Revisiting Liberal Fascism
“When fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown or black shirts. It will be in Nike sneakers and Smiley shirts.
– George Carlin
Back in 2008, American Enterprise Institute scholar Jonah Goldberg wrote a bestseller entitled “Liberal Fascism.” With America’s entire political and media establishment claiming “right wing extremism” as the most urgent national security issue, Goldberg’s book has more relevance today than when it was written.
Only slightly outside the mainstream, the far left-press is is explicit in its references to right wing “fascism.” From the Daily Beast in January 2021, “Donald Trump Is Leaving, but American Fascism Is Just Getting Its Boots On.” From Open Democracy, also in January, “Donald Trump’s Insurrection is the beginning of years of street violence.” And just in from the high-minded journal Foreign Policy, “Trump’s movement is a uniquely American fascism, built on a century of American imperialism.”
How is it that “Trump’s movement” can be the target of so much fear mongering and growing repression, when literally tens of thousands of black clad Antifa and BLM have invaded the streets of countless American cities for over a year with rioting, looting, and beat-downs? Early on, Goldberg’s book made the claim, backed up now by ample evidence, that the “right wing” has no monopoly on fascist violence.
Here is Goldberg’s definition of fascism: “Fascism is a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good. It takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well-being, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure. Everything, including the economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives. Any rival identity is part of the ‘problem’ and therefore defined as the enemy. I will argue that contemporary American liberalism embodies all of these aspects of fascism.”
The book, which is scrupulously researched, describes the economic and political history of fascism, making the case that (1) European fascism was originally a left-wing, socialist, populist movement, and (2) the American counterparts of the European fascists were the progressives.
Fascism is typically equated with anti-semitism, militarism, dictatorship, demogaugery, genocide; all those phenomena associated with the extreme right wing. But as Goldberg patiently explains, over and over, while one variant of fascism may have embodied all of this evil, it doesn’t change the fact that the modern political left has the same intellectual roots as Europe’s fascists who emerged in parallel with American progressives about 100 years ago.
Around the time Goldberg’s book came out, in Sacramento, California, a pioneering philanthropist named Charles Goethe, who founded the local university and donated large tracts of land for parks and schools, has had his name systematically expunged from history. He was an early victim of what we now know as cancel culture. His crime? Notwithstanding his social consciousness and generosity, Goethe believed in eugenics. But the well-meaning people who are busily demonizing Goethe today are ignoring the fact that Goethe, who was born in 1875, was a progressive, and virtually all progressives believed in eugenics. And they were the intellectual counterparts of the European fascists.
A few years ago I watched a German language version of the movie Titanic, released in late 1943. Watching the movie, I was struck by how obviously the plot was slanted to demonize wealthy profiteers; the villians were well-heeled capitalists whose desire to make a few extra dollars of profit spelled doom for the passengers on the Titanic. This was dissonant to me – weren’t the fascists right wing? Weren’t they the ultimate capitalists? This is a common misconception. The Nazis were socialists – national socialists, but socialists nonetheless. They believed in a partnership of government and industry for the purported benefit of the working man. And their economic model was ominously similar to what is being solidified today in America – as much by unwitting liberals as by errant conservatives. Neither wing has a monopoly on their enabling behaviors to create this “third way” economic model – known variously as corporatism, socialism, or economic fascism.
Just as fascism is a widely debated, widely misunderstood term, liberal is also a word that has two meanings. Goldberg describes how the terms “liberal” and “conservative” acquired their modern definitions: “In the past, liberalism had referred to political and economic liberty as understood by enlightenment thinkers like John Locke and Adam Smith. For them, the ultimate desideratum was maximum individual freedom under the benign protection of a minimalist state. The progressives, led by Dewey, subtly changed the meaning of this term, importing the Prussian version of liberalism as the alleviation of material and educational poverty… for progressives liberty no longer meant freedom from tyranny, but freedom from want… classical liberals were now routinely called conservatives, while devotees of social control were called liberals.”
If the rise of leftist street violence over the past year, in the service of a liberal political agenda, validates Goldberg’s arguments, the “climate emergency” that is integral to today’s “great reset” is further evidence of his relevance. As Goldberg writes: “The most tangible fascistic ingredient [of environmentalism] is that it is an invaluable ‘crisis mechanism.’ Al Gore constantly insists that global warming is the defining crisis of our time. Skeptics are called traitors, Holocaust deniers, tools of the ‘carbon interests’… the beauty of global warming is that it touches everything we do – what we eat, what we wear, where we go. Our ‘carbon footprint’ is the measure of man.”
True to the economic model of fascism, the measures being advocated to supposedly combat global warming are the biggest gift to the “corporatists” in the history of the world. The powerful vested interests that constitute the “alarm industry” are the ones who, ironically, anyone who truly believes in individual rights and property rights should be worried about.
What is “the religion of the state?” It would be, at any cost, to fight racism, climate change, and wear your mask. That religion, increasingly enforced in the streets by thugs, endlessly blasted into our minds by corporate media, is the fascism of our time. A thoughtfully written article in the leftist journal Counterpunch makes the case that fascism and liberalism are false oppositions because they’re just the same two sides of a common capitalist coin. The author then claims that “capitalist crimes” are only properly opposed by communism. Good try. It is true that fascism preserves a role for mega-corporations to serve as junior partners to the state, but fascism’s shared affinity with communism to brutally repress dissent is the more salient commonality.
It really doesn’t matter if they fall under the ideals of true conservatism, classical liberalism, libertarianism, or even enlightened conventional liberalism – the values of individual freedom, free markets, private property, and limited government are under attack in America. The “green” fascism of environmental extremists, along with the “anti-racist” fascism of Antifa and BLM, are being given cover and credibility by corporate interests.
It is the Left, not the Right, that informs America’s 21st century version of fascism.
This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.
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Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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