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Monday, January 14, 2008

Liberal Fascism

You're probably aware that Jonah Goldberg's new book is causing quite a stir.

This via Instapundit:

TAKE THAT, TROLLS! (CONT'D): Jonah Goldberg's book is now up to #8 #7 #6.

And, if you somehow missed it, our podcast interview with Jonah is here.

UPDATE: Reader Chris Nath emails:

I just went to the local Barnes & Noble where I found Keith Olberman's "Truth and Consequences" prominently displayed on a middle of the aisle table - impossible to miss. Curious, I went in search of Jonah Goldberg's book and where did I find it? A single copy languished on the bottom row of the current events rack with just the binding end of the book showing. Coincidence?

I'm sure. (Bumped).

The Author also speaks here.

This from Daniel Pipes via Dissecting Leftism(scroll down):
Liberal fascism sounds like an oxymoron - or a term for conservatives to insult liberals. Actually, it was coined by a socialist writer, none other than the respected and influential left-winger H.G. Wells, who in 1931 called on fellow progressives to become "liberal fascists" and "enlightened Nazis." Really. His words, indeed, fit a much larger pattern of fusing socialism with fascism: Mussolini was a leading socialist figure who, during World War I, turned away from internationalism in favor of Italian nationalism and called the blend Fascism. Likewise, Hitler headed the National Socialist German Workers Party.

These facts jar because they contradict the political spectrum that has shaped our worldview since the late 1930s, which places communism at the far Left, followed by socialism, liberalism in the center, conservatism, and then fascism on the far Right. But this spectrum, Jonah Goldberg points out in his brilliant, profound, and original new book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (Doubleday), reflects Stalin's use of fascist as an epithet to discredit anyone he wished - Trotsky, Churchill, Russian peasants - and distorts reality. Already in 1946, George Orwell noted that fascism had degenerated to signify "something not desirable."

To understand fascism in its full expression requires putting aside Stalin's misrepresentation of the term and also look beyond the Holocaust, and instead return to the period Goldberg terms the "fascist moment," roughly 1910-35. A statist ideology, fascism uses politics as the tool to transform society from atomized individuals into an organic whole. It does so by exalting the state over the individual, expert knowledge over democracy, enforced consensus over debate, and socialism over capitalism. It is totalitarian in Mussolini's original meaning of the term, of "Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State." Fascism's message boils down to "Enough talk, more action!" Its lasting appeal is getting things done.

In contrast, conservatism calls for limited government, individualism, democratic debate, and capitalism. Its appeal is liberty and leaving citizens alone. Goldberg's triumph is to establish the kinship between communism, fascism, and liberalism. All derive from the same tradition that goes back to the Jacobins of the French Revolution. His revised political spectrum would focus on the role of the state and go from libertarianism to conservatism to fascism in its many guises - American, Italian, German, Russian, Chinese, Cuban, and so on.
I think the observation is more than some people can stand.

Update via Instapundit:

JONAH GOLDBERG IS CURRENTLY #1 on Amazon. I hope he sends a nice thank-you note to all the lefty bloggers who have been savaging him. I don't think he could have done it without them!

10 comments:

Bret said...

Did you read it?

Harry Eagar said...

I don't know if the exhibit is still up, but earlier this year, the City of New York Museum had a show called "Facing Fascism." (Not seen by me, but I've reviewed the catalogue at Amazon.)

Anyhow, one of the amusing exhibits was a political cartoon in a Communist paper (the Worker, I think, don't have it in front of me) depicting the POUM anarchists of Barcelona as Hitler's fifth column. The caption was along the
lines of (Hitler speaking): Our militia is serving us well in Barcelona.

If you want to define 'fascism' as 'getting things done,' then practically all of us -- all the ones who aren't going to wake up tomorrow morning in a Dumpster -- are fascists.

Bret said...

harry eagar wrote: "If you want to define 'fascism' as 'getting things done,...'"

Interesting that you focused on that part of Pipes' blurb instead of "Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State." I think an authoritarian State is a fundamentally required characteristic of fascism.

I like getting things done, but the help I get from others is voluntary, not forced.

Ali said...

"Goldberg's triumph is to establish the kinship between communism, fascism, and liberalism."

? I think Hayek got there first over fifty years ago. Tracing them back to the Jacobins stops a little short. Like limited-government conservatism, these ideas are children (albeit very twisted ones) of the Enlightenment.

"In contrast, conservatism calls for limited government, individualism, democratic debate, and capitalism. Its appeal is liberty and leaving citizens alone."

I doubt this will have any impact at all on the Left. My liberal mates would say Bush's spending, the Patriot Act and warrantless wiretapping, the right-wing media smearing war-opposers as addled defacto allies of Al Qaeda, the religious right's social agenda and the war on drugs are proof positive that today's conservatives are fakers. And if so, why isn't the GOP pushing Ron Paul as it's favoured candidate?

Harry Eagar said...

Bret, that might be because yesterday I was reading Chief Justice Lord Ellenborough's charge to the jury in the trial of Leigh and John Hunt for libeling the Prince Regent.

The idea that before the Enlightenment or political liberalism, there existed a minuscule state that gave free rein to individuals is laughable.

I like the individualism of freedom of speech.

Bret said...

ali wrote: "My liberal mates would say Bush's spending..."

I haven't read the book, but it seems to me that Goldberg's point is that while conservatives are far from perfect, the Left calling conservatives fascists is much like the pot calling the kettle black (or is it the kettle calling the pot black?). The Left is perfectly happy to continue to call conservatives fascist. Perhaps though, armed with this book, conservatives can turn around and call the Left on it.

Bret said...

harry eagar wrote: "The idea that before the Enlightenment or political liberalism, there existed a minuscule state that gave free rein to individuals is laughable."

Sure, but what does that have to do with 20th century fascism, liberals, and conservatives?

Harry Eagar said...

Everything, if you're Orrin.

A lot, anyhow.

It is true that American (set aside the rest of the world) liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans seem to have swapped ends on such items as money, which I find weird.

I did not march with SNCC in the '60s in order to resegregate in the '00s.

Nevertheless, when I get offers to buy subsidized editionss of Burke and Acton (as I do regularly), then I think the connection between today's conservatism and yesterday's is strong and vibrant.

I then look back to yesterday's to see if, in fact, it was for individualis and all that good stuff, and I see it wasn't. No way, not at all.

Seems to me that fascism is a good word to reserve for fascists, the same way religion is a good word to reserve for religion.

Skipper, for example, applies the word religion to Leninists, although we already have a word for Leninists: it's Leninists.

I take his point that the psychological underpinnings that lead people to embrace Leninism or religion are similar. Still, there's a lot of difference between putting your faith in an imaginary all-powerful spook and a real supposedly all-wise human.

Fascism has a specific meaning. I don't recall ever hearing anybody say, 'I want a system in which the state controls all,' except for a few theorists. Instead, admirers of fascism admired that the trains ran on time. (They didn't but that was the image.)

The fascists are gone from Italy now, but the Italian postal service from time to time landfills hundreds of tons of mail rather than delivering it. I think you can see why letter-writers would prefer a system -- whatever its intellectual underpinnings -- that gets the mail through.

That might prove a bad bargain in the long run, but mail is supposed to be delivered in the short run.

Peter Burnet said...

"First they established public schools and subsidized housing...and I said nothing."

We can always do with reminders that the state's appetite is insatiable, but calling North American liberalism fascism simply validates Orwell's quip that fascism has become just a euphemism for "something very bad."

Hey Skipper said...

applies the word religion to Leninists, although we already have a word for Leninists: it's Leninists. Still, there's a lot of difference between putting your faith in an imaginary all-powerful spook and a real supposedly all-wise human.

I can think of two differences: religions based upon mortal personality cults collapse a lot faster than those based upon the imaginary kind; that, and divine religions (Mormonism perhaps notwithstanding) have much more attractive architecture.