I. Definitions and Questions
What is a liberal? What is a conservative?
In common use language “liberal” is synonymous with words like ‘generous’ as in “grandma is always very liberal with the gravy on her turkey”. Or it can mean ‘flexible’ as in “the club’s acceptance policy is very liberal”.
In common use language “conservative” is synonymous with words like ‘cautious’ as in “although the mountain pass saved considerable time, he always would chose the more conservative route”. It can also mean ‘traditional’ as in “she always dresses conservatively”.
In politics the same terms do have the general same meaning but are used with different connotations. Conservative means to keep the status quo, liberal means to change the status quo. In fact, that’s what the conservatives are “conserving”. Conservatives advocate to be strict in traditional views and are cautious to change, liberals advocate to be more generous in their views and are more flexible to change. And of course, liberal is left wing, conservative is right wing.
Now this does create some unusual semantic situations. For example, William Kristol, Richard Pearle, or those of the The National Review, The Weekly Standard etc. call themselves Neo Liberal, not Neo Conservative (or Neocon) with “Neo” meaning “new”. In a sense they are correct, how can you be a new form of conservatism when conservatism itself is keeping the status quo. Also, they have the opinion or want to portray (as in the concept of a ‘noble lie’) that their world view is the most generous change they can give to mankind and that they are really very open minded.
I will add two more synonyms: Liberal can also mean “radical” and conservative can also mean “strict”. We can look at Neocon policy as compared to traditional policy: preemptive war, use of torture, privatization of the commons, opposition to labor rights, propagandizing their own people, advocacy to remove long standing social services and disregard to law and treaty obligations. That does seem to fit the definition of radical.
So are Neocons actually liberals or are they really conservatives?
Another semantic oddity is the Nazi Party of Germany who were fascists, in which its full name is the National Socialist German Worker’s Party. Now that seems to be a liberal organization if ever there was one. Their policies were also of preemptive war, use of torture, privatization of the commons, propagandizing their own people, opposition to labor rights, advocacy to remove long standing social services and disregard to law and treaty obligations. That also does seem to fit the definition of radical.
So why would historians say that Nazis were not left wing at all and were actually right wing?
To answer this, we need to know what exactly conservatives are conserving. And to do that, we need to look back at history.
II. Power and Authority
The King used to own everything. Your land, your house, your clothes, your spouse, your children, even you. You were the King’s property. In 1215 the Magna Carta was signed by King John to give rights to lower nobles and lords. Those against the Magna Carta were the conservatives, wanting to retain the current system, those for the Magna Carta were the liberals, wanting to change the status quo.
Later at the time of the Age of Enlightenment, people held liberal ideas like men are not owned by other men (Natural Law) and there is such a thing as private property in which a common man could own his land. These ideals were opposed by people who held a conservative point of view they were against the status quo.
When the American Revolutionary War took place against King George and England, the conservatives were the Tories (those loyal to the crown) and they were either forced out, killed or fled the country. All the founding fathers were radical liberals as actual revolution in the form of war is the ultimate extension of fighting the status quo.
Once the war was over, the liberal/conservative divide was within the revolutionaries themselves, there was the conservative Federalist Party that wanted more control by a ruling class and the liberal Democratic-Republican Party that wanted more power invested in the people which at the time was a radical concept.
Abolitionists were liberal because they wanted the slaves freed, a change to the status quo which conservatives opposed. Giving blacks and women the right to vote was a liberal concept against the status quo, opposed by conservatives. Creating social security, a minimum wage, labor rights, workplace safety laws, child labor laws were all liberal concepts, opposed by conservatives that wanted to keep the status quo.
So throughout history we know what conservatives have stood for, and what changes liberals have advocated for. So what is the common thread? What is it that is behind the core value that conservatives are conserving and that the liberals want changed?
The conservatives are always advocating for the retention of their power and/or authority. That is the core motivation of all conservative ideology. Liberals want power and authority spread out more equally.
III. Liberty and Order
You might ask, at the first introduction of slavery to America – since that would be a change to the status quo – wouldn’t that make the practice of slavery itself a liberal practice? No, the concept that a man cannot own another man is relatively new concept in human history, in that idealism you are removing the power or authority of one man to own another man, it is inherently liberal. In fact the moral rationale for the use of slavery in the American south was the Bible. As stated by Jefferson Davis “[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God…it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation…it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.”
I am going to point out here that Jefferson Davis is correct. Not that slavery is morally acceptable, but that the Bible does not condemn slavery and often advocates for it. If you use the Bible as a standard, slavery would indeed be legal, he did not use a contradiction in logic.
That leads us to another set of synonyms. Liberal can be used as synonymous of “freedom” and conservatism be used as a synonym for “order”. As in: “our club has a liberal policy, you may come and go as you wish” or “our club has a conservative policy, you must obey our rules of when you may enter and when it’s acceptable to leave.” In this regard the liberals perceive the conservatives as ‘rigid’ or ‘fundamentalists’ and the conservatives perceive the liberals as ‘chaotic’ or ‘licentious’.
America is predominately Christian and that religion itself is based on a hierarchy of order. God is the ruler in the kingdom of heaven, people are servants of God. In that religion, the Bible is the word of God and it contains instructions on how you are to lead your life here on earth. If you are a conservative, you believe it should be obeyed verbatim. If you are a liberal, you believe that is has room for your personal interpretation. For example, a Catholic that uses birth control would be applying a liberal position on the issue of the authority of the Pope over his own interpretation of Christianity. One is considered either a fundamentalist or licentious by the other according to this position as a Christian.
In politics this translates into obedience to authority and reliance on the rule of law by conservatives, skepticism and belief in nuance in judging right and wrong by liberals. Each of these particular positions is infuriating to the opposite side. Liberals advocating more freedoms do not care (or find it less relevant) that the freedoms created might cause a more chaotic society, while conservatives hold that moral decay could result and adherence to the current standards of order outweigh the costs of additional freedoms.
So the use of slavery in America is a conservative position, as they used the Bible as a standard (Divine Law), as then they interpreted the Bible as a conservative (fundamentalism). That’s not to say the Civil War was the conservative South versus the liberal North. Jefferson Davis also said, “All we ask is to be left alone.” In the South, the Civil War was called the War of Northern Aggression, and for a valid reason. The Constitution does state and holds the concept that the government itself rests on the consent of the governed and that the people hold the right to alter or abolish it when it no longer serves that purpose. In this regard, it was the conservative North that said you cannot leave the Union and you must remain under American authority and power while the South retained the liberal view that the people are allowed to govern themselves as they so choose.
So it was that both sides, North and South, were both sides, liberal and conservative. The Northern liberal idealism of Natural Law that one man cannot own another man versus the Southern conservative idealism of Divine Law that said indeed men can own other men. It was also the Northern conservative idealism that the preservation of the status quo Union was most important versus the Southern liberal idealism of the right to secede.
IV. The Nature of Capitalism
Capitalism relies on the desire to profit as its foundation. As a capitalist you have two enemies, the first is other capitalists. Competition for market share, for new customers, for resources, for faster and cheaper means of production, for more efficient means of distribution, better marketing.
The other enemy of a capitalist is labor, those that work for the capitalist. Reducing labor costs increase profit, it’s that simple. So the capitalist is always looking for ways to lower the cost of labor while those employed by the capitalist are trying to increase their compensation for their work.
In that system you have private property rights, the actual ownership of resources and methods of distribution, marketing, production, labor, patents and copyrights by the capitalist. With competition there is going to inevitably be winners and losers in that system, as the winners gain more ability to own more resources they also gain a increase in their competitive advantage. In a unregulated capitalist system the result is that power, in the form of wealth, is always aggregated into the hands of the few who then own most of the resources and means of production. Also with capitalism, as the wealth is aggregated at the top, you run out of consumers at the bottom. When the majority of the people run out of money, you can’t sell any more products because there is not enough money left in the hands of the people to buy them. Capitalism invariably kills itself.
In the issue of economic policy in America we have two political parties that address this issue as the conservative Republicans and the liberal Democrats. The Republicans do not want this system to change because they already are the winners and want to maintain or expand their competitive advantage and the Democrats who want to change the status quo to spread the wealth more equally. This is derided by the conservatives as “redistribution of wealth” and “theft” by people who did not earn it, when the entire system of capitalism itself is also a “redistribution of wealth” and “theft” by people who did not earn it. What conservatives are conserving in economic policy is to maintain their power. What they do not have although, is more authority, and that’s where the Nazis and Neocons come in.
V. Nazis and Neocons
Fascism is the merger of state and corporate power. Sorry Jonah Goldberg, it’s not only “a religion of the state” although that is a component of how to apply fascism. Both Neocons and Nazis are subtly different forms of fascism. This does not mean that Neocons are Nazis, that’s absurd, what I am saying is they do hold the same political ideology. Once power is aggregated to the top in a capitalist system, to further expansion they require authority. They get this through alliance with the state.
Lets be clear on one thing: fascism works. The economy does grow under fascist regimes, the question then is always who benefits. Wars do benefit capitalists, it eliminates foreign competition, it creates more demand and worker rights can be trumped by national security concerns. Elimination of the minimum wage, work place safety regulations, child labor laws and overtime pay does increase profits. Elimination of social security and medicaid/medicare creates worker anxiety for when a person’s health and home are directly connected to their job the worker is less likely to protest against exploitation. Fascism makes millionaires into billionaires, if that’s your goal, then fascism is like capitalism on steroids. Also remember it’s not the wealthy that fight and die in wars, they are protected by their wealth. To the wealthy capitalist, it’s merely the middle and lower classes that do the actual combat and they are a dime a dozen.
People in general want economic growth because they want an increase in their standard of living, if the economy is growing but all the wealth gains are at the top while wages are stagnant and costs of living are rising then the majority of the people are worse off. Without shared benefit to all the people, merely having a good rise in gross domestic product (GDP) is not enough.
For example, GDP also rises when there is an oil tanker rupture and covers a coastline with oil it generates more product because then the market is stimulated by the workers cleaning it up, GDP rises when someone gets cancer as there now opens up a new market for cancer treatment. Like war itself, GDP alone is not a accurate measurement of a healthy economy for the people themselves.
Fascism could care less about any of that. It is the ultimate form of extremist conservatism as it not only keeps the status quo, it makes those that benefit from the status quo stronger. The Nazis were as subtle as a sledgehammer, literally jailing union organizers, democratic socialists, communists, and any liberal dissenter. They falsified conditions to engage in wars of aggression (Gleiwitz incident). They simply outright canceled people’s rights under the guise of national security concerns they themselves created.
The Neocons do this through legal action, creating trade governing bodies that supersede our domestic laws (NAFTA, WTO), they extend the concept of self-defense to mean anyone that could in the future potentially cause harm to the USA and the manufacturing of evidence for wars of aggression (WMDs). They sign laws in which they state while signing them that they are not subject to those laws, they pass memos to themselves stating that the law of the land does not apply to them. They spy on everyone to assure your safety, they create “free speech zones” that are chain link fences because they tell you that they cherish our rights. And they tell us all that this is the most American patriotic way it should be, because they are protecting you.
It does not matter that Neocons call themselves Neo Liberals, or that Nazis were called National Socialists. They use populist sounding slogans to attain power and suppress dissent. Both are extremist right wing groups, both are completely unconcerned with democracy, both have the goal of further aggregation of power. Nazis and Neocons are the joining force between power and authority and are opposed to any change in that status quo created by liberals.
The goal of those that perpetrate the myth that Nazi’s or Neocons are actually liberals is to muddy the waters between those that want a change to the status quo and those that want to protect or expand it, to confuse the issue and poison the well of any debate on the matter. To vilify anyone who sheds light on their crimes, to mask their own identity. They do not need to win this argument, they only need to stall.
A little more time to grab more power, a little more time to grab more authority, just a little more time…
Well, we’re running out of time to be stuck on the semantics.
Time to see them for who they are, I hope this helps.
Erik aka erkd1
from the archives: