Liberal Fascism

Tomasky, Old News & Statism

From a reader:

Hi Jonah,

Here’s Tomasky’s point:

“Goldberg clearly means to shock us with these truffles that he has

dug out of the woeful soil of the twentieth century. But very little

of the story he tells is news to students of history.”

So, he’s not talking about all liberals at all – he’s talking about

people who have studied history. I don’t see how’s he inconsistent on

this point.

I have enjoyed your book (I don’t think it’s poorly written) and your

blog but perhaps you can respond to some of Tomasky’s wider criticisms

about applying “fascist” to anything remotely statist…? For

example, I came across this quote the other day and thought about LF:

“Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great

primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the

higher natures, connective the visible and invisible world, according

to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all

pysical and moral natures, each in their appointed place.” (Burke,

“Reflections” (OUP 97)

Now, is Burke a fascist?

Me: I’ll reread Tomasky when I can, but it sounds like this reader makes a fair point. But, there’s a bigger problem with Tomasky’s dismissal. These things may not be news to students of history — as defined by Tomasky — but they are most certainly news to most people. It should tell you something that the keepers of history Tomasky is speaking of don’t share this information with their readers, students and the like — and when they do, the tendency is to fob off the excesses on conservatives and the right. Tomasky insinuates that since the gatekeepers already know this stuff and have made peace with it, there’s no need to talk about, at least not in politically inconvenient ways. The point of my book is that there is a need to talk about it because so much of what liberal “students of history” say about their own past is simply untrue or woefully incomplete.

The reaction from so many liberals to William F. Buckley’s death is a good case in point. How many of them insist that even though Buckley recanted his earlier views on race that these views are all important and eternal when it comes to assessing the man? But the fact that the founding fathers of Progressivism and modern liberalism were chock-a-block with imperialists, racists, eugenicists, fascist-sympathizers and crypto-fascists is not only completely irrelevant but tediously old news? Am I alone in seeing a disconnect here?

As for the criticism that I equate statism with fascism, I owe a longer response to this question as it comes up so often. But a short answer is no, I don’t think statism is synonymous with fascist. But, I think it would be a great corrective if more people understood that fascism is a species of statism and Anglo-American conservatism (which is defined largely by its anti-statism) is therefore decidedly un-fascistic. Remembers liberals insist — including many of these “students of history” — that the closer you get to free market economics the closer you get to fascism. It would be helpful if more people grasped that the truth is the reverse: the closer you get to progressive statism, the closer you are to fascism.

I do not believe that that every state intervention is “fascist” — certainly not if by “fascist” you mean evil. I’m for clean water, good roads, safe streets, sound money, honest courts and all that stuff. That doesn’t make me a fascist. A big part of what — in my mind — determines whether a state intervention is fascistic in some way is how it is conceived and sold. Is it sold as a sweeping solution to a permanent problem of the human condition? Is it pitched as the first step to such a solution? Are those doing the selling the sorts of people who believe such solutions are possible? If so, then yeah I think we should be on guard for fascism.

Burke was in no way a fascist because he understood better than almost anyone of his era that beneficial reform can only be gradual, even when beneficial it must come with trade-offs, and that there is no cure for the ailments of the human condition. His belief in tradition was grounded in a faith that human knowledge is gradual, cumulative and, perhaps most of all, fragile. The “sophisters and calculators” who sought to erase tradition in a riot of will and rationalism were inviting nothing but thunder and doom. So no, Burke was no fascist. And nor are his heirs.

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