Too often, in our poorly educated minds, the words “fascist” and “Adolph Hitler” are transposed. While Uncle Adolph is certainly history’s most infamous fascist, he was hardly alone. Fascism as a political system has existed for nearly two centuries and been used far too often and by far too many dictators to pretend Hitler was it’s only proponent. He was, in fact, only one of several fascists who rose to power in the early- to mid-twentieth century. Benito Mussolini, Hideki Tojo and Chiang Kai-Shek preceded Hitler to power; Francisco Franco, Antonio Salazar, Juan Peron, Engelbert Dollfuss, Getulio Vargas, Jorge Marees, Ionas Metaxas, and Robey Leibbrandt were all peers. More modern adherents include such luminaries as Manuel Noriega, Ferdinand Marcos and Tudor Ionescu.
It is obviously a false equivalency to say they are all acolytes of Adolph Hitler, especially as several of them rose to power as much as a decade before the Reichstag burned. Indeed, Mussolini considered Hitler to be his student. Nor is it correct to say all fascists are natural allies. The Axis powers of World War II were all led by fascist governments, but distrust rather than cooperation was their hallmark. And let’s not forget that despite the aid from Germany and Italy that helped Franco secure power, Franco snubbed all overtures to join them. Franco was busy in an on-again, off-again shooting war with his protege Salazar (one that lasted into the late 1960’s). What this illustrates is the variances within fascism: nazism, clerical fascism, falangism, and so forth.
So, if HItler wasn’t the proto-fascist, who was? Who founded the ideology that dozens of tin-pot dictators have adopted as their own in the past century?
That would be Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), a British philosopher, writer and mathematician. Indeed, if modern students hear of Carlyle at all, it is usually because of his work in mathematics: he is credited with developing the quadratic equation (you know, the joyless algebra equation written as ax2 + bx + c = 0). And while high school freshmen the world over hate him for making their homework harder than they want, their real derision should be directed at his influence on sociology.
Carlyle was a reactionary in his approach to what he viewed as the shortcomings with classical liberalism. Whether the free market economics of Adam Smith, or the idea of natural rights borne out in our Declaration of Independence, Carlyle viewed the advancements made in the 18th Century to be the direct cause of the chaos overtaking Europe in the early 19th. This culminated in his 1840 opus, “On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History”. It is a rather long tome in which he lashes out at the idea of democratic rule and free markets as the antithesis of history’s natural order. He passionately argues that in accepting these ideas, society abandoned the natural roles of the hero as leader, of war as the principle means to glory, of industry being directed towards producing the means of war, and of societal hierarchies (today we would call them “classes” or “castes”).
Carlyle advocated that Great Men are the natural leaders of both government and society and should be elevated as such; if society refused to accept them, then it became their duty to wrest power away from the masses. He had tremendous scorn for free markets and coined the term many use today to describe modern economics, “the dismal science.” It isn’t that Carlyle didn’t believe that business owners shouldn’t be able to keep their profit (after paying the government their “equitable duty”); but rather that anyone in business not producing goods and services that directly benefitted the state should not be in business. A natural hierarchy was emplaced of men, but natural rights were not. The amount of rights a common man could be expected to receive were commensurate with his place in society; those at the top naturally had more rights than those at the bottom. And as for those at the bottom, they were generally an impediment to the advancement of the society. Enslavement or even execution was their only natural right. (Carlyle expounded further on this in “Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question” in 1849).
Further, Carlyle was a proponent of the state as the only viable method by which the Great Man, or Hero, could extend his rule and direct his will. The principle role of the common man within the state was to prepare for war. Treason in thought or deed were the only crimes that truly promoted social disorder; treasonous activities included anything that could subvert the rule of the Great Man and should be eliminated at all costs. And since the state was the engine that made society possible, it was incumbent upon all citizens to ensure that undesirables be kept out, by all means necessary.
In short, Carlyle’s view of national socialism (he coined the term to separate his philosophy from that of his contemporary, Karl Marx) relied on these key points, in order of importance:
- A Great Man or Hero; the natural societal leader
- A strong, insular state
- A hierarchical society, down to and including slavery
- Policing of society to ensure adherence to societal norms
- Directed markets
- Denial of Natural Rights
Of course, today we call this fascism, not national socialism. That term we reserve for nazism, which differs from straight fascism in its adoption of some Marxist principles, particularly as relates to property rights and the veneer of popular rule.
So the question is, does Donald Trump embody those 7 principles in his vision? Anyone who’s paid attention to what he’s said – and just as importantly, not said -in not only the past 15 months of campaigning but also the past 40 years of public life, will have already recognized Trump’s themes in Carlyle’s worldview. But for those who need further convincing, let us see how Trump and Carlyle agree.
- A Great Man should be our natural leader: An entire forest’s worth of paper has been produced detailing Trump’s narcissism and self-aggrandizement, so no need to expound further on that. Suffice it to say anyone willing to proclaim the virtues of every dictator from Benito Mussolini to Deng Xiaoping to his current infatuation with Vladimir Putin sees himself as a man of similar abilities – and traits.
- The strong, insular state: His motto, “Make America Great Again,” is a paen to this idea. In case you still weren’t sure, remember one of the hallmarks of the strong state is keeping undesirables out. From his proposed Mexican wall to the Muslim ban, a cornerstone of Trump’s campaign is keeping the undesirables out – by all means.
- Hierarchical society, including slavery: Trump certainly views American society as existing within a strict hierarchy. He launched his campaign by demonizing those of Mexican heritage as “rapists and murderers.” He has been sued by the federal government for housing discrimination, but various state governments for employment discrimination and once by a trade union for refusing to pay immigrant workers. It isn’t overt racism, so much as revelation in his belief that if you aren’t in the correct class, you have fewer rights and if you reside at the bottom, you’re unworthy of much more than crumbs.
- Police State: At various times, Trump has advocated for expanded police power to ensure the classes remain in their correct position. Undesirables should be rounded up. Agitators should be put down, with force. Indeed, Trump’s idea of “Law and Order” is less about law and a great deal more about order, enforced at the point of a gun.
- Militarism: “I’d bomb the hell out of them.” “Keep the oil.” “The military would not refuse my orders, even if they found them illegal.” “There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am.” “I’m more militaristic than even George Bush.” Tie all of that in with his expressed desire to spend trillions on rebuilding the military machine to Cold War levels, along with his willingness to economically attack the rest of the world and yeah. Donald Trump is definitely a militarist.
- Directed Markets: The other prominent cornerstone of Trump’s candidacy is a complete refutation of free trade. It’s also, in addition to a lifelong commitment to the hierarchal society, the one thing you can go back decades (his very first Wall Street Journal interview, in 1980, in fact) and find a consistent view. In fact, Trump hates free markets every bit as much as Carlyle did in his day. After all, as Trump has said, any business that puts profits ahead of Making America Great Again is engaged in treason and should pay a heavy price.
- Denial of Natural Rights: There are two documents that historians point to as delineating natural rights. One is the French The Rights of Man. The other, fortunately, is enshrined as law in our Constitution; our Bill of Rights. At various points throughout this campaign, Trump has shown contempt for the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th and 9th Amendments. He loves the 7th (I can’t think of another politician who’s filed more lawsuits). He likes the 2nd, but only for certain people (here we go back to the hierarchical society again). That Trump thinks natural rights are a figment of some 18th century scholar’s imagination is pretty obvious.
So, is Trump a fascist? Undoubtedly, and as such, he is the antithesis of every idea this country was founded upon and supposedly stands for today. While frightening, it isn’t that he is, or that he has come within a hair’s breadth of the Presidency that worries me. No, what’s truly frightening is that so many of our fellow citizens remain blind to his nature – or worse, not blind but fully supportive of his goals.