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Book review: Does liberalism equal fascism?

Conservatives are used to leftists calling them fascists. In his new book, Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg reveals that the true fascists in our midst just might be on the left side of the political spectrum. In an interview with Western Standard radio, Goldberg discussed his book and also delved more deeply into matters of political philosophy. This review is based not only on Liberal Fascism, but also on the answers its author gave in response to some concerns the interviewers had with his book.

Terrence Watson - March 5, 2008

"Fascist!"

Conservatives and others on the right quickly get used to hearing this from leftists. But what if fascism belongs on the left side of the political spectrum, alongside progressivism and modern American liberalism? In short, what if the leftists who often describe conservatives as fascists are really fascists themselves?

Jonah Goldberg, contributing editor to National Review and Los Angeles Times columnist, explores these and related questions in his new book, Liberal Fascism. The book's provocative subtitle--The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning--should be a good indication of how he answers these questions.

Goldberg calls modern liberalism the "well-intentioned niece of European fascism. She is hardly identical to her uglier relations, but she nevertheless carries an embarrassing family resemblance..." In a recent radio interview, the Western Standard’s "Political Animals" pressed Goldberg on just how deep the resemblance between modern liberalism and fascism goes (listen to our interview here).

Is modern liberalism really a subset of a broader fascist ideology? According to Goldberg, "Fascism is a religion of the state... 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... Everything... must be aligned with its objectives." In addition, it has a tendency to consider "Any rival identity... is part of the 'problem' and therefore defined as an enemy."

Goldberg claims that American liberalism is fascist in all these respects. What makes it different from (say) Nazi fascism is that modern liberalism is well-intentioned. For Goldberg, the compassionate conservatism of George W. Bush is just a right-wing form of progressivism, "a descendent of Christian socialism." As a left-wing progressive, Hillary Clinton is also a fascist (or at least espouses a fascist ideology.) Historically, according to Goldberg, "Progressives did many things that we would today call objectively fascist, and fascists did many things that we would today call objectively progressive."

Western Standard readers will find a wealth of information in Goldberg’s well-researched book. If you ever wondered how the word “liberal” switched meaning so that it now stands for a political ideology that is almost the opposite of liberalism of the classical variety, Liberal Fascism has the answer. In gathering together and shedding light on certain facts about the early progressive movement (for example, its fascination with eugenics) Goldberg’s book reminds us that both those on both the left and the right have held some dubious beliefs.

What is left unclear is the degree to which these unfortunate truths about early progressivism give us reason to criticize modern liberalism. Yes, president Woodrow Wilson was a racist with totalitarian tendencies. Perhaps, in retrospect, he could even be called a fascist. But doesn’t modern liberalism repudiate the most objectionable aspects of Wilson’s ideology? Doesn’t that distance, modern liberalism from fascism?

More articles by Terrence Watson