On The Relationship Between Libertarianism and Fascism

In the August 2, 2017 episode of the Tom Woods Show, Woods talks about the moral outrage of left-libertarians and their tendency to call other libertarians fascists, Nazis, or whatever other insults they can muster. To follow up these complaints, he asserted that libertarians and fascists are completely contradictory political perspectives and could never be combined, alluding to the “libertarian fascists” and libertarians with fascist sympathies. He also said that when one embraces fascism, one must have relinquished one’s libertarianism, as there is no other solution that would make sense. In the historical sense of fascism, libertarian fascism is a contradictory term. A person who is a libertarian cannot actually and fully consider themselves a fascist in that sense, or vice versa. However, we can treat libertarian fascism as a placeholder term for a broader ideological shift toward a synthesis of libertarianism and fascism. We may also consider how a private property owner in a libertarian society could have a fascist structure within the bounds of private property.

Examining Premises

The first mistake that Woods (and many other libertarians) make is to assume that the combination of different ideological perspectives is dependent on policy and not the fundamentals of their philosophy. From this, Woods implies that fascism is about centralization and boundless idealism, while libertarians accept people as they are and favor decentralization. Some more simple-minded people also think that fascism is about authority and state power while libertarianism is the complete opposite. This may be true when we look at policy proposals, but policy cannot be the arbiter of ideological coherence or ideologies themselves. We need to analyze the premises of different ideologies if we are to analyze how compatible these ideologies are. This is necessary because ideologies are fundamentally systems of thought and analysis flowing from basic premises. A person using an ideology is a person looking at the world in a certain way and proposing policy positions from that set of value judgments.

To illustrate this, let us consider the example of Milton Friedman. Milton Friedman is claimed by both libertarians and neoliberals as representing their ideologies. This means that both libertarians and neoliberals see Friedman as using their methods of analysis and looking at the world in the same manner that they do. But here we find a contradiction; there appears to be a problem if we are to place neoliberalism and libertarianism on a scale of politics. First, we have to establish that there is a connection between Rothbard and Friedman when it comes to libertarianism; that is, that one could draw a straight line from Rothbard to Friedman and it would naturally follow from their ideological positions. This may be done; one can see that both men respect property rights, advocate for reducing the size of the state, and wish to increase the freedom of the market. But one must also draw a line from Hillary Clinton to Friedman, as they are both neoliberals. Both are cosmopolitan, fairly progressive, and advocate for a sort of economy that is not only free but also open. Although they differ in their degree of state intervention, one can ideologically connect Friedman and Clinton.

But there is a problem, in that no such connection is present between Rothbard and Clinton. There is no consistent line that could connect Rothbardian thought with Clintonian thought. Their philosophies and perspectives are mutually exclusive. There is no principled alliance or synthesis between them; only alliances of convenience may exist. However, when it comes to Friedman, there may be a synthesis between these ideologies. Both Rothbardians and Clintonians will have their criticisms of Friedmanites, but Friedman’s position is palatable for both neoliberals and libertarians. This is because Friedman used both the premises of neoliberalism and the premises of libertarianism. He analyzed the world in a way that followed from the neoliberal desire for openness and personal freedom and the libertarian desire for self-determination and liberty. We can boil down these two positions to this: the neoliberals want looseness while libertarians want property. Neoliberals tend to favor whatever makes national identity, economic policy, or social cohesion looser. Libertarians tend to favor whatever makes property rights stronger, whether it be self-ownership, non-aggression, or property rights in external objects. Coming from both perspectives, one would both appreciate property rights and self-determination but also a loose society without national identity or strong social norms, and this explains the desires of left-libertarians. Friedman was first and foremost an economist, so we see more of the propertarian side of him, but he was also a neoliberal.

The Premises of Fascism

We have already established that the libertarian premises are self-ownership, non-aggression, and property rights. Libertarians tend to favor whatever increases the power of the property owner over his justly owned property. But what do the fascists take as their premises? Contrary to popular belief, it is not opposition to property or to personal liberty. No fascist regime has ever gotten rid of property and the personal liberty question has only been a policy proposal, not something most fascists believe in strongly. There are some fascists who are against property, but they are few and far between and have never had a strong presence in a notable fascist government. In fact, most fascist governments suppress these left-wing variants. In fiction, some fascists are opposed to personal liberty on principle, but these are not reflected in reality; the closest real approximation are people who believe that control is necessary for virtue. But in that case, the premise is virtue rather than control, as the fascist does not want control for the sake of control. To really understand the fascists, we need to look at fascist movements.

In Italy, there were the national syndicalists that eventually became the fascists. They believed in creating a pseudo-syndicalist economy that combines worker interests and business interests to reduce class conflict. They also believed in strengthening Italian society and creating an incredibly traditionalist social order. The Nazis shared the second point, but they wanted an economy where there is comparatively stronger property and there are more capitalistic structures, but on the condition that these structures benefit the nation. In this form, national socialists treat property owners as trustees given property by the nation to take care of the wealth and resources of the nation. We can see many other movements that hold themselves to be both anti-communist and anti-capitalist, but eventually, end up with what we would call a fascist economic policy.

Other movements were somewhat different. The Francoists come from the more orthodox Falangist position, and they are outliers because Franco eventually liberalized the economy and created a more free market than many people would have favored originally. Though Hitler privatized multiple industries, this was nothing compared to the Spanish miracle. The Greek military coup lead by Papadopoulos constantly referred to their movement as being explicitly temporary, however, the attempts of liberalization by Papadopoulos were shut down by other people within the government. It is impossible to know how Greece would have developed if these liberalizations had occurred, but the government was overthrown and Greece eventually became a leftist mess.

One could include Pinochet and use the Chilean miracle as another example of success, but fascists often consider Pinochet to be a sellout, and it is not entirely clear whether Pinochet was actually a fascist or simply a paid CIA operative; an anti-communist or globalist agent. Finally, one can look at the American Nazi party. They are certainly fascists, but they are also constitutionalists. They want to return to the founding documents of the United States, and support sound money and free markets. This contradicts the common image of fascism, and thus may befuddle any libertarian who has not analyzed the premises of fascism.

The Conclusions of Fascism

What all these movements had in common was the ultimate goal of creating a better nation. This meant creating a world where the destructive forces that were threatening to the nation could not take hold and the nation could prosper. They all wanted a society and an economy based around the nation, which they believed would create a better life for the people within that nation. One can see how the policies of all these movements actually follow from the nationalism that fascists take as their ultimate premise. Many say that fascists have no coherent economic policy, but this is untrue. The economic policy of fascists is and always has been to strengthen the nation. The 20th century was marked by a struggle between Marxist world socialism and liberal world capitalism. The Marxists agitated the workers while the liberals agitated the middle and upper classes, creating an immense class conflict that fueled revolution and chaos. The fascists in the early 20th century came along and attempted to create an economy that would work both for the upper and the lower classes, an economy where the workers would get what they think they deserve while the capitalists could keep their capital and use it productively. To do this, they wanted the state to have control of the economy to make sure that no one is exploited (at least, by any entity other than the state) and that everyone will work for the nation to ensure a lack of parasitism for greedy or materialistic purposes (again, outside of the state itself). When this was shown to be unsustainable, the smart fascists shifted to a policy of privatization. This happened under Hitler and Franco to various degrees; they ultimately let go of some state property and handed it to people who used it productively. The Nazis were not ready to give up their desires for the aesthetic advancement of the German people, so they needed to expand their empire to fuel their faulty economy, but some privatization still took place.

The social policy of fascist regimes has always been to make sure that the nation is sustainable and that the nation does not slide into degeneracy. From this follow positions against promiscuity, homosexuality, drug use, and whatever else people do in order to derive hedonistic pleasure at the expense of a healthy society. It also has a strong connection to the view that traditional family structures should be the basis of society, meaning that incentivizing motherhood and the creation of strong men to take care of the women is proper for sustaining the nation. This explains the ethnic element of fascism, as all nations are ultimately determined by the genetic stock of their people and the historical condition where the people have developed. Furthermore, this explains why anti-Semitism is present in historical fascist movements, as fascists tend to view Jews as a hostile minority with disproportionate influence that works to undermine the nation with moral degeneracy and financial manipulation while refusing to assimilate into the host nation.

Libertarianism and Fascism

First, from the premises of libertarianism, fascism is a lesser evil than left-wing socialism. Fascism undoubtedly preserves property more than left-wing socialism does, thus fascist sympathies cannot be construed as completely anti-libertarian. But one cannot take as ultimate goals both nation and property, as the conflicts between these goals would have to be solved by means of arbitrary decision. This means that libertarianism and fascism cannot be combined as ideologies because their premises are different. One may combine republicanism, minarchism, monarchism, anarcho-capitalism, etc. into a broad political movement, as the premises of these positions are sufficiently similar. But there is no way to create a big tent movement that can accurately represent the interests of both fascists and libertarians; the premises come into too much conflict.

Second, there is some value in the notion of being a fascist politically while being a libertarian philosophically. This is a position that some people are becoming more and more sympathetic towards. Left-libertarians like to refer to these people as “helicopterists,” so we can use that term to describe this position. What these people tend to believe is that a military dictatorship is necessary or beneficial if we are to establish a libertarian social order and that we cannot simply transition to absolute liberty without first making sure that policies are implemented to push society toward that goals. These people often argue for violent suppression of leftists, which is not what libertarians traditionally favor, and for a general purge within society that would result in favorable conditions for the formation of a libertarian society.

Third, libertarians may take nationalism as a premise and fascists may take property as a premise, even thought these cannot be their ultimate premises due to the aforementioned conflicts. Fascists may advocate for free-market economics insofar as it increases the health of the nation, while libertarians may advocate for nationalism insofar as it strengthens self-ownership, private property, and non-aggression. In this manner, libertarians and fascists can find common ground by using common premises, and they can create a compromise that is palatable for both fascists and libertarians. We touched upon Milton Friedman earlier to show that it is theoretically and practically possible to embrace different premises even though the policy proposals may contradict themselves. Although there can be a degree of collaboration between libertarians who value the nation and fascists who value property, they will still ultimately be fascists and libertarians, respectively. The priority between property and nation determines with which camp people identify.

Finally, it is possible for a private property owner to administer one’s holdings according to the structure of a fascist dictatorship. Being the owner of property means having a right to exclusive control over it, including its governance structure. However, libertarian standards do not permit forcing non-aggressive people to come into such a structure or remain there against their will, so a libertarian running a fascist governance structure within private property will have to be far less oppressive than statist fascists in order to keep a regime populated. This kind of governance, which offers people no voice and free exit, has proven best at limiting state power throughout history. It would also be best for limiting the tyranny of the private property owner that so concerns critics of libertarianism.

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