“The Nazi’s were socialists,” tweeted @Liberty4masses. This is, to be certain, a purposefully controversial statement. As such, it earned some backlash. “Nazism paid lip service to socialist ideas,” but they were not real socialists, one user responded. Both statements, while seemingly in opposition, are in fact correct.
Nazism was not socialism as the socialists popularly theorize it. True economic equality for the masses was not realized. Indeed, the image of a classless society failed to materialize. With its’ vast array of cruelty, we know that the utopian dream was not alive and well in Nazi Germany.
However, the Nazi’s were socialists in so far as they were the natural outgrowth of socialist policy. This is the accurate way to clarify @Liberty4masses tweet. But this statement begs for further analysis. And luckily for us, we have two great minds in Plato and F.A. Hayek that show us why this is the case.
The Republic of Plato
Writing in The Republic, Plato concludes that tyranny necessarily grows out of democracy, because too much freedom “seems to change into nothing but too much slavery.”
Understanding Plato’s reasoning is easy enough. Freedom of the individual necessitates inequality. Individuals possess different means and sets of skills that will inevitably set themselves apart from their peers. Therefore, inequality will always be a natural byproduct of a free society. The downside, however, is that inequality breeds resentment.
And resentment is the beginning of the end of Plato’s democracy. The lower class begins to detest the rich. They come to view them as oppressive oligarchs. The rich have the lives that everyone wants, and the populace does not understand why they can’t have it as well. To borrow from Alexis de Tocqueville, the people begin to desire equality more than freedom.
But this relentless pursuit of equality lays the groundwork for a tyrant to emerge. The tyrant takes advantage of the resentment within the populace. As Plato describes it, they will promise the people “debt reparations and land redistribution.” So long as the tyrant can control the state apparatus, the people will achieve their most ardent desires. Their utopian dream will reach its fruition once the state is centralized under a benevolent mind.
And wielding the weapon of a resentful majority, the tyrant silences their opposition. They consolidate control of the economic well-being of the society at hand. The people are initially ecstatic. But perhaps their pursuit of equality has been to their own disadvantage. The state, now in control of their economic livelihood, is but one step away from total control of their personal freedoms.
The result of their efforts may, in fact, be equality in servitude rather than equality in liberty.
The Road to Serfdom
F.A. Hayek wrote a comprehensive study on this phenomena in his masterwork, The Road to Serfdom. For Hayek, the goodwill socialist gives themselves an impossible task. The centralized planner initially begins by picking and choosing industries to manage. However, the planner is confronted with the challenge that only free-market capitalism takes into account. In a society composed of intertwined industries, how can the planner fully manage one without also managing the others?
The free market depends on individuals closest to the industries at hand to solve the issues as they arise. The unpredictability of the individual, however, is too uncertain for the central planner bent on preserving “economic rights.” In order to fully attain their objective, the industries that the central planner manages grows evermore comprehensive until the entire economic activity of the state is under control.
The state, having infiltrated the economic lives of the people, is now forced to come to grips with an even greater obstacle to its utopian vision. In a society of individuals with various interests and pursuits, how can the planner balance the economic apparatus to fairly account for all of these differing perspectives? The preference for one group of individuals inevitably leads to the dissatisfaction of another.
In order for the state to successfully accomplish its task, the society must be composed of a homogeneous group of people. They must think the same, act the same and pursue the same ends. The goodwill socialist—maintaining some democratic ideals—is unwilling to do the things that would be necessary to stomp out any semblance of individuality. This leads Hayek to assert that “socialism can only be put into practice by methods which most socialists disapprove.”
So the goodwill socialist does the only thing that they can do, which is nothing at all. The utopian vision is left incomplete. Some are prospering, while others are not. And those who are not prospering, having been removed of self-accountability for their economic freedoms, only have one entity to blame: the state.
The goodwill socialist has, however, accomplished the unthinkable. They have created a powerful system of centralized control over the populace. In doing so, they have paved the way for a tyrant to finish the job. After all, only a tyrant could pursue the means necessary to homogenize the mass of individuals within the socialist society.
Only the tyrant will eradicate the independent pursuit of truth for its own sake. It is only the tyrant that will take collectivism towards its inevitable conclusion: the complete assimilation or eradication of the people who do not agree with the prevailing opinion of the state.
Socialism can only reach its stated goals through evolving into totalitarianism. It will look drastically different than what the goodwill socialist envisions. It will be closed-minded and nationalistic. It will be both cruel and oppressive. It will bear a striking resemblance to something akin to Nazism.