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The Political Spectrum and the Similarities Between the Left and Fascism

Below is a remarkable excerpt from Thomas Sowell's book "Intellectuals and Society" that notes the similarities between the democratic left and fascism, among other things.


The usual image of the political spectrum among the intelligentsia extends from the Communists on the extreme left to less extreme left-wing radicals, more moderate liberals, centrists, conservatives, hard right-wingers, and ultimately Fascists. But, like so much that is believed by the intelligentsia, it is a conclusion without an argument, unless endless repetition can be regarded as an argument. When we turn from such images to specifics, there is remarkably little difference between Communists and Fascists, except for rhetoric, and there is far more in common between fascists and even the moderate left than between either of them and traditional conservatives in the American sense. A closer look makes this clear.

As for similarities and differences between these two totalitarian movements and liberalism, on the one hand, or conservatism on the other, there was far more similarity between these totalitarians' agendas and those of the democratic left than with the agendas of most conservatives. For example, among the items on the agendas of the Fascists in Italy and/or the Nazis in Germany were (1) government control of wages and hours of work, (2) higher taxes on the wealthy, (3) government-set limits on profits, (4) government care for the elderly, (5) a decreased emphasis on the role of religion and the family in personal or social decisions and (6) government taking on the role of changing the nature of people, usually beginning in early childhood. This last and most audacious project has been part of the ideology of the left — both democratic and totalitarian — since at least the eighteenth century, when Rousseau and Godwin advocated it, and it has been advocated by innumerable intellectuals since then, as well as being put into practice in various countries, under names ranging from "re-education" to "values clarification."

Preferences for collective, surrogate decision-making from the top down are not all that the democratic left has shared with the original Italian Fascists and with the National Socialists (Nazis) of Germany. In addition to political intervention in economic markets, the democratic left has shared with the Fascists and the Nazis the underlying assumption of a vast gap in understanding between ordinary people and elites like themselves. Although both the totalitarian left — that is, the Fascists, Communists, and Nazis — and the democratic left have widely used in a positive sense such terms as “the People,” "the workers" or "the masses," these are the ostensible beneficiaries of their policies, but not autonomous decision-makers. Although much rhetoric on both the democratic left and the totalitarian left has long papered over the distinction between ordinary people as beneficiaries and as decision-makers, it has long been clear in practice that decision-making has been seen as something reserved for the anointed in these visions.

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