A book about Totalitarians such as Hitler

The Totalitarians Among Us

Austrian Economics

I am besieged by a thousand or more of the Mexican (forces) under Santa Anna… The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword if the fort is taken. I have answered the demand with a canon shot.” – William Travis, The Alamo, 1836

The confusion surrounding the concept of socialism must be addressed before proceeding to our main problem. To some, it may simply mean the idea of social justice and greater equality which are truly socialism’s definitive aims. But what is often overlooked are the specific methods in which most socialists hope to attain these aims. In this sense, socialism means the abolition or control of private enterprise and the private ownership of the means of production in order to create a planned economy where the entrepreneur seeking profit is replaced by a central planning body. The lack of conscious control of society towards a single purpose which leaves us at the mercy of irresponsible and irrational individuals has always been the complaint of the socialist critics. To bring about a quick solution to our economic woes, we must deliberately organize the economy thus forcing all of society to collectively pursue a single goal. This illuminates the issue very clearly and it directs our attention immediately to the conflict between individual freedom and collectivism. The various branches of collectivism, communism, fascism, socialism, etc., differ among themselves in the goals they seek but they all wish to organize society and all its resources towards some unitary end and refuse to recognize the supremacy of individual autonomy. They are totalitarians in the truest sense. 

Most socialists who believe in the theoretical aims of social justice and higher equality are completely apathetic or unaware in their understanding of how they are to be achieved or the cost such decisions impose. The confusion is amplified simply by the fact that the same methods, often called “economic planning” which is the chief instrument of socialist reform, can and have been used for many other purposes. If economic planning was to rid us of the economic problems which naturally bind us all, and in the process bring about greater equality and security, who would deride it?

It is barely remembered that socialism was recognized very early by Alexis de Tocqueville as the greatest threat to freedom. Developed as a counter to the freedom the French revolution sought after, the French writers who laid the foundations of modern socialism knew quite clearly that their ideas could be put into practice only by a strong dictatorial government. To hide this truth and to gain general acceptance, the socialist doctrine needed to fly under the flag of freedom. Strong democratic currents washed ashore in the years preceding the 1848 revolution in France. Under such a tide, socialism began to ally itself with freedom. The French socialists offered the promise of a new kind of freedom, a freedom that would usher in a departure from the realm of necessity to the realm of prosperity. It was to bring forth a new form of “economic freedom” and without it the freedom already gained was not worth having. Only socialism could end the struggles that plagued the generations. It was here that the doctrine was given a new name – “democratic socialism”. The most effective weapon in the arsenal of socialist propaganda is the promise of greater freedom.

The meaning of the word freedom was changed to make the idea seem plausible. To the champions of political freedom the word meant freedom from coercion, freedom from the arbitrary power of other men, and the breaking of the chains which left the individual no choice but to obey a superior.[1] Freedom from the point of view of the socialists was just another name for the control and power over others to ascertain certain societal outcomes through the forceful decree of a central authority. The new freedom was just a rephrasing of the old demand for an equal distribution of wealth.

Those of us who have seriously considered the characteristics involved in the task of planning and coordinating the complexity of an economic system have little reservation that such direction must commence from authoritarian conditions. To cloak this truth, our planners offer us solace in that this authoritarian direction will apply only to economic affairs. This great comfort is followed by the suggestion that by sacrificing freedom in the less important facets of our lives, we gain greater freedom in the chase of higher virtue. We are assured that power exercised over some form of economic life not near to us as individuals and highly beneficial to the masses is power exercised over our lives in matters of inferior importance. This promise makes us take lightly the threat it poses to the individual pursuits we choose. It is through these assurances that most who despise the concept of a political dictatorship are lured into seeking a dictator for the economy. 

Control of the economic system is not only the control of a small sector of life off in the distance but total control of the allocation of the limited resources we have at our disposal to achieve the ends we choose to pursue. The “economic freedom” promised to us by the socialists means precisely that our economic problems will be solved for us and the tough decisions we may have to make will be made for us. We are given freedom of choice in a competitive society precisely because if one person cannot satisfy our requests, we can turn to another or pursue them ourselves. However, if we face the monopolist we are at his complete mercy and any authority directing the economy would be the most powerful monopolist of them all. The source of this power is not derived from power over our consumption but from control over the means of production.

Prices and production under the control of a central authority grants almost unlimited power. The prices we must pay for the goods we need, and the rate of substitution between goods are determined by the finite quantities and relative elasticities of such goods. By taking one we deprive another. This price is not determined by the conscious will of anybody. Under a competitive order and decentralized means of production, if the price we must pay to achieve certain ends proves too costly, we are free to try other methods. Where the authority controls prices and the means of production, consciously directing the economy, there is no doubt that these powers will be used to aid some ends while prohibiting others. By somebody else’s view of what is socially equitable and economically just we will be told what we ought to do, what we ought to like and dislike and what we should receive and produce. The division of labor has created an irreversible situation where all our activities are part of the entire social process. It is only because of the division of labor and private property rights that we have and can maintain anything like the complex economic system that produced living standards to the heights in which we find ourselves.

The substitution of central planning for competition would therefore require centralized direction in our lives to a much greater degree than ever attempted before. Because we are dependent on someone else’s economic activities in nearly every aspect of our lives, central direction would require that the planner have conscious control over nearly every feature of ordinary life. Due to the complex nature of our economic system and the interdependence of each sector, it is undeniable that if we wish to plan one sector, we must plan them all. The utopian dream of the collective fulfilment of all our needs with which the socialists have prepared for us on the boulevard to totalitarianism consists essentially of depriving us of the freedom of choice so that we fit best into their “economic plan”. The finest opportunity ever given to the world was thrown away because the passion for equality made vain the hope for freedom.[2] 

The belief that power – the means of production – can be taken from a certain class of people and given to the state or ‘society’ as a whole to own collectively by way of the democratic procedure to consequently reduce the total amount of power in the system is entirely erroneous. This kind of allocation of power creates a new type of power which in a competitive society nobody possesses. Socialists live under the misbelief that by depriving individuals of the power they possess in a competitive society and transferring it to society, they eliminate that power. What the socialists overlook is that by concentrating power in the service of a solitary plan, power is not simply transformed but infinitely heightened.[3] To decentralize power is to reduce the absolute amount of power in the system. What we fail to remember is that the system of private property is the most significant assurance of freedom, not solely for those who own property but infinitely more for those who do not. If private property is divided among many owners, each of them acting independently, no one has the exclusive power to determine the position of another. A wealthy businessman or woman may have a range of economic influence, but it is never control over the entire life of a person. It is because the control of the means of production is divided among many people acting independently that nobody has complete power over us, and that we can decide what we wish to do with ourselves. If the means of production were vested in a single authority to achieve a single plan, whether given to ‘society’ as a whole or a central planning board, whoever is given the power to exercise this control has complete power over all of us.

What is most concerning is not the moral basis of socialism but its moral outcome. For those who may think we have no reason to fear the totalitarian system, it would be wise to consider that such systems have often been established in time by good men for noble purposes. The worst features of the totalitarian system may appear as accidental by-products, but at a closer glance those features are the result of phenomena in which the various forms of collectivism are certain to produce.  We are likely to think that since the desire for the socialist system is driven by high moral motives such a system must lead us down the path towards the highest virtues. There is absolutely no reason why the creation of any system should automatically enhance those morals that led to its creation. These moral motives often coincide with the demand for quick government action for action’s sake. For this reason, the socialists seek out the individual or party who seems strong and stubborn enough “to just get things done.” Somebody who can find solid support and inspire assurance in the masses so that he can carry out whatever they want. All that is necessary is to give one group or party overwhelming power in order to carry out their principles and moral convictions. It is at this point that the socialists have the power to achieve anything they wish if they are willing to use the required force.

Historically, the socialist parties have always been reluctant to use the coercive measures required for the task. What the socialists found was they had inadvertently given themselves a task only the cruel and merciless prepared to neglect accepted morals can execute. The fact that socialism can only be executed by methods most socialists disapprove of is a hard lesson learned by many socialists in the past. Being driven by their democratic ideals, the old socialist parties did not possess the callousness such a task commanded. The refusal by the socialist parties to take over their responsibilities is a characteristic that preceded the successful rise of fascism in both Germany and Italy.[4] They were completely opposed to engaging in the methods needed to reach the aims to which they had pointed. So, the question became, “Who will take charge and how will a sufficiently large enough group be created to make the united direction of economic affairs possible?” To create such a group, the socialists that failed to act were replaced by leaders who inspired the hatred of an enemy, whether it be the kulaks in Russia or the wealthy Jews taking advantage of the capitalistic system in Germany, as the key ingredient that bound together a large enough group for decisive and coercive action. It was these efforts to produce a mass movement in support of a single task that opened the gates to totalitarianism. The decline of the Rule of Law to accomplish a solitary goal began long before Hitler and Mussolini rose to power.[5] Policies toward socialist economic planning had already done a great deal of work which both tyrants merely completed. As the man who did more to spread the anti-capitalistic economic platform on which the Nazi’s stood, famed German economist Warner Sombart correctly noted that the success of Nationalsozialismus in Germany can largely be accredited to the early French writers.

Economic freedom is the prerequisite to freedom. The promise of a ‘new’ freedom by the socialists from our economic problems which can only be had by relieving the individual of the freedom and power of choice is not freedom at all. 

Jon McDonald

[1] FA Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, 1944.

[2] Lord John Acton, Freedom, 1877.

[3] The Road to Serfdom.

[4] Rohan Butler, The Roots of National Socialism: 1783-1933, 1941.

[5] Ibid.

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