The Dictatorship of Economic Necessity
FASCIST emphasis on a clear and realistic notion of the force factors in government, social control, or planning — three synonyms when used in this connection — is the only workable premise for humane as well as efficient undertakings in these fields. It is a favorite and basic axiom of liberalism that might does not make right. It is a self-evident fact that under the liberal, as under every other, régime, might does make right and always has made right. In this respect, a distinctive peculiarity of liberal ideologies and liberal régimes in action has been to create and lend plausibility to the fiction that force or coercion is lacking, or is operative only to a comparatively insignificant extent — chiefly in the cases of criminals and lunatics. This fiction as to right being above or independent of might has depended for much of its plausibility on that other great fiction of liberalism — freedom of contract or the free market. We shall have occasion, in passing, to mention briefly some of the more important explanations why and how these peculiar rationalizations of the liberal régime have gained such wide acceptance. But our main essay in this chapter is to show that rationalizing or explaining out of existence the real coercions or force pressures experienced in daily life under every liberal régime does not serve any good or humane purpose. Rather, it encourages unworkable and abusive policies and ways, until the latter find their inevitable correctives in the most disastrous examples of resort to force and violence which has been so scrupulously eliminated by the liberal rationalizers through the pleasant and easy processes of definition and assumption.
If the eliminators of force by definition and assumption since Versailles, could only have eliminated the depression, the class war of communism, the challenges of triumphant fascism, and the mockery of the League of Nations, by the facts of increased armaments and the inevitable sequels of such in creased armaments, their case would merit respect. As matter stand, their theses have about as much validity or relevance to current events and problems as a thesis of perpetual motion. The liberal leaders of thought and action have been talking about a world of dreams which they have done nothing effective to make come true, and which probably will never come true. They have not been talking about the world in which men have lived since the beginning of recorded history, or the world in which we, in 1935, have to live.
Much of the falseness of liberal premises, whether in ethics, politics, jurisprudence, or economics, rests on a deliberate and persistent refusal to take cognizance of force in economic necessity, or to perceive the coercion implicit in the more or less impersonally and anonymously applied pressures of given situations, whether of individuals, groups, or nations. Broadly stated, a basic premise of the liberal thesis has been, and still is, that anything done or got away with within the law does not involve a resort to force. This premise or assumption, obviously, is purely a matter of arbitrary definition to suit the purposes of propaganda. It is palpably absurd and contrary to experienced or observed fact, either as a premise for discussion or as a definition of force. The simplest explanation of why the premise is absurd and contrary to fact, is to point out that law may, and always does, provide for contests of sheer force or might. It specifically makes possible and easy ways in which the strong can use force to crush and oppress the weak. The simplest illustration of this truism of course, is that furnished by war, which it has always been lawful to declare and wage.
Now it may be granted, for sake of argument, that human welfare is better served if contests of force to determine men’s fate are conducted as they are under liberal capitalism, than if they are conducted as they were in medieval Europe when private warfare was the rule and banditry of the road the prevailing custom. It may also be granted that we are better of to have fewer and bigger wars than to have more numerous and smaller wars. But, as for the propositions that the reign of liberal law has secured a type of justice (whether among individuals or nations) which insures against resort to the violence of revolution and war, or that the reign of liberal law rests any less on force than any other scheme of public order, they are palpably absurd both in the light of theoretical analysis or simple observation of what today is going on in the world. All talk about our having progressed from the reign of force and violence to the reign of law is pure moonshine. We have increased the degree of the monopoly of force and violence exercised by the national State in ways to make it one of the results that the application of force and violence by the strong against the weak takes the more complex, impersonal, and anonymous forms of the assertion of the rights of national conquest and dominion over subject peoples and lands, and of private property rights (private dominion) over the tools of production.
To define force or coercion merely as that which happens outside the law, then, serves no useful purpose, and specifically begs the questions of revolutions which succeed, and international wars. Wars and successful revolutions have surely been too frequent in the past, and are surely too probable in the near future, to make any such question-begging premise admissible in discussion. If a highwayman takes my purse at the point of a gun, everyone agrees that an act of force and violence has been committed. The significant fact about this act, of course, is that it is contrary to law.
If a rich and powerful individual or corporation uses vast economic and legal resources to levy on my daily product a heavy toll, all within the law, there is, according to liberalism, no resort to force involved. I have paid my toll through the mechanism of the “free market,” or in freely made contracts. The facts that in millions of contracts under liberal capitalism one party is coerced by hunger and the other by no immediate personal necessity, or that international relationships rest mainly on rights acquired by force and violence in war, are entirely ignored by liberal theory in its definition of force and violence. If two men fight or shoot out a difference of opinion or a class of interests or wishes, every one will agree that this constitutes a resort to force. But if two competing economic interests wage, within the law, a destructive economic competition in which one finally triumphs and the other is crushed, liberal theory recognizes no resort to force or use of violence and coercion. In fact, of course, there are for every individual winner in the economic struggle scores if not hundreds of losers. International war is the one big fact which liberalism has had to admit some difficulty in rationalizing. The rationalizers have met this difficulty with the fiction that war is an exceptional, unusual, irregular, and abnormal state of affairs. Obviously, war is no more exceptional or abnormal than peace, either in the 20th century, A.D., or the 20th century, B.C. War and peace have always been, and still remain, the two phases of the continuing political relationships between states. When these relationships are not in the one phase, they are in the, other. When these relationships are in the one phase, nations are preparing or fighting for the other phase. One can say that war is an interval between periods of peace, or that periods of peace are intervals between wars. To assume that war is exceptional is as silly as to assume that rainstorms, old age, or death, are exceptional.
Fascism finds no good purpose served by the liberal definitions of force or the liberal fictions about its character and its functions. The reasoning and facts which support this finding are fairly simple. For one thing, there is the consideration that no operating scheme can long run on assumptions which experience continually contradicts. The assumption that right, independent of might, can ever be anything but a figment of the imagination, or that might does not make right, or that a given norm of right can prevail except by might, is invariably refuted by the conflict which always follows an attempt to assert a right without might or against a superior might. Indeed, the falsity of such assumptions may be said to be proved by every standing army, every police force, every governmental act of coercion, and every war or successful revolution.
To proclaim that the decision of a judge is right because the law says so, rather than to say that it is right because the armed force of government will, if necessary, carry it out, and because the still mightier potential force of violent action by the people will sustain and not overthrow the government in such enforcement, serves no good purpose. So to falsify the true relation of force or might to right merely leads to mistakes like the American Civil War, prohibition, the Treaty of Versailles, and such disregard of inevitable reactions of strong men to frustration as so usually leads to civil war or revolution.
Once ruling classes, kings, statesmen, judges or influential leaders of opinion, begin seriously to believe that right is not might — but rather what they think, or what some written document says or is understood by them to say, or what some system of ideas and logic leads men to say, they are invariably by way of sowing the seeds of revolution and war. The theologians of the medieval Christian Church reasoned thus, and the result was the Reformation, a series of nationalistic wars and the rise of a new cultural order. Democracy is valid only in so far as it postulates and expresses in effective action the might of the people.
It is useful to think of might or force as the only ultimate or conclusive control for propositions of right and wrong, or for arguments affecting men’s lives and provoking responses of men’s wills. What is the sense of “X” building up a system of concepts of right or ethics to prove that “a” equals “b,” if “Y” has interests or volitions which make it impossible for him to accept the premises and moral equations of that system? So far as those ethical propositions or moral values and the persons “X” and “Y” are concerned, there is but one determining factor — force. Can “X” force “Y” to accept his ethical propositions or moral values? If “X” thinks of his ethical or moral values in these terms, the results are likely to be more humane than if he thinks of his moral values as absolutes which must prevail because they are right. For if “X” thinks of his values in terms of force required to assert them, he is likely to relinquish or modify many values which will not seem worth the costs of attempting their maintenance by force. If “X” eliminates force factors from consideration on the assumption that right is above and independent of might, he is likely to assert all sorts of values or rights which will require him ultimately to fight battles and pay prices he had not envisaged.
If an attempt is made to erect a working system of duties and obligations on any other foundation than might, it not only fails, but its failure entails needless suffering and disorder. As a matter of fact, of course, liberal capitalism, no less than the medieval Christian Church, has seldom hesitated to use force to assert or realize its values. The mischief begins usually when the rationalizers of a social system, the theologians, lawyers, economists, and other learned clerks, begin exerting an influence, the net result of which is to encourage attitudes, decisions, and policies, which must lead to war or revolution on the assumption that, inasmuch as the attitudes, decisions, and policies, are right, no contrary might can prevail against them. The crime of these learned clerks is not that of committing a people to attitudes and policies which must mean war or revolution, for there will doubtless always be decisions and policies deemed by those in power, and by a majority of the people, as worth fighting and dying for. No, the crime of these learned clerks is that of deception as to the consequences of certain policies and decisions. This deception is implicit in any assumption that one’ s own theory of right is above might. Of course, any one who denies that might makes right never thinks or speaks of his theory of right. Instead, he merely talks of right. If the other fellow has a different notion of right, the other fellow is merely assumed to be wrong and to have no right.
As history so often shows, the trouble is that after those who reject the control of might have involved others in the assertion of a right or absolute value, these pious rationalizers of the wishes, interests, and purposes of their group as the unique right fail either to prevent the counter-assertion of an opposing might, or to lead or assist the resistance to that opposing might. These rationalizers, of course, are excellent propagandists, and something may be said for their logical position as a means of strengthening the convictions of those who already have these same convictions. But, as propagandists of the right, they are always miserable failures at proving their case to those who have conflicting interests and desires, and, hence, opposite norms of right. Once propaganda undertakes the conversion of those of opposite interests, propaganda needs nothing so much as force and coercion.
To cite a recent case in point, it may be said that at least ninety per cent of the exponents in the Allied countries of liberal ethics, law, economics, and social sciences generally, proved conclusively to themselves, and to ninety per cent of the inhabitants of the Allied countries, that the Treaty of Versailles was right and executable. But they did not prove it to the Germans. Hence all their argumentation or invocation of moral absolutes was futile, if not silly. It would have been better for humanity if, instead of following the procedure of the liberal leaders at Versailles, the greatest galaxy of liberals ever assembled, other delegates of the people had proceeded somewhat as follows: They might have outlined the same set of material objectives embodied in the Treaties. They would then not have applied to professors of law, economics and history for rationalizations of these demands. But they would have asked a council of Allied generals for a plan of ways and means to enforce the fulfillment of the desired objectives. The generals, being realists accustomed to achieving the objectives of their masters against opposition, instead of rationalizing the objectives of their masters for the approval of their masters, would have outlined a program of military intervention and occupation, the implications of which would most likely have caused a swift popular reaction among the peoples of the Allied countries.
But, assuming, as it is quite plausible to assume, that no such common-sensed reaction had immediately followed the announcement of the new war of treaty enforcement, and that the passions engendered by the war had demanded a continuance of the war, it seems evident that a few years of such a mad undertaking would have sufficed to bring the Allied peoples and governments to their senses and to renounce most of their war aims and claims. The administrative, mechanical and economic difficulties of a military occupation of Germany and its utter unproductiveness of economic advantage to the occupiers, would have taught far more than the Treaty revisionists were able to teach. Within two or three years after the Armistice, given an Allied occupation of all Germany, it is probable that the Allies would have been seeking a German government to release them on German terms from their mad venture. In this connection, it is to be borne in mind that the facilitating functions of finance could not have served to prolong the folly of al military occupation and intervention as they served to prolong the political and economic folly of the Treaty of Versailles. German bonds issued by a military government occupying and terrorizing Germany could not have been sold as were German bonds issued by a German republican government, the puppet of the international bankers.
What was it that contributed most to making allied statesmen, leaders of opinion, and the masses in the Allied countries believe that Germany could be made to pay and perform according to the stipulations of the Treaty and agreements made pursuant thereto? Fundamentally, it was the essentially liberal refusal to recognize that, in the last analysis, only might can make right. It was this refusal to see human relationships in their true light, this liberal ideology of freedom of contract, which led Allied statesmen and peoples to assume so stupidly that if German statesmen under the pressure of the Allied blockade and the starvation of the German people could be made to sign a given document, the definition of right therein embodied would constitute a right, above physical force and might, by which the German people would for generations remain bound. This premise of liberalism as to freedom of contract, the premise of freedom of a political economy in which millions are jobless and on relief, is undoubtedly leading millions of conservative and ordinarily sensible people in this country to support a system which the frustrated and beaten seem most unlikely to tolerate forever.
Nothing impairs and distorts the thinking of otherwise sensible people, whose lot is still either tolerable or downright agreeable to them, so much as the premises that the existing order is right and that right is above might. And nothing could be more futile in the way of discussion than the attempt of a man who is satisfied with things as they are to prove to a man who is not so satisfied that the existing scheme of things is right. A state of things in which ten millions are unemployed is wrong and not right. It is wrong fundamentally for the reason that the potential might of ten million unemployed men and of an indeterminate number of the elite who, though not in acute distress, are increasingly irked by the conditions in which they find themselves, is too great to make the present status quo maintainable with peace.
To summarize the argument, it may be said that the operating plan is always an expression of the might of the people, that it derives its moral validity and its practicability from the. might which makes it effective, and prevents contrary might from making it ineffective, and that it is desirable for human welfare to have social policies shaped with a clear recognition that only might can make right right or effective. If one is advancing a new policy or norm of right, one will recognize that its triumph or realization requires a necessary amount of might. If one is defending against attack an old policy or norm of right, one will recognize equally that the only final issue is that of the might of the defenders to prevail against the attackers. One will then appraise one’s values or norms of right in terms of the probable costs of attempting to uphold them. This is a somewhat different process of reasoning than that of proving to one’s self that the founding fathers, a hundred and fifty years ago, intended things to be run in a certain way. The dead will surely not rise to defend any given application of their social theories. And the living, after all, have never been known to lack the means or will to challenge what does not suit them.