Liberal Fascism

Closing Time

Well, it was a nice run. But I think it’s time to turn out the lights on the Liberal Fascism blog. Alas, turning out the lights on liberal fascism might take a bit longer.

As only the most loyal readers may have noticed, I haven’t been updating the blog much this summer. I fell out of the habit while I was on the NR Cruise and never got back into it. One reason for that might be that if you wanted to read about the themes of my book, all you had to do was open a newspaper.

Let’s see. Off the top of my head, in the first six months of Obama’s presidency we’ve seen corporatism  and “state capitalism”   run amok, in the government takeover of two car companies and numerous banks. Labor unions have become increasingly indistinguishable from the government and the party that controls it. Herbert Croly  and the Progressives have once again been rehabilitated as founding fathers of the New Age. The entire liberal intellectual class is convinced that this the time for a new New Deal. Critics of statism are vilified by liberal elites as racists and fascists. (And those who refuse to get with the Gorian program are guilty of “treason against the planet“). When out of power, liberals lionized free speech and celebrated dissent as the highest form of patriotism. Now, they label dissent “un-American” and the president insists he doesn’t want to hear a lot of talking from anyone who disagrees with him. While the stench of eugenics and euthanasia do not quite sting the nostrils yet, the odor is detectable and the  liberal impulse for controlling the lives of others has been re-exposed.

Indeed, our own messianic president, who insists that we can create a Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, also apparently believes that “we are God’s partners in matters of life and death” and that religious organizations that are true to their calling should rally behind a united front to expand the scope and role of government.  When the head of state says such things, it is hard not to be reminded of the Progressive concept of the God State, a major theme of Liberal Fascism. The “State is the actually existing,  realized moral life . . . The divine idea as it exists on earth,” Hegel declared in The Philosophy of History. The State, according to Hegel, was the “march of God on earth.” The progressives agreed.  Richard Ely, the founding father of progressive economics, proclaimed “God works through the State in carrying out His purposes more universally than through any other institution.”

It’s revealing, to me at least, that I wrote the book with Hillary Clinton as the stand-in for the fascistic ideas lurking inside contemporary liberalism. Here’s how I put it in the new afterword for the paperback edition:

….And then something funny happened. A self-proclaimed “transformative”  leader formed a self-declared “movement,” powered in large measure by a sense of historical destiny (“This is the moment!”),  yearning for national restoration (“We will make this nation great!”),  demanding national unity at all costs, and glorifying itself for its own youthful energy. At times his most conspicuous followers were blindly devoted to a cult of personality with deeply racial undertones and often explicit appeals to messianic fervor. This new leader of men—who earned his credibility from his work as a street organizer  and disciple of Saul Alinsky—vowed to restore the promise of American life in a vast new collaborative effort between business,  government, churches, and labor. His platform included mandatory youth service, a new civilian security force, and spreading the wealth around.

In short, Hillary Clinton, the indicted co-conspirator of this book’s original subtitle (“The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning”), was defeated by Barack Obama precisely because he was better able than any of his opponents to personify many of the themes discussed in this book.

Needless to say, I could go on. And I will, mostly over at the Corner. I haven’t given up my argument. I just don’t think the argument is best served by this stand-alone blog, particularly since NR has techno-changes coming down the pike. The blog will continue to exist in the archives and if you bookmark it now, you can revisit it and poke around as much and for as long as you like.

Summing Up

The book’s success in every respect was more than I could have hoped. Long time followers of this project will recall that the book was attacked years before it even came out. The dismaying thing is that most of the attacks on the book from the left weren’t all that much more impressive or substantial even after the attackers had the opportunity to read it (many of whom did not avail themselves of that opportunity). In case you missed it in the print edition of National Review, I did write a brief response to some of the critics who did read the book. It will be familiar to many who’ve seen me talk about the book or who paid close attention to this blog. Regardless, I’ve pulled it from behind the firewall for those interested.

Also, in the current issue of NR I have a short item on the recent spate of “Obama as Hitler” epithets being thrown around by a few people on the Right (and a lot of idiot Larouchies). A link is unavailable but here’s the relevant passage:

The simple truth is that I do not think it is in the cards for America to go down a Nazi path. I never said otherwise in Liberal Fascism, either….

….Indeed, while I don’t think it is remotely right or fair to call Obama Enhanced Coverage Linking Obama a crypto-Nazi (if by that you mean to say he’s a would-be Hitler), the real problem with all of this loose Nazi talk is that it slanders the American people. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen may have overstated his case in Hitler’s Willing Executioners, but he was certainly right that the German people were Hitler’s willing enablers. The overwhelming majority of the American people — in their history, culture, bones, hearts, souls, DNA, and carbon molecules — are not like that. That goes for American liberals and leftists too. The extent and depth of liberalism’s obtuseness on the subject of fascism (and much else) stews my bowels, but American liberals are still Americans, and Americans will not goose-step behind a Hitler, period.

As I make clear in Liberal Fascism, the obvious and pressing threat is not from a Hitlerite-Orwellian dictatorship but from a Huxleyan namby-pamby mommy state. That sort of system could seduce Americans into becoming chestless subjects of the State in exchange for bottomless self-gratification and liberation from the necessity of adult decision-making. Yes, there’s a danger that such a society could then be susceptible to some darker vision that lionizes the lost manhood of a half-forgotten past. But, by that point, this would be America in name only, if even that (“U.N. District 12″ has a nice ring to it).

I should note that I am not quite agreeing with David Frum’s recent broadside against conservatives who find relevance in fascism and Nazism.  David writes “can we get a grip here” and I certainly agree that if people think Obama will become a Hitler, or even a Mussolini, they need to do some more thinking. But I think this bit from David is a sort of sleight-of-hand I’ve encountered many times before. He writes:

Contra Rush Limbaugh, history’s actual fascists were not primarily known for their anti-smoking policies or generous social welfare programs. Fascism celebrated violence, anti-rationalism and hysterical devotion to an authoritarian leader.  

That’s all true, but misses an important point. What the fascists were or are primarily known for is not necessarily dispositive to the question of what they actually were. Speaking for myself, the relevance of the generous social welfare programs and anti-smoking programs is to point out that the Nazis weren’t exactly what we’ve been told they were. Sure, they were violent and hysterically devoted to an authoritarian leader, but they were also more than that and their popularity with the German people cannot be easily chalked up to those features either.

The Nazis did not rise to power on the promise of bringing war and violence. They just didn’t. They rose to power by promising national restoration, peace, pride, dignity, unity and generous social welfare programs among other things including, of course, scapegoating Jews. People forget how Hitler successfully fashioned himself a champion of peace for quite a while. Limbaugh’s counter-attack on liberals, specifically Pelosi, is exactly that, a counter-attack. He was saying that if liberals are going to call conservatives Nazis for opposing nationalized healthcare maybe they should at least account for the fact that Nazis agreed with them on the issue, not conservatives. If liberals want to have a fight over who is closer to fascism, I see no reason why conservatives should cower from that argument, particularly since the facts are on our side. But I reject entirely the idea that liberals today are literally Nazi-like, particularly if we are going to define Nazism by what “they were known for.” Liberals don’t want to invade Poland or round up Jews. As I’ve said many times, one naive hope I had for my book was that it would remove the word “fascist” from popular discourse, not expand its franchise. Alas, on that score the book is a complete failure.

The Scoreboard

But by other measures, it’s done far better than I hoped. When the book came out, its critics assured the faithful that it didn’t matter, wasn’t important and would be an embarrassment. That is still the party line for many, but the party line is increasingly disconnected from reality. The book has been translated into numerous languages, the latest being Romanian. Reviews keep coming out on blogs  and in scholarly journals. The Independent Review’s  critique was only recently put online [PDF ] and I’m told that the journal Interpretation has a review in the latest issue. I’ve spoken to college and graduate seminars and the book or chapters from it have been included on numerous syllabi. I’m still receiving invitations to speak at college campuses about the book. Predictions  that it wouldn’t sell as well major liberal books have proven unfounded. In both the US and UK it went into numerous printings. Aside from reaching #1 on the NYT and Amazon bestseller lists and being named the #1 history book by Amazon readers for 2008, it has sold (according to Bookscan) more than 135,000 copies in hardcover and, so far, over 35,000 in paperback. The paperback continues to sell at a rate of over 1,000 per week two months after its release.  (FWIW,  bookscan allegedly only captures about 70% of sales). It’s no Tom Clancy novel, but as far as intellectual histories go, that ain’t too shabby. I don’t know if it’s one of the most important books of the last quarter century,  but I am confident it will have a lasting impact and my thesis will gain respect, even if I don’t always get credit.

My thanks to everyone at NR, Random House, and most of all to my editor Adam Bellow for their support and help.

But, lastly, let me say how grateful I am to all of you who’ve supported the book, touted the book, used it in book clubs and sent it to relatives. Your encouragement has meant more than I can convey. Please keep sending me tidbits, insights and links to stories of the day that relate to Liberal Fascism (and if you have a time machine, please go back and send me some of that stuff when I was still working on the book!). Thanks so much for defending me and LF in the comments sections at blogs and elsewhere. Such efforts are not only appreciated but vital for the book’s long term success.

Oh, wait, sorry. If you made it this far I should let you know that I’m going to be starting an email newsletter in the Fall, at the Suits’ insistence. Expect book updates and arguments to appear there from time to time.  Be on the lookout for announcements in September.

So that’s it. Thanks so much for everything and look for me in the Corner where the conversation will continue, amidst all the other conversations.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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