When I meet people who’ve read Liberal Fascism I’m often asked “How did you know Barack Obama was going to be president?” The answer, of course, is I didn’t. When I started the book, like pretty much everyone else, I had no idea who he was (this was back when Bill Clinton would have considered Obama a bag-carrier). By the time the book came out, Obama was running as a messianic redeemer who talked of politics as if it were a secular religion.
For those who don’t know, one of the core themes of the book, inspired by Eric Voegelin, is that contemporary liberalism serves as a “political religion” that recognizes no competing sources of political or moral legitimacy. To the extent an institution shows fealty and loyalty to liberalism, it is respected (So the Christian left is celebrated not because it is Christian but because it is left). But if an institution ventures outside of liberalism, it must be brought to heel. No “islands of separateness” — a phrase coined by Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski in their pathbreaking work on totalitarianism — can be tolerated. We’re all in it together. Everything within the state, nothing outside the state — was Mussolini’s most famous definition of Fascism. Indeed, Mussolini popularized the term “totalitarian” not as a negative term, but a positive one. Under totalitarian systems, no one is left behind, everyone belongs. This vision extended not just to culture and politics but to economics where cooperation and “coordination” (gleichschaltung in German) were deemed as the highest and wisest priorities.
The American progressives, lead by Herbert Croly, had their own version of these ideas. Croly wanted to merge the private and public spheres into a cooperative commonwealth. Every time you hear a politician wax giddy about the need for “public-private partnerships” where corporations “work with government” for electric this and wind powered that, Herbert Croly is smiling down at you. Rhetorically, and often tangibly, candidate Obama’s framing of politics fit neatly into the Crolyite-progressive vision of statism and state-driven corporatist economics (which is different from, but similar to, socialism).
Then as president, he pursued a kind of liberal syndicalism, at least with regard to the auto companies and unions and the healthcare industry (let’s get all the big players around a table to take the decisions away from voters, taxpayers, shareholders, the little guy, the forgotten man and do what the “experts” say we should). Obama routinely invokes the language of patriotism, militarism, religion, and nationalism to justify his economic ideas (See Kevin’s excellent post below for related thoughts). All of this was justified not in the language of elitism but of populism (and technocracy). We’re all in it together! If one American has a problem, Obama has said, we all have a problem. Which is, of course, absolute nonsense.
Anyway, I have no plan to update the book again (the paperback had some new material tied to his campaign) and besides most of these arguments were tackled more relevantly — and entertainingly, I think — in my new book the Tyranny of Cliches.
Still, it’s nice/creepy to see how Obama’s reelection campaign fits so perfectly within the wheelhouse of both books.
The “Life of Julia” thing alone was like an ad for Liberal Fascism. But then you get here to the convention and you see the messianic Obama schwag being sold like Christian tourist memorabilia around Jerusalem. I’m waiting for someone to try and sell me a piece of “the one true chair.” Then there’s the opening DNC video telling us that government is the one thing “we all belong to.” Really? We belong to the government? I though the people were sovereign and the government belonged to us? I guess it’s everyone inside the state, no one outside the state after all? That might also explain why the DNC made the simultaneously boneheaded and creepy decision to remove God from the platform but mentions Obama 141 times.