Steve Horwitz generously throws his two cents in:
I think you’re spot on with this one, at least in the way that all of a sudden it appears as though many of my libertarian colleagues are implicitly admitting your book was of more value than they earlier said, even as they refuse to just come out and say it.
Let me offer a reason why so many libertarians were so hesitant, and it’s also reflected in my review of the book in The Independent Review: it was hard for libertarians to swallow whole a book that devoted over 90% of its fire on liberals/Democrats with really only the afterword noting that the Bush Administration (and, I would argue, other Republicans/conservatives) could be seen through the same lens, albeit with some different shadings. Put differently, because LF had it sights mostly on the left, libertarians were not about to endorse it completely lest we imply that we shared that sense that the fascist temptation was nearly totally a left-wing phenomenon. Which most of us don’t.
If libertarians have drifted left (or at least drifted away from the right) over the last decade, it’s because the right has unfurled its fascist flag quite a bit more under Bush, as the afterword admits to some degree. From our perspective, our drift to the left shows that we agree with your argument but just think it applies more broadly than you do!
It’s fair of you to raise the charge of “oh, so NOW you’re implicitly admitting I was right,” but if my explanation is correct, I also think a fair response from libertarians is “we didn’t deny you were right, just that you were incomplete, which is why we didn’t praise the book to the heavens.”
All that said, it’s time for all of us who fear that this may be fascism in vitro/utero to name it for what it is and be unafraid to defend our use of that word.
Me: I think this is a fair criticism, but it’s not one I didn’t anticipate, though I may not have anticipated it sufficiently or to many libertarians’ satisfaction. But look at it from my perspective. The central theme of my book is that fascism is a phenomenon of the left, which runs entirely counter to the mainstream received wisdom of the last 60 or so years. And so that is what I tried to demonstrate. Trying to give equal time to “both sides” would not only contradict my thesis, but would amount to something I don’t believe.
Now, to the extent Republicans (let’s leave conservatives out of it for the moment), are fascistic (in the liberal fascism sense) it is because they try to be me-too Republicans, emulating progressives and embracing progressive assumptions. This was the main point of my afterword about Bush — to concede that his compassionate conservatism and McCainism alike were really forms of rightwing progressivism.
As for conservatives, I think many libertarians look at conservatism’s “Romantic” attachments, it’s faith, it’s belief in tradition and see echoes of fascistic “blood and soil” politics. Sometimes I think they’re right. But most of the time I don’t. Mainstream American conservatives are patriotic far more than they are nationalistic. To the extent they are nationalistic, I don’t think that nationalism amounts to fascism. A little nationalism is a good thing, in my book (literally!). A healthy attachment to place and to culture is a necessary precondition for preserving liberty. Americans defend freedom because they think that is the American way. I for one think it would be dangerous to lose that sense in riot of liberal or libertarian cosmopolitanism. Moreover, I think mine is a perfectly Hayekian position. Of course, where you draw the lines between benign nationalism and dangerous nationalism is a worthwhile debate. But there is a line in there somewhere.
(Indeed, one could argue — but I’m not! — that the common (though not universal) libertarian desire to throw off the past and start over has more in common with fascistic animating passions than conservatism’s fondness for what Chesterton called “democracy for the dead.”)
Of course, many libertarians look at Bush’s foreign policy and the like and see fascism. On that score, I think we just have a difference of opinion. Bush’s policies may have amounted to militarism, beligerance or some other form of folly, at least by libertarian standards. But I think the effort to make military “aggression” the defining feature of fascism confuses more than it clarifies. But that’s both a reasonable disagreement and a separate issue.
So, yes, to make a long story short, I may have lost some libertarians because I wasn’t anti-Bush enough for them. But I think I was as anti-Bush as I needed to be, given the book I set out to write.