I have recently come across a book called "Liberal Fascism" by Jonah Goldberg. He makes two points that really ring bells.
The first is that the widespread idea that fascism - including Hitler and Mussolini - is of the Right is totally incorrect. Of course you can get into long and unrewarding arguments about definitions. But this matters because those of us who are genuinely of the Right are tainted by any kind of an association with fascism. Any such taint is unfair and unwarranted. I cannot help thinking that the slur is, consciously or unconsciously, encouraged by those media people and teachers who very often are of the Left.
The core of what it means to be Right is surely a belief in free markets. You might add in 'freedom of the individual' but not all would agree.
The essence of what it is to be of the Left is a belief in government intervention, control and ownership.
The party of which Hitler was the leader was the National Socialist Party. The word "Socialist" was not a misprint. This was openly and avowedly a Left-wing party. Goldberg includes an entire translation of the 1920 Party Programme which was co-written by Hitler himself. It includes the following points (which I admit are not wholly clear to me but which certainly include plenty of government control and ownership):
"11. Abolition of unearned (work and labour) incomes. Breaking of rent-slavery.
12. ...the total confiscation of all war profits.
13. We demand the nationalization of all (previous) associated industries (trusts).
14. We demand a division of profits [profit sharing] of heavy industries.
15. We demand an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare...
17 We demand ...provision of a law for the free expropriation of land for the purpose of public utility, abolition of taxes on land and prevention of all speculation in land."
Goldberg suggests that the reason we in Britain began to think of the Nazis as very different from socialists was propaganda by Stalin. Stalin called anyone who disagreed with his line a fascist. He even called Trotsky a fascist. We came to be believe that those who were enemies of Stalin could not be socialist since Stalin was a socialist. But this this was a false conclusion. Socialists are quite capable of falling out among themselves. One big theoretical difference betweeen Stalin and Hitler is shown by the name of Hitler's party. He believed in "National" socialism. Stalin believed in "international" socialism.
The truth is, says Goldberg, that Hitler did not care that much about economics anyway. He was mainly concerned with German 'identity politics'. But the point remains that it is not correct to suggest that Hitler was of the Right. He was not.
The Nazis borrowed whole sections from the communist playbook. Party members - male and femals - were referred to as comrades. Hitler recalls how his appeals to "class-conscious proletarians" who wanted to strike out against the "monarchist, reactionary agitation with the fists of the proletariat" were successful in drawing countless communists to their meetings....In short, the battle between the Nazis and the communists was a case of two dogs fighting for the same bone.
I cannot say that Goldberg offers an abolutely knock-down case for his argument. He says almost nothing about what the Nazis did in government as opposed to what they argued prior to reaching power. However the book provides quite a lot of evidence of the latter.
The second point that Goldberg makes is that our modern, so-called "liberal" governments behave in a way that is recognisably fascist in the sense that he defines the term. I won't go into his full justification here. I will only mention that he bases his idea of what fascism truly means on Mussolini. He seems, basically, to liken 'real' fascism with totalitarianism. It is indeed not difficult - or new - to accept the idea that modern so-called 'liberal' democracies increasingly seek to determine every aspect of the way we live. In that sense, we increasingly live in totalitarian states.
The state is now entering areas which would have been unthinkable in the 19th century: whether or not children are smacked by their parents, whether or where we smoke cigarettes, whether we wear seat-belts or not, what is printed on food labels, what prices water companies charge, what childen are taught in schools, what we put into rubbish bins and even the exact time at which we put out our rubbish. Many of these will seem to many people to be perfectly reasonable controls on our behaviour. But the word 'liberal' does not seem appropriate. The word 'totalitarian' increasingly does.
Jonah Goldberg makes many controversial points and I am not convinced by them all. But the book is certainly worth a look.
Jonah Goldberg "Liberal Fascism" published by Doubleday (£18.99).
I attended a talk by Professor Larry Mead at the Institute of Economic Affairs the night before last. He gave his talk in a scholarly, methodical way - quite different from the more openly partisan talk given by Ron Haskins last week. But the message was mostly the same. The big fact is that welfare rolls fell by 60 per cent in America following the 1996 reform package. It was an awesome result. Of course, people like Professor Mead knew very well that such a thing would be attacked as cruel and bad. But one of the impressive things about the American Right is that it arms itself with plenty of facts to counter such assertions:
He gave Federal Poverty Rates for whites, blacks and Hispanics in 1994, 2000 and 2003 respectively:
Whites: 14.5%, 11.3% and 12.5%
Blacks: 30.6% 22.5% and 24.4%
Hispanics: 30.7%, 21.5% and 22.5%
He ascribes the recent uptick in poverty rates to the reduction in US growth since 2000. Even allowing for this, it is very clear that there has been a major reduction in poverty among those who are most prone to it.
Incidentally, the official American government's definition of poverty is very different from that in Britain. In Britain, 'poverty' is defined as people who are much poorer than average. In America, the government defined poverty in 1964 as a particular level of income. That level of income is adjusted each year for inflation. This provides, in my view, a far more useful definition. Under this measure, so-called poverty does not rise because the top one percent gets richer. That is what happens under the British system (see postscript in The Welfare State We're In , "Why do people talk more about 'poverty' now there is less of it?"
What is the difference between Larry Mead and Charles Murray, author of the seminal work, Losing Ground? Professor Mead said that Charles Murray believed that people responded to incentives whereas he thought people did not always make proper calculations about where their advantages lay. He thought people, especially the least able 5%, wanted to be told what to do. That was what the welfare reform programme had done. It had declared, "We expect you to work. If you want the right to benefits, we expect you to work, even if you are a lone parent and even if you have a disability." (These are not his words but my interpretation.)
However in my view, the same measures could also be seen as a rearrangement of incentives. Only getting benefits if you work looks like a pretty strong incentive to get moving.
Unless I misheard him, Larry Mead said he was staying with David Willetts. An interesting connection. David Willetts has also told me in the past that he knows Charles Murray personally. David Willetts is certainly well versed in welfare reform. But his public pronouncements have fallen well short of the radical reforms that took place in America and was generally endorsed by both these men. Will the Conservative Party ever stand up for radical welfare benefits reform?
One of Larry Mead's book that I must get is Government Matters: Welfare Reform in Wisconsin. It available from Amazon here or you could try Abebooks.com or click onto any of the Amazon links in the left hand column and then search for 'Welfare Reform in Wisconsin'.
I had difficulty for a while finding a long-run history of social security so I was glad to find England’s Road to Social Security by Karl de Schweinitz. Despite its pro-welfare state bias, it also describes very well those people who opposed state welfare over the centuries and the important, international dimension of the early history of welfare. I doff my cap, similarly, to The Five Giants by Nicholas Timmins. It explicitly starts from the belief that the welfare state is a good thing but is an excellent, highly-readable account of the politics of welfare since the second world war
The Report from His Majesty’s Commissioners for inquiring into the administration and practical operation of the Poor Laws 1834 is an extraordinary document, quite unlike any modern government report, bringing to life the welfare state of that time through real stories. I bought an original copy on the internet - the beginning of a small collection of welfare state memorabilia. Another treasured original document I have acquired is a copy of the Labour Party pamphlet arguing for a National Service for Health published in 1943 - a cleverly argued case but one which reveals, without intending to, just how little was wrong with the old system.
No single author has been more important to me than David Green. Again and again, his work has provided the vital evidence. Reinventing Civil Society (IEA 1993) showed how important friendly societies were before the welfare state hammered them. His essay in Re-privatising welfare: After the Lost Century (IEA 1996) on voluntary (or charitable) hospitals showed how signficant they, too, were. Subsequently he did much to expose how the NHS compares badly with other countries in its results and how it discriminates against the old.
In Re-privatising Welfare is also an essay by the late, great E.G.West who described how well education was developing without the state in the 19th century. His book, Education without the State, is a classic. His description of how politicians are tempted to do things that are unnecessary and meretricious is clinically devastating. In modern times, the work of James Tooley has been very important in showing that independent education can be for the poor as well as the rich.
Losing Ground by Charles Murray has been a seminal work in suggesting that a welfare state can damage a society, written in a dry, logical, compelling way by a first class brain. Aneurin Bevan, by Michael Foot is superbly written in a quite different style – with passion and even love. The only problem, of course, is the author’s blindness to the disaster the NHS became.
Frank Field, Molly Meacher and Chris Pond wrote a very important book in To Him Who Hath. It revealed something which has become even more true subsequently: that the poor are highly taxed. That, as they remind us, was not the original idea.
I rather dreaded reading The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell but the book surprised me by being brilliant and inspiring. Orwell was a socialist but his honesty and intelligence as a reporter meant that he sometimes revealed the failings of the welfare state in a particularly penetrating way. It would be wonderful if someone in modern times could get close to the lives of low-paid people as he did and report them so well.
Alexander Fleming by Gwyn Macfarlane, despite its name, is an extended demand that Howard Florey, not Fleming, should get the main credit for bringing penicillin to the world. Penicillin – perhaps the most important drug of the 20th century – was discovered and developed in Britain prior to the creation of the National Health Service.
Life without Father by David Popenoe is a persuasive account of the importance of fatherhood and marriage to children.
The remarkable thing about Family and Kinship in East London by Michael Young and Peter Wilmott is the honest responsiveness of the authors to what they found. They set out to research one thing and then when they discovered something else that was interesting, they changed the whole focus of their work.
All these books and others can be bought second-hand through Abebooks.com or new and sometimes second-hand through any of the Amazon.co.uk links in the left-hand column.