Fast Track to Fascism
by Ari Armstrong, July 8, 2001
What is fascism, anyway? Fascism is a type of socialism in which the state controls nominally private property. That is, you think you own your stuff, but in reality politicians and bureaucrats tell you what you can do with it. Socialism is any politico-economic system in which the state controls significant portions of property; communism is the second type of socialism in which the state takes outright possession of property.
It's a little vague where that line is that separates a mixed economy from a socialistic one. The state could never take control of all private property; as in Cuba and the former Soviet Union (and increasingly in the United States) the underground economy flourishes the more socialism takes effect. On the other hand, a minimal state isn't socialistic even though it controls a little property. I think it makes the most sense to think of socialism as a scale: you can have a little bit of it or a lot of it. In extreme cases, we label an economic system socialistic as a whole (even though, again, some property remains private).
We're not there yet. We still have quite a bit of freedom left, even though we pay nearly half our income to the state and suffer regulatory burdens in nearly every facet of our lives. I think Peikoff is right, though: America is headed toward fascism.
While a complete fascist system is still a long way off for us -- too many Americans still understand what freedom means -- certainly our system is a mixture of a free market and socialist controls. One example of a fascist policy is the set of laws which makes it illegal for adults to purchase the beverage of their choice. Nominally private property, state control. Another example is the prohibition on certain brown people being able to work voluntarily for U.S. citizens. Again, even though the American citizen owns his or her business, the state dictates who may or may not work for the citizen.
Mostly because of those two fascist laws -- beverage restrictions and work prohibitions -- the state issues identification numbers to us. Fortunately we're not yet to the point where those numbers are tattooed on our arms or implanted subdermally. Instead, the government identification numbers are placed on our driver's licenses. (Of course, to enforce the racist labor laws, the state issues other forms of identification, too, but the driver's license plays an important role in enforcing the system.)
One reason socialism tends not to work very well is that it attempts to force people to live in ways they don't want to live. American adults like to buy beer. Brown people who happen to live across an arbitrary border like to earn money, and people in the U.S. like to hire them. So people make fake IDs. Just like Jews used to fake documents in Germany. Ironically, politicians -- and even the American media -- refer to such activity as "fraud." In reality, it is the state which is fraudulent in these areas. My Random House defines fraud as "deceit, trickery, or breach of confidence, used to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage."
As Mises argued early in the 20th Century, socialism tends to breed more socialism. One particularly clear way in which this happens is through government identification systems. Once the government collects a database on the citizens for one purpose, the temptation is palpable to use the database for other purposes. For example, the Brady registration system of gun owners has been used to implement a "one gun a month" law in select areas. The entire point of registration in this case is to give the state more power to impose even more restrictions.
So too with the identification numbers associated with our driver's licenses. It's telling that you no longer have to drive to need one of these: if you don't want to drive they'll give you a plain identification card. Because the state is trying, but largely failing, to enforce fascist laws, it now wants to increase the scope of its database. Now the state scans our fingerprints and it will start to map the contours of our faces.
Welcome to Nazi land. Get in line before the gates open. Orwell was right, just a little early.
What's most distressing is that most people seem to have little problem with these incremental steps to fascism. Then again, most people went along with the socialist systems in Europe and Asia during the past century. It's people like me who are viewed as wild-eyed kooks. Sort of like those crazy people who got hysterical when a little hill near Pompeii starting blowing smoke. But fascism by any other name smells just as putrid. People think it's a joke when they ask their friends if they'd follow a crowd off the side of a cliff. I think a lot of people would. A lot of people are simply unable conceptually to connect their lives to the flow of history. But history marches on, and the more fascism we willingly accept now, the more we'll get later.