Recently, I read a book by an American political analyst Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism, which helped me understand a political landscape that I have watched with growing concern: increasingly authoritarian government and increasingly supine citizens.
Culturally, it reached the point recently where the term denialist began to characterize anyone who departs from a consensus – as if departing from a consensus were not part of the engine of progress in the Western world.
Goldberg calls the new mood “liberal fascism.” To interpret the political landscape correctly, we need to understand fascism clearly.
At present, most people think fascism is simply “the way the Nazis behaved.” While there is no question that the Nazis were fascists, it is quite easy to be at the opposite end of the traditional political spectrum and also be a hard core fascist. And so far as I can see, there are currently more fascists in North America at the leftward end of the political spectrum than the rightward end. That’s what Liberal Fascism is about.
So what is fascism?
Fascism is not a program in politics, it is a mood. It can be a mood of the right or the left.
It is the mood of an angry identity group. The group could be vegans, transgendered people, the losers in a war, members of an impoverished ethnic group …
In their view, they have been wronged – by members of another group. The government must make things right by giving them money, status, and power and punishing members of the evil group that has wronged them.
Typically, fascists thrive on crises. When they don’t have actual crises, they proclaim or even manufacture them in order to get what they want.
As Goldberg points out, fascism is a modern substitute for traditional religion. Fascists, right or left, relate to government as worshippers do to a god. They look to government not only to provide for them but to validate their lives, to proclaim that they are good, to say that they have a right to be proud of themselves.
The head of state is seen as a messiah who will usher in a new age – even in nature. By contrast, his political opponents are endlessly plotting evil conspirators who must be crushed.
The crises the fascist thrives on (or invents) are – of course – so serious that civil liberties and normal justice are unimportant, perhaps even offensive or dangerous.
If you think you’ve seen anything like that in politics recently, read on:
1. Why do people think “fascist” means “right-wing” or “traditional”?
2. So, can “progressives” really be fascist too?
3. Are “left” and “right” a useful political spectrum any more?
4. What does fascism look like in North America?
5. But what is the ultimate goal of today’s liberal fascism?
6. How dare anyone call liberals fascists? Liberals and progressives are good people!
7. Do liberal fascists single out specific people as targets to attack?
8. Why do you say that liberal fascists are addicted to crises?
9. What is the most totalitarian concept in politics today?
10. But surely it is good to want the country to be one, big happy family!
11. Explain what you mean when you say that liberal fascism exalts feelings over facts
12. How did we get here and how can we get back?
Next: 1. Why do people think “fascist” means “right-wing” or “traditional”?
Note: A bit about Goldberg:
One of the most prominent young conservative journalists on the scene today, Jonah Goldberg is Generation X’s answer to P.J. O’Rourke. His columns and articles, laced with keen wit and pithy insights, have rapidly generated a large readership. Whether he’s issuing a sharply-worded cultural critique or laying out a lucid analysis of a hot political issue, Goldberg is guaranteed to make you laugh, and learn. His work is proof that reading and thinking about political, media, and cultural issues can be enlightening and entertaining at the same time–even if you don’t agree with his particular point of view.
1. Why do people think fascism means “right-wing” or “traditional”
As noted earlier, fascism is a “mood” in politics, not a set of policies. It can be either right or left – in other words, it can be Hitler, Stalin, Mugabe, Pol Pot, or any messianic figure who draws huge, enthusiastic crowds by promising government-driven life change – salvation, really – through the defeat of the evil people who have, in the past, caused his supporters to fail in various ways.
Some wonder though, how can communists, for example, be fascists when, historically, they had such different policies from, say, the Nazis?
Okay, first: In many key areas, communists and Nazis did not have different policies.
Remember, “Nazi” means “National Socialist” and many Nazi policies were strongly socialist. The communists and the Nazis differed on which groups of people were the enemy whom the government had a duty to destroy. As we all know, the Nazis murdered millions of Jews. Less well known is that the communists under Stalin murdered millions of peasants (kulaks) who refused to be forced into state farms.
It was communists who deftly ensured that people would be taught to look for fascism only on the right.
About right-wing vs. left-wing fascism, Goldberg explains,
…in reality, they are closely related, historical competitors for the same constituents, seeking to dominate and control the same social space. The fact that they appear as polar opposites is a trick of intellectual history and (more to the point) the result of a concerted propaganda effort on the part of the “Reds” to make the “Browns” appear objectively evil and “other” … But in terms of their theory and practice, the differences are minimal. (p. 7)
[By Browns, he means the Brownshirts (= the right-wing fascists). ]
Although both left and right certainly behaved in the manner that can be described as fascist, “… Eventually, the international left simply reserved for itself the absolute right to declare whomever it desired to delegitimize a Nazi or fascist without appeal to reason for fact. (P. 77) In other words, “fascist” has become a generic term of abuse for traditional attitudes, values, and beliefs, whether or not they have anything to do with fascism.
Goldberg offers Barry Goldwater as a classic example of this abuse:
There is considerable irony in the fact that in the first election to replace Kennedy, Barry Goldwater was roundly hailed as the “fascist” in the race. The bespectacled small-government conservative in funereal suits was about as far from a fascist as one can get in American politics. (Pp. 204-5)
In general, anyone who thinks that government should be small and limited (as Goldwater did) is, by definition, not a fascist. All fascists believe in Big (and powerful) Government, though different fascist identity groups would aim their government juggernaut at very different Enemies.
Unfortunately, the confusion around the word “fascist” means that when actual fascist political movements become a power in the land, people find it hard to discuss what they sense is wrong.
Next: 2. So, can “progressives” really be fascist?
2. So, can “progressives” be fascist too?
Yes, certainly. Remember, fascism is a mood in politics, not a specific set of policies. And the further left the progressives are, the more likely they are today to exhibit the fascist mood.
Notice the unhinged anger, the sense of grievance, the eagerness for conspiracy theories on the far left today. That is not because they are left-wing but because they are fascist. Right-wing fascists behave similarly – but in North America today, right-wing fascists are simply not as numerous or powerful.
Before the war, fascism was widely viewed as a progressive social movement with many liberal and left-wing adherents in Europe and the United States: the horror of the Holocaust completely changed our view of fascism as something uniquely evil and ineluctably bound up with extreme nationalism, paranoia, and genocidal racism. After the war, the American progressives who had praised Mussolini and even looked sympathetically at Hitler in the 1920s and 1930s had to distance themselves from the horrors of Nazism. Accordingly, leftist intellectuals redefined fascism as “right-wing” and projected their own sins onto conservatives, even as they continued to borrow heavily from fascist and pre-fascist thought.” (P. 9)
How did that happen? Goldberg says it was one of Stalin’s rhetorical tricks, happily embraced and endorsed by his fellow travellers in North America and Western Europe.
… Stalin stumbled on a brilliant tactic of simply labeling all inconvenient ideas and movements fascist. Socialists and progressives aligned with Moscow were called socialists or progressives, while socialists disloyal or opposed to Moscow were called fascists. Stalin’s theory of social fascism rendered even Franklin Roosevelt a fascist according to loyal communists everywhere. And let us recall that Leon Trotsky “was marked for death for allegedly plotting a “fascist coup.” While this tactic was later deplored by many sane American left-wingers, it is amazing how many useful idiots fell for it at the time, and how long its intellectual half-life has been.” (P. 10)
So don’t be fooled by the use of the term “fascist” to mean, say, traditional Christians who don’t support the gay lifestyle. Remember, the hallmark of fascism is: Aggrieved identity group fingers enemies, proclaims crisis, treats leader as a god who ushers in a new age, demands money and action from government against its perceived enemies, and has little or no respect for traditional values or civil rights.
Philosophically, organizationally, and politically the progressives were as close to authentic, homegrown fascists as any movement America has ever produced.(Goldberg, p. 12)
One reason that the traditionally religious population of North America tends less to fascism just now is that it already has a religion, one that discourages the very behaviour that fascist political cults encourage.
3. Are “left” and “right” a useful political spectrum any more?
3. Are left and right a useful political spectrum today?
No, they are not a useful political map any more.
In fact they are misleading in a way that – as explained earlier – benefits the enemies of civil liberties today. A very worthwhile political science project, Political Compass™, offers an online test to illustrate why the current political map is misleading, explaining:
The old one-dimensional categories of ‘right’ and ‘left’, established for the seating arrangement of the French National Assembly of 1789, are overly simplistic for today’s complex political landscape. For example, who are the ‘conservatives’ in today’s Russia? Are they the unreconstructed Stalinists, or the reformers who have adopted the right-wing views of conservatives like Margaret Thatcher ?
On the standard left-right scale, how do you distinguish leftists like Stalin and Gandhi? It’s not sufficient to say that Stalin was simply more left than Gandhi. There are fundamental political differences between them that the old categories on their own can’t explain. Similarly, we generally describe social reactionaries as ‘right-wingers’, yet that leaves left-wing reactionaries like Robert Mugabe and Pol Pot off the hook. That’s about as much as we should tell you for now.
As I have noted elsewhere, these observations are especially relevant to the intellectual freedom issues we face in Canada today. For example, most current enemies of civil liberties in Canada are leftists or Islamists. Leftists and Islamists would take Canada in very different directions. But they agree on supporting and extending our illiberal “human rights” commissions.
Why? Because both groups want a much more authoritarian state. They agree that Canadians should not have the civil liberties we took for granted in the past, expressed in Diefenbaker’s Bill of Rights (July 1, 1960).
By contrast, many people who disagree strongly with me on, for example, intelligent design of the universe, like Rob Breakenridge, line up effortlessly on the same side as me in the critical battle for free speech as a civil right.
See also Are you a redneck? A red diaper baby? And does it matter? Test yourself and see how you score. You might be surprised.
Next: 4. What does fascism look like in North America?