Streetcar Line

Il Duce, Redux?

Fascism's facsimile, as freedom starts to fade.

By 4.2.09

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Trying to handle the crisis, the Fascist government nationalized the holdings of large banks which had accrued significant industrial securities. The government also issued new securities to provide a source of credit for the banks and began enlisting the help of various cartels…. The government offered recognition and support to these organizations in exchange for promises that they would manipulate prices in accordance with government priorities. A number of mixed entities were formed… whose purpose it was to bring together representatives of the government and of the major businesses.… This economic model based on a partnership between government and business was soon extended to the political sphere, in what came to be known as corporatism.… The Fascists began to impose significant tariffs and other trade barriers.… Various banking and industrial companies were financially supported by the state.… [The national leader] created the [New Governmental Entity]….[which soon] controlled 20% of [the nation's] industry through government-linked companies.… [The national leader] also adopted a Keynesian policy of government spending on public works to stimulate the economy.… Public works spending tripled to overtake defense spending as the largest item of government expenditure.

As much as that description sounds like U.S. government policy begun under George W. Bush and now greatly expanding under Barack Obama, the above passage of course describes the economics of fascist Italy in the 1930s, as summed up by Wikipedia. (A quick Google search produces plenty of similar summaries of "economic fascism.") Furthermore, "The Fascist conception of life," Mussolini wrote, "stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with the State. It is opposed to classical liberalism [which] denied the State in the name of the individual; Fascism reasserts the rights of the State as expressing the real essence of the individual."

Obama came close to those same sentiments in his most recent press conference: "But one of the most important lessons to learn from this crisis is that our economy only works if we recognize that we're all in this together, that we all have responsibilities to each other and to our country…. We'll recover from this recession, but it will take time, it will take patience, and it will take an understanding that, when we all work together, when each of us looks beyond our own short-term interest to the wider set of obligations we have toward each other, that's when we succeed, that's when we prosper, and that's what is needed right now."

Just as Mussolini did (in slightly different words), Obama repeatedly talks about using government to "leverage" private investment for the greater good. And now, as of this week, he actually dared to force a private corporation, General Motors, to fire its CEO. Meanwhile, his close ally Barney Frank introduced a bill to give the Treasury Secretary the power to set all salary levels for all employees of any companies in which the government has a capital stake.  

As George Will has written, Congress has delegated so much economic authority to the Treasury, the Fed, and the president that the Constitution itself has almost certainly been shredded in the panic.

Meanwhile, in Congress's rush to pass a huge expansion of "national service" programs, almost exactly as outlined by Obama in a 2007 speech, few congressman likely realized that the details included "campuses" with "superintendents" of uniformed youth, formed into "cadres," and indoctrinated even in math and science classes in the ideals of "service learning" financed through a "social innovation fund" funneled through favored "community organizations." (ACORN, anyone?) Even elementary school students would be recruited for these government-sponsored efforts.

As the Washington Examiner editorialized, it all sounds like a "creepy authoritarianism" on the loose. (See these examples just from last year's campaign.)

Again and again, Obama has called not just for a change of policies, but to "change America" or to "remake" this nation. And here, from his national convention speech last August, is his notion, his collectivist notion, of change: "That's the promise of America -- the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper."

Well, no, not when it comes to state power. Government should have no authority to make us be our brothers' "keepers," lest the state itself become Big Brother. Obama said that "mutual responsibility" is the "essence of America's promise," but that's not in any Constitution or Declaration of Independence I can find. Oh, yes, voluntary mutual responsibility is essential for a healthy civic society -- but if government starts determining the shape of that responsibility and forcing it upon us, that is where freedom starts to fade.

Since when was it government's role, as Obama claims, to "invest" in all sorts of new technologies, and to "help our auto companies re-tool" while somehow making it "easier for the American people to afford these new cars"? And who is doing the insisting when Obama talks about "our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life"? Sorry, but if our public life -- defined by the left, in the end, always as that part of life subject to government control -- is larger, it means our private lives, our free lives, are smaller and more constrained.

All of this economic intervention and government expansion, all of this use of collectivist language and collectivist goals, combined with the first big steps towards Obama's goal of "a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded" as the American military, is straight out of Mussolini's playbook.

Then you combine it with the Obamanation of a growing, Il Duce-like cult of the leader. The stadium speeches in front of a Greek emperor's columns. The permanent campaign, the deliberate ubiquity. The "public service" radio ads with the president himself urging national service upon us. The iconic imagery on campaign materials. The millennial language about his own election as the moment when seas stopped rising and Earth started healing and about the need to "save the planet." The traveling abroad with an official entourage of 500 people (and a limo nicknamed "The Beast"). The fawning media. The simplistic slogans chanted over and over.

Then there were the words of Michelle Obama in February of 2008: "Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed."

Finally, there is Obama's elevation of raw science to what he calls its "rightful place" as an end in itself, as if divorced from questions of morality. As Charles Krauthammer wrote, "how anyone as sophisticated as Obama can believe this within living memory of Mengele and Tuskegee…is hard to fathom."

To be clear, none of this is to even come close to equating the Obama administration with Nazism. The conflation of Nazism with fascism is a gross misunderstanding of history; the original fascism and Nazism are entirely different breeds of vipers, with the latter being far more deadly.

Nevertheless, the comparison of today's situation to that of Italian fascism is no mere scare tactic, but a serious concern. Just because fascism wasn't Nazism -- no master race ideology, no genocide -- doesn't mean it wasn't anathema to everything Americans hold dear. The diminution of liberty, the enhanced state control, the indoctrination of youth, and the cult of the leader all violate basic tenets of the American experiment.

Already, there is an organized movement afoot to repeal the 22nd Amendment that limits presidents to two terms. The site specifically posits that multiple terms for Obama would help the United States emerge from "the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression."

As if it is not the native abilities of the American people, but only the genius of an extraordinary leader, that can help us overcome.

A leader for life? All of this, every bit of it, is an insult. And it is frightening.

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About the Author
Quin Hillyer is a senior editor of The American Spectator and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom. Follow him on Twitter @QuinHillyer.