Democratic Socialist on Liberalism, Classical Liberalism and Fascism

I’ve blogged several times about the connections between the Libertarianism of Von Mises and Von Hayek and Fascism, and the 1970s Fascist coup in Chile led by General Pinochet, which overthrew the democratically elected Communist president, Salvador Allende. I reblogged a video the other day by Democratic Socialist, in which he showed that Pinochet, contrary to the claims made by the Von Mises Institute, was indeed a brutal dictator, and that his rescue of Chilean capitalism, threatened by Allende’s entirely democratic regime, was very similar to Hitler’s seizure of power in Nazi Germany.

In the video below, Democratic Socialist explains the difference between the Liberalism of the Enlightenment, and the ‘Classical Liberalism’ of Von Mises and Von Hayek, both of whom supported Fascist regimes against Socialism and Democracy. In Von Mises case, he served in Dollfuss’ ‘Austro-Fascist’ government, while his pupil, Von Hayek, bitterly denounced democracy, supporting the regimes of the Portuguese Fascist dictator Salazar and then Pinochet’s grotty dictatorship in Chile. Von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, claimed that a planned socialist economy was also a threat to freedom, and influenced both Winston Churchill and Maggie Thatcher. And the latter was a good friend and admirer of Pinochet.

The video begins with Democratic Socialist drawing a distinction between Enlightenment Liberalism, and ‘Classical Liberalism’. Enlightenment Liberalism was a revolutionary force which challenged the power of the feudal aristocracy and the clergy. It championed freedom of belief, the right to free speech and assembly, freedom of the press and the right to a fair trial. It also stated that people had a right to private property.

Von Mises, the founder of ‘Austrian economics’ and ‘Classical Liberalism’, declared that the essence of his political and economic system was private property, and was hostile towards both democracy and socialism because both appeared to him to challenge the rights of the owners of the means of production. Thus he supported Dollfuss during the Austrian Civil War, when Dollfuss suppressed the socialists and Communists with army. The video includes a clip from a British newsreel showing Austrian soldiers shooting at the houses in the working class suburb of Vienna, into which the Schutzbund – the ‘Protection League’ formed by the Socialists and Communists – had retreated following Dollfuss’ attempt to suppress them by force. The voiceover describes Dollfuss as ‘diminutive’, and a still from the footage shows an extremely short man in uniform surrounded by various uniformed officers. Which seems to add him to the list of other dictators of shorter than average height – Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Franco. The Nazis themselves were profoundly hostile to the Enlightenment. After the 1933 seizure of power, Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazis’ chief ideologist, declared that the legacy of 1789 – the year of the French Revolution – had been ended by the Nazi coup.

After the War, Von Hayek’s attacks on socialist planning in The Road to Serfdom led Churchill to make a scaremongering speech about Labour in the 1945 election. Socialist planning, the great war leader declared, was abhorrent to the British people, and could only be imposed through a ‘Gestapo’, which he had no doubt, would be very humanely carried out. The video shows two senior members of the Labour party, one of which was the former Chancellor of the Exchequer under Callaghan, Denis Healey, describing how horrified they were by this slur against people Churchill had worked so closely with during the War.

In fact, Churchill’s lurid rhetoric had the opposite effect, and encouraged more people to vote for the Labour party so that they won with a landslide.

The video goes on to cite the texts, which document how Von Hayek declared his support for Salazar in Portugal, stating that he would preserve private property against the abuses of democracy, and how he claimed that the only totalitarian state in Latin America was that of Salvador Allende. Who was elected entirely democratically, and did not close any opposition newspapers or radio stations. Democratic Socialist also shows that Thatcher herself was a profound admirer of Pinochet, putting up a quote from her raving about his dictatorship. He also states that Thatcher, like Pinochet, also used the power of the state to suppress working class opposition. In this case, it was using the police to break up the miner’s strike.

Democratic Socialist is right in general about Enlightenment Liberalism being a revolutionary force, but many of its leaders were by no means democrats. The French Revolutionary was also keen to preserve private property, and the suffrage was based on property qualifications. Citizens were divided into ‘active’ and ‘passive’ – that is, those who possessed enough money to qualify for voting, and those who did not. This was also true of the American Founding Fathers, who were also keen to preserve the wealth and privileges of the moneyed elite against the poor masses. The fight to extend the franchise so that everyone had the vote, including women, was a long one. Britain only became a truly democratic country in the 1920s, after women had gained the vote and the property qualification for the franchise had been repealed. This last meant that all working class men had the vote, whereas previously only the wealthiest section of the working class – the aristocracy of labour – had enjoyed the franchise following Disraeli’s reforms of 1872.

The British historian of Fascism, Martin Pugh, in his book on British Fascism Between the Wars makes this point to show that, rather than having a long tradition of democracy, it was in fact only a recent political innovation, against which sections of the traditional social hierarchy were strongly opposed. This was the aristocracy and the business elites. He states that in Britain the right to vote was connected to how much tax a man paid, and that the principle that everyone had an innate right to vote was rejected as too abstract and French. This distrust of democracy, and hatred of the forces of organised labour, that now possessed it, was shown most clearly in the upper classes’ reaction to the General Strike.

As for the other constitutional liberties, such as a free press, right to a fair trial and freedom of assembly, Pugh also states that the 19th and early 20th century British ‘Liberal’ state was quite prepared to suppress these when it suited them, and could be extremely ruthless, such as when it dealt with the Suffragettes. Hence he argues that the Fascists’ own claim to represent the true nature of traditional British government and values needs to be taken seriously by historians when explaining the rise of Mosley and similar Fascist movements in the ’20s and ’30s.

Democratic Socialist is right when he states that the Classical Liberalism of Von Mises and Von Hayek is Conservative, and supports the traditional feudal hierarchy of the aristocracy and church as opposed to the revolutionary Liberalism of the new middle classes as they arose in the late 18th and 19th centuries. But I don’t think there was a clear division between the two. British political historians have pointed out that during the 19th century, the Liberal middle classes slowly joined forces with the aristocracy as the working class emerged to challenge them in turn. The modern Conservative party, with its ideology of free trade, has also been influenced by one aspect of 19th century Liberalism, just as the Labour party has been influenced by other aspects, such as popular working class activism and a concern for democracy. Von Mises’ and Von Hayek’s ‘Classical Liberalism’ can be seen as an extreme form of this process, whereby the free enterprise component of Enlightenment Liberalism is emphasised to the exclusion of any concern with personal freedom and democracy.

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