From a reader:
Mr. G.: I still have not gotten your book in Toronto, but have “read around it” some. Even not having read it, I keep coming up against this in my mind: granting your argument that fascism is rooted in collectivist state action, and that it is warped to tag the anti-statist right with the epithet “fascist”, what is the big geshrey? Is it that those on the left of centre ranging from liberals to democratic socialists have fascism in their antecedents whereas those right of centre do not, even though some of the unthinking former call the latter names? So your point is: if your mother liked Hebert Hoover and my mother liked FDR, and I told you, “your mother’s a fascist”, and you said “Is not, yours is!”, you’d be right? Because apart from clarifying our thinking on the epithet, and apart from deconstructing fascism some, no mean feats let us stipulate, it seems to me that to say those left of centre have more in common with fascism than those right of centre is to say not very much at all. To link, however directly or indirectly, those left of centre to fascism based on their (varying, to be sure) inclinations to state action creates more heat than light and has you absurdly explaining why Hillary Clinton harbours fascist ideas—it takes a village after all to raise a child, which in fact it does, though no matter here— but is not a Nazi. My presumptive hypothesis, respectfully, is that your conclusions are too attenuated from you premise and because of that your conclusions are trivial.
Me: I don’t know how many times I can address this question, but maybe I haven’t done it here. First, history matters, right? If all my book did is correct the historical record about the nature and roots of fascism and liberalism’s familial resemblance to fascism, I think that would be a pretty worthwhile and important accomplishment. Now I personally believe I accomplished that much in the book, though even people I respect a great deal disagree in whole or in part with that assessment. Fine. But much of the criticism I get from the left amounts to, “even if you’re right, so what?” And I find this to be both hilariously hypocritical and unpersuasive. Liberals are constantly telling me that because William F. Buckley once said this or that Goldwater believed that, or because Ronald Reagan said he believed in States Rights, therefore the whole edifice of contemporary conservatism is tainted. But when I point out the ghosts in liberalism’s closet, suddenly liberals respond “even if you’re right, who cares?” No sale. History matters. Facts matter. And people who argue, or imply (as Yglesias et al do) that these things really don’t matter at all, do not score many points with me. (A caveat, since I keep hearing the same arguments over and over again, let me anticipate one. If history matters, then isn’t it hypocritical or wrong of me to ignore conservative history? Don’t rightwingers have skeletons in their closets too? The answer is yes, of course we do. And conservatives are made to own every black-mark and error they’ve ever made. But conservatives deal with their intellectual history, the left just tangos on without acknowledging or examining the consequences of their errors. That is an enormous difference and at least part of the reason I find tu quoque arguments on this front so lame). It’s also worth noting that many of the things liberals say about conservatives are flat-out lies and distortions, from the claim that conservatives were cartoonish “isolationists” while liberals were brave interventionists to the grotesque elasticity with which the left uses phrases like “social Darwinism” and, of course, fascism to describe conservatives. Defending conservatives from relentless and policy-warping slander seems a worthwhile effort as well.
Moreover, a major point of the book is that we are constantly looking in the wrong direction for incipient fascism or totalitarianism or whatever you want to call it. Fascism was popular. It was seen as the wave of the future. The totalitarian temptation endures in every human heart, but we are trained to believe it can never come from “the good guys” (i.e. liberals and progressives). It must only come from the shiny-booted villaims of the right. Not only is this childish and ahistorical, it is very dangerous. Or I could simply answer this another way. Who cares? I do. And apparently so does a large proportion of the book-buying public that has always suspected that they’ve been fed propaganda.