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Dan Hannan on Hitler being a socialist and the Levellers being “proto-libertarians”

I just came across this tour de force of a speech by Dan Hannan at the Oxford Union, courtesy of David Thompson. Thank goodness for YouTube.

I particularly like the bit at the end, where Hannan shows that he knows more about the Levellers than do those arguing against him. “Proto-libertarians” is a very good description of just what kind of libertarians the Levellers were. They certainly weren’t socialists.

Just over thirteen minutes in length. Lots of good points made in a very short time, despite interruptions from the floor. No wonder Hannan’s debating opponents looked so scowly and unhappy, as Thompson notes.

22 comments to Dan Hannan on Hitler being a socialist and the Levellers being “proto-libertarians”

  • JohnW

    The facts are indisputable and have been proven repeatedly both at the local level and on world-wide scale, in practise and in theory.

    The question remains: why is there no laissez-faire capitalism today? – why is the West labouring under the burden of increasingly regulated mixed economies?

    We cannot blame poverty, idleness, ignorance and incompetence for this irrationality – President Obama’s presidential campaign was funded not by impoverished and ignorant casual labourers but by wealthy self-made businessmen – so why do businessmen support their own enslavement?

    In 1992 Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign strategist James Carville coined the slogan “it’s the economy, stupid” to emphasise the importance of economic factors to electoral victory – but although Carville’s campaign was successful, his analysis was mistaken. People do not vote for political leaders on the basis that they will become a little wealthier or little more materially comfortable or have a slighter better car – they vote for a social system they believe to be moral and the system they believe to be moral is not capitalism.

    The question is why – why are businessmen, bankers, landlords, financiers and speculators singled out for the kind of abuse in movies, books, on TV and radio, in newspapers and magazines – abuse that would be illegal if it were directed at some other minority?

    That is the question that needs to be answered.

  • Dave Evennett

    I would suggest the answer to the above question is that we are being taught that the new meaning of moral is ‘fair’, and that fair now means the redistribution of the fruits of other people’s hard work, risks and success. That’s what they vote for, I would think.

  • JohnW
    January 13, 2015 at 4:48 am

    When you own government profits are assured. Upstarts are kept out. Regulation is one of the keys. We have so many that starting a new business must be under the radar until there is enough success to cover the cost of regulations.

    In the US it is the pipeline folks vs Warren Buffet’s railroads. For example.

    Once you get that then you understand why government control is promoted. But it is nothing new. Edison was fighting Westinghouse/Tesla over DC vs AC.

    So why do the masses buy it? Because it is not sold for what it is. It is sold as something else. Opposition to the pipeline is sold as pro environment. The arguments are nonsense on stilts. Sure there will be spills. There will be more from train wrecks. The train wrecks hardly get mentioned in the context of the pipeline.

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Hannan is correct on both counts.

    The so called “Levellers” hated the communal “Diggers” – indeed several leaders of the so called Levellers suggested that the leaders of the Diggers be executed as they were enemies of private property (the central principle of Lilburne and Overton). The small government vision of the so called “Levellers” is the opposite of the vision of the “Guardian reading classes” who claim to be following in their footsteps.

    Mr Hilter was from the NON Marxist tradition in German socialism (going back to statist thinkers such as Fichte and List – and even to 18th century thinkers), non Marxist socialism is almost forgotten today, but it was very important. Many Nazi thinkers (and, please remember everyone, the National Socialist party was vastly stronger in the schools and universities than it was in ordinary Civil Society) also came from the Marxist tradition of socialism,

    Mussolini – much less complicated, he came from the Marxist tradition of socialism (indeed he was senior to “Lenin” in this movement before the First World War) – Mussolini, unlike Lenin, understood that objective truth refutes Marxism, but he did not reject socialism, he rejected objective truth instead – following the philosophy of William James and Sorel which teaches that “truth” is a subjective matter – “my truth”, “your truth”, something as a “useful myth” and so on.

    Thus Mussolini produced his own mutant, heretical, form of Marxism.

    The Soviet NKVD invented the nonsense that the Progressive (American Progressives were also supporters of eugenics and so on – just like the German ones were – and the British Fabians were also) Radical Revolutionary movements of Fascism and National Socialism were “reactionary” and “tools of the capitalists”.

    It is nonsense to say that the National Socialists and Fascists were “tools of the capitalists” – but it is nonsense that has been spread by the network of Marxists and Fellow Travellers that have vast influence in Western media (including entertainment media – such as Hollywood) and in academia – schools and colleges (just as socialism, or various sorts, dominated German schools and universities – long before it dominated the wider society).

  • Paul Marks

    M. Simon – you are thinking in inverted Marxist terms, the way of thinking pushed by the late Murray Rothbard.

    Business does not “buy” or “control” government – the vast majority of government spending does not benefit business (quite the contrary) and the vast majority of government regulations do not benefit business (quite the contrary).

    In the United States one can, sometimes, pay to nudge taxes and regulations so that they hurt would-be competitors more – but they still HURT they still EVENTURALLY DESTROY the very business that has paid for the nudging (it is just a matter of “you today – me tomorrow”).

    Most of the wealthy people who back collectivism do NOT benefit from it – it is indeed (as John W. says) a matter of false IDEAS – NOT “economic interests”.

    Business people and the “the rich” do not come from some other universe – they go to the same schools and universities as other people.

    And in these places (and by the media) they are taught that good is evil, and evil is good.

    Of course few people are brainwashed completely (“common sense” does exist and resists the brain washing) however, vast numbers of people (including business people) are, to a greater or lesser extent, INFLUENCED by the dreadful evil that is spread by the “gate keepers” of the education system and the culture generally.

  • JohnW

    @M.Simon Indeed.
    I believe the only solution to that is a Twenty-Eighth Amendment suggested in Atlas Shrugged.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    I arrived at the “Hitler was a socialist” thing from the other end recently. After watching the Top Gear Patagonia special, and seeing a bunch of (I’m guessing state funded) Argies behaving like bloody savages, I did a bit of reading on the history of Argentina’s government.

    I’m not the first to observe that Peronism appears to be the same as fascism. Fascism is a populist, ultra-authoritarian government that allows some freedom to own a business due to the doctrine of corporatism (i.e. we all have a part to play for the Fatherland). The only significant difference between Fascism and Communism is that Communism wants state ownership of all industry, and Fascism wants private ownership, but state control of industry.

    Argentina has an ultra-authoritarian, populist government that adopts a corporatist model of business ownership. Ergo, Argentina has a fascist government. Now many regard Socialism as merely a way of saying “Communist-lite” but really it refers to the pursuit of Communist ideals of making everybody the same in every way via non-traditional methods (i.e. not the Soviet approach).

    Looking at Christina Kirchner, while she is undoubtedly a fascist, she also goes on about redistribution, equality and “social justice” – Socialist ideals. Therefore she is a Socialist Facist – something the left would argue is physically impossible. And yet, there she stands.

  • Roue le Jour


    Wealthy supporters of the Democrats may well do it in the expectation that not doing it would be worse, even if they don’t seem to profit by it. i.e. they would be branded ‘evil bastard capitalists’ and taxed and regulated out of business. It is widely claimed that Bill Gates was sat down and had it explained to him what would happen to Microsoft if he didn’t play ball.


    Under the twenty-eighth, are chemical plants free to pollute rivers?

  • hennesli

    Here is part of an interview from a 1932 Liberty magazine, I think that what Hitler called socialism is something that most people would not recognise as such today, since socialism in understood today in almost exclusively left wing terms.

    “Why,” I asked Hitler, “do you call yourself a National Socialist, since your party programme is the very antithesis of that commonly accredited to socialism?”

    “Socialism,” he retorted, putting down his cup of tea, pugnaciously, “is the science of dealing with the common weal. Communism is not Socialism. Marxism is not Socialism. The Marxians have stolen the term and confused its meaning. I shall take Socialism away from the Socialists.

    “Socialism is an ancient Aryan, Germanic institution. Our German ancestors held certain lands in common. They cultivated the idea of the common weal. Marxism has no right to disguise itself as socialism. Socialism, unlike Marxism, does not repudiate private property. Unlike Marxism, it involves no negation of personality, and unlike Marxism, it is patriotic.

  • JohnW

    @Roue le Jour,
    Whose rivers? The Victorians created a vast body of law to deal with this type of property dispute called Nuisance Case Law.
    Disputes most often arose from location issues – right factory, wrong location or who-came-first? scenarios.

    The problem with that is this – it does not matter what laws you have, or as Yaron Brook explains [above] even what Constitution you have, if the idea of self-interest is rejected hence-

    @Jaded Voluntaryist
    notice how both communists and fascists constantly appeal to self-sacrifice.
    Win-win is simply not in their dictionary – trade is a feature of cowardly and effeminate Scotsmen or Americans.

    But in Germany, through the medium of the schools, the Press and the comic papers, an idea of the Englishman was gradually formed which was bound eventually to lead to the worst kind of self-deception. This absurdity slowly but persistently spread into every quarter of German life. The result was an undervaluation for which we have had to pay a heavy penalty. The delusion was so profound that the Englishman was looked upon as a shrewd business man, but personally a coward even to an incredible degree. Unfortunately our lofty teachers of professorial history did not bring home to the minds of their pupils the truth that it is not possible to build up such a mighty organization as the British Empire by mere swindle and fraud. The few who called attention to that truth were either ignored or silenced. I can vividly recall to mind the astonished looks of my comrades when they found themselves personally face to face for the first time with the Tommies in Flanders. After a few days of fighting the consciousness slowly dawned on our soldiers that those Scotsmen were not like the ones we had seen described and caricatured in the comic papers and mentioned in the communiqués. – Mein Kampf.

  • Snorri Godhi

    One rationalization that seems popular in the British “left” is that Hitler called himself a socialist purely for propaganda purposes.
    To which i reply:
    1. There were already other socialist parties in Germany, most notably the Communists and the Social Democrats. By adopting socialism only as a label, Hitler could not hope to win votes from those parties, while at the same scaring away non-socialist voters.
    2. The German people (unlike the English) do not strike me as the sort of people who can be swayed by feelgood words.
    3. In any case, “socialist” is, generally speaking, not a feelgood word in the Continent. Continental socialism is more about the objective laws of history than about feeling warm inside. Popper remarked on this in a footnote to The Open Society where he said that, in his experience (mostly Austrian at the time of writing), leftists believe in their own immorality.

  • JohnW

    They had a very socialist idea of private property!

    “Private property” as conceived under the liberalistic
    economy order was a reversal of the true concept of
    property [wrote Huber]. This “private property”
    represented the right of the individual to manage and
    to speculate with inherited or acquired property as
    he pleased, without regard for the general interests…
    German socialism had to overcome this “private”, that
    is, unrestrained and irresponsible view of property.
    All property is common property. The owner is bound
    by the people and the Reich to the responsible
    management of his goods. His legal position is only
    justified when he satisfies this responsibility to
    the community.

  • Andy

    To say Hitler was a Socialist is to drain the word of any meaning beyond being a bad word that we call bad people. In particular the claim that fascists actually believed in worker control of factories is ludicrous. Fundamentally both Fascism and Nazism are war ideologies. That is their defining feature, and it doesn’t leave a lot of room for worker control of anything.

    I don’t know enough about the levellers to comment but given the association with the Hitler sentiment I’m not encouraged.

  • In particular the claim that fascists actually believed in worker control of factories is ludicrous

    The notion communists do either is also ludicrous.

    And all collectivist ideologies are ‘war ideologies’.

  • Jake Haye

    I thought opening with the ‘Hitler was a socialist’ thing was a major rhetorical blunder, given that it comes down to a debate over definitions which the opposing side will never accept.

    He was on much firmer ground with the freedom vs coercion stuff. He should also have taken the opportunity to slay the lefty tropes swirling around inside the head of every woolly-minded leftist in the audience, e.g. that Sweden is an example of functioning socialism.

    Though I guess the bizarrely incoherent ramblings of the hecklers would have been hard to anticipate.

  • I thought opening with the ‘Hitler was a socialist’ thing was a major rhetorical blunder, given that it comes down to a debate over definitions which the opposing side will never accept.

    Oh I disagree. It is a tactic that has been used successfully by the supporters of state power for a very long time to great effect. Take the world ‘liberal’ as used in the USA these days. It actually means someone who is illiberal.

    No, it is perfectly reasonable to call a member of the ‘National Socialist German Workers Party’ a… Socialist. In truth though it hardly matters which kind of totalitarian they are. They are all collectivist statists and differentiating which kind they are is like debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

  • Paul Marks
    January 13, 2015 at 7:16 am

    You mistake my point. You are correct about business not buying government – generally. But specific business people can buy pieces of it. And they use a two pronged attack. Generate public support. Campaign donations (when big enough they are actually bribes).

    You then get crony capitalism. Or too big to fail. Rule of the oligarchs.

  • Take cannabis in the US. It loos to be a cure for quite a lot of things. Some or all cancers for instance.

    Big Pharma owns a lot of politicians pus “donates” heavily to Prohibitionist organizations.

    Think about what a $5,000 cancer cure (and those are greatly inflated black market prices) would do to the medical industrial complex. Think about “no medical use” enshrined in law.

    You also have the Baptist/bootlegger coalition. There is a wide swath of Baptists who think curing the sick is morally wrong if cannabis is involves. Some one might get high. Which would destroy their soul.

    “The Latin American drug cartels have stretched their tentacles much deeper into our lives than most people believe. It’s possible they are calling the shots at all levels of government.” – William Colby, former CIA Director, 1995

    The prison guards in Calif were pumping for harsher drug sentences a while back. More bodies/time for them. And of course they have a very large political campaign chest.

    It goes on.

    Now I don’t think anything can or should be done about that except creating countervailing forces. But to say that some people don’t buy some segments of government is to avoid looking at reality.

    The “ins” are always looking for ways to use government to protect themselves from the “outs”.

  • bloke in spain

    Shame you didn’t link to speaker for the other side of the debate. From the context, I gather Hannan responded.
    I’d imagine she (?) was listened to with polite attention without interruption?
    Which might make an important point. Socialists don’t like free speech.
    And an interesting tactical thought. Their opponents don’t necessarily help their cause by allowing them so quite much.

  • JohnW

    The Nazis did not advocate public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, but they did demand that the government oversee and run the nation’s economy. The issue of legal ownership, they explained, is secondary; what counts is the issue of control . Private citizens, therefore, could continue to hold titles to property but the state would reserve to itself the unqualified right to regulate the use of their property.

    If “ownership” means the right to determine the use and disposal of material goods, then Nazism endowed the state with every real prerogative of ownership. What the individual retained was merely a formal deed, a content-less deed, which conferred no rights on its holder. Under communism, there is collective ownership of property de jure . Under Nazism, there is the same collective ownership de facto .

    Either way, the effect is necessarily the same by the inescapable laws of economics, see for example Why Nazism Was Socialism and Why Socialism is Totalitarian by George Reisman

  • Midwesterner

    JohnW and Perry,

    Fascist socialism and communist socialism are indistinguishable in any way that matters to a philosophical individualist or libertarian, but they have some differences we do well to remember in a tactical context.

    First with regard to ‘ownership’ and rhetoric. By preserving the ceremonial and rhetorical forms of private property, during transition phases fascism lulls property owners into complacency and allows sectors and factions to be picked off by government controllers in serial fashion. “First they came for …” Preserving the trappings of private property while de facto nationalizing it is a major tactical improvement over the outright confiscation that establishing communism requires.

    While on the topic of rhetorical tactics, even a cursory inspection shows contemporary China to be fascist with a few outliers of communism (not significantly more so than the US) and of private property (yielding many entertaining pictures of houses in the middle of highways or construction sites). But the leaders of China preserve the name of “Communist”. Probably in part to assuage their own sensitivities, but also with the clear understanding that any nation that self identifies as “fascist” is in for a world of hurt from fearful neighbors and potential enemies. So the “Communist” charade goes on.

    Second, fascism allows an ethical-within-the-rules way of rewarding managers who serve the state well. By preserving in the name of ‘ownership’ luxury and high living by approved managers, fascism preserves an incentive structure that is lacking in communism. Which takes us to:

    Third, any society founded on the principle “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” has embraced a civil suicide pact. By removing all of the rewards of effort (abilities require effort to develop) and removing all of the penalties for sloth (even the slothful still have needs) communism creates a strong incentive to appear untalented and needy while simultaneously it punishes any signs of skill or acumen. For communism to overcome this disadvantage, it must reward its best supporters in violation of its founding creed (they are “more equal”) which preselects for leaders who are corruptible as they must accept their rewards in violation of the society’s ethical construct. Another impediment to communism is that because of its “from each… to each…” mandate, it must engage in deniable genocide as opposed to fascism, which without that constraint can industrialize it. Communist socialism has killed more people by far than fascist socialism, but since it cannot embrace it as part of its foundational principles, it must always be denied and deniable; ‘accidents’, ‘incompetence’, ‘crop failure’, ‘evil people who are not true socialists’. But socialism of either form must always engage in genocide to survive much less thrive. Countries that are typically put forth as successful socialist countries have always pulled back from the tipping point when collectivism became too great of a share of the society. Whenever collectivism of any kind has run the table, proceeding to near saturation of a society, genocidal horror results.

  • Paul Marks

    Andy if it is a “blunder” to say that Mr Adolf Hitler was a NONMARXIST socialist then we might as well not say anything.

    It was a common place of such books as “Omnipotent Government” by Ludwig Von Mises and “The Road to Serfdom” by Hayek that the National Socialists were what they said they were – non Marxist socialists (actually many of them still kept some Marxist ideas – although Mr Hitler himself was clearly in the NON Marxist socialist camp).

    “The other side will not accept this”.

    Yes – that is why they are the “other side”.

    Our role is not to convince them – our role is to defeat them.

    Even we can not even endorse the position of “The Road To Serfdom” (because the brainwashed little darlings in the universities will be shocked) – then let us give up politics.