to see to it that the people like what they have. In measure as defenders of a system deem it necessary to argue with the people in favor of the preservation of the old system, they really admit and advertise its doom. There is no doubt but that the continuous attacks on fascism and defenses of the present system featured by powerful publications like the Saturday Evening Post, and in the public utterances of influential citizens like Mr. Hoover, do more to advertise and further fascism than almost any other factor calling fascism to the attention of the American people. A social system is either on the offensive, or it is doomed. There is little point to drawing conservative inferences from the fact that the people are attached to their Constitution and nine elderly exponents of it, to their king and his nobles or to the Druid priests and their human sacrifices. The people are always attached- to their leaders; institutions and folk customs, no matter how absurd or barbarous these latter may appear from other points of view. If and when, under changed conditions, the old system proves unworkable, or fails adequately to meet its imperatives, the undermining and upsetting of it are always directed by a small minority of the discontented or frustrated elite who may be divided into several groups but who, in some one minority group, gradually roll up enough mass following to achieve their ends. The defenders of the old system have to learn that the only good argument for the old system is to make it work. And this means, among other things, taking care of those elite who otherwise become discontented and ultimately revolutionary. The usual defense of the system made today by its supposed friends, however, consists mainly in apologies for the system's unworkability and in appeals for loyal support no matter how it works. There is a typically liberal naiveté in appealing to Y's reason to be loyal to a system which still suits X, but which is not working so well for Y. That kind of loyalty is not born of reason but habit, early conditioning and wholly unreasoned impulses. One of the earliest proofs of the unworkability of a system, after its failure to care for the elite, is its failure to maintain the suitable mass conditioning for the system's survival. But of this we shall have more to say under another heading. In the fascist view of the situation, the unworkability of the present system is the starting point in social thought and action. It is also the most vulnerable point for attack—and the fascists are attackers. Taking this particular view of the system's crisis or slow decline does not mean that a fascist-minded person sees nothing else in the situation but mechanical defects or that he minimizes other aspects of the situation. That the injustices of the present social situation, in which millions suffer hunger and privation while productive instruments, like human hands, land, and factories, remain in enforced idleness, are a crying shame, the fascist fully recognizes. That Father Coughlin and his League for Social Justice should emphasize this phase of the situation and demand its correction is both humane and helpful. But, if an individual or a group sets about the correction of these injustices, the first order of problems encountered will be found to lie squarely in the fields of social mechanics or government and management in the broadest sense of these terms. These problems are matters of getting things done rather than of formulating moral judgments. It is well to say what ought and what ought not to be, but satisfying any given moral or ethical imperative about social conditions is largely a matter of using the coercive force of government and the resources of technical management of the social and material factors determining social conditions. In other words, while the impulse to get something done may spring from wishing to have it done, getting it done is not exclusively a matter of imagining or wishing it done. The voice of the prophet, which is the voice of conscience denouncing sin and extolling righteousness-word these phenomena as you will and let them take the personal and institutional forms and expressions they will in different ages and cultures—has been a moral force in every civilization. But, after conscience or the prophet has denounced a condition and demanded its correction in the name of some metaphysical value or social myth, without which no social scheme has ever operated, there always remain the governmental, managerial and technical tasks of getting it done. Today these tasks are more complex and inter-related than ever. In ancient times and even down to the opening of the industrial revolution towards the close of the 18th century, the period when most of our American social concepts, norms and institutions were supposed to have reached their final and definitive form for all time, it was ordinarily enough for some measure of correction of an evil to have the voice of conscience, through the prophet or priest, convince the Prince, or small group of head men, that it ought to be done—provided, of course, the prophet whipped up some enthusiasm for the correction by a little effective indoctrination of the people. In those bygone, pre-capitalistic, pre-industrial days, it could reasonably be expected that satisfactory improvement of a social situation would result from an effective pointing out of the evil and a fairly general observance of certain rather elementary rules of personal conduct such as are to be found in all the world's great moral codes. Before division of labor had been carried very far, or before the industrial revolution, and as long as people lived in simple, closed and self-sufficing economies in which the members of one small group produced about everything they consumed, the chief moral imperative was doing the decent thing by one's neighbor—in other words, President Roosevelt's "good neighbor" philosophy. The "good neighbor" code was still fairly adequate in the comparatively recent days of our frontier rural communities, long after the drafting of the Constitution. There were no really significant divergences between the moral imperatives for good neighbor behavior as laid down by Hammurabi, Moses, Buddha, Socrates or Jesus. In the days of simple social organization and simple economic arrangements, the problem of public order was largely one of having the king or leader listen to the voice of conscience and having the subject fear God and obey the king. It is amazing how many otherwise intelligent people still imagine that, in our complex modern society, public order can be maintained by having certain elementary rules of conduct appropriate to simple rural communities followed by millions of individuals. These latter are in fact grossly unequal in economic power, and each individual, or legal person, including the billion-dollar corporation, is left free to interpret the Constitution for himself, and to hire as many lawyers as his means will allow to champion through endless litigation his particular interpretations. Only the lush opportunities of the opening of the earth's largest and richest area for appropriation and settlement could furnish enough to be grabbed off by almost every one to make it possible to maintain public order under such a regime, which Thomas Carlyle once characterized as anarchy plus a constable. In taking the traditional attitude towards social evils and social reform, 19th century reformers have rarely made an attempt to think through the social mechanics of getting any desirable social situation achieved. Where the reformers of the era of modern capitalism have essayed to do a little thinking through of the problem of correcting a social evil, they have usually confined their thinking to one rather narrow field of social institutions or phenomena such as taxation (Henry George), currency (William Jennings Bryan), or business regulation by law making—and law enforcement (Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson). Broadly generalizing, one may say that, in modern Christendom, only reformers thinking in the framework of the Roman Catholic faith, and the various schools of modern fascist and communist thought, have— consistently and seriously attempted to work out social solutions in terms of an all-embracing social synthesis. It is interesting to note in connection with this generalization that the distinguished jurists and, especially, the economists of modern capitalism, have all been fairly radical and daring in their thought or really of a definitely reforming kind. Blackstone, for instance, wanted to reform the absolutism of the Stuarts; John Marshall wanted to go much farther than the writers of the Constitution in strengthening the Union and centralizing social control—not in the Federal Executive or Legislature but in the Federal Judiciary; while the much venerated (and now considered conservative) Adam Smith, in the gloomy field of economics, was nothing short of a radical for his time, because he assailed the eminently respectable theses of applied 17th century mercantilism and demanded a regime of economic laissezfaire such as the world had never known before and such as it is not going to know again for a long time. Now, it is a distinguishing characteristic of practically all the builders of the liberal capitalistic scheme of concepts, norms, and social institutions that they have tried to restrict their social thinking to some one field, like law or economics, and that, even within these already narrowly delimited fields, they were apt to specialize in one particular subdivision. This, doubtless, was a part of the separation of powers and division of labor ideals of the late 18th century. The jurists and statesmen assumed that no economic development could ever prevent the enforcement of the Constitution and lawful contracts, while the economists and business men took it for granted that no political or legal development could seriously or for long interfere with the free market, the laws of economic supply and demand, or the fixation of wages and prices in free competition by freely contracting legal parties. They did not foresee billion-dollar corporations as parties contracting with fourteen-yearold children. The rise of the modern trust has upset their premise of a market free from monopoly, restraint of trade, and innumerable sorts of present day economic coercion. Specifically, they assumed that a mortgage could always be foreclosed, and that hunger could always be relied on to make a man work for the highest bidder however low the bid, but that no one would be coerced by combinations and conspiracies in restraint of free trade. The political and economic systems thus fully, ably and separately expounded by a long line of legal and economic rationalizations, were assumed to be permanently workable and both fool and disaster proof, each functioning in its own watertight compartment. These compartments, of course, were kept water-tight from time to time by the definitions of legal decisions and the pedantic treatises of writers on the various social sciences. There was supposed to exist a series of perfect institutional harmonies, and it was a pious dogma that democracy was fool and disaster proof. The 19th century cultural leaders of liberal capitalism, though innovators, reformers, and improvers, as well as rationalizers, rarely thought in terms of a universal or even a national synthesis. Indeed, most of the 19th century socialists were incapable of such thinking. The reason why Karl Marx towers among all the prophets and reformers since Luther and Calvin is that his was the first influential mind after the industrial revolution to try to think things through in connection with the denunciation of what he considered evil and the advocacy of what he considered righteousness. Marx, in his prophecy, did not proceed on the assumptions that the social evils he deplored were in the nature of defects rather than properties of the prevailing system, and that social justice, as he idealized it, was something obviously attainable within the framework of prevailing institutions, provided the people so willed it. He worked out a theory of the existing system to explain the evils he deplored the exploitation and misery of the workers; a theory of a new system to realize the ideal he cherished—a classless, stateless, governmentless society of workers enjoying the highest standard of living which available resources could afford; and a program of action to effect the transition to this ideal order—the transitional program being the dictatorship of the proletariat. ...

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