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Liberal Fascism

Liberal Fascism

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06/17/2009

 
Finally, since we must have a working definition of fascism, hereis mine: Fascism
 is a religion of the state. It assumes the organicunity of the body politic and
 longs for a national leader attuned to thewill of the people. It is totalitarian
 in that it views everything as political andholds that any action by the state is
 justified to achievethecommon good. It takes responsibility for all aspects of
 life, including our healthand well-being, and seeks to impose uniformity
 ofthought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure.
 Everything,including the economy and religion,mustbe aligned with its
 objectives. Any rival identity is part of the "problem" and thereforedefined as
 the enemy. I will arguethat contemporary American liberalsim embodies all of
 these aspects of fascism.Fascism, like Progressivism and communism, is
 expansionist because it sees no naturalboundary to its ambitions. For violent
 variants, like so-called Islamofascism, thisis transparently obvious.
 ButProgressivism, too, envisions a New World Order. Worid War I wasa "cmsade" to
 redeem the whole world, according to WoodrowWilson.In Democracy in America,
 Alexis de Tocqueville wamed: "It mustnot be forgotten that it is especially
 dangerous to enslave men in theminor details of life. For my own part, I should
 be inclined to thinkfreedom less necessary in great things than in little
 ones."20 Thiscountry seems to have inverted Tocqueville's hierarchy. We must
 alllose our liberties on the little things so that a handful of people canenjoy
 their freedoms to the fullest.n fact, in many respects fascism not only is here
 but hasbeen here for nearly a century. For what we call liberalism#the
 refurbished edificeof American Progressivism#is in fact a descendant and
 manifestation of fascism. Thisdoesn't mean it's the sameling as
 Nazism.Progressivism was a sister movement of fascism, and today's liberalism is
 the daughterof Progressivism. One could strain the comparison and say that
 today's liberalismis the well-intentionedniece ofEuropean fascism. She is
 hardly identical to her uglier relations, butshe nonetheless carries an
 embarrassing family resemblance that fewwill admit to recognizing.There is no
 word in the English language that gets thrown aroundmore freely by people who
 don't know what it means than "fascism."Indeed, the more someone uses the word
 "fascist" in everyday conversation, the lesslikely it is that he knows what he's
 talking about.3milio Gentile suggests, "A mass movement, thatcombines different
 classes but is prevalently of the middle classes,which sees itself as havihg a
 mission of national regeneration, is in astate of war with its adversaries and
 seeks a monopoly of power byusing terror, parliamentary tactics and compromise to
 create a newregime, destroying democracy."2There are even serious scholars who
 argue that Nazismwasn't fascist, that fascism doesn't exist at all, or that it is
 primarilya secular religion (this is my own view). "[P]ut simply," writesGilbert
 Allardyce, "we have agreed to use the word without agreeingon how to define
 it."3And yet even though scholars admit that the nature of fascism isvague,
 complicated, and open to wildly divergent interpretations,many modem liberals and
 leftists act as if they know exactly whatfascism is. What's more, they see it
 everywhere#except when theylook in the mirror. Indeed, the left wields the term
 like a cudgel tobeat opponents from the public square like seditious
 pamphleteers.After all, no one has to take a fascist seriously. You're under no
 obligation tolisten to a fascist's arguments or concem yourself with hisfeelings
 or rights. It's why Al Gore and many other environmentalists are so quickto
 compare global-warming skeptics to Holocaustdeniers. Once such an association
 takes hold, there's no reason toive such people the time of day.In short,
 "fascist" is a modem word for "heretic," branding an individual worthyof
 excommunication from the body politic. The leftuses other words#"racist" "sexist"
 "homophobe," "christianist"#for similar purposes, but these words have less
 elastic meanings.Fascism, however, is the gift that keeps on giving. George
 Orwellnoted this tendency as early as 1946 in his famous essay "Politicsand the
 English Language": "The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so faras it
 signifies 'something not desirable.' "4The New York Times leads a long roster of
 mainstreampublications eager to promote leading academics wtio raise the
 
 
posibility that theGOP is a,fascist party and that Christian conservatives are
 the new Nazis.5Fhe Reverend Jesse Jackson ascribes every fonn of opposition to
 his race-based agendaas fascist.But very few of these things areunique to
 fascism, and almost none of them are distinctly right-wingor conservative#at
 least in the American sense.b begin with, one must be able to distinguish between
 the symptoms and the disease.Consider militarism, which will come up againid
 again in the course of this book. Militarism was indisputablycentral to fascism
 (and communism) in countless countries. But ithas a more nuanced relationship
 with fascism than one might supFor some thinkersin Germany and the United States
 (such asTeddy Roosevelt and Oliver Wendell Holmes), war was truly thesource ot
 important moral values. This was militarism as a social)hilosophy pure and
 simple. But for far more people, militarism wasa pragmatic expedient: the
 highest, best means for organizing society in productiveways. Inspired by ideas
 like those in WilliamJames's famous essay "The Moral Equivalent of War,"
 militarismseemed to provide a workable and sensible model for achieving desirable
 ends. Mussolini,who openly admired and invoked James,used this logic for his
 famous "Battle ot the Grains" and othersweeping social initiatives. Such ideas
 had an immense following inthe United States, with many leading progressives
 championing theuse of "industrial armies" to create the ideal workers'
 democracy.Later, Franklin Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corps#as militaristic
 a socialprogram as one can imagine#borrowed fromthesetanstic a sociai prugi<un
 aa uue can imagine#bThis trope has hardly been purged from contemporary
 liberalism.Every day we hear about the "war on cancer." the "war on drugs,"
 the"War on Poverty," and exhortations to make this or that social challenge the
 "moralequivalent of war." From health care to gun controlto global wanning,
 liberals insist that we need to "get beyond politics" and "putideological
 differences behind us" in order to "dothepeople's business" The experts and
 scientists know what to do, weare told; therefore the time for debate is over.
 This, albeit in a nicerand more benign form, is the logic of fascism#and it was
 on ampledisplay in the administrations of Woodrow Wilson, FranklinRoosevelt, and
 yes, even John F. Kennedy.Then, of course, there's racism. Racism was
 indisputably centralto Nazi ideology. Today we are perfectly comfortable
 equatingracism and Nazism. And in important respects that's absolutely
 appropriate. But whynot equate Nazism and, say, Afrocentrism? Manyearly
 Afrocentrists, like Marcus Garvey, were pro-fascist or openlyidentified
 themselves as fascists. The Nation of Islam has surprisingties to Nazism, and its
 theology is Himmleresque. The BlackPanthers#a militaristic cadre of young men
 dedicated to violence,separatism, and racial superiority#are as quintessentially
 fascist asHitler's Brownshirts or Mussolini's action squads. The
 Afrocentristwriter Leonard Jeffries (blacks are "sun people," and whites are
 "icepeople") could easily be mistaken for a Nazi theorist.Certain quarters of
 the left assert that "Zionism equals racism"and that Israelis are equivalent to
 Nazis. As invidious and problematic as thosecomparisons are, why aren't we
 hearing similardenunciations of groups ranging from the National Council of
 LaRaza#that is, "The Race"#to the radical Hispanic group MEChA,whose
 motto#"PorLa Raza todo. Fuera de La Raza nada" # means"Everything for the race,
 nothing outside the race"? Why is it thatwhen a white man spouts such sentiments
 it's "objectively" fascist,but when a person of color says the same thing it's
 merely an expression of fashionablemulticulturalism7The most important priority
 for the left is not to offer any answerat all to such questions. They would much
 prefer to maintainOrwell's definition of fascism as anything not desirable, thus
 excluding their ownfascistic proclivities from inquiring eyes. When theyare
 forced to answer, however, the response is usually more instinctive, visceral,or
 dismissively mocking than rational or principled.Their logic seems to be that
 multiculturalism, the Peace Corps, andsuch are good things#things that liberals
 approve of#and goodthings can't be fascist by simple virtue of the fact that
 liberals approve of them.Indeed, this seems to be the irreducible argument
 ofcountless writers who glibly use the word "fascist" to describe the"bad guys"
 
 
based on no other criteria than that liberals think they arebad. Fidel Castro,
 one could argue, is a textbook fascist. But becausethe left approves of his
 resistance to U.S. "imperialism"#and because he uses the abracadabra words ofMarxism#it's not justwrong but objectively stupid to call him a fascist.
 Meanwhile, calling Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Rudy Giuliani. andotherconservatives fascists is simply what right-thinking, sophisticatedpeople
 do.The major flaw in all of this is that fascism, properly understood,is not a
 phenomenon of the right at all. Instead, it is, and always hasbeen, a phenomenon
 of the left. This fact#an inconvenient truth ifthere ever was one#is obscured in
 our time by the equally mistakenbelief that fascism and communism are opposites.
 Inreality, they areclosely related, historical competitors for the same
 constituents,ieeking to dominate and control the same social space. The fact
 thatthey appear as polar opposites is a trick of intellectual history and(more
 to the point) the result of a concerted propaganda effort on thepart of the
 "Reds" to make the "Browns" appear objectively evil and"other" (ironically,
 demonization of the "other" is counted as a definitional trait of fascism). But interms of their theory and practice,the differences are minimal.Americans like to
 think ofthemselves as being immune to fascismwhile constantly feeling threatened
 by it. "It can't happen here" isthe common refrain. But fascism definitely has a
 history in this counfiry, and that is what this book is about. The Americanfascisttradition is deeply bound up with the effort to "Europeanize" Americaand
 give it a "modem" state that can be hamessed to utopian ends.is American fascism
 seems#and is#very different from itsEuropean variants because it was moderated by
 many special factors#geographical size, ethnic diversity, Jeffersonianindividualism,a strong liberal tradition, and so on. As a result, American
 fascism ismilder, more triendly, more "matemal" than its foreign counterparts;it
 is what George Carlin calls "smiley-face fascism." Nice fascism.The best term to
 describe it is "liberal fascism." And this liberal fascism was, and remains,fundamentally left-wing.This book will present an altemative history of American
 liberalism that not only reveals its roots in, and commonalities with,classical
 fascism out also shows how the fascist label was projected ontohe right by a
 complex sleight of hand. In fact, conservatives are thenore authentic classical
 liberals, while many so-called liberals are"iendly" fascists.Vhat I am mainly
 trying to do is to dismantle the granitelike assumption in our political culturethatAmerican conservatism is an offshoot or cousin of fascism. Rather,as I will
 try to show, many of the ideas and impulses that informwhat we call liberalism
 come to us through an intellectual traditionthat led directly to fascism. These
 ideas were embraced by fascism,Uliil 1CU UlFCdiy IU lcia^um. A ^*uw ***wuo HWAV
 ^HJLL/I.#and remain in important respects fascistic.We cannot easily recognize
 these similarities and continuities toiay, however, let alone speak about them,because this whole realm[ historical analysis was foreclosed by the Holocaust.
 Before thewar, fascism was widely viewed as a progressive social movementwith
 many liberal and left-wing adherents in Europe and the UnitedStates; the horror
 of the Holocaust completely changed our view offascism as something uniquely evil
 and ineluctably bound up withextreme nationalism, paranoia, and genocidal racism.
 After the war,the American progressives who had praised Mussolini and evenlooked
 sympathedcally at Hitler in the 1920s and 1930s had to distance themselves fromthe horrors ofNazism. Accordingly, leftist intellectuals redefined fascism as"right-wing" and projected their ownsins onto conservatives, even as they
 continued to borrow heavilyfrom fascist and pre-fascist thought.Much of this
 altemative history is quite easy to find, if you haveeyes to see it. The problem
 is that the liberal-progressive narrative onwhich most of us were raised tends to
 shunt these incongmous andinconvenient facts aside, and to explain away as
 marginal what is actually central.the founding fathers of modem liberalism, the
 menmd women who laid the intellectual groundwork of the New Dealand the welfare
 state, thought that fascism sounded like a pretty goodidea. Or to be fair: many
 simply thought (in the spirit of DeweyanPragmatism) that it sounded like a
 

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