The Magazine

Who's Fascist Now?

The irony of the left's favorite epithet.

Jan 28, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 19 • By STEVEN F. HAYWARD
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Most historical narratives portray World War I as the end of Progressivism; Goldberg rightly sees it as its apotheosis, with its propaganda efforts, its embrace of the purifying effects of militarism, and its ruthless crushing of dissent. Wilson openly argued for redefining the American constitutional order in Hegelian and Darwinian terms, and celebrated the expansion of state power necessary to direct human progress and guide people to "mature" freedom.

Wilson and other progressives disparaged "individualism" and the market economy, and advocated ever more powerful government social and economic planning. It is here we learn that Goldberg is not the first to use the category of "liberal fascism." H.G. Wells used the term approvingly in 1932. He also (remember the date) said that progressives should seek to become "enlightened Nazis."

The New Deal, as Ronald Reagan had the imagination to perceive and the courage to declare, was America's second fascist episode. Goldberg's copious and detailed research demonstrates beyond doubt that the New Dealers themselves understood their project as wholly congruent with what they saw approvingly in Italy and Germany. Waldo Frank declared in 1934 that Roosevelt's National Recovery Administration "is the beginning of American Fascism" and the Nazis expressed their admiration and enthusiasm for FDR's program. (Hitler, in particular, praised American eugenicists.) The New York Times reported in 1933: "There is at least one official voice in Europe that expresses understanding of the method and motives of President Roosevelt. This voice is that of Germany, as represented by Chancellor Adolf Hitler."

America's third fascist episode was the 1960s, and especially the rise of the New Left, whose philosophy and tactics bore distinct echoes of the Hitler Youth. Goldberg cites the liberal scholar Irving Louis Horowitz, who recognized that sixties radicalism was "a fanatic attempt to impose a new social order upon the world" and, forthrightly, called it fascism of the left. Moreover, the fascist impulses of the 1960s have not yet run their course. The liberal enthusiasm for regimenting society on behalf of our own good (smoking bans, healthy eating mantras, etc.) or "for the children" (especially Hillary Clinton's style of thought in It Takes a Village) represent the still-vibrant residue of the last wave of fascist enthusiasm.

"The edifice of contemporary liberalism," Goldberg argues, "stands on a foundation of assumptions and ideas integral to the larger fascist moment. Contemporary liberals, who may be the kindest and most racially tolerant people in the world, nonetheless choose to live in a house of distinctly fascist architecture."

This reference to the purported "niceness" and sincere good intent of modern liberalism raises a number of problems for which Liberal Fascism, despite all its splendid research and analysis, begs some important questions that, on the surface, the author does not appear to resolve.

Are we supposed to understand liberalism as a hateful and destructive thing, as we do fascism? While deploring fascism and its influence on liberalism, Goldberg draws back from the implications of equating liberal fascism with communism as a species of malignant revolutionary socialism. "Fascism was a human response to a rapidly unfolding series of technological, theological, and social revolutions," he writes. "Those revolutions are still playing themselves out"--and not just on the left. Goldberg rightly scorns some of the same tendencies he sees in certain quarters on the right, such as Pat Buchanan's nationalism and George W. Bush's compassionate conservatism. We're all fascists now, he writes in his last chapter.

Perhaps Goldberg has rehabilitated fascism a bit too much, in hopes of blunting the visceral and unreflective, but inevitable, liberal rejection of his unwelcome parallels. Goldberg goes out of his way to offer exoneration to liberals by reference to their good intentions. On the one hand, he makes clear the totalitarian temptation of liberal fascism: Hillary Clinton's "politics of meaning" speech, for example, "is in many respects the most thoroughly totalitarian conception of politics offered by a leading American political figure in the last half century." But he is quick to add that "Hillary is no Führer, and her notion of 'the common good' doesn't involve racial purity or concentration camps. .  .  . When I say that Hillary Clinton's ideas in general are fascist, I must again be clear that they are not evil."