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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Libertarians and Nazis

Tea Party ideology -- also known as libertarianism -- defines our political landscape. It behooves us to look at some aspects of that philosophy which its adherents would prefer to keep unmentioned.

For quite a while, I've wondered why so many post-war fascist groups -- and let's not hesitate to count the John Birch Society among their number -- have embraced libertarianism.

Although Mussolini famously defined fascism as corporatism, Nazi Germany was not run along strictly libertarian principles. Germany had already tried what we would now call libertarianism; it failed. During the final phase of the Weimar republic, government belt-tightening had impoverished the country and alienated the public. Hitler's crew was not about the repeat that mistake.

After the Nazis took power, corporations flourished and unions were forbidden. So far, so good, from a libertarian standpoint. Yet, as we all know, government did not shrink -- in fact, spending on public works spurred an economic recovery. To a neo-liberal, the building of the Autobahn constitutes Original Sin, and never mind the fact that the trick worked, at least insofar as it increased the number of Germans bringing home paychecks.

Nevertheless, at some point after the war, two previously divergent ultra-rightist movements segued into each other. I first noticed this convergence back in the 1980s, when I began to pay attention to what was then considered crank literature -- by which I mean American Opinion and similar propaganda organs. The Bircher movement was created by American reactionaries who had sympathized with Germany before the war. Yet in the 1960s, JBS literature pushed for strict laissez faire policies of the sort that would have had Milton Friedman nodding in approval. (At the same time, they originated the big lie that Hitler was a left-winger.)

How did this happen?

During the late 1950s, the libertarians and the fascists began, as it were, dating. They tried to keep the affair clandestine as long as possible, but they couldn't hide the attraction.

Yes, Ayn Rand (and many of her key followers) were Jewish. Yes, the Randroids have always screeched about how much they hate Nazi collectivism (with they equate, falsely, with Communism). Yes, libertarians have always espoused economic views resembling the failed policies of Adolf's immediate predecessors, not Adolf himself.

Nevertheless, there was a secret marriage of Ayn and Adolf.

Cleon Skousen, the kook made newly popular by Glenn Beck, was one progeny of this unholy union. This reviewer says that one of Skousen's books does a "good job explaining fundamentals of libertarianism." Today, Cleon's son Mark Skousen (formerly an economic analyst for the CIA) contributes to libertarian publications.

Yet the elder Skousen has correctly been categorized as an American fascist.

We need not list his anti-Semitic statements to make the point. We need only look at the titles of Skousen's two most important books: The Naked Communist and The Naked Capitalist.Those titles make sense only in terms of the imaginary "Wall Street/Bolshevik alliance" which many fascists have considered an article of faith.

From Wikipedia:
A 1971 review in the Mormon journal Dialogue also accused Skousen of "inventing fantastic ideas and making inferences that go far beyond the bounds of honest commentary," and advancing doctrines that came "perilously close" to Nazism.
Arguably, the murderous alliance of Pinochet and Milton Friedman provides an even more telling example of the fascist/neo-liberal alliance.

Heinrich Brüning, Hitler's predecessor, ended state-sponsored unemployment insurance and sought to curtail government spending. His program was disastrous. Post-war fascists want to see the same policies enacted in America precisely because they will destroy the economy. Unrestricted neo-liberalism, when put into actual practice, always creates crisis, and crisis creates opportunities which extremists can then use to their advantage. The Nazis learned that lesson a long time ago.

There is a more fundamental reason why Ayn and Adolf made (in a figurative sense) the beast with two backs. They bore a strong psychological resemblance. You can see the similarity on display in a short 1943 cartoon produced by Walt Disney studios, Education For Death, inspired by a once-popular non-fiction book of the same name. (I've embedded the video above.)

Watch the movie and you'll see what I mean. The rabbit-and-wolf parable is one that most Ayn Rand followers would understand.

Have you ever heard a Randroid defend selfishness as the supreme virtue? Do you know that Ayn Rand idolized a serial killer? Is the Nazi cult of Der Held really so different from Rand's famous formulation "My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life"? Hitler might have muttered those very words while viewing a performance of Siegfried.

Are the children of "objectivists" taught a philosophy that differs very radically from the one described in this film? The message, in both cases, is the same: Might Makes Right. Evil, be thou my good.

I know I've made overly frequent reference to the work of Matt Taibbi in these cyber-pages. But I can't resist offering up a few quotes from Griftopia:
Rand's book Atlas Shrugged, for instance, remains a towering monument to humanity's capacity for unrestrained self-pity—it's a bizarre and incredibly long-winded piece of aristocratic paranoia in which a group of Randian supermen decide to break off from the rest of society and form a pure free-market Utopia, and naturally the parasitic lower classes immediately drown in their own laziness and ineptitude...

This is pure social Darwinism: self-interest is moral, interference (particularly governmental interference) with self-interest is evil, a fancy version of the Gordon Gekko pabulum that "greed is good." When you dig deeper into Rand's philosophy, you keep coming up with more of the same.

Rand's belief system is typically broken down into four parts: metaphysics (objective reality), epistemology (reason), ethics (self-interest), and politics (capitalism). The first two parts are basically pure bullshit and fluff. According to objectivists, the belief in "objective reality" means that "facts are facts" and "wishing" won't make facts change. What it actually means is "When I'm right, I'm right" and "My facts are facts and your facts are not facts."

This belief in "objective reality" is what gives objectivists their characteristic dickish attitude: since they don't really believe that facts look different from different points of view, they don't feel the need to question themselves or look at things through the eyes of others. Since being in tune with how things look to other people is a big part of that magical unspoken connection many people share called a sense of humor, the "metaphysics" of objectivism go a long way toward explaining why there has never in history been a funny objectivist.
Has there ever been a funny Nazi? That's another thing they have in common.

Here's still another convergence point:
Rand's objectivists were very strongly opposed to the very concept of the Federal Reserve, a quasi-public institution created in 1913 that allowed a federally appointed banking official—the Federal Reserve chairman—to control the amount of money in the economy.
The Federal Reserve has always been demonized by American fascists. Eustace Mullens, one of the most important post-war Nazi writers (he fancied himself an ultra-right analogue of Gore Vidal), always said that he was directed to write The Secrets of the Federal Reserve at the behest of Ezra Pound. The book was read by both libertarians and fascists.

And so the two movements united. Although some differences remain, Ayn and Adolf sleep in the same bed, and that's what counts. Of course, neither party will ever admit that they've been sneaking into the same sleazy motel room.

At present, the Randroids are marching toward absolute power. Perhaps "marching" is the wrong word. Call it a goosestep.
Do you realize, Joseph, how close your writing style and content is getting to the regular web-rants of Webster Tarpley?

And since I've long admired his adamantly anti-fascist intellect (no matter what you care to make of his being an ex-Larouchie) I must congratulate you, particularly on this excellent drawing of Libertarian and Nazi parallels.

Andy Tyme
Yeah, anon, you sound like the kind of guy who would think Eustace was a genius. Yeesh.
Thanks for this post.There is way too much historical revisionism concerning Nazis and Fascists and the offensive and ridiculous assertion that they are/were of the Left.I think the contemptible Jonah Goldberg is in large part responsible for further spreading this scurrilous nonsense.Of course projection is a big part of the right wing modus operandi.
Please, I'd really would love people refrain from raping logic and economic facts concerning pre-Hitler Germany as some sort of "libertarian paradise". Hyperinflation, exchange controls, capital controls, labour market controls - hardly neoliberal facets. Add to it America's shutting down her own free trade with Smoot-Hawley tariff, and we have a situation in Weimar Republic, which definitely wasn't caused by any free-market specter (as there were no real liberals in Germany with any influence), but by pernicious and forceful government intervention into voluntary exchange.
Kel and others -- for some reason, on this day (May 26, 2012) this post is getting a lot of play on Facebook. Since I'm not a FB guy, I have no idea what's going on over there.

I might answer Kel, but if so, I would do so in the form of a new post. There's no point in doing that kind of work if it is just going to see the light of day in a comment to a post that is now quite old.
Where to start... So Libertarians are like Nazis in part due to their dislike of the private Federal Reserve system? What a crock of shit.
Real libertarians are anti-corporate and pro-union. the dominance iof large corporations is the product of state privilege and would be whittled away by genuine market competition.
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