A friend of mine recently brought to my attention a quote from Hemingway that would have fitted my last post rather well. In For Whom the Bell Tolls, his Spanish Civil War masterpiece, the hero Robert Jordan, an American volunteer for the republicans, answers to this;
'But are there not many Fascists in your country?
'There are many who do not know they are Fascists, but will find it out when the time comes'.
Today there are still not many fascists in the United States. Despite all the rhetoric of the anti-American left, the great western republic is a liberal democracy and looks likely to remain one. That said though, there are an awful lot of people who do not know that they are fascists but go around saying things that suggest that they aren’t that far off the mark.
For example. I’ve just started an internship at the Institute of Economic Affairs - a free market, libertarian think tank in London. The IEA itself is not an unreasonable body. Whilst they would certainly be considered right wing by many, I would say that they are more consistently liberal. They support slashing the size of the state, but they also support legalizing drugs. The director, Mark Littlewood, was previously director of communications for the Lib-Dems - hardly a far right organization.
On Thursday night however they hosted a party that was broadly attended by people who would never be considered even remotely left wing, mostly from various think tanks from the US and Europe. The event was a follow up drinks to this conference; an attempt to try to learn from 'Tea Party' tactics in the UK. Over flowing champagne - one of the few perks of working for free - I spoke to a woman who I thought embodied what is wrong with the free market right.
For some reason we were talking about gun control, and this woman was adamant that what we need in this country is more guns. At first I thought she was being facetious but it turned out that she was deadly serious. Apparently, the free market solution to gun crime is for everyone to carry a concealed weapon. That, she contended, would give criminals second thoughts about whether to try an armed robbery.
That is a stupid view to have, but it is not necessarily a completely indefensible one. High levels of gun ownership in places like Switzerland don't always coincide with American levels of crime. There are a few ways in which guns can be used responsibly - firing bullets at targets is harmless and can be incredibly satisfying. Although it is hard to see how practically it could work, ideally we should defend the rights of people to own guns whilst opposing those who choose to use them for crime. It is absurd for example that our 2012 Olympic pistol team are having to do their training abroad.
This woman didn’t make any of those arguments however - all she could muster was the point that ‘the criminals just get guns anyway’, so everybody should have them, to defend themselves presumably. That is quite clearly ridiculous - the vast majority of gun crime in this country is perpetrated by home made or converted handguns. Unlike drugs, it turns out you actually can restrict the smuggling of weaponry relatively well.
The drugs point was the revealing one though. I suggested that with more liberal drugs laws, perhaps we could reduce the number of criminals wanting guns anyway. This woman’s actual response was that ‘drugs are harmful’. Cannabis causes schizophrenia apparently. I had to stop myself from responding with ‘Well guns cause fatal gunshot wounds but you don't seem to mind those’.
Free market liberals in the UK often look to the US for answers, but co-opting the Tea Party as allies would be a tragic mistake to make. What passes for ‘libertarianism’ in the USA is half hearted and hypocritical. It is a movement that wants lower taxes for the rich but has no plans to lower government spending. They want the right to carry around guns, but not the right to smoke a spliff or to have an abortion. They demand civil rights, but not for suspected terrorists and illegal immigrants. They are not fascists, but were it to come to fascism, I suspect they would be much more likely to join in than to actually defend the freedom they love to talk about.