Friday, January 11, 2008

Goldberg's corollary

Bruce Thornton reviews Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, which is now at number 10 on the Amazon list. Goldberg claims that modern liberalism and fascism have the same roots, though they do not necessarily espouse the same things. Here's how the contents of his book are described at the Amazon site:

“Fascists,” “Brownshirts,” “jackbooted stormtroopers”—such are the insults typically hurled at conservatives by their liberal opponents. Calling someone a fascist is the fastest way to shut them up, defining their views as beyond the political pale. But who are the real fascists in our midst?

Liberal Fascism offers a startling new perspective on the theories and practices that define fascist politics. Replacing conveniently manufactured myths with surprising and enlightening research, Jonah Goldberg reminds us that the original fascists were really on the left, and that liberals from Woodrow Wilson to FDR to Hillary Clinton have advocated policies and principles remarkably similar to those of Hitler's National Socialism and Mussolini's Fascism.

Contrary to what most people think, the Nazis were ardent socialists (hence the term “National socialism”). They believed in free health care and guaranteed jobs. They confiscated inherited wealth and spent vast sums on public education. They purged the church from public policy, promoted a new form of pagan spirituality, and inserted the authority of the state into every nook and cranny of daily life. The Nazis declared war on smoking, supported abortion, euthanasia, and gun control. They loathed the free market, provided generous pensions for the elderly, and maintained a strict racial quota system in their universities—where campus speech codes were all the rage. The Nazis led the world in organic farming and alternative medicine. Hitler was a strict vegetarian, and Himmler was an animal rights activist.

Do these striking parallels mean that today’s liberals are genocidal maniacs, intent on conquering the world and imposing a new racial order? Not at all. Yet it is hard to deny that modern progressivism and classical fascism shared the same intellectual roots. We often forget, for example, that Mussolini and Hitler had many admirers in the United States. W.E.B. Du Bois was inspired by Hitler's Germany, and Irving Berlin praised Mussolini in song. Many fascist tenets were espoused by American progressives like John Dewey and Woodrow Wilson, and FDR incorporated fascist policies in the New Deal.

Fascism was an international movement that appeared in different forms in different countries, depending on the vagaries of national culture and temperament. In Germany, fascism appeared as genocidal racist nationalism. In America, it took a “friendlier,” more liberal form. The modern heirs of this “friendly fascist” tradition include the New York Times, the Democratic Party, the Ivy League professoriate, and the liberals of Hollywood. The quintessential Liberal Fascist isn't an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore.

A large number of people on the Left probably object to Goldberg's thesis. But they have been making the same argument for decades themselves, loosely equating conservativism with "fascism". Thornton's review says:

"Goldberg’s first task is to correct all the misconceptions about historical fascism, the most important being that it was a “conservative” political movement, one created by bourgeois capitalism to ward off a decline created by its own contradictions and the socialist alternative. In reality, fascism is a phenomenon of the left, not the right — an “inconvenient truth,” Goldberg writes, “if ever there was one.”

One way around this controversy is to avoid the "fascist" word in modern political debate because it is debased coinage, similar to the argument made by Godwin's Law, which basically holds that the longer an online discussion goes on, the greater that chance the word "Nazi" or "Hitler" will be used to tar one side or the other. In most contexts the comparison between anything and Hitler will be empty of validity. Why not avoid the facile use of the word 'fascist' too? Probably for the same reason 'Bush=Hitler' must remain in vogue. It's too handy a phrase for 'progressives' to give up. A Google search for the literal phrase "fascist republicans" brings up 3,370 hits but one for "fascist democrats" only 612.


Blogger Bill said...

The article reminds me of when a neighbor who told me she was "an economic liberal and a law and order conservative". It took all my strength to keep from retorting "oh, a fascist?"

1/11/2008 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger newscaper said...

There were only two big differences between the fascists and the communists:
1) The fascist governments stopped short of directly taking over industries, instead directing from the center while pretending to maintain private ownership. IOW communist with capitalist window dressing. Of course, what is "ownership" without control? Liberal's excessive regulation and "industrial policy" are in fact the same thing, more or less.
2) The WW2 era fascists and similar Cold War rightwing dictators had a nationalist rather than internationalist bent, as do our "transnational progressives".

The fascists and communists hated each other so passionately not because they were polar opposites, but precisely because they were so similar, mining the same vein of popular discontent.

1/11/2008 01:52:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Jonah has it right – as does Newscaper. But I have seen Jonah, as well as Newscaper now, use the term “Right Wing Dictator.” There can be no such thing.

If you must define the political spectrum as “Right and Left” then logically on the far, far Right is total anarchy, the situation that existed when the first settlers strode ashore in the New World and began building log cabins in the midst of the verdant forest. In such a situation, there is no government, only individual morality which restrains and guides people’s actions. This is ideal in Libertarian terms.

On the far, far Left is an ant colony. All individual actions are directed only toward the needs of the society and everything is either compulsory or forbidden.

The Nazis were to the “right” of the Communists because they allowed ownership of private property and the existence of privately owned and operated companies. In the USSR you had State Tractor Factory No.14 and in Nazi Germany you had Daimler Benz. But both believed in tight control over every aspect of society – including a person’s thoughts, and in the subjugation of the individual to the State.

I read a good article some years back that pointed out that the problem with the term “Fascist” is that we have pretty much adopted the Soviet definition of the term, which amounted to “Fascist means other totalitarian regimes who are not Soviet.” They never called the US and Great Britain “fascist.”

1/11/2008 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

Jonah Goldberg spoke about his book and its ideas on C-span, presented via Heritage Foundation forum taped 09 January 2008. Good stuff. He reminds us of how the German & Italian National Socialist (i.e., Fascist) movements and the INTERNATIONAL socialist movement centered on Moscow and were all in mutual agreement about goals until it became clear that the Nationalistic nature of the Fascists made Stalin realize they could not be controlled from Moscow and were therefor ENEMIES.

Goldberg provides devastating clarity for anyone who is beleaguered by morons who call any conservative a Fascist Nazi.

1/13/2008 08:59:00 AM  
Blogger Jrod said...

Regarding the Spanish Civil War and speaking to mad fiddler's point--Franco's fascism seems to have been more a reaction to the incursion of Soviet-style International Socialism rather than any bona-fide idealogical bonhomie-ness with his allies Hitler and Mussolini. Speaking to rwe's point, the Spanish anarchists quickly learned that they had very little in common with their communist coalition partners when they were marginalized then persecuted right from the start of the civil war. When Stalin realized that there was little hope of making Spain a Soviet satellite, he pulled the plug. And the rest is history as they say.

1/14/2008 09:39:00 AM  

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