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Philosophically, organiza- tionally, and politically the progressives were as

close�to authentic, homegrown fascists as any movement America has ever


produced.13 Militaristic,�fanatically nationalist, imperialist, racist, deeply in-
volved in the promotion�of Darwinian eugenics, enamored of the Bismarckian
welfare state, statist beyond�modem reckoning, the progressives represented the
American flowering of a transatlantic movement,�a profound reorientation toward
the Hegelian and Darwinian collectivism imported�from Europe at the end of the
nine- teenth century. In this sense, both the Wilson�and the FDR administrations
were descendants#albeit distant ones#of the first fascist�movement:�the French
Revolution. But what tmly makes the French Revolution the first fascist�revo-
lution was its effort to tum politics into a religion. (In this ths
(\.ccordingly,�they declared war on Christianity, attempting to purge it
from society and replace�it with a "secular" faith whose tenets were synonymous
with the Jacobin agenda. Hundreds�of we shall see, the Nazis emulated the
Jacobins in minute detail. is no longer controversial�to say that the French
Revolution was disastrous and cruel. But it is deeply controversial�to say�that
it was fascist, because the French Revolution is thefons et origo of the left
and�the "revolutionary tradition" The American right and classical
liberals look fondly�on the American Revolution, which was essen- tially
conservative, while shuddering�at the horrors and follies of Jacobinism. But if
the French Revolution was fascist,�then�its heirs would have to be seen as the
fruit of this poisoned tree, and fascism itself�would finally and correctly be
placed where it belongs�in the story of the left. This would cause seismic
disorder in the leftist worldview;�so instead, leftists embrace cognitive
dissonance�and ter- minological sleight of hand. The one thing that unites
these movements is�that they were all, in their own ways, totalitarian. But v But
what do we mean when�we say something is "totalitarian"? The word has certainly
taken on an un- derstandably�sinister connotation in the last half
century.�Thanks to work by Hannah Arendt, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and others,
it's be- come a�catchall for bmtal, soul-killing, Orwellian regimes. But that's
not how the word�was originally used or intended. Mussolini himself coined
the term to describe a�society where everybody belonged, where everyone was
taken care of, where everything�was inside�the state and nothing was outside:
where truly no child was left behind. Again, it�is my argument that American
liberalism is a totalitarian political religion, but�not necessarily an
Orwellian�one. It is nice, not bmtal. Nannying, not bullying. But it is
definitely totalitarian#or "holistic"�if you prefer#in that liberalism today
sees no realm of human life that is beyond�political significance, from what�you
eat to what you smoke to what you say. Sex is political. Food is political.
Liberals�place their faith in priestly experts who know better, who plan,
exhort, badger,�and scold. They try to use science to discredit traditional
notions�of reli- gion and faith, but they speak the language of pluralism and
spiritu- ality�to defend "nontraditional" beliefs. Just as with classical
fascism, liberal fascists�speak of a "Third Way" between right and left
where all good things go together and�all hard choices�are "false choices."
The idea that there are no hard choices#that is, choices between
competing�goods#is religious and totalitarian because it assumes that all
good things are fundamentally�compatible. The conservative or classical liberal
vision understands that life is�unfair, that�man is flawed, and that the only
perfect society, the only real utopia, waits for�us in the next life.
Fascisms differ from each other because they grow out of
different�soil.�What unites them are their emotional or instinctual impulses,
such as the quest for�community, the urge to "get beyond" politics, a faith�in the
per- fectibility of man and the authority of experts, and an obsession with
the�aesthetics of youth, the cult of action, and the need for an all-
powerful state�to coordinate society at the national or global level. Most
of all, they share the�belief#what I call the totalitanan�temp- tation#that with
the right amount of tinkering we can realize the utopian dream�of "creating a
better worid" Nazism was the product of German culture, grown out�of a German
context. The Holocaust could not have occurred in Italy, because Italians�are
not Germans. And in America, where hostility to big government�is cen- tral
to the national character, the case for statism must be made in tenns�of
"pragmatism" and decency. In other words, our fascismmust be nice and for your�own
good. American Progressivism, from which today's liberalism de- scended, was�a
kind of Christian fascism (many called it "Christian socialism"). This is a
difficult�concept for modem liberals to grasp $ut liberals often forget that the
pro- gressives�were also imperialists, at home and abroad. They were the
authors of Prohibition,�the Palmer Raids, eugenics, loyalty�oaths, and,
in its modem incamation, what many call "state capitalism." But liberal
fascists�are still racist in their own nice way, believing�in the inher-
ent numinousness of blacks and the permanence of white sin, and
therefore�the etemal justification of white guilt. While I would argue that
this is bad and�undesirable, I would not dream of saying�that to- Still, it
should be noted that on the postmodem left, they do speak in terms�Nazis could
understand. Indeed, notions of "white logic" and the "permanence of race"�were
not only under- stood by Nazis but in some cases pioneered by them. The�historian
Many on the left talk of destroying "whiteness" in a way that is more
than�superficially reminiscent of the National Socialist effort to "de-
Judaize" German�society. Indeed, it is telling that the man who oversaw the
legal front of this project,�Carl Schmitt, is hugely popular among leftist
academics. Mainstream liberals don't�necessarily agree with these intellectuals,
but they do accord them a reverence and�respect that often�amount to a
tacit endorsement. A simple fact remains: Progressives did many things�that we
vould today call objectively fascist, and fascists did many things�we would
today call objectively progressive. Teasing apart this seeming contradiction,�and
showing why it is not in fact a contradiction,�are major aims of this book. But
th Let me put it this way: no serious person can�deny that�Marxist ideas had a
profound impact on what we call liberalism. To point this It's�cmel to call
someone a Nazi because it unfairly suggests sympathy with the Holocaust.�But it
is no less inaccurate to assume that fascism was simply the ideology of
Jewish�genocide. If you need a label�for that, America's political system used to
be about the pursuit of happiness. Now�more and more of us�want to stop chasing
it and have it delivered. And though it has been the sub- imply�this: it is
fool's gold. The idea that we can create a heaven on earth through
pharmacology�and neuroscience is as utopian as�the Marxist hope that we could
create a perfect world by rearranging the means of�production. The history of
totalitarianism is the history�of the quest to transcend the human condition and
create a society where our deepest�meaning and destiny are realized simply by
virtue of the fact that we live in it.�It cannot be done, and even if, as
often in the case of liberal fascism, the effort�is very careful to�be humane
nd decent, it will still result in a kind ofbenign tyranny where some
people�get to impose their ideas of goodness and happiness on those who
may not share them. Wells�was a leading voice in what I have called the fascist
mo- ment, when many Westem�elites were eager to replace Church and Crown with
slide rules and industrial armies.�Throughout his work he championed the idea
that special men#variously identified�as scientists, priests, warriors, or
"samurai"#must impose progress on >es in order�to create a "New Republic" or a
"world theoc- ough militant Progressivism#by whatever�name# could mankind
achieve the fulfillment of the kingdom of God. Wells,?ascism,�like Progressivism
and communism, is expansionist�be- cause it sees no natural boundary to its
ambitions. For violent vari- One objection�to all of this might be: So what? It's
interesting in a counterintuitive way to leam�that a bunch of dead liberals�and
pro- gressives thought this or that, but what does it have to do with liber-
als�today? Two responses come to mind. The first is admittedly�not fully
responsive. Conservatives in America must carry their intellec- tual
history#real�and alleged#around their necks like an albatross. The ranks of elite
liberal journalism�and scholarship swell with in- trepid scribblers who point
to "hidden histories"�and "disturbing echoes" in the conservative historical
closet. Connections with dead right-wingers,�no matter how tenuous and obscure, are
trotted out as proof that today's conservatives�are continuing a nefarious
project. Why, then, is it so trivial to point out that�the liberal closet�has
its own skeletons, particularly when those skeletons are the architects of
the�modem welfare state? I am simply fighting on a battleground ot
liberalism's choosing.�Liberals are the ones who've insisted that conservatism
has connections with fascism.�They are the ones who claim free- narket
economics are fascist and that therefore�their own economic theories should be
seen as the more virtuous, even though the�truth is almost entirely the
reverse. is an ideology of good intentions. But we all�know where even the
waming that even the best of us are susceptible to Uie toiamarian
temptation. When�the left did finally start attacking Mussolini in
eamest#largely on orders
from Moscow#they�lumped him in es- sentially the same category as Franklin
Roosevelt, the socialist Norman�Thomas, and the progressive Robert La Folletti
Given everything we've been taught�about the evils of fascism, how is it
that for more than a decade this country was�in significant respects pro-fascist?
Eve The answer resides in the fact that Fascism�was bom of a "fascist
moment" in Westem civilization, when a coalidon of intellectuals going�by
various labels#progressive, communist, socialist, and so forth#believed the
era�of liberal democracy was drawing to a close. It was time for man to lay
aside the�anachronisms of natural law, tra- ditional religion, constitutional
liberty, capitalism,�and the like and rise to the responsibility of remaking
the world in his�own image. God was long dead, and it was long overdue for men to
take His place.�Mussolini, a lifelong socialist intellectual, was a warrior�in
this cmsade, and his Fascism#a doctrine he created from the same
intellectual�material Lenin and Trotsky had built theu- movements
with#was a grand leap into the�era of "experimentation"�that would sweep
aside old dogmas and usher in a new age. This was in every Mussolini�undoubtedly
inherited his father's hatred of traditional religion, particularly the�Catholic
Church. (His brother Amaldo was Later in life, as a student activist
in�Switzerland, he made a name for himself by regularly offending devout
Christians.�He p; He particularly liked to ridicule Jesus, describing him as an
"ignorant Jew"�and claiming that he was a pygmy compared to Buddha. One of his
fa- vorite tricks�was to publicly dare God to strike him dead#if He ex-
Mussolini's Nietzschean contempt�for the "slave morality"�of ristianity
was le introduced and car- ried a resolution which held that the
Catholic�faith#or any other mainstream monotheism#was inconsistent with
socialism�and that any socialists who practiced religion or even tolerated it
in their chil- dren�should be expelled from the party. Mussol; reflected the
influence of Georges Sorel's�syndicalism on�Mussolmi's
thinking.20 Sorel's impact on Mussolini is vital to an understanding of
fascism�because without syndicalism fascism was impossible. Syndicalist
theory is hard to�penetrate today. It's not quite�socialism 1 it's not quite
fascism. Joshua ^ Essentially, syndicalists believed in mle�by revolutionary
trade unions (the word is derived from the For Sorel, the Second�Coming of
Christ was a quintessential myth because its underlying message# Jesus�is
coming, look busy#was crucial for organizing men�in de- sirable ways.21
Sorel's myth of the general strike was the equiv- dent of�the Second
Coming. According ^ccording to this myth, if all workers leclared a
general�strike, it would cmsh capitalism and render the proletariat#rather than
the meek#the�inheritors of the earth. What mattered was mo- bilizing the
masses to understand�their power over the capitalist ml- ing classes. As �As
Mussolini said in an interview in 1932, "It is faith�that moves mountains, not
reason. Keason is a tool, but it can never�be the motive force of the crowd"�Fhis
kind of thinking has been�commonplace on the left ever since. Think of Al Sharpton
when allegedly confronted�by the fact that the Tawana Brawley "assault"�was a
fake. "It don't matter," he's reported to have said. "We're�building a
movement."22�Even more impressive was Sorel's application of the idea of myth�to
Marxism itself. Again, Sorel held that Marxist prophecy didn't�need to be ttrue.
People just needed to think it was tme. Even at the�In other words, Marx�should be
read as a prophet, not as a policy wonk. That way the�masses would absorb Mamsm
unquestioningly as a religious�dogma.�Sorel was an irrationalist�who took this
sort of thinking to its logical conclusion: any idea that�can be successfully
imposed#with violence if necessary#becomes�tme and good. By�By marrying James's
will to believe with Nietzsche's�will to power, Sorel redesigned left-wing
revolutionary politics from�scientific socialism to a revolutionary religious
movement that believed in the utility�of the myth of scientific socialism.
Enli^�Enlightened�revolutionaries would act as if Marxism were gospel in order
to�bring the masses under their control for the greater good. Today we�might call
these aspects of this impulse "lying for justice."�Of course, a lie could not
become "tme"#that is, successful#�"od liars. This is where another of Sorel's
major�contributions comes in: the need for a "revolutionary elite" to impose its
will upon�the masses. On this point, as many have observed,�Mussolini and Lenin
held ahnost identical views. Central to their�common outlook was the Sorelian
conviction that a small cadre of�professional intellectual radicals#who were
prepared to reject compromise, parliamentary�politics, and anything else that
smacked�of�incremental reform#were indispensable to any successful revolutionary
stmggle.�Fhis avant-garde would shape "revolutionary consciousness" by fomenting
violence�and undennining liberal�s.'^�French Revolution was the first totalitarian
revolution, the mother of�modem totalitarianism, and the spiritual model for the
Italian�it was led and manipulated by an intelectual vanguard determined to
replace Christianity�with a political�religion that glorified "the people,"
anointed the revolutionary vanguard as their�priests, and abridged the rights of
individuals. As�According to Rousseau, individuals who live in accordance with the
general will are�"free" and�"virtuous" while those who defy it are criminals,
fools, or heretics.�These enemies of the common good must be forced to bend to�the
general will. He�He descnbed this state-sanctioned coercion in�Orwellian terms as
the act of "forcing men to be free." It was�Tie idea of the general will created a
tme secular religion out ofthe mystic chords�ofnationalism, a religion in which
"the�people" in effect worshipped themselves.28 Just as individuals�couldn't be
"free" except as part of the group, their existence lacked�meaning and purpose
except in reladon to the collective.�It followed, moreover, that if the people
were the new God, there�God Himself. In The Social Contract, Rousseau�What
Rousseau proposed instead was a society�in which religion and politics were
perfectly combined. Loyalty to�the state and loyalty to the divine must be seen as
the same thing.�Rather, it is bound together by�the general will as expressed in
the dogmas of what he called a "civil�religion" and enforced by the all-powerful
God-state. Those who�defy the collective spirit of the community live outside the
state and�have no claim on its protections. Indeed, not only is the state not
required to defend�antisocial individuals or subcommunities, it is comOnly in this
way could Robespierre�realize the dream that�would�later transfix Nazis,
communists, and progressives alike: the creation�of "New Men." "I am convinced,"
he proclaimed in a typical stateity of bringing about�a complete
regeneration,�and, if I may express myself so, of creating a new people." (To
this�end, he pushed through a law requiring that children be taken from�their
parents and indoctnnated in boarding schools.) The actionPrench Revolution�had
become a "religious revival"�and the ideology that spewed from it a "species of
religion" which�"like Islam [has] overmn the whole world with apostles,
militants,�and martyrs."33�Robespierre appreciated, as did Sorel and his heirs,
that violence was a linchpin�that kept the masses committed to the ideals of�
yror is nothing other than justice,�prompt, severe, intlexible; it is therefore an
emanation of virtue; it is�not so much a special principle as it is a consequence
of the general�principle of democracy applied to our country's most urgent
needs."34�e utility of terror was multifaceted, but among its chief benefits�/as
its tendency to maintain a permanent sense of crisis. Crisis is�routinely
identified as a core mechanism of fascism because it shortcircuits debate�and
democratic deliberation. Hence all fascistic�movements commit considerable energy
to prolonging a heightened�state of emergency. Across the West, this was the most
glorious boon�ofWorldWarL�An emphasis on "producers" had everywhere been the
hallmark of�populist economics and polidcs. The key distincdon for
"producerism,"�as many called it, was between those who created wealth with
their�own hands and those who merely profited from it. William Jennings�The
populists sought�to expand the scope of govemment in order to smash the
"economic�royalists" and help the little guy. This was Mussolini's approach in
a�nutshell (much as it is that of left-wing icons of today, such as�Venezuela's
Hugo Chavez). Fascist slogans included "The land to�him who works it!" and "To
every peasant the entire fruit of his�sacred labor!" Mussolini still employed
warmed-over Marxist theory when convenient#as many populists did#to explain his
new�fondness for the small landowner. Italy was still a "proletarian naNone of
this is to say that Mussolini was a deeply consistent�ideologue or political
theorist. As a pragmatist, he was constantlv�willing to throw off dogma, theory,
and alliances whenever convenient. In the few years immediately following the
formation of the�Mussolini's main governing themes were�expediency and
opportunism. This was, after all, the age of "experimentation." FDR would later
preach a similar gospel, holding�that he�had no fixed agenda other than to put
Americans to work and launch�a orosram of "bold exDerimentation." "We do not
distrust the fu' And much as Roosevelt would later, Mussolini asked the�Italian
people to tmst him now and worry about an actual program�down the road.
Shc�Mussolini's style was remarkably similar to Yasir Arafat's�(though Arafat was
undoubtedly far more murderous). He played the�political game of claiming to seek
peaceful accords and alliances�while straining to contain the more violent
elements within his�movement. His hands were tied, he'd claim, when squads of
Fascist�Blackshirts broke the bones ofhis opponents. Again like
Lenin#and�Arafat#Mussolini practiced a philosophy of "the worse the better"�He
celebrated the violence committed by socialists because it gave�him the
opportunity to commit more violence in retribution. A�tlussolini's message and
tactics triumphed. Moreover, his�success had less to do with ideology and violence
than with populist�emotional appeals. Mussolini promised to restore two things in
short�supply: pride and order.�Similarly#like certain modem liberals#he promised
what he called a "Third Way" that was neither left�