From the Ancien Regime to the Fabian Socialists and Beyond: The Rise of Statism

The End of the Old Order

The 18th century marked a stunning challenge to the millennia of anti-individual and anti-liberty despotism, tyranny, and century-long economic stagnation.  Before this transitional era to the modern systems, societies were defined largely by the decision making power of the ruler in charge.  Such a ruler was especially susceptible to Lord Acton’s observation that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”   Murray Rothbard writes of the Old Order:

In sum, life was “nasty, brutish, and short”; here was Maine’s “society of status” and Spencer’s “military society.” The ruling classes, or castes, governed by conquest and by getting the masses to believe in the alleged divine imprimatur to their rule.

The very idea of an individual employing his own private property for the advancement of his own position in society, the idea that one man could work hard to achieve his dreams, indeed the very idea of actually having “dreams,” were completely foreign.  For this was the age of Kings and Kingdoms, where individuals were merely subjects of the Ruler whose dictates determined the future of the Kingdom, and all the people with it.

The 18th century brought forth the Liberal movement and with it the new ideas of individualism and self-determination with in the context of socio-political orders.  It claimed that prosperity and social progress could not stem from the tyrannies of old, that rather than being good for the individual, a massive empire controlled from the center was the source of social anguish, economic regressions, and the stagnation of civilization.  This liberalism, which today is referred to as Classical Liberalism, was the precursor of the modern— and more precisely developed— Libertarian political theory.

The transition from the Old Order— the Ancien Regime whose model reaches back to the beginnings to civilization— to the Liberal spirit is especially well captured in one of Ludwig von Mises’ later works Omnipotent Government.  Here, Mises discusses the roots of German Nazism and national socialism by first considering the imperial model of Old Prussianism and the Liberal revolution that sought—and failed— to overcome the Old Order with its capitalistic and individualist ideals.  Mises describes the pre-liberal social order of “the old Prussian state of the house of Hohenzollern:”

Like all the other princes and dukes who have established their sovereign rule on the debris of the Holy Roman Empire of the Teutonic Nation, the Hohenzollerns too regarded their territory as a family estate, whose boundaries they tried to expand through violence, ruse, and family compacts. The people living within their possessions were subjects who had to obey orders. They were appurtenances of the soil, the property of the ruler who had the right to deal with them ad libitum. Their happiness and welfare were of no concern.

Into this context came the New Ideas from Western Europe, chiefly from English and French speaking countries. Mises writes: “The people, accustomed to obey blindly the God-given authority of the princes, heard for the first time the words liberty, self-determination, rights of man, parliament, constitution.”

With the new ideas came the great threat to the Ancien Regime.  For as Mises points out in his economic treatise Human Action,

…rulers, who are always a minority, cannot lastingly remain in office if not supported by the consent of the majority of those ruled.  Whatever the system of government may be, the foundation upon which it is built and rests is always the opinion of those ruled.

[…]…in the long run there is no such thing as an unpopular government.

And thus in Europe the new ideas began to disseminate through the world of the oppressed and the sentiments changed toward a mentality of liberty— toward the social goal of liberation from the Standing Order.

And yet the German intellectual revolution ultimately failed.  It never achieved that which was pursued in the early years of the liberal fight.  Yes, the Old Order was soon in shambles… but it was not liberalism and capitalism that took its place.

Instead, a Third Way offered itself as an alternative to the Ancien Regime and the new doctrines of liberty.  Tragically— and profoundly indicative of future social and political revolutions— this third way stole the language of the liberals and yet did not at all define its terms, for by “freedom” and “revolution” and “self-determination” it did not mean what the liberals meant at all.  And thus, this new alternative suckered in a great number of liberals and would be liberals. It offered freedom from the Old Order, a grand light at the end of the historical struggle with despotism.  But this alternative would eventually—roughly a hundred years later— produce a political order that was far more frightening than the Ancien Regime of old.

This alternative that sat between liberalism and the Ancien Regime was Socialism, popularized by Karl Marx.  Socialism, in Mises’ words, “aims at a social system based on public ownership of the means of production. In a socialist community all material resources are owned and operated by the government. This implies that the government is the only employer, and that no one can consume more than the government allots to him.”  And thus for the socialist, the state is supreme. It is the vehicle by which the Utopian Vision might come to fruition.  All trust and all honor must be rendered to the state.  For without the state, the Grand Vision would fail and—according to the socialist propagandists—societies would be swept back into the open arms of the tyrannies of old.

This socialistic statism was different than the tyrannies of old. In the new Statism, the state was an end in itself. The bureaucracy that would have a life of its own independent to whomever was in charge of it at the time. The new statism saw the state as “an ideal.” As something to be served and whose interests needed to be pursued.  The state is us, we are all joined together by the state, and the state represents our collective needs and our interests represent the the will of the state.  This is unadulterated statism as a new religion, distinct from the simplistic use of the state as a means for power that the Ancien Regime used.  Thus Mises points out that Nazi Germany and the other nationalist socialist states were quite distinct from pre-socialist political orders.

And thus Statism itself became the New Way.  It rejected the tenants of liberalism as a bourgeois fraud.  It dismissed private property as backwards and anti-society.  It said, as Mises’ summed up its spirit: “Liberalism… aims at spurious freedom, but I will bring you true freedom. And true freedom means the omnipotence of government. It is not the police who are the foes of liberty but the bourgeoisie.”

And the German socialist revolutionary Ferdinand Lasalle summed up the new spirit of the age: “The State is God.”

The Goals and Methods of the Fabian Socialists

Mises continues in his book to discuss the rise of German Nazism and the fulfillment of the new order of complete statism.  Indeed, it was this statism that crept into the world through Russian socialism, German National Socialism, and Italian Fascism.

Mises, writing in his 1940 book Interventionism: An Economic Analysis, shows that socialism can be “realized according to two different patterns” which are 1) “the Marxian or Russian pattern” and 2) “the German system.”  Today, these can be distinguished by other terms.  We can call the first one “Marxism” or Communism.  The second pattern can be referred to as Corporatism, or, more loosely “Fascism.” Importantly, they are both types of socialism.

The socialism and statism in Germany versus Russia are relatively well known, and dividing them up according to the two above “patterns” is helpful.  But there is also the rise of a different “pattern” of socialism altogether.  Far less known, this pattern is structurally similar to the Fascistic pattern, but it has its own “Western” strategic flavor so as to cater to the mentalities and sentiments of the British and American peoples.  And indeed Britain and the United States used this pattern as a means to secure its imperial footprint in the Western World.  It is no less socialist, however, than Nazism itself—even if (and we shall show this below) it prefers a much slower, long-winded path toward its ends.

We will label this type of socialism the “Fabian” model.

In Russian communism, the State is the supreme power and its will is to be pursued as the goal of political life.  It is this way under Nazism and Fabianism as well.  But the means to achieve this varies.  In the Russian model (we can call this “Leninism”), everything is outright owned by the state and the ruling class gets to make the decisions for all society.  Under the Nazi/Fabian model, ownership is nominally in “private” hands, but the control ultimately belongs to the state, who has the authority to determine prices, set regulations, control subsidies, and hand out penalties.  Whereas the Leninist model is a raw State monopoly, the other models are more of a corporate monopoly, achieved and enforced by the strong arm of the State.  This has also been referred to as “Corporatism.”  But it is important that we remember it is still a type of socialism.

The Nazi model and the Fabian model, however, find their chief difference in how they present themselves to the masses.  Whereas Nazism is about brute military force, the creation of racial conflicts, and the brutal elimination of political opponents by public displays of vicious behavior, Fabianism was historically distinct.  Fabianism, was far more secretive, quiet, and under the radar.  It did not declare itself out in the open and loudly. Instead, it sought financial control of banks, the media, the legislature, the courts, and the education centers.  It pushed ideas via the universities, via novels, via plays.

The Fabian model was the means by which the Anglo-American Empire sought its domination toward the beginnings of the Progressive era, through World War One, and up to the Cold War.  Following the World War Two, however, the British empire collapsed and the American Government became the sole global superpower.

Mises writes in Omnipotent Government:

The élite were conquered for etatism [statism] by other men. From England penetrated the ideas of Carlyle, Ruskin, and the Fabians, from France Solidarism. The churches of all creeds joined the choir. Novels and plays propagated the new doctrine of the state. Shaw and Wells, Spielhagen and Gerhart Hauptmann, and hosts of other writers, less gifted, contributed to the popularity of etatism.

This was the Fabian model: it aimed at the intellectual classes. It realized that to convince the powerful in the country would mean that the ideas would trickle down to the middle and lower classes.  It pursued a strategy of becoming cozy with the social elite, the “limousine liberals” as they might be referred today.  (Herein lies a great example of the corruption of vocabulary.  The Old Liberalism of private property and individualism was, during the Progressive era, defined away in preference for the New Liberalism that really just meant socialism.  Hence, in America, a liberal now carries specific socialistic plans.)

So who were the men mentioned above and what do they have to do with each other? A Professor of Fine Arts, John Ruskin was an influential promoter of collectivism at Oxford during the late 19th century.  He had a profound effect on the future British politicians who learned from him during their time there.  Ruskin’s vision was one of Imperial Britain; under his framework for the world, it was Britain that had the moral obligation to spread its tentacles into all the world. For such collectivists as him, the very idea that a separate and sovereign nation could be trusted to make its own decisions was ludicrous.  But this was not to be obtained by way of violent and forceful revolution a la the Russian Leninists.  Remember, for the British pattern of collectivism, violent revolution was discouraged in favor of the sneaky and quiet means of power-acquisition.  Ruskin’s intellectualist British centralism was a great fit with the Fabians’ cultural-socialist elitism.

The Fabians were socialists in Britain who agreed with the grandiose vision of statism and central planning of the Marxists, but who, being members of the wealthy elite, strongly opposed the Marxist-Leninist means of violent revolution.  After all, Marxism really relied on class warfare and pitting the bourgeois against the proletariate.  But in Britain, these idealist socialists were the bourgeois.  Thus, British socialism had a completely different model.  These individuals formed a small society (such “societies” are not as popular these days, but were actually quite common among the elite during the turn of the 20th century) called The Fabian Society.

Two of the more important members of this society were Sydney and Beatrice Webb, who founded the London School of Economics and whose home eventually became the official headquarters of the Fabian Society.  Also in this group were authors such as George Bernard Shaw and HG Wells, and historians like Arnold Toynbee.  It was Wells who wrote that the new statism was his religion, it was the cause to which he would dedicate his life. These individuals were greatly impressed with the collectivism in the Soviet system and sat in praise of the advances toward the ideal socialist state.  However, in their own British socialism, the Fabians rejected the use of sheer outward violence toward dissenters.  Theirs was an intellectual revolution that focused on the mass propagandizing of socialist ideas.

Murray Rothbard, in 1984, wrote a stunning monograph that traced the Power Elite in the United States in the 20th century; from the Morgan house bankers and the Fed to the rise of the Rockefeller interests in Asia to the post-World War Two solidifying of the new political order.  He recognized that the roots of this order took place with the Fabian socialists in England.  Largely informed by the unofficial historian of the European elite themselves, Bill Clinton’s Georgetown Professor Carroll Quigley, Murray Rothbard observed that the Fabian circles began to work in unison with the secret societies funded and maintained by John Ruskin’s student Cecil Rhodes, whose gigantic diamond-sourced wealth allowed him to have an impactful influence in British politics.  In describing the influence on the American power elite from the other side of the Atlantic, Rothbard pointed out that Cecil Rhodes had in mind a British re-incorporation with the United States.  And thus, Rhodes took his magnificent riches and funded all sorts of powerful international “groups” and organizations that provided “expertise” on all matters foreign policy and banking and “public policy.”  These groups, labelled by Cecil Rhodes as Round Table Groups included the British versions (Royal Institute of International Affairs) and the American versions as well (Council on Foreign Relations).  But they largely reflected the same worldview and the same power elite.  For more on Cecil Rhodes and Carroll Quigley, see Steve Sailer’s overview here.

Internationalist and globalist political organizations that were established during World War One (such as the League of Nations) and World War Two (the United Nations) were led by power-persons from these groups, who were leaders and members of various commercial banks, central banks, industrial leaders, and so forth.  These were formulated to provide the necessary resources for more of a “one world government” model, led by the international socialists.  They never fully accomplished their goal as quickly as they hoped to following the end of World War Two.  For the British Empire could not survive the financial and monetary damage that it had hoisted on itself in its shenanigans during world war two.  It was actually the American elite who were left standing after Britain’s collapse as the sole influence in the Western world.  Of course, it tried to maintain its domineering influence on all the same organizations started by British initiation, as Murray Rothbard notes.  The Rockefellers spent absurd amounts of money and resources in an attempt to maintain Western-global control.  But they were unable to get to comfortable.  Into this Cold War context, came the new power group: the neoconservatives.

The power elite in America since the rise of the neocons has largely been a struggle between the Old Establishment (the Rockefeller heirs of the Fabian days) and the new “Sun belt Cowboys” –to use a phrase Rothbard adapted from Carl Oglesby — (together with the Neocons) that rose to power with the oil booms in Texas and the American southwest.  While the Establishment was full of old money and had for decades found friends in both political parties (forever ensuring their ultimate victory— not matter who was elected), the neocons swept in to government positions when Ronald Reagan promised to empty the Executive branch of the Old Rockefeller “Trilateralist” (another globalist organization) influence.  But Reagan only succeeded in getting half the Old Establishment out.  And into the void to fill the other half came the neocons parading into power. The current battle for the reigns of the American empire is not, therefore, between Democrats and Republicans; but rather, it is between certain power groups, each with their own plans to control society. These factions of the state’s power-complex exist throughout and behind both parties, which are largely mere fronts for the true war for total control.

Conclusion

Once the collectivists, the promoters of the new religion of statism, had succeeded in weeding out the principles of Old Liberalism from the masses, the state was bound to grow.  Socio-political orders, being as that the rulers are by definition always a minority, rely on the approval of the masses.  And thus the state is especially aware of the importance that “public” school and “uniform government standards” have for its perpetuity.  The state apparatus needs to control the money, the resources, the movements of labor.  And this cannot be done until the people first Believe.  All collectivist systems rely on support from the majority.  Democracy then, as Hans-Hermann Hoppe as shown extensively, is the system most susceptible to the propaganda of the state.  For under democracy, supposedly, the “people” are in charge.

But who are the people? Are they not the millions who have been made to depend on welfare checks and food stamps, the millions who were educated by the state itself, the millions who would rather live in fear of a “foreign enemy” than consider the State which claims to keep them safe?  Are they not the millions who have been taught that peace is impossible, that sound money is bad, that private property is archaic?  Are they not the millions who have been trained from birth that free markets cause “exploitation,” that minimum wages are a challenge to the powerful, that private property is oppression?  Democracy then is no good.  The state has learned that democracy is the means toward its expansion, not the means toward its shrinkage.

What is needed then is a return to the ideas of liberty. To look beyond the state as the ideal.  The institution of private property needs to be restored as the cornerstone of civilization itself.  For with private property comes money that is sound, business that can serve their customers without fear of government intervention, the ability to rely on oneself and one’s neighbor instead of the very state that builds on plundering the people.  What the liberty movement today needs is not political activity; we don’t need more “policy proposals” and more politicians and more political actions committees. What is needed is peaceful dissent from the status quo mentality. We need to pursue education and learning and knowledge. What is needed is a shifting mentality.  The state is not god. The state is not a savior.  The state is a parasite, by definition, who promises the world in exchange for freedom.

Until more people realize this, until there is a complete eradication of statism from the minds of the people, civilization shall continue on the road to despair and serfdom.

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