Ideology is an odd duck. Lazy, dishonest historians and compliant audiences refer to German National Socialism, Italian Fascism, Spanish Fallangism, and any miscellaneous unpopular movements, separate from Communism, by the general catchall term "Fascism" - which is plopped down on the extreme right of political spectrum, conveniently opposite to Communism.
This weird geometry dictates that moving towards the beliefs of Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher, who both loathed Communism and Fascism, and who both believed in small government and strong individual rights, means moving towards Hitler and Mussolini.
Such a silly rule flies in the face of historical facts. Mussolini began his career as a highly effective leader of the radical revolutionary wing of the Italian Socialist Party. He never embraced individual liberty in any form, and even the rump Italian nation that Hitler created for him in the Duce's last days, was called the Italian Socialist Republic.
The National Socialist German Worker's Party of Hitler was often simply called the Socialist Worker's Party. The party platform would be considered radically socialist by any standard, calling for among other things: (1) The abolition of all income unearned by work; (2) The nationalization of all business trusts; (3) Distribution of profits from all wholesale businesses; (4) The death penalty for usurers and profiteers "whatever their creed or race"; (5) Extensive development of benefits for old age. And so on.
Hitler was a member of the Soldiers' Soviet within the brief revolutionary Bavarian Soviet Government, in the aftermath of the Great War. His closest allies, and the first strong leaders of his Nazi party - Gregor Strasser and Joseph Goebbels - were uncompromising socialists. The platform of the National Socialist German Workers Party embraced the most radical form of socialism in German History.
This remained the party platform until the end of Nazism, and it reflected how Nazis acted when in power. They enacted punitively progressive taxation. They leveled the social classes by coercion and intimidation. Their odious anti-semitism was based in part on racial theory, but also in part on the "Finance Capitalism" of the putative cabal of World Jewry.
The Falangists, who are typically called Fascists in Spain, Argentina and other nations, embrace this platform as well. The American Falangist Party, for example, pronounces "The first purpose of wealth is to improve the living conditions of the many, not to sacrifice the many to the luxury and profit of the few." It calls for the nationalization of all banks, and the representation of workers in National Syndicates that would run all business. Fallangism also expressly rejects being placed on the political right.
China in the 1920s produced two movements, both of which live today. Communism, of course, embraces socialism. Chinese Communists have tried to portray Dr. Sun Yat Sen, and Generalissimo Chaing Kei Sheik's Kou Ming Tang, as "Capitalists". The National Peoples Party (which is what Kou Ming Tang means), had a three point platform: "Nationalism, Democracy, and Socialism." Chaing did not abandon his socialism, and his many wartime speeches repeatedly refer to land reform, redistribution of wealth, and similar socialist aims.
Those young, radical Japanese who pushed their empire into war with the West, were likewise socialist. It wasn't coincidence that Japan went to war with America and the British Empire, rather than with the Soviet Union. Perhaps no other ideology believed less in individual liberty than the Japanese radicals.
Those regimes that opposed the Soviets and Red Chinese, have been placed on the political right for reasons having more to do with sibling rivalry than reality. Fascists, for example, were the principal political opponent of Nazis for much of history. Mussolini stopped Hitler from grabbing Austria until 1938, and Austrian Fascists arrested and fought with Austrian Nazis.
The common threads that each of these political systems shared were contempt for individual liberty, and disdain for the fundamental value of human life. The very terms "Capitalist" and "Socialist" convey this viewpoint. Free economic relationships (what socialists call Capitalism) is simply one of the many aspects of freedom. Artists care less for economic freedom than for artistic freedom. People of faith care more for religious freedom. Ethnic groups care for the right of free association. Scientists yearn for the freedom to think and debate with colleagues.
Why then the conventional lumping of these non-Communist collectivists as far away as possible from Communists? Thank Stalin. When he began "Socialism in One Nation", it sounded too much like "National Socialism", and so he simply outlawed the term "National Socialism". Nazis were called either Fascists or Hitlerites. The many western academic friends of Stalin and Soviet Communism adopted the nomenclature entirely, and by creating this illusory threat on the far right of the political spectrum, these socialists could terrify those who advocated too much individual freedom, or who opposed Communist governments too strongly.
How quickly we forget that Hitler was an enormously popular figure in Germany, as was Mussolini in Italy! They personified the hypothetical center of the German and Italian mind - they were moderates. Likewise Stalin used "Rightists" within the Communist Party to destroy "Leftists", and then destroyed "Leftists" for being out of synch as well. Being in the middle may simply mean seeking safety in numbers, and psychological reassurance that the thunderous applause for the Soviet Vozd, or the "Sieg Heil"s for the German Fuhrer, place the individual within the warm cocoon of the masses and the volk.
The notion of the political spectrum is flawed, and serious students of government have recognized this for many years. Moving "too far to the Right" makes one a radical Marxist, and "too far to the Left" makes one an Anti-Semitic monster like Stalin. The fault is in the model, something Libertarians have long seen. The common goal of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Mussolini was an omnipresent government, a state that squashed the random thoughts and original ideas of every individual.
The better model of Libertarians recognizes that it is the volume and mass of government, much less than its particular tenets, that make it good or bad. Jefferson stated it well: "The government that governs least, governs best." There are two foes of this ideal: the dreamy utopian, and the eternal brute.
The dreamy utopian may use economics, but he can just as easily use religion, or sociology, or race, or science, or nationalism. Often he will claim to have found the perfect synthesis of each of these. With but a bit of persuasion - and for those too blind to see the obvious, a nudge or two of the blackjack - and all will fall into place. Utopia is a ripe fruit, ready to drop into our human hands.
The eternal brute is the Ernst Roehm, the Joseph Stalin, the bully who has nothing better to offer his fellow humans than the inspiration of fear. Any system of thought can be crammed down the throats of the helpless. Once ravished by superior force (and this image is the perfect expression of their methods), victims become carriers of the faith.
Libertarians recognize that the spectrum is not a circle that converges Nazis and Marxists at the Hellish bottom of the circle. There is a spectrum of sorts: those who adhere to Mao's famous maxim "Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun" are logically accurate and morally wrong, but they are all of one sort. Those who believe in economic, social, sexual, and intellectual relationships between consenting adults, are at the other end of the spectrum, and they trust mutual consent, not violence.
Among those descriptions of political conditions that rest on geometry, the Libertarian model is easily the best. But liberty, the antithesis of all species of ideology based upon superior violence as the arbitrator of right and wrong, is not described in terms of geometry. Liberty, instead, is best described by thermodynamics and temperature.
Understanding this requires understanding that government itself is an illusion. Modernity and its tools make the picture clearer, like a set of pixels given visual coherence by higher technology, but not changed in essential character: dots on a screen are still dots on a screen. Once, not too long ago, boundaries between states were highly disputed. British monarchs were (on paper) also Kings and Queens of France. Popes divided the non-Christian world by longitudinal lines on a globe. Indian tribes in the United States had governments, and the states of the union themselves were largely independent governments. Insurgent groups of Kurds and Kosovo deny that governments other than their ethnic groups exist in their respective homelands.
Governments are armies, whether we like to think of them as that or not. Roman legions on the frontiers settled down, married local girls, built towns, aqueducts, and roads. They became domestic armies with generally recognized rights to keep the peace. The last three words are crucial: "keep the peace".
Without some generally recognized right to keep the peace rested with one army, it will rest with another. Genghis Kahn, Al Capone, Viking raiders, Colombian drug lords, medieval freebooters, pirates throughout the world - each have been a government of sorts. Ideology has seldom, if ever, been important to them. Anarchy, or the absence of government, means no organized and legitimized resistance to these peace-breakers.
How much violence is used or threatened in a society, often depends less on political values, and more on social values. Consider the contrasts of Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands. The Swiss are very market oriented, and the Swedes embrace socialism. Three of those four have monarchs, and one does not. Denmark pointedly rejected the European Economic Union, and both Sweden and Switzerland reject foreign alliances of every sort. Yet each country is tranquil and safe. This is the not result of politics, or even government structure - it is the result of culture. The Swiss, Swedes, Dutch, and Danes have themselves rejected violence or threats as ways of relating to each other.
This choice of how to live is made by each member of the country, each participant in the social, economic, and intellectual life of the nation. These people are the atoms which make up the cultural element that one might call "Swiss" or "Swedish" or "Danish" or "Dutch". The low probability, and low level of agitation, at this atomic level results in a thermodynamic coolness. These placid cultures can thus withstand macro-level changes.
Thermodynamics is concerned with how things get "hot". Heat can come from coarse physical friction, chemical reaction, absorption of photoelectric waves, fission, fusion, and other ways. How that happens is important (as any firefighter can tell you), but it's important only in terms of curing the problem, not identifying whether a problem exists or not. So America, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Holland, New Zealand, Singapore, Costa Rica, Denmark, and Italy, all have societies in which the "temperature of personal liberty from violence and threats of violence from all sources" is very low, but for different reasons.
Consider the Italians during the last great war. They were not traitors, and they were not cowards. They were peaceful. Consider Quakers, Mennonites, Orthodox Jews, Bahai, and similar groups, who prefer nonviolent interactions among the community, and with external entities. The culture and the temperature (the level of latent or actualized violence) determines much more than ideologies, whose purpose is often just to rationalize internal or external warfare.
This inclination is, of course, in itself good. Wars, holocausts, gangsters, and massacres seldom do any good, and often cause long term harm. There is, however, a danger. Pacifism can lead to indifference towards others. Hitler was not stopped by peaceful nations, but by the British, Russian, and American empires. Nations like America, which granted safe harbor for countless oppressed and hopeless peoples is, by the very blending of cultures and willingness to raise the sword to fight the wicked, a militant nation in many respects. If it were not, then Earth would be a very different, and a much worse, place.
Evils like slavery and racial laws mask violence, and protection against violence is not the highest good. The issue of violence - its use, its minimization, its sublimation, and its different forms - is an issue of politics, and politics is a slice of human existence. Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao wished not only to have all power, but to convince humanity that politics, and its power to create violence, is the main focus of human existence.
This is a lie. Death is the constant companion of consciousness, and death trumps all threats of violence. What joy, art, wisdom, truth, and immortality we achieve is maximized when as many members of our society understand that a cool temperature - the maximization of real and putative liberty - benefits everyone, and that this cool and calm condition is the product of the conscious, cumulative decisions of many people. The same general processes that determine a fair price of apples, or the popularity of Mozart, also operate to make peace among us.