Leslee Kulba- Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism was originally published in 2007, in response to complaints from leftist groups about then President George W. Bush.
Granted, the Homeland Security Act induced frightening flashbacks among old German refugees, and Medicare Part D was “the largest entitlement since the Great Society.” But what was, and still is, going under the radar, is fascism from progressives.
One reason for the lack of outrage, Goldberg observed, was the left’s tactic of defining the mainstream Democrat agenda as good and everything else bad. Down through history, persons even taking positions to the left of Democrat leadership have been, because their ideas were so bad, labeled as conservatives.
Rather than worrying about nuances among totalitarianism, autocracy, fascism, etc., it suffices to consider the enemy any regime that supposes one person, one group, or one political party has the authority to force their vision of utopia on all citizens. Goldberg even says communism and fascism are not opposites, but “closely related, historical competitors for the same constituents, seeking to dominate and control the same social space.”
While American students of history will read much about 20th-century dictatorship in Germany and Italy,
Goldberg says modern totalitarianism appeared first in the United States. This country is where “the world’s first modern propaganda ministry was established; political prisoners by the thousand were harassed, beaten, spied upon, and thrown in jail simply for expressing private opinions; the national leader accused foreigners and immigrants of injecting treasonous ‘poison’ into the American bloodstream; newspapers and magazines were shut down for criticizing the government; nearly a hundred thousand government propaganda agents were sent out among the people to whip up support for the regime and its war; college professors imposed loyalty oaths on their colleagues; nearly a quarter-million goons were given legal authority to intimidate and beat ‘slackers’ and dissenters’ and leading artists and writers dedicated their crafts to proselytizing for the government.” And all those horrible things occurred under two of the most progressive presidential administrations of the modern age: those of Wilson and Roosevelt.
Totalitarian regimes are bad enough under evil megalomaniacs, like those portrayed in Hollywood productions; but Goldberg says more pernicious are true believers in an authoritarian remedy for all that ails society. Since there is no non-Biblical way to create heaven on earth, and those looking to government for salvation have already given up on the saving grace of their God, all candidate promises for perfect societies are necessarily rubbish. Followers, then, are required to set aside satisfying logic with credible cause-and-effect, and put their faith in mere mortals, turning cults of personality into godless religion.
Mussolini was highly-influenced by the French philosopher Georges Sorel, who studied political movements and concluded it was myth and not reason that moved the masses. This would, of course, appeal to individuals viewing the masses as at their disposal to further their power-lust. Wrote Goldberg, “Sorel was an irrationalist who took this sort of thinking to its logical conclusion: any idea that can be successfully imposed – with violence if necessary – becomes true and good.” That said, Mussolini’s platform sounded more progressive than conservative, advocating for a shorter workweek, a minimum wage, pension reform, a progressive tax on capital, secularization of schools, and seizure of all property belonging to churches.
Hitler built on the aforementioned, knowing he needed an idea – any idea – to stoke the masses. Goldberg characterized Hitler as, “willing to break oaths, liquidate people, and say or do anything to achieve and hold power.” Wrote Goldberg, “Nazi ideology cannot be summarized in a program or platform.
It can be better understood as a maelstrom of prejudices, passions, hatreds, emotions, resentments, biases, hopes, and attitudes.” Hitler, like FDR, took advantage of emerging technology and, with mastermind Joseph Goebbels, staged incidents, rallies, and whatever other spectacles could hype the masses into fevered frenzies.
Wrote Goldberg, “To suggest that Hitler was a conservative in any sense related to American conservatism is lunacy.” Hitler “despised” the traditional American notion that government should serve only to protect the rights of citizens.
The Nazi Party platform called for, “universal education, guaranteed employment, increased entitlements for the aged, the expropriation of land without compensation, the nationalization of industry, the abolition of market-based lending – a.k.a. ‘interest slavery’ – the expansion of health services, and the abolition of child labor.” Furthermore, Hitler went down in history as perhaps the most fervent believer in identity politics the world may ever know. That said, Goldberg does not judge those who fell for the hype and believed they were serving the world and fighting evil.
Although Goldberg argues, “Hitler was indisputably to Wilson’s left,” like Stalin and Hitler, Wilson pushed for better food quality, better labor conditions, and more welfare benefits. What American history has swept under the rug is the “madness our Republic endured” under his administration. Wilson, for example, “spoke disparagingly of the Constitution,” “attacked the very idea of natural and individual rights,” and “took dead aim at the Declaration of Independence.” Goldberg summarized Wilson’s 1890 essay, Leaders of Men, as claiming, “[a] ‘true leader’ uses the masses like ‘tools’” and “must speak to stir their passions, not their intellects.” Wilson penned, “It is the power which dictates, dominates; the materials yield. Men are as clay in the hands of the consummate leader.”
Describing the Wilson years, Goldberg said, “Americans were deluged with patriotic volunteers knocking on their doors to sign this pledge or that oath not only to be patriotic but to abstain from this or that ‘luxury,’” such as supper, meat, or wheat. The postmaster general was given the power to stop delivery of publications that weren’t American enough, and neighbors were asked to report neighbors who, even in the privacy of their own homes, made statements deemed not American enough, like explaining why one didn’t want to buy Liberty Bonds.
After a long list of violent acts perpetrated against what would otherwise have been civil discourse, Goldberg said, “some 175,000 Americans were arrested for failing to demonstrate their patriotism in one way or another.”
During FDR’s administration, there was no question that the president of the United States was a dictator. But that was considered a necessary evil because Americans were told only an iron fist could overcome the Great Depression. Mussolini declared after reading FDR’s Looking Forward, “This guy’s one of us;” Hitler sent FDR a “private letter” of praise; and useful idiots were returning to America, smitten by Russia’s Potemkin villages, and concluding Soviet-style leadership was the wave of the future.
Opinion leaders, and even great authors, were also tired of the Enlightenment and finding hope in state-engineered utopias. FDR is best-known for his New Deal and its associated expansion of the country’s welfare bureaucracy and his court-packing scheme. Less celebrated is his mark-of-the-beast Blue Eagle program and his creation of the bane of Progressives, the military-industrial complex.
The 1960s in America was an era of rioting. Whenever possible, Goldberg introduces the university professors promoting the burning down of America to make way for the new utopia with their favorite hard drug. Goldberg observed that progressives trace their influences to schools of thought like nihilism, existentialism, and deconstruction, with accommodation for Michel Foucault’s “sovereign enterprise of Unreason;” while conservatives credit Enlightenment heroes like John Locke, Adam Smith, Montesquieu, and Edmund Burke. Goldberg quoted one activist’s explanation for engaging in violence and destruction: We’ve got something going on here and now we’ve just got to find out what it is.
Kennedy’s presidency was short, but he led by creating and defusing crises. After that fateful day in Dallas, the left first assumed Kennedy fell at the hands of a right-wingnut, biding any dissonance caused by Kennedy’s reputation for being a “raging anti-communist.” When it was announced that the perpetrator was a communist, however, conspiracy theories multiplied. As a matter of fact, Joseph McCarthy, who, “called attention to the fact that much of the liberal establishment had been infested with communists and communist sympathizers,” was a “populist progressive” who viewed political party registration only as an alliance of convenience.
This illustrates another recurring theme in the book: Conservatives carry the burden of being wrong when they’re wrong and carry the burden of being wrong when progressives are wrong. This repeats with eugenics, which continues, though abortion, to be supported by the left. Hitler controlled welfare spending by killing the handicapped and unified the country by executing people with otherness. In America, arguments were made, by progressives, that aborting black babies would save society costs from the lives of crime the spawn from low-income households would lead. Today, “abortion ends more black lives than heart disease, cancer, accidents, AIDS, and violent crime combined.”
That only covers half the territory in a book that continues into the Obama administration, debunking talking points with a clarity that would “move the country in the right direction” if articulated during presidential debates – provided philosophers of the Enlightenment were correct in deeming all humans capable of reason. Through it all, the adage holds that wherever fascism rears its ugly head, the song remains the same, only the names have been changed.
Another recurring theme was the progressive belief that a few elites, surrounded by experts, should be entitled to perform “scientific” experiments on the rest of society in the name of social engineering.
Now, to say something nice about progressives, world leaders used to engage in war to internationally reap where they did not sow and domestically give them an excuse to appropriate “vast swaths of the economy.” That, notes Goldberg, was only because people hadn’t yet conceived of the power climate change would have for doing the same.