Liberal Fascism


This is a meaty subject so I’m going to split it up over several posts. First a thoughtful letter:

Dear Jonah Goldberg,

You have identified Italian fascism as being “socialist” and “leftist” in its origins and also identify fascism as being “anti-traditional Christianity.” Now, clearly Mussolini came out of socialist parties, and was not very friendly to the Church, although he did negotiate the Concordat and allowed the Church much greater freedom of action in Italy than was the case in the USSR. And, of course there were fascist governments that were very friendly to the Church, e.g. Franco’s Spain and others.

My question involves the core economic ideological concept of fascism and its origins, namely corporatism. Is it not the case that the origin of this concept came from the Roman Catholic Church in the late nineteenth century and that most observers would identify the Church at that time as being on the “political Right”?

I also confess to having a problem with the very term “liberal fascism,” although Wells used it. After all, “libertarian communism” was being used at the same time. You, with good reason, identify fascism with totalitarian statism, which I believe for all historically fascist parties also included opposition to democracy. I can appreciate that if one is being careful one could modify it with the adjective “liberal” or “nice,” as you have done in some interviews. However, many readers see you not as discussing a particular interpretation, but rather as showing that “liberals are fascists,” which is not at all a defensible proposition as such, given the core element of being anti-democratic in “fascism” without modifiers. That this interpretation is being spread widely is shown by the fact that someone as usually careful and thoughtful as Arnold Kling put up a post on econlog entitled: “Richard T. Ely: Founding Fascist,” which also labeled Nicholas Stern as a “fascist,” no “liberal,” no “nice,” just plain “fascists.”

I will note that I have had a somewhat similar experience in that I am the author with Marina V. Rosser of one of the most widely used textbooks in comparative economic systems, Comparative Economics in a Transforming World Economy, 2nd edn. 2004, MIT Press (first edn. 1996, Irwin). In our book we have a chapter on the Swedish economy in which, following a considerable literature, we labeled the nationwide labor-management wage bargaining of Sweden that was in place from 1938-1986 as being an example of “liberal corporatism,” which, following the literature, we distinguished from “authoritarian corporatism,” which we identified as being that occurring in the non-democratic, fascist (and Nazi) states.

We sent a draft of the chapter to a former professor of mine, the late Jack Barbash, who had published a number of papers on the Swedish labor-management system. He was very upset at our use of the term “corporatism” in this context because of its close association with fascism. However, we kept the terminology, given its previous scholarly usage and with the appropriate distinctions and caveats.

I would say that you are perfectly correct that many on the “left” or Anglo-American “liberals” have been remiss in throwing around the term “fascism” at political opponents inappropriately. However, I fear that a result of your book will be just the opposite, many people carelessy and inappropriately accusing “liberals” of being “fascists,” without any modifiers, and will cite your book as the basis.

J. Barkley Rosser, Jr.

Professor of Economics and Kirby L. Cramer, Jr. Professor of Business Administration

Editor, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization

James Madison University

Me: I’m going to stay on corporatism for the moment, but we can return to the topic of the alleged use or abuse of my book later.


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