Liberal Fascism

Claremont Review On LF

The Spring CRB is finally out. For many of us, this is a joyous occasion in its own right (longtime readers know how much I revere it). But what makes this particularly exciting is that the review of you-know-what is out.  It’s not online yet, but here are some excerpts from Ronald J. Pestritto, a scholar of the Progressive era

     ….When modern liberals like Senator Clinton call themselves progressives, therefore, they are telling the truth, even if their audiences don’t fully understand the implications.

How gratifying it is then to have Jonah Goldberg’s new book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, to pursue these half-forgotten, if not exactly secret, implications. Although liberals throw around the term “fascist” to abuse conservatives (just as they do “racist”), Goldberg, the editor-at-large for National Review Online, persuasively shows that today’s progressives are fascism’s true descendents, embracing the statism at the heart of the 20th-century’s most notorious outlaw regimes. What’s more, for all the past century’s liberal hand-wringing over the supposedly impending right-wing takeover of America, Goldberg maintains that the country has already suffered a quasi-dictator or two, but historians have looked the other way because these strongmen—Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt—are certified heroes of the Left.

    No wonder that liberals often have such a blinkered interest in their own intellectual heritage. Reviewing this book, for example, Michael Mann in the Washington Post, Michael Tomasky in the New Republic, and David Neiwert in the American Prospect so badly confuse classical liberalism and modern liberalism (by equating them!) that they can make little sense of Goldberg’s account, dismissing it as “Bizarro history,” “ignorant nonsense,” and an attempt to shock readers and sell books. Neiwert even writes, missing the irony, that it is “the consensus of historical understanding that anti-intellectualism is an essential trait of fascism.”

    But Goldberg’s charge is no mere exercise in name-calling. He takes his title from H.G. Wells, the eminent liberal essayist and science fiction writer who coined the term “liberal fascism,” or as he also called it, “enlightened Nazism.” It was common at the time for progressive intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic to see Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler as kindred reforming spirits, struggling to find a third way forward between the extremes of capitalist individualism and Communist collectivism. Mann believes this connection merely proves that “fascism contained elements that were in the mainstream of 20th-century politics,” as much for Democrats and Republicans at home as for fascists and social democrats abroad. But Goldberg is getting at something deeper: he is trying to trace the quiet revolution that took place throughout modern thought when politicians of all stripes, led by the Progressives, were wooed by the power of a limitless State. To his credit, he stresses right from the start that he is not accusing American progressives, past or present, of being the kind of moral monsters associated with European fascism. Still, at some level the family resemblance asserts itself. As Goldberg aptly puts it, Progressivism “may have replaced the fist with the hug, but an unwanted embrace from which you cannot escape is just a nicer form of tyranny.” (Hence the book’s stark cover featuring a smiley face with the Hitler mustache.)….


After all, if fascism and modern liberalism are joined together by all-powerful government as the potential solution to every human problem, aren’t there many self-styled conservatives who might fall under the same indictment? Far from thinking “fascism is strictly a Democratic disease,” as David Oshinsky charged in his review for the New York Times, Goldberg tackles this question head-on in a superb Afterword in which he criticizes right-wing American statism as “me-too conservatism,” identifying it squarely with the Progressive movement. For example, he describes George W. Bush as “strongly sympathetic to progressive-style intrusions into civil society” and spies the “ghost of the Social Gospel” in his big-government conservatism. Goldberg bolsters his case with some choice quotations from former Bush advisor Michael Gerson, an architect of “compassionate conservatism” and as his own recent book, Heroic Conservatism, makes plain, no fan of limited, constitutional government. Goldberg’s Afterword is so good, in fact, that one hopes for a book on the problem of conservative statism from this excellent writer. In order to defeat liberal fascism, American conservatives will need to awaken their own ranks from the progressive spell. With his new book, Jonah Goldberg has renewed for them, and for all friends of constitutional government, a vital argument for the political battles ahead. 

Me: He has some worthwhile criticisms as well, but we can deal with those when the piece is online.