Book Review: Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg
Fascism is a term of abuse now referring to any government or an individual in power trying to impose his values and views on the people without consent. Individual liberty is sacrificed for the cause of a supposedly greater good. Typically, by convention, by repeated telling, by reinforcement, fascism has been used as a term for referring to the extreme right wing politics. Most of the things under fascism are undesirable and generally bad. But what is the definition of good and bad? Who has defined fascism and what does it truly mean in the modern context?
Jonah Goldberg has written a delightful and scholarly work where he debunks this definition of fascism; and squarely calls fascism as a manifestation of extreme left. The leftists and the liberals have brazenly concocted history, inverted some of the themes with massive help from the academicians and the media, and managed to place fascism as a phenomenon of the right. The fact is that, fascism is a brutal and crude form of leftism. Now, the leftist fascism has evolved into liberalism, and the term he uses is ‘Liberal Fascism.’
It is an unconventional thesis running against popular perception, but there is enough evidence in the book to substantiate its assertions. The book had ruffled a good number of liberal and leftist feathers when it was first published, but the author sticks to his stand. There could be no scholarly rebuttal to his arguments, the author clarifies in the afterword of the new edition. He says that it is preferable to eliminate the word fascism from the political vernacular, but as things stand, it is difficult. The correct terminology, he reiterates should be ‘liberal fascism’.
The main points of his book, as he summarises in the end are:
- Original or classic fascism was not right wing.
- Contemporary conservatism has neither roots in, nor affinity for fascism.
- Contemporary liberalism, thanks to its dogmatic intellectual amnesia, retains an affinity for fascistic ideas through its profound indebtedness to progressivism.
- The Left’s redefinition of fascism as merely anything undesirable as per their definition has led America (and the world) to look for fascism in the wrong places.
Fascism is nothing more than a cudgel for liberals to argue that dissidents and opponents are bad people, simply due to their disloyalty to progressive-liberalism, says the author. He stresses that the commonest definition of a fascist is a conservative winning an argument. It is a word of abuse to shut such a person up, forcing him to become defensive. It is an efficient and effective strategy.
Fascism is an ideology where group loyalty is elevated to the highest political virtue and singles out unity as a good in and of itself. Mobs are united; the Italians were united under Mussolini; the Nazis were united for a common cause under Hitler. But, the policies of Hitler and Mussolini were more Socialist than anything. Only the name of Marx was removed from their ideologies. Otherwise, their principles like unity for revolutions, the mob attitude where conventional rules of civic behaviour can be sacrificed to achieve their ends is more of a leftist practice and convention.
Seeking unity in the name of war becomes fascism (as recent events in India showed; any attempt to congratulate the surgical strikes or dead soldiers became fascistic); but the liberals-lefts-progressives-democrats have always created moral equivalents of war to create an equal brand of fascism. In matters of economics, politics, sex, gay rights, abortions, environmental protection, citizen rights, race inequalities, the liberals and their cousins have always created a scare and appealed for unity and coming together in the form of a ‘revolution.’ Fascism as we know of in the past has presently evolved into liberalism and leftism. ‘Vegetarianism, public health, and animal rights were merely different facets of the obsession with the organic order that pervaded the German fascist mind then, and the liberal fascist mind today’, says the author. The Fascists were strictly anti-Church and the same philosophy of ranting continues with respect to religion.
The left has a habit of throwing abuse on anybody who does not agree with them and often calling them fascist. Civil rules of behaviour are rarely employed in an issue as it becomes a moral right to dissent and dissent violently, if necessary in espousing their causes. However, by a strange twist of logic, any call for unity in the name of patriotism becomes fascistic. Hence, the general attitude of disrespecting the national flag exists amongst the leftists and the progressives who want to unite the world in the name of class. The fact remains again that the liberals are the aggressors in culture wars.
He does not absolve the conservatives or the right wing of their wrongs, and he gives credit to the liberals when they have made a difference. But he states that, ‘Forces of change are not wrong, but the left is dishonest when it pretends that it is not in the business of imposing its values on others’.
The author states that the glorification of violence towards their pet issues, the romance of the street, the denunciations of the system, the conspiratorialism, the exaltation of racial solidarity, the misogyny of hip-hop culture in the 1960s: these offer a disturbing sense of déjà-vu reminding one of Nazi behaviour.
A prime example of the liberal left’s similarity to fascism is in the field of eugenics. Hitler was obsessed with eugenics and the creation of perfect race. Selective breeding, elimination of the weak, and the application of science to the creation of a pure Aryan race was the root of many despicable acts of Nazism. The eugenics phenomenon of the early part of the 20th century in the US is a shameful chapter in the history of humanity. The prime drivers of this movement were the liberal democratic presidents of the US, like Woodrow Wilson and Roosevelt, who were supposedly anti-fascistic. The philosophy of science and technology as a prime mover in the scheme of things, and the ends justifying the means has a striking similarity between fascistic ideology and the liberal left wing ideology. Religion is something, which is shunned in both the philosophies with an equal fervour. Any attempt to create a religious discourse becomes fascistic of course. The Christians were severely persecuted during the Nazi rule as Hitler hated their place and values in society. A conversation with a true left winger will throw out similar views about religion and God.
Abortion is seeing a big fight today between the so called right wingers and the left wingers, who are pro-life and pro-choice respectively. The pro-choice wants a society where the child can be sacrificed for the sake of the collective good. The sacrifice of the individual for the sake of collective whole is a very clear fascistic theme.
Attachment to family values is considered fascistic by the liberals, but the fact is Nazism and classical fascism invaded the family like nobody else. The child became a possession of the state and fascism truly believed that children would grow best under the protection of the state rather than the family. The traditional family, the author says is the enemy of all political totalitarianisms because it the bastion of loyalties separate from and prior to the state, which is why the progressives are constantly trying to crack its outer shell. Change is inevitable, and there is bound to be resistance. Fascism was a response to rapidly unfolding series of technological, theological, and social revolutions. But, the liberals have termed resistance to any change as fascism, not acknowledging or remembering that the same totalitarian attitude qualifies as fascistic more than anything else.
Green fascism is a term the author uses for the process being applied to create the environmental scare and trying to unite people in the name of environmentalism. Carbon footprints, global warming, humans as a source of all problems, redemption of collective guilt by individual efforts, the individual for the whole; all these liberal ideologies have in its raw form, fascism. A perverse and bizarre form of self-hatred has infected certain elements of the eco-left. A few intellectual’s emphasis on population control and reducing consumption should remind us that the progressive eugenic obsession of controlling the population has never disappeared and still lurks behind many environmental arguments, opines the author. The Nazis were obsessed with air pollution, nature reserves and sustainable forestry. The liberals of today take a high moral stand and anyone opposing their views on environment or child rearing becomes ‘anti-environment’ and ‘anti-child.’ Intolerance of the opposite camp becomes fascism, but their own behaviour is nothing short of that.
The falsehood is perpetrated by the strong media, academicians, and the Hollywood industry, which is strongly supportive of such themes. Hence, fascism as defined by the liberals and the left becomes the truth. In India, the parallels are strikingly similar. Our educational institutes, media, student bodies, and the film industry are increasingly taking this approach towards defining fascism.
Respecting the flag becomes fascistic; national anthem played out in cinema halls becomes a fascistic move, and questioning of flag-burning and anti- India slogans become a new Nazism. Uttering a lie a hundred times to make it the truth and indulging in things which can be truly defined as fascism, while branding the opponents as fascism to shut them and put them on defensive is now the classical contemporary technique of the new Left and the liberals. The sooner we call this bluff, the better it is for the world and humanity.
Liberal fascists, the author says don’t want to mimic the generic fascists or communists in many ways, but they do share a sweeping vision of social justice and community; and the need for the state to realize that mission. Collectivists of all stripes share the same totalitarian temptation to create a politics of meaning; the difference is how they act upon the temptation.
Media and academic institutions play a very important role in this discourse of associating fascism with the right wing agenda. The right/conservatives/republicans are always on the defensive in trying to prove that their actions are not fascistic as the overwhelming diatribe comes from the other side. Prodosh Aich in his book, ‘Truths’, tells about the important role played by the European media and the Universities in the colonial expansion of the Europeans by justifying their acts and giving scientific reasons for the necessity of ruling and brutalising far-off lands. The left-liberals today in the US and in rest of the world, including in India are similarly well placed in the media and the academic institutions and routinely assist in creating a discourse, which is highly one-sided and which equates fascism with the right wing. But, the truth is fascism is extreme left wing.
What does this all mean for India? Most educated Indians get confused with the stringent right-left divide of the West. The left/ liberals/ progressives/ democrats/ socialists/ communists/ Marxists lie on one side of the divide and the right/ conservatives/ republicans lie on the other side. The search for the ‘Third Way’ was always present in the politics for maximal individual liberty under the umbrella of minimal state interference and maximal state security. Alas! The harmony has rarely been achieved.
But, the Indian methods of Dharmic rule had evolved a Third Way with an enlightened monarchy and free citizens, ages back. The proof for this is the fantastic continuing Indian civilization which dates back to times before even the Harappans and a thriving and strong economy with highly-evolved arts, literature, and sciences, which in turn attracted thousands of plunderers and brigands from Central Asia, Middle East, and Europe. They destroyed this ‘Third Way’ either deliberately or unknowingly by their most wanton, cruel, and cynical depredations. However, the idea of this third way between the right and the left, adopting ‘horses for courses’ methodology was something, which existed in India as a tradition, till the people got educated in the western methods and their minds were then trapped in the left/right discourse. Unfortunately, the left in the country got heavily influenced by western discourses and indulged in enforcing their somewhat alien philosophies on the Indian minds.
Also, there was never a clash between religion and science in India as in the West. Yet, the left dutifully transferred the western narratives into India, causing a lot of distortions in the process. The definition of terms like fascism is one such distortion, which we have accepted. The language of the book is fluid, the humour is devastating, but extremely polite. The anger is very evident, but the author takes great pains not to lose his voice in a tantrum of vicious language, which would spoil the beauty of carefully constructed arguments. It is a must read for all those, who are on the so called right of centre to understand the fallacious and sometimes vicious arguments of those on the left of centre. It is perhaps time for the liberals to defend their roots and their actions.