Jonah Goldberg, author of the provocative new book Liberal Fascism is upset at how his book has been received. He believes most critics are missing his main point which is:
[T]o the extent that fascism of any kind will come to America, it will do so in the guise of something “progressive.” Indeed, American progressives, particularly before Hitler arrived on the scene in the 1930s, were openly sympathetic to Italian fascism. This isn’t to say they copied it (or the fascism of Soviet Russia), as many claim. But rather that the ideas that gave birth to and fueled American progressivism — philosophical pragmatism, Bismarckian “top-down socialism,” Marxism, eugenics and more — share common intellectual sources and impulses with those that gave us both socialism and fascism.
Mainly Goldberg just seems pissed off that â€œfascismâ€ has come to be applied nearly exclusively to politicians and ideas on the right/Republican side of the spectrum. He wants to show that the roots of fascism can be traced to leftist ideology. Great. Fine. Except, as Callimachus at Done With Mirrors points out in an excellent essay on the subject, Goldbergâ€™s whole premise rests on a faulty notion of the political spectrum and lacks a workable definition of fascism.
If we strip fascism of historical context and see it as an action rather than an ideology, we could give it a contemporary meaning such as: any political policy which suppresses personal liberty in order to achieve a higher cultural, nationalistic or societal goal. Neither liberalism nor conservativism as practiced in America are inherently suppressive. However, I could easily identify neo-fascist elements on both sides from hate-speech laws to warrantless wiretapping, from gun control to abortion restrictions.
In this definition, fascist does not have to mean evil or even wrong â€“ but it is still worthy of great suspicion. A fascist policy is one that restrains the liberty of the individual. Whether that restraint is acceptable is a case-by-case debate. But the more a nation suppresses individual liberty the more fascist it becomes so that, ultimately, fascism would be nothing more than an intellectually complex justification for authoritarianism.
A truly fascinating book might examine the historical context of fascism and then explore how the neo-fascist elements of our society are affecting our concepts and practice of freedom. Unfortunately, Goldberg seems more inclined to focus exclusively on delegitimizing the left. Still, his book has the potential to spur some great debates.
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