Lesser Evils

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For those who complain that there's a double standard in how we treat the last century's big genocidal ideologies—hammers and sickles are acceptable hep bar decor; swastikas aren't—a little compensation in The New York Times this morning:

Still, a fascist Russia is a much better thing than a Communist Russia. Communism was a failed economic system, while Franco's Spain, General Pinochet's Chile and the others generated solid economic growth, a middle class and international contacts—ultimately laying the groundwork for democracy. Eventually we'll see pro-democracy demonstrations in Moscow like those in Kiev.

The fact that fascism is being pitched as the good outcome here should be really, really scary. (Subscribers, by the way, have already seen Cathy Young's take on the Putin problem in the January ish. Aren't you jealous?)

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  1. …while Franco’s Spain, General Pinochet’s Chile and the others generated solid economic growth…

    Franco’s Spain had “solid economic growth” after Franco died. In the 1960s there was a period of economic growth of course; until Franco put the clamps on it (and civil liberties). Are people really this historically ignorant?

    As to Chile, many of us here have already noted that Pinochet’s exit from power followed a rough economic period in the 1980s.

    …a middle class and international contacts…

    Spain and Chile had a middle class and international contacts before both men came to power; indeed, what remained of both (outside of official government channels and cronyist enterprises) existed despite the efforts of Franco and Pinochet.

    Anyway, what has happened in Poland, Hungary, etc., completely eviscerates the notion that right-wing dictatorships have some sort of leg-up on the left-wing variety.

  2. Gary’s basically saying that the (alleged) economic freedom offered by right-wing despots is not enough to lead to prosperity because other freedoms are squelched. Let’s look at why that would be:

    Some people on this forum have argued that all freedom is ultimately rooted in economic freedom and property rights. And there’s much truth to that. But one could also come at it from another direction and argue that true economic liberty is impossible without other civil liberties.

    How much economic freedom do you have if ticking off the wrong gov’t official could cause you to lose your business? How can you sell your labor on the open market if you’re stuck in a secret prison? How can writers and reporters enjoy the full economic value of their talent if the regime censors what they can report? How can you conduct highly confidential and sensitive transactions if both parties to the transaction know that the secret police could go through the records at any time and do what they please with that info?

    Not to mention that even in right-wing dictatorships that (allegedly) allow economic freedom and avoid burdensome regulations, there’s still plenty of corruption and cronyism. A government that’s big enough to do whatever it wants will be unable to resist the temptation to intervene in the economy, even if some types of despots engage in less explicit intervention than other types.

    Ultimately, freedoms of any type are closely intertwined, and a regime that stifles any type of freedom is undermining the people’s ability to enjoy maximum productivity and prosperity.

  3. A couple of points:

    The Times doesn’t seem to be saying that fascism is a good end in itself but a tolerable stepping stone towards eventual freedom…a questionable premise but lets argue the point actually being made.

    Pinochet did create real improvement in Chile but since that was compared to the complete wreck the leftists had created this was no real achievement.

    Economic freedoms are essentionial to life. Personal freedoms are essential to making life worthwhile.

  4. What a disingenuous statement: “pitched as the good outcome.”

    Nobody said facism is good.

    It is entirely possible for one bad outcome to be better than another bad outcome. Ordinally speaking, 2 may be less desirable than 10, but it’s still better than 1, and if we assume socio-political progress to be monotonic, then it’s also a better starting place if we wish to get to 10.

  5. Communism has been a worse evil than facism for the simple fact that the aggregate body count of the victims of communism exceeds that of the victims of facism.

  6. I keep reading the header as “Lesser Elvis”. Somebody please write a post about that.

  7. Barry–

    Actually, that’s “Cardinally speaking.” Ordinals are first, second, third, etc.

  8. “hammers and sickles are acceptable hep bar decor; swastikas aren’t”

    Let’s keep in mind, Naziism wasn’t run of the mill fascism. If Russia was actually moving in the direction of Hitler, this piece wouldn’t have been written.

    Gil, keep in mind, Communism was both much longer lived, and much more widespread, than fascism.

    Goulash Communism vs. the deportation of Hungary’s Jews to Auschwitz? That’s not even close.

  9. The Germans got the idea for creating their concentration camps from the Soviet gulags, which were already in existence before the war.

    The Germans saw the gulag operations during tours of the Soviet Union when they were allies before Hitler decided to attack them.

    Stalin had already killed more people in the Ukraine either directly or through engineered famines before WW2 ever started than the total number of Jews that died in the German concentration camps.

  10. “The Germans got the idea for creating their concentration camps from the Soviet gulags, which were already in existence before the war.”

    True, though it’s important to recall the difference between concentration camps (which have existed since the Spanish American War) and exterminatin camps, which were a German innovation.

    “Stalin had already killed more people in the Ukraine either directly or through engineered famines before WW2 ever started than the total number of Jews that died in the German concentration camps.” Again true, though Stalin had a couple of decades to do so, while Hitler had about 6 years. Had he been granted the opportunity, do you doubt Hitler would have caught up?

    Stalin’s genocidal Communism (and Mao’s, during the Great Leap Forward/Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution) is the analogue of Hitler’s genocidal fascism – extremist expressions of ideologies which were, themselves, bad enough to begin with.

  11. This is scary, but not new. It is essentially what defined the (Jeane) Kirkpatrick Doctrine in the 1980s.

  12. Slightly off subject, but has anyone ever seen someone wearing a Mao shirt? I saw one being sold online on (what else?) a Che-lovers site and was appalled that anyone would even consider buying one (as if Che shirts weren’t bad enough).

  13. Let’s face it: once you pass a certian point, malice because unfathomable. It can be an interesting thought experiment (for those with sick minds) to compare and contrast the extremes of human wrong. But we’ll never resolve this issue…assuming we can even define the terms (how do we measure evil, which forms of suffering are worst, which motives are most depraved).

    Oddly enough, Stalin summed it up: A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.

  14. “Let’s face it: once you pass a certian point, malice because unfathomable. It can be an interesting thought experiment (for those with sick minds) to compare and contrast the extremes of human wrong.”

    What is also interesting to compare and contrast is the amount of focus in this country and western europe on the victims of the Nazis – the memorials, museums, etc. vs the lack thereof to the much more numerous victims of Communism.

    A lot of the so-called leftist “intellectual” class were (and some still are) big believers in Communism and were apologists for it for a very long time.

  15. “A lot of the so-called leftist “intellectual” class were (and some still are) big believers in Communism and were apologists for it for a very long time.”

    A lot of intellectuals were also big believers in fascism, prior to World War II. A couple weeks ago, there was an article in the Boston Globe about the red carpet greeting given by the school to an alumnus who had become a top advisor to Hitler at a class reunion in the 1920s. Of course, there was dissent as well, and denunciations of the evil regime. There were fascist societies in the US, and popular, powerful figures like Joseph Kennedy and Charles Lindburgh argued for closer ties with Nazi Germany.

    The difference is one of historical events – we ended up in a major shooting war with the fascists, but not the Communists. In fact, the Communists were our allies, dying at the hands of the same enemy as our own soldiers. Had 200,000 Americans lost their lives at the hands of the Red Army and its allies, no doubt the Hammer and Sickle would hold the same place in the American psyche as the swastika, and there would be a gulag museum on the national mall. And if the Nazis had been fighting the USSR by our side, the fascist-fellow-travelling intellectual class would have no doubt continued to hold a place of respect in American society for the decades after, while 30s-ear communists (or sympathizers) would have renounced their beliefs and signed up for the cause, as Lindburgh did.

  16. Used to be whenever I heard some right winger about “moral relativism” I just rolled my eyes.

    Not anymore.

    The notion, that in the absence of any good outcomes we should support the less evil one, takes one a new spin in both this story AND this thread.

    Communism Vs Fascism? Come on folks.

    Communism lasts longer and lasts longer and takes more lives so THEY must be worse? The Nazis had Aushwitz so THEY must be worse?

    In my book, once you’ve passed the “Million People Killed” mark (should actually be MUCH lower I think), who really cares whether it was 6 million OR 60 million.

    Both forms of government:

    1. Deploy a catastrophic destruction of individual and economic freedoms

    2. Perpetuate themselves by fostering both dependance and fear.

    3. Ruin their own economies by stomping on innovations and competition

    4. Ultimately promote individual and collective stagnation

    5. Murder millions of otherwise innocent individuals for capricious reasons

    These societies are so divorced from anything approaching what we today recognize as decent, productive and humane that any attempt at comparing them really runs the risk of validating them.

    Is there anyone who doesn’t look at North Korea and think “what a sad anachronism.”

    Like I said, I never used to give moral relativism much credence.

    I’ll have to rethink that.

    If anything libertarians, republicans or Americans claim to stand for holds any meaning, then neither is any better than the other.

  17. A lot of intellectuals were also big believers in fascism, prior to World War II. A couple weeks ago, there was an article in the Boston Globe about the red carpet greeting given by the school to an alumnus who had become a top advisor to Hitler at a class reunion in the 1920s.

    That surely needs to be rewritten.

    Charles Lindburgh

    “Honey, where’s the baby?” – Charles Lindberg.

  18. Er, the red carpet greeting happened at the reunion. Not the ascention into Hitler’s inner circle.

    madpad, I’m not arguing that one was better than the other – your million deaths mark is spot on. What’s relevant, however, is the different treatment they get in respectable society. My point is that Gil’s attempt to blame the existence of a naive leftist elite for Communism’s slightly-less-bad image confuses cause and effect. Such a cohort could only exist, and only have influence, if Communism already had a better image than Naziism.

  19. I believe concentration camps were invented by the brutal British imperial regime in South Africa during the Bohr War. (I’m totally spelling that wrong) anyhoo.

    Look at China, they dumped communism for fascism a long time ago and are a lot better for it. Under fascism in China more peolple have been lifted out of poverty over the last decade or so than any other country in history. If they’d of went from straight communism ala Mao to democracy it would have been a disaster.

  20. “If they’d of went from straight communism ala Mao to democracy it would have been a disaster.”

    Poland seems to be doing ok.

  21. Sigh…I had hope this wouldn’t turn into another pissing contest of “This mass murderer isn’t as bad as that mass murderer!”

    madpad gets it spot on:
    In my book, once you’ve passed the “Million People Killed” mark (should actually be MUCH lower I think), who really cares whether it was 6 million OR 60 million.

    I mean, obviously we care in one sense, since the extra 54 million deaths mean even more misery. But in judging which regime was more evil, well it makes no sense to compare. It’s not like the dictator who “only” killed 6 million said “You know, I have my limits, 6 million is enough!” More likely the dictator with the lower body count simply didn’t have the opportunity to kill more, or didn’t see any “necessity” at the time, but would have happily killed more if he had found it convenient.

    It may very well be that there’s a lesser evil between fascism and communism. Whatever that difference may be, it’s too small for me to get excited about.

  22. joe, you failed to phrase your answer in the form of a George W. Bush quote.

    “Don’t forget Poland!”

  23. Er, the red carpet greeting happened at the reunion. Not the ascention into Hitler’s inner circle.

    The reunion, not the ascension, was in the 1920s?

  24. still a libertarian,

    How do you figure that china is fascist?

    I don’t know that I’d agree

    But then all this quibbling over terminology and definitions is ultimately pointless.

    Brutal, repressive societies often arise out of corrupt and weaker ones. The architect of the rise, in almost ever case, is a charismatic despot.

    Whether they become Communist or Fascist has a lot to do with whether or not that despot read Marx or read Neitze (or just likes fancy uniforms).

    Yes, I’m oversimplifying…but to make a point. In virtually every case:

    1. No case is either “true communism” or “true fascism”

    2. All cases arise via a personality cult

    3. The only difference between Communist and Fascist governments, from a historical standpoint, is that the Communist ones tend to set up a system that perpetuates itself. Fascist leaders are far too enamoured with themselves to think that far ahead.

    4. All systems seek control by both pushing “feel good” mantras on the people while repressing them. It’s not unlike brainwashing or the Stockholm syndrome.

    5. In both systems, the individual is subordinate. In fascism to the state. In communism to the collective (which is usually the state).

    My point is, when the advent of the government, the purpose of the government and ultimate outcome on the individual are essentially identical…who gives a damn?

  25. But madpad, one type of brutal tyrant claims to have more sympathy for the left in this country, and the other side claims to have more sympathy for the right in this country!

    Or at least that’s what their propaganda would suggest. And if you can’t trust a despot’s propaganda, what can you trust?

    Seriously, though, madpad makes a good point: The type of system that they claim to be building is largely irrelevant. The severity is far more important. Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, while still a brutal Communist, was not as disastrous as Mao. Pinochet, while certainly a brutal fascist, was not as disastrous as Hitler. Fidel Castro, while unquestionably an awful tyrant, has not been as bad as Stalin or Pol Pot. Franco, while certainly a brutal fascist, didn’t create as much of a disaster as Mussolini.

    Which is not to say that Deng Xiaoping, Pinochet, Castro, or Franco are anything to celebrate. It simply means that the severity of a regime is more relevant than whether it calls itself fascist or Communist

  26. Isn’t this just another take on ye olde authoritarian versus totalitarian argument? Of course, fascists can be every bit as totalitarian as communists, if they choose to be. But pursuant to what joe said, that’s not likely what’s happening in Russia. When I grew up in a liberal family I followed my father’s lead in believing the a vs t distinction was a vile way for Republicans to justify demonizing communists while supporting anti-communist dictators. While I’m still not entirely enamored with the latter part of that policy, I certainly do recognize now why totalitarianism is worse.

  27. I refer to this as my “knife wound” theory. Once a knife has been plunged into flesh it does more damage to rip it out than to simply leave it in place. Of course it must be removed but it must be done carefully.
    It’s a legitimate concept but, like any good theory, the danger lies in it’s overuse.
    The other analogy that fits the arguements here is the “nicotine patch” patch theory where people must step down from state dependency instead of going cold turkey.
    There are many examples available to defend both. Albania went from communism to anarchy over about a weekend and prompty collapsed.
    The simple truth may simply be that you can’t sodomize the laws of economics for decades without expecting to experience a few withdrawal symptoms. A little shakes and chills are worth it in the end…certianly wiser than simply replacing the knife with a smaller one.

  28. 1) Kristof is pretty much a lefty and there’s no reason why he would be making excuses for a right wing dictatorship unless he had to.

    2) Putin was democratically elected and remains hugely popular, so there’s not much we can do about it. That seems to be the thrust of the piece. Russia may be inevitably sliding into a Chilean-style fascism, but let’s console ourselves with the thought that right wing dictatorships like Pinochet’s are the lesser evil.

    3) Putin, for all his faults, hasn’t shown any genocidal tendencies as of yet, so let’s not exaggerate.

  29. thoreau,

    I think you get where I’m going.

    In my opinion, if we are to promote democracy as, not only a humane and decent form of government but THE only humane and decent form of government, then at some level the right wingers are right in their absolutism (God, I can’t believe I’m saying that…I’ve always been a “nuance” kind of bloke).

    Go ahead and use the word “severity” to describe a particular regime in relation to another.

    But our desription of Fascism and Communism and the leaders behind them should invariably be absolute.

    Until history shows us an instance where Communism or Fascism has been a great thing for everyone, they are BOTH – absolutely – evil.

  30. Doesn’t this whole thread violate Goodwin’s Law?

  31. Oh, and another thing. The reason Communism isn’t preceived in the same light as nazism is because its ideology sounds a lot more humane and appealing (at least on paper). “Help the poor and oppressed” just sounds better than “Our country is number one and let’s kill all the Jews while we’re at it”.

  32. “Help the poor and oppressed” just sounds better than “Our country is number one and let’s kill all the Jews while we’re at it”.

    Without a doubt, the Commies are better at PR.

  33. Akira…a definition would help

    http://members.tripod.com/~goodwin_2/law.html

    Since fascism is part of the topic, the law does not apply.

  34. Borok & thoreau,

    Good point…although it should be noted that the fascists typically get people killed by demonizing their enemies – or anyone who disagrees with them – thus whipping up the good folks in the street with national “feel good’ zeal for protecting their country from evildoers.

    Come to think of it, I’ve heard of some similar goings on somewhere recently…now where was it?…hmm…oh well, I’m sure it’ll come to me soon.

  35. I’ll reiterate what I wrote (implicitly) above; the author’s statements don’t square with the historical record. It is simply not true that Spain or Chile under produced solid economic growth under the regimes of Franco and Pinochet. It is also not true that a middle class or international contacts found their genesis in these regimes. As these are the metrics by which the author measures the “merit” of these regimes, and these metrics are not substantiated by the historical record, I am incredulous with regard to the author’s argument.

    Gary’s basically saying that the (alleged) economic freedom offered by right-wing despots is not enough to lead to prosperity because other freedoms are squelched.

    No, that’s not what I was writing; I was writing a point by point attack on veracity of the author’s historical claims. The author’s claims lack historical accuracy.

    There’s a little black spot on the sun today…

  36. OK, fair enough, you were simply stating the facts rather than interpreting them. My apologies.

  37. Kristof’s comment, Still, a fascist Russia is a much better thing than a Communist Russia is an open circle. Better? You bet! Russia with all its power would make a dandy fascist!

    He should have left that comment out.

  38. “I keep reading the header as “Lesser Elvis”.”

    Conway Twitty?

  39. Gee, you must have political freedom in order to have economic growth. I guess that is why China is such an economic backwater, or perhaps that explains why China with is 9% GNP growth is such a liberal democratic paradise. I forget, which is it? As nasty as Pinochet was, at least he stepped down and Chile is a whole lot better than Cuba, which is what it would have resembled had the communists taken over. If there is any doubt to this argument just look at Venezuela in about ten years after Comrad Chaves is done with it. It will be worse than Chile ever was, not that anyone will care becaus afterall blood spilled in the name of communism is blood spilled for the good.

  40. John-

    In all fairness, most of Chinese growth is due to external investment rather than indigeneous entrepreneurship. Which is not to denigrate the contributions of Chinese entrepreneurs and small businesses, or to suggest that economic activity due to foreign investment is somehow bad (I’m a HUGE fan of free trade). But there’s no denying that an illiberal system of government is keeping the Chinese people from realizing their full productive capacity.

    not that anyone will care becaus afterall blood spilled in the name of communism is blood spilled for the good.

    And when did any of us say that?

  41. “The type of system that they claim to be building is largely irrelevant.”

    No, there is an important point to recognizing the distinctions – making sure people understand where certain paths may lead to.

    Many people on this board like to insist that Naziism was a movement of the left, because the Nazis, like, didn’t respect individual liberties, dude. The mirror image of this are those progressives who insist that Stalin was actually a right winger, because he did bad stuff and fought wars and put people in camps. If you believe that leftism (or rightism) cannot lead to camps and war, ever, that a true commitment to leftist (rightist) ideals precludes those horrors, then you can find yourself marching down the path of history with some pretty bad dudes, and deluding yourself that, even though they used violent language to describe their enemies, they couldn’t possibly actually want to set up an evil dictatorship, because really, they’re true believing leftists (rightists), and demonstrated by their passionate belief in unity among the world proletariat regardless of nationality(unity among Americans, regardless of economic class), women’s rights (traditional families), anti-Imperialism (American goodness), and the rights of workers (the right of employers to bust unions).

  42. joe-

    I understand your point: You want people to see that yes, indeed, there are dictators who come from the left and right, so that they can see the danger in blindly following anybody who says all the right (or left) things.

    The problem is that a pissing contest of “this mass murderer isn’t as deplorable as that mass murderer!” rarely ends with the liberal saying “Well, yeah, I guess Stalin really was a leftist” and the libertarian/conservative saying “Yeah, I guess Hitler really was a right-winger.” Instead, it almost always ends with the liberal still insisting that Stalin was really a right-winer and the libertarian/conservative still insisting that Hitler really was a left-winger.

    And it should go without saying that at the end of the pissing contest both sides come away with zero respect for each other.

    I’d rather avoid the pissing contest and just stipulate that when the body count has 7 or more digits it really doesn’t matter what side the tyrant claimed to be on.

  43. John,

    Pinochet didn’t “step down”; he was kicked (gracefully) out of power. He tried to crush the “people power” movement that forced the 1988 referendum, and his government balked.

    …not that anyone will care becaus afterall blood spilled in the name of communism is blood spilled for the good.

    Im curious, who here argued this? Hell, not even joe argued that. Can you keep the fucking strawmen to yourself.

  44. Had 200,000 Americans lost their lives at the hands of the Red Army and its allies, no doubt the Hammer and Sickle would hold the same place in the American psyche as the swastika, and there would be a gulag museum on the national mall

    You would think that just under 100,000 dead at the proxies of the Red Chinese and the USSR in Korea and Vietnam would be close enough, but that doesn’t stop some progressives from cherishing Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book.

  45. …the fucking strawmen…

    An event Doherty might attend?

  46. Ah, the old “commies are worse than nazis” or “nazis are worse than commies” argument. Rather tiresome, isn’t it?

    Nazis don’t get a pass because …

    They were not equal opportunity mass murderers. Norwegians and Dutch just get occupied, Poles and Russians get starved and the Jews get exterminated.
    They didn’t claim to be liberating people from oppression.
    They didn’t have a catchy philosophy like Marxism.
    They were really, really evil.

    Commies get a pass because …

    Commies are “romantic”.
    Commies are “progressive”.
    Commies mean well (it’s the Stalins and Maos who mess things up).
    Commies were against Captilism, man!
    Commies have lots of fellow travelers for the reasons above (don’t even try and deny it).

    Still, commies are just as evil as Nazis because both parties were composed of the same types of people. The two worst types are those who thinks it’s OK to make people live and act a certain way and are willing to kill to enforce their view of how society should be ordered on others. And those who simply enjoy ordering people around and killing those who resist.

    Defend a commie or a nazi and you’ll get the same responses from me. One, you’re full of crap. Two, the ends never, ever, ever justify the means.

    QFMC cos. V

  47. Putin will fix everything. I have it on good authority.

    “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue.

    “I was able to get a sense of his soul.

    “He’s a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.”

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/1392791.stm

  48. …the fucking strawmen…

    Great name for a band.

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