On re-reading Liberal Fascism: Defining Evil Down

Two years after reaching to the top of the non-fiction bestseller lists, Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism remains an influential book on the right.  If you blog on topics that overlap with its subject matter, especially if you argue in any way against its thesis, conservative commenters will link you to it, seemingly under the presumption that, if only you had fully imbibed of its wisdom, you could never be so complacent about the evil ones on the other side of the American discussion.

As for that other side, Goldberg may at least have made leftists a bit more self-conscious about dropping the political f-bomb on their opponents, perhaps because those opponents have learned a set of comebacks.  In fact, partly due to the work of those who have taken up Goldberg’s arguments and run with them, the thesis has been taken a step further than the author claimed he wanted to go.  Goldberg writes insistently that, of course, he didn’t really mean to suggest that liberals are the same, or virtually the same, or as bad as, the real fascists.  Yet it’s not hard to find that thinking, in pretty much those words, on the internet right.  In part by lending his services to popularizers, but also by virtue of the argument as he set it down in 400-plus pages, Goldberg has encouraged that development.

Here’s Goldberg’s “working definition” of fascism, from LF‘s  first chapter “Everything You Know About Fascism Is Wrong”:

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.  I will argue that contemporary American liberalism embodies all of these aspects of fascism.

Though I don’t presume an obligation to treat reference works like Webster’s Dictionary or, even less, Wikipedia as authoritative, I prefer their more conventional definitions, on what I believe to be strong historical as well as common sense grounds.  Webster’s defines fascism as “a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”  The Wikipedia entry commences as follows:

Fascism […] is a radical and authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to organize a nation on corporatist perspectives; values; and systems such as the political system and the economy. Scholars generally consider fascism to be on the far right of the conventional left-right political spectrum although some scholars claim that fascism has been influenced by both the left and the right.

Fascists believe that a nation is an organic community that requires strong leadership, singular collective identity, and the will and ability to commit violence and wage war in order to keep the nation strong.

Both reference works stress, and Wikipedia goes on to refer repeatedly, to violence (political violence, coercive force, and war)  and to nationalism/racism (nation and race being intimately connected in fascist theory and practice).

If you return to Goldberg’s definition, you will find vague, highly subordinate references on these themes, under a generally softer language.  Goldberg also acknowledges no need to address the other half of his title, and I believe this omission may be indicative:  No separate definition of “liberal” needs to appear, because it’s already encompassed in his prejudicial treatment of the other term.  “Fascism” is already “liberalized” – the definition presumes the proof.  In other words, the author has beveled the sharp edges of his square peg, fascism, to make it slide easily into the round hole of liberalism.

Goldberg is well aware of the fact that his definition is non-standard, but when he addresses the standard view of fascism, he merely performs the same sleight-of-hand a second time:

It we are to be believe that “classic” fascism is first and foremost the elevation of martial values and the militarization of government and society under the banner of nationalism, it is very difficult to understand why the Progressive Era was not also the Fascist Era.

And so a direct and remainderless equation of Progressivism and Fascism is already being narrated, if not quite fully affirmed.

In the above passage Goldberg is referring to the “war socialism” of the Wilson Administration.  We should note that the historical moment, the end of Wilson’s tragic second term, marks the end of the historian’s first generation of progressivism, and took place at least 40 years after the word “progressive” first came into broad usage in America to denote post-Reconstruction thinking about social, economic, and political reform.  Whether war socialism was the crystallization of early progressivism or its transformation into something else altogether is debatable, but, whichever side you tend to on this question, we can also note that many progressives of Wilson’s day, the capital S Socialists and capital P Progressives, opposed Wilson on the war – the perennial Socialist presidential candidate Eugene V Debs from prison, the famed Progressive Senator Robert La Follette only somewhat more comfortably from the Senate floor, to which for one climactic war debate he felt the need to carry a loaded gun.

In the discussion of war socialism, and of a self-consciously provocative claim that Wilson headed the world’s first fascist government, Goldberg never notes that the overt militarism, avaricious nationalism, and glorification of war that were part and parcel of “classic” fascism were all things that Wilson distinguished himself by opposing – even to the last extremity of his health.  For Mussolini, writing in the Doctrine of Fascism, “war alone key[ed] up all human energies to their maximum tension and set… the seal of nobility on those peoples who have the courage to face it.”  For Hitler, war was the vehicle through which the Master Race would prove its superiority.  Quite typically, when finally facing defeat in international trial by combat, he judged the German people as having proved themselves worthy only of extinction.  War for both fascist leaders and for their movements was the continuation of political violence by improved means.  It was to be embraced as the supreme test of worth and truth, not resisted.

The contrast to Wilson is diametrically stark.  Though in earlier years he had spoken approvingly, if abstractly and non-militantly, on imperialism, as president he opposed intervention in the internal affairs of Mexico, which was undergoing revolutionary turmoil over an extended period.  Restraint on Mexico was the true origin of the famous slogan of Wilson’s 1916 re-election campaign, “He kept us out of war.”  Wilson himself understood how the statement was being overextended to include the Great War as well, and expressed reservations, since he knew that events beyond his control might sweep the U.S. into the conflict at any time.

Goldberg repeats the common misremembering of Wilson’s supposedly violated peace promise, then glibly determines the actual declaration – prompted among other things by German meddling in Mexico, unrestricted submarine warfare against merchant shipping, the collapse of the Russian front, and a wave of popular pressure – to have been “probably… misguided.”  (One suspects that in parallel circumstances today, such provocations would receive a rather different response from Goldberg or at least from his usual political allies.)  After years struggling to broker a peace, attacked by the era’s doves and hawks, across parties, Wilson finally did bring us into war, but did so while calling for “peace without victory” and the establishment of a League of Nations designed to keep that peace.  Given the political and personal sacrifices Wilson made to those ends, and the fight he undertook against those united around earlier intervention and then harsher demands, to group him retrospectively with history’s greatest warmongers verges on obscenity.

The discussion of war socialism is not Liberal Fascism‘s only slanted and highly selective historical recitation.  The question it leaves a reader with can stand for others raised by the book:   If Wilson’s war administration betrayed fascist characteristics – heightened and even excessive internal security measures, reduced civil liberties, earnest efforts to rally support, and hope that it all might be good for something after all – which wartime government ever, anywhere, hasn’t done so, according to the reigning means, methods, and values of the time and place?

Rather than reaching for a useful answer on this and parallel questions, Goldberg instead ends up saying things – or seeming to – that I suspect he doesn’t really believe at all, as when, in the joint denunciation of “Third Way” and “Progressive” movements that follows the war discussion, he leaves himself with no political alternative on Earth between “laissez-faire individualism and Marxist socialism” – no alternative, that is, other than the imposition of “a unifying, totalitarian moral order.”

It’s a political philosophy of the extruded and amputated middle.  In Goldberg’s reading the echoes between progressive and fascist desires to “transcend class differences” make it “very difficult not to notice how the progressives fit the objective criteria for a fascist movement set forth by so many students of the field.”  I suspect that in almost any other context, the conservative fans of LF would proudly affirm the traditional American disregard for Old World class structures.  In the pages of Liberal Fascism, this aspect of Americanism suddenly turns deeply and darkly suspect, just as any recent or historical statements in favor of national unity, social justice, the responsibilities of the wealthy, war bonds, or dental hygiene are treated as signs of fiendish conspiracies and the end of America by those even less restrained in their rhetoric than Goldberg is.

Liberal Fascism remains worth reading as background for contemporary political discussion, and for understanding our peculiar political moment – which has come into view as the prematurely announced death and  unexpected re-efflorescence of a demonstratively self-confident conservatism.  Yet the comforting exaggerations and ideological short-cuts, historical curse words, the imputation of the the worst imaginable intentions to all political adversaries, reflect an unreformed, self-defeating desperation.  Maybe, as Goldberg writes in the last paragraph of Liberal Fascism, when protesting the other side’s insulting tactics, it’s past time to cry, “Enough!”

90 comments on “On re-reading Liberal Fascism: Defining Evil Down

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  1. You know, I still have yet to read Liberal Fascism. I’m as poor as a church mouse, totally lack the discretionary funds to invest in books on subjects apart from my own research interests, which do not include politics or political science, and therefore probably never will buy the book in question. So I rely on excerpts, precis, and the opinions of others, C.K. Macleod, for instance. In more comfortable days, namely before I chose to reside permanently in a neighborhood as expensive as the Virgin Islands, I accumulated a respectable library, but I now and again note with sadness the copyright dates on most of my collection receding further and further from the aggressive present.

    That said, I wish to point out that Goldberg does not supply definition of Fascism so much as a description of what he himself calls “aspects of Fascism.” Is that important? I think so. By analogy, is a definition of Communism possible? Marx and Engels thought so: worker ownership of the means of production. Very succinctly put, with respect both to its comprehensiveness and its adequacy in shaping and sustaining a political program.

    But Marx and Engels were unflinching and uncompromising materialists. As such, a phrase such as “the means of production” really means “the material means of production,” which pretty much comes down to money or, as Marx, coming straight to the point, framed it, das Kapital. History itself has been crudely reified, which permits marxists the luxury of ignoring all kinds of interesting questions. All the “aspects” of Fascism that Goldberg enumerates are, I suspect, comprehensively swept up in the reality of a Workers State’s ownership of all the cash lying around. Whether any useful or even credible notion of “ownership” may survive so formulaic a summary of human culture, as opposed to a society of animals, is a philosophical question that needn’t detain us here. It certainly didn’t distract Marx, Engels, or Lenin one bit.

    Fascism, on the other hand, in its paradigmatic German, Italian, and Japanese incarnations, was not wholly or even primarily materialist. Fascism here is spiritual, and the word that best describes fascist spirituality is pagan (quite literally in the case of Japan, the only one of the three that successfully incorporated a state religion, Shinto, into its political program. Hitler’s – and especially Himmler’s – creepy fascination with an assortment of Siegfrieds, Brunhildas, and Nibelungen from the Teutonic days of eld is well known. The minatory bundle of rods (used for public beating of the wayward) and ax blades, the fasces, that the lictors of imperial Rome, an aggressively pagan enterprise, not so much carried as flaunted, has supplied a not unreasonable name for the whole business. May I suggest that the challenge of segregating its spiritual and material aspects frustrates every attempt to define Fascism?

    If so, we again see the impossibility, indeed the headstrong foolishness, of determinedly ignoring the explicitly religious dimension of any political program – something I’ve been on about elsewhere – in literally coming to terms with same, namely, in defining it. Communism is irreligious only because that is what communists avow, which is not good enough for me. As was often said in the “higher criticism” controversies of modern Protestantism, you can drive theology out the front door, yet it will always return through the back.

    The motivational backbone, the transcendental aspirations of Progressivism, are its most important “aspects.” The persuasive power of various Progressivisms is more indebted debt to Emerson than Dewey. I have somewhere claimed that Progressivism, as we behold it today, is a religious zombie. Its soul, the well-intentioned effort of the WASP ascendancy in Christian America to remain good citizens and good Protestants, has been banished to some sort of limbo; yet a sort of vegetative spirit, to follow Aristotle, continues mechanically to animate the limbs, crafting this or that prohibition, granting this or that dispensation, ostensibly seeking what it has, at some length, repudiated: transcendental rewards.

    The various species of Spiritism, I hurry to point out, are the least demanding religious modalities. That is the source of their appeal. Voodoo, juju good and bad, magic, in short the intentional desire to hoover any loose change laying around for the benefit of whomever (or, brr, whatever) casts the spell or recites the incantation, an instinct capacious enough to include curses such as anthropogenic global warming and blessings like food stamps, are the lowest common denominator of Materialism and religion – if one insists on so styling the impulse – are intent on routinizing well-being, a monstrous and self-contradictory endeavor, of complacently rationalizing compassion: this is good, take; that bad, avoid. See the Federal Code if you must know why.

  2. @CKM: I never read the book so I didn’t know it made such extreme inferences. But a good post by you of course.
    Small point (well, bigger for Mexicans): You didn’t mean to imply that we never invaded/occupied parts of Mexico during the WW administration, did you? I don’t know what it means to say he “opposed” intervention seeing as he was the CiC.
    As you know, my own unease with “classic” P-ism stems less from its historical actuality (though that was certainly not above criticism) than from its inherent potentiality , which again is less a reason to condemn or defame it with 20-20 hindsight than to cast about for ways – even if they only amount to thought experiments – in which it might have been kept from metastasizing. I still have a problem with any notion of progress divorced from process, for example.

  3. @ Seth Halpern:
    On Mexico, Wilson permitted Pershing’s punitive expedition against Pancho Villa and, earlier, a brief but bloody action in Vera Cruz – the chief benefit of the former being that it enabled Pershing to gain some experience in the field while somehow preserving his reputation, the chief benefit of the latter being that its pointlessness dissuaded Wilson from attempting any repetition or escalation. The call at the time, that Wilson resisted, was for a full-blown intervention to decide Mexico’s internal affairs and “protect American interests.”

    I’ll see if I can clarify the language. As for your main point, the easy part about defending the Ps is that, Palmer Raids and naive pronouncements on socialism notwithstanding, they weren’t Nazis, and they weren’t Bolsheviks. The hard part is that as soon as you point that out, you’re considered an enemy of the true faith, and for all intents and purposes a defender of Nazis and Bolsheviks. Of course, the same thing happens in further left world for anyone who dares to put in a word for evangelicals or George W Bush.

  4. @ Joe NS:
    Did you mis-type? Goldberg’s explicit definition of P-ism was a major focus of my post.

    You’re quite right, however, to highlight the paganism of the Fs, and the godless religiosity of the Cs. In a longer version of the post, I dwelt more on the fascist rejection of the Enlightenment and obsession with myths of origin, and I went into more detail regarding the origins and usages of the word “Fascism.” The “fasce” play into it all, but it gets a bit complicated, since the ancient Roman derivation was already assumed in common neutral usages relating to government – and not just in Italy: fasces have also appeared on U.S. currency and government insignia, and not, as far as I know, as part of a fiendish Progressive plot.

    I could also have gone into the differences between a Sozialist and a Nationalsozialist, or between a “workers party” and a “German workers party,” but I didn’t want to bust the blog. I avoided the Imperial Way Japanese even though I think they qualify as fascist – and rather better than Thommy Wilson and his gang – because Goldberg shows little interest in them.

  5. Deja vu, all over again, with encroaching banditry on the border, well something a little stronger than that. The Creel Committee, which employed Edward Bernays and that War Board that Baruch sat on, probably are more apt analogies. Plus look at the WPA and other posters, that you have on the side board. There was nothing like that during ‘the long dark night of fascism that is always descending on America, but always lands on Europe” as Tom Wolfe quoted Jean Jacques Revel. In fact the media was directed at portraying any such vigilance project as either crass or evil. And had Bush pushed for a more active homefront initiative, just look
    at the hyperbolic interpretation of the Patriot Act, Gitmo, et al

    Under this administration, by contrast, we have media that is so slavishly subservient, that it probably embarasses the officials of
    the regime, yeah right

  6. “I will argue that contemporary American liberalism embodies all of these aspects of fascism.”

    It would be more accurate to state that Liberalism can be taken to an extreme which incubates totalitarianism;while Conservativism,taken to an exteme,tends to Anarchism. Anarchism and Totalitarianism are first cousins,leading to lots of misery.

  7. Colin, going back and looking it over, I see that I certainly did mis-type. I carelessly elided the Wiki entry with your second Goldberg quote. Sorry about that.

    American Progressivism of whatever vintage is not and never has been much concerned with “martial valor” or the “militarization of government and society” for their own sake. To the extent that Goldberg “believes” – his word – that, he is quite mistaken; however, I think you must admit that the 1930s NRA codes came uncomfortably near to the spirit of the latter. An awful lot of the proles at the time were ardent for the Blue Eagle. It was the Supreme Court, in my opinion, not 1930s popular sentiment clipped its wings.

    Also, judging solely by the specifics, not to mention the tenor, of the laws that progressives have dreamt up from time to time, for example, the income tax, actually existing Social Security as opposed to FDR’s purely notional “insurance” program, and OSHA, a list that could be much elongated, the danger of other sorts of regimentation would not seem to be what keeps homo progressivus up at night.

    Mark Steyn points out, tellingly in my opinion, that under the Bourbon kings, to take just one of many possible historical precedents, the people of France were absolute subjects of the Crown and liable to be bound in all things by his will and whim. Quod principi placuit legis habet vigorem – (Ulpian), and all that. That was the theory anyway. The practice was something different. If the ordinary citizen had meaningful intercourse with the monarch or his officers twice a year it was unusual. Given the technical innovations of our era, accelerating hourly it seems, the possibility of very active, very practical, day-to-day dirigisme is terrifyingly real. It is the dirigiste enthusiams of progressives that repulse me. In a nation of mostly law-abiding citizens, one doesn’t need to have the guns up front and center to browbeat the citizenry – though, to be sure, the guns are somewhere nearby.

    And yes, before you beat me about the ears yet again with referenda and party primaries, those “achievements” do not have much to do with coercion or regimentation. Yet, I confess that I am puzzled as to why those reforms seem uppermost in your mind in judging the legacy of Progressivism. Conservative objections to Progressivism really have little to do with government’s monkeying with election law – who else under our Constitution has the clear authority to do it? – but with everything else that catches the attention of reform-minded politicians. And even on the merits, I’m not at all clear that primaries have been such a godsend. Not being a political junky, I am bored to tears with election campaigns that, like the heartbreak of psoriasis, go on and on and on. The whole nation is kept in needless, media-driven turmoil for two or more years. Moreover, the primary system really was a very small political potato until 1960 (have I mentioned television?). What was so bad about the old state-convention system anyway. I think it’s more likely than not that had such a party-centric system of selecting candidates been operating two years ago, Barack Obama’s predations would still be limited to making nice with Dick Lugar in the Senate.

    Incidentally, Mussolini’s adoption of the fasces as, not only the symbol, but for the very name of his political party places them in a whole new category of political meaning from whatever ceremonial and anodyne purposes they were put to before.

  8. I only read books which are less than 300 pages (check out Henri Troyat’s Life of Gorky and, of course, G. Gilder’s latest), and posts which are less than 500 words in length.

    I got as far at the post reconstruction bit, but isn’t this obsessive P-word the word that fellow travelers, pinkos and card carrying members liked to call themselves? Glenn Greenwald’s hero, Izzy Stone, was a progressive, (and Izzy, we have recently learned, got an allowance from some not very nice KGB progressives) and now, of course, Glennnn is an outspoken mouthpiece for the current pwogwessive line.

    I wish Goldberg woud come here to respond himself to our Tsar’s erudite reflections. He’s probably too busy interviewing dancing girls in grass skirts on that island he bought with the proceeds of “Liberal Fascism,” so I’ll speak up for him, and note that we will never be as mean and dirty as our left wing antagonists. They really do cite Mao Tse Tung as one of their heros, and they really do believe that their dear ends justify their bloody means. Has anyone here ever heard of Saul Alinsky and some of their other models, such as Che Guevara? Are many of these folks who congregate at The First Unitarian Church of Madison and Temple Chai Kumbaya of Cambridge useful IDIOTS?

    Yes they are, and maybe it doesn’t help to gang up on them and call them fascists, even though that’s what they love calling us.

    But havn’t we been too nice? Haven’t Bob Dole, George Bush, Sr., and John Mc Cain, and other assorted politicians who lost been too nice? As our great Chicago model mayor once said, “politics ain’t bean bag,”

    Hello? (did I go over 500 words, my frems?)

  9. The motivational backbone, the transcendental aspirations of Progressivism, are its most important “aspects.” The persuasive power of various Progressivisms is more indebted debt to Emerson than Dewey. I have somewhere claimed that Progressivism, as we behold it today, is a religious zombie.

    But here I have to demur a bit: There was without doubt a heavy religious aspect to classic Progressivism – from the religious calling averred by leading Progs to the widely remarked tent revival quality of the 1912 Prog Convention, where speechifying from the dais was interrupted and accompanied by ecstatic hymn-singing. (What a thing that must have been to attend!) All the same, progressive politics was very much of this world, expressing a determination to make real improvements in real lives. I disagree especially with those, like Mr. Beck, who relentlessly assert that the progs, just like the commies, were utopians. Many of them toyed with visions of a just society and some hoped that through some harmonic convergence of science, morality, and humanity, very great leaps forward could be accomplished, but, compared to the real revolutionaries of the day, they were a rather circumspect and highly law-abiding, merely reformist bunch. Even the more extreme-tending leaders like TR conceived of what they were doing as a relatively conservative alternative to revolutionary utopianism.

  10. @ Joe NS:
    Ya mean that because the Income Tax was a progressive tax, it was a scheme thought up by Progressives?

    Who woulda thunk it?

    That wily old Abe.

  11. @ Joe NS:
    Please do note that the progs did not invent the income tax or even invent its “progressivity” – unless you’re of a mind to generalize a transcendant progressive impulse and declare Honest Abe a progressive, since it was during his Civil War administration that the first American income tax was instituted. Since I’m actually of the opinion that progressivism is deeply American, I won’t mind such an extension of the term, but then you’ll have to grant me the Founding and even more the Framing of the Constitution as progressive moments, and I may eventually end up calling human civilization, life on Earth, and the expanding universe progressive. I believe it not just because it’s absurd, though that doesn’t hurt.

  12. Pretty nice job, Tsar, pretty nice. I would even venture into a reading of your longer version should you place it before us.

    Good work with Wilson and reminding us how his government of First Fascists violently suppressed all dissent and rigged that 1918 mid-term congressional election.

  13. The Fact that the Government is in total control over the currency (money creation)means that the government can do whatever it chooses based on its political control. The right and left are on the sidelines screaming for the government to create money in favor of whatever programs they favor,but neither side thinks to take that power away from the government.

  14. I confess that I am puzzled as to why those reforms seem uppermost in your mind in judging the legacy of Progressivism.

    Because they’re neglected, minimized, and discounted by the critics; because they directly contradict the notion that the progs were authoritarians merely seeking the expansion of unchecked government; because conservatives have made good use of direct democracy, recall of officials, primary challenges, etc., pretty much exactly as the reforms were intended; because the demands for government transparency and voter education and participation have characterized the conservative critique in the Age of (mrp) ; and for a bunch of other reasons.

    It doesn’t mean that there aren’t potential downsides to direct democracy and other political reforms of that type, but, when they were first implemented, the need for them was very strongly felt as a means to strengthen democracy against concentrations of power, especially economic power – the creeping oligarchy of the day. In that wacky Bucky Fuller essay I mentioned the other day, in looking at the massification of economy and politics in his own day, he justifies his own program as follows:

    Democracy must, as consumer and worker,
    as soldier and mother,
    as scientist, or simple employer,
    be made adequate cathode
    to the mighty merged annode.

  15. @ Joe NS:
    Income tax was a live issue continuously after the CW. It was made impractical by the Supreme Court Pollock decision, requiring the Constitutional Amendment – which was supported by all parties, and passed, as required, by 3/4 of the states. To blame it on the progressives is in that sense to suggest that progressivism had by then become the effective American consensus. There may be some truth to that (see #12 above).

  16. CK MacLeod wrote:

    @ Joe NS:
    Since I’m actually of the opinion that progressivism is deeply American, I won’t mind such an extension of the term, but then you’ll have to grant me the Founding and even more the Framing of the Constitution as progressive moments, and I may eventually end up calling human civilization, life on Earth, and the expanding universe progressive. I believe it not just because it’s absurd, though that doesn’t hurt.

    Well of course! And the barons who forced King John to sign Magna Carta, they were progressives, too. Let’s not forget Hammurabi, author of the first building codes. Old Man Ham and Woodrow Wilson surely would have enjoyed sitting around shooting the shit over a tall cool one.

    Absurdity is one thing. Silliness another.

  17. fuster wrote:

    @ Joe NS:
    ….that lasted into the Grant administration, IIRC.

    All the way to the next administration. As long as that? I take it all back.

  18. To blame it on the progressives is in that sense to suggest that progressivism had by then become the effective American consensus. There may be some truth to that.

    That is too coy. Blame it on the facts of the first income tax: 7% on incomes above half-a-million dollars, affecting about 2% of the population. So I am suggesting, not that Progressivism had become the “effective American consensus” – ask Bryan and TR about their experiences during the 1900, 1904, 1908, and 1912 elections. Good times, what? – but that Somebody-Else’s-Ox-Getting-Gored’s-Okay-by-Me-ism has been wildly popular a lot longer than the US of A’s time on earth and has naught to do with progress. What do you suppose those 36 state legislators would have decided had they been given a glimpse of what this little mouse of progressive thinking would mature into?

  19. Incidentally, Mussolini’s adoption of the fasces as, not only the symbol, but for the very name of his political party places them in a whole new category of political meaning from whatever ceremonial and anodyne purposes they were put to before.

    Almost – but it turns out that “Fascisti” was the conventional Italian name for political groups/bands/leagues etc. I think it is relevant, however, that the Fascists unified this independent political impulse on its own terms. They were the “groupists,” and the fasces remain relevant for the same reason: They ended up representing the essence of politics, power, for its own sake and at the source. The Fascisti generally represented an alternative to traditional sources of power – church, royalty, establishment – etc. It was at the same moment that M dropped internationalism and looked into ancient history for his validation that his fascists became truly the Fascists. You might say that he stripped the will to power of burdens and distractions, fully revealing the fasces.

  20. A week ago I reread Allan Nevins’ Ordeal of the Union, volume I (“Fruits of manifest destiny”), and discovered again some facts of interest. They certainly interest me.

    In his chapter titled “The Lineaments of a Young Republic,” Nevins goes into some detail on the size and extent of the Federal government in 1856. Yes, 1856! It was a long time ago, true, but, well, listen and ponder . . . .

    The Department of State in Washington had 18 employees! That included the secretary, Assistant secretary, and a dozen clerks.

    The War Department and the Navy employed about 30 people apiece.

    The behemoth was Treasury: census 450, which included non-Washington collectors in the ports.

    The staffing at Agriculture was exceptionally amazing, if you’ll forgive the expression: the Secretary, his assistants, andOne clerk! This department is also of interest because, in 1856, the industrial output of the country was growing quickly but still comparatively secondary in importance, whereas four out of five Americans were engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry. The entire sum contributed by the Federal government to furtherance of agriculture since the founding was $29,000. Not a penny had been disbursed before 1839. Yet American agriculture was already a world powerhouse, and Americans had invented the mechanical reaper, the combine, and the cotton gin.

    The population, at 29 million, was about a tenth of today’s. And of course the government today is at most 10 times bigger. Total federal employment was under 20,000, and that included every village postmaster and his clerks.

    Federal expenditures were about $60,000,000, income slightly less (somethings never change). I believe that converts to a couple of billion nowadays. The government managed to snag about one dollar in 200 of the earned income of Americans, not the one in seven it receives today.

    Please remember that by 1856, the entire nation, now comprising the lower 48, had been assembled except for a tiny strip in southern Arizona acquired a few years later by the Gadsden Purchase. This was after the Mexican War, after the US had become a global trader of significant interest to foreign investors.

  21. fuster wrote:

    I would even venture into a reading of your longer version should you place it before us.

    That’s kind, or indulgent, or maybe both. Let’s see how it plays out in discussion, and whether a supplementary post, or page, is justified.

    Zoltan Newberry wrote:

    I wish Goldberg woud come here to respond himself to our Tsar’s erudite reflections.

    At some point I’ll post this to HA, and trust that avid HA reader Glenn Beck will pass it on to Goldberg if Goldberg doesn’t run across it himself.

    I find that by posting these pieces first to ZC, I get a chance, with the help of the ZCers, to test and cure them, and I frequently discover typos, mistakes, un-clarities, and potentially embarrassing rhetorical excesses. Since there are folks gunning for me over there, and since I’m taking on popular figures on the right, I’m very grateful for the collective editing, even though there have also been times when hostile readers have come to ZC and grabbed statements from our discussion to use against me.

  22. Short or long run,the solution to our impasse is simple to have two nations,Nation#1,you’re on your own,cradle to grave,Nation#2 is socialist,everyone freely chooses where they live. There’s no other way for this to work. And it will be very interesting to compare/contrast #s1&2 over the decades.

  23. @ Rex Caruthers:
    Within a couple of decades they’d end up being hard to distinguish from each other and would re-unite amidst the political equivalent of “make-up sex.”

    Much more likely, and all to the better, is that we’ll keep on arguing from the extremes and muddling along down the middle. JPod had it about right in his recent Commentary essay, I think. See Recommended Browsing.

  24. @ Joe NS:
    Seriously, though – that’s all quite interesting, and I mean it, but the facts as you present them cut both ways. How was a pygmy government, instituted to “promote the general welfare” and “secure the blessings of liberty,” etc., supposed to contend over the long run with the likes of Standard Oil and kin?

  25. @ CK MacLeod:

    He was overwhelmed! All the Secretaries visited yearly and voluminous complaints about ridiculous under-staffing on Congress, who took not much notice.

    One of Nevins’ more salient points was just how little influence the Executive branch had on Congress, and that particularly included the Chief Executive, who was respected in a ceremonial way but more often than not ignored.

    ADDITION AFTER CK’S LAST POST: “Promote” is really a rather tepid verb, isn’t it? It really can’t carry the burden you’re insinuating it should. Perhaps they – the Founders – chose it with that in mind.

  26. Joe NS wrote:

    One of Nevins’ more salient points was just how little influence the Executive branch had on Congress, and that particularly included the Chief Executive, who was respected in a ceremonial way but more often than not ignored.

    A major theme for Wilson, too, in his most important work of political science, CONGRESSIONAL GOVERNMENT – which I haven’t read, btw, except in abstracts via the Wilson biography I’ve been making use of.

    Naturally, the Wilson-haters use Wilson’s analysis, and the 29-y-o budding author’s interest in parliamentary government, as “proof” that he sought either a dictatorship or (redundancy alert) evil European pollutions of pristine American perfection.

  27. Colin, I am not a Wilson hater – and I’m not implying that you implied I am. Hatred of W. Wilson is a multi-ideological sport. The libertarians hate him for the income tax and Reds hate him for the Palmer raids.

    I’ve always thought him, well, a little pitiable and more than a little obnoxious. My understanding, and you are possibly in a position to instruct me, is that his origins are in the gentry of Old Virginny (wasn’t he related to the Wilson of Revolutionary times?), but his upbringing was Deep South, Savannah, I think, and somewhat preacherly. From the latter, I’ve always thought, he acquired a Massa in de Big House mien. We must take care of them Darkies seems to me to be a constant theme among the pezza novanti Dim presidents, starting with Jefferson, continuing through Jackson, Wilson, FDR, Kennedy, and, in their own special ways, Johnson, who was born dirt poor bur married money and developed a planter’s mentality, and Jimmeh Carter, who actually was a planter. Paternalism is the Democrat way. It was quite obvious in ante-bellum days, and returned as a species of noblesse oblige with Roosevelt and from there on to the liberal foundations of today, Hollywood, and liberal Jewry. It’s always been very comfortable with people who know who their betters are. Woodrow Wilson, President of Princeton, fit right in.

  28. Yeah. It’s all the other people seeking to govern that don’t think that they’ve a better idea if what’s good for the USA.

  29. I’ve always thought him, well, a little pitiable and more than a little obnoxious.

    200000 Americans died in a stupid war which had little to do with our national security.

  30. @ CK MacLeod:
    So you experiment on us, Komrad Kolinsky!

    We are your guinea pigs?

    This is not very progressive, now, is it, my frem?

    I have better idea: Give Zoltan regular commentator privileges with easy to use process of posting them. I propose regular ‘MY DAY’ column, modeled after Eleanor Roosevelt’s my day column, which my paternal grandfather, Zoltan Kurleyevich Dushbagovskaya, hated like Hell. As soon as he saw one of her columns, or heard that voice over the radio, he’d start throwing dining room chairs. None of these chairs were safe after just two years of ‘MY DAY’. It was terrible.

  31. @ Zoltan Newberry:
    Could you handle the Awesome Responsibility of posting via e-mail? Your missives would go directly to the front page (though of course they could be proofed and edited after the fact).

  32. @ Joe NS:
    Son of the South, fersure, born Staunton, VA, brought up Savannah – but liberal sophisticated Presbyterian circles, with recent Scottish and northern roots: Not Old South/plantation class. Dad a handsome, respected Pres. Mom born in England of Scots minister. Learning disability.

  33. @CKM: Not sure Standard Oil & kin were so much worse in their way than, say, the modern US media, or their behavior more a suitable moral pretext for large or aggressive government.

  34. @ Joe NS:
    Look, Joe, you have no standing here. Wilson was a Princeton Man. You can always tell a Princeton Man but not very much, my frem.

    They now boast of The “WWSAA,” (Woodrow Wilson School of Apology and Appeasement), mind you. Also the great Nobel author who no one can read, Toni Morrison, teaches writing there. She’s the one who proclaimed that our zipper challenged former President was “our first black president.” Of course, you must know that Paul Krugman teaches economics there; it’s called “The Economic School of Envy, Hatred, Higher Taxes and Decline.” Also, they stole a great “public intellectual” from Harvard, one of your brothers, Cornwall Chest, who teaches courses in “Flapdoodle Hip Hop Proseology,” a field in which he is considered the seminal, milky load pioneer. Just ask Larry Summers.

    And, last but not least, you should know that Michelle Obama, yes Mister Peanut’s First Lady, went there, while he only went to Columbia. She fondly recalls her four years midst all those gargoyles and ivy, wondering, “Where is MY trust fund?”

  35. @ Zoltan Newberry:

    Priceless, Zolt’, pricelesss! Incidentally, Krugman, I learn from my local, er, newspaper, lives on St. Croix a good deal of the time now. Right in my neighborhood, too. Fortunately, the article alerted me to where he likes to hang out. An high-end internet cafe, natch.

    I wonder if he posts his bilge from here. Course he’d never talk to a Brown man.

  36. Are your really a Brown Man or just a brown man, brother?

    Yes, there was a big spread about him (in the paper of record, I think) in St Croix with color photos of him and the little wife holding a fat cat, inside their little St Croix place, noting that, now that Princeton lets him teach only one class every three years, and now that the won all that Nobel money, he so chilled that he hardly ever twitches anymore.

  37. Well they still have the esteemed Bernard Lewis, but they did not grant
    Michael Scott Doran tenure, hence he ended up at the NSC and now at
    NYU, as I recall, this is also the abode of Uwe REinhardt, one of the veterans of Hillary’s health inquiry. Otherwise it’s very much what you have described.

  38. The last time I looked at the picture of the book, the Amazon best price was $4.43,,,,, now it’s $4.01

    Blame it on the Tsar!!!

  39. @ fuster:
    What – destroying the after-market by encouraging to put their used copies on sale?

    I’m thinking now I won’t post this piece to HA. It might just come across as picking a fight. It can remain a reference for future uses. @ narciso:
    Was a good piece by JED, but which subject at hand?

  40. @ CK MacLeod:
    I was going to encourage you to post it over there, as I think that it’s a necessary fight for conservatives to have amongst themselves if they wish to uphold their self-view as careful as thoughtful folk.

    But, I’ll be damned before I urge a man to break his own rice bowl when I’m not gonna feed him.
    (willing to send pot of frijoles negroes, ev’ry now and again)

  41. What real authoritarianism is like, and how ‘well meaning’ progressives
    have little response to that, Sarkozy could probably be considered a
    prog con in the general taxonomy of the French Right,

  42. @ fuster:
    Just exploring my own reasons for hesitation. I really don’t mind getting into fights and becoming a poster-boy (pixel-boy?) for RINO-hatred. I like seeing juvenile plays on my name appear on random HotAir threads – figure it virtually ensures attention, boycotters notwithstanding, and I accept the scorn of imbeciles as a sign I’m on the right track. But there’s no urgency to writing on LF right now, and putting it up at HA (no rice bowl, btw, it’s toadly unpaid, except when people click on an Amazon link) might be grandstanding/attention whoring… Maybe let it be a ZC exclusive, held in reserve.

  43. Sorry CK – I actually have been having a busy life and didn’t see this post until we are well past the discussion of it. If it is OK I would fashion a response and email you back. Your critique is more balanced than almost every one I have seen, which doesn’t really surprise me. I would try and see if JG could see it, because he has responded to some posted criticisms of the book in the past. I need to brush up on a few points that I think you have wrong and try and return your service.

  44. JEM – the discussion is as alive as we want it to be – zombie Tinkerbell style – and anyway the post ain’t so old. So please don’t hesitate to post your reply here, and thanks in advance for any help steering me out of error – especially before you alert the fearsome yet congenial JG! – or for any opposition that forces me or us to think harder or better about any point of interest. You’re also welcome to try your hand at authoring a response post, if you’re of a mind to.

  45. Wish I had to time to give this an extensive treatment, but just a couple of comments.

    One, it doesn’t make Goldberg’s thesis “extreme” that he has avowedly adopted a definition of fascism different from what the average American learned in school in the last half-century. He certainly doesn’t try to sneak his definition in on us. He’s very overt about what he means and why he means it. He makes an argument for his meaning. For Seth Halpern, I would strongly urge you to read the book yourself.

    A good reason not to see his treatment as “extreme” is that Goldberg bases his assessment of the aspirations of fascism, in the hands of Mussolini and Hitler, on the government programs adopted by their regimes, and on the political and academic arguments made for those programmatic ideas.

    He finds similarities, and in some cases identity of purpose, between the state fascists of Europe and the American radical Progressives of the period from TR to FDR. He also points out where the statist-collectivist principles of Euro fascism overlapped those of Soviet Russia.

    The big divide that puts Mussolini’s Fascists, Hitler’s Nazis, Soviet Communists, and American Progressives all on the same side is the divide between statism and limited-government-ism.

    No one on the limited government side denies that government is necessary, but the dividing concept is that of government as a prophylactic answer to abstract ills. The limited-government constitutionalist sees law as a measure that should have precise and limited meaning and operate by negation. It should, for example, punish a limited list of crimes, such as theft, assault, murder, and libel. He doesn’t see law, regulation, or taxation as a means of transforming anything or anyone for the better.

    Everyone else on the list above does see law and government in that light.

    What we have to remember, too, is that there is nothing new about this statist impulse. It has a much older pedigree than America’s peculiar limited-government constitutionalism. Kings and emperors were really big on controlling how their people lived, taxing some to distribute largesse to others, waging slander campaigns against nobles and businessmen who got too rich or strong and then confiscating their wealth, and supervising the proper propitiation by the people of however many gods there were thought to be.

    The impulse to regulate and tax one’s fellow man is one of the handful of our oldest ones. There is nothing even the slightest bit noble in wanting to coerce the people around you for their own good. Nor is there anything new or groundbreaking about it. The 19th and early 20th centuries just slapped a new, scientific-sounding label on enduring and destructive human impulses.

    The most radical thing ever proposed in politics has been constitutionally limited government. Everything else man has ever lived under has been a form of prophylactic statism. Of course statists of all stripes are more like each other than limited-government constitutionalists.

  46. @ J.E. Dyer:
    Since you say you lack for time, I’ll keep my response brief – also since I don’t want to leave yet another long loose end on a discussion about what the American experiment is – or about what it makes sense to try to say it is.

    If you’re trying to suggest that every form of government except for “limited government constitutionalism” qualifies as “fascist,” then you’re defining evil down. If not – if there’s something else that made fascism fascistic, then it may be a calumny to associate progressivism with fascism simply because both were ideologies at work in the 20th C that indulged in what you call “prophylactic” governance.

  47. @ CK MacLeod:

    As a modern day American, glad that the country remained united and glad that slavery was abruptly extinguished, I’m appreciative of Lincoln’s methods and results; but his armed prevention of secession by the states was clearly tyrannical. I’ve not studied what Ron Paul has to say about the matter.

  48. Never fear – those were approving if slightly appalled exclamation points. Consider also that today is (well still is on the West Coast) the anniversary of the bombardment of Fort Sumter.

  49. @ CK MacLeod:

    Tyrannical in the same sense that many actions of the Senate and People of Rome were tyrannical in the aftermath of what they perceived as actions inimical to or insulting to the dignity of Rome.

    Fort Sumter, which served as pretext for an unlimited war of aggression, bears a lot of resemblance to Caesar’s pretext for the conquest of Gaul, an action of which I also approve for its long term effects. Of course I tend to be an “end justifies the means” sort of fellow at base, so these things do not terribly bother me. I find it ironic though that so many people who proclaim that the end does not justify the means are so ready to excuse means that result in ends they favor.

    It’s hard to read the constitution and conclude that it was a one way door for the states.

  50. The die had already been cast by the 1860 election, with the combined vote of Breckenridge and Bell, which indicated their
    intention to secede. I don’r think Lincoln though it would be end
    up the way it did, it just escalated out of control from Sumter to Bull Run, et al. Seeing what happened after with Jim Crow, which was not put down, for 80 years, it’s hard to consider another alternative

  51. @ narciso:
    Not to mention the mess that Buchanan left. I think you’re completely right that Lincoln didn’t expect a cataclysm. As is common on the outset of major wars, both side were expecting a shorter conflict.

    Also this “aggressive war” thing is a bit much. It’s like accusing a police officer of assault for arresting a burglar in the act. I’m still assuming that Sully is being intentionally provocative in his language.

    You’ll have to supply me with a reference to the secession clause. I can’t find it. At the moment that a state or group of states dissolve the terms of union, and to the precise extent that they achieve separation, without any alternative arrangements in place, then there is no basis to govern relations – no moral assumption at all. Once you’ve broken the covenant that was in place before most of the Confederate states even existed, why would the Confederates have any more right to the land and its governance than anyone else? The North had possessions and sympathizers in the South left unprotected: Even and perhaps especially the slaves were equally the North’s moral responsibility – citizens in waiting whose right to what later generations would call self-determination was being flagrantly denied.

  52. Very much enjoyed this piece and the ensuing thread (Comment #2, from Joe is particularly interesting, its definition of fascism as spiritual more than materialistic one I agree with, more on that in a second.) Obviously, I’m a bit late to the party but as I tend to disregard timelines on the web, let me throw in my 2 cents. This is a comment I left under a comment on Amazon, in lieu of my own review which will have to wait until I finish the book in question (forgive the occasional references to the here-unseen review I’m responding to):

    It seems to me that the real purpose of Goldberg’s book is to trace an ideological genealogy, seeing progressivism and Marxism as two branches of the French Revolution, with fascism and modern liberalism as two branches of progressivism. This is muddied by the way Goldberg occasionally throws Marxism into the stew (we never really get a sense of how progressivism not just differed from, but was opposed to Marxism, whatever their overarching ideological home). Also, the way he simply and silently (hardly writing about it all) isolates modern conservatism from any connection to the warring ideologies of the “left” (a virtual catch-all in this book, since he manages to characterize almost all political views outside of laissez-faire libertarianism and pre-19th century traditionalism as “leftist”).

    And his selection of fascist attributes with which to tar various leftist “moments” is opportunistic – JFK was fascistic because of mythology and vigor, the 60s radicals were fascistic because of their dedication to “action” and the “street”, FDR was fascistic because of his corporatism and faith in the state as an organizing principle. But is fascism any of these qualities in isolation, or is the combination of all of them – or are these qualities merely icing on the cake, incidental to fascism proper? (As you note, Goldberg’s attempt to tie these qualities together as manifestations of a “religion of politics” is too broad to work.) As others have noted, one could play the same game with figures of the right, a phenomenon which caused a fuming Goldberg to write this book in the first place.

    One last note: it amuses me how often his arguments overlap with radical historians like Zinn (and as you note, the overlap is not just thematic, but stylistic). Shouldn’t this indicate to him that perhaps the actions and beliefs he’s describing, even if they were taken or held by leftists/liberals, are not necessarily left-wing in any fundamental way? But by determining that liberty is always a right-wing quality, and the longing for order (at least for a “new” order) a left-wing tendency, he stacks the deck. Any view a leftist/liberal holds – unless said view is libertarian, at which point its implications are ignored – is by definition leftist (so that the militarism and racism of Wilson must be seen as somehow essentially progressive). Then, by a sleight of hand, this form of definition is reversed, and if a supposed non-leftist holds any view deemed left-wing (say, rhetorical or political employment of socialism; or even something like anticlericism or vegetarianism) they are clearly “progressives” too.

    Sometimes Goldberg even manages to take a conventionally right-wing attribute, like militarism, apply it to two figures – Hitler and FDR, say – and then use it as evidence that Fascism is of the Left. This kind of reasoning is exhausting and unconvincing. Think of it in terms of A and B, in which “a” means conventionally liberal or left-wing, “b” conventionally conservative, libertarian, or right-wing. In Goldberg’s formula, AA, AB, and BA all = A, while only BB (the pure conservative) cannot be called leftist.

    A better book would have backed away from left/right dichotemies and focused on the legacy of 20th century progressivism as manifested in various forms, some of them totalitarian (maybe it even would have suggested that progressivism fundamentally trended towards totalitarianism from the beginning). Probably wouldn’t have been a bestseller, though…

  53. In light of Joe’s comments on fascism, here’s a quote from the German documentary The Architecture of Doom (narrated by Bruno Ganz, incidentally, who later played Hitler in Downfall and, rather more infamously, that ubiquitous You Tube meme):

    “Defining Nazism in traditional political terms is difficult, mainly because its dynamic was fueled by something quite different from what we usually call politics. This driving force was, to a great degree, esthetic; its ambition was to beautify the world through violence. From the first murders of mental patients to the mass-murders of Jews, there is no real political motive. It was not enemies who were liquidated, nor opponents of the regime, but innocent people whose very existence was in conflict with the Nazi dream.”

    Apparently some have taken issue with the film, but I find this reading a rather cogent one. I’m not sure of its overall bearing on larger discussions of fascism, but it does explain why Goldberg (erroneously, nonetheless, I think) locates Nazism on “the Left” alongside the “utopianism” of liberals, progressives, and other sundry non-Burkeans.

  54. MovieMan0283 wrote:

    to beautify the world through violence.

    Brilliant – ties into fascism’s mythopoetic primitivism/paganism – the fascists’ idea that they represented a more radical truth about human nature and the meaning of life on Earth than any of the Enlightenment rationalisms or even Judeo-Christian religion could. I disagree with the idea, though, that there was “no real political motive” – every seemingly pointless or even self-destructive murder served a political purpose, as a self-reinforcing, exemplary demonstration of power. “This is how ruthless we are, this is what we do to those of whom we do not approve – if this is what we do to the innocent, imagine how we would conduct ourselves towards the guilty.”

  55. @ CK MacLeod:
    This is true and points to one of the problems with defining fascism, Nazism in particular. It was different things to different people. To Hitler and many of his honchos, I think it was primarily aesthetic; to the extent it was political, it was politics as aesthetic. But there were certainly many functionaries and hangers-on to whom it was primarily a political movement. I think Goldberg stumbles all over himself in defining fascism throughout the book; at one moment he seems to dismiss the centrality of race but in the chapter on eugenics (which I’m just reading now) it becomes the crux of progressivism’s connection to fascism.

    So far, except for the chapters on Mussolini and Hitler (and to a certain extent, the ones on Wilson and FDR), the book really has little to do with fascism and is more about Goldberg grinding his anti-progressive/liberal axe (often with good reason, of course). This grows frustrating when you read dozens of pages in which fascism doesn’t really factor at all and then Jonah jumps back in, as if remembering what his book is called, to establish some tenuous or spurious connection to the supposed topic.

  56. @ MovieMan0283:
    It was a primitive or regressive, lowest common denominator transvaluation of values. As you likely are well aware, in pre-modern societies, no categorical separation between aesthetic, religious, political, and practical ideas and objects is asserted. There might be specialization and division of labor – shaman vs chieftain vs warrior, etc. – but acts and objects typically would be all of those things at once – warfare as ritual, ritual as artistic expression – rain dance as dance, religious ritual, quasi-political re-assertion of unity, and attempt to get some rain. Part of the post-structural critical project was an attempt to recover this unity by negating categorical separations – the telephone directory as text and art object and political document, that kind of thing – without succumbing to the fascist temptation.

    The confusion or incoherence of Goldberg’s analysis that you point to may result from his lack of interest in this discussion – which can be, to say the least, very difficult to integrate with a conventional political project, and which contemporary conservatives are more likely to identify (categorically separate) as aestheticist-nihilist-probably leftist intellectualism than as a tool. It’s a typical post-structuralist “lacuna,” a looming absence in his critique that also corresponds to his suppression of “what makes fascism fascistic” in his working definition.

  57. @ CK MacLeod:
    Ironically, though, I’ve noticed that Goldberg’s argumentation and emphasis often reflect radical (leftist) patterns. With a few cosmetic changes here and some elisions, his book could easily be taken as left-wing, rather than right-wing revisionism. (A critique of progressivism as an elitist movement, typically “Western” in its assumptions.) The chapter on Wilson alone reads like a direct lift from Zinn, spiced with a few asides “reminding” us that, of course, all these horrible things he was doing were very left-wing because, of course, Wilson was a left-winger.

    So if Goldberg is indeed consciously running from the likes of post-structuralism (and I’ll have to take your word for it, as my acquaintance with theory is touch and go at best) he seems to have run right into the arms of even hoarier “leftist” argumentation!

    It reminds me of an article musing why many movement conservatives, having broken from the left, embraced a mirror-image zealotry rather than a more nuanced, skeptical centrism/conservatism/liberalism. It overstated its case (it was in The New Republic, a publication which perhaps over-prides itself on its technocratic “reasonablity”), but I was amused and recognized the phenomenon. Perhaps another book is in the works somewhere – “Conservative Marxism”? ;)

  58. Well that was certainly true of Meyer, Burnham, Dos Passos, Chambers had a similar bout of negativism. I guess in the current day, Horowitz holds the same views. Lasky (sic) among others. What passes for conventional liberalism carries these memes along without much resistance

  59. Horowitz, if I recall, explicitly says as much in his memoir Radical Son: that he wanted to carry on the New Left/countercultural style on the right. I seem to recall some memoirs of College Republican types from the 80s saying the same (Dinesh d’Souza and also the dude who defected): that now they were in the position of the 60s leftists – being the rebels on campus due to an overweening PC atmosphere – and they were going to be just as bold and abrasive as the others had been.

    In a way, there’s something charming about this attitude, exploding as it does cliches about right-wing stuffiness (though I think those cliches are probably in tatters by now anyway). But, and speaking as someone who generally hews to the center so take it as you will, I find the approach often leads to something more than just superficial symmetry.

    I should note that the biggest exception to the “Goldberg-writes-like-a-radical” point I’ve been making is obviously his chapter on the New Left. That might be one reason it sticks out like a sore thumb; the rest of the book is a critique of institutional liberalism and while his notation of the stylistic correlations between the New Left and Fascism are duly noted (if hardly original), they do feel a bit off-topic when surrounded by chapters on FDR and LBJ.

    CK, I’ll write it if you keep supplying the booze…

  60. Also, it’s odd that Goldberg ends up being the one to tie the left to fascism – given that he himself has repeatedly expressed his discomfort with democracy vs. liberty (granted, the way he characterizes fascism in this book is not completely inconsistent with this preference, but one has trouble thinking of fascism as somehow pro-democracy). He also stated that the best, albeit impossible, system would be the “Good Czar” government (in which the leader was perfect and thus made the right decisions for everyone – but this argument sees liberty as a means to an end rather than an end in itself) and penned apologia for Pinochet. A book protesting the right’s disconnect from authoritarian antecedents would make more sense coming from an out-and-out neocon methinks (the type supporting the Iraq intervention for primarily humanitarian reasons) – though such a type would probably not attack Wilson with such gusto, given that in some regards Bush was our most Wilsonian president since, well, Wilson.

  61. Well the original Fascist Mussolini was a Socialist, the original Nazi, Anton Drexler and his proxies in the Esser Wing, was indeed a nationalizer among other elements. Pareto and Mosca, the former
    comes up in the Caldwell bio on Hayek, did not really have socialist
    roots, Mosley the British Fascist came out of Labor, as Strachey
    the British Labourite was from Mosley’s group, the last was admired
    by none other than Robert Bork in his early days. “When the center
    cannot hold, and many are filled with passionate intensity” as Yeats
    put it, such swings tend to happen. Closer to home, Tom Hayden
    came from a home of strong Coughlin supporters, although the difference is not such a stretch, if you think about it

  62. narciso, I definitely don’t dispute Goldberg’s contention that fascism has roots on the left, or that it came out of the same zeitgeist as progressivism and modern socialism (though whether said zeitgeist is inherently left-wing is another matter). And documenting said roots is definitely a worthy venture. Which is one reason why I found his book so frustrating: by over-simplifying his thesis and sacrificing historical investigation and thoughtful analysis to red-meat polemic, he bungled what could have been a fascinating enterprise (and in some regards, despite the constant frustration, still is).

    The question ultimately, I suppose, is whether or not a modernist, statist realization of old, traditionally conservative ethos (having to do with hierarchy, sublimation to authority, worship of the warrior, glorification of will and strength) is inherently left-wing. What’s more important, the means or the ends being sought? Of course, Goldberg would contend that the ends are not conservative in the modern sense, but this brings up one more question, I suppose: can “modern conservatism” (the largely absent figure Goldberg occasionally reminds us he’s protecting from the fascist taint) be defined primarily in its aversion to “big” totalistic ideas, particularly those stemming from the state (and if not, are compassionate conservatism and neoconservative interventionism the only exceptions?). Or are there other ideas at play, other values besides liberty and individuality being conserved? I would submit that if the left could be boiled down to one value it would be equality (although perhaps the modern left seems more keen on the concept of justice, or its own brand thereof), and with the right it would be order (small government and liberty being seen as better conduits of order than statism, by modern conservatives). Liberterians, in this sense, don’t really belong to either right or left (and, of course, no one person belongs to either side exclusively, at least not in most cases, but many will find themselves drawn more to one pole than the other).

    It’s a simplistic definition, of course, but I’m trying to see some sort of consistency in the hodgepodge of contemporary ideologies, which may be in vain.

  63. One interesting claim in Goldberg’s book is that “the single best predictor of whether a college student would become a campus radical was the ideology of his or her own parents. Left-leaning parents produced left-leaning children who grew up to be radical revolutionaries.” This seems to contradict most of what I’ve read about the big figures of the New Left – particularly the extreme radicals, like the Weather Underground whose leadership came almost entirely from bankers, apolitical types, and military families (Ayer’s brother was in Vietnam, and Rudd – whose importance in the WUO Goldberg vastly overstates, alongside many other misrepresentations of the 60s left, in this chapter – had a father who I believe was an officer). He claims this is proved by “numerous studies” but unfortunately there’s no footnote; I’d like to hear more. How is he defining “left-leaning” parents? Card-carrying members of the Old Left? Or is he conflating fellow travelers with traditional anticommunist Democrats? If the latter, that makes some sense; it’s not surprising that children of Goldwater Republicans produced less leftist activists than FDR/JFK Democrats (who were at this period in history in the vast majority), but this doesn’t seem to be what Goldberg is suggesting.

    A minor point, but one that struck me because I’m fascinated by the 60s and have read a good deal on the subject. As a result, I tended to notice Goldberg’s more egregious misrepresentations and illogic on this count – though, ironically, his overall connections between the left and fascism (superficial as they may be) are firmest here in my eyes.

  64. No, liberalism’s key element is change for change’s sake, often inequality is involved, a desire to up end traditional institutions
    because they don’t fit whatever preconceptions one has of them. They are more likely to use state power, often at an administrative
    not a legislative level, and is much more wide ranging in scope

  65. Final note, in interest of fair play to Mr. Goldberg. He certainly digs up some damning quotes. Just read this, from Nicholas Von Hoffman:

    “At their demonstration, the anti-abortionists parade around with pictures of dead and dismembered fetuses. The pro-abortionists should meet these displays with some of their own: pictures of the victims of the unaborted – murder victims, rape victims, mutilation victims – pictures to remind us that the fight for abortion is but part of the larger struggle for safe homes and safe streets.”

    Put aside the question of whether or not a first-trimester embryo is a human being. Von Hoffman is still equating unwanted children – of whom there are plenty of “born” examples – with rapists and murderers. This is appalling logic, and elitist to its core. The best thing Goldberg does in this book, a project which is hampered by his overambition to tie every aspect of liberalism & the left to fascism, is isolate a strand of utilitarian anti-humanism that exists in many elements of the left and needs to be condemned.

  66. @ MovieMan0283:
    Consistency? None available I’m afraid, not when popular self-styled educator of hard righties Doctor Zero inveighs in purple hues against the “ruling class” and feels no compunction about asserting that the left is defined by “hatred of the people.” He’s just a more verbose and literary expression of the contradictions that would perplex the Tea Partiers and their pseudo-anti-progressive leadership if same were sensitive to contradictions. We are upside down in bizarro world, one or a few universes over from the one in which Doctor Manhattan fled the Earth after one last kind, mass murderous gesture. (BTW, is WATCHMEN on your list of great 21st C films, or going to be? (Checked out your site a bit, going to blogroll it, both here and at the blog I run for my movie memorabilia business.))

    I take the position that we’re all on “the left” – republicans to the left, royalists to the right – 200+ years after the categories were asserted. We all, contrary to Doctor Manhattan I mean Zero, are in love with the people, justice, and one or another species of equality. The modern American right is in that sense a relative right, while the Euro-right is more an absolute right: The fascists were royalist zombies, summoned from the bloody Earth by alchemical necromancy. As for their socialist roots, you can come to revolutionary socialism by will or by idea – by rebellious mood, aesthetics, and emotion; by dialectical materialist etc. etc.; or, sometimes, usually in college, both. Socialism – or more broadly speaking “the left” – was just the most popular revolutionary ideology on offer. That many fascists wore red before they adopted the more ornate costumes of later years mainly reflects the fact that red was in fashion in their youths.

    I think Musso was more than 50% attracted by the will, and the style, and experienced little difficulty substituting Marinetti for Marx to divert and distract his verbal centers. Hitler, on the other hand, was rather more than a little psycho-pathological – discursive abstractions couldn’t come close to supplying adequate narcissistic resources to him. The Enlightenment had never provided the Imperial Way Japanese with much more than outerwear. In some ways they came by their brand of fascism much more honestly and authentically.

    As I never tire of repeating, American conservatism conserves the fruits of a progressive revolution, and those fruits go rotten if not eaten and picked again, and again, as the revolutionaries themselves, TJ most famously, sought to remind us.

  67. Then again, Nat Hentoff (the pro-life lefist) think that Von Hoffman’s quote may have been at least partially satirical (though it’s hard to say of what, exactly). Goldberg’s pull-quoting doesn’t quite capture the tone of Von Hoffman’s piece, which appears to be arch, maybe even Swiftian (Hentoff’s comparison) and hardly sincere. So maybe strike what I just said…

  68. Van Hoffman, has long since gone of the bandwagon, last time I checked he was at Huff Po, Sullivan in his sane days used to snark
    on his unrelenting pessimism.at the outset of the War on Terror.

    Watchmen was wretched and not even Malin Akerman and Carla Gugino could really save it, which is a tall order. It was grim even by the standards of the source material. The idea of the Pharaonic Nixon, kept in power by the untimely demise of Woodward and Bernstein, among others, is the ultimate bete noire.

    The Tories are somewhat more classically liberal, than most of their continental cousins, The Tory part of Cameron’s cabinet have turned
    out pretty good so far.

  69. A fair point, though by some readings (not quite Goldberg’s, to give credit where due) royalists are on the left too…

    Thanks for the blogroll; the 21st century series follows a list from the website They Shoot Pictures Don’t They? which I don’t think includes Watchmen (though if it did, Watchmen would be eligible since I’m only reviewing the films I haven’t seen yet, and that’s one of them).

  70. I made allowances CK, but it’s just too grim, kind of reminded me of the last film I wanted to walk out on, “Strange Days”it’s better than V for Vendetta, though

  71. @ CK MacLeod:

    Since you’ve reawakened this thread I feel the need to respond to something that has been nagging at me.

    You wrote:

    You’ll have to supply me with a reference to the secession clause. I can’t find it.

    That’s because, absent a specific power of the Feral Gummint to enforce union or a specific prohibition against a state seceding, the following applies – “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

  72. @ Sully:
    Those powers are reserved to the states by the same contract, and the union it memorializes and enacts, that secession attempts to negate. Without the Constitution, we either revert to the state of nature and correlation of brute forces, or, as I would prefer, to overriding moral issues, such as those described.

  73. @ CK MacLeod:

    So all contiguous countries (states) that are not united under a constitution have been at all places and all times in a constant state of nature (war) where the correlation of brute force has ruled?

    As I said way back, I’m personally glad Lincoln acted dictatorially and I think he acted rightly; but let’s not try to clothe his action in legality.

  74. Sully wrote:

    So all contiguous countries (states) that are not united under a constitution have been at all places and all times in a constant state of nature (war) where the correlation of brute force has ruled?

    Except where they choose to be bound by treaty or agreement, pretty much, and often even then.

    As I said way back, I’m personally glad Lincoln acted dictatorially and I think he acted rightly; but let’s not try to clothe his action in legality.

    Then you’re fine, and Lincoln’s legally naked, since there would be nothing but moral right or material advantage in which to clothe him, as there could be no illegality to refer to either.

4 Pings/Trackbacks for "On re-reading Liberal Fascism: Defining Evil Down"
  1. […] cause Jonah Goldberg remains a stalwart ally, if a somewhat more restrained one – he merely calls Wilson a fascist.  Other well-known anti-Wilson conservatives include George Will and the American Conservative […]

  2. […] cause Jonah Goldberg remains a stalwart ally, if a somewhat more restrained one – he merely calls Wilson a fascist.  Other well-known anti-Wilson conservatives include George Will and the American Conservative […]

  3. […] under the sign of self-ignorance – again the blinded deliverer.  It is indicative that the critique of fascism popular among contemporary conservatives, which seeks to define fascism as a phenomenon of the left, institutes a parallel […]

  4. […] I’ve been very critical of Liberal Fascism, and my disagreements with Goldberg even led to a brief public debate between us, but, as much as […]

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