Just as the State has no money of its own, so it has no power of its own. All the power it has is what society gives it, plus what it confiscates from time to time on one pretext or another; there is no other source from which State power can be drawn. Therefore every assumption of State power, whether by gift or seizure, leaves society with so much less power; there is never, nor can there be, any strengthening of State power without a corresponding and roughly equivalent depletion of social power.
As long ago as 1794, James Madison called “the old trick of turning every contingency into a resource for accumulating force in the government”;
Indeed, it is by this means that the aim of the collectivists seems likeliest to be attained in this country; this aim being the complete extinction of social power through absorption by the State. Their fundamental doctrine was formulated and invested with a quasi-religious sanction by the idealist philosophers of the last century; and among peoples who have accepted it in terms as well as in fact, it is expressed in formulas almost identical with theirs. Thus, for example, when Hitler says that “the State dominates the nation because it alone represents it,” he is only putting into loose popular language the formula of Hegel, that “the State is the general substance, whereof individuals are but accidents.” Or, again, when Mussolini says, “Everything for the State; nothing outside the State; nothing against the State,” he is merely vulgarizing the doctrine of Fichte, that “the State is the superior power, ultimate and beyond appeal, absolutely independent.”
It may be in place to remark here the essential identity of the various extant forms of collectivism.
The superficial distinctions of Fascism, Bolshevism, Hitlerism, are the concern of journalists and publicists; the serious student (of civilization) sees in them only the one root-idea of a complete conversion of social power into State power. When Hitler and Mussolini invoke a kind of debased and hoodwinking mysticism to aid their acceleration of this process, the student at once recognizes his old friend, the formula of Hegel, that “the State incarnates the Divine Idea upon earth,” and he is not hoodwinked. The journalist and the impressionable traveller may make what they will of “the new religion of Bolshevism”; the student contents himself with remarking clearly the exact nature of the process which this inculcation is designed to sanction.
Mr. Jefferson wrote in 1823 that there was no danger he dreaded so much as “the consolidation [i.e., centralization] of our government by the noiseless and therefore unalarming instrumentality of the Supreme Court.” These words characterize every advance that we have made in State aggrandizement. Each one has been noiseless and therefore unalarming, especially to a people notoriously preoccupied, inattentive and incurious. Even the coup d’Etat of 1932 was noiseless and unalarming. In Russia, Italy, Germany, the coup d’Etat was violent and spectacular; it had to be; but here it was neither. Under covers of a nation-wide, State-managed mobilization of inane buffoonery and aimless commotion, it took place in so unspectacular a way that its true nature escaped notice, and even now is not generally understood.
This regime was established by a coup d’Etat of a new and unusual kind, practicable only in a rich country. It was effected, not by violence, like Louis- Napoleon’s, or by terrorism, like Mussolini’s, but by purchase. It therefore presents what might be called an American variant of the coup d’Etat. Our national legislature was not suppressed by force of arms, like the French Assembly in 1851, but was bought out of its functions with public money; and as appeared most conspicuously in the elections of November, 1934, the consolidation of the coup d’Etat was effected by the same means; the corresponding functions in the smaller units were reduced under the personal control of the Executive. This is a most remarkable phenomenon; possibly nothing quite like it ever took
place; and its character and implications deserve the most careful attention.
A visitor from a poorer and thriftier country might have regarded Mr. Farley’s activities in the local campaigns of 1934 as striking or even spectacular, but they made no such impression on us. They seemed so familiar, so much the regular thing, that one heard little comment on them. Moreover, political habit led us to attribute whatever unfavourable comment we did hear, to interest; either partisan or monetary interest, or both. We put it down as the jaundiced judgment of persons with axes to grind; and naturally the regime did all it could to encourage this view.
(Another) thing to be observed is that certain formulas, certain arrangements of words, stand as an obstacle in the way of our perceiving how far the conversion of social power into State power has actually gone. The force of phrase and name distorts the identification of our own actual acceptances and acquiescences. We are accustomed to the rehearsal of certain poetic litanies, and provided their cadence be kept entire, we are indifferent to their correspondence with truth and fact. When Hegel’s doctrine of the State, for example, is restated in terms by Hitler and Mussolini, it is distinctly offensive to us, and we congratulate ourselves on our freedom from the “yoke of a dictator’s tyranny.” No American politician would dream of breaking in on our routine of litanies with anything of the kind. We may imagine, for example, the shock to popular sentiment that would ensue upon Mr. Roosevelt’s declaring publicly that “the State embraces everything, and nothing has value outside the State. The State creates right.” Yet an American politician, as long as he does not formulate that doctrine in set terms, may go further with it in a practical way than Mussolini has gone, and without trouble or question. Suppose Mr. Roosevelt should defend his regime by publicly reasserting Hegel’s dictum that “the State alone possesses rights, because it is the strongest.” One can hardly imagine that our public would get that down without a great deal of retching. Yet how far, really, is that doctrine alien to our public’s actual acquiescences? Surely not far.
The point is that in respect of the relation between the theory and the actual practice of public affairs, the American is the most unphilosophical of beings. The rationalization of conduct in general is most repugnant to him; he prefers to emotionalize it. He is indifferent to the theory of things, so long as he may rehearse his formulas; and so long as he can listen to the patter of his
litanies, no practical inconsistency disturbs him – indeed, he gives no evidence of even recognizing it as an inconsistency.
– excerpts from Albert Jay Nock’s “Our Enemy, The State” (1935)