No, American fascism can’t happen here

Politico is running an excerpt from my essay in the new Cass Sunstein book.  Here is one opening bit:

My argument is pretty simple: American fascism cannot happen anymore because the American government is so large and unwieldy. It is simply too hard for the fascists, or for that matter other radical groups, to seize control of. No matter who is elected, the fascists cannot control the bureaucracy, they cannot control all the branches of American government, they cannot control the judiciary, they cannot control semi-independent institutions such as the Federal Reserve, and they cannot control what is sometimes called “the deep state.” The net result is they simply can’t control enough of the modern state to steer it in a fascist direction.

…Surely it ought to give us pause that the major instances of Western fascism came right after a time when government was relatively small, and not too long after the heyday of classical liberalism in Europe, namely the late 19th century. No, I am not blaming classical liberalism for Nazism, but it is simply a fact that it is easier to take over a smaller and simpler state than it is to commandeer one of today’s sprawling bureaucracies.

…the greater focus of the night watchman state, for all its virtues, is part of the reason why it is easy to take over. There is a clearly defined center of power and a clearly defined set of lines of authority; furthermore, the main activity of the state is to enforce property rights through violence or the threat of violence. That means such a state will predominantly comprise policemen, soldiers, possibly border authorities, Coast Guard employees and others in related support services. The culture and ethos of such a state is likely to be relatively masculine and also relatively martial and tolerant of a certain amount of risk, and indeed violence. The state will be full of people who are used to the idea of applying force to achieve social ends, even if, under night watchman assumptions, those deployments of force are for the most part justified.

Do read the whole thing, the article has points of interest, and the essay in the book even more.


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