How to Save the World from Fascism and Meet Human Needs in Harmony with Nature


Prof. Howard Richards – TRANSCEND Media Service

Let me begin with the short and honourable life of a man who died to save the world from fascism.  He was my hero when I was five years old; he still is: my uncle Jack Darwin McCune, second lieutenant, 31st tank battalion, seventh armoured division, United States Army.   He was the third of five children of Ed McCune and Hazel Anderson McCune, among whom my mother was the first.

The McCunes spent the depression years of the 1930s moving around the West in search of steady employment, from the mines of Helena and Butte, to the docks of Seattle and Oakland, to the farms of Utah and California’s Citrus Belt; finally ending up in a dugout that they slowly turned into a house with the work of their own hands on a hill in Highland Park in the northeast corner of Los Angeles, adjacent to Pasadena where I was born.   Jack was a shining star in the family.   He and my mother were the ones who managed to find steady work.   Jack was also a pillar of encouragement who stayed cheerful and good-humoured through thick and thin.   He wrote to me from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in a letter I still have, “I hope you have been a good boy and have obeyed your mother and father, and taken care of your baby brother.  Things have been kind of slow for your Uncle Jack.  I can carry a gun and march but I haven’t seen any Japs or Germans yet –not even any Italians.  It is a sad situation.  Now don’t spread anything I tell you around because it might be a military secret.   Write when you can.  If you don’t feel in a writing mood, just draw me a picture.”

Uncle Jack volunteered shortly after World War II began.   He was rejected for military service because he was underweight.  He exercised and ate to gain weight and volunteered again.  The second time he was accepted.   Quite by accident, his commanding officer at boot camp in Alabama discovered his talent for mathematics and recommended him for officer school.   He was killed by German artillery in Holland on October 29, 1944, and posthumously awarded a purple heart.

Uncle Jack’s mother, my grandma Hazel, was a daughter of the first of three (simultaneous, not successive) wives of a Mormon bishop.   Already in the 1890s my grandma was something of a rebel and a women’s libber.   She left home to become a Harvey Girl waitress in Fred Harvey’s chain of restaurants located in the terminals along the far-flung tracks of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad.  Perhaps Hazel seethed with some of her mother’s resentment.  Hazel’s mother, Caroline Nielsen Anderson, had accompanied her bishop-to-be husband walking on foot pushing a handcart across the Great Plains from Missouri to Utah, following Brigham Young toward the new promised land, toward the promised religious utopia beside the great Salt Lake.  She did not keep it a secret that she was devastated when her husband later married two younger women, establishing a separate farm for each of his three wives, and preferred them to her.

Caroline’s daughter, my grandma Hazel, married Ed McCune, who had also been born a Mormon.   Ed attended Brigham Young University long enough to take a course in biology.   He became convinced that the theory of evolution was true and that the stories told in the Bible and the Book of Mormon were false.   Ed and Hazel paid a high price for asserting their right to be free thinkers.   When they left the church, they gave up material security.   Ed in particular expressed his defiance when his second son Jack was born in a hospital in Salt Lake City by putting on his birth certificate as his middle name “Darwin.”

For Ed and for Hazel it was clear in their minds that the cause of democracy and the cause of the working class was the cause of science.    They saw religion as serving the cause of inequality, and as supporting the exploitation of workers by employers and of women by men.   By the time I was born (in 1938) and well before Jack marched off to war, Ed was no longer in the picture.   After Ed left Los Angeles in 1936, moving on once again to try to find a steady job, promising to send for his wife and children when he found one, the family never heard from him again.

Young Jack had not only a job.  He also had a cause.  He threw himself heart and soul into the campaign of Upton Sinclair for governor of California.   Sinclair was a left-wing American novelist, the author of a hundred books, including The Jungle, an exposé of working conditions in the meat-packing industry.   Two of Sinclair’s famous one-liners were, “It is hard to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on not understanding it;” and, “Fascism is capitalism plus murder.”

Following Sinclair and the common usage of people who identify as anti-fascists, I am using the word “fascist” to refer to any capitalist dictatorship, while being aware that the term is particularly apt when the dictatorship appeals to what Karl Popper called irrational tribal emotions,[i] most famously adoration of strong men and hatred of people with a different ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or political ideology.[ii]

 When World War II broke out, and the future of democracy hung in the balance, nobody was more eager to serve than my Uncle Jack.  Nobody was more proud to have a son in the army than my grandma Hazel.

As of 2017, history has not turned out as Uncle Jack and the optimistic progressives of his time expected.   President Franklin Roosevelt had declared that America was fighting for the Four Freedoms:  freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.   Jack wrote home that the U.S. troops in Europe were called “The Four Freedoms Boys.”  First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt would soon play a leading role in drafting a Universal Declaration of Human Rights that would establish social rights to education, health care, employment, and social security in old age.  John Dewey, who was then America’s leading philosopher, was calling for the socialization of rents to fund a welfare state.[iii]   When Jack was killed in action in 1944, income inequality in the USA had been falling every year since 1929.

Somehow the path from the times of Roosevelt to the times of Truman, to those of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush again, and Obama, has been a path that has led America to the times of Trump.  Many would not regard it as an exaggeration to say that now, seventy-three years after Jack’s death on a battlefield in Holland, the future of democracy is again hanging in the balance, in the USA and around the world.  How did this happen?  What can we do?

I cannot help being peeved that now I feel obliged to finish this note by answering the two questions I have just asked.   I have already answered their equivalents many times.  Maybe, just maybe, at my age I should be allowed to relax, tend my garden, kiss my darling wife, be proud of my beautiful children, and let the rest of the world go by.  It is not my fault that so few people read my fifteen books, some in English and some in Spanish, or my innumerable shorter pieces.  It is not my fault that the world goes on as before, committing the same blunders year after year, when I and my co-authors have already made it crystal clear what the blunders are and how to avoid them.  I do not know why I keep trying.  But I do keep trying.  Jack won’t let me stop.   How did this happen?  (How did fascism make a comeback after it lost World War II?)  What can we do?  (To save the world from fascism, and meet human needs in harmony with nature.)  Here, briefly, are my answers:

In my view, neither capitalism nor socialism are at the ends of their respective tethers.   Both serve functions humanity cannot live without.  Each makes valid criticisms of the other. Smith and Marx, von Hayek and Keynes, and other writers whose works when compared to each other lead readers to nuanced conclusions, should be read in schools.  Capitalism and socialism should be synthesized, pruned of their demerits, and updated to organize for the common good.  This is true now more than ever – now when new highly sophisticated technologies are rapidly making abundance for all in harmony with nature possible and market-based employment for all impossible.[iv]

What is at the end of its tether is modernity.

What I mean by modernity is individualism.  Before going on to explain in my own words why I think individualism is the problem and a spirit of service (a care ethic) is the solution, let me cite some ideas of the great philosopher of management Peter Drucker; some ideas of the great prophet and practitioner of nonviolence Mahatma Gandhi; and some words of John Maynard Keynes.

Drucker’s first published work in English was titled The End of Economic Man.[v]  What I mean by “individualism” is what Drucker meant by “economic man.”   Published in 1939, it analysed fascism in Germany and Italy.   Contrary to what standard economic theory then and now regards as possible, Hitler and Mussolini succeeded in making economies work that had come to a standstill under democratic capitalism.  Fascism appealed less to the individualistic motives of “economic man” and more to vicious collective emotions; its economic dynamics were less commercial and more military.

To fully appreciate The End of Economic Man one must read it in the light of its author’s still earlier works.[vi]     Drucker never believed in economic man.  In his earliest work he favours a conservative version of communitarian thinking.    His message is that individualism without community leads neither to an economy that works nor to people who are happy.  The message between the lines in The End of Economic Man is that economic man is a truncated man, who must either be raised to a higher moral level, as Drucker advocates, or fall to a lower moral level, as happens in fascism.   Fascism is the flip side of modernity.  It is the dénouement of destructive forces modernity itself sets in motion.

Later in life, having immigrated to the United States and having become a naturalized U.S. citizen, Drucker became the father of management science.   He founded management science because he believed it was not right to leave the training of managers just to the economists.   Organizations cannot be managed without ethics, psychology and sociology.   We live in a society of organizations.  Organizations are not built of rights; they are built of obligations.   All obligations are mutual.     Managers, Drucker wrote with pardonable exaggeration, have no power, only responsibilities.   Managers must assume responsibility for solving social problems.   If they do not, no-one else will.  No-one else can.

Without disagreeing with Drucker, and without any desire to underestimate the crucial roles of managers in today’s world, I also agree with John Dewey, Antonio Gramsci, Paulo Freire, and my grandfather Ed.   Workers should study, organize, and get involved.   Democracy cannot be expected to work for the benefit of working people if working people do not participate in it, especially now that the future of work itself is shrouded in uncertainty, threat, and opportunity.

Gandhi wrote his classic critique of modernity, Hind Swaraj, on a boat on the way back to India from Europe in 1909.[vii]   Appalled by what he had recently seen in England and in France, he denounced modern individualism as adharma, without dharma, which is sometimes translated as “without religion.”   Gandhi observed in Europe that modern people neither have nor are expected to have self-discipline; on the contrary, they are expected to satisfy their desires as much as they can.  Instead of regarding their lives, as Gandhi regarded his own life, as a series of opportunities for service, they drift aimlessly.   According to Gandhi, modernity is unsustainable.  It cannot last.

Keynes wrote: “Consumption is satisfied partly by objects produced currently and partly by objects produced previously, i.e. by disinvestment.  To the extent that consumption is satisfied by the latter, there is a contraction of current demand, since to that extent a part of current expenditure fails to find its way back as a part of net income.  Contrariwise whenever an object is produced within the period with a view to satisfying consumption subsequently, an expansion of current demand is set up. Now all capital-investment is destined to result, sooner or later, in capital-disinvestment.  Thus the problem of providing that new capital-investment shall always outrun capital-disinvestment sufficiently to fill the gap between net income and consumption, presents a problem which is increasingly difficult as capital increases.  New capital-investment can only take place in excess of current capital-disinvestment if future expenditure on consumption is expected to increase.  Each time we secure today’s equilibrium by increased investment we are aggravating the difficulty of securing equilibrium tomorrow.”[viii] Summarizing and generalizing, in a system centred on sales, where the individuals in the system must sell to live and also are free to buy or not to buy, usually there are would-be sellers who do not find buyers.   “Moreover, the evidence indicates that full, or even approximately full, employment is a rare and short-lived occurrence.”[ix]

Back to my own words:   The basic cultural structure of modernity is the civil law.   It is the law that organizes exchange in markets.   What I have been calling “individualism,” Drucker “economic man” and Gandhi “adharma” cashes out in practice as the juridical subject who owns property, at least property in the form of her own labour-power, and engages in buying and selling (in contracts).   This basic cultural structure chronically excludes.  It is   not designed to provide for meeting everyone’s needs in harmony with nature –except insofar as meeting needs may be a by-product of seeking profit by buying and selling in markets.

Alternatively, it could be said that modernity was badly designed, on the false assumption that the by-products that meet needs would always be produced by a system whose deliberate product was profit.   Thomas Jefferson, who was among its chief designers on the American side of the Atlantic, translated J-B Say’s treatise on economics from French to English.  Say was an author who famously denied that there could be a shortage of buyers, and one Keynes devoted himself to refuting in passages like the ones quoted above.   Jefferson, Tom Paine and other founding fathers of the American republic pretty clearly saw meeting human needs as a non-problem, provided that each person is left free to pursue happiness in her own way, buying and selling whenever there is a willing seller and a willing buyer.  Dixit Smith.   Dixit Smith’s disciple J.B. Say.  Harmony with nature was not an issue that the authors of the founding political documents of modernity considered.

The first step toward building a society that works for everybody is to make building a society that works for everybody the goal.   When inclusion with dignity is the goal, it is quickly seen that there are many ways to get there, but that continuing with the status quo is not one of them.

What I am asking for is going back to Square One, putting local historically-constructed common-sense on hold while seeking a broader view of the possibilities, seeing culture in the context of ecology.  A good place to start is Bronislaw Malinowski’s functional anthropology.[x]  It is an anthropology that regards cultures as more or less successful responses to physical imperatives.

Seen in a wider context, the European myth that there was an original social contract protecting property rights that permanently separated the haves from the have-nots as a principle of constitutional law, appears as an important part of the history that brought us to where we are today.  But it is not a myth we have to believe.[xi]  If we must live by myths, then we can choose democratic and benevolent myths.  But we could try (as Michel Foucault proposed) to live without myths.  We could start, as Malinowski, Abraham Maslow and others propose, from the realist premise that culture should function to meet needs.[xii]

Sometimes markets meet needs.   Sometimes, as in the case of my family during the Great Depression, they do not.  Sometimes planning does.  Sometimes, as in the case of the Soviet Union’s command economy, planning flops.  Sometimes families, clans, and tribes meet the needs of their members.  Sometimes they do not.  Sometimes a hungry person can get a free meal by listening to a sermon at the Salvation Army.  Sometimes not.  We can mix and match, discarding what does not work, keeping what does.    As John Dewey proposed, we can treat institutions as hypotheses.

The point of what I am calling an ethic of service or a care ethic is not only volunteering and charity.  It is an ethic meant to apply to the big as well as to the small.  It is an invitation to do unbounded organizing.  When the public sector, the private sector, and all the many “third sectors” are on the same page, aligning to serve the goals of the societal enterprise:  goals like including the excluded, moving resources from where they are redundant to where they are required, creating livelihoods with dignity for all, and saving Mother Earth from death by contamination, it is called “unbounded organization.”[xiii]

You will not find a word about a service ethic or a care ethic or solidarity in Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, the four-volume text from which the American founding fathers learned law, or in the great founding documents of modernity, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, the American Declaration of Independence, Constitution, or Bill of Rights.   However, this does not mean that service to others, or working class solidarity, is not an American tradition.  Today as we speak service clubs like the Rotary and the Lions, and the servant leadership movement,[xiv] are as American as apple pie, hot dogs, and baseball. We know there must have been a service ethic in the thirteen original colonies.   New England was settled by protestants, Pennsylvania by Quakers, and Maryland by Catholics.   Georgia in its early days was evangelized by John Wesley.   Many of the colonists must have been reading verses like Matthew 20: 25-28: “Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

It turns out that what Ed and Hazel really wanted, an end to exclusion and exploitation, and respect for everybody, requires the revision of the 18th century ideals of property and contract that organize the exchange of commodities in markets.  Those ideals –without which markets cannot work, and therefore cannot do either the good or the bad that markets do– were packaged, and are still packaged, as “freedom.”  When you open the freedom package and find the market, you also find the loss of some old traditions that –evaluated in terms of meeting needs– deserved to be kept in one form or another.

At the heart of the 18th revolution in ethics was the transfer of the criterion of moral legitimacy from God to man.[xv]  Human freedom, not God’s will, became the major premise of the new logic for deciding what was right and what was wrong.   If humans chose it of their own free will, it was right.   But the net outcome was not always in Ed and Hazel’s favour.  When they left their faith community, and then failed to sell their labour power in the labour market because they found no willing buyers, the basic legal framework of modernity did not meet their needs.  Although Ed and Hazel were not wrong to put their faith in Darwin’s theory of evolution and in science generally, they –like the 18th century philosophes—underestimated the achievements of traditional cultures.    They did not anticipate that science itself –applying the theory of evolution rather than denying it-  would come to understand culture in all its variety and flexibility–not the ethnocentric juridical construction of homo economicus— as defining  the human species.[xvi]   As of 2017, ancient wisdom has fared rather better in the judgments of the high courts of scientific objectivity than Ed and Hazel expected.[xvii]   The claims of 18th century jurisprudence and economics to be grounded in natural reason have fared rather worse than Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine expected.[xviii]

As it has turned out, I myself have had occasion to experience some of the good things that ancient wisdom in its 19th century Mormon version has going for it.  When my parents separated, my brother and I were placed for a time in a foster home.  My foster parents were Mormons.  My foster father was unemployed. Every week a large cardboard box of merchandise arrived at the house, full of food and other necessities branded “Deseret.” “Deseret” is the Mormons’ in-house label for goods made in church-run enterprises.   The church was taking care of its own.

Now I am in a position to answer my two questions.

Why did this happen?

The answer to the first question is that fascism is making a comeback because it is the normal shadow of the basic cultural structure.[xix]  The fascists lost World War II, but the liberal culture whose civil ideal is economic man for the most part continued unabated after VE day and VJ day.  As time wore on the New Deal in the USA and social democracy in other countries proved to be unsustainable because they were incompatible with the basic rules of the economic game.[xx]  Fascism is coming back because the same cultural structures that produced it in the first place are producing it again.

What can we do?

We can work to change the basic cultural structure.   Facilitating a culture shift is not as hard to do as it may sound at first.  Many people are already doing it[xxi].  It becomes easier when you reflect that you do not need to start something new; instead you can join one of many counter-cultures that are already happening.  As Robert Bellah, Ann Swidler and their colleagues have shown[xxii], even mainstream Americans operate according to more than one set of values.   Americans speak the language of business.    They also speak the language of therapy. They speak the language of the Bible.   They speak the language of civic virtue.  I suggest that there are in the repertoire of any culture numerous ways to organize to meet needs in harmony with nature.   In view of the versatility of the cultures that already exist, changing the basic cultural structure does not mean starting from scratch.   It means bringing out the potential of existing cross-currents.

To the extent that we build a society that actually works –with pragmatism, realism, imagination, and above all with a spirit of service—we prevent breakdowns that are inevitable as long as the dominant cultural norm remains the economic man of modern individualism.   Building societies that work is, very briefly, how to save the world from yet another round of “capitalism with murder.”


[i] Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies.  London: Routledge, 1945.

[ii] My view emphasizing the basic failure of liberal democratic capitalism to deliver happiness, materially or spiritually, can be compared to and complemented by the well-known studies of fascism by Hannah Arendt, Erich Fromm, Friedrich von Hayek, and Theodor Adorno et al (The Authoritarian Personality).  See also my own account of the rise of Italian fascism, Howard Richards, Letters from Quebec.  San Francisco and London: International Scholars Press, 1995.  Letter 47; my account with Joanna Swanger of the rise of Spanish fascism, The Dilemmas of Social Democracies.  Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006. Chapter Three.  For insights into Chilean fascism see Caroline Richards, Sweet Country.  New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979.

[iii] John Dewey, The Socialization of Ground Rent.  In John Dewey, The Later Works, 1925-1953.  Volume 11.  Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press 1987. (first published in 1935)

[iv] Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, Abundance.  New York: Free Press, 2012; Jeremy Rifkin, The Zero Marginal Cost Society.  New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2014.

[v] Peter Drucker, The End of Economic Man.  London: Heinemann, 1939.

[vi] Peter Drucker, Friedrich Julius Stahl.  Tubingen:  Mohr, 1933.

[vii] Mahatma Gandhi, Hind Swaraj.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2004. (1909).  See also Howard Richards and Joanna Swanger, Gandhi and the Future of Economics.  Lake Oswego, OR: Dignity Press, 2013.

[viii] John Maynard Keynes, General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.  New York: Macmillan, 1936.  P. 105.

[ix] Id. Pp. 249-50.

[x] Bronislaw Malinowski, A Scientific Theory of Culture.  London: Read Books, 2013 (1941).  Marx and Engels make a similar point in The German Ideology.

[xi] Hans Kelsen, The Natural-Law Doctrine before the Tribunal of Science,The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 2 (1949), pp. 481-513.

[xii] At the end of his classic article, “A Theory of Human Motivation,” (Psychological Review.  Vol. 50 (1943) pp. 370-396) Abraham Maslow suggests that social institutions should be organized in ways that meet human needs.   A systematic case for moral realism is made by Frederic Matthieu in Les Valeurs de la Vie. Paris, 2014. (Available on Kindle)

[xiii] Gavin Andersson and Howard Richards, Unbounded Organizing in Community.  Lake Oswego, OR:  Dignity Press, 2015.

[xiv] Robert Greenleaf, Servant Leadership.  Mahway, NJ:  Paulist Press, 1974

[xv] Costas Douzinas, The End of Human Rights.  Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2000. P 190 and following.

[xvi] James Boggs, “The Culture Concept as Theory, in Context,” Current Anthropology.  Vol. 45 (2004) pp. 187-209.

[xvii] In Catherine Hoppers and Howard Richards, Rethinking Thinking, Pretoria: University of South Africa, 2012, ancient African wisdom is compared to modern western rationality to the benefit of the former.

[xviii] Douzinas op. cit.; Michel Foucault, Society must be Defended.  New York: Picador, 1997.

[xix]  My co-authors and I sometimes, not always, run together the cultural and the social, making the point that such things as property rights come from culture not from nature.  Others, like Margaret Archer, for their own good reasons, make it a point to keep culture and social structure analytically separate

[xx] Howard Richards and Joanna Swanger, The Dilemmas of Social Democracies. Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006.   See also, Thomas Piketty, Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century.  Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.

[xxi] For example, and only for example since many people are working for change in many different ways, see John McKnight and Peter Block, The Abundant Community.  New York: Basic Books, 2010.  See also Rifkin op. cit.

[xxii] Robert Bellah, et al, Habits of the Heart. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.  Nestor Garcia-Canclini has similarly found that contemporary cultures in Latin America are “hybrid.”


Prof. Howard Richards is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment. He was born in Pasadena, California but since 1966 has lived in Chile when not teaching in other places. Professor of Peace and Global Studies Emeritus, Earlham College, a school in Richmond Indiana affiliated with the Society of Friends (Quakers) known for its peace and social justice commitments. Stanford Law School, MA and PhD in Philosophy from UC Santa Barbara, Advanced Certificate in Education-Oxford,  PhD in Educational Planning from University of Toronto. Books:  Dilemmas of Social Democracies with Joanna Swanger, Gandhi and the Future of Economics with Joanna Swanger, The Nurturing of Time Future, Understanding the Global Economy (available as e-books), The Evaluation of Cultural Action (not an e book).  Hacia otras Economias with Raul Gonzalez, free download available at www.repensar.clSolidaridad, Participacion, Transparencia: conversaciones sobre el socialismo en Rosario, Argentina. Available free on the blogspot lahoradelaetica.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 20 Feb 2017.

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