I picked up a book a week or two ago that I haven't actually read yet. I've only read the intro and hope to get into it when I get through the current reading assignments. Anyway, the intro was so interesting and relevant to this topic (and a couple other current topics, as it happens), that I asked for a scan of it. I've converted it to text and hope I got out most of the scan/conversion errors, but there may still be a few. Anyway, not vouching for the book at this point, but sure is an interesting take considering it was written back in 2008. Here's a snippet from Wikipedia:
Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning is a book by Jonah Goldberg, in which Goldberg argues that fascist movements were and are left-wing. Published in January 2008, it reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list of hardcover non-fiction in its seventh week on the list. Goldberg is a syndicated columnist and the editor-at-large of National Review Online.
So, without further ado, here's the intro:
Everything You Know About Fascism Is Wrong ·
George Carlin: ... and the poor have been systematically looted in this country. The rich have been made richer under this criminal, fascist president and his government. [Applause.] [Cheers.]
Bill Maher: Okay, okay.
James Glassman: You know, George... George, I think you know-do you know what fascism is?
Carlin: Fascism, when it comes to America…
Glassman: Do you know what Nazis are?
Carlin: When fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jack-boots. It will be Nike sneakers and Smiley shirts. Smiley-smiley Fascism. Germany lost the Second World War. Fascism won it. Believe me, my friend.
Maher: And actually, fascism is when corporations become the government.
Outside of a few academic seminars, this is about as intelligent as discussions about fascism get in America. Angry left-wingers shout that all those to their right, particularly corporate fat cats and the politicians who love them, are fascists. Meanwhile, besieged conservatives sit dumbfounded by the nastiness of the slander.
Bill Maher to the contrary, fascism is not "when corporations become the government."
Ironically, however, George Carlin's conclusion is right
, though not his reasoning. If fascism does come to America, it will indeed take the form of "smiley-face fascism"- nice fascism. In fact, in many respects fascism not only is here but has been here for nearly a century. For what we call liberalism:-the refurbished edifice of American Progressivism-is in fact a descendant and manifestation of fascism
. This doesn't mean it's the same thing as Nazism. Nor is it the twin of Italian Fascism. But Progressivism was a sister movement of fascism, and today's liberalism is the daughter of Progressivism. One could strain the comparison and say that today's liberalism is the well-intentioned niece of European fascism. She is hardly identical to her uglier relations, but she nonetheless carries an embarrassing family resemblance that few will admit to recognizing.
There is no word in the English language that gets thrown around more freely by people who don't know what it means than "fascism." Indeed, the more someone uses the word "fascist" in everyday conversation, the less likely it is that he knows what he's talking about.
You might think that the exception to this rule would be scholars of fascism. But what really distinguishes the scholarly community is its honesty. Not even the professionals have figured out what exactly fascism is. Countless scholarly investigations begin with this pro forma
acknowledgment. "Such is the welter of divergent opinion surrounding the term," writes Roger Griffin in his introduction to The Nature of Fascism
, "that it is almost de rigueur
to open contributions to the debate on fascism with some such observation."
The few scholars who have ventured their own definitions provide a glimmer of insight as to why consensus is so elusive. Griffin, a contemporary leading light in the field, defines fascism as "a genus of political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism." Roger Eatwell claims that fascism's "essence" is a "form of thought that preaches the need for social rebirth in order to forge a holistic-national radical Third Way." Emilio Gentile suggests, "A mass movement, that combines different classes but is prevalently of the middle classes, which sees itself as having a mission of national regeneration, is in a state of war with its adversaries, and seeks a monopoly of power by using terror, parliamentary tactics and compromise to create a new regime, destroying democracy
While these are perfectly serviceable definitions, what most recommends them over others is that they are short enough to reprint here. For example, the social scientist Ernst Nolte, a key figure in the German "historians' dispute" (Historikerstreit) of the 1980s, has a six-point definition called the "Fascist minimum" that tries to define fascism by what it opposes-that is, fascism is both "anti-liberalism" and "anti-conservatism." Other definitional constructs are even more convoluted, requiring that contrary evidence be counted as exceptions that prove the rule.
It's an academic version of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle: the more closely you study the subject, the less clearly defined it becomes. The historian R. A. H. Robinson wrote twenty years ago, "Although enormous amounts of research time and mental energy have been put into the study of it ... fascism has remained the great conundrum for students of the twentieth century." Meanwhile, the authors of the Dictionnaire historique des fascismes et du nazisme
flatly assert, "No universally accepted definition of the fascist phenomenon exists, no consensus, however slight, as to its range, its ideological origins, or the modalities of action which characterize it." Stanley G. Payne, considered by many to be the leading living scholar of fascism, wrote in 1995, "At the end of the twentieth century fascism remains probably the vaguest of the major political terms." There are even serious scholars who argue that Nazism wasn't fascist, that fascism doesn't exist at all, or that it is primarily a secular religion
(this is my own view). "[P]ut simply," writes Gilbert Allardyce, "we have agreed to use the word without agreeing on how to define it."
And yet even though scholars admit that the nature of fascism is vague, complicated, and open to wildly divergent interpretations, many modern liberals and leftists act as if they know exactly what fascism is. What's more, they see it everywhere-except when they look in the mirror.
Indeed, the left wields the term like a cudgel to beat opponents from the public square like seditious pamphleteers. After all, no one has to take a fascist, seriously. You're under no obligation to listen to a fascist's arguments or concern yourself with his feelings or rights. It's why Al Gore and many other environmentalists are so quick to compare global-warming skeptics to Holocaust deniers. Once such an association takes hold, there's no reason to give such people the time of day.
In short, "fascist" is a modern word for "heretic," branding an individual worthy of excommunication from the body politic. The left uses other words-"racist," "sexist," "homophobe," "christianist" for similar purposes, but these words have less elastic meanings. Fascism, however, is the gift that keeps on giving. George Orwell noted this tendency as early as 1946 in his famous essay "Politics and the English Language": "The word Fascism has now no meaning except insofar as it signifies 'something not desirable.' "
Hollywood writers use the words "fascist," "Brownshirt," and "Nazi" as if they mean no more and no less than "anything liberals don't like."
On NBC's West Wing support for school choice was deemed "fascist" (even though school choice is arguably the most un-fascist public policy ever conceived, after homeschooling). Crash Davis, Kevin Costner's character in the movie Bull Durham
, explains to his protege, "Quit trying to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring and besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls. They're more democratic." A rude cook on Seinfeld is the "Soup Nazi."
The real world is only marginally less absurd. Representative Charlie Rangel claimed that the GOP's 1994 Contract with America was more extreme than Nazism. "Hitler wasn't even talking about doing these things" (this is technically accurate in that Hitler wasn't, in fact, pushing term limits for committee chairs and "zero-based" budgeting). In 2000 Bill Clinton called the Texas GOP platform a "fascist tract." The New York Times leads a long roster of mainstream publications eager to promote leading academics who raise the possibility that the GOP is a fascist party and that Christian conservatives are the new Nazis.
More recently, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Chris Hedges penned a book called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America
, which is just one of many current polemics asserting that conservative or fundamentalist Christians are fascists (Rick Perlstein's otherwise quite negative New York Times review begins with the declaration: "Of course there are Christian fascists in America"). The Reverend Jesse Jackson ascribes every form of opposition to his race-based agenda as fascist.
During the 2000 Florida recount, he proclaimed that survivors of the Holocaust had been targeted "again" because the Florida ballot was too complicated for a few thousand elderly voters. On Larry King Live, Jackson absurdly proclaimed, "The Christian Coalition was a strong force in Germany." He continued: "It laid down a suitable, scientific, theological rationale for the tragedy in Germany. The Christian Coalition was very much in evidence there."
Ask the average, reasonably educated person what comes to mind when she hears the word "fascism" and the immediate responses are "dictatorship," "genocide," "anti-Semitism," "racism," and (of course) "right wing." Delve a bit deeper-and move a bit further to the left and you'll hear a lot about "eugenics," "social Darwinism," "state capitalism," or the sinister rule of big business. War, militarism, and nationalism will also come up a lot. Some of these attributes were indisputably central to what we might call "classical" fascism - the Fascism of Benito Mussolini and the Nazism of Adolf Hitler. Others-like the widely misunderstood term "social Darwinism" have little to do with fascism. But very few of these things are unique to fascism, and almost none of them are distinctly right-wing or conservative - at least in the American sense.
To begin with, one must be able to distinguish between the symptoms and the disease
. Consider militarism, which will come up again and again in the course of this book. Militarism was indisputably central to fascism (and communism) in countless countries. But it has a more nuanced relationship with fascism than one might suppose. For some thinkers in Germany and the United States (such as Teddy Roosevelt and Oliver Wendell Holmes), war was truly the source of important moral values. This was militarism as a social philosophy pure and simple. But for far more people, militarism was a pragmatic expedient: the highest, best means for organizing society in productive ways. Inspired by ideas like those in William James's famous essay "The Moral Equivalent of War," militarism seemed to provide a workable and sensible model for achieving desirable ends. Mussolini, who openly admired and invoked James, used this logic for his famous "Battle of the Grains" and other sweeping social initiatives. Such ideas had an immense following in the United States, with many leading progressives championing the use of "industrial armies" to create the ideal workers' democracy. Later, Franklin Roosevelt's· Civilian Conservation Corps - as militaristic a social program as one can imagine - borrowed from these ideas, as did JFK's Peace Corps.
This trope has hardly been purged from contemporary liberalism. Every day we hear about the "war on cancer," the "war on drugs," the "War on Poverty," and exhortations to make this or that social challenge the "moral equivalent of war." From health care to gun control to global warming, liberals insist that we need to "get beyond politics" and "put ideological differences behind us" in order to "do the people's business."
The experts and scientists know what to do, we are told; therefore the time for debate is over. This, albeit in a nicer and more benign form, is the logic of fascism
- and it was on ample display in the administrations of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and yes, even John F. Kennedy.
Then, of course, there's racism. Racism was indisputably central to Nazi ideology. Today we are perfectly comfortable equating racism and Nazism. And in important respects that's absolutely appropriate. But why not equate Nazism and, say, Afrocentrism
? Many early Afrocentrists, like Marcus Garvey, were pro-fascist or openly identified themselves as fascists. The Nation of Islam has surprising ties to Nazism, and its theology is Himmleresque. The Black Panthers
- a militaristic cadre of young men dedicated to violence, separatism, and racial superiority - are as quintessentially fascist as Hitler's Brownshirts or Mussolini's action squads
. The Afrocentrist writer Leonard Jeffries (blacks are "sun people," and whites are "ice people") could easily be mistaken for a Nazi theorist.
Certain quarters of the left assert that "Zionism equals racism" and that Israelis are equivalent to Nazis. As invidious and problematic as those comparisons are, why aren't we hearing similar denunciations of groups ranging from the National Council of La Raza - that is, "The Race" - to the radical Hispanic group MEChA, whose motto - "Por La Raza todo. Fuera de La Raza nada"-means "Everything for the race, nothing outside the race"? Why is it that when a white man spouts such sentiments it's "objectively" fascist, but when a person of color says the same thing it's merely an expression of fashionable multiculturalism?
The most important priority for the left is not to offer any answer at all to such questions. They would much prefer to maintain Orwell's definition of fascism as anything not desirable, thus excluding their own fascistic proclivities from inquiring eyes. When they are forced to answer, however, the response is usually more instinctive, visceral, or dismissively mocking than rational or principled. Their logic seems to be that multiculturalism, the Peace Corps, and such are good things - things that liberals approve of - and good things can't be fascist by simple virtue of the fact that liberals approve of them. Indeed, this seems to be the irreducible argument of countless writers who glibly use the word "fascist" to describe the "bad guys" based on no other criteria than that liberals think they are bad. Fidel Castro, one could argue, is a textbook fascist. But because the left approves of his resistance to U.S. "imperialism" - and because he uses the abracadabra words of Marxism - it's not just wrong but objectively stupid to call him a fascist. Meanwhile, calling Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Rudy Giuliani, and other conservatives fascists is simply what right-thinking, sophisticated people do.
The major flaw in all of this is that fascism, properly understood, is not a phenomenon of the right at all. Instead, it is, and always has been, a phenomenon of the left.
This fact - an inconvenient truth if there ever was one - is obscured in our time by the equally mistaken belief that fascism and communism are opposites.
In reality, they are closely related, historical competitors for the same constituents, seeking to dominate and control the same social space. The fact that they appear as polar opposites is a trick of intellectual history
and (more to the point) the result of a concerted propaganda effort on the part of the "Reds" to make the "Browns" appear objectively evil and "other" (ironically, demonization of the "other" is counted as a definitional trait of fascism). But in terms of their theory and practice, the differences are minimal.
It is difficult now, in the light of their massive crimes and failures, to remember that both fascism and communism were, in their time, utopian visions and the bearers of great hopes
. What's more, fascism, like communism, was an international movement that attracted adherents in every Western society. Particularly in the aftermath of World War I - but beginning much earlier - a fascist moment arose on the ashes of the old European order. It drew together the various strands of European politics and culture - the rise of ethnic nationalism, the Bismarckian welfare state, and the collapse of Christianity as a source of social and political orthodoxy and universal aspirations. In place of Christianity, it offered a new religion of the divinized state and the nation as an organic community.
This international movement had many variants and offshoots and went by different names in different countries. Its expression in different societies varied depending on national culture. This is one of the reasons it is so hard to define.
But in reality, international fascism drew from the same intellectual wellsprings as American Progressivism. Indeed, American Progressivism - the moralistic social crusade from which modem liberals proudly claim descent - is in some respects the major source of the fascist ideas applied in Europe by Mussolini and Hitler.
Americans like to think of themselves as being immune to fascism while constantly feeling threatened by it. "It can't happen here" is the common refrain. But fascism definitely has a history in this country, and that is what this book is about. The American fascist tradition is deeply bound up with the effort to "Europeanize" America and give it a "modem" state that can be harnessed to utopian ends.
This American fascism seems - and is - very different from its European variants because it was moderated by many special factors - geographical size, ethnic diversity, Jeffersonian individualism, a strong liberal tradition, and so on. As a result, American fascism is milder, more friendly, more "maternal" than its foreign counterparts; it is what George Carlin calls "smiley-face fascism."
Nice fascism. The best term to describe it is "liberal fascism." And this liberal fascism was, and remains, fundamentally left-wing.
This book will present an alternative history of American liberalism that not only reveals its roots in, and commonalities with, classical fascism but also shows how the fascist label was projected onto the right by a complex sleight of hand. In fact, conservatives are the more authentic classical liberals, while many so-called liberals are "friendly" fascists.
Now, I am not saying that all liberals are fascists. Nor am I saying that to believe in socialized medicine or smoking bans is evidence that you are a crypto-Nazi. What I am mainly trying to do is to dismantle the granite-like assumption in our political culture that American conservatism is an offshoot or cousin of fascism. Rather, as I will try to show, many of the ideas and impulses that inform what we call liberalism come to us through an intellectual tradition that led directly to fascism. These ideas were embraced by fascism, and remain in important respects fascistic.
We cannot easily recognize these similarities and continuities today, however, let alone speak about them, because this whole realm of historical analysis was foreclosed by the Holocaust
. Before the war, fascism was widely viewed as a progressive social movement with many liberal and left-wing adherents in Europe and the United States; the horror of the Holocaust completely changed our view of fascism as something uniquely evil and ineluctably bound up with extreme nationalism, paranoia, and genocidal racism
. After the war, the American progressives who had praised Mussolini and even looked sympathetically at Hitler in the 1920s and 1930s had to distance themselves from the horrors of Nazism
. Accordingly, leftist intellectuals redefined fascism as "right-wing" and projected their own sins onto conservatives
, even as they continued to borrow heavily from fascist and pre-fascist thought.
Much of this alternative history is quite easy to find, if you have eyes to see it. The problem is that the liberal-progressive narrative on which most of us were raised tends to shunt these incongruous and inconvenient facts aside, and to explain away as marginal what is actually central.
For starters, it is simply a fact that, in the 1920s, fascism and fascistic ideas were very popular on the American left. ... In many respects, the founding fathers of modern liberalism, the men and women who laid the intellectual groundwork of the New Deal and the welfare state, thought that fascism sounded like a pretty good idea. Or to be fair: many simply thought (in the spirit of Deweyan Pragmatism) that it sounded like a worthwhile "experiment." Moreover, while the odor of Italian' Fascism eventually grew rancid in the nostrils of both the American left and the American right (considerably later than 1930, by the way), the reasons for their revulsion did not for the most part stem from profound ideological differences. Rather, the American left essentially picked a different team - the Red team-and as such swore fealty to communist talking points about fascism. As for the non-communist liberal left, while the word "fascism" grew in disrepute, many fascistic ideas and impulses endured.
It was around this time that Stalin stumbled on a brilliant tactic of simply labeling all inconvenient ideas and movements fascist.
Socialists and progressives aligned with Moscow were called socialists or progressives, while socialists disloyal or opposed to Moscow were called fascists. Stalin's theory of social fascism rendered even Franklin Roosevelt a fascist according to loyal communists everywhere. And let us recall that Leon Trotsky was marked for death for allegedly plotting a "fascist coup." While this tactic was later deplored by many sane American left-wingers, it is amazing how many useful idiots fell for it at the time, and how long its intellectual half-life has been.
Before the Holocaust and Stalin's doctrine of social fascism, liberals could be more honest about their fondness for fascism. During the "pragmatic" era of the 1920s and early 1930s, a host of Western liberal intellectuals and journalists were quite impressed with Mussolini's "experiment." More than a few progressives were intrigued by Nazism as well. W. E. B. DuBois, for example, had very complex and mixed emotions about the rise of Hitler and the plight of the Jews, believing that National Socialism could be the model for economic organization. The formation of the Nazi dictatorship, he wrote, had been "absolutely necessary to get the state in order." Hewing to the progressive definition of "democracy" as egalitarian statism, DuBois delivered a speech in Harlem in 1937 proclaiming that "there is today, in some respects, more democracy in Germany than there has been in years past."
For years, segments of the so-called Old Right argued that FDR's New Deal was fascistic and/or influenced by fascists. There is ample truth to this, as many mainstream and liberal historians have grudgingly admitted. II However, that the New Deal was fascist was hardly a uniquely right-wing criticism in the 1930s. Rather, those who offered this sort of critique, including the Democratic hero Al Smith and the Progressive Republican Herbert Hoover, were beaten back with the charge that they were crazy right-wingers and themselves the real fascists. Norman Thomas, the head of the American Socialist Party, frequently charged that the New Deal was fundamentally fascistic. Only Communists loyal to Moscow - or the useful idiots in Stalin's thrall -could say that Thomas was a right-winger or a fascist. But that is precisely what they did.
Even more telling, FDR's defenders openly admitted their admiration of fascism. Rexford Guy Tugwell, an influential member of FDR's Brain Trust, said of Italian Fascism, "It's the cleanest, neatest most efficiently operating piece of social machinery I've ever seen.
It makes me envious." "We are trying out the economics of Fascism without having suffered all its social or political ravages," proclaimed the New Republic's editor George Soule, an enthusiastic supporter of the FDR administration.
But this whole discussion misses a larger and frequently overlooked point. The New Deal did emulate a fascistic regime; but Italy and Germany were secondary models, post hoc confirmations that liberals were on the right track. The real inspiration for the New Deal was the Wilson administration during World War I. This is hardly a secret. FDR campaigned on his pledge to re-create the war socialism of the Wilson years; his staff set out with that goal, and it was heartily applauded by the liberal establishment of the 1930s. Countless editorial boards, politicians, and pundits - including the revered Walter Lippmann - called on President Roosevelt to become a "dictator," which was not a dirty word in the early 1930s, and to tackle the Depression the same way Wilson and the progressives had fought World War I.
Indeed, it is my argument that during World War I, America became a fascist country, albeit temporarily
. The first appearance of modern totalitarianism in the Western world wasn't in Italy or Germany but in the United States of America. How else would you describe a country where the world's first modern propaganda ministry was established; political prisoners by the thousands were harassed, beaten, spied upon, and thrown in jail simply for expressing private opinions; the national leader accused foreigners and immigrants of injecting treasonous "poison" into the American bloodstream; newspapers and magazines were shut down for criticizing the government; nearly a hundred~ thousand government propaganda agents were sent out among the people to whip up support for the regime and its war; college professors imposed loyalty oaths on their colleagues; nearly a quarter-million goons were given legal authority to intimidate and beat "slackers" and dissenters; and leading artists and writers dedicated their crafts to proselytizing for the government?
The reason so many progressives were intrigued by both Mussolini's and Lenin's "experiments" is simple: they saw their reflection in the European looking glass. Philosophically, organizationally, and politically the progressives were as close to authentic, homegrown fascists as any movement America has ever produced. Militaristic, fanatically nationalist, imperialist, racist, deeply involved in the promotion of Darwinian eugenics, enamored of the Bismarckian welfare state, statist beyond modern reckoning, the progressives represented the American flowering of a transatlantic movement, a profound reorientation toward the Hegelian and Darwinian collectivism imported from Europe at the end of the nineteenth century.
In this sense, both the Wilson and the FDR administrations were descendants - albeit distant ones-of the first fascist movement: the French Revolution.
Given the benefit of hindsight, it's difficult to understand why anyone doubts the fascist nature of the French Revolution. Few dispute that it was totalitarian, terrorist, nationalist, conspiratorial, and populist. It produced the first modern dictators, Robespierre and Napoleon, and worked on the premise that the nation had to be ruled by an enlightened avant-garde who would serve as the authentic, organic voice of the "general will."
The paranoid Jacobin mentality made the revolutionaries more savage and cruel than the king they replaced. Some fifty thousand people ultimately died in the Terror, many in political show trials that Simon Schama describes as the "founding charter of totalitarian justice." Robespierre summed up the totalitarian logic of the Revolution: "There are only two parties in France: the people and its enemies. We must exterminate those miserable villains who are eternally conspiring against the rights of man ... [W]e must exterminate all our enemies."!
But what truly makes the French Revolution the first fascist revolution was its effort to turn politics into a religion.
(In this the revolutionaries were inspired by Rousseau, whose concept of the general will divinized the people while rendering the person an afterthought.
) Accordingly, they declared war on Christianity, attempting to purge it from society and replace it with a "secular" faith whose tenets were synonymous with the Jacobin agenda. Hundreds of pagan-themed festivals were launched across the country celebrating Nation, Reason, Brotherhood, Liberty, and other abstractions in order to bathe the state and the general will in an aura of sanctity.
As we shall see, the Nazis emulated the Jacobins in minute detail.
It is no longer controversial to say that the French Revolution was disastrous and cruel. But it is deeply controversial to say that it was fascist, because the French Revolution is the fons et origo
of the left and the "revolutionary tradition." The American right and classical liberals look fondly on the American Revolution, which was essentially conservative, while shuddering at the horrors and follies of Jacobinism.
But if the French Revolution was fascist, then its heirs would have to be seen as the fruit of this poisoned tree, and fascism itself would finally and correctly be placed where it belongs in the story of the left. This would cause seismic disorder in the leftist world view; so instead, leftists embrace cognitive dissonance and terminological sleight of hand.
At the same time, it must be noted that scholars have had so much difficulty explaining what fascism is because various fascisms have been so different from each other
. For example, the Nazis were genocidal anti-Semites
. The Italian Fascists were protectors of the Jews until the Nazis took over Italy
. Fascists fought for the side of the Axis, but the Spanish stayed out of the war (and protected Jews as well). The Nazis hated Christianity
, the Italians made peace with the Catholic Church
(though Mussolini himself despised Christianity with an untrammeled passion), and members of the Romanian Legion of the Archangel Michael styled themselves as Christian crusaders. Some fascists championed "state capitalism," while others, such as the Blue Shirts of Kuomintang China, demanded the immediate seizure of the means of production. The Nazis were officially anti-Bolshevist, but there was a movement of "National Bolshevism" within Nazi ranks, too. The one thing that unites these movements is that they were all, in their own ways, totalitarian
. But what do we mean when we say something is "totalitarian"? The word has certainly taken on an understandably sinister connotation in the last half century. Thanks to work by Hannah Arendt, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and others, it's become a catchall for brutal, soul-killing, Orwellian regimes
. But that's not how the word was originally used or intended. Mussolini himself coined the term to describe a society where everybody belonged, where everyone was taken care of, where everything was inside the state and nothing was outside: where truly no child was left behind.
Again, it is my argument that American liberalism is a totalitarian political religion, but not necessarily an Orwellian one
. It is nice, not brutal. Nannying, not bullying. But it is definitely totalitarian - or "holistic," if you prefer - in that liberalism today sees no realm of human life that is beyond political significance, from what you eat to what you smoke to what you say. Sex is political. Food is political. Sports, entertainment, your inner motives and outer appearance, all have political salience for liberal fascists.
Liberals place their faith in priestly experts who know better, who plan, exhort, badger, and scold. They try to use science to discredit traditional notions of religion and faith, but they speak the language of pluralism and spirituality to defend "nontraditional" beliefs. Just as with classical fascism, liberal fascists speak of a "Third Way" between right and left where all good things go together and all hard choices are "false choices."
The idea that there are no hard choices - that is, choices between competing goods - is religious and totalitarian because it assumes that all good things are fundamentally compatible. The conservative or classical liberal vision understands that life is unfair, that man is flawed, and that the only perfect society, the only real utopia, waits for us in the next life.
Liberal fascism differs from classical fascism in many ways. I don't deny this. Indeed, it is central to my point. Fascisms differ from each other because they grow out of different soil. What unites them
are their emotional or instinctual impulses, such as the quest for community, the urge to "get beyond" politics, a faith in the perfectibility of man and the authority of experts, and an obsession with the aesthetics of youth, the cult of action, and the need for an all-powerful state to coordinate society at the national or global level.
Most of all, they share the belief
- what I call the totalitarian temptation - that with the right amount of tinkering we can realize the utopian dream of "creating a better world."
But as with everything in history, time and place matter, and the differences between various fascisms can be profound. Nazism was the product of German culture, grown out of a German context. The Holocaust could not have occurred in Italy, because Italians are not Germans. And in America, where hostility to big government is central to the national character
, the case for statism must be made in terms of "pragmatism" and decency. In other words, our fascism must be nice and for your own good.
American Progressivism, from which today's liberalism descended, was a kind of Christian fascism (many called it "Christian socialism"). This is a difficult concept for modern liberals to grasp because they are used to thinking of the progressives as the people who cleaned up the food supply, pushed through the eight-hour workday, and ended child labor. But liberals often forget that the progressives were
also imperialists, at home and abroad. They were the authors of Prohibition, the Palmer Raids, eugenics, loyalty oaths, and, in its modern incarnation, what many call "state capitalism."
Many liberals also miss the religious dimension of Progressivism because they tend to view religion and progressive politics as diametrically opposed to each other; thus, while liberals who remember the civil rights movement acknowledge that the churches played a role, they don't see it on a continuum with other religiously inspired progressive crusades like abolition and temperance.
Today's liberal fascism eschews talk of Christianity for the most part, except to roll back its influence wherever it can (although a right-wing version often called compassionate conservatism has made inroads in the Republican Party). But while the God talk may have fallen by the wayside, the religious crusader's spirit that powered Progressivism remains as strong as ever.
Rather than talk in explicitly religious terms, however, today's liberals use a secularized vocabulary of "hope" and construct explicitly spiritual philosophies like Hillary Clinton's "politics of meaning."
Similarly, the nasty racism that infused the progressive eugenics of Margaret Sanger and others has largely melted away.
But liberal fascists are still racist in their own nice way, believing in the inherent numinousness of blacks and, the permanence of white sin, and therefore the eternal justification of white guilt.
While I would argue that this is bad and undesirable, I would not dream of saying that today's liberals are genocidal or vicious in their racial attitudes the way Nazis were. Still, it should be noted that on the postmodern left, they do speak in terms Nazis could understand.
Indeed, notions of "white logic" and the "permanence of race" were not only understood by Nazis but in some cases pioneered by them. The historian Anne Harrington observes that the "key words of the vocabulary of postmodernism (deconstructionism, logocentrism) actually had their origins in anti science tracts written by Nazi and proto-fascist writers like Ernst Krieck and Ludwig Klages."
The first appearance of the word Dekonstrucktion was in a Nazi psychiatry journal edited by Hermann Goring's cousin. Many on the left talk of destroying "whiteness" in a way that is more than superficially reminiscent of the National Socialist effort to "de-Judaize" German society.
Indeed, it is telling that the man who oversaw the legal front of this project, Carl Schmitt, is hugely popular among leftist academics. Mainstream liberals don't necessarily agree with these intellectuals, but they do accord them a reverence and respect that often amount to a tacit endorsement.
A simple fact remains: Progressives did many things that we would today call objectively fascist, and fascists did many things we would today call objectively progressive.
Teasing apart this seeming contradiction, and showing why it is not in fact a contradiction, are major aims of this book. But that does not mean I am calling liberals Nazis.
Let me put it this way: no serious person can deny that Marxist ideas had a profound impact on what we call liberalism. To point this out doesn't mean that one is calling, say, Barack Obama a Stalinist or a communist. One can go even further and note that many of the most prominent liberals and leftists of the twentieth century assiduously minimized the evils and dangers presented by Soviet Communism; but that doesn't necessarily mean it would be fair to accuse them of actually favoring Stalin's genocidal crimes. It's cruel to call someone a Nazi because it unfairly suggests sympathy with the Holocaust. But it is no less inaccurate to assume that fascism was simply the ideology of Jewish genocide. If you need a label for that, call it Hitlerism, for Hitler would not be Hitler without genocidal racism. And while Hitler was a fascist, fascism need not be synonymous with Hitlerism.
For example, it's illuminating to note that Jews were overrepresented in the Italian Fascist Party
and remained so from the early 1920s until 1938. Fascist Italy had nothing like a death camp system. Not a single Jew of any national origin under Italian control anywhere in the world was handed over to Germany until 1943, when Italy was invaded by the Nazis.
Jews in Italy survived the war at a higher rate than anywhere under Axis rule save Denmark, and Jews in Italian-controlled areas of Europe fared almost as well. Mussolini actually sent Italian troops into harm's way to save Jewish lives. Francisco Franco, allegedly a quintessential fascist dictator, also refused Hitler's demand to hand over Spanish Jews, saving tens of thousands of Jews from extermination.
It was Franco who signed the document abrogating the 1492 Edict of Expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Meanwhile, the supposedly "liberal" French and Dutch eagerly cooperated with the Nazi deportation program.
At this point I need to make a few statements of a kind that should be obvious, but are necessary in order to prevent any possibility of being misunderstood or having my argument distorted by hostile critics. I love this country and have tremendous faith in its goodness and decency; under no circumstances can I imagine a fascist regime like that of the Nazis coming to power here, let alone an event like the Holocaust. This is because Americans, all American liberals, conservatives, and independents, blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians-are shaped by a liberal, democratic, and egalitarian culture strong enough to resist any such totalitarian temptations. So, no, I do not think liberals are evil, villainous, or bigoted in the sense that typical Nazi comparisons suggest. The right-wing shtick of calling Hillary Clinton "Hitlery' is no less sophomoric than the constant drumbeat of "Bushitler" nonsense one finds on the left. The Americans who cheered for Mussolini in the 1920s cannot be held to account for what Hitler did nearly two decades later. And liberals today are not responsible for what their intellctual forefathers believed, though they should account for it.
But at the same time, Hitler's crimes do not erase the similarities between Progressivism - now called liberalism - and the ideologies and attitudes that brought Mussolini and Hitler to power.
For example, it has long been known that the Nazis were economic populists
, heavily influenced by the same ideas that motivated American and British populists. And while too often downplayed by liberal historians, American populism had a strong anti-Semitic and conspiratorial streak
. A typical cartoon in a populist publication depicted the world grasped in the tentacles of an octopus sitting atop the British Isles. The octopus was labeled "Rothschild." An Associated Press reporter noted of the 1896 Populist convention "the extraordinary hatred of the Jewish race" on display.' Father Charles Coughlin, "the Radio Priest," was a left-wing populist rabble-rouser and conspiracy theorist whose anti-Semitism was well-known among establishment liberals even when they defended the pro-Roosevelt demagogue as being "on the side of the angels."
Today, populist conspiracy theories run amok across the left (and are hardly unknown on the right).
A full third of Americans believe it is "very" or "somewhat" likely that the government was behind (or allowed) the 9/11 attacks. A particular paranoia about the influence of the "Jewish lobby" has infected significant swaths of the campus and European left-not to mention the poisonous and truly Hitlerian anti-Semitic populism of the Arab "street" under regimes most would recognize as fascist. My point isn't that the left is embracing Hitlerite anti-Semitism. Rather, it is embracing populism and indulging anti-Semites to an extent that is alarming and dangerous.
Moreover, it's worth recalling that the success of Nazism in Weimar Germany partially stemmed from the unwillingness of decent men to take it seriously.
There are other similarities between German and Italian Fascist ideas and modern American liberalism. For example, the corporatism at the heart of liberal economics today is seen as a bulwark against right-wing and vaguely fascistic corporate ruling classes. And yet the economic ideas of Bill and Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore, and Robert Reich are deeply similar to the corporatist "Third Way" ideologies that spawned fascist economics in the 1920s and 1930s.
Indeed, contemporary liberalism's cargo cult over the New Deal is enough to place modern liberalism in the family tree of fascism.
Or consider the explosion of health and New Age crusades in recent years, from the war on smoking, to the obsession with animal rights, to the sanctification of organic foods.
No one disputes that these fads are a product of the cultural and political left. But few are willing to grapple with the fact that we've seen this sort of thing before. Heinrich Himmler was a certified animal rights activist and an aggressive promoter of "natural healing." Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy, championed homeopathy and herbal remedies. Hitler and his advisers dedicated hours of their time to discussions of the need to move the entire nation to vegetarianism as a response to the unhealthiness promoted by capitalism. Dachau hosted the world's largest alternative and organic medicine research lab and produced its own organic honey.
In profound ways, the Nazi antismoking and public health drives foreshadowed today's crusades against junk food, trans fats, and the . like.
A Hitler Youth manual proclaimed, "Nutrition is not a private matter!" - a mantra substantially echoed by the public health establishment today. The Nazis' fixation on organic foods and personal health neatly fit their larger understanding of how the world works. Many Nazis were convinced that Christianity, which held that men were intended to conquer nature rather than live in harmony with it, and capitalism, which alienated men from their natural state, conspired to undermine German health.
In a widely read book on nutrition, Hugo Kleine blamed "capitalist special interests" (and "masculinized Jewish half-women") for the decline in quality of German foods, which contributed in turn to the rise in cancer (another Nazi obsession). Organic food was inextricably linked to what the Nazis then described - as the left does today - as "social justice" issues.
Are you automatically a fascist if you care about health, nutrition, and the environment? Of course not. What is fascist is the notion that in an organic national community, the individual has no right not to be healthy; and the state therefore has the obligation to force us to be healthy for our own good.
To the extent that these modern health movements seek to harness the power of the state to their agenda, they flirt with classical fascism. Even culturally, environmentalism gives license to the sort of moral bullying and intrusion that, were it couched in terms of traditional morality, liberals would immediately denounce as fascist.
As of this writing, a legislator in New York wants to ban using iPods when crossing the street. In many parts of the country it is illegal to smoke in your car or even' outdoors if other human beings could conceivably be near you.
We hear much about how conservatives want to "invade our bedrooms," but as this book went to press, Greenpeace and other groups were launching a major campaign to "educate" people on how they can have environmentally friendly sex. Greenpeace has a whole list of strategies for "getting it on for the good of the planet." You may trust that environmentalists have no desire to translate these voluntary suggestions into law, but I have no such confidence given the track record of similar campaigns in the past. Free speech, too, is under relentless assault where it matters most - around elections - and it is being sanctified where it matters least, around strippers' poles and on terrorist Web sites.
In Democracy in America
, Alexis de Tocqueville warned: "It must not be forgotten that it is especially dangerous to enslave men in the minor details of life. For my own part, I should be inclined to think freedom less necessary in great things than in little ones." This country seems to have inverted Tocqueville's hierarchy. We must all lose our liberties on the little things so that a handful of people can enjoy their freedoms to the fullest.
For generations our primary vision of a dystopian future has been that of Orwell's 1984
. This was a fundamentally "masculine" nightmare of fascist brutality. But with the demise of the Soviet Union and the vanishing memory of the great twentieth-century fascist and communist dictatorships, the nightmare vision of 1984
is slowly fading away. In its place, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World
is emerging as the more prophetic book. As we unravel the human genome and master the ability to make people happy with televised entertainment and psychoactive drugs, politics is increasingly a vehicle for delivering prepackaged joy. America's political system used to be about the pursuit of happiness. Now more and more of us want to stop chasing it and have it delivered.
And though it has been the subject of high school English essay questions for generations, we have not gotten much closer to answering the question, what exactly was so bad about the Brave New World?
Simply this: it is fool's gold. The idea that we can create a heaven on earth through pharmacology and neuroscience is as utopian as the Marxist hope that we could create a perfect world by rearranging the means of production. The history of totalitarianism is the history of the quest to transcend the human condition and create a society where our deepest meaning and destiny are realized simply by virtue of the fact that we live in it.
It cannot be done, and even if, as often in the case of liberal fascism, the effort is very careful to be humane and decent, it will still result in a kind of benign tyranny where some people get to impose their ideas of goodness and happiness on those who may not share them.
The introduction of a novel term like "liberal fascism" obviously requires an explanation. Many critics will undoubtedly regard it as a crass oxymoron. Actually, however, I am not the first to use the term. That honor falls to H. G. Wells, one of the greatest influences on the progressive mind in the twentieth century (and, it turns out, the inspiration for Huxley's Brave New World
). Nor did Wells coin the phrase as an indictment, but as a badge of honor. Progressives must become "liberal fascists" and "enlightened Nazis," he told the Young Liberals at Oxford in a speech in July 1932.
Wells was a leading voice in what I have called the fascist moment
, when many Western elites were eager to replace Church and Crown with slide rules and industrial armies. Throughout his work he championed the idea that special men - variously identified as scientists, priests, warriors, or "samurai" - must impose progress on the masses in order to create a "New Republic" or a "world theocracy." Only through militant Progressivism - by whatever name could mankind achieve the fulfillment of the kingdom of God. Wells, simply put, was enthralled by the totalitarian temptation. "I have never been able to escape altogether from its relentless logic," he declared.
Fascism, like Progressivism and communism, is expansionist because it sees no natural boundary to its ambitions.
For violent variants, like so-called Islamo-fascism, this is transparently obvious. But Progressivism, too, envisions a New World Order.
World War I was a "crusade" to redeem the whole world, according to Woodrow Wilson. Even Wilson's pacifist secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan, could not shake off his vision of a Christian world order, complete with a global prohibition of alcohol.
One objection to all of this might be: So what? It's interesting in a counterintuitive way to learn that a bunch of dead liberals and progressives thought this or that, but what does it have to do with liberals today? Two responses come to mind. The first is admittedly not fully responsive. Conservatives in America must carry their intellectual history - real and alleged - around their necks like an albatross. The ranks of elite liberal journalism and scholarship swell with intrepid scribblers who point to "hidden histories" and "disturbing echoes" in the conservative historical closet. Connections with dead right-wingers, no matter how tenuous and obscure, are trotted out as proof that today's conservatives are continuing a nefarious project. Why, then, is it so trivial to point out that the liberal closet has its own skeletons, particularly when those skeletons are the architects of the modem welfare state?
Which raises the second response. Liberalism, unlike conservatism, is operationally uninterested in its own intellectual history. But that doesn't make it any less indebted to it. Liberalism stands on the shoulders of its own giants and thinks its feet are planted firmly on the ground. Its assumptions and aspirations can be traced straight back to the Progressive Era, a fact illustrated by the liberal tendency to use the word "progressive" whenever talking about its core convictions and idea-generating institutions (the Progressive magazine, the Progressive Policy Institute, the Center for American Progress, and so on). I am simply fighting on a battleground of liberalism's choosing. Liberals are the ones who've insisted that conservatism has connections with fascism. They are the ones who claim free market economics are fascist and that therefore their own economic theories should be seen as the more virtuous, even though the truth is almost entirely the reverse.
Today's liberalism doesn't seek to conquer the world by force of arms. It is not a nationalist and genocidal project. To the contrary, it is an ideology of good intentions. But we all know where even the best of intentions can take us. I have not written a book about how all liberals are Nazis or fascists. Rather, I have tried to write a book warning that even the best of us are susceptible to the totalitarian temptation.
This includes some self-described conservatives. Compassionate conservatism, in many respects, is a form of Progressivism
, a descendant of Christian socialism. Much of George W. Bush's rhetoric about leaving no children behind and how "when somebody hurts, government has got to move" bespeaks a vision of the state that is indeed totalitarian in its aspirations and not particularly conservative in the American sense.
Once again, it is a nice totalitarianism, motivated no doubt by sincere Christian love (thankfully tempered by poor implementation); but love, too, can be smothering. In fact, the rage that Bush's tenure has elicited in many of his critics is illustrative. Bush's intentions are decent, but those who don't share his vision find them oppressive. The same works the other way around. Liberals agree with Hillary Clinton's intentions; they just assert that anyone who finds them oppressive is a fascist.
Finally, since we must have a working definition of fascism, here is mine: Fascism is a religion of the state.
It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good.
It takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well-being, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure
. Everything, including the economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives. Any rival identity is part of the "problem" and therefore defined as the enemy. I will argue that contemporary American liberalsim embodies all of these aspects of fascism.