Goldberg seeks to demonstrate that fascism is a socialist movement and therefore a misdirected term of abuse by the left-wing of right-leaning policies and politicians.
Fascism is often used as a term of abuse aimed at the political right,usually by the left and special interest groups. Goldberg’s stated reason for writing Liberal Fascism was to highlight the lack of understanding by liberals (socialists by any other name to US conservatives) of their own history.
Fascism With a Smiling Face – A Left Wing or Socialist Ideology
Jonah Goldberg rightly points out that fascism was originally a socialist movement and indeed the Nazis were properly named National Socialists. Communism and other socialist movements in the early part of the 20th century, and beyond, were international in nature as exemplified by the rallying cry “Workers of the World Unite”. Fascism recognised that people were more interested in what happened closer to home through a national form of popular socialism.
In Liberal Fascism Goldberg aims to address what he sees as an unfounded slur on the right and goes on to demonstrate how fascism was developed from socialism by Mussolini and others including Hitler. Goldberg acknowledges that until the Nazis fascism was not racist and indeed in Italy under Mussolini being Jewish was not a bar to senior roles in the Italian Fascist organisation.
Goldberg does a good job of demonstrating the link between fascism and socialism (and also liberals in the USA). He provides comprehensive evidence to support his case. Indeed most readers will accept much of his argument on that point even though he goes on, at length, to show how all progressive and liberal movements since the 1930s demonstrate a fascist heritage. At this point the reader may well feel that Liberal Fascism is rather longer than it need have been.
Liberals Misunderstand Their History
The basic tenet is that liberals by mindlessly calling the right wing, or any conservative, “fascist” demonstrate a lack of understanding of their own history. Whilst there may be some truth in that contention it is on this point he undermines his own argument by peppering his text with his own unsubstantiated jibes aimed at the left. Whilst Goldberg does not pretend that Liberal Fascism is intended to be an even-handed critique those pointed, and pointless, remarks turn a well-researched criticism into rather more of a polemic.
Lack of Alternative Viewpoints
There is no real attempt to put any counter arguments and indeed he acknowledges that there are elements of George W. Bush’s policies which demonstrate characteristics of fascism that Goldberg has been at pains to develop. But apparently, Goldberg suggest, this is because on some aspects President Bush’s religious beliefs lead him towards large government, “compassionate” conservatism which are liberal in nature.
The Case Falls Apart
At this point the whole premise starts to come apart. Indeed if one takes many of the characteristics Goldberg argues underpin fascism then pretty well all political, religious and many charitable or lobbying organisations could be described as fascist. At the end of the day they all want to impose their “expert” knowledge, manage for the “greater good” and are not averse to using fear or terror (threatening “eternal fire and damnation” is surely intended to create terror?) to support their case. All are fascist characteristics according to Goldberg. It is not in the interest of such bodies to really promote free thought and individual action as it would significantly reduce their role and influence.
Indeed others could well follow up with books in the same vein aligning conservative or religious organisations with similar criticisms.
Best Seller but Not Widely Read?
Apparently Liberal Fascism was a best seller in the USA but it feels like a book that many will have bought but few have read cover to cover. Whilst the writing is very accessible it is not light reading unless, of course, one shares Goldberg’s, avowedly conservative, viewpoint. For the more disinterested reader it may be hard going.
Liberal Fascism, The Secret History of the Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (ISBN: 978-0-141-03950-3) by Jonah Goldberg is published in paperback by Penguin Books in the UK at £9.99
First appeared on Suite101