Sunday, 11 April 2010
Fascist Liberalism or Why The World Got Screwed in 1914
Sorry to have been away so long...it's the day job that's been giving me a headache, you see.
My trouble of the day comes from a joke a man made last night: he told me that he is politically a "fascist liberal." Go figure....
As we say in Serbia: every joke is half true. That got me wondering...what, if anything, could fascist liberalism be and how did we get to making such jokes in the first place?
The absence of ideology from modern politics is plain to see. We have right wing parties that speak for the workers, left wing parties that are "business friendly".... Nobody wants to make any radical moves either to the left or to the right.... The revolutionaries of our day are people who fight against existing structures without any idea of their own (the anti-global movement, or how to present being an urban bum as a political statement). Alternatively, they fight for causes based on evidence churned out by the global elite (e.g. the carbon dioxide crusade). All in all, ours is a sad time for revolutionaries, sadder still for the quiet onlookers....
It was in this atmosphere of living in a desperate ideological void that the joke concerning "fascist liberalism" came out. Let us consider, for a moment, what this fascist liberalism would entail, from the perspective of what young, ambitious, well-meaning people want.
In theory, it could be everything that young people want today and the greatest happiness of the greatest number! Liberalism needs no introduction, as it does not have such a bad rap as the non-liberal ideologies. As for fascism, although it is difficult to say for sure, considering that, so far, the ideology has only been practiced by half-wits, lunatics or corrupt tyrants, we can think of what fascism was meant to be, for the sake of argument, with a little poetic license that borrows from the spiritual father of intellectual fascism-Plato.
Ideally, fascism means a strong state, which protects national interests vigorously and does not make a fool of itself. It is a regime where public officials quiver in fear of the Great Leader who is capable of imparting all manner of unspeakable corporal punishment on them if they fail to fulfill their duties. I think that this is a sentiment we all share, in the face of laziness, corruption and incompetence that chokes the world today (unfortunately, that is the sentiment that brought Hitler and Mussolini to power too but, as I said, this is an intellectual argument, so we are putting reality aside for a moment). Ideally, fascism promotes the strong and capable and casts aside the weak and incompetent. Most importantly, it gets things done: roads, bridges, schools, railroads--much of Continental Europe's modern infrastructure owes its existence, directly or indirectly, to some form of totalitarianism (whether Communist, Fascist or Imperialist).
So, where does the liberal part of "fascist liberalism" come in? I would imagine it would work as follows: as long as you don't mess with the overall supremacy of the state, you respect its basic customs and social tenets and as long as you don't work for the state as an employee, you can do pretty much--whatever you want. No-one will interfere with your profession, your religion, your taste in fashion. Whatever path you choose in life, as long as you don't go against the "basic rules", the state will act as a quiet, reliable protector of your rights and freedoms.
But wait a minute! Let us remember the purest (sane) liberal of them all: Friedrich Hayek. He was liberal as hell, but he also allowed for a "vertical" relationship (i.e. tyranny) WITHIN the state apparatus and within companies, while arguing for a "horizontal" relationship (i.e. freedom) between individuals. However, even the most creative reading of Hayek will not really make him a statist: I cannot see him cheering at the "glory of the nation" or defending the construction of a highway on the grounds of "national interest". No Sir! Not likely.
Wait another minute! Strong state, responsible public officials, major projects, religious freedom, free market capitalism with few restraints, an educated elite reigning over the ignorant masses...Sounds familiar.... Oh, yes! 19th Austro-Hungarian Empire! Oh, yes! 19th century German Empire. Oh, yes! 19th century French Empire! Oh, yes! 19th century British Empire (except for a manic insistence on sexual "propriety" and drab, anti-sexual clothes--the latter tradition outlived the Empire, in the uniform of British Airways stewardesses....).
At the dawn of World War I, the world was progressing technologically almost as rapidly as it is today. Visas and trade barriers were a foreign concept. A global elite trotted the world and spawned most of the ideas that govern our collective psyche to this day: from Nihilism to Freudianism, Communism, Fascism--you name a major, recognised social idea and I will bet you that it existed before 1914!!!
But World War I did break out and the party was over. Nations lingered in a delicate but unhappy balance until they got a chance for a "rematch". After World War I, the world was introduced to the Bolsheviks, the Nazis and a seemingly never-ending parade of other deranged tyrants and buchers. It's all been downhill since then, if we exclude the EU experiment, which, itself, seems to be losing most of its steam in the past few years.
After the death of ideology, a discontented youth of modern Europe should take comfort in the fact that a world of serious states combined with liberalism did exist, at some point in history.
Why, then, did 1914 happen and why can't we have the old world again (improved by modern technology and without the Victorian anti-sex doctrine, of course)?
The answer lies, I believe, in two factors. The first factor is the elusive Holy Grail of political thought, which is left for us to find, as a legacy of humanity: how to make sure that "enlightened despotism" stays "enlightened" and does not degenerate in one generation (ergo the term "de-generation")? This was one of two factors that killed the Age of Empire(s): degeneration. After a brief period of enlightenment, the royal families of Europe degenerated into money-grubbing colonialists, who eventually went to war with each other in pursuit of more gold, diamonds, timber, rubber....
The second answer represents part of the greatness of the turn of the century: the multitude of ridiculous ideologies that it spawned. Psychology was lead by the idea that everything rotates around penis dreams, political thought was lead by the idea that the ignorant should impose their will on the well-educated....it is a small wonder (and a testament to human resilience) that we managed to survive as long as we did!!!
It is the first of the two problems that need bother us still. As for the latter, we are, in a sense, the lucky ones: with the benefit of hindsight, we are aware of the idiocy of the ideas that helped bring down the old world....