The Crisis of a System: It Won’t Work
Every social situation has an unlimited number of aspects. Unworkability of the existing system is the particular aspect of the present social situation in the United States which, to the fascist way of thinking, seems most challenging to thoughtful analysis and immediate action. It is the unworkability of a given social system in a changed set of conditions which is most responsible for revolutionary social change. Feudalism, for instance, gave way to modern capitalism, not because any number of the people at any given moment decided that they would prefer a new social order, but because a series of discoveries of new lands and inventions of new machines and techniques created new conditions, among them the rise of a new business class, in which the feudal system could not work. This is not to state a thesis of rigid economic determinism or an exclusively materialistic interpretation of history. It is to recognize that changes in things act on preferences as well as changes in preferences on things.
It seems a fairly sound generalization to say that no social group, after debating the merits of the existing order versus those of a possible successor, proceeded to scrap the old and adopt the new as long as the old system was maintaining a semblance of order or working. Indeed, it is a part of the process of maintaining order and making a given social system work to see to it that the people like what they have. In measure as defenders of a system deem it necessary to argue with the people in favor of the preservation of the old system, they really admit and advertise its doom. There is no doubt but that the continuous attacks on fascism and defenses of the present system featured by powerful publications like the Saturday Evening Post, and in the public utterances of influential citizens like Mr. Hoover, do more to advertise and further fascism than almost any other factor calling fascism to the attention of the American people. A social system is either on the offensive, or it is doomed.
There is little point to drawing conservative inferences from the fact that the people are attached to their Constitution and nine elderly exponents of it, to their king and his nobles or to the Druid priests and their human sacrifices. The people are always attached-to their leaders; institutions and folk customs, no matter how absurd or barbarous these latter may appear from other points of view. If and when, under changed conditions, the old system proves unworkable, or fails adequately to meet its imperatives, the undermining and upsetting of it are always directed by a small minority of the discontented or frustrated elite who may be divided into several groups but who, in some one minority group, gradually roll up enough mass following to achieve their ends. The defenders of the old system have to learn that the only good argument for the old system is to make it work. And this means, among other things, taking care of those elite who otherwise become discontented and ultimately revolutionary.
The usual defense of the system made today by its supposed friends, however, consists mainly in apologies for the system’s unworkability and in appeals for loyal support no matter how it works. There is a typically liberal naiveté in appealing to Y’s reason to be loyal to a system which still suits X, but which is not working so well for Y. That kind of loyalty is not born of reason but habit, early conditioning and wholly unreasoned impulses. One of the earliest proofs of the unworkability of a system, after its failure to care for the elite, is its failure to maintain the suitable mass conditioning for the system’s survival. But of this we shall have more to say under another heading.
In the fascist view of the situation, the unworkability of the present system is the starting point in social thought and action. It is also the most vulnerable point for attack — and the fascists are attackers. Taking this particular view of the system’s crisis or slow decline does not mean that a fascist-minded person sees nothing else in the situation but mechanical defects or that he minimizes other aspects of the situation. That the injustices of the present social situation, in which millions suffer hunger and privation while productive instruments, like human hands, land, and factories, remain in enforced idleness, are a crying shame, the fascist fully recognizes. That Father Coughlin and his League for Social Justice should emphasize this phase of the situation and demand its correction is both humane and helpful. But, if an individual or a group sets about the correction of these injustices, the first order of problems encountered will be found to lie squarely in the fields of social mechanics or government and management in the broadest sense of these terms.
These problems are matters of getting things done rather than of formulating moral judgments. It is well to say what ought and what ought not to be, but satisfying any given moral or ethical imperative about social conditions is largely a matter of using the coercive force of government and the resources of technical management of the social and material factors determining social conditions. In other words, while the impulse to get something done may spring from wishing to have it done, getting it done is not exclusively a matter of imagining or wishing it done.
The voice of the prophet, which is the voice of conscience denouncing sin and extolling righteousness-word these phenomena as you will and let them take the personal and institutional forms and expressions they will in different ages and cultures — has been a moral force in every civilization. But, after conscience or the prophet has denounced a condition and demanded its correction in the name of some metaphysical value or social myth, without which no social scheme has ever operated, there always remain the governmental, managerial and technical tasks of getting it done. Today these tasks are more complex and inter-related than ever.
In ancient times and even down to the opening of the industrial revolution towards the close of the 18th century, the period when most of our American social concepts, norms and institutions were supposed to have reached their final and definitive form for all time, it was ordinarily enough for some measure of correction of an evil to have the voice of conscience, through the prophet or priest, convince the Prince, or small group of head men, that it ought to be done — provided, of course, the prophet whipped up some enthusiasm for the correction by a little effective indoctrination of the people. In those bygone, pre-capitalistic, pre-industrial days, it could reasonably be expected that satisfactory improvement of a social situation would result from an effective pointing out of the evil and a fairly general observance of certain rather elementary rules of personal conduct such as are to be found in all the world’s great moral codes.
Before division of labor had been carried very far, or before the industrial revolution, and as long as people lived in simple, closed and self-sufficing economies in which the members of one small group produced about everything they consumed, the chief moral imperative was doing the decent thing by one’s neighbor — in other words, President Roosevelt’s
good neighbor philosophy. The
good neighbor code was still fairly adequate in the comparatively recent days of our frontier rural communities, long after the drafting of the Constitution. There were no really significant divergences between the moral imperatives for good neighbor behavior as laid down by Hammurabi, Moses, Buddha, Socrates or Jesus. In the days of simple social organization and simple economic arrangements, the problem of public order was largely one of having the king or leader listen to the voice of conscience and having the subject fear God and obey the king.
It is amazing how many otherwise intelligent people still imagine that, in our complex modern society, public order can be maintained by having certain elementary rules of conduct appropriate to simple rural communities followed by millions of individuals. These latter are in fact grossly unequal in economic power, and each individual, or legal person, including the billion-dollar corporation, is left free to interpret the Constitution for himself, and to hire as many lawyers as his means will allow to champion through endless litigation his particular interpretations. Only the lush opportunities of the opening of the earth’s largest and richest area for appropriation and settlement could furnish enough to be grabbed off by almost every one to make it possible to maintain public order under such a regime, which Thomas Carlyle once characterized as anarchy plus a constable.
In taking the traditional attitude towards social evils and social reform, 19th century reformers have rarely made an attempt to think through the social mechanics of getting any desirable social situation achieved. Where the reformers of the era of modern capitalism have essayed to do a little thinking through of the problem of correcting a social evil, they have usually confined their thinking to one rather narrow field of social institutions or phenomena such as taxation (Henry George), currency (William Jennings Bryan), or business regulation by law making — and law enforcement (Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson).
Broadly generalizing, one may say that, in modern Christendom, only reformers thinking in the framework of the Roman Catholic faith, and the various schools of modern fascist and communist thought, have — consistently and seriously attempted to work out social solutions in terms of an all-embracing social synthesis. It is interesting to note in connection with this generalization that the distinguished jurists and, especially, the economists of modern capitalism, have all been fairly radical and daring in their thought or really of a definitely reforming kind. Blackstone, for instance, wanted to reform the absolutism of the Stuarts; John Marshall wanted to go much farther than the writers of the Constitution in strengthening the Union and centralizing social control — not in the Federal Executive or Legislature but in the Federal Judiciary; while the much venerated (and now considered conservative) Adam Smith, in the gloomy field of economics, was nothing short of a radical for his time, because he assailed the eminently respectable theses of applied 17th century mercantilism and demanded a regime of economic laissez-faire such as the world had never known before and such as it is not going to know again for a long time.
Now, it is a distinguishing characteristic of practically all the builders of the liberal capitalistic scheme of concepts, norms, and social institutions that they have tried to restrict their social thinking to some one field, like law or economics, and that, even within these already narrowly delimited fields, they were apt to specialize in one particular subdivision. This, doubtless, was a part of the separation of powers and division of labor ideals of the late 18th century. The jurists and statesmen assumed that no economic development could ever prevent the enforcement of the Constitution and lawful contracts, while the economists and business men took it for granted that no political or legal development could seriously or for long interfere with the free market, the laws of economic supply and demand, or the fixation of wages and prices in free competition by freely contracting legal parties.
They did not foresee billion-dollar corporations as parties contracting with fourteen-year-old children. The rise of the modern trust has upset their premise of a market free from monopoly, restraint of trade, and innumerable sorts of present day economic coercion. Specifically, they assumed that a mortgage could always be foreclosed, and that hunger could always be relied on to make a man work for the highest bidder however low the bid, but that no one would be coerced by combinations and conspiracies in restraint of free trade.
The political and economic systems thus fully, ably and separately expounded by a long line of legal and economic rationalizations, were assumed to be permanently workable and both fool and disaster proof, each functioning in its own watertight compartment. These compartments, of course, were kept water-tight from time to time by the definitions of legal decisions and the pedantic treatises of writers on the various social sciences. There was supposed to exist a series of perfect institutional harmonies, and it was a pious dogma that democracy was fool and disaster proof. The 19th century cultural leaders of liberal capitalism, though innovators, reformers, and improvers, as well as rationalizers, rarely thought in terms of a universal or even a national synthesis. Indeed, most of the 19th century socialists were incapable of such thinking.
The reason why Karl Marx towers among all the prophets and reformers since Luther and Calvin is that his was the first influential mind after the industrial revolution to try to think things through in connection with the denunciation of what he considered evil and the advocacy of what he considered righteousness. Marx, in his prophecy, did not proceed on the assumptions that the social evils he deplored were in the nature of defects rather than properties of the prevailing system, and that social justice, as he idealized it, was something obviously attainable within the framework of prevailing institutions, provided the people so willed it. He worked out a theory of the existing system to explain the evils he deplored the exploitation and misery of the workers; a theory of a new system to realize the ideal he cherished — a classless, stateless, governmentless society of workers enjoying the highest standard of living which available resources could afford; and a program of action to effect the transition to this ideal order — the transitional program being the dictatorship of the proletariat.
I am inclined to find in his explanation of the existing system and its inevitable course to collapse many flaws in logic and science. I find the ideal of a classless, stateless, governmentless society of workers enjoying social order and material abundance fantastic and unattainable. It appears unattainable for the reason that social order requires government and administration by a ruling class or power — exercising class which must always be an aristocracy of management, however selected, operating through some set of mechanisms of social. control, economic as well as political. Incidentally, it is to be remarked and even stressed that communist Russia, no less than the fascist countries, the billion-dollar capitalist corporation, or the efficient army in the field, meets with extreme thoroughness and rigor these universal imperatives of social order and administrative efficiency. The communists will, of course, admit this fact but try to convince the non-communist as well as themselves that these features of contemporary Russian communism are peculiar only to the present revolutionary phase, and that when revolution is finished, i.e. when the communist millennium comes, the state, government and the dictatorship of the proletariat will be sloughed off. The noncommunist with a realistic turn of mind will find this prediction of a coming millennium lacking in plausibility.
Incidentally, one of the important points of difference between fascism and communism is that fascism is singularly free of millenarianism. Fascism is without the naiveté peculiar to the belief that we today can have in the mind’s conception an ideal social pattern for all time or for the people living a hundred or a thousand years hence. The only social patterns a hard, realistic mind can find useful in the enterprises of life are those of immediate organization and action, either to conserve what we now have and like, or to change from what we now have and do not like to something different which we can never accurately foresee but which we hope will be more to our liking. The social end must always be composed largely of the means of its achievement, which is to say that social ends and means are much the same things. Social ends and means are not only parts of a whole but, if they are to have any meaning, they must be parts of a whole which is realizable in a lifetime.
There is something vicious in the wish to impose on future generations our scheme of values. The fascist proposes only to give posterity a heritage of achievements and instruments of achievement, not a heritage of eternal truths and values to which it must slavishly be bound. The egotistical wish to define the values of future generations is common both to the liberal constitutionalists and the communist believers in the classless society of the future. What right or logical reason can we possibly have to take it for granted that our values or ideals will be acceptable to future generations or appropriate to their material situation? Only the belief that we have received a revelation of eternal truth can rationalize such a pretentious assumption. Interestingly enough, Russian communism, as an operating fact, is essentially a phenomenon of one five-year plan after another, just as capitalism, as an operating fact, is a phenomenon of one boom-crash-depression-recovery cycle after another.
The chief end of communism, regardless of its rationalizations, has to be considered the successful execution of one five-year plan after another. Of course, it is not material whether the duration of the plan be five years or ten years, but it is fairly certain that it cannot be for more than a comparatively short period like five years. Certainly, a fifty-or hundred-year plan would neither make sense nor serve any useful purpose. The chief end of communism is the success of the present five-year plan, which is to say, the success both of the ends and the means of that plan. The millennium of a classless society cannot be an end, nor a governmentless society a means, of any five-year plan-including’ that of 1935.
It may, of course, be thought to serve the purpose of enlisting supporters for a social program to project a far-off millenarian ideal, but projecting such an ideal will not help the solution of any immediate problem. And, sooner or later, it will prove a nuisance to have deluded a large number of people with an ideal which never comes any nearer to realization. The truth is that men want leadership in creative adventure and not leadership to a promised land which their descendants, but not they, shall enter. Indeed, men as a whole have never really wanted to be finally settled in a promised land flowing with milk and honey, with no further adventure left except that of growing fat on the milk and honey. It is the process of leaving Egypt and wandering through the wilderness in search of something new and different that men enjoy. It was this motivation that settled the new continents and produced modern capitalism. It is the same fundamental motivation that is producing the planned economies of fascism and communism.
As for the Marxian means to the impossible end of a stateless, classless society of workers — free of a governing class, of course — I find the means actually in use, namely, a dictatorship of the aristocracy of the Communist Party, grossly misrepresented when called by Marxism a dictatorship of the proletariat. The dictatorship of the higher-ups of the Communist Party is no more a dictatorship of the proletariat than the directorate of a billion-dollar corporation is a dictatorship of the stockholders, or than the general staff of a great army is a dictatorship of the soldiers. Of course, it may be argued that, in each of the three hierarchies just named, the rank and file can change the ruling class if they so will. But this argument must be based on assumed combinations of circumstances which occur too rarely to constitute the basis of a generalization. In the case of the Communist Party, the American Telegraph and Telephone Company, or the French army, the dictatorship, as a practical matter, is a self-perpetuating dictatorship of management — management which is answerable mainly to itself so long as it is efficient and successful. Of course, an essential element of success is a large measure of efficient and loyal service to the best interests of the Communist Party rank and file, the stockholders of the A. T. & T., or the soldiers, as the case may be.
Aside from the logical inconsistencies implicit in the alleged end of a classless society and the means of a so-called dictatorship of the proletariat, there are innumerable values in the communist scheme which I find unacceptable for wholly subjective reasons. But these faults in logic, these vices of intellectual dishonesty, and these unmentioned features of communism which I do not like, do not take from it a merit which is not found in the social philosophies of the liberal reformers from Adam Smith to the embattled bondholders of the National Liberty League of 1935.
This merit of communism is a program or a theory of action which, given a possible combination of favoring circumstances, can be followed with success. Marxism has this merit solely because it is a totalitarian social philosophy which, by reason of its totalitarian character, must insure adequate provision for meeting the imperatives of order while its cherished set of objectives is being pursued. There is nothing original in Marx’s theorizing about the nature of the State, the mechanics of power over men or the political process. His thought derived largely from that of profounder thinkers about these phenomena: Darwin, for the struggle for power and the survival of the fittest, and Kant and Hegel for the philosophy of the State, to mention only three of Marx’s sources.
What was original or distinctive in Marx as a 19th century reformer pursuing a social ideal was his recognition of the State, government, or quite simply, power and its efficient instrumentalities, as parts of any given social scheme, and the maintenance of order under that scheme. From this recognition logically flowed the conclusion that meeting the crisis of any given social system or correcting any of its evils must necessarily bean exercise in the use of these instrumentalities for the end sought. Marxism, of course, could never have become a social reality, as it has become in Russia, but for a highly favorable combination of (circumstances, one of which was an acute degree of collapse of the old regime in Russia. But the idealisms of liberal reformers of the 19th century could never be realized in the event of any considerable degree of breakdown of the social order, the reason, of course, being that liberal idealisms, when realized, have to be crumbs from a bountiful capitalist table and not creative achievements of liberal reformers in power.
These qualities of Marxism, original for the 19th century social idealist and reformer, are not the peculiar properties of his brand of socialism but merely the imperatives of good logic, or clear thinking, for a man who would meet a major social crisis, correct grave social evils, and realize certain important social ideals. To wish the realization of a social ideal without attempting to understand and without wishing to command and appropriately use the essential instrumentalities, may be said to amount to willing the end but not the means, or to giving evidence of a soft mind and a weak will. No second lieutenant of the U.S. Marines placed in command of an area in occupation by our troops would be likely to display such softness of thinking and lack of will. For instance, if put in command of a district during our occupation of Haiti, he would not have left in the hands of avowedly hostile persons instruments of power which might be used disastrously against our forces, as did the socialists in Germany and Austria when they had opportunities to establish their political control.
There is nothing peculiarly Marxian, fascist, Roman, German or European about good logic. Nor is bad logic good Americanism. These post-war experiences merely go to show that liberalism is logical, effective, and successful only so long as capitalism is a system in expansion or prosperous, or so long as liberal ideals can be conveniently financed out of a good business surplus. As a formula of social unity and action, or merely of good government to meet a situation in which business is not making a surplus, liberalism is simply futility and empty verbiage.
So far, in this chapter, no attempt has been made at direct proof of the specific assertion that the existing system in the United States is unworkable. That kind of proposition can never be argued to any point against a contrary conviction. No doubt both Charles I of England and Louis XVI of France, up to the moment their heads fell on the block, believed that their respective systems were workable. It can always be argued that a system will work if only certain things are done, and it is usually futile to try to prove conclusively that those things cannot be done, given the will to do them.
For the purposes of reasoning to a useful conclusion as to the workability of a given social order, it has to be assumed that if a social system can be made to work it will be. This assumption is tenable, if not indispensable, for many reasons. For instance, the old system, especially in the early days of its decline, always has the preponderance of factors with it — the best talent, command of most of the available resources, and prestige. If the defense fails, it stands to reason that it had an impossible system to defend. Whether the defense could have held out a little longer, and how much longer, are, of course, always open to question. But it hardly makes sense to say that persons with the initial resources of Lenin, Mussolini and Hitler could have overthrown anything but unworkable systems. The term workable, as applied to a social system, has little sense if it means a system that fails to survive. If it works, it survives, and if it survives, it works.