Liberal Fascism

Re: Fascism in Vitro

From a reader:

Marvelously put! There is nothing “in vitro” about it. Liberal Fascism in America is a mature movement, now a century old. The astounding thing is that so many obviously bright folk can so egregiously deceive themselves about it. How many times must LF regimes accede to power in the United States before these intellectuals can admit to themselves the fact of it? Perhaps Will Wilkinson should read Paul Rahe’s new book, along with rereading your Liberal Fascism in the paperback edition:

Our new masters have it in their power to deepen the economic crisis and worsen our distress in the manner of Hoover and the younger Roosevelt. By instituting a second New Deal, as they would very much like to do—by sharply raising taxes on fossil fuels, dividends, and capital gains; by targeting the earnings of the well-to-do; by pursuing protectionism, expanding the regime of programmatic rights, and forcing workers into labor unions—they can discourage investment, curb entrepreneurship, reduce foreign trade, and decisively slow economic growth, or even bring it to a lasting halt, while offering to those consigned to the dole thereby a dependence upon generosity of an all-encompassing state. Just how ruthless they will prove to be on this occasion, just how far they intend to hustle us down the path we tread, remains as yet undetermined.

The only thing that is crystal clear is the direction of our drift and the nature of the threat we face. Walter Lippmann’s warning is as apt today as it was in 1937—for “the premises of authoritarian collectivism” are once again, as they were then, “the working beliefs, the self-evident assumptions, the unquestioned axioms” behind “nearly every effort which lays claim to being enlightened, humane, and progressive,” and hardly anyone today “is taken seriously as a statesman or a theorist who does not come forward with proposals to magnify the power of public officials and to extend and multiply their intervention in human affairs.” Like the younger Roosevelt, our new leader poses as a secular Messiah; his minions believe, as did the progressives of an earlier time, that there has recently come into the world “some new element which makes it necessary for us to under the work of emancipation” achieved by our forebears and “to retrace the steps men have taken to limit the power of rulers”; and in the ranks of our compatriots they will find many prepared to sacrifice self-reliance and personal independence for a promise of security no government can keep. The hour is, indeed, late.

To those caught up in the maelstrom, recent developments may well seem dramatic, but, in truth, they serve merely to highlight the plight that we have been in for more than three quarters of a century. In consequence of our abandonment of our religious and moral heritage, of our rejection of the spirit of individual responsibility and the principles of limited government, over our own people today, as over the French, there “is elevated an immense, tutelary power,” whose aim it to take “sole charge of assuring their enjoyment and of watching over their fate.” In America, as in France and in Europe generally, this power is “absolute, attentive to detail, regular, provident, and gentle.” It works willingly for our “happiness,” but exacts a price, for “it wishes to be the only agent and the sole arbiter of that happiness.” It provides for our security, it foresees and supplies our needs, it guides us in our principal affairs, it directs our industry, it regulates our testaments, it divides our inheritances, and it covers the “surface” of our society “with a network of petty regulations—complicated, minute, and uniform.” Generally, it is gentle; almost never is it harsh. “It does not break wills; it softens them, bends them, and directs them.” Only on the rarest occasions “does it force one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting on one’s own; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it gets its way; it curtails, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies.” And, step by step, relentlessly, with every passing day, as we gradually succumb to the spirit of irresponsibility and self-indulgence, this power grows in influence and scope, making us more and more like “a herd of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd” (II.iv.6, pp. 265—66). [Paul A. Rahe, Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), pp. 269-270]

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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