The Nature of True Freedom III: Creating A Shared Image of the Future
Arrogance and Friendly Fascism
It is particularly important for those of us who come out of an American liberal tradition, given our predisposition to want complex social problems to be addressed through centralized, governmental functions, to reconsider our expectations of government providing systemwide solutions. We need to establish a closer relationship with our personal social responsibilities as an expression of our freedom. Hannah Arendt ( 1966) reminds us in her analysis of bureaucratic racism in European colonialization that social reform motives can all too easily translate into arrogance regarding our justifiable authority to intervene in the life of (that is, to conquer) another person in order to bring her or him “true” knowledge, values, and perspectives on life.
I bring in the challenging insights offered by Bertrand Gross (1980) at this point. Gross is an avowed liberal who has a long, impressive history of service to the federal government. He provides his own confession regarding the often-inappropriate role of centralization in liberal thought. ”For many years,” Gross (1980, pp. 4-5) observes, “I sought solutions for America’s ills—particularly unemployment, ill health and slums—through more power in the hands of central government. In this I was not alone. Almost all my fellow planners, reformers, social scientists, and urbanists presumed the benevolence of more concentrated government power.”
Gross goes on to note the parallel between liberal centralization and the seemingly opposite centralization to be found in the conservative encouragement of unrestricted corporate growth in American society and suggests the nature of the major challenge that each of us now faces as social critic and activist:
The major exceptions [to those who advocate the benevolence of concentrated government power] were those who went to the other extreme of presuming the benevolence of concentrated corporate power, often hiding its existence behind sophistical litanies of praise for the ‘rationality,’ ‘efficiency,’ or ‘democracy’ of market systems and ‘free competitive’ private enterprise. Thus, the propensity toward friendly fascism lies deep in American society. There may even be a little bit of neofascism in those of us who are proudest of our antifascist credentials and commitments.
The challenge, therefore, is to find means of integration that retain and promote diversity and to find sources of community that do not require centralization of control.