Nine books to understand the collectivist right (Part 2)
John T. Flynn
The year 1944 also saw the publication of one of the greatest but least remembered attacks on fascism ever written: John T. Flynn’s As We Go Marching.
Flynn was an amazing writer and thinker who came out of the anti-New Deal movement of the 1930s. This is his best and most scholarly work, with a full biography of Mussolini and a rich examination of fascist ideology. He provides the best list of traits of fascist politics I’ve seen. The message, in the end, is about how every warring state adopts fascist forms, with a specific accusation directed against Washington, DC. In some ways, his message is similar to Hayek’s but more tactile and focused.
Three years after the above books appeared, FEE founder Leonard Read came to Mises and asked him to write up a large essay that provides a one-stop shop for all things political that Mises had learned during his life. The manuscript grew and grew until it became a book that appeared in 1947: Planned Chaos. It’s a masterpiece, one that bears reading and re-reading throughout your life.
I’ve looked far and wide for another essay from the period that directly connects Nazi experiments with American eugenics and failed to find one. Mises saw that relationship and called it out in several amazing passages. Directly relevant here are the sections on fascism and Nazism in particular. In brief form, he explains the roots of the terror in intellectual error.
The terrible history
And this takes us directly to the hidden history of demographic planning in America. No understanding of right-Hegelianism and its implications can take shape without grappling with this weirdly hidden history.
Why is it so hidden and why has it taken 100 years to finally deal with the scandal that nearly the entire American ruling intellectual class was consumed by eugenic ideology for many decades before World War II? I suspect the reason is embarrassment about what happened. In particular, Progressives do not want to talk about this.
Eugenics is an inevitable outcome of any form of identitarianism that focuses on race and geography, as the alt-right does (the alt-left is the same!). If you can’t control the “anarchy of human reproduction,” all bets are off. In some ways, controlling birth is the first order of business for any form of rightist totalitarianism. That means: racism as an ideology and a statist tactic for managing the social order.
I’m always intrigued about the young boys on the streets shouting racist slogans and wearing MAGA hats, imagining that they are so politically incorrect. They have no idea that they are actually adopting the views of the entire American ruling class from a century ago that built the state they claim to hate. Indeed, most Americans know absolutely nothing about this history and how it was absolutely central to the building of the invasive and ubiquitous state that emerged out of the Progressive Era.
Progressivism and racism
The most important tutorial is Thomas Leonard’s explosively brilliant Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era (2016). This book (packed with footnotes that will keep you busy for weeks) documents how eugenic ideology corrupted the entire social science profession in the first two decades of the 20th century. Across the board, in the books and articles of the profession, you find all the concerns about race suicide, the poisoning of the national bloodstream by inferiors, and the desperate need for state planning to breed people the way ranchers breed animals. Talk about hidden history!
Now, you might say: these are Progressives, not rightists! It’s true and that speaks to Hayek’s point about red and brown being the inevitable expressions of factionalism with any single movement. The core point is that the word “progressive” here is ridiculously wrong. They were all reactionaries against the right of laissez-faire in the 19th century that drove such explosive demographic changes. It’s one of the great ironies of intellectual/political history how the left and right blend into a single oppositional force to the free society.
Continue to Part 3
This article was first published by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).