The Road to Totalitarianism

by Mark A. Monoscalco
The Ludwig von Mises Institute recently published an article written by Henry Hazlitt.  This is a brilliant article and the most amazing aspect is that it was written in 1956.  The complete article is at this link:

The Road to Totalitarianism

This was Henry Hazlitt’s view of the road to totalitarianism in 1956.  What would his opinion be of our journey down this road today?

The following are some of the highlights:

…the greatest threat to American liberty today comes from within. It is the threat of a growing and spreading totalitarian ideology.  Totalitarianism in its final form is the doctrine that the government, the state, must exercise total control over the individual.  The essence of totalitarianism is that the group in power must exercise total control. Its original purpose (as in communism) may be merely to exercise total control over “the economy.” But “the state” (the imposing name for the clique in power) can exercise total control over the economy only if it exercises complete control over imports and exports, over prices and interest rates and wages, over production and consumption, over buying and selling, over the earning and spending of income, over jobs, over occupations, over workers — over what they do and what they get and where they go — and finally, over what they say and even what they think.

If total control over the economy must in the end mean total control over what people do, say, and think, then it is only spelling out details or pointing out corollaries to say that totalitarianism suppresses freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of immigration and emigration, freedom to form or to keep any political party in opposition, and freedom to vote against the government. These suppressions are merely the end-products of totalitarianism.  All that the totalitarians want is total control. This does not necessarily mean that they want total suppression. They suppress merely the ideas which they don’t agree with, or of which they are suspicious, or of which they have never heard before; and they suppress only the actions that they don’t like, or of which they cannot see the necessity. They leave the individual perfectly free to agree with them, and perfectly free to act in any way that serves their purposes — or to which they may happen at the moment to be indifferent.

And it isn’t too difficult to recognize the totalitarian mind when we meet one. Its outstanding mark is a contempt for liberty. That is, its outstanding mark is a contempt for the liberty of others.  The denial of freedom rests, in other words, on the assumption that the individual is incapable of managing his own affairs.

Three main tendencies or tenets mark the drift toward totalitarianism. The first and most important, because the other two derive from it, is the pressure for a constant increase in governmental powers, for a constant widening of the governmental sphere of intervention. It is the tendency toward more and more regulation of every sphere of economic life, toward more and more restriction of the liberties of the individual. The tendency toward more and more governmental spending is a part of this trend. It means in effect that the individual is able to spend less and less of the income he earns on the things he himself wants, while the government takes more and more of his income from him to spend it in the ways that it thinks wise. One of the basic assumptions of totalitarianism, in brief (and of such steps toward it as socialism, state paternalism, and Keynesianism), is that the citizen cannot be trusted to spend his own money. As government control becomes wider and wider, individual discretion, the individual’s control of his own affairs in all directions, necessarily becomes narrower and narrower. In sum, liberty is constantly diminished.

The second main tendency that marks the drift toward totalitarianism is that toward greater and greater concentration of power in the central government. This tendency is most easily recognizable here in the United States, because we have ostensibly a federal form of government and can readily see the growth of power in Washington at the expense of the states….And so deep is the belief in the benevolence and necessity of uniform regulation and central planning that the federal government assumes more and more of the powers previously exercised by the states, or powers never exercised by any state; and the Supreme Court keeps steadily stretching the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution to authorize powers and federal interventions never dreamed of by the Founding Fathers. At the same time recent Supreme Court decisions treat the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution practically as if it did not exist.

The third tendency that marks the drift toward totalitarianism is the increasing centralization and concentration of power in the hands of the president at the expense of the two coordinate branches of the government, Congress and the courts. In the United States this tendency is very marked today. To listen to our pro-totalitarians, the main duty of Congress is to follow the president’s “leadership” in all things; to be a set of yes-men; to act as a mere rubber-stamp.  One invariable accompaniment of the growth of Caesarism is the growing contempt expressed for legislative bodies, and impatience with their “dilatoriness” in enacting the “Leader’s” program, or their actual “obstructionist tactics” or “crippling amendments.” Yet in recent years derision of Congress has become in America almost a national pastime. And a substantial part of the press never tires of reviling Congress for “doing nothing” — that is, for not piling more mountains of legislation on the existing mountains of legislation — or for failing to enact in full “the President’s program.”

We have now outlined what I have called the three main tendencies that mark a drift toward totalitarianism. They are (1) the tendency of the government to attempt more and more to intervene, and to control economic life; (2) the tendency toward greater and greater concentration of power in the central government at the expense of local governments; and (3) the tendency toward more and more concentration of power in the hands of the executive at the expense of the legislative and judiciary.
To these I am tempted to add a fourth tendency — the pressure for a world state.
The addition of this will doubtless come as a shock to many self-styled liberals and well-intentioned idealists who would regard the establishment of a world state as the crowning achievement of liberalism and internationalism. A little examination, however, will show us that the present pressure for a world state represents a false internationalism and a retreat from freedom. It is, on the contrary, merely the equivalent on a world scale of the pressure for centralized government on a national scale.  This whole tendency makes a travesty of international freedom for the individual, which is the essence of true internationalism. For true internationalism does not consist in compelling the taxpayers or citizens of one nation or the inhabitants of one part of the globe to subsidize, or give alms to, or even to do “business” with, the citizens of any other nation or the inhabitants of any other part of the globe. True internationalism, on the contrary, consists in permitting the individual citizen or firm in any nation to buy from, or sell to, or trade with, the individual citizen or firm of any other nation.

Mark A. Monoscalco is a member of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. His personal blog, from which this is re-posted, can be found at //defendingcivilsociety.blogspot.com.

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