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Before the end of World War II, in 1944, Friedrich A. Hayek, who was later to win the Nobel memorial prize in economic science, startled the Western world with a book entitled The Road to Serfdom . Hayek argued that despite the war against Nazi Germany, the economic philosophy of the Nazis and communists was becoming the guiding light for American and British policymakers. In his forward to the 1972 edition of the book, Hayek wrote:
But after war broke out I felt that this widespread misunderstanding of the political systems of our enemies, and soon also of our new ally, Russia, constituted a serious danger which had to be met by a more systematic effort. Also, it was already fairly obvious that England herself was likely to experiment after the war with the same kind of policies which I was convinced had contributed so much to destroy liberty elsewhere. . . . Opinion moves fast in the United States, and even now it is difficult to remember how comparatively short a time it was before The Road to Serfdom appeared that the most extreme kind of economic planning had been seriously advocated and the model of Russia held up for imitation by men who were soon to play an important role in public affairs. . . . Be it enough to mention that in 1934 the newly established National Planning Board devoted a good deal of attention to the example of planning provided by these four countries: Germany, Italy, Russia, and Japan.
As the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II approaches, Americans must ask themselves a troubling question: Did Hayek’s concerns become reality — have Americans, in fact, traveled the road to serfdom the past fifty years? Or, put another way, did the Nazis lose the military battles but win the war for the hearts and minds of the American people?
Consider, for example, the Nazi economic system. Who can argue that the American people do not believe in and support most of its tenets? For example, how many Americans today do not unequivocally support the following planks of the Nationalist (Nazi) Party of Germany, adopted in Munich on February 24, 1920:
We ask that the government undertake the obligation above all of providing citizens with adequate opportunity for employment and earning a living. The activities of the individual must not be allowed to clash with the interests of the community, but must take place within its confines and be for the good of all. Therefore, we demand: an end to the power of the financial interests . We demand profit sharing in big business. We demand a broad extension of care for the aged. We demand. . . the greatest possible consideration of small business in the purchases of the national, state, and municipal governments. In order to make possible to every capable and industrious [citizen] the attainment of higher education and thus the achievement of a post of leadership, the government must provide an all-around enlargement of our system of public education. . . . We demand the education at government expense of gifted children of poor parents. . . . The government must undertake the improvement of public health — by protecting mother and child, by prohibiting child labor — by the greatest possible support for all clubs concerned with the physical education of youth. We combat the . . . materialistic spirit within and without us, and are convinced that a permanent recovery of our people can only proceed from within on the foundation of “ The Common Good Before the Individual Good .”
I repeat: How many Americans today do not unequivocally support most, if not all, of these Nazi economic and political principles?
And if there is any doubt whether the Nazi economic philosophy did, in fact, win the hearts and minds of the American people, consider the following description of the Nazi economic system by Leonard Peikoff in his book The Ominous Parallels :
Contrary to the Marxists, the Nazis did not advocate public ownership of the means of production. They did demand that the government oversee and run the nation’s economy. The issue of legal ownership, they explained, is secondary; what counts is the issue of control . Private citizens, therefore, may continue to hold titles to property — so long as the state reserves to itself the unqualified right to regulate the use of their property.
What American objects to these principles of the Nazi economic system? Don’t most Americans favor the planned economy, the regulated economy, the controlled economy? Don’t most Americans favor the type of economic controls, and the right of government to institute such controls , that characterized the Nazi society: wage and price controls, high taxes, government-business partnerships, licensing, permits, and a myriad other economic regulations?
The truth is that Hayek’s warning was ignored. Having defeated the Nazis in battle, Americans became ardent supporters and advocates of Nazi economic policies.
Why? Part of the answer lies in another feature that was central to the Nazi way of life: public schooling. “Oh, no! You have gone too far this time,” the average American will exclaim. “Public schooling is a distinctively American institution — as American as apple pie and free enterprise.” The truth? As Sheldon Richman documents so well in his new book, Separating School & State, 20th-century Americans adopted the idea of a state-schooling system in the latter part of the 19th century from — you guessed it — Prussia! And as Mr. Richman points out, public schooling has proven as successful in the United States as it did in Germany. Why? Because it has succeeded in its goal of producing a nation of “good, little citizens” — people who pay their taxes on time, follow the rules, obey orders, condemn and turn in the rule-breakers, and see themselves as essential cogs in the national wheel. Consider the words of Richard Ebeling, in his introduction to Separating School & State :
In the hands of the state, compulsory public education becomes a tool for political control and manipulation — a prime instrument for the thought police of the society. And precisely because every child passes through the same indoctrination process — learning the same ”official history,” the same “civic virtues,” the same lessons of obedience and loyalty to the state — it becomes extremely difficult for the independent soul to free himself from the straightjacket of the ideology and values the political authorities wish to imprint upon the population under its jurisdiction. For the communists, it was the class struggle and obedience to the Party and Comrade Stalin; for the fascists, it was worship of the nation-state and obedience to the Duce ; for the Nazis, it was race purity and obedience to the Führer. The content has varied, but the form has remained the same. Through the institution of compulsory state education, the child is to be molded like wax into the shape desired by the state and its educational elite.
We should not believe that because ours is a freer, more democratic society, the same imprinting procedure has not occurred even here, in America. Every generation of school-age children has imprinted upon it a politically correct ideology concerning America’s past and the sanctity of the role of the state in society. Practically every child in the public school system learns that the “robber barons” of the 19th century exploited the common working man; that unregulated capitalism needed to be harnessed by enlightened government regulation beginning in the Progressive era at the turn-of-the-century; that wild Wall Street speculation was a primary cause of the Great Depression; that only Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal saved America from catastrophe; and that American intervention in foreign wars has been necessary and inevitable, with the United States government required to be a global leader and an occasional world policeman.
This brings us to the heart of the problem — the core of the Nazi mind-set: that the interests of the individual must be subordinated to the interests of the nation. This is the principle that controls the minds of the American people, just as it controlled the minds of the German people sixty years ago. Each person is viewed like a bee in a hive; his primary role in life is to serve the hive and the ruler of the hive, and to be sacrificed when the hive and its ruler consider it necessary. This is why Americans of our time, unlike their ancestors, favor such things as income taxation, Social Security, socialized medicine, and drug laws; they believe, as did Germans in the 1930s, that their bodies, lives, income, and property, in the final analysis, are subordinate to the interests of the nation.
As you read the following words of Adolf Hitler, ask yourself which American politician, which American bureaucrat, which American schoolteacher, which American citizen would disagree with the principles to which Hitler subscribed:
It is thus necessary that the individual should finally come to realize that his own ego is of no importance in comparison with the existence of his nation; that the position of the individual ego is conditioned solely by the interests of the nation as a whole; that pride and conceitedness, the feeling that the individual . . . is superior, so far from being merely laughable, involve great dangers for the existence of the community that is a nation; that above all the unity of a nation’s spirit and will are worth far more than the freedom of the spirit and will of an individual; and that the higher interests involved in the life of the whole must here set the limits and lay down the duties of the interests of the individual.
Even though the average American enthusiastically supports the Nazi economic philosophy, he recoils at having his beliefs labeled as “Nazi.” Why? Because, he argues, the Nazi government, unlike the U.S. government, killed six million people in concentration camps, and this mass murder of millions of people, rather than economic philosophy, captures the true essence of the Nazi label.
What Americans fail (or refuse) to recognize is that the concentration camps were simply the logical extension of the Nazi mind-set! It does not matter whether there were six million killed — or six hundred — or six — or even one. The evil — the terrible, black evil — is the belief that a government should have the power to sacrifice even one individual for the good of the nation. Once this basic philosophical premise and political power are conceded, innocent people, beginning with a few and inevitably ending in multitudes, will be killed, because “the good of the nation” always ends up requiring it.
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