Tuesday, February 26, 2008

LIBERAL FASCISM by Jonah Goldberg

Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning by Jonah Goldberg. Doubleday, 2007. (487 pages, $27.95, Hardcover)

“History is written by the winners.” So goes the discipline-denigrating cliché. A more accurate observation, as Jonah Goldberg’s new book, Liberal Fascism, suggests, is that history is written by historians—and especially, in recent decades, by academics whose biases predispose them to serve as useful idiots for Joseph Stalin’s defunct propaganda ministry. Though Goldberg’s well-researched book doesn’t focus minute attention on the culpability of leftist historians, it does provide convenient targets (Richard Hofstadter and William Shirer) who might be blamed for abetting the greatest intellectual ruse of the twentieth century—the absurd designation of fascism as an ideology of the political right.

Anyone looking for Coulteresque theater in Goldberg’s work (the product of four years’ labor) will be disappointed. The book isn’t meant to toss “f-bombs” at liberals the way liberals regularly toss that seven-letter epithet at conservatives. Indeed, Goldberg reiterates again and again that he doesn’t employ the word “fascism” as a synonym for Nazism, racism, or “evil.” Rather, he uses the term to label a method of governing that expressed itself differently in different countries. Given that caveat, anyone who chooses to read this engrossing analysis of the origins of fascism will likely be rewarded with a paradigm-shifting experience that puts the history of the twentieth century in a new light—a history that places Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt in the same political neighborhood as Benito Mussolini.

The story of fascism, Goldberg notes, begins with the “holistic” philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau and his revolutionary progeny—men whose boundless conception of national communion (via a general will) led to the odd idea that dissidents would be “forced to be free”—a fate more benign than the guillotine that “freed” enemies of the state from error during the French Reign of Terror. Hegel’s philosophy, where the state incarnates God’s work in history, provides another piece of the ancestral puzzle, while Nietzsche’s romantic and relativistic “will to power” adds a third leg to fascism’s Continental heritage. A fourth progenitor was Otto von Bismarck, whose comprehensive welfare package for the new German Empire provided Western intellectuals with a top-down model of social policy that they yearned to replicate.

These historical connections aren’t exceptionally novel, but the American branches of fascism’s genealogical tree are unexpected—limbs that include the pragmatic philosophers William James and John Dewey as well as political writers like Henry George (Progress and Poverty), Edward Bellamy (Looking Backward), and Herbert Croly (The Promise of American Life). Drawing on these and other sources, Goldberg not only shows that European fascism is a product of the political left, he also argues persuasively that America’s version of that system is rooted in the Progressive movement and was first given national expression in the war socialism of Woodrow Wilson.

Not surprisingly, Goldberg’s first two chapters are devoted to Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. But contrary to the impression given by pop-history, Mussolini isn’t relegated to the status of an absurd fifth wheel. Instead, Il Duce’s role as the “Father of Fascism” is clearly laid out. The portrait of his rise to power in 1922--more than a decade before Hitler became Chancellor of Germany--is the story of an intellectual whose communist sympathies were developed from infancy. (Even his given names, Benito Amilcare Andrea, conjured up leftist heroes from the past.) Those socialist sentiments remained with Mussolini to the day of his death—alongside his obsession with sexual conquest and his contempt for Christianity.

As Goldberg notes, Mussolini’s state-centered, anti-capitalist rhetoric could only be declared “right-wing” by ideologues who were fighting over the same political bone. In other words, it was the internecine struggle between fascists and communists that gave birth to the longstanding practice of separating the terms “fascist” and “socialist.” This linguistic divorce was mandated by Stalin to stigmatize the socialist heresy Mussolini promoted in light of his comrades’ nationalistic response to World War I.

Goldberg also emphasizes that fascism itself varied from nation to nation. Most significantly, the Jew-hatred that characterized Hitler’s regime wasn’t integral to Italian Fascism—a movement that included a disproportionate number of Jews. Indeed, Mussolini scoffed at the Aryan myth that animated German Nazism, preferring for his part to play the role of a latter-day Caesar who was destined to resurrect Rome’s ancient greatness.

The most unexpected part of Goldberg’s Mussolini portrait is the way the Italian leader was hailed in American Progressive circles (e.g. in issues of Herbert Croly’s New Republic) and in American pop-culture. Even as late as 1934, Cole Porter’s song, You’re the Top, exhibited this adulatory attitude toward the Italian idol. Only after Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935 did this admiration begin to wane. Significantly, the American President that Mussolini praised effusively in 1919, three years before his march on Rome, was Woodrow Wilson.

As far as Hitler’s left-wing credentials are concerned, Goldberg’s discussion of the Nazi Party Platform does a good job of demonstrating that the word “socialist” in National Socialist wasn’t mere window dressing. After summarizing that ambitious document, Goldberg offers this sarcastic conclusion:

“Ah, yes. Those anti-elitist, stock-market-abolishing, child-labor-ending, public-health-promoting, wealth-confiscating, draft-ending, secularist right-wingers!”

Analysis of the groups from which Nazism drew its support also shows that corporations weren’t (as Moscow insisted) pulling strings behind the scene. Rather, Nazism emerged as a populist movement that was so cash-strapped Hitler frequently rode to rallies “in the back of an old pickup.” As the historian Henry Ashby Turner concludes, corporate funding of the Nazi party was “at best” of “marginal significance.” Were it not for decades of leftist disinformation, that conclusion would have been a foregone conclusion, given the virulently anti-capitalist language of Mein Kampf—language Hitler still employed in 1941. In short, Goldberg provides extensive evidence that Hitler’s political program was just as “right-wing” as the politics of Leon Trotsky—whom Stalin also labeled a “fascist.”

It is one thing to assert that fascism is a product of the political left—one of the “heresies of socialism” according to Harvard Professor Richard Pipes. It is something else to argue that fascism has its own American expression that grew out of the Progressive political tradition and that “Woodrow Wilson was the twentieth century’s first fascist dictator.” That, however, is precisely the proposition put forward in Goldberg’s third chapter: Woodrow Wilson and the Birth of Liberal Fascism.

To bolster this hypothesis, Goldberg highlights connections between the intellectual milieu that fostered fascism in Europe and the milieu that begat American Progressivism. Henry George’s Progress and Poverty, for example, was received enthusiastically in Europe where it helped to shape populist and socialist economic theory. Similarly, Edward Bellamy’s utopian vision in Looking Backward (where a single municipal umbrella would one day shield all Bostonians from the rain) drew inspiration from Bismarck’s top-down political example in Germany. These and other “holistic” visions of society fed into an American Progressive movement whose moral energy was derived largely from legions of Social Gospelers. As Goldberg notes, the party’s 1912 presidential convention was described in the New York Times as a “convention of fanatics” and “religious enthusiasts.” This fusion of social reform and religious fervor is central to what Goldberg calls “liberal fascism.”

On the philosophical side of the ledger, American Progressivism looked to William James, John Dewey, and Charles Darwin. The former duo provided a relativistic and pragmatic outlook that coincided nicely with bold social experimentation. Dewey, in particular, advocated an “organic” Darwinian approach to society that consigned American individualism to the dustbin of evolutionary history. Darwinism also brought to the Progressive project a focus on racist genetics that (alongside the movement’s militant imperialism) subsequent historians have been eager to forget. Furthermore, the polite moral relativism of James and Dewey echoed the unequivocal relativism expressed by Nietzsche (whose philosophy, according to H. L. Mencken, Theodore Roosevelt had swallowed whole). Finally, the attachment of elite progressives to Hegel’s political philosophy (Goldberg notes that Woodrow Wilson “even invoked Hegel in a love letter to his wife.”) reinforced the idea that society is an organic whole and that reformers are, quite literally, God’s instruments on earth.

Woodrow Wilson is the unexpected villain of Liberal Fascism. Based on a review of his academic writings, Goldberg demonstrates that Wilson was a devotee of power—power utilized according to the pragmatic lights of John Dewey. Consequently, the twenty-eighth president denigrated, with the confidence of a divinely anointed leader, those constitutional provisions that limited his ability to mold the nation into a healthy organism that worked for the good of all. This “evolutionary” vision of history provided the intellectual justification for that modern legal theory that dissolves all governmental boundaries—the living Constitution. It also paved the way for an approach to education that transferred the locus of pedagogical authority from parents to the state. In Professor Wilson’s words: “Our problem is not merely to help the students to adjust themselves to world life…[but] to make them as unlike their fathers as we can.”

World War I gave President Wilson the crisis he needed to implement the top-down vision of social coordination he had written about for decades. Government instruments employed in this massive effort (whose only near precedent was Lincoln’s response to the Civil War) included the War Industries Board, a vigorous and widespread propaganda ministry, and a justice department that, Goldberg notes, presided over the arrest and jailing of more dissidents than Mussolini incarcerated during the entire 1920s. From censorship, to price-fixing, to Palmer raids, to patriotic nursery rhymes designed for toddlers, mobilization gave Wilson’s government unprecedented access to and control over people’s lives. This whipping of individualistic Americans into collective shape was cheered by progressives like Walter Lippmann who saw in the war an opportunity to bring about a Nietzschean “transvaluation of values as radical as anything in the history of intellect.” No wonder Warren Harding won the presidency in 1920 with a campaign that promised a return to “normalcy.”

With the advent of the Great Depression, Progressives were given an opportunity to reprise the coordination achieved under Wilson’s war socialism. The British journalist Alistair Cooke doubtless turned many heads when, in the 1970s, he announced on his popular PBS history series that America under FDR “flirted with National Socialism.” Goldberg argues that the amorous relationship was a good deal more intimate—a relationship fanned by the populist hot air that emanated from Father Coughlin and Senator Huey Long and consummated by many of the individuals that ran Wilson’s war agencies. A prime example of these fascist retreads was Hugh “Iron Pants” Johnson, whose “sock in the nose” style at the National Recovery Administration doubtless drew positive reviews from one of FDR’s early admirers, Benito Mussolini. Even Germany’s new Fuhrer had words of praise for the government-business partnerships that typified Roosevelt’s New Deal.

The expansion of government under Franklin Roosevelt is well known. What isn’t acknowledged in polite historical circles, as Goldberg notes, is how “the fascist flavor of the New Deal was not only regularly discussed” but even “cited in Roosevelt’s favor.” Why this inconvenient fact was dropped down the historical memory hole is clear. Leftist historians had no desire to link the paragon of modern “liberalism” with “right-wing” fascism. Stated more honestly, they didn’t want to acknowledge that fascism was a left-wing philosophy and expose the ongoing historical ruse that kept conservatives (i.e. classical liberals) off balance.

The remainder of Goldberg’s book (more than half) discusses progressivism’s third wave of influence on American life in the 1960s and explains how its fascist traits have been incorporated into modern “liberalism.” While not as narrowly focused as his first four chapters, these materials do give further definition to the concept of “liberal fascism”—a phrase coined in 1932 by H. G. Wells to promote an ambitious “liberal” variant of Europe’s burgeoning political system.

Among the concepts that Goldberg identifies as integral to sixties radicalism are these: the romantic embrace of youthful impulsiveness and sexuality, the denigration of reason and tradition, the extension of politics into all areas of life, the exaltation of identity politics (initially in terms of race and gender), and the justification of violence committed by revolutionaries intent on creating a mythical heaven on earth (e.g. the Black Panthers). All these themes, Goldberg notes, have significant corollaries in the fascist regimes of Italy and Germany.

What separates these 60s street radicals from Great Society and contemporary progressives, however, is the smothering maternalism that characterizes the latter groups. Today’s “liberal fascists,” unlike their European and turn-of-the-century American forebears, promote a religion of the state that is non-militaristic. As such, it resembles Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, not George Orwell’s 1984. No better example of this smothering maternalism exists than Hillary Clinton’s magnum opus, It Takes A Village—a mythical world where helpful government programs cover the social landscape and where repetitive video messages inculcate useful parenting tips “any place where people gather and have to wait.”

Another Goldberg chapter, Liberal Racism: The Eugenic Ghost in the Fascist Machine, shows how “eugenics lay at the heart of the progressive enterprise”—an assertion backed by historian Edwin Black, who noted that the eugenic crusade was “created in the publications and academic research rooms of the Carnegie Institution, verified by the research grants of the Rockefeller Foundation, validated by leading scholars from the best Ivy League universities, and financed by the special efforts of the Harriman railroad fortune.” This embarrassing skeleton in the Progressive closet is compared with the implicit pro-abortion subtext in the best-selling book, Freakonomics—namely, “fewer blacks, less crime.”

Regrettably, Goldberg’s final chapter, The New Age: We’re All Fascists Now, begins to treat fascist traits so eclectically that the precision and focus of earlier chapters is lost. Looking for fascist themes in Dirty Harry and Whole Foods Market is a bit like searching for grandmother’s features in little Ricky’s newborn mug. One is bound to find something, but isolated traits don’t amount to a close likeness. A similar critique applies to Goldberg’s afterword, The Tempting of Conservatism, where playing (perhaps badly) at the only governmental game in town seems to be confused with religious devotion to the political Weltanschauung exhibited in It Takes A Village.

Despite these end-of-book drawbacks, Goldberg has produced a popular book of rare historical depth and quality—a book that promises to scrap those ridiculous history-class charts that put democracy midway between “socialism” on the left and “fascism” on the right, then justify their totalitarian extremes by bending the linear ends into a globe where left and right magically “meet.”

An old Soviet joke asserted that loyal comrades know the future; it’s only the past that keeps changing. With Goldberg’s assistance, Americans can begin to rewrite their own political history, this time putting the “fascist” label where it belongs. That single alteration would be a momentous accomplishment—one that would make the architects of democracy’s future more sure-handed.

18 comments:

Joshua Vincent said...
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RKirk said...

Mr. Vincent,

I appreciate your desire to promulgate a more nuanced understanding of Henry George's economic and social philosophy. However, it would be nice to read and ponder Goldberg's book before casting aspersions on his scholarship.

Goldberg only asserts that George's work, which, as you know, was primarily directed at a grand solution to poverty through the assessment of a single land-rent tax, was a significant part of the intellectual milieu in Europe and America that proposed grand socialist solutions to social problems.

I think it is fair to say that most of the powerful individuals influenced by George's thought were more attracted to his rent-confiscation proposal than to his more entrepreneurial thoughts. I suspect you will agree that the latter ideas are basically ignored in the brief textbook comments about George's most famous work).

What most social reformers would pick up on (in consort with J.J. Rousseau, I might add) are passages such as those referenced in the following clip that are definitely NOT in the Milton Friedman tradition:

George thus attributed poverty in the midst of highly productive societies to the inequality created by huge land rents. This could not be morally justified, he argued. First, poverty itself was so distorting of human goodness, that it should not be tolerated if a remedy could be had (e.g., George, p. 461). Secondly, absolute private-property rights to land were wrong because "no one can be rightfully entitled to the ownership of which is not the produce of his labor [i.e., land]" (George, p. 336). Land, which is not produced by any human, is part of the common heritage of all. He said "the unjust distribution of wealth" (George, p. 342) was due to the "fundamental wrong" of land ownership. (end of clip)

I would add that Henry George's work is, in the context of Goldberg's entire book, a very, very small component. I only mentioned it as part of a quartet of relevant intellectual sources--tributaries that contributed to a utopian political mentalilty that Goldberg describes very well. As I note in my review, John Dewey and Woodrow Wilson are given much more "credit" for developing and establishing a regime of "American fascism."

Cordially,
Richard Kirk

Mark said...

So...liberals and progressives are fascists, while right-wing conservatives are "classical liberals". Goldberg must notify the people at Webster's and the Oxford English dictionaries at once. Somehow our entire language has been turned on its head with no one noticing except Mr. Goldberg. For all we know "up" might actually be "down," or "in" might actually be "out." Mr.Goldberg asserts a sophistry of conclusions spun from the most threadbare of connections cleaving to a biased contextual frame. He seeks only to confuse and obfuscate. Shame on him.

Biggus Rickus said...

Mark,

In reality a lot of people have noticed it. Mr. Goldberg has simply written a well-researched book about it.

RKirk said...

Mark,
You seem to use the word "fascist" as "the left" typically uses the word--as a synonymn for "evil," as a 7-letter 4-letter word.

Goldberg doesn't do this. He shows how, historically and politically, fascism is a perspective whose origin is clearly on the left--as Harvard Professor Richard Pipes, among others, has said. Please read Goldberg's chapter on Mussolini and note how fascism is described (without rhetorical animus) as a "wholistic" philosophy whose philosophical roots go back to Rousseau, Hegel, and to the American Pragmatists William James and John Dewey--a philosophy that was extremely popular in the 1920s among American Progressives (cf. The New Republic). What primarily distinguishes fascism and communism is that the former is focused on the social unity of the nation (not of worldwide working classes) and is less committed to rigid ideological constructs. In philosophical terms, fascism is more akin to "pragmatism." But both fascism and communism are, as Pipes says, heresies of socialism.

The reason "fascism" has been placed on the right side of a political spectrum is a function of the willingness of leftist intellectuals to follow the dictates of Stalin's propaganda ministry, which mandated that the word "socialist" never be associated with fascism (despite the fact that both Mussolini and Hitler were socialists).

B.R.'s comment is quite right.

Anonymous said...

The very words that surround ALL politics, religion, and philosophy change and morph and are traded in and out at will where ever it fits the need. "Relevance" itself could be argued for a 1000 years depending on who you ask.

I, coming from a science and engineering background, find it bewildering that there is no "core" set of values (read words or terms)that are used to describe the net ideas or outcomes of the ideas in practice.

The fact that "fascism" and "liberalism" have become distorted and that even the OED can not be made to read the same now as it did 150 years ago is no surprise to me. The fact that a 400 plus page tome is required to explain the connotative force of a single phrase or difference between phrases also isn't shocking considering the amount of words put to print over the last 5000 years regarding "humanity" in general (never mind our ideas).

I suppose we need the philosophers ideas as much as we need the engineers slide rule - but that doesn't in fact make it easier to understand or follow along.

I haven't read Mr. Goldbergs book yet - but it sounds like he did a good job of putting context to his thesis. The simple fact that he touches such a nerve with todays leftists indicates he is probably very truthful in what he writes.

And a fantastic review - I wish they were all so good... bravo.

cm

MC said...

Richard - This is a review? Maybe you could package it up and sell it as Cliff Notes... I'm keeding. I'm a keeder.

Reading this book was a mind-expanding experience for me. I think it's the most important political book of our age.

There's a bit of prescience in the suggestion that identity politics transforms into the politics of meaning - given that we seem to be witnesses to that at present.

I, too, felt that Jonah bent a little too much to be gratuitous in the last couple of chapters. But, he does demonstrate the ubiquity and the (discomforting) embrace that the smiley face enjoys in our nanny state.

I also wished during the excellent calls to classical liberalism that there was more association with moral certainty. How might we reconstruct a limited government, featuring separation of church and state, with leadership enjoined to classical morality (as once we had)?

Billy Beck said...

"cm": "I, coming from a science and engineering background, find it bewildering that there is no "core" set of values (read words or terms)that are used to describe the net ideas or outcomes of the ideas in practice."

By their works shall ye know them.

Look to history.

Mr. Kirk: personally, I haven't learned a thing from the book. With that in mind, I regard it as an enduring disgrace that it had to be written. In that fact is a manifest failure of education in this country.

RKirk said...

Billy Beck said:

Mr. Kirk: personally, I haven't learned a thing from the book. With that in mind, I regard it as an enduring disgrace that it had to be written. In that fact is a manifest failure of education in this country.

Billy, either you (1)knew an awful awful lot about the topic before reading the book or (2) you didn't read the book carefully. Judging from the lack of specifics in your remarks (and the dubious quality of your last sentence) I'm guessing the latter is the case.

Did you already know about the background and leftist political associations of Benito Mussolini? Did you already know how popular Il Duce was among American Progressives (The New Republic)in the 1920s? Did you know about the intellectual antecedents of Progressivism--James, Dewey, Bellamy? Did you know about Woodrow Wilson's attitudes toward Hegel? His attitude toward the Constitution and the state? Were you aware of the "fascistic" quality of Wilson's administration and the way "planning in war" was subsequently lauded by Progressives and became a major model for New Dealism? Were you aware that the head of FDR's NRA was a great admirer of Mussolini? Were you aware of the connection between Progressivism and racist eugenics? I could go on, but then I'm speaking, unlike you, specifically.

Billy Beck said...

"...either you (1)knew an awful awful lot about the topic before reading the book or (2) you didn't read the book carefully. Judging from the lack of specifics in your remarks (and the dubious quality of your last sentence) I'm guessing the latter is the case."

You guess wrong. The answers to your questions are all "yes". I've understood Mussolini's early history and the American Progessives' infatuation with him for nearly twenty years, now. James, Dewey, and Bellamy (did you ever read "Looking Backward"?) have long been accounted for on my bookshelves. Only an ignormaus wouldn't know who Wilson really was: I had him basically wired by the end of high school (1974) and filled-out the picture long before Goldberg's book. Etc., on & on.

"I could go on, but then I'm speaking, unlike you, specifically."

Look: to do that in my initial remarks would have required a fairly comprehensive review spanning well over thirty years of intellectual action all on my own (I never went to college, which -- I think -- accounts for the actual seriousness of my efforts in these areas), and I did not suspect that it was necessary: I told you the truth.

Now, you can dismiss all this as braggadocio if you wish, but it might be more profitable to attend the real point, which was put well by H.L. Mencken in 1926: "I myself was spared the humiliation of a college education."

Did you ever ask yourself why all these crucial facts of American history are not widely known?

Can you understand the problem?

RKirk said...

Billy, assuming the accuracy of your assertions about your comprehensive knowledge of all things presented in LIBERAL FASCISM (from the fascist sympathies of Hugh "Iron Pants" Johnson to the assertion by H. L. Mencken that Teddy Roosevelt had swallowed Nietzsche whole)nothing you have written explains why the book is (in your odd formulation) an "enduring disgrace."

Even if your knowledge transcends the knowledge of almost all Americans, that fact is no reason why others shouldn't have access to such information. In addition to writing, I've spent twenty years in education, so I've pondered seriously why most Americans know so little history. One reason is unionized, state-centered schools (like those imagined by John Dewey). If Americans are, indeed, ignorant about these matters (and there I agree with you)then that fact constitutes another reason for publishing and disseminating the information in LIBERAL FASCISM.

Billy Beck said...

"...nothing you have written explains why the book is (in your odd formulation) an 'enduring disgrace.'"

That is not what I said, Mr. Kirk. It's still right here in front of you ^^^ up there where I originally posted it, and you should read it again carefully in order that you know what you're talking about.

evenpeeling said...
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evenpeeling said...

On second thought, I should have been more polite myself. Beck, you have my apologies. I was rude.

If you find a moment, RK, could you please remove my previous comment? thanks

Chris Arndt said...

Beck is right.

That people's ignorance necessitated Goldberg writing a book to teach them is a disgrace.

Beck is also being too defensive about it to let people that he is being right.

So evenpeeling is right too.

Anonymous said...

It is good of Goldberg to explain how facism has leftist roots. Adam Ulam in The Unfinished Revolution explains why communism, contrary to Marx's predictions, caught on not in advanced capitalist countries, but rather developing ones. The reason is that communism combines two quite contradictory ideals: on the one hand, pushing ahead with industrialization, and on the other, a romanticist return to an idealized agrarian past. This appealed to countries that had been greatly disrupted by the start of industrialization, especially the peasantry being pushed into the cities, but had not gotten far enough to enjoy its rewards, so the population wanted to go both forward to a glorious industrial future and back to the agrarian past.

Facism, Ulam points out, has similar roots, though with Germany the problem was more that industrialization had broken down, and the government had remained aristocratic until a little while before. In both cases the government is trying to make society into something it can't naturally be, and so must resort to totalitarianism.

I would disagree, though, in calling Teddy Kennedy-style liberalism fascistic. Such people want more governmental regulation than do conservatives, but nowhere near as much as do fascists, and they are strong supporters of democracy. They also lack the fascist love of violence and warfare, and, while fascists are tribalists, liberals are universalists. They are also egalitarian, while fascists love hierarchy.

As for the modern conservative movement, Buckley's great accomplishment was that he divorced it from the racist reactionism that was previously central to American Conservatism. I agree that contemporary conservatism should not be labled fascist, as leftist so often do, but there are some real historical reasons both are seen as being on the right. And let us not forget that the modern movement has been able to achieve national influence only because of its principle-compromising alliance with Southern white racists.

On the whole, I think it is rather misleading to try to explain American liberalism or conservatism in terms of either fascism or communism. Both of the European philosophies reflect the rigid, antagonistic class structures of pre-war Europe, while both of the main American political philosophies are attempts to deal with the far more fluid situation in this country.

-- Les Brunswick

evenpeeling said...

Les, one of the central pillars of Goldberg's argument is that the cartoon definition of fascism is not sufficient. You almost acknowledge that point at the beginning of your comment, then you immediately fall back into it without explanation.

You posit a universal "fascist love of violence and warfare" despite the clear argument in the book that modern American 'fascism' is 'nice' (thus the smiley face on the cover). Goldberg argues energetically that not all fascism is jackboots and concentration camps.

Your paragraph on racism unconciously falls back into the cartoon formulation of fascism = Nazism (or 'all fascism is racist'). This is precisely the point the book seeks to debunk. Again, Il Duce defied to the end Hitler's pleas to deport Italy's Jews.

Your last paragraph is a confusion of terms. The smiley book attempts to reclaim a meaningful definition of the term 'fascist' - a definition that the founders of modern American leftism claimed for themselves. We can agree that European fascism was... European. On the other hand, let's admit that American fascism is, indeed, fascism - not with iron crosses and gas chambers, but with universal government regulated baby-formula delivery systems and nerf helmets for every playground.

RKirk said...

I congratulate Les on posting one of the most thoughtful and civil "corrective" posts that I've encountered. I also note that "evenpeeling" responded with many of the same ideas I had after reading Les's post.

In addition to EP's comments, I would add that Goldberg reiterates, again and again, that he is not calling American liberals fascists. Instead, he argues that fascistic ideas and influences in America have their own characteristics. He notes that modern "liberalism" or "progressivism" is smotheringly maternal (It Takes A Village)rather than militaristic. He also points out, however, that turn-of-the-century Progressivism in America was much more militaristic in outlook than is generally implied by thumbnail historical sketches.

Most surprisingly to me, Goldberg shows how Progressives in America (The New Republic -- Croly) were quite sympathetic to Mussolini. That sympathy dwindled dramatically, however, after the invasion of Ethiopia. This fact supports both Les's point about the difference between American and European politics as well as Goldberg's point about the nation-to-nation variety of fascism--which was, after all, nationalistic in outlook.

Goldberg points out in his introduction that scholars have yet to reach a consensus on the essential characteristics of fascism. But what seems clear from an analysis of American Progressivism is that it certainly has a number of "family resemblances" with the state-centered fascism of Mussolini. The mutual admiration society that apparently existed between many American Progressives and Il Duce, makes those philosophical and political similarities (Hegel, Bismarck, Dewey)more poignant.

One final note: the militaristic aspect of fascist leftism was clearly expressed in the 60s by radicals (like the Black Panthers) who loved to strut about in military outfits and also by other groups for whom violence was the precursor to a new state with no essential link to the past.

By contrast, as Goldberg notes, the "establishment" wing of Progressivism (the offspring of Wilsonian planning, the New Deal, and the Great Society) rejected militarism--but did NOT reject the "wholistic" statism that, for Goldberg, constitutes the essence of what H.G. Wells called for at Oxford in 1932--"liberal fascism."