Liberal Fascism and The Libertarians


Tom Palmer, who not long ago said all sorts of unkind things about me and my book, is now proclaiming “Welcome to a Fascist….er, Managed Democracy?”

Meanwhile, my friend Will Wilkinson, who was intrigued but skeptical about my book if my memory serves, now says its clear we are seeing fascism in vitro.

And Arnold Kling who said my book was in fact written by three people — “Goldberg the revisionist historian, Goldberg the outraged conservative child, and Goldberg the troll” [I can't get a direct link but it's findable over at TCS] — is now, as noted below, flirting with the idea that fascism lurks in what we’re seeing.

I don’t really want to start anything here with these guys. But I would make two points. I will confess that I was disappointed by the general libertarian reaction to my book. In many ways it is, one of, if not the most successful libertarian-themed book in a very long time. But for reasons that have to do with some of my older writings, the lurch to the left among many libertarians during the Bush years and, no doubt, some serious disagreements as well, it received something of a cold shoulder from many libertarians. This was hardly universal. Ronald Bailey, Charles Murray, Vox Day, Ed Driscoll, Steve Horwitz, and one third of Arnold Kling were kind to the book. Nonetheless, on the whole, the reaction from libertarians was disappointing not because I fleshed out some novel argumet but the reverse: because Liberal Fascism broke so little new ideological ground for libertarians.

The idea that there’s something fascistic to progressivism is hardly my idea, or even a purely a conservative idea (Heck, there are a whole bunch of Marxists who think it’s their idea). Among the giants of the libertarian tradition, Albert Jay Nock saw it clearly. So did Murray Rothbard. Hayek at one stage or another would certainly have agreed with a vast amount of my book.

Secondly, and more to the point, when Will says that we are seeing a kind of fascism in vitro it implies, I think, that we’re seeing something new. But as many people have commented, what we’re seeing flows almost perfectly from everything I wrote in my book. I don’t necessarily disagree with the idea that the events we’re seeing amount to a kind of fascism — a Wellsian liberal fascism — in vitro as opposed to any kind of full-blown, mature classical fascism. We are not on the way to concentration camps and I’ve never said otherwise.

But where I think I disagree with Will is that the gestation period began long before Barack Obama was elected. Indeed, Obama’s invocation of the Progressives and FDR as his lodestars alone suggests that what we are seeing is not some de novo development.

And that so many people can see it now should serve as something of a vindication of my book. No not for everything in it. But for the philosophical orientation of it. I’ll get no such concession from my harshest critics, since most of them never really cared what the book said in the first place. Yet even for them, if pressed, they will at least have to explain why I am a fool for what I wrote when all of these reasonable folks are arguing in blog posts much the same thing in response to mere headlines of the day, while I fleshed out the same argument over hundreds of pages and in footnoted detail.

Meanwhile, I hope that what we’re seeing from libertarians in response to Obama’s corporatism suggests not only an opportunity to reconsider my book but, more importantly, an opportunity to reconsider libertarianism’s understandable but lamentable slide away from the right in recent years.


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