Mussolini-Style Fascism

Megan McArdle did not like this from David Henderson:

President Obama has done something far more serious. He has already, in less than 100 days, moved the U.S. economy further towards fascism. Sean Hannity and other critics keep criticizing Obama for his socialist leanings. But the more accurate term for many of his measures, especially in the financial markets and the auto market, is fascism.

Here's what Sheldon Richman writes about "Fascism" in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics:

Where socialism sought totalitarian control of a society's economic processes through direct state operation of the means of production, fascism sought that control indirectly, through domination of nominally private owners. Where socialism nationalized property explicitly, fascism did so implicitly, by requiring owners to use their property in the "national interest""“that is, as the autocratic authority conceived it. (Nevertheless, a few industries were operated by the state.) Where socialism abolished all market relations outright, fascism left the appearance of market relations while planning all economic activities. Where socialism abolished money and prices, fascism controlled the monetary system and set all prices and wages politically. In doing all this, fascism denatured the marketplace. Entrepreneurship was abolished. State ministries, rather than consumers, determined what was produced and under what conditions.

She replied

How is this helpful?  Has clarifying the distinction between fascism and socialism really added to most peoples' understanding of what the Obama administration is doing?  All this does is drag the specter of Hitler into the conversation.  And the problem with Hitler was not his industrial policy"“I mean, okay, fine, Hitler's industrial policy bad, right, but I could forgive him for that, you know?  The thing that really bothers me about Hitler was the genocide.  And I'm about as sure as I can be that Obama has no plans to round up millions of people, put them in camps, and find various creative ways to torture them to death.

I'm confused.  It appears to me that McArdle, and not Henderson, was the one who introduced rounding up people in camps into the discussion.  In fact, the prototype example of fascism, in Italy, never went in the genocide direction.   Genocide per se was not a defining feature of fascism, any more than it was in communism.  In both cases genocide was the result of handing immense unchecked power to a small group of people.  And I am not clear why, after Stalin and the Kmer Rouge, McArdle thinks that fascism is any more loaded with genocide associations than socialism.

To avoid this whole confusion, I usually use the term "Mussolini-style fascism" since we do seem blinded and incapable of looking past Hitler whenever that word fascism is mentioned.  But I think the discussion of Mussolini-style fascism is as least as relevant as the frequent discussions on McArdle's other sites of the causes of the Great Depression.  While Italy adopted the model before the Depression, many nations considered emulating it as a response to the Depression.  I think the evidence is fairly clear that FDR was an admirer of certain aspects of this model, and his National Industrial Recovery Act emulated many mechanisms at the core of Mussolini's model.

I actually think the Henderson is correct - Mussolini style fascism, and the modern European corporate state, are may be better analogs to describe where this Administration is heading than socialism.


  1. nicole:

    Megan seems off-base here. How does clarifying the difference between fascism and socialism not help people's understanding--leftists are right to counter that Obama is not a socialist, because he meets this definition much better. Genocide doesn't come into it at all and that's just another way to avoid the question of what's happening. I usually like Megan but why should we treat the administration with kid gloves; sure we can forgive Hitler his industrial policy in light of the Holocaust, I guess (or just ignore it), but that doesn't mean I want Mussolini-style planning now.

  2. morganovich:

    i have been finding this quote quite prescient of late:

    On May 23, 1857, in a letter to an American friend, Lord Thomas MacCauley wrote:

    A democracy cannot survive as a permanent form of government. It can last only until its citizens discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority (who vote) will vote for those candidates promising the greatest benefits from the public purse, with the result that a democracy will always collapse from loose fiscal policies, always followed by a dictatorship.

  3. John Venlet:

    I actually think the Henderson is correct - Mussolini style fascism, and the modern European corporate state, are may be better analogs to describe where this Administration is heading than socialism.

    I think you're right, here, though I've been more inclined to utilize the socialism analogy in posting on recent State interventions.

    The question, now, is, into what will this "Mussolini style facism" evolve, and will individual Americans continue to allow it to expand and evolve?

  4. Karen Dennison:

    I think that the lack of a good solid economic education leads a general public to accept being taken care of in lieu of freedom.

    Pretty scary.

  5. dr kill:

    She has officially jumped the shark this past month.

  6. Blackadder:

    I am not clear why, after Stalin and the Kmer Rouge, McArdle thinks that fascism is any more loaded with genocide associations than socialism.

    You may not be clear on why fascism *should be* any more loaded with genocide associations than socialism. But as you are a fairly bright guy, I doubt you're really unclear on the fact that it is more loaded with such associations.

  7. K:

    The writer correctly sees through McArdle's tactic.

    Megan tries to skip the hard work of rebutting Henderson and brings up Hitler and genocide. Then she says Henderson brought up Hitler and genocide.

    McArdle has the skill to do better and usually does. But she errs by reacting to the label not its meaning.

    In politics contending sides use the wrong labels to damn the other side. And the other side is infuriated.

    But either side will use the right label if it works. Then the other side will be furious about that too.

    When Obama acts like a fascist his supporters will insist it cannot be fascism because they support him.

    And they would never support, and could never have supported, a fascist because Hitler and Mussolini were fascists. (Of course so is anyone else they might differ with such as Bush or Thatcher.)

    We are seeing an example of the delusion that your acts are good because you do them. Or, they are good because they are opposed by those you dislike.

    And as I said, this did not begin with Obama supporters and is not limited to any party or faction.

  8. Dave Dodds:

    A further parallel with fascism in Germany involve the hooligan tactics of the Brown Shirts being emulated by Acorn. They disrupted a Board of Education meeting (in red shirts)and appeared at the homes of AIG execs. who were being demonized for taking their contracted bonuses. Watch for them to be there to intimidate workers who vote against unionizing if the Card Check open ballot law is passed in Washington.

  9. Paul Dubuc:

    I think McArdle is bending and expanding Godwin's Law of Analogy into McArdle's Prima Facie Indictment of Fascist Analogies. Though she doesn't invoke it per se, she implies that any discussion that reaches the Godwin point is somehow diminished by that fact alone. Hell, that wasn't any more than 98% true on USENET in 1994.

  10. TG:

    I normally agree with what you write, but I think you're wrong here. Using terms like "fascist" just makes you appear like a partisan hack, no matter how reasonable or historically correct your argument is (quick test: what do you think about people who call Republicans fascists?). Using the term "Mussolini style fascism" isn't really better - the word "fascism" is still there and will inevitably distract from your argument. Fascism is just one of those words you can't use in a serious discussion: outside of the context of 1930's Europe it has lost pretty much all meaning and has become no more than an all-purpose slur.

    Besides, it's not as if 1930's Italy was the only state to ever follow the same general economic direction as Obama is trying to steer America in: from 1970's England over Saddam's Iraq to pretty much every country in continental Europe, we're knee-deep in failed experiments with corporatist economic policy. There's just no need to shoot ourselves in the foot by using loaded comparisons with Mussolini's Italy when criticizing Obama's policies – and that's what McArdle was getting at.

    PS: I know this is deeply off topic, but the one question I've always wanted a journalist to ask when a politician came up with another moronic policy proposal is: "Why exactly do you think making our economy more like North Korea's is a good idea?". Never gonna happen, but I still like the thought.

  11. Global Warming:

    Using the word 'fascist' in its economic sense has the advantage of reminding folks that certain ideas have been tried before. It is a scare tactic, but that may not be bad if people will just think about it. But, it may that they won't think about it. In that case, I think corporatist economic policy is a good term. But maybe we could merge the two. As in: "The President appears to be following a corporatist economic policy reminiscent of Mussolini-style fascism."

  12. Global Warming:

    One could also say ". . . reminiscent of 1970s England."

  13. gadfly:

    A favorite expression of the 21st century is "creeping fascism." Ironically, Liberal Democrats accused George Bush of imposing government control over individuals through the Patriot Act, but few examples of lost freedoms can be cited.

    Fascism has appeared in hard economic times and has rarely required bloodshed. Of the three classic fascist states only Franco's Spain was truly bloody. "Populism run amok" is the tactic used by Hitler and Mussolini after the War to End All Wars . . . and later by the deified FDR; first in the Great Depression of his making and later when dealing the Japanese-Americans.

    The scary part is that these folks may be paupers when compared to Obama's initiatives, which just keep coming, The rush to control our capitalist economy is unchecked by his followers and by those who wish to benefit financially. I swear to you that I do not see black helicopters, but the stench of George Soros and the works of Saul Alinsky are everywhere. Barry simply does not appear to be smart enough to pull this off by himself.

  14. morganovich:


    i could not disagree with you more vehemently. the statement "using terms like fascist just makes you appear like a partisan hack" is completely indefensible and meaningless.

    calling anyone some sort of epithet be it "fascist" or "racist" or "yuppie" without any sort of backing makes the speaker seem intolerant and partisan.

    however, to lay out a standard such as "this is what fascism means" or "these sorts of behavior are racist" and then pointing to someone's behavior and saying that it meets that definition is neither partisan nor a sign of hackery, it is precisely how discussion ought to be structured.

    if you disagree with either the definition of fascist or that the described behaviors conform to such a definition, then that would be a legitimate argument. but to argue that anyone who calls someone fascist is a partisan hack is ludicrous. would one calling franco a fascist be ludicrous? what about putin? he perhaps failed a few criteria, but i would argue he met most.

    and how can you argue for comparisons to north korea and against comparisons to Mussolini in the same piece. logically, if one is permissible why not the other?