The Road to Serfdom: American Socialism

“We must here return for a moment to the position which precedes the suppression of democratic institutions and the creation of a totalitarian regime. In this state it is the general demand for quick and determined government action that is the dominating element in the situation, dissatisfaction with the slow and cumbersome course of democratic procedure which makes action for action’s sake the goal. It is then the man or the party who seems strong and resolute enough “to get things done” who exercises the greatest appeal. “Strong” in this sense means not merely a numerical majority – it is the ineffectiveness of parliamentary majorities with which people are dissatisfied. What they will seek is somebody with such solid support as to inspire confidence that he can carry out whatever he wants. It is here that the new type of party, organized on military lines, comes in.

Hayek points out two harbingers of the tipping point in the collapse of a democracy. Depending on how a country deals with this situation can determine whether the country stays a democracy or slips down the road to a totalitarian government.

The first is a demand for quick action. How many times over the last two years have we heard this? TARP, Stimulus, and healthcare were all passed because, “we had to do something.” It doesn’t matter if the actions of our government produce a worse result than if we had done nothing. I would even argue that our country would have been better off if we had done nothing in these situations. However, politicians in Washington fell into the trap of making action the goal for actions sake only.

The second warning bell is the call for a strong person or group who can get things done. Again, it doesn’t matter if these are the best things, or the correct things, just so they can get something done.  In this case, the democratic process, and the deliberative process of congress are looked at as burdens to real action. For those of you who read Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, you should recognize the threads here from previous fascist governments. And once again, we have seen this. Who remembers Thomas Friedman’s love affair with the speed the Chinese government is able to accomplish its desires? Going back further (and drawing from Goldberg),what about the praise fascist dictators got for “keeping the trains on time?” I am afraid that Hayek would be very concerned with what he sees in American today.

Hayek argues that any socialist group is likely to draw the most negative of any region into its folds. He argues this based on three reasons:

  1. The group is likely to be made of the least educated and intellectual of a society because they are most likely to agree on a set of values.
  2. The leader of this group will draw on the most docile and gullible as they will have no convictions of their own and will accept the socialist convictions.
  3. This group will have a “negative problem” they will associate with an external threat. Hayek uses the example of the “evil Jews” in Hitler’s Germany. Hitler painted the Jewish people as evil, and then blamed them for any “problem” in Germany he wanted to fix.

With all due respect to Hayek, I think there is another case he hadn’t considered. This new case would start with the same warning as Hayeks: We should be very nervous when there is a national call to action, or a perceived call to action. We should also be very nervous about any group (no matter how small) calling for a strong executive that can act where Congress fails to act. Perhaps a group looking to invest a popular or charismatic President with authority to “cut through the red tape to get consensus legislation passed”.

I believe American Socialism would have three different characteristics. If fascism has one thread that unites all its various forms it’s this: fascism takes on different faces in different nations. I would argue that an “American Socialism” might look more like the following:

First, it wouldn’t draw from the least educated. It may very well draw from the upper crust of the educated and academic. The academic world has preached a socialist message for generations now. Tenure has helped ensure that professors who preach somewhat radical messages are difficult to get rid of. We now have a government and media that believes these individuals know more than the rest of us. And many in this group would love to change our government into a “better” America.

Second, American Socialism may very well start out with it’s own beliefs, and not the absence of them that Hayek warns of. There is a certain self-loathing, and distaste for America that has created its own following. There is a thread of belief that America is the source of many of the worlds problems. I personally believe our President and the First family fall into this category. Mrs. Obama’s statement that she was never proud of her country before her husband got nominated to the Presidency is one example. The President’s continued apology for our nation throughout the world is another example. His administration uses the immigration discussion in this country to equate us with the abuses of China.

This dovetails into the third element. I believe an American Socialism would have a “negative threat” that is internal, not external. It will coalesce around “fixing” some grave wrong in America. A likely candidate is global warming. To implement any Kyoto type protocol in America will require substantial changes to America that most people won’t support. This would show the need for a strong executive that could simply force the changes necessary for our country. The argument would be phrased similar to this:

The science has repeatedly shown us that the Earth is in danger. Global Warming represents a threat to the entire planet larger than any one threat our nation has faced or gone to war over. In order to respond to this threat, our President needs war like powers to make the changes that we all know need to be made, before it’s too late.

I am also afraid we may see this argument (or something similar) show up before the next presidential election.

For next week: I want to cover chapters eleven and twelve. Based on last week, I want to also put out the advance warning that I want to cover Wittness by W. Chambers when we finish this book.