September 05, 2009

Liberal Fascism?

Keith Flett reviews Jonah Goldberg's 'history' of liberal fascism here. The review is ultimately fair minded- it calls attention to the main flaw and virtue of Goldberg's text. Goldberg is seeking to argue that there is a genetic link between fascism and American liberalism. There are two main problems with such an argument. The first is, as Flett points out, Goldberg is not much of a historian- he is a journalist and an ideologue but not a historian. He is not atuned to nuance, leaves the parts of the past that complicate his theory out of his account and does not really make sense of what happened in Germany and Italy (or even ask whether there is such a thing as fascism). The second that Flett does not draw out is that Goldberg's argument repeats a fallacy: that the genetics of ideas imply influence- the same two people can see what seems to be the same truth at different points in time and not be influencing each other at all. Liberalism may share features with fascism (a strong state) but so does conservatism (a strong nation) and both have shared features with it (a state that can take coercive action in wartime). The two points mean that Goldberg's argument is useless to anyone seeking to establish the historical context of fascism and the historical relationship between LIberalism and Fascism.

But Flett is right to say that Goldberg's book is good political polemic- it is knock about stuff like Goldberg's columns which are fun to agree with or to be outraged by. There is a point that Goldberg does not make but Flett does, that at its best this book defends conservatives from the accusation that they are fascists. Fascists afterall were a lot of things conservatives are not (disrespectful to tradition and religion, to law and the free market)- though they shared certain dispositions (towards the nation, towards the ruling class, against communism). The point that Hillary Clinton is a fascist is laughable if ingenious. Goldberg's position in interviews has emerged as slightly more subtle- implicating all of us in the fascist enterprise rather than in allying his liberal opponents with a boo word. But Flett gets something that Goldberg does not in the book but Goldberg's argument implies- boo words may not be that useful in politics. The book liberal fascism may destroy the argument that liberals or conservatives are 'fascists'- hardly surprising when liberals and conservatives are really 'liberals' or 'conservatives'.

Lastly there is an area in which Goldberg's analysis is dangerous in a European context and an American- and that has to do with the real fascists, people like the BNP who deride a 'liberal elite' made up of both conservatives and liberals. Making the word 'fascist' in any sense a 'liberal' word ends up by empowering the extremes of European politics who would like nothing better than to separate themselves from their pasts. We should have a moratorium on calling people fascists unless their name is Gianfranco Fini, Nick Griffin or Ugo Voigt. Fascism is not a purely idle word: it describes a genocidal reality that exists outside of the boundaries of normal politics- a type of politics that if we do not guard against it, risks plunging us back in some of the worst excesses and crimes of the twentieth century.


James Higham said...

Great stuff form an unlikely blog, Tiberius. Yes, there is very much fascism in left liberalism, if fascism means the state compelling the people.

Gracchi said...

No James- that's the bit where Goldberg is both infantile and stupid.

The bit which makes sense is that conservatism does not have much to do with fascism even if it shares some features with it. Neither does liberalism even if it shares some features with it.

We need to have eternal vigilance though particularly against racism and genocidal ambitions- those are the hallmarks of actual fascism and rather than chucking epithets around I think we should be guarding our political system against those people.

James Higham said...

Ah but there is, Tiberius. The two are very close. Infantile? Out of the mouths of babes ...? :)

Gracchi said...

Well they aren't very close at all. They have features in common- ie the modern state- though that feature they have in common with all modern ideologies. They also have a second feature in common that they beleive in using the modern state to do something but what they want to do with it is very different. The only thing that liberals have in common with fascists is the tax rate!

The key thing though is that there are things that conservatives have in common with fascists- the strong nation, traditional values, the subservience of women etc etc. That does not mean that conservatives are fascists- they aren't. Not everyone who believes a conspiracy theory is a fascist, not everyone who wants a nation state based around the nation is a fascist.

The key point I'm making is that fascism is fascism: it is not liberalism or conservatism. The ideologies are related- but then you would expect that, fascism is related to christianity, socialism, liberalism and conservatism- because it emerged out of a context where all those ideologies were defended and expressed and influential. But it is not them- it is something different.

As to which it is closest to: that depends on the fascist and the ideology you are talking about. I would say it is of the right because its ambitions are a very very extreme version of some of the ambitions that people on the right have for society- but with some fascists they are closer to one of the other ideologies.

edmund said...

have you read Goldberg's book Grachi if not how can you agree with the review. If so why don't you say so?

Gracchi said...

I haven't read Goldberg's book- I have read his blog where he defends the book and expresses the same idea and I've listened to interviews he has given on the subject so I think I can say what his main argument is- unless he is lying.

As to his historicla judgemnet- again this is a man scarcely known for his precision in judgement of detail so I'm not surprising that our reviewer finds that. I should have made a disclaimer but I think its fair to say on the basis of what I've read, what I've said.

socialrepublican said...

It's a awful book and I have read it.

my rambling review here:-