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Political Philosophy

On Federalism, Fascism, and Libertarianism.

Since fascism is a loaded term, let me clarify that when I talk about fascism I am referring to a principled opposite of libertarianism. The term “fascism” derives from the Latin “fascis” which means “a bundle.” In ancient Rome the fasces was an axe bound up in a bundle of rods, a symbol of civic authority. The fasces is still a symbol used today, including in our own federal government. While it has been adopted by oppressively dictatorial governments, the fasces in the abstract should remind us of such slogans as “e pluribus unum,” or “United we stand, divided we fall.” I.e., individual rods may break, but when bundled together their strength is multiplied. Likewise, when people bind themselves together for a higher purpose they can achieve things that are impossible as individuals.

Fascism is thus the best term I can juxtapose with libertarianism. While libertarianism exalts the rights of the individual above any broader social interests, fascism subjugates the rights of the individual to the good of the whole.

Fascism and libertarianism are mutually exclusive. Therefore, any social arrangement chooses (at least implicitly) between these two philosophies. And a wholly consistent arrangement would be entirely fascist or entirely libertarian. I.e., either the interests of each individual are paramount, or else the interests of the group are paramount.

Fascism is not a foreign concept to us freedom-loving democrats. For example, most people would agree that a healthy family is essentially fascist: Every family member is willing to sacrifice his own interests – including his life – for the greater good of the others.

In principle fascist societies should be the best for achieving any grand purpose. But we have not identified any grand purpose other than securing the right of every human being to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I.e., our stated purpose is to pursue libertarianism. If we instead decided that our purpose was to colonize Mars, or create a superhuman race, or discover a grand unified theory of physics, then a fascist society would probably be the most effective means to those ends.

Federalism is, ideally, a social mechanism whereby free entities elect to federate – i.e., establish a fascist compact – for a specific purpose while preserving their rights in every other domain. For example, Constitutionally the United States is fascist for purposes of defense and foreign policy, and libertarian for everything else.

In practice America has become fascist for a whole host of things, in that the federal government has decided that there are compelling social interests that trump the rights of any individual, and for which every individual is therefore coerced to sacrifice.

The United States, as Constituted, agreed to administer their currency, postal service, and roads through the federal government. They agreed to free trade, common citizenship, and to grant full faith and credit to each other’s laws. And that’s about it. I believe that insofar as the federal government taxes its citizens for other purposes, it is acting in violation of the spirit of the Constitution of the United States.

Comments»

1. federalist - April 18, 2007

Good reading at 21st Century Federalism.

2. federalist - February 22, 2008

Lysander Spooner’s “No Treason” is required reading on just government.

3. federalist - June 20, 2008

George Will describes a related dichotomy in the following terms: Public policy is about the adjudication of the competing goals of freedom and equality. Liberals are those who would sacrifice freedom in pursuit of the equality of individual outcomes. Conservatives sacrifice equal outcomes in favor of individual freedom.

When viewed in these terms I can’t see any serious case for liberal policy: In case you missed the real-world experiments in totalitarianism, Ayn Rand (among other great twentieth century satirists) has plenty of novels that beat you over the head with the utter impracticality and stupidity of those who would give up freedom to pursue equality.

Michael Ash - November 4, 2011

Well said. It is so refreshing to hear a voice of reason.

4. Kathleen Shannon Williams - July 18, 2011

The difficulty with any philosophical theory is that, when they are practiced, these theories do not stay pure due to the nature of the needs and wants (greed!) of individuals involved in in the practical employment of said theories. One fact is always present. People and their social lives never remain stagnant. Change is inevitable.
We will eternally battle with these changes because no one is ever at the same point in their understanding or motivation.

Michael Ash - November 4, 2011

You have missed the point. There is a difference between how things are at any given moment and how they ought to be. This is the domain of normative abstractions. It is up to the theorists (philosophers and the like) to determine how things should be. Your inability to facilitate the practical implementation of these measures in your own life is an indication of your own shortcomings – not of a failure of values.

You are right that people do not always act the way we would like them to. It is for this reason that governments must be strictly curtailed as to the actions they may perform. Minimize the chance that immoral individuals will ever have the opportunity to leverage the power of the state.

5. Thomas - August 27, 2012

You are more educated than me, so you should know more about these matters. But, I sense your definition of fascism is not informed. You see fascism and libertarianism as polar opposites with fascism being the result of socialist objectives. But, I see three distinct choices: fascism, libertarianism, and socialism. Both libertarianism and socialism can be democratic. Fascism, on the other hand, describes the current state of affairs in the USA whereby there is no democracy at all at the federal, state, and even local levels. Corporations and special interests buy the politicians and direct policies. The general citizenry has no say. This is fascism. It is our reality today, and there is nothing socialist about it all.


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