Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Liberal Fascist

I am currently reading Jonah Goldberg's book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, and I recently read Victor Klemperer's I Shall Bear Witness, his personal testimony to life as a Jew in Nazi Germany. These books have in common the subject of fascism, its origins and its language.

Goldberg's book is a revelation. I had not read anything else by this American writer and I was not expecting much of his book, despite it being a New York Times bestseller (I am sure much to the New York Times literary editor's chagrin), but I discovered his book is very well researched and his theories backed by much evidence. The gist of the book, as you might guess from the title, is that modern liberalism (i.e. left-wing) politics has its origins in fascist ideology. 

This is not entirely surprising to me and I have blogged on the topic of socialists being kin with National Socialists before, but Goldberg shows the provenance of modern liberalism following a direct line from philosophers like Rousseau, through the Jacobins of the French Revolution to Mussolini (both in his initial allegiance to the Italian Socialist Party and subsequently his establishment of his Fasci di Combattimento), and thence to Adolf Hitler's National Socialist German Worker's Party. Along the way he traces the origins of American Progressivism as adopted by Woodrow Wilson (undoubtedly the most dictatorial US President ever), Franklin Roosevelt (the second most dictatorial), and on to modern liberalism through Lyndon Johnson and ultimately Barack Obama.  

The interesting thing about the provenance that Goldberg outlines is how successful modern liberals have been in covering the trail. These days it is accepted wisdom that Hitler and Mussolini were right-wing reactionaries just like modern conservatives such as US Republicans. But anyone the least bit familiar with Hitler and Mussolini's political beliefs and writings knows that they were first and foremost socialists (and certainly both proclaimed their socialist credentials right to the end) with a large dollop of popular pragmatism, just like modern liberals. Hitler, in particular, held to many of the same beliefs as the modern Green parties - that the patrician state should regulate every aspect of our social and economic life for our own good health and that of the environment. 

Hitler (but not Mussolini) was also a racist and eugenicist. Surprisingly, so was Woodrow Wilson and, to some extent, FDR. As recently as 1972, the Democratic Party was fielding as a candidate for president a prominent racial segregationist, George Wallace (and he probably would have won the nomination if it hadn't been for the assassination attempt that left him paralysed). Today, people forget it was a Republican president who abolished slavery and Southern Democrats who led the rebellion to retain it.

The parallels between Goldberg's book and Klemperer's first hand account of fascism in practice is interesting. Like Goldberg, Klemperer focuses to a large extent on the language of fascism (and in fact he later wrote the authoritative treatise on the subject, The Language of the Third Reich). He concludes that the Nazis, like Big Brother in George Orwell's 1984, were able to achieve so much of their hideous agenda because they controlled the language. Many Germans came to believe the Jews were greedy, dirty, degenerate, sub-human beings because Hitler was so successful in inculcating these beliefs into the language. If you repeat something often enough, people come to accept it as truth, just as today it is accepted wisdom that US Republicans are racists.

It is tiring, as well as ironic, to be branded a racist when you believe all races should be treated equally before the law, to be branded a fascist when you believe in a small, non-authoritarian state, or to be branded a 'denier' when you point out that the scientific method has been abandoned in the extreme predictions of some climate scientists. It is interesting that it is the so-called liberal side of the debate that is always most ready to engage in such propagandist name-calling when anyone challenges their policies on these matters. Goldberg may be engaging in the some of the same techniques that he abhors in modern liberal discourse, but if he is giving liberals some of their own medicine, then that is apposite. And he certainly weaves a credible story about the origins of their techniques.

Finally, I am saddened to see the very brilliant British blogger James Delingpole (whose blog is listed on the sidebar) is giving up his pen. I have corresponded with James on one occasion and found he was as engaging individually as he is in his blogs. James has been one of the greatest fighters for classical liberal views in the world over the few years and we can ill afford to lose him. I hope that he is not giving up the fight for good, although if he is, I can certainly understand why (for the reasons outlined in the previous paragraph).  I hope he will pop up in a new role in which he will be just as great a thorn in the side of cowardly, liberal fascists as he has been in his blogging career. Thank you, James. It's been a laugh.

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