January 30, 2008


Are American liberals "nice fascists"?: a review of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning by Jonah Goldberg (Richard Bernstein, 1/30/08, NY Times)

Before anybody had heard of Mussolini (who in his early years in power was widely admired by American progressives), [Woodrow] Wilson established the first propaganda ministry, shut newspapers and magazines, encouraged vigilantes and formed dozens of boards to subordinate every aspect of life to the great cause of winning the war to end all wars.

That's a strong argument, because, after all, who would think of the moralistic and well-intentioned Wilson, whose decision to enter World War I was certainly a defensible one, a fascist? But Goldberg's point isn't to liken Wilson to Hitler. Wilson, he understands perfectly well, was entirely different than Hitler, whom he would have despised.

Goldberg's point is rather that a lot of what the American liberal culture takes as good - and he lists a lot of things, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps to Hillary Rodham Clinton's ideas about it taking a village to raise a child - bears a similarity to some of the intellectual underpinnings of fascism.

But is it true, and if it is true, does it matter? Goldberg makes a convincing case that there was indeed a lot in the early, original version of fascism, as practiced by Mussolini in the 16 years before he was more or less taken over by the Nazis, that appealed to American progressives, who saw it as an effective way to mobilize people and get things done.

Goldberg is also insightful and thought-provoking in his treatment of some modern fads, showing their admittedly benign fascist connections. The contemporary cult of organic food, he says, is built on a deep wish to return to an imagined prelapsarian earth where everything was unpolluted and organic and a natural harmony prevailed, not all that different from the vegan Hitler's romantic cult of the organic, authentic Germanic connection with the soil.

But the fact is that it's a long way from eating organic tomatoes to committing genocide, even if Goldberg is right about the overlap between the whole earth cult of today and Germanic romanticism.

Except that fascism isn't genocidal in general. Nazism was and the modern abortionists of the liberal Left are. They're also socialist, which fascists aren't as a rule--consider Franco and Pinochet. Mr. Goldberg's book may be that imprecise about the term, but it's surprising that the always thoughtful Mr. Bernstein is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 30, 2008 12:02 AM

I just finished the book. He makes a pretty convincing case that all the Western totalitarian ideologies--nationalistic socialism (Hitler, Mussolini, Kim Jong Il, Hu Jintao), internationalist socialism (the USSR in its glory days), and progressivism (Hillary, Daily Kos)--all have more in common than not.

Posted by: Mike Morley at January 30, 2008 11:49 AM

I have not read the book and am disinclined to pass judgement. One point leaps out from the above discussion, however.

It is the liberal hypocrites who like to make this or that boodle scheme "the moral equavalent of war." Only war is the moral equivalent of war. It is simply wrong to attack, for example Woodrow Wilson,as a "Fascist" for seeing to it that the Rebublic took no harm from sedition, or FDR, or George W. Bush. If this now whets our appitite for the Goldberg book to see what the author makes of this, so be it.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 30, 2008 6:37 PM

Wilson's problem was fighting the war. Period. Not putting down sedition. And then, of course, losing the peace.

Posted by: oj at January 30, 2008 7:12 PM

Just wait until the second Mexican War. We'll see whose name is on the sedition list.

To dispense with the levity, consider how the American way of war overcame the putative fascists in World War Two. They talked tough, and they were brutal and ruthless, in a gutter way, but they were amateurs,really. They failed to prepare for total war; they failed to mobilize for total war. Just by neglecting stratigic bombing capability,they made their civilian populations depedent upon the kindness and forbearance of their enemies, that is upon our kindness and forbearance.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 30, 2008 8:25 PM