Book Review: "Liberal Fascism" by Jonah Goldberg
I owe Jonah Goldberg an apology.
When his book “Liberal Fascism” came out last year, I didn’t buy it because for some reason – maybe the smiley face with the Hitler moustache as the cover art, mbaybe the very provocative title – I assumed, despite knowing that Goldberg is a talented and intellectual writer, that the book was a conservative preaching -- semi-hysterically ala Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity -- to the converted. (That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy Coulter’s writing on occasion, especially her columns, but when Goldberg’s book came out I just wasn’t in the mood for reading more of that kind of thing.)
I could hardly have been more wrong.
“Liberal Fascism” is a remarkable book. Far from rambling hyperbole, it is a highly researched work, suitable for anyone studying political science or 20th century political history. It makes you think. It makes you realize that your gut suspicion is correct: Much of the policy, philosophy, and political tactics and strategy which emanate from America’s “Progressive” movement have striking parallels in of some of the worst dictatorships of modern times.
Goldberg points out that “fascist” is a term “hurled at conservatives by their liberal opponents. Calling someone a fascist is the fastest way to shut them up, defining their views as beyond the political pale.” And while the term fascist has, among many or most Americans, been irredeemably and understandably overwhelmed by images of racism and genocide – images which we must never forget or allow to be repeated – fascism itself began well before the Holocaust and had a much broader economic and political agenda. And that agenda was unfailingly leftist, not "conservative", having much in common with the left wing of today’s Democratic Party.
Goldberg asks and answers the question “But who are the real fascists in our midst?” And the answer cannot be pleasing to the people Goldberg shows as the real modern fascists, nor to people whose political heroes, including Woodrow Wilson and FDR are shown to have much -- too much -- in common with Mussolini and Hitler.
"Liberal Fascism" traces the history of European fascism, including Il Duce (Mussolini's nickname), Hitler, and their associates. It explains why the New Deal was a quintessentially fascist enterprise, how so much of the 1960’s, which many people take as the heyday and high-point of care-free liberalism, was typically fascist, not least the New Left’s tendency toward violence in both rhetoric and action.
While Jonah Goldberg stops short of including John F. Kennedy in his fascist pantheon, he does shred the myth of JFK as a “true Democrat”, showing him to have been more valuable to the progressive movement as a martyr than while alive and explaining how the legend of JFK was used by the left to further essentially fascist aims.
Again, it must be pointed out that Goldberg’s point in showing the fascist actions of many American governments over most of the past century is not that we had conservative governments but rather that fascism was essentially a left wing philosophy and system, a nationalistic socialism different from from what most people recognize as the leftist philosophy of socialism by the fact that it focused on socialism within a nation’s borders rather than Marx’s more international view.
Goldberg moves on to a general discussion of “liberal fascist economics”, pointing out that “the notion that fascism was a tool of big business is one of the most persistent and enduring myths of the past century….But as Chesterton said, fallacies do not cease to be fallacies simply because they become fashions."
The economics of the Third Reich had too much in common with the economics of the Democratic Party, along the lines of “the Nazi refrain ‘The common good before the private good.’” Goldberg explains the “fascist bargain” which America lives under, such as “the collusion of the government and tobacco companies”, the negative unintended consequences of “do-gooding legislation” like the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the way large corporations use government to avoid competition.
Regarding current politicians, one of the major targets of Goldberg’s analysis is Hillary Clinton, not least “the fascistic nature of It Takes a Village” in which Clinton airily tosses aside the notion of “civil society” and replaces it with a Mussolini-like view of “everything in the village, nothing outside the village.” These are Goldberg’s words, not Clinton’s, but they fit Clinton’s thesis perfectly and are a clear mirror of Il Duce if you simply replace the word “village” with the word “State.”
Just as Goldberg does not give a free pass to corporations, he does not let the Republican Party or “conservatives” off the hook. In a section called “Compassionate Fascism”, Goldberg shows Pat Buchanan to be a “neo-progressive” rather than his self-described “paleoconservative”, and he takes apart George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism”, noting that “conservatives who complain about Bush’s ‘big-government conservatism’ as if it were some great betrayal ignore the fact that they were warned.”
Other tidbits in the book are as fascinating as the history, such as how the movie industry intentionally supports liberal fascism, how Hitler and Himmler were, like many on the American left, obsessed with alternative energy, animal rights, and vegetarianism, and how the initial push by Margaret Sanger, “the founding mother of the birth control movement” to increase the use of birth control and abortion was primarily a racist, eugenic enterprise aimed at reducing the population of American blacks.
This brief note can not and is not intended to be an exhaustive review of a book which contains information about dozens of characters from history, both modern and near-modern. Nor could I capture the extremely detailed and convincing arguments Jonah Goldberg makes in showing the parallels between fascism and progressivism.
So, Jonah, I offer you my apology for not having given "Liberal Fascism" the chance it deserved when it first came out. And now that I’ve read it, I offer you my thanks for writing something so well-researched, so enjoyable to read, and so highly relevant to today's political situation. Indeed, the book is probably even more relevant now than you could have expected during your several years of sitting in your basement doing your research and writing this very valuable resource. Now we just have to get it into use in college political science departments...
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