Words like communism, socialism and fascism are most likely to be used pejoratively: to criticize in such a way as to intentionally anger the object. While there are a few elements of socialism and fascism in our government it does not accurately describe our current governing philosophy.
Fascism was given a bad name by Hitler and Mussolini because it became tied to racism and genocide, but before this road was exposed, the fascism of Mussolini was often well received by central planners and academics in the United States. Nazism was merely fascism with a radical racial and nationalist elements added. Fascism sought moderation between the chaos and volatility of capitalism and the total rejection of established institutions sought by communists and some socialists.
Fascism sought the government direction of private enterprises. Like socialism, fascism relied on central planning and government direction but did not require the government ownership that communism and socialism did.
Central planning in all its forms inevitably led to tyranny according to Friedrick von Hayek in The Road to Serfdom. Central planning presumed a common goal that was often only common to a select minority and the rest ultimately had to be forced into compliance. Critics of Hayek argued that central planning did not have to lead to tyranny if it was practiced in a culture that respected individual rights and freedoms.
While we can find elements of these various forms of central planning in this administration, it would be more accurate to describe Obama’s political school as pragmatism. As a pragmatist he seeks an objective that is unmoored from philosophy or economic principles. This may explain why his policies are such dismal failures.
Principles are developed over much study, analysis, and observation. Such principles help the design of functional solutions, much as the principles of physics aid an engineer to design a functional machine or building. Principles of math and science are relentless, unforgiving and do not bend to the will of the practitioner. Principles of economics, while softer in nature than the natural sciences, will often appear to bend to one’s will in select instances or for short periods of time, but they are ultimately revealed, often as harshly as the hard sciences. There are commonly a variety of variables that hide the action of such soft science principles, but they do not extinguish them.
Pragmatists believe in the force of their personal charisma and will to achieve the goals they deem noble. But in the absence of the hard principled stance against capitalist allocation of resources and individual rights that was the center of the less reputable statist experiments of the 20th century, the pragmatist is more likely to dissolve into failure than to end up a dictator.
The next step for a pragmatist who fails is the suppression of dissent and control by other means. The current Senate rule to castrate the filibuster is such a move and it is not merely coincidental that this happened after the humiliation the reigning party suffered on the failure of their healthcare roll out. But it is a clumsy move- once again guided by pragmatism over principle- and creates a power that may soon be wielded against the authors of this rule.
But as long as the political opposition remains a threat, and there is little they can do to remove it, this experiment in political and economic pragmatism will follow the path of other failed governing philosophies.
For a more complete explanation of fascism I recommend this explanation by Sheldon Richman inThe Library of Economics and Liberty.
HKO Postscript- Great Minds Thinking Alike
The day after I wrote the above Jonah Goldberg wrote in The National Review Online,
Of course, when Obama says he’s a pragmatist, he doesn’t mean the sort of pragmatism that Halperin and Heilemann are referring to: a willingness to pander cravenly to the voters while hiding his core convictions. The president means to suggest that his policies are simply the only right and smart way to achieve good things. That’s why he’s so fond of saying — and so hypocritical for saying it — that his opponents are ideologues who can’t “put politics aside” to do what’s right.
This is an ancient pose for progressives who insist that governing is a science.There’s no right-wing or left-wing way to build a bridge, only the best way. So it is with government too.
As The New Republic’s Franklin Foer notes, this fiction was always partly intended to sell voters on the idea that progressive social planners could be trusted with unprecedented state power. “It was more comforting for people to feel as if disinterested technicians, not party hacks, were going to be running the show.”
The irony for Obama is that he’s great at playing the role of disinterested technician, but he’s anything but one in real life. He can talk a great game about providing a website that works like Kayak or Amazon, but he’s embarrassingly out of his depth when it comes to delivering one.
More substantively, as John Harwood writes in the New York Times, one of the reasons Obamacare has become so problematic is that the president sold it as a nonideological project that would create winners all around; that was an example of the sort of pragmatic pandering Heilemann and Halperin are writing about.
But such pandering couldn’t hide the fact that the actual program enshrines in law any number of ideological imperatives that must, of necessity, create legions of losers. That was inevitable given the redistributive nature of the law.