We are all Bismarckians now.

When Rothbardians talk of our opposition to the “Welfare-Warfare State” we are often taken to be implying that the enemy is a coalition of left- and right-wing statists, with Welfare on the Left and Warfare on the Right. This works in the recent American context, but from a larger historical perspective it doesn’t work at all.

The first modern welfare state was a Machiavellian strategy on the part of Otto von Bismarck, the architect of the German Empire. There was nothing ideological about it. Bismarck knew that the impoverished masses were in favor of liberalism. The poor of the 19th century understood that free markets and free trade would improve their lives, and they recognized mercantilism, protectionism, and other forms of statist privilege as the enemies and oppressors of common people. By creating a new generation of dependents, Bismarck effectively denied the German liberals the support of the masses.

(Just as the state monopoly on education created a class of dependent academics and denied the liberals their old position in the intellectual mainstream.)

This was clearly socialism of the welfare-statist variety, but notice that it was not at all what we would currently call left-wing. It was not remotely egalitarian.

Left-wing socialism — the kind most people think of when they hear the S-word — is an egalitarian attack, not just on the economy, but on all the institutions of culture and civilization, both Old Regime and bourgeois. Right-wing socialism, in contrast, is the coercive attempt to give permanence to the current power establishment — The Establishment — a power base in constant fear of the changes that liberalism brings. Ironically, the bourgeoisie (the very “class” created by liberalism) and the poor and working masses (whose lot is improved by liberalism and ultimately made worse by the state) become the populist coalition behind right-wing socialism.

Right-wing socialism is also known as corporatism, national socialism (the Nazis), and fascism. In my BlackCrayon dictionary, I define fascism in 4 parts:


An authoritarian form of statism that advocates

  1. private property
  2. State-centralized economy
  3. militarism
  4. nationalism
(I also blog about fascism here.)

In Joe Salerno’s summer seminar, he uses the 6-part definition of John T. Flynn, the great journalist of the Old Right. Flynn begins with a 4-part definition of economic fascism, what he called the “prologue to fascism”:

  1. “Planned Consumption” — a government that borrows and spends huge amounts on the Welfare State;
  2. Militarism as an economic institution — a way of stimulating economic activity
  3. Imperialism, the handmaiden to militarism — global military adventurism (the Warfare State);
  4. a Planned Economy, consisting of systematic government interference into prices, wages, rents, and interest rates.

Flynn believed that economic fascism preceded full political fascism, which required two more criteria:

  1. a Totalitarian State;
  2. a Dictatorship — the leadership principle with one charismatic strong man at the top, e.g., Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo … Churchill, Roosevelt …

I think the 4-part definition is very useful, and I think the 6-part definition is even more useful, but rather than adding ever more criteria, I am currently using a much simpler working definition, based on my recent readings in 20th-century history.

Fascism is anti-egalitarian collectivism in control of (or seeking control of) the government.

So that’s just 3 parts:

  1. anti-egalitarian
  2. collectivist
  3. statist

And practically speaking, you can use only the first two, since every political philosophy other than anarchism presupposes an attempt to run the government.

My new working definition results in part from my current political map:

Rothbard had various ways of mapping Left and Right to Liberty and Power, but none of them really work for me, except as historical explanations.

The only way I can make sense of the various Lefts and Rights of the 20th century is to translate “left” into “egalitarian” and “right” into “anti-egalitarian”. If the equality under consideration is an equality of rights (which Rothbard called a universality of rights) then I am with the original left-wing of classical liberalism. If the equality under consideration is an equality of results or distribution or talents, etc., then I am very much a right-winger. When I use the word ‘egalitarian’ I tend to mean it in this second way.

So why do I think the greatest threat to America comes from the Right?

Because most anti-egalitarians aren’t libertarians — they’re fascists.

In the German-speaking world of the late-19th- and early-20th-centuries, Marxism (the dominant left-wing socialism) was generally perceived to have failed. Marx had predicted two things that never happened: (1) the immiseration of the masses under capitalism; (2) a working class consciousness that would transcend national loyalty.

The strange thing is that you can find 21st-century leftists who still, against all evidence, believe prediction #1. The socialists of the early 20th-century were far less historically illiterate. It was obvious that industrial capitalism had improved the conditions of the working classes. The remaining objections were of the form (a) “It’s not enough!” or (b) “It’s still not fair!”

Actually, there was another common objection to capitalism: (c) “It’s all going to the Jews!”

What many German ex-Marxists did was abandon egalitarianism and embrace nationalism. Their new brand of socialism would become the National Socialism of Hitler.

This is fascinating to me, and it’s yet another thing completely left out of my schooling. I was taught in effect that Communism and fascism had entirely different etiologies, but came to employ similar totalitarian means. That’s true if you treat Marx and Bismarck as the relative starting points. (It’s much less true if you replace Marx with the early French socialists.)

But whoever started right-wing socialism, and for whatever reasons, it rose to power under the energy and support of ideological ex-leftists.

This brings us to the New Right of William F. Buckley, Jr. (Which I can barely tell apart from the neoconservatives who supposedly came later.)

This is from Justin Raimondo’s biography of Murray Rothbard, An Enemy of the State:

[Rothbard] mourned the fate of the old liberals, who had allied with the pre-World War II Right — men like John T. Flynn, historian Charles A. Beard, and Harry Elmer Barnes — who were crowded out of the picture by the ex-Trotskyist James Burnham, former spy for the Kremlin Whittaker Chambers, Will Herberg, Eugene Lyons, J.B. Matthews, Frank S. Meyer, Willi Schlamm, and other defectors from Communism. In the old days “there was no question as to where the intellectual right of that day stood on militarism and conscription: it opposed them as instruments of mass slavery and mass murder.” Then the rise of McCarthyism shifted the mass-base of the Right from the Midwest to the eastern seaboard, bringing in a whole new crowd “whose outlook on individual liberty was, if anything, negative.”

pp. 174-175

Right-wing statism seems to be an alliance between Bismarckian political capitalists and ideologically fervent ex-leftists. The current Republican incarnation is no exception. All that changes are the particulars of the populist appeal.


2 Responses to We are all Bismarckians now.

  1. Vache Folle says:

    In grad school at Columbia, I began to go into a fugue state trying to figure out the whole left-right, conservative-liberal dynamic. My colleagues and professors were “liberals” who wanted to transform society to liberate mankind, but they were going to do so by means of an increasingly powerful state bolstered by state provided education. Capitalism, in their minds, was conflated with mercantilism and privilege and was the source of all alienation and anomie. My kinsmen and acquaintances in the working class and petty bourgeoisie tilted to the right/conservative end of the spectrum. They also wanted to transform mankind and liberate him from an oppressive elite and to do so by means of a powerful state. They were pro-entrepreneur but suspicious of big business and multi-nationals. The main difference between the left and right was in social matters and relativism versus absolutism, as these were understood by them. Neither side had any particular grasp of political philosophy, and their views were informed primarily by emotion.It was helpful, to some degree, to think of the divide in terms of hegemony and resistance. The right, as expressed by the working class and petty bourgeoisie, might be seen as resistance to the hegemony of the “progressive” elite that had control of the institutions of power. This movement was essentially coopted by the GOP, one face of the dominant elite.

  2. It´s really interesting. I have I liberalist blog too, if you wanna read it.. There I toalk about liberalism, philosophy etc. But it´s written in Spanish (i´m Spanish).http://www.quaternio-terminorum.blogspot.com (read acerca del capitalismo, and manifiesto eutópico)And add me if you wanna talk. e-sietedebastos@hotmail.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: