John M. Lane
Liberalism- Democracy– Liberalism was first seriously discussed by philosophers like John Stuart Mill in the late 1830s into the 1840s. The central tenets of liberalism are free-market capitalism, property rights, the rule of law, representative democracy, a free press, and freedom of religion. As the 19th century progressed, classical liberalism split into two camps in a philosophical dispute about achieving the central tenants of liberalism. Those who believed that the government should not interfere with the “natural” workings of the marketplace and should only make laws and rules that protected “natural rights” and traditions would come to be called Conservatives or “Tories” (Right). The Industrial Revolution had completely changed how people worked and lived. Life as a factory worker, to be blunt, was a brutal existence. Those who believed that the government had a duty to better the conditions of the working classes through better working conditions and pay, education, health care, and childcare were called Social Democrats (Left)- “liberals/progressives” in the United States. It is essential to understand that the debate between Conservatives and Social Democrats on how to implement the central tenets of liberalism has been the defining economic and social battle for democracies during the last quarter of the 19th century, all the 20th century, and continues unabated, into the 21st century. When Conservatives and Social Democrats cannot reach a governing consensus on how to implement liberalism, the system has broken down. At that point, a vacuum is created, and an opening for the extremes, Communism, and Fascism, is available.
Communism – Totalitarian (Far Left): Economically, the means of production are controlled by the State. That includes all banks, jobs, markets, products and how those products are produced, wages, and salaries. All aspects of education, civil liberties, and the press are controlled and run by the State. All civic life is disbanded, especially Religion. Nationalism and Patriotism are demanded; in some communist states, the all-knowing, all-powerful Leader’s cult is promoted in a constant stream of propaganda. The party has total and complete power in the name of the people, the proletariat.
Fascism- Authoritarian (Far Right): Economically, the means of production are not (entirely) controlled by the State. Market aspects of the economy are allowed to function if they serve the interests of the State and the ruling classes. Traditional instruments/elements of the status quo: the military, church, aristocracy, ruling elite, and the business/financial classes are allowed to keep and increase their power if they serve the interests of the government authorities. Political parties, unions, student groups, civic organizations are to be disbanded and replaced by organizations that serve the interests of the Leader and the State. Conformity is to be the proper behavior for all classes. Freedom of the Press and thought are to be strictly regulated. “Elections” are still held; however, the dominant ruling party has arranged the mechanisms of elections so that they will maintain power, even if they are the minority. Fascism also needs an internal enemy, usually a racially or ethnic “other” to focus on and divert attention. This internal enemy can be blamed for all that is “wrong” within the country. The Leader and the ruling elite are to be honored, worshiped, and obeyed. Nationalism and Patriotism are to be “encouraged” and promoted. In the end, only the State has the proper authority.
Despite what is commonly believed, Communism and Fascism are not the same. They are two distinct political philosophies. They are, however, similar in two ways: They both have no compunction about silencing their opponents, in a variety of ways, up to and including killing them. They both appeal to people looking for easy answers to problems that had spun entirely out of their ability to control and for traditional leaders in liberal democracies to be able to solve, especially if those leaders cannot reach workable compromises.
This essay was excerpted from Chapter One of The Second World War and The Course of World History by John M. Lane, hopefully, completed in 2022.
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