Is the Party Over?

Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America

by Bertram Gross
M. Evans, 410 pp., $15.00

Crisis Investing: Opportunities and Profits in the Coming Great Depression

by Douglas R. Casey
Stratford Press (distributed by Harper & Row), 290 pp., $12.50

Bertram Gross, a liberal Democrat, a former congressional aide, the major author of the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of 1978 in its original form, and now a professor, says in his new book that big business and big government may be turning America toward fascism. What Gross sees is not a conspiracy on the part of the ruling class but a “powerful logic of events,” leading to “concentrated, unscrupulous, repressive and militaristic control…to conserve the profits of the ultra rich, the corporate overseers and the (military and civilian) brass to squelch the rights and liberties of people at home and abroad.”

Friendly Fascism, however, will probably enjoy neither the influence of Mills’s Power Elite nor the popularity of Lundberg’s The Rich and the Superrich. It adds nothing to what these earlier populist attacks on concentrated power have already said; its prose is often nearly impenetrable and its argument obscure. One characteristic of friendly fascism, for example, will be its “internal viability, grounded in system strengthening reforms, multi-level co-optation, creative counter-revolution and innovative apathetics.” What this means is only that American fascism won’t come rattling down Pennsylvania Avenue in a tank, but will arrive in such familiar forms as government infiltration of hostile political groups, official toleration of drug-taking to dull the resentfulness of the poor, the use of drugs to tame inmates, and of jobs in the bureaucracy to tame dissidents. But how or whether these abuses may result in something that can plausibly be called fascism is unclear from Gross’s account. Friendly Fascism is nonetheless interesting in so far as it reflects what seems to be a widespread feeling among liberals as well as conservatives that democracy in America has played itself out: that soon Americans won’t be able to govern themselves.

Douglas Casey, an investment counselor specializing in offshore situations, is the author of this season’s best-selling addition to the apocalyptic literature of the populist right, a genre that owes to Ayn Rand what Gross’s left-wing populism owes to C. Wright Mills. Casey, too, says that concentrated bureaucratic power is tending toward dictatorship. He believes, however, that our rulers aim not to preserve but to squander the possessions of the rich and the superrich by transferring their hard-earned money to the undeserving poor in exchange for votes. For Gross, our totalitarian future will be Argentinian. For Casey it will be Cuban. Though both writers say they love the United States, neither trusts or likes it much.

As a defense against fascism, Gross recommends the practice of grass roots democracy. Casey is equally quixotic, but blunter. He would let the government keep the police and the military, but make it sell everything else, including the interstate highway system. Whatever can’t be run for profit shouldn’t be run at all, Casey thinks. As for the welfare poor, their dependent children, the unemployed, the sick, the aged, the low achievers, the unlucky, he would let them find work at whatever wages …

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