By Fabrizio Ferrari on the Mises Wire
On the back of the economic crisis brought about by the covid-19 pandemics, we are witnessing—once more—so-called economists, historians, and pundits attempting to proclaim the failure of capitalism. Their criticisms of the capitalistic organization of human cooperation and coexistence are various, but there are three strains of ideological attack against capitalism which seem to me to occur more often than others.
There is an element about anticapitalism that is often neglected: even though anticapitalism is usually associated with socialism and leftist movements, we can find the very same anticapitalistic mentality in the fascist ideology. As Thomas DiLorenzo pointed out in his latest Mises U lecture on the topic, fascism is just a particular kind of socialism—just like communism itself is. Hence, the fact that fascists and communists share the same contempt for capitalism should not surprise anyone.
The best way to understand the anticapitalistic mentality of fascism—and how close the arguments of contemporary anticapitalists are to those of Benito Mussolini—is to read Mussolini’s 1932 essay titled “The Doctrine of Fascism,” written together with Giovanni Gentile (the acknowledged philosophical ideologue of fascism).
The attack Gentile and Mussolini carry out against capitalism is (at least) threefold, and its underlying rhetoric is no different from the one of contemporary anticapitalistic and allegedly antifascist movements. First, Gentile and Mussolini advocate a greater role for government in the economy. Second, they condemn both methodological and political individualism, asserting the importance of collectivism and collective identities. Third, they blame “economism” and the role economic constraints play in shaping human behavior, deploring materialism and advocating governments that transcend the praxeological and sociological laws of economics.
Arguing for Ever More Government Intervention
The first step anticapitalists take when it comes to arguing in favor of bigger government is to belittle freedom and classical liberalism. In the paragraph titled1 “Rejection of Economic Liberalism – Admiration of Bismarck,” Gentile and Mussolini write that “fascism is definitely and absolutely opposed to the doctrines of [classical] liberalism, both in the political and the economic sphere.” Doesn’t that have a familiar ring? Is it so different from the calls of many leftists for rethinking neoliberalism and capitalism?
A couple of paragraphs later (“The Absolute Primacy of the State”), the two fascists—commenting upon what they believed to be the epitomic failure of capitalism, namely the 1929 world recession—assert that economic crises “can only be settled by State action and within the orbit of the State.” Does that differ so much from the advocacy of contemporary “liberals” (better: social democrats) for interventionistic policies and their attempts to put capitalism under stricter governmental control?
If it wasn’t clear enough, just a few lines earlier (at the very beginning of the same paragraph), Mussolini and Gentile show what they mean, in practice, by their contempt for classical liberalism. In fact, they blame the classical liberal minimal state for “restricting its activities to recording results” stemming from economic dynamics, instead of “directing the game and guiding the material and moral progress of the community.”Where, again, is the difference from leftists promoting greater interventionism? Or calling for a bigger government, able to steer markets so as to foster their own idea of social justice?
In the end, when it comes to economic affairs, both modern (leftist) anticapitalists and “classical” fascists are in favor of a highly nonneutral state.
Fascism Eulogizes Collectivism and Despises Individualism
The viscerally anti-individualistic philosophical approach of fascism is clearly laid out throughout the whole essay. For instance, in the paragraph appropriately titled “Rejection of Individualism and the Importance of the State,” the fascist ideology is explicitly labeled as “anti-individualistic,” insofar as fascism “stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State.”
Again, doesn’t this kind of rhetoric have a familiar ring? Is it so different from contemporary antiglobalization advocates and anticapitalists arguing against, say, economic globalization, because—in their illiberal perspectives—it benefits only capitalists and entrepreneurs, neglecting the needs of the collectivity and the ultimate well-being of the nation? Can’t they see how close their interpretation of modern sociological and economic phenomena is to the fascist viewpoint? Should an entrepreneur refrain from freely trading with global partners just because the alleged interest of his nation (or collectivity) would be to preserve domestic national employment? Classical liberals would definitely answer no, whereas anticapitalists, antiglobalization activists, and fascists would all together answer yes.
In the end, when it comes to balancing the interests of individuals against the interests of collectivities and the nation, many modern anticapitalists are no different from “classical” fascists.
Fascism: Antimaterialism and Omnipotent Government
Lastly, many contemporary (leftist) anticapitalists share with the fascist rhetoric both a sort of utopian antimaterialism and a kind of mystical idea of the mission that states and governments are vested with.
As a matter of fact, the idea that a state should not passively accept the outcomes of freely chosen economic interactions and voluntary exchanges is widely held by modern (leftist) anticapitalists. Analogously, in the last lines of the paragraph titled “Rejection of Economic Liberalism – Admiration of Bismarck,” Mussolini and Gentile blame classical liberalism for the “agnosticism it professed in the sphere of economics and…in the sphere of politics and morals.”
In other words: fascists, just like modern anticapitalists, cannot accept that welfare-maximizing human beings naturally seek to engage in exchanges that each person thinks will make him or her better off. Instead, anticapitalists would like to substitute “morally superior” choices forced on consumers by the state.
As Cicero stated, “Historia magistra vitae.” Knowledge of history is helpful to avoid past mistakes. When it comes to anticapitalism, all its branches share more than their promoters are willing to admit. More precisely, every anticapitalistic ideology promotes government interventionism, contempt for individual freedom, antimaterialism, and a mystical view of government’s role and nature. They all start with anticapitalism; they all end with dictatorships, slaughters, wars, and misery.
- 1.Paragraphs are not titled in the original version: titles have been added to make the essay more readable.