Tyler Cowen: “No, Fascism Can’t Happen Here”

Tyler Cowen (of Marginal Revolution) has a piece in Politico titled “No, Fascism Can’t Happen Here”, which is adapted from Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America, edited by Cass “Nudge” Sunstein.

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.

On the irony of a mythic libertarian state being a more probable facilitator of fascism:

I commonly hear arguments from classical liberals suggesting that a “night watchman state” (or some slightly expanded version thereof) focused narrowly on upholding the rule of law provides government with greater efficacy and focus. If government is concentrating on its essential functions, and what it can do well, maybe it does a better job. Imagine, for instance, a government that doesn’t try so hard to regulate broccoli stems, but delivers on limiting crime and providing speedy and fair trials to the accused.

Yet 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.

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