Any account of the political theories of the last quarter century must inevitably end with a comparison of national socialism and communism and of both with liberal democracy. For within this period these three have been the rivals for men’s loyalty and each has exacted from its followers miracles of effort and self-sacrifice.
The end of the period saw the defeat of national socialism by a temporary cooperation between believers in the other two, a cooperation however that left communism and democracy more sharply contrasted than ever before. And only a very optimistic thinker would predict that the essential purposes of national socialism may not be revived in a new form. The Contrasts and similarities, therefore are mater of present concern and indeed of perennial concern of political theory. For at bottom they depend upon contrasting views of politics, its mature and the part that it can play and societies both National and international.
Many of the similarities between national socialism and communism lie upon the surface and are manifest. Both throve on social and economic demoralization, which was partly an aftermath of war but which reflected also inherent maladjustments of Western society. Both Were political dictatorships. Both discarded with scorn the parliamentary aids to deliberation and negotiation which centuries of European political experience, under the guidance of liberal principles, had created as stabler and more workable substitutes for dictatorship. Both were obliged to reinstate the purge as a political institution. Both tolerated only a single political party which was allowed to maintain is own coercive apparatus.
According to the theory of both the party was a self-constituted aristocracy which has the mission partly of leading, partly of instructing, and partly of coercing the bulk of mankind along the road that it is good for them to follow. Both were totalitarian in the sense that they obliterated the liberal distinction between areas of private judgment and of public control, and both turned the educational system into an agency of universal indoctrination.
In their philosophy both were utterly dogmatic, professing, the one in the name of the Aryan race the other in the name of the proletariat, a higher insight capable of laying down rules for art, literature, science, and religion. Both induced a frame of mind akin to religious fanaticism. In strategy both were reckless in their assertions, boundless in their claims, abusive toward their opponents, prone to regard any concession on their own part as a temporary expedient and on a rival’s part as a sign of weakness.
The social philosophies of both agreed in regarding society as in essence a system of forces, economic or racial, between which adjustment takes place by struggle and dominance rather than by mutual understanding and concession. Both therefore regarded politics as a method of implementing forces and hence an expression of power.
Despite these similarities, however, it is certain that communism was on a higher level, both morally and intellectually, than national socialism. Initially at least the underlying purpose of communism was generous and humane. Its sincerity was unquestionable. Its theory was an outgrowth of two generations of Marxian scholarship with which it claimed both moral and intellectual continuity. Indeed it erected its identity with Marx into a dogma.
National socialist theory, on the contrary, was the product of opportunism and sometimes of cynicism and downright intellectual dishonesty; its ethics was the ethics of the declasse. Marxism had been born of the knowledge that modern technology and capitalism were dehumanizing and demoralizing in their consequences, as liberalism itself came to see, and though it minimized it did not deny the substantial values achieved in the development of liberal politics.
Traditionally it claimed to extend rather than to restrict democracy. The circumstances of its development in Russia and less a conscious intention forced Lenin to expunge from Marxism most of its democratic implications. Even so its aims remained on their face benevolent though its methods were often brutal.
Fascism and national socialism, on the contrary, derived their Strength from an effort to maintain and perpetuate a system of social and economic privilege. To peoples that were to be forced permanently onto a lower standard of living they offered the sentimental reward of participating in a grandiose national mission, which was in substance economic imperialism, and of sharing in prospective material rewards that were never to be realized.
The structure of power and privilege which national socialism envisaged as the form of the national community was projected in the picture of an international community with a similar structure. The end revealed the insubstantial and visionary quality of the project.
Not only did it lead to war, which was certain in advance, and not only did war bring incredible loss and suffering, which could have been anticipated, but the nature of national socialist government turned defeat as nearly as possible into destruction. A government that had transformed itself into a personal dictatorship could not even resign power in order to leave the national economy and the national political structure intact.
The philosophies of national socialism and communism both tended to become intellectually unapproachable by one who was not a devotee. Both demanded full surrender and based their claim to inevitable and total rightness on a kind of insight that an outsider could not have and that was impervious to evidence.
Neither philosophy conceived itself as a medium of intellectual and moral communication. The national socialist claim to an Aryan science and an Aryan art was matched by the communist claim to a proletarian science and a proletarian art, and both claims were liberally backed by charges of degeneracy against the non-Aryan and the bourgeois.
Yet even here, in philosophic principle at least, the two dogmatism and the two dictatorships were potentially not on the same level. Communist philosophy was never overtly irrational; it honestly believed that the dialectic was an instrument of logic yielding results that could be rationally evaluated.
Perhaps it had too much rather than too little faith in logic; its dogmatism was a little naive in trusting its ability to read off from its Marxian formulas the course of history, the working of human motives, and the nature of institutions. National socialism on the contrary avowed that its philosophy was a myth which was made true by the will to believe. Between nations it set the insurmountable barrier of race, and even for Ifs devotees it supplied no basis for agreement except emotional intoxication.
It must be admitted, however, that the potential difference between the two dogmatism may, wear very thin, when the implicit irrationalism of the dialectic come to the surface. If no conflict can be resolved until its oppositions have been driven to the last extreme, if intelligence and with it science and art and philosophy are inextricably bound to social class, if proletarian and bourgeois never meet until both are sublimated in the utopia of the classless society, the result is the same as if the differences were innate. But certainly it is true that the national socialist elite would never have acknowledged its own extinction as an ideal.
The fundamental difference in point of view between the philosophy of liberal democracy and that of either communism or national socialism is that democracy always believed in the possibility of general communication. Whether in terms of universal natural rights or of the greatest happiness or of the common good, its theory purported to be a medium through which men of reasonable intelligence and normal good will could communicate across the boundaries of nation and of social class and so could reach by negotiation as much understanding and agreement as was needed to serve the purposes of a limited authority.
For this reason a democratic social philosophy conceived a community not as a constellation of impersonal forces either racial or economic-but as a complex of human beings and of human interests. Such interests, it conceded, are always more or less antagonistic and always stand in need of mutual adjustment and readjustment.
It was the fundamental assumption of democracy, however, that such adjustments were possible, because communication is possible, and consequently that human relations are conducted on the whole more characteristically by negotiation than by force.
Force it conceived, in a civilized society at least, to be rather a last resort than a universal characteristic of social relationships. Hence the ethics of democracy regarded mutual concession and compromise not as defections from principle but as ways of reaching agreements which on the r whole were more satisfactory than any that could be reached by the dominance of one interest or one party over all the others.
The purpose of a democratic philosophy was to extend rather than to limit the scope of negotiation. This purpose it supposed to be based on a sound and a generally admitted observation, which indeed required no high degree of psychological penetration.
It depended on the fact that coercion is at best a crude method of controlling mechanisms as delicately constructed as human personalities and the social ties between personalities, a method that is likely to fail of its purposes, and when it does not fail, is likely to leave in its train accumulations of resentment, frustration, and aggressiveness that lay the foundation for future failure.
In general, therefore, democratic theory moved toward the conclusion that politics, by definition, ought to be conceived as the area of negotiation and its institutions as agencies to make possible the interchanges of opinion and understanding on which successful negotiation depends. Such a view attributes to politics a degree and a kind of social importance that is impossible according to a theory that regards it as merely a reflection of social forces or a way of giving effect to the strongest force.
Communication and-negotiation, however, have moral as well as semantic presuppositions. They assume in society a factor of free intelligence, not bound either to race or to social position, that can take cognizance of social forces and within limits can direct them. They assume in addition a factor of good will, not unrelated to intelligence and also not bound to race or social position, that intends in the direction of social forces to adjust them to one another with a minimum of friction and coercion.
In this last assumption resides, perhaps, the political meaning of the traditional democratic virtues-the belief which has never since Aristotle been absent from liberal thought that on the political level human being have to meet as free men and equals. Politically speaking liberty and equality are neither inherent natural rights nor extrinsic aids to happiness, but they can quite reasonably be regarded as moral attitudes without which communication and negotiation become in any complete sense of these words impossible.
A genuine meeting of minds may result if both parties in interest will concede to the other side the honor of believing, at least as am initial assumption, that its point of view is not merely vicious or silly. Without that attitude understanding will almost certainly not result, and in a very real sense to assume that attitude is the meaning of treating another person as an equal.
Agreement may follow when each side can speak its mind freely without fear of reprisal. Granted a residue of good faith and good will, it becomes possible to accept the fact that free politics is inescapably, but on the whole beneficently, partisan because it is not partisan without limit or scruple.
These attitudes make it possible that communication should issue in understanding and that negotiation should end in agreement. They are not guaranties that the process will succeed but their absence is a guaranty that it will fail. Purely as individual attitudes these moral presumptions of democracy are, it must be admitted, weak.
For their effective operation in politics they depend on institutions and procedures which conduce to there exercise. The discovery of such procedure and the are discoveries as truly as any technological discovery is a work is of first class human intelligence applied to the art of human relations. The philosophy of a democratic society is therefore as its critics have said, a form of intellectualism.
But it need not be an intellectualism that perpetuates an obsolete psychology. It is rather an intellectualism which assumes that understanding is not beyond the range of possibility and that it not only depends on but extends good will and tolerance.