They Saw It Coming: The 19th-Century Libertarian Critique of Fascism
To speak of a 19th-century libertarian critique of fascism might seem anachronistic, since fascism is generally understood as a 20th-century phenomenon. But it did not spring from nothing, and the libertarians of the 19th century saw it in the making.
Fascism differs from its close cousins, Communism and aristocratic conservatism, in several important ways. Let’s begin with its difference from Communism. First, where Communism seeks to substitute the state for private ownership, fascism seeks to incorporate or co-opt private ownership into the state apparatus through public-private partnership.
Thus fascism tends to be more tempting than Communism to wealthy interests who may see it as a way to insulate their economic power from competition through forced cartelization and other corporatist stratagems. Second, where Communist ideology tends to be cosmopolitan and internationalist, fascist ideology tends to be chauvinistically nationalist, stressing a particularist allegiance to one’s country, culture, or ethnicity; along with this goes a suspicion of rationalism, a preference for economic autarky, and a view of life as one of inevitable but glorious struggle. Fascism also tends to cultivate a “folksy” or völkisch “man of the people,” “pragmatism over principles,” “heart over head,” “pay no attention to those pointy-headed intellectuals” rhetorical style. …
In short, the 19th-century libertarians observed the rise of the various tendencies that would come together to make fascism — militarism, corporatism, regimentation, nationalist chauvinism, plutocracy in populist guise, the call for “strong leaders” and “national greatness,” the glorification of conflict over commerce and of brute force over intellect — and they bitterly opposed the whole package. And although they ultimately lost that battle, their fallen banner is ours to pick up.