Friday, March 9, 2012

Right-wing alternatives to free-market capitalism

Most critiques of capitalism are inspired by leftist ideas, but not all approaches accept the Marxist emphasis on class struggle and some have little interest in egalitarian ideals.

Chinese radicalism, for example, is first and foremost nationalistic and focuses now on the need for social harmony. Strong Confucian values - which have proved more resilient than the early revolutionaries foresaw - are incompatible not only with class conflict but also with strict egalitarianism.

In Europe, there has been a revival of right-wing radicalism, driven largely by economic upheavals and the perceived problems of mass immigration. In fact, I suspect the radical right will become more significant in the years to come as the economic situation worsens.

In France, the theorists and activists of the far right draw on a tradition of French and European thought expounded amongst others by Maurice Bardèche in the post World War II period. Bardèche wrote an essay* on 'fascist socialism', reprising a theme previously taken up in France by the novelist Pierre Drieu La Rochelle. Bardèche freely admits it's an idea which has never really been tested or implemented and his whole approach is romantic and revolutionary rather than pragmatic and conservative. He is essentially a literary figure, having written highly regarded works on French writers (notably on Proust) and on the history of cinema.

Bardèche believed that every new vision of social relations which rejects Marxism rests on a number of postulates. Only an authoritarian regime, he thought, can protect the national interest against the power of global capital. It is a key function of the state to protect the nation's economy which is such a crucial part of the social fabric.

In fact, modern nations are politico-economic enterprises and power lies just as much with those who control the economy as with those who make political decisions. Bardèche recognized, however, that the instruments appropriate to the exercise of such integrated power were yet to be invented.

He thought there should be loyal collaboration between different groups and classes rather than class struggle. The latter leads to the sabotage of the nation's economy and to a bureaucratic dictatorship. It is a function of the state to encourage and promote labor-capital collaboration.

Unfortunately, the emphasis on nationalism on the part of the radical right is inevitably associated with racism and the tendency to blame foreigners (whether they be non-European immigrants or the supposed - and inevitably 'Jewish' - agents of international capital) for the nation's problems.

My personal view is that European neo-fascism is little more than a quasi-literary fantasy, albeit a dangerous one (because it can give a cloak of sophistication and respectability to thuggish groups and causes). Chinese state capitalism will have a far greater global impact, but to what extent it will adapt to the current global economic system and to what extent it will change it remains to be seen.

* Socialisme fasciste. Waterloo: Editions de Javelot, 1991.


  1. I'm not an economics absolutist for any one-dimensional guideline. Saying our economy needs capitalism vs. socialism vs. mercantilism is like saying good health is based on diet, exercise or hygiene. They're all elements that do good in proper proportion and can't be sacrificed for the others.

    It's sometimes said that a wealthy parent should "Give their kids enough to do something, but not enough to do nothing." Generally, our economy strikes that balance pretty well with the education and basic needs provisions of our welfare state, although there do seem to be too many young mothers for which "something" is raising a child at state expense, who wouldn't have been born without the empowering effect of welfare.

    But we don't want either too wide an income disparity (spills over into non-economic effects, like the pathologies of hopelessness) or too narrow a one (stifles innovation, and since investment goes up with income, too flat a distribution would have too many consumers). So I'm more of a "compared to where we are now" conservative concerned about unsustainable budgets, than one who thinks the whole New Deal was a bad idea from square one.

    1. I agree that there are no absolutes in these matters and our starting-point must always be the world as it is. Ideals and ideas still play an important role, however. For example, it seems to me that there is a major fault line between those who see society as organic and inevitably stratified and those for whom equality is a central goal. Or between those who accept (or embrace) the need for an expanding role for the state and those who see centralized governments as eroding vital individual freedoms.