Thursday, November 15, 2018

Corporatism And The American Future Part 1

     A corporation has neither a soul to be damned nor a body to be kicked – old maxim

     Have a few words from an old (1932) book:

     In the declining years of capitalistic old age, assuring adequate consumption to balance a requisite volume of production is the problem for the coercive action of the state-not for planning by profit makers or producers. Capitalism has always depended on the state, whether for war profits or tariff protection. In its old age, a senile capitalism must be nurtured by the state, not with war profits, necessarily, but on an even diet of 2 per cent gruel. Capitalism has run down· for want of new worlds to conquer.

     And from another almost (1936) as old:

     From the inescapable fact of the inequalities of human endowment, it also follows that any well-ordered society must train and condition its elite under an efficient and hard discipline of national interest. Fascist theory, by recognizing personal inequalities and their full social implications, can be much more humane than a liberalism which assumes that all men are born equal and which, in practice, affords to those born with superior endowment, or favored with better luck than the majority, virtually unlimited opportunities to acquire and use power with irresponsibility for social consequences and in ways further to increase social inequalities....

     Fascism does not accept the liberal dogmas as to the sovereignty of the consumer or trader in the free market. It does not admit that the market ever can or should be entirely free. Least of all does it consider that market freedom, and the opportunity to make competitive profits, are rights of the individual. Some measure of market freedom, competition, private enterprise, and profits and losses for private enterprise, in the view of fascism, must be deemed essential as guides to any measure of social control.

     Under fascism, private property, private enterprise, and private choice in the market, have no rights as ends in themselves. They have different measures of social usefulness subject to proper public control. If these institutions and ways are to have social utility to the State, the liberal regime must be ended, the great monopolies nationalized, and all the economic processes subjected to the discipline of a national plan. The ultimate objective is welfare through a strong national State, and neither the dictatorship of the proletarian nor the supremacy of private rights under any given set of rules.

     The first book’s title is Is Capitalism Doomed? The second book’s title is The Coming American Fascism. Their author was Lawrence Dennis, a moderately popular commentator of the Thirties and Forties.

     What’s on my mind this morning is how greatly Dennis’s vision of an “American fascism” resembles contemporary corporatism. The most significant point of comparison is the ever-tightening concentration of employment into a shrinking number of employers. The most significant point of contrast is that in Dennis’s vision, the federal government was explicitly in charge of the “national plan,” whereas in our actual present Washington exerts influence through law, regulation, and its purchasing power rather than explicit authority.

     Note that Dennis’s underlying value system differs greatly from that of the “national greatness” fascists of his era: Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Those latter figures were militaristically inclined, whereas Dennis was an isolationist in the fashion of Charles A. Lindbergh Sr. Indeed, he opposed FDR’s “New Deal” fascism because he saw it as an instrument for enlarging an American Empire that had ceased to grow when its land frontier disappeared:

     Getting rid of the American frontier amounted to getting the American empire. Being republicans and Puritans, we could not well call ours an empire. We had no emperor. Besides, our governing, though not ruling, imperialists, the Eastern plutocracy, felt that the less said about their ownership and power, the better. They were interested in the take, not the glory. They wanted to rule indirectly and anonymously. Their principal device for ruling eventually, along in the eighties, came to be the modern corporation which has been called by the French, with their genius for logical definition, the société anonyme.

     Briefly, so far as empire is concerned, it is the growth, not the existence, the getting, not the keeping that is historically significant and socially dynamic. A nation grows great by winning an empire. It cannot remain great merely by keeping one. Indeed, once it stops growing it will start decaying. This is clearly proved by Spain and Portugal both of which went into decline once they ceased to increase their imperial holdings. Mankind is destined to live by toil and struggle, not by absentee ownership.

     [The Dynamics of War and Revolution, 1940]

     After the war, Lawrence Dennis repudiated his earlier convictions and adopted a free market orientation. He came to see that the system he advocated could only lead to the reverse of his highest aim – i.e., that fascism, socialism, and similar systems of collectivism all produce a totalitarian State that will pursue the expansion of its power through war:

     “The most socialist institution of the State in America today,” Dennis wrote, “is that of the armed forces...the free market or freedom of contract is out. The members of the armed forces, their dependents and their widows and orphans must be virtual wards of a paternal state.” Just as Hitler had built his war machine through a strong national socialism, the U.S. defense program was “the most obvious and practical way imaginable to convert America to a totalitarian socialist basis.” The same liberal leaders now calling on war with Soviet Russia would transform the United States into a “socialist society by conscription, controls, and rationing.”

     Major governmental subsidies to develop foreign markets meant socialism at home and war abroad. “Most people will think that the essence of socialism is a shift from private to public ownership, greater equalization of wealth and income and certain so-called economic reforms.” Dennis disagreed. “They are all wrong. State planning and control of the economy, with enough spending of government or bank-created money to maintain full employment—that is now the essence of socialism in action.”

     [From Ronald Radosh’s Prophets on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism ]

     Thus did an early, intelligent and highly articulate booster of fascism, once confronted with the consequences of the system he had advocated, transform into one of the staunchest critics of a government managed economy – regardless of the guise assumed by the managers.

     The above citations from Lawrence Dennis illustrate one of the oldest maxims of moral and ethical behavior:

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

     It is not enough to mean well; one must act virtuously, and virtue cannot justify compelling others to conform to one’s own preferred plan. Similarly, he who argues for a system of social control, and who, upon being confronted with the horrors such systems inevitably inflict upon their subjects, is morally obliged to admit his fault, to detail how he came to see it – in Lawrence Dennis’s case, by realizing that FDR’s fascistic “New Deal” had led directly to the American involvement in World War II and the subsequent institutionalization of a government-administered economy – and explicate the educational process he followed for the specific benefit of those who had been seduced by his earlier reasoning.

     It is particularly pernicious to assume that one’s own intellect and virtue are so superior to that of others that one is justified in taking power over others, whether by force or by fraud. There is no defense for such self-exaltation.

     But let’s examine America in the Year of Our Lord 2018. We see a corporatism further advanced than even FDR intended: a state of affairs in which approximately 3000 corporations employ half the workers in the United States, while governments look on with approval. Yes, approval! For they who seek to rule always prefer that their targets be compact: few in number and therefore easily fettered with a single set of enforceable rules. One more citation, this time from the late, great Garet Garrett:

     There was a Director of the Budget who was not at heart a New Dealer. One day he brought to the President the next annual budget—the one of which the President afterward said: "The country, and I think most of Congress, did not fully realize the large sums which would be expended by the government this year and next, nor did they realize the great amount the Treasury would have to borrow."

     At the end of his work the Director of the Budget had written a paragraph saying simply and yet in a positive manner that notwithstanding the extraordinary activities indicated by the figures and by the appropriations that were going to be made, the government had really no thought of going into competition with private enterprise.

     Having lingered for some time over this paragraph the President said: "I'm not so sure we ought to say that."

     The Director of the Budget asked, "Why not, Mr. President?"

     The President did not answer immediately, but one of his aides who had been listening said: "I'll tell you why. Who knows that we shall not want to take over all business?"

     The Director of the Budget looked at the President, and the President said: "Let's leave it out." And of course it was left out.

     [From The People’s Pottage.]

     More anon.

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