In Gustave Le Bon’s Psychology of Socialism there is a remarkable warning against socialist experimentation. “We must not dream,” wrote Le Bon, “as some have done, of allowing Socialism to attempt its object in order to prove its weakness, for Socialism would immediately give birth to Caesarism, which would promptly suppress all the institutions of democracy.” And these words, published by Le Bon in 1898, proved unerringly prophetic with the advent of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia 19 years later, as well as the National Socialist Revolution in Germany, 1933-34. When socialist principles took control of Russia and Germany, the Caesarism of Lenin, Stalin and Hitler quickly appeared. Freedom of speech was trampled along with property rights. When Le Bon wrote The Psychology of Socialismthe word “totalitarian” had not been invented. A much older word, designating the same thing, was “Caesarism.”
It was Gaius Julius Caesar who crossed the Rubicon with his legions in 49 B.C. to overthrow the Roman constitution, opening the way to absolute dictatorship. “Caesar’s greatest and almost only important contribution was the destruction of the republic,” wrote John Dickinson in Death of a Republic. “In the apathy of the voters … Caesar perceived an opportunity to introduce a new method…. That was the method of rioting, street fighting and intimidation by gangs of thugs. It was cheaper than bribery…. Voters who could only be induced to come to the polls by a bribe could be depended on to stay away if their attendance were at the risk of serious personal injury or even of their lives, and thus the voting body could be reduced to the few who would vote the way the master of the mob desired.”
It is no accident that the Bolsheviks and Nazis also relied on street mobs and gangs. The emergence of similar forces here, in the United States, should serve as a warning. Once you have empowered certain elements within society, you cannot return to freedom. Once you’ve allowed criminals to intimidate society, you have accepted a set of chains; and those chains are not easily thrown off. From that point forward you are stuck with the dominance of a criminal milieu – whatever name it calls itself, despite its use of noble slogans. The market system of today, as the republican system of antiquity, depends on concepts of law and order – on institutions founded according to principles. But now we have something different.
When a demagogue declares that a businessman working within the law is a robber, there is a corollary to this statement; namely, that the robber and the thug are liberators. As soon as the street thug is glorified, the respectable businessman is vilified. “As soon as we penetrate a little into the mechanism of civilizations,” wrote Le Bon, “we quickly discover that a society, with its institutions, its beliefs, and its arts, represents a tissue of ideas, sentiments, customs and modes of thought … the cohesion of which constitutes its strength.” Replace moral sentiments with immoral sentiments and what do you achieve? Replace business men with street thugs and what have you built? You achieve a criminal state – like Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. You may call it freedom, or democracy, or socialism. What you have is gangsterism; or in other words, Caesarism.
How is criminality kept at bay? How can Caesarism be opposed? Freedom depends on the intensity of our moral convictions, and so does the free market. “No society is firmly held together unless this moral heritage is firmly established not in codes but in the natures of men,” wrote Le Bon; “the one declines when the other crumbles, and when this moral heritage is finally disintegrated, the society is doomed to disappear….” And what is most disturbing about our situation today? It is the moral decline so evident amid an epidemic of cheating, stealing and lying. Need we bother to lay out examples?
Neither can the growing disuse of sound principle be dismissed as insignificant. Without question, we have been overtaken by a general corruption of ideas. From this corruption we’ve lost our sense of right and wrong, of friendship and enmity. It seems we can no longer properly distinguish a criminal from a patriot, an enemy from a partner. The higher one climbs in academia, government or the media, the more outsized the egos, the more deranged the rationales, the more attenuated the love of country. Several months ago a retired intelligence official, having returned to America after working abroad, wrote me the following sad commentary: “Having lived overseas since 1984, I can honestly say that this is just not the same country.”
The erosion of Roman character, wrote Dickinson, was one of the “underlying causes of the instability of the republic….” And the erosion of American character is bound to produce a similar result today. Freedom and the free market can only be sustained by strong morals. When morality disappears, the thing which takes its place must be decidedly immoral (however it might dress itself up with concern for the “poor”). Logically, socialism paves the way for a criminal takeover because it advances in tandem with the disintegration of moral order. As Patrick Buchanan has observed, “The United States has undergone a cultural, moral and religious revolution…. While the conservatives won the Cold War against political and economic communism, we’ve lost the culture war to cultural Marxism ... which is now the dominant culture.” (See the documentary, Cultural Marxism: The Corruption of America.)
The contradiction in Buchanan’s observation should be obvious. The Cold War was not really won at all, and the free market system was hardly victorious. It was outflanked by an attack on its cultural underpinnings. Once that was accomplished, a general erosion of the political and economic system was sure to follow. With the collapse of morality comes a collapse of discernment. Today there isn’t enough sound judgment remaining in the directing classes to sustain the market system another decade. Even Gustave Le Bon saw where we were headed in 1898. “Modern socialism is far more a mental state than a doctrine,” He wrote. “What makes it so threatening is … the already great changes which it has caused in the mind of the directing classes. The modern bourgeoisie are no longer sure of their rights. Or rather they are not sure of anything. They listen to everything and tremble before the most pitiable windbags.”
Despite Le Bon’s “pitiable windbags,” revolutions are brought about from above, not from below. It is seldom the masses who rise up, but the directing classes who adopt new ideas – or lose faith in old ideas. This crisis of faith, this collapse of morality and common sense, is absolutely real. We must have no illusions that a further move in the direction of socialism would be a temporary thing. In fact, it promises to unravel all. “The social body is a delicate organism,” wrote Le Bon. “which should be touched as seldom as possible.” Today, of course, the social body has been thoroughly molested. And so we await the coming of Caesar.