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.Today, Megan McArdle roundly condemned Henderson:
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.Sure, if you're going to know one thing about fascism, you ought to know about the genocide. But is it too much to ask that people know more than one thing about fascism?
There's a lot more to understand about both Fascism and genocide than "fascism entails genocide." For starters, fascism is a not sufficient condition for genocide: Italian (i.e. original) fascists spent most of their history without any animosity towards Jews; their vile Manifesto of Race was due in large part to pressure from Berlin, not as a function of their fascism alone. Nor is fascism a necessary condition for genocide. The world has also suffered communist genocides, socialist genocides, monarchical genocides, religiously motivated genocides, politically motivated genocides, nationalist motivated genocides, authoritarian genocides of all stripes and flavors, even — uncomfortable truth — democratic genocides.
(Here are two news items just from the last 24 hours related to this: (1) The trial of Kaing Khek Iev, aka Duch, is set to begin for the deaths of ~16,000 people in Phnom Penh in the 1970's. (2) In what they headline "Echoes of the '30's in Caracas," the Jerusalem Post ran a story about officially sanctioned antisemitic rhetoric in Venezula, including head-scratchers such as "Zionism is Nazism.")
[Note: I'm very reluctant to post this. In fact I wrote this post this morning and have been sitting on it ever since, because it's not wise to be hasty when it comes to talking about something as emotional as fascism, especially on the internet. Also, I've had other things to do.
Let me make myself very clear: I am not defending fascism. I am not defending fascism. I am not defending fascism. I only think it is worth knowing about fascism beyond the genocide, because it is valuable to know your enemy. There is no teacher but the enemy. I wish I didn't need to make this disclaimer since it should be abundantly obvious, but there it is.]
I fully understand that "fascism" and "Nazism" and to a slightly lesser extent, "communism" have deep visceral impact, and that using those words can lead some less rational, less measured, less intelligent commenters to jump to absurdities like "ZOMG!! Obama is going to impose a Five Year Plan and march us off to Siberia!!!!" or "Bu$h is turning Blackwater into a private army so he can stage a coup and establish Theocracy!!1!"
Nevertheless, we can't frame the terms of our discussion with the chief concern of making sure the trolls won't fly off the rails. We can't expect Henderson or anyone else to refrain from discussing these things or using these labels just because a bunch of troglodytes can't understand that we use the extremes of the political spectrum as reference points to define where we are in the middle and which direction we're trending.
All of this hullabaloo about Henderson's level-headed post is why I try and use "Statism" when possible. It's both free from the immaterial left/right dichotomy that "fascism" and "communism" are wrapped up in, and it doesn't drag you into inane arguments about genocide. (I'd use "dirigism(e)" as well if I knew how to refer to adherents of that philosophy. Dirigismists? Dirigists?) If you're looking for a more specific label for the prevailing winds of the last year, Arnold Kling has taken to using "Progressive Corporatism" which I think is deserving of wider use.
Finally, I'll direct you to Will Wilkinson's recent post, "Are We Flirting with Fascism?" Like usual, Wilkinson has his head screwed on straight about this one.