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Mises on Fascism, Again

August 30, 2011

Here we go again. Today, statist-nationalist Michael Lind writing in Salon seizes on one passage from Mises’s book Liberalism to argue that Mises was a crypto-authoritarian (which is a heck of an accusation for Lind, of all people, to make; Lind wrote an entire book that seeks to revive nationalism as a political ideology – even regretting that fascism discredited nationalism).

The passage from Mises as selectively quoted:

It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aimed at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has for the moment saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.

And that’s where Lind ends it, failing to add Mises’s actual conclusion:

But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. Fascism was an emergency makeshift. To view it as something more would be a fatal error.

The passage was part of Mises’s book that was published in 1927, just after Mussolini took power. Mises could easily discern that many people regarded Fascism as a savior, and this passage is merely acknowledging that common view. This view lasted for many years. For example, fully six years later, the New York Times Magazine published (March 19, 1933) a massive tribute to the glories of Professor Mussolini. The NYT writes:

In a period when all politicians are either dull or unwilling to break away from routine – “tradition” ; when it seems that in every Western nation the spring of imagination is dried up, Mussolini gives the impression of an ever-welling source. One may object to any for of dictatorship, but one cannot help being stimulated by the phenomenal vitality of this man who, in his role of dictator, has commanded the barren soil of Italy to produce wheat within a given time; ordered his territory to be expanded (by reclaiming swamps) without extending his fronters; and, not content with summoning new cities into existence, is changing the face of the Eternal City by diggin up the buried glories of Imperial Rome….

In order to create a new Italy he is returning to the old sources of Roman strength and domination. He wishes to resuscitate the materlal vestiges of ancient Rome because they are beautiful and invaluable, but also, andd mainly, because in so doing he hopes to revive the old virtues of the rugged men who under Iron discipline once fashhioned Roman power…. Here I had the feeling that there is no limting condition imposed on any Fascist project; a strange impression that whatever Mussolini commands is executed without being hampered by problems, practical or financial.

And so on. The NYT was hardly alone in singing hymns to Mussolini. Nearly the whole establishment was fooled by this blowhard.

Mises, on the other hand, was not fooled. He was a prophet in understanding the evil of fascism – and six years before everyone else was still heralding the glories of this Italian FDR (which is how people saw Mussolini). Yes, evil. That’s the word Mises uses, which you can easily see from the entire section, which you can and should read. The Fascists and Communists use the same “unscrupulous methods…. Still others, in full knowledge of the evil that Fascist economic policy brings with it, view Fascism, in comparison with Bolshevism and Sovietism, as at least the lesser evil. For the majority of its public and secret supporters and admirers, however, its appeal consists precisely in the violence of its methods.”

Mises clearly condemns this view, pointing out that it is pure historical accident that fascism is less evil than communism; both are ideologies of violence that reject liberalism – the very thing that Mises sought to defend against socialism and fascism. Communism was just more developed; Mises predicts that fascism will eventually be the same. “The great danger threatening domestic policy from the side of Fascism lies in its complete faith in the decisive power of violence. In order to assure success, one must be imbued with the will to victory and always proceed violently. This is its highest principle. What happens, however, when one’s opponent, similarly animated by the will to be victorious, acts just as violently? The result must be a battle, a civil war.”

Thank goodness for online texts and the ability of share them. Smear artists like the guy who wrote this piece in Salon can no longer get away with the nonsense. As for the rest of Lind’s piece, it is typical of this type of journalism – a deliberately uncomprehending, dishonest, and anti-intellectual screed, and from an writer who is himself an apologist for the state and its wars (even Vietnam!). Anyone curious about what libertarians believe need only to look at the homepage of Mises.org today and Danny Sanchez’s piece on social harmony.

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