I am a great admirer of Franklin Sanders, of the words he has written and the life he has led. And so I was excited to read this recent article, “The Wages of Sin (are Paid in Fiat Money),” especially this pasage:
For the last 500 years thinkers and peoples have tried to run a middle way between socialism and capitalism. They tried to restrain the excesses of the industrial age, or predicted its death from those excesses. Malthus and Marx don’t differ much. And the results of Marx that we know weren’t much worse than the results of Adam Smith that we didn’t know, varying only in the class of their victims.
The last great heave of the “middle way” came when the South fought for its independence. A Christian, agrarian, hierarchical, familial society took on secular plutocratic capitalism and lost. Never mind, the same set of ideas has kept on popping up its head ever since, with distributism, agrarianism, and areas (much the better areas) of environmentalism today.
The longer I think on it the less it seems that there is any way between socialism, capitalism, and fascism, and the more it seems they are all one creature with several faces. After all, Capitalism begat Socialism, and Socialism begat Communism, and Communism begat Fascism, and Fascism begat the New Deal, and the New Deal begat the Welfare/Warfare State, which looks an awful lot like his great-great-great granddaddy. Passing over the accidental outwards and viewing the essential inwards, communism is only monopolistic capitalism raised to the nth power. The state is the sole monopolist in every business, the sole owner of all land, capital, and property, and the sole entrepreneur and employer (sort of like living in West Virginia and working for Peabody Coal Company). How does communism differ, other than degree and efficiency, from the government-co-ordinated oligopolies that rule us throughout the West? They allow just enough freedom and competition to keep the system on its toes and the innovations flowing. For if the innovations ever stop flowing, the system stops growing, and the system must grow or die.
All the talk about free markets from the right and social welfare from the left are just so much talk. The ideologues who promote them haven’t a clue how cynically the plutocracy uses their naivete. Both free markets and welfare are merely patches aimed at rationalising the system – fixes to keep it from blowing up.
Most of all I was excited by this explanatory footnote, written only as Sanders could have done:
Now you lifelong ardent capitalists don’t get too hot and start sending me smoking letters. I’m probably the only person in Tennessee today (besides my wife) who is not a communist, and who knows why. But I’m getting old enough to admit that the beautiful bride all the conservatives married had a thicker veil and a lot more warts than we realised. And, to borrow a phrase, “New capitalist is only old Commissar writ large. Or boyar.” Just substitute the oppressor of your own choice. Read Dickens or Fitzhugh or any of the English reformers of the first half of the 19th century for a flavour of what I mean. It was certainly no paradise for the labouring class in England, then the most capitalist country in the world.
It was only after I learned that there were older, better ways of life that I could recognize that capitalism has failed us, and badly. I want to know why, but I don’t know that I’m capable of doing more than pointing in the general direction of moments where we seem to have taken fatal detours off the old paths. One of those detours came, I think, when peasants were forced off the land and into the cities to staff the factories. So I’m glad to see someone with Franklin Sander’s caliber of mind looking at the same historical shift and asking the same questions. Perhaps he is the man to explain it to me, and to us.