"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Liberal Fascism

Every now and then, I read a book so rich and layered that, even when I'm done, I know I'm going to have to go back and read it at least once or twice more to get a full picture of what the writer is saying. Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism is just that kind of book. The sheer volume of history and political theory he brings forth to support his thesis might require two years of master's studies to completely flesh out. This is the work of a serious and knowledgeable intellectual, written with the sobriety of a monk vice the hysteria of a banshee like, say, Ann Coulter (in some ways, Coulter's Godless is a crude prelude to this book, touching on some of the same points but without the wealth of research and analysis Goldberg brings to the table. The more I read really good conservative authors, the more I regret wasting time and money on people like Coulter. Godless might find itself the victim of a garage sale when I get home).

Goldberg's purpose in this book is simple: to deconstruct the liberal habit of labeling conservatives "fascists", to look back into the fascist era of the early twentieth century and reexamine what genuine fascists believed, and then determine who the ideological heirs of the original fascist movement truly are. I'll give you a hint: they're not conservatives. Those who don't get wrapped around the axle about politics probably won't want to delve into this work, which might appear to spend four hundred pages rebutting kindergarten name-calling. But anyone who values a civil - and intellectually honest - political discourse would do well to invest the time in it. After all, accusing conservatives of being fascists - and Bush, in particular, of being "Bushitler" - is a common attack from the Left, and not just by those on the fringe. It is a weighty charge, immediately conjuring up images of some of the most evil men, egregious acts, and heinous blood-letting of recent history, and, indeed, all time. It's a dismissive charge, because, after all, anyone who's a fascist can't have anything constructive to contribute to civil life because fascism is, in itself, evil and degrading. It's also a completely inaccurate charge, because, as Goldberg shows, conservatives are not the offspring of the "fascist moment" of the early 1900s; liberals are, and have only hung the epithet on the necks of conservatives by a semantic sleight of hand.

I will not attempt to distill this book into so small a space here, but I'll try to paint his broader argument as succinctly as I can. He begins by noting that even among serious scholars of fascism, it's difficult to agree upon an all-encompassing definition. But to avoid spending four hundred pages dissecting the different definitions, he offers his own as a starting point to get the debate rolling:
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.

He then goes into an overview of the first fascists - including the 'founding father', Mussolini - and teases out the argument from there. He reminds us that Mussolini, and later Hitler, were both very popular among American leftists at the time (before Hitler's excesses and ambitions became blindingly obvious to the world), and that the left eventually broke with him as part of an ideological civil war that made him right-wing only in the sense that he was the right wing of the left, not the right as we think of it today. Politically, ideologically, and socially, he was in no sense a conservative; his party was a socialist party, as Hitler's was the National Socialist party of Germany. Both were concerned with an overpowering intrusion of the state into the private sphere, and the submission of the individual good to the common good, neither of which are tenets of conservative thought. Their success at this made them the darling of American progressives, who lamented their own country's inability to join in the great 'experiment' going on overseas. Their jealousy at this partly stemmed from the fact that both Hitler and Mussolini were great admirers of the intellectual founding fathers of the American progressive movement; they were intimately familiar with their works and quoted many of them by name as inspiration for their own political objectives.

What sort of objectives were these? To those who follow politics, they probably sound familiar:
  • we demand that the state be charged first with providing the opportunity for a livelihood and way of life for the citizens
  • we demand the nationalization of all associated industries
  • we demand a division of profits of heavy industry
  • we demand an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare
  • we demand the creation of a healthy middle class and its conservation, immediate communalization of the great 'department stores' and their being leased at low cost to small firms
  • we demand struggle without consideration against those whose activity is injurious to the general interest
  • the state is to be responsible for a fundamental reconstruction of our whole national education program, to enable every capable and industrious [citizen] to obtain higher education and subsequently introduction into leading positions...the comprehension of the State must be striven for by the school as early as the beginning of understanding
  • the State is to care for elevating national health by protecting the mother and child...by encouragement of physical fitness...by the utmost support of all organizations concerned with the physical instruction of the young
  • we demand freedom of religion for all religious denominations within the state so long as they do not endanger its existence or oppose the moral sense of [the people]...[we are] convinced that a lasting recovery of our nation can only succeed from within on the framework: common utility precedes individual utility

On the surface, much of this seems like a laundry list of liberal demands: the right to a job, curbing the expansion of large companies and dividing their profits among the people, guaranteeing government support for the old, breaking apart 'department stores' (Wal-Mart, anyone?) so that the little guy can prosper, national education run the federal government, national health care, special emphasis on instructing the young on healthy ways of living, freedom of religion so long as it encroaches nowhere near the public sphere, and the common interest superceding private interest (or, as Hillary Clinton once said, "we're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good"). We've heard these demands from any number of liberal politicians and presidential candidates, which could be why they seem familiar. But they seem familiar for other reasons; namely, that they've been around for much longer than the 2008 presidential season, and because they've come out of the mouths of less august characters. The above list, for example, is taken verbatim from the platform of the Nazi Party in 1920.

Before the heavens resound with cries of outrage, I'd point out that Goldberg - and myself - are not comparing modern liberals to the Nazis of old (though some modern liberals have no compunction about doing the same to conservatives, despite completely opposing ideological histories). But he is trying to blow away the fog of dishonesty surrounding modern liberal thought and where it comes from. Nazism, Italian Fascism, early American progressivism, and modern American liberalism all came from the same intellectual well-spring; and while he states that fascism grew in different ways in different cultures (anti-Semitism in Germany, for example, was unique to that country and not a staple of fascist thought in itself; Mussolini said nothing about Jews until much later in his career, and only under pressure from Hitler), it is factually wrong to claim that its tentacles are part and parcel of conservative thought when, in fact, it grew out of traditionally leftist, progressive ideas, strains of which can be seen throughout American history. He argues that World War I America, under the ardently progressive Wilson, was, for all intents and purposes, a truly fascist state. The federal government co-opted national industries to make the war effort more efficient, devoted a huge amount of money to propaganda (Uncle Sam's finger, saying "I Want YOU", came from this era), violently crushed dissent (or, "activities injurious to the general interest"). FDR built on this foundation, declaring a "moral equivalent of war" on the Depression economy, introducing welfare, doing his best to give jobs to everyone, and using a "Blue Eagle" price-fixing program to give the government more control over the economy (and using pressure and, occasionally, outright violence against businesses that refused to comply with this program). Goldberg then moves on to examine LBJ's "Great Society" and Hillary's "It Takes a Village" mindset, the latter of which, he argues, is the penultimate distillation of progressive thought into a form of "nice" fascism.

As my goal is not to summarize the entire book here, I'll stop myself now before I'm tempted to do just that. Suffice it to say that Goldberg, as mentioned before, is not calling modern liberals Nazis, anti-Semites, or genocidal maniacs (in fact, he explicitly states that fascism, in an American form, is far more likely to take the guise of an all-loving, all-protecting nanny state), nor does he dismiss out of hand any merit that the liberal agenda might have (again, he explicitly repeats that much merit exists). But he demands that they own up to their intellectual history, stop using the label of "Nazi" and "fascist" both inaccurately and as an attempt to quash legitimate criticism of their ideology, and understand that the search for their goals, noble as they may be, have been taken to extremes before, with disastrous results.

7 comments:

Matt said...

Aside from the fact that Goldberg's book (at least from reading reviews) is basically a reductio ad hitlerum argument, I want to know what liberal politician you see actually advocating most of the programs on that list you produce midway through this. If you actually can find more than two of those goals (health care & the creation of the middle class being the exceptions) being offered by Hillary or Obama I'll give you $10.
If that is the conception of modern liberalism that you're arguing against, you're opposing a ghost.

"We demand that the state be charged first with providing the opportunity for a livelihood and way of life for the citizens"

Really, contemporary Democrats believe this? That's funny because last I checked, uhm, no we don't. We believe in a societal safety net to deal with the fact that in a free-market society you're always going to have varying levels of unemployment and people need support during periods of transition. We don't think that this should be lifetime employment, nor do we believe that the government is responsible for providing employment to everyone.

"We demand the nationalization of all associated industries"

Maybe if you're talking about North Korea this would be accurate. I don't know of a major industry that anyone advocates nationalizing these days; seriously, outside of maybe the government here in New Hampshire running liquor stores I'm left somewhat confused. Democrats/liberals want reasonable regulation so as to ensure fair wages, safe working conditions and the maintenance of a free market, but nobody wants to nationalize the auto industry just because they're trying to lay off their entire US work force (which they are, incidentally enough).

"We demand a division of profits of heavy industry"

I think I covered this with the part on nationalization, but then again right now there aren't actual, uhm, profits in heavy industry (I believe it accounts for under 10% of our economic activity right now which is the lowest it has been in decades).

"We demand an expansion on a large scale of old age welfare"

Social security is pretty much in the books and we're reasonably happy with Medicaid/Medicare. I think most mainline Democrats think that finding a way to revamp the market for health care would be far more useful then attempting to do any further expansion of old age welfare.

"we demand the creation of a healthy middle class and its conservation, immediate communalization of the great 'department stores' and their being leased at low cost to small firms"

I don't have a problem with the idea of supporting the middle class though I (and most Democrats) really don't think the government can just wave a wand and create it. The communalization of the great 'department stores' is odd sounding and makes it sound like we need to have communes in Macy's. Needless to say I didn't hear much of that talk in the last Democratic debate.

"We demand struggle without consideration against those whose activity is injurious to the general interest"

This is literally meaningless dreck. I can't argue with it too much because I don't know enough of the definitions. It might make sense (one could see struggling against terrorists being supported by this) but it might not (one could also see jaywalkers falling under this sort of nonsense).

I could keep going but I think I made my point. I don't take issue with Goldberg's book (I haven't read it and really don't plan on reading it), I just want to try to remind you that the vast majority of liberals and Democrats aren't crazy, neo-Communist nutjobs. Most of us care deeply about our country and our freedoms, believe in the efficacy of the free market and believe firmly in the value of the American dream. That we also believe there to be a greater role for government in doing more to direct and sustain free market growth and work to provide real equality of opportunity (not results, but opportunity) is more a divergence of technique, not goals.

CSB said...

Footnote: "Struggle" is far from meaningless. It is a classic political hobby in Communist societies, whereby irritating nonconformists are hauled before public audiences to explain themselves, and usually end up being found guilty of counter-revolutionary crimes and sentenced to something unpleasant. The American equivalent is the "Special Prosecutor".

There is a shorter route to some of Goldberg's points without reading the book. My favourite Canadian blogger [http://www.fivefeetoffury.com/] has often said it (though it may not be original to her): "If Bush is Hitler, why isn't Bill Maher a lampshade?"

Cincinnatus said...

I just spent an afternoon trying to piece together various and sundry quotes from the Internet and book to address some of the points you make concerning each plank and our network just ate it. Instead I've been restraining myself from taking this computer out into the desert, dropping it from 3000 feet, and then emptying a 100-round can of .50 caliber ammunition into it. The book was promised to another pilot once I was done, and he's picked it up, so now I have to go and find everything off the Internet again, without any footnotes from Goldberg. I am not happy. But I will make the effort to rebuild it, if only to spite the computer. Also, I could always use $10.

Until then, I'll say that the book does not reduce modern liberal thought to "the Democrats are closet Nazis and Hillary, while not Hitler, is at the very least Eva Braun". Incidentally, he spends much more time discussing Mussolini's formation of the Italian Fascist party, as he, not Hitler, was the true father of fascism (Hitler is a more extreme, better known knock-off). And he does not begin with Mussolini; Il Duce himself was an offshoot of a particular strain of progressive thought that germinated at the end of the nineteenth century. That ideology grew on both sides of the Atlantic but found more fertile soil in the Old World. Mussolini and Hitler took those ideas to certain extremes that were partly contorted by strictly local cultural factors; but the fact remains that, whatever direction they took it, they inherited the political traditions of Heidegger, Croly, James, and Nietzsche; and so did American liberalism. And while Goldberg does not expect our streets to be overrun by brownshirts, he is extremely wary of a tradition that places the commonwealth over the individual, 'expert' authority over more ignorant free choice, and lends itself to the rise leaders with a small god complex. From Hillary's retort to a critic of her first health care program, who claimed it would damage numerous small businesses ("I can't worry about saving every underfunded enterpreneur"), to Al Gore claiming that since the 'expert' consensus on global warming is in, ignoramouses who think there are still serious questions to be raised against it are "deniers", to endorsements of Obama that call him the "savior of America to the world", these are the underpinnings of modern liberal thought and action and they almost have to be, as that is the intellectual tradition they have inherited.

I will now go back to rebuilding my original reply, and punching the desk instead of this computer.

Cincinnatus said...

Warning: this may be the longest reply you never read.

Call it laziness or work saturation, but I haven't had the time over the last few days to put together the detailed response I wanted to. So instead, I'm going to steal a very long article from National Review which is essentially Goldberg's summary of his own book. As it's a magazine article, it naturally leaves out large amounts of detail and background found in the book (it also pretty much skips his discussion of liberal economics and the co-opting of Big Business to further social agendas, on which the book spends some time). As it's a cover story, the article itself is very long. But I think it's a much better summation than I could give myself, and also saves me time I don't have. It covers the book's main thrust better than a discussion of the Nazi Party's platform could, especially as some of the 'planks' are clearly dated (i.e. "heavy industry"). As a sidebar, I think it'd be worth having a discussion about the planks you DON'T talk about, like the cultivation and education of the young, the sidelining of religion, and the concept of "the struggle", which was a crucial part of early fascist orthodoxy and has reared its head time and again in arguments for various liberal agendas. If you want the discussion, I'll give it to you (and steal my book back as necessary). In the meantime, here's Goldberg's summary of "Liberal Fascism" (copyright National Review, 2008, etc etc):

If you search Lexis-Nexis for articles from just the last two years in which “Bush” and “fascist” are used in the same sentence, the results exceed 2,000. Search for the years encompassing his entire term, and smoke will start to come out of your computer.

A stack of recent books have branded Bush, Cheney, Republicans, conservatives, the Christian Right, and, of course, “neocons” as fascists, Nazis, or sympathizers with fascism and Nazism. Feminist author (and former Gore consultant) Naomi Wolf argues that America has already gone Nazi, equating the United States of today with the Germany of the early 1930s. The dyspeptic left-wing journalist Joe Conason warns that America is on the verge of fascism in It Can Happen Here. The Pulitzer Prize–winning former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges’s book on the Christian Right gets straight to the point, beginning with its title: “American Fascists.”

Today’s F-bombers will tell you that conservatives have brought such charges on themselves by supporting George W. Bush and “his” War on Terror. What passes for the Left’s argument is by now so familiar that we need not dwell on it for long. Nazis cracked down on civil liberties; America is cracking down on civil liberties. Nazis used terror and, allegedly, so does the Bush administration. Nazis invaded countries; America invaded countries. Hitler lied; Bush lied. Nazis rounded up Jews after labeling them enemies of the state; Bush is rounding up Muslims and labeling them enemies of the state. Hitler was a bad guy; Bush is a bad guy. Auschwitz, Guantanamo: What’s in a name?

But this is nothing new. In 2000, when Bush was still promising a “humble” foreign policy, Jerrold Nadler denounced Republican efforts in the Florida recount as having “the whiff of fascism.” Jesse Jackson lamented that, in the hanging-chad controversy, Holocaust survivors were being victimized “again.” Earlier that year, Bill Clinton denounced the Texas GOP platform as a “fascist tract.”

During the fight over the Contract with America, Rep. Charlie Rangel complained that “Hitler wasn’t even talking about doing these things.” (This is technically accurate in that Hitler wasn’t pushing term limits for committee chairmen and “zero based” budgeting.) When Newt Gingrich invited black congressmen to Capitol Hill social events, Rep. Major Owens responded by declaring, “These are people who are practicing genocide with a smile. They’re worse than Hitler. . . . We’re going to have cocktail-party genocide.”

Ronald Reagan was of course called a fascist by Communists from his earliest days fighting Reds in Hollywood. Before that, “everyone knew” that Barry Goldwater was a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer.

Two generations of Hollywood scriptwriters, actors, and producers have been warning that the fascist peril lurks beneath the surface of the Right. Pleasantville, Falling Down, Fight Club, American Beauty, American History X, and countless other films advanced this idea. In the film adaptation of Tom Clancy’s novel The Sum of All Fears, the all-too-real threat of Islamist terror is switched to a cabal of rich, white, conservative businessmen who just happen to be — you guessed it — Nazis. Even after 9/11, it seems liberals think the fascist Right is America’s real, and only, existential threat.


* * *

This received wisdom is understandably vexing for conservatives, who have never had a kind word for fascists or Nazis. I’ve gotten used to it. When speaking on college campuses, I’ve been called a Nazi many times. The kids, accustomed to bullying their opponents with charges of intolerance that would be better aimed at themselves, rarely expect a response.

“So, tell me,” I usually ask my accuser, “except for the bigotry, murder, and genocide, what exactly is it about Nazism you don’t like?”

Taking advantage of the ensuing pierced-tongue-tied silence, I explain: The Nazis were socialists. The Nazi ideologist Gregor Strasser put it succinctly: “We are enemies, deadly enemies, of today’s capitalist economic system with its exploitation of the economically weak, its unfair wage system, its immoral way of judging the worth of human beings in terms of their wealth and their money.” The speech that first attracted a young Adolf Hitler to fascism was titled “How and by What Means Is Capitalism to Be Eliminated?” The Nazi-party platform demanded guaranteed jobs, the “abolition of incomes unearned by work,” the nationalization of all large corporations and trusts, profit-sharing in all major industries, expanded old-age insurance, a government takeover of big department stores (think Wal-Mart), the prohibition of child labor, and countless other “progressive” reforms.



A sworn enemy of capitalism
KPA

Then I explain that the Nazis — all in the name of “progress” — sought to purge the authority of Church and tradition from society, and to replace them with the supremacy of the state and the dictates of political correctness. The Nazis partly grew out of and co-opted the first “green,” youth, and health movements in the West. The proto-Nazi philosopher (and rabid anti-Semite) Ludwig Klages wrote one of the founding texts of modern environmentalism, Man and Earth, which presages most of the contemporary complaints from Al Gore and others on the environmental left. In 1980, the German Greens reissued his manifesto to celebrate the founding of their party.

The Nazi war on smoking would make Michael Bloomberg’s heart leap. Nazis led the world in researching organic foods and alternative medicines (the concentration camp Dachau boasted the largest alternative- and organic-medicine research lab in the world). According to the medical historian Robert Proctor, the National Socialist “campaign against tobacco and the ‘whole-grain bread operation’ are, in some sense, as fascist as the yellow stars and the death camps.”

Nazism rejected open scientific inquiry in favor of research dictated by “holistic” imperatives, and was tainted with a mysticism that exalted the “natural order” above reason (such postmodern buzzwords as “logocentrism” and “deconstructionism” originate in the Nazi canon). Heinrich Himmler was an animal-rights activist and proponent of “natural healing.” Hitler and his advisers endlessly discussed the need to move the entire nation to vegetarianism as a response to the unhealthiness promoted by capitalism.

And then there were the Italian Fascists. Benito Mussolini was raised on the mother’s milk of revolutionary socialism. His father, an ardent socialist who was a member of the First International along with Marx and Engels, read Das Kapital to young Benito as a bedtime story. He first earned the title “Il Duce” as leader of Italy’s Socialist party.

Mussolini’s Fascism was dubbed “right-wing” by orthodox Communists as a way to discredit dissent from the Bolshevik party line. But Mussolini and the Italian Fascists remained committed to socialism. When he was kicked out of the Socialist party solely for supporting World War I — to “save socialism,” in his words — he responded, “Whatever happens, you won’t lose me. Twelve years of my life in the party ought to be sufficient guarantee of my socialist faith. Socialism is in my blood.”

When you point to these and myriad other facts which support the conclusion that National Socialism, as well as Italian Fascism, was a phenomenon of the Left, liberals fall back on a very different argument. So maybe the National Socialists were socialists after all, they say. But that’s incidental to the “true nature” of Nazism and fascism. They only posed as socialists cynically, to attract more followers. In reality, Nazism and fascism are about war, racism, and mass murder.

Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that this position is flatly untrue, and ask what it entails about conservatives. If all the manifestly leftist attributes of fascism are irrelevant but it’s still fair to call conservatives Nazis and fascists, then conservatives must be Nazi-like because we too are murderous bigots. This is isn’t an argument. It’s slander. And it’s high time we set the record straight.


* * *

On a warm July day in 1932, H. G. Wells visited Oxford University’s summer school to deliver a major address to the Young Liberals, a group of progressive activists. Wells is remembered today primarily as a science-fiction writer, but this hardly does justice to the man. He was arguably the most influential English-speaking public intellectual during the first half of the 20th century. His writings were foundational to the linked progressive and social-gospel movements. He was a prominent member of the Fabian Society. His articles on religion and politics were read from the pulpit with electric excitement by American pastors. He was a frequent guest of Franklin Roosevelt in the Oval Office, and his meetings with the president were front-page news.



‘Socialism is in my blood,’ said Mussolini.
KPA

On that summer day at Oxford, Wells sought to summarize the unifying political idea of his life’s work. That idea expressed itself in different forms over the years. He championed a “world brain” that would unify mankind under the auspices of a collective intelligence overseen by special men — variously identified as scientists, priests, warriors, even airmen and “samurai.” But always they would lead and rule from above, making the hard decisions about everything from war and peace to eugenics and economics. The “will and the ideas of public-minded, masterful people” working through “a militant organization” were necessary to forge a “modernized state” that would “release the human community from the entanglements of the past.” This idea, this urge, defined Wells’s political vision. “I have never been able to escape altogether from its relentless logic,” he declared. But until that day at Oxford he lacked a name for it. The name he came up with?

“Liberal fascism.”

Wells’s term was provocative, but not nearly as controversial as you might think. For it wasn’t until the early 1930s that men of the Left were increasingly required to dissociate themselves from fascism (W. E. B. Du Bois lasted longer than most, praising Nazism as late as 1937). The Kremlin had declared at the Sixth Congress of the Third International that fascism was the last gasp of capitalism long prophesied by Marxist theology. While many useful idiots believed this, Stalin’s intent was more strategic than ideological. National Socialism was proving to be a seductive alternative to his failing brand of international socialism. The workers of the world, it seemed, did not want to unite — but the workers of Germany, Italy, and other nations did. So Stalin issued his theory of “social fascism,” which declared any socialist movement or organization that dissented from international socialism to be “objectively fascist.” (Trotsky was anathematized as the leader of a “fascist coup.”)

But before this hoax worked its way through the Western mind, fascism was still “progressive.” Indeed, at the climax of the Progressive era, the Western world was in the throes of what I call a “fascist moment.”

If the hallmark of classic fascism is the blending of war and politics, then the progressives were as fascistic as any devotee of Mussolini. They used the war in Europe as an excuse to launch a sweeping social “experiment” that we are still paying for today. John Dewey, the most important American philosopher of the 20th century, supported the war because of the “social benefits” it would provide at home. The New Republic editorialized that the war “should bring with it a political and economic organization better able to redeem its obligations at home.” Another progressive put it more succinctly: “Laissez-faire is dead. Long live social control.”

Under Woodrow Wilson, the first American president to embrace the new cult of pragmatism and power that had overtaken “enlightened” thinkers on both sides of the Atlantic (and the first American president to openly disdain the U.S. Constitution), the progressives unleashed a crackdown on freedom that makes the supposed fascism of the McCarthy era and the Bush years seem like a teach-in at Smith College. Wilson established the American Protective League, a group of domestic fascisti charged with crushing dissent, beating “slackers,” and intimidating average Americans. Wilson’s Committee for Public Information was the first modern propaganda ministry. Indeed, according to the late sociologist and intellectual historian Robert Nisbet, the “West’s first real experience with totalitarianism — political absolutism extended into every possible area of culture and society, education, religion, industry, the arts, local community and family included, with a kind of terror always waiting in the wings — came with the American war state under Wilson.”

Exhilarated by their power during the war, progressives were crestfallen when America abandoned its war socialism after the armistice. “We planned in war!” they cried, imploring that they be allowed to plan in peace as well. Whereas progressives once saw America as joining, in Jane Addams’s words, a “world-wide movement,” now America was turning its back on Progress and slouching toward the classical liberalism of the founders. So they looked abroad for inspiration.

Two great “experiments” ignited their imaginations: Soviet Russia and Fascist Italy. The muckraker Lincoln Steffens returned from Russia to declare: “I have been to the future — and it works!” Just a year earlier, Steffens had proclaimed that God “formed Mussolini out of the rib of Italy.” Ida Tarbell, the muckraker who “exposed” Standard Oil, took a similar view. She and other progressives referred to the “Russian-Italian” method, recognizing the kindred spirit that animated both Fascism and Bolshevism. Charles Beard, the left-wing economic historian, wrote in The New Republic that Mussolini’s Italy was, “beyond question, an amazing experiment.” Herbert Croly, The New Republic’s first editor, often defended Mussolini’s crackdowns as necessary. Italian Fascism, he wrote, had “substituted movement for stagnation, purposive behavior for drifting, and visions of great future for collective pettiness and discouragement.”

The New Deal did not try to copy Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, or Soviet Russia, as many on the old anti-Communist left and old right charged. Rather, it followed America’s domestic fascist tradition, hoping to pick up where Wilson had left off. But the Brain Trusters did look at European Fascism and Bolshevism as proof that they were moving in the right direction. FDR tapped Hugh Johnson — the Army’s representative to Wilson’s War Industries Board — to run his National Recovery Administration, the cornerstone of the New Deal. There was no contradiction in the fact that Johnson openly admired Mussolini, hanging a portrait of the dictator on his office wall and handing out copies of the Italian Fascist text The Corporate State to members of the administration. Roosevelt himself privately acknowledged that “what we were doing in this country were some of the things that were being done in Russia and even some of the things that were being done under Hitler in Germany. But we are doing them in an orderly way.”

Ah yes, the great defense against the charge of fascism: We’re more orderly!


* * *

Today’s liberals still worship the New Deal. But they look to another era for inspiration as well: the 1960s. Here too the parallels with classic fascism are too obvious to ignore. What are fascism’s hallmarks? Among other things, the cult of action, the glorification of violence, the exaltation of youth, the perceived need to create “new men,” the hatred of conventional morality and traditional authority, the adoration of “the street” and “people power,” the justification of crime as political rebellion, and the denigration of the rule of law as a form of oppression. All recognizable features of the “youth movement” of the ’60s.

“Their goal,” historian John Toland writes of the German youth movement that became the feedstock of the Nazi party, “was to establish a youth culture for fighting the bourgeois trinity of school, home and church.” Studies found that students generally outpaced any other group in their support for National Socialism because they wanted to belong to die Bewegung, the “Movement.” The Nazis may have been striving for a utopian, thousand-year Reich, but their first instincts were radical: Destroy what exists. Tear it down. Eradicate das System — another term shared by the New Left and the fascists. Burn, baby, burn.

“The future of our struggle is the future of crime in the streets,” declared Tom Hayden, a co-founder of Students for a Democratic Society. In June 1969 he declared the “need to expand our struggle to include a total attack on the courts.” He dubbed the Black Panthers “our Viet Cong.” Here was a street-based paramilitary group that sought the violent overthrow of the government in the name of racial separatism. Nothing fascistic here, folks.

During the guns-on-campus crisis at Cornell, then-professor Walter Berns fooled his students by reading them excerpts from Mussolini’s speeches. The students cheered — until they learned the identity of the author. Peter Berger, a Jewish refugee from Austria and, at the time, a respected peace activist and left-wing sociologist, identified a long list of themes common to 1960s radicalism and European fascism. Irving Louis Horowitz, a revered leftist intellectual specializing in revolutionary thought, saw this fanaticism for what it was: “Fascism returns to the United States not as a right-wing ideology, but almost as a quasi-leftist ideology.”


* * *

Some recognized that America would defend itself against the violent radicalism of the Weathermen and the Black Panthers. So there was a softer side to the fascistic awakening of the 1960s. These softer radicals were peaceful, process-oriented, and career-minded. But they remained no less dedicated to imposing “a new social order,” and when pressed they defended the barbarians for having their “hearts in the right place.”

It’s worth remembering that it was Benito Mussolini who coined the word “totalitarian.” Today that label has justifiably taken on the connotation of political evil. But that isn’t how Mussolini meant it. He used it to convey “all-encompassing” and “holistic.” His totalitarian society was one in which everyone belonged, no one was left out, no child was left behind. The state was a spiritual institution, intended to supplant traditional religion and give “meaning” to every individual. Mussolini defined Fascism in many ways, but his most enduring summation was “Everything within the State, nothing outside the State.” Replace “State” with “Church and community,” and you get a sense of what he meant. Fascism was a “politics of meaning” in which every citizen derived his personal worth from his relation to the state.

The 20th century’s literature gave us two famous visions of a dystopian future: Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. For many years it was assumed that Nineteen Eighty-Four was the more prophetic tale. No longer. The totalitarianism of Nineteen Eighty-Four reflects the age of Stalin, Lenin, Hitler, and Mussolini, dictators on a continent with a grand tradition of political and religious absolutism. Brave New World is a dystopia based on a future in which the world has been Americanized and the cult of youth defines society. Everything is easy under Huxley’s World State. Everyone is happy. Indeed, the great dilemma for the reader of Brave New World is to answer the question, “What’s wrong with it?”



The face of liberal fascism in our time
Stan Honda/AFP

Another important difference between the two dystopias: Nineteen Eighty-Four is a vision of a masculine totalitarianism. Huxley’s totalitarianism, by contrast, isn’t a “boot stamping on a human face forever,” as in Nineteen Eighty-Four. It’s one of smiling, happy, bioengineered people chewing hormone gum and blithely doing what they’re told. Democracy is a forgotten fad because things are so much easier when the state makes all your decisions. In short, Huxley’s totalitarianism is feminine. Orwell’s is a daddy dystopia, where the bullying state maintains its authority through the manufacture of convenient enemies and useful crises in a climate of permanent war. Huxley’s is a maternal misery, where man is smothered with care, not cruelty. But for all our talk about the “nanny state,” political correctness, and the like, we still don’t have the vocabulary to fight off nice totalitarianism, today’s liberal fascism.

Which brings us to Hillary Clinton, the leading but by no means sole exemplar of liberal fascism in our time. Deeply influenced by the socially engaged, “progressive” Methodism of her youth, Hillary was also a protégée of Saul Alinsky (and Barack Obama was trained by Alinsky’s organization in Chicago), a man whose writings drip with fascist themes from the cult of action to the necessity of violent conflict to the dehumanization of the enemy as an abstract “other.” While at Yale Law School, she volunteered to help the legal team of Black Panther Bobby Seale as he stood trial for murder. She also helped edit the Yale Review of Law and Social Action, a thoroughly radical organ that supported the Panthers and implicitly endorsed the murder of policemen. Despite Alinsky’s urging, she declined to work with him full time, opting instead to pursue a legal career and change the system from within.

Clinton herself rejects the liberal label, preferring “modern progressive,” and like the progressives — and the fascists — she subscribes to a fundamentally religious vision of politics. Her failed effort to launch a new “politics of meaning” was essentially a spiritual enterprise aimed at “redefining who we are as human beings in this postmodern age.” Writing in the Harvard Educational Review in 1973, she scorned the idea that “families are private, nonpolitical units whose interests subsume those of children.” In 1996, she proclaimed to the United Methodist General Conference that Americans “have to start thinking and believing that there isn’t really any such thing as someone else’s child.”

Mrs. Clinton’s book It Takes a Village is a sweeping liberal-fascist manifesto. She asserts that children are born in a condition of “crisis” that urgently requires state intervention. This strategy was pioneered by the Children’s Defense Fund — where Clinton served as chairman — in order to safeguard ever-increasing welfare payments. But it has a long pedigree. Ever since Plato’s Republic, politicians, intellectuals, and priests have been fascinated with the idea of “capturing” children for social-engineering purposes. This is why Robespierre advocated that children be raised by the state, and why Hitler — who understood the importance of winning the hearts and minds of youth — once remarked, “When an opponent declares, ‘I will not come over to your side,’ I calmly say, ‘Your child belongs to us already. . . . In a short time they will know nothing but this new community.’” Woodrow Wilson held that the primary mission of the educator was to make children as unlike their parents as possible. Feminist icon Charlotte Perkins Gilman denounced the “unchecked tyranny of the home” and declared the importance of recognizing “children . . . as citizens with rights to be guaranteed only by the state.”

In Clinton’s village, cadres of social workers, psychologists, teachers, and bureaucrats enforce the idea that there is no such thing as someone else’s child. Government and business must collude at the most fundamental level to defend the “holistic” idea that everything is inside the village and nothing outside it. In Clinton’s village, the cult of youth is expanded almost to infancy: “I have never met a stupid child,” she insists, and “some of the best theologians I have ever met were five-year-olds.”

Don’t let the namby-pamby sentiment blind you to what is actually being said here. By defining the intellectual status of children up, she is defining adulthood down. In her vision, children will not become citizens, but citizens will be treated like children. Her liberal forebear Walter Lippmann had a similar outlook, observing that most citizens are “mentally children or barbarians” and must be forced to surrender their individuality to the new “order.”

Mrs. Clinton has been working assiduously to redefine what it means to be Mrs. Clinton. But she hasn’t been able to hide her true views. In Iowa, the weekend before the caucuses, she recalled her argument in It Takes a Village that every child needs a “champion” and went on to say, “I think the American people need a president who is their champion. And I’ve been running to be that champion.” It didn’t occur to her to note that the voters she’s appealing to are not, in fact, children. Her village may have replaced the fasces with a hug, but an embrace from which you cannot escape is just a nicer form of tyranny.


* * *

In 1968, in a televised debate during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, when American fascists were taking to the streets outside the studio, Gore Vidal slandered William F. Buckley Jr. as a “crypto-Nazi.” Vidal, a pagan, statist, and conspiracy theorist, had good reason to cast this charge as far from himself as possible. Buckley, a patriotic, pro-market, anti-totalitarian gentleman of impeccable manners, could take it no more and responded: “Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.”

It was one of the few times in Buckley’s long public life that he abandoned civility, and he instantly regretted it. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for him. For at some point it is necessary to throw down the gauntlet, to draw a line in the sand, to set a boundary, to cry at long last, “Enough is enough.” To stand athwart “progress” and yell, “Stop!” That time is now.

Matt said...

None of that article does anything to address that the book remains an argument that goes as follows (roughly)...

Fascists are evil
Fascists believed in ________
Progressives believed in _________
Therefore Progressives are fascists.

I'm pretty sure that accurately summarizes the book as seen in your review and in the piece Goldberg presents, but that isn't an actual logical argument against progressives. Sure you can argue that progressives shouldn't describe conservatives as fascists, and vice versa, but if you want to actually condemn particular policies you need to offer an argument against them. If Goldberg wanted to just argue that its a spurious argument to compare conservative to Hitler he could have done so in an editorial column, hell he could have done so in a paragraph. It isn't a difficult argument to make. His goals are broader though and he basically seeks to use the same faulty reasoning that the leftists he criticizes use and turns it around for page after grating page. This isn't any novel intellectual exercise, its a flawed argument by comparison that doesn't advance anything new or useful.

Oh, and for the record, I don't have problems with a political worldview that is willing to consider the needs of the community over individuals or relies on experts. I think the past seven years have been an ongoing set of examples on why ignoring experts is generally not productive behavior (see Katrina, Iraq, the environment, etc.), does this mean that some people should be viewed as having greater intrinsic worth or that we should abandon democracy? Of course not.

I also think that there is no shame in advocating policies that benefit the entire community, sometimes at the expense of the individual. The quote you offered by Hillary could just as easily be turned around to a Republican position ("I can't worry about saving every underemployed worker without health care") that places the needs of some group over another. All else being equal I'd rather side with the common good over specific interests. There is, and in a healthy democracy always will be, tension between the common good and the individual.

The whole point of a democracy is that the majority is able to make decisions on how to structure the legal framework of the society. The balance is in respecting the essential rights of the individual against the needs of the community; it is a difficult and fine line to walk and one that is going to be constantly debated and contested. The structure of that debate shouldn't be a series of ad hominen comparisons, it should be a discussion of outcomes, of benefits, of desired goals and structures & institutions on how to achieve them. In that debate, the debate that actually matters, arguments of the sorts forwarded by Gore Vidal and Jonah Goldberg are not particularly useful.

Cincinnatus said...

Well, I'm going to give myself a homework assignment as soon as I get my book back, because the book's argument is not:

Fascists believe __________
Progressives believe _________
Therefore fascists = progressives

Rather, it is:

Thinkers A, B, and C believed X
Fascists liked X and went one way
Progressives liked X and went another
Regardless, both liked X and therefore share the same root

We could tease this out to argue about the merits of X, and whether implementing X is ever possible in anything less than an authoritarian manner, which Goldberg in fact does. The point is not to equate liberalism with fascism because a few of their beliefs simply coincide; it is that both grew out of the same intellectual ferment and share the same outlook on the essence of society and government. European fascists took that outlook one way, and nowhere does Goldberg say that American liberals want to recreate a Reich or put their own Il Duce on a throne. But he argues that the philosophical essence of American liberal belief, by the very nature of its intellectual heritage, places an emphasis on the collective over the individual, on unity (or 'post-partisanship') over civil disagreement, and on governmental and 'expert' authority over private will, that, untempered, deeply degrades the value and free will of the individual and is antithetical to traditional, 'classic liberal' American thought.

I don't debate that there are times when collective good trumps strictly individual interests. In time of war, for example, the collective good of ensuring the survival and safety of the country may require compelling some of the citizenry to lay down their lives when they otherwise wouldn't. Likewise, I know that there are certain things which government is able to do far better than the individual, and which require some material sacrifice. People are required to give up part of their income as taxes; but those taxes fund things the government does well, like providing for national defense, infrastructure, an efficient postal system, law enforcement and emergency services. However, Goldberg's issue, and mine, is that twentieth century progressive thought thinks that the individual is less capable than the government in doing a host of other things, and seeks to appropriate those areas to itself. These areas range from economic planning to the upbringing of children to the regulation of morality, and the twentieth century has shown that government does an exceedingly poor job when it gets its fingers in them.

Governmental vs. individual supremacy, while always somewhat in conflict in this country, tilted toward the individual from the beginning. The Declaration of Independence includes the pursuit of happiness among its list of universal human rights. Nowhere does it say that government gets to decide what constitutes happiness or that it gets to steer citizens toward a particular version thereof. The Constitution lays further restrictions on what government can do: the Bill of Rights provides protection for individuals from the government, not the other way around. All else being equal, as you might say, this country favored individual rights over collective rights from the get-go, and I believe that the dynamism resulting from each person being free to go his own way is what catapulted this country to greatness. This doesn't even begin to address the value of individual free will in other contexts (i.e. theological).

Regardless, forcing the individual to submit to the collective is not part of America's political tradition. Asking liberals to 'examine their historical conscience' on this issue is particularly important today, when the two standard-bearers of their movement, Clinton and Obama, are asking voters, to various degrees, to submit to their notion of the greater good. Clinton, as we know, believes it takes a village to raise a child; in her case, the village is all the warm, embracing arms of government that slowly assume the responsibilities of families and individuals. Obama, for all his hopeful rhetoric, has occasionally shown himself to be less than hopefully audacious (or audaciously hopeful); as his wife said in one campaign appearance,

"Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed."

Oh really? What part of American democracy allows the president to "require", "demand", or "never allow"? Since when is my "life as usual" subject to the will of the executive branch? One might dismiss this as campaign rhetoric, but it indicates a mindset enamored not with the power of individual dynamism, but with the power of one person at the top to shape society as he sees fit. This, the twentieth century has shown, is dangerous thinking, and has been historically shared by those whose tradition began by believing X.

Matt said...

I really don't know what to add from my first comment in that, if you really think that contemporary Democrats are advocating the "economic planning" or "that government gets to decide what constitutes happiness or that it gets to steer citizens toward a particular version thereof", you are arguing against proposals that are not there. I'm not a fan of nanny-statism myself and I am glad to oppose things like the indoor smoking bans, but there really aren't many areas within which Democrats are arguing for the sort of big government style solutions that you are talking about. Most Democratic plans are reasonably economically rational and utilize market forces to better accomplish social goals. Furthermore, when it comes to 'the regulation of morality' the contemporary Republican party owns that title hands down. If you think that Michelle Obama's invocation of the bully pulpit somehow entails that we'll all be hauled off to happy camps for re-education you aren't really arguing against contemporary liberal arguments. You're arguing against a straw man that doesn't really exist. You want to pick a fight with an individual policy position, please feel free to do so, but I don't see any of that there. You talk about "the twentieth century has shown that government does an exceedingly poor job when it gets its fingers in them", but offer no examples. I can give you plenty of things government has accomplished in the past seventy years (workers' safety/compensation has improved enormously, Social Security & Medicaid/Medicare provided vastly better lives for seniors, the Internet (developed by the DOD), the space program). I hear rhetoric and that's about it; I haven't read Goldberg's book but from your summary and the other reviews I read (TNR has a great, albeit absurdly long piece on it) it would be more of the same.

Just as a note, in your discussion of individual v. governmental rights, you sidestep around the fact that the Constitution was a far more state friendly document then our original governing authority (the Articles of Confederation) and that the Constitution was passed largely because the Founders recognized that the balance was off, the Bill of Rights was then a response to the Constitution. The Constitution is a Federalist document, which falls more clearly into the statist side of the argument.

Since the passage of the Constitution/Bill of Rights we have seen the expansion of the state as a response to changes in our socioeconomic life; we are not a nation of self-reliant farmers, we are a service-industry nation with massive population centers that are amazingly interdependent. That there would somehow be more of a need for government to be involved in managing collective aciton problems given the massive expansion of our population, the concentration of people in urban/suburban/exurban areas & the radical changes that have taken place in our economy in the past two hundred thirty-odd years should not be surprising. The fact that our government was created with the flexibility of adjusting and adapting to these changing demands is one of the most impressive parts of the Founders' legacy.