Countering the greatest hoax: Dominic Hilton reviews Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg

Liberal FascismLike you, I used to think it was really clever to go around telling people that the political spectrum is actually circular, and that, “when you think about it,” extreme left and right wingers are not polar opposites, but in fact are showering together in the same icy concentration camp somewhere around the South Pole.

This boneheaded analysis was probably a step up from the claptrap I was taught in my politics class at school, where teachers would tell me that Hitler’s Nazi party was parked about two centimetres to the right of Britain’s Conservative and America’s Republican parties – and the width of a blackboard away from Stalin’s commies.

But that doesn’t change the fact that my clever dick theory was horribly wrong. What I’d done, along with you and everyone else, was fall for what Tom Wolfe calls “the greatest hoax of modern history,” and by doing so, I’d floundered in “the havoc this spin of all spins has played upon Western thought for the past seventy-five years”.

It’s 2008, and Jonah Goldberg, founding editor of National Review Online, has decided that the havoc must now end. In Liberal Fascism, his essential 500 page beast, Goldberg brilliantly nails an argument I have been trying (and utterly failing) to articulate ever since school.

The political spectrum is as straight as John F. Kennedy. The big lie – the “hoax,” the “spin of all spins” – is that fascism and socialism are unrelated. As Goldberg says, “Bolshevism and fascism are two variants of socialism.” Fascism isn’t right-wing at all.

What’s crazy is that this sounds crazy. It’s not as if history’s fascists hid their political allegiances. Der Führer was a National Socialist. Il Duce was a lifelong leftist. Both were revolutionaries who despised capitalism and individual liberty. Right-wingers, meanwhile, are proponents of free markets and small government. Does it really need saying that fascism never involves small governments?

It does. “We’ve inherited these Marxist categories and ways of understanding,” Goldberg said in a recent lecture – and “we now live in a world conditioned by the progressive outlook. People understand things in progressive terms.” So, just as nowadays we are required to speak the liberal-progressive lingua franca about global warming, global justice, and global shit, so are we intellectually and terminologically shackled by this mammoth hoax about socialism versus fascism.

You know it, too. Picture the uniformed traffic warden who gleefully issues you a parking ticket saying she is just “following orders”. Think of the procedural jobsworth at the local council getting off on his bureaucratic box-ticking. Look at those nauseating “Safety Nazis” and their booster-seat laws, child-proof bottle-caps, and endless ‘campaigns’ to ban this or regulate that. These politically-correct people may well be fascists, but they’re not right-wing. For unambiguous reasons, tyrants don’t subscribe to the nightwatchman state.

This alternative history “is quite easy to find, if you have eyes to see it,” says Goldberg. Fascism is “a phenomenon of the left”. But placing fascism correctly in the story of the left “would cause seismic disorder in the leftist worldview; so instead, leftists embrace cognitive dissonance and terminological sleight of hand.”

Jonah GoldbergSeismic disorder is clearly Goldberg’s principal aim. Yes, he wants people to stop calling him a “fascist” because he openly writes in support of individual liberty, free markets, limited government, and other principles held dear by obvious Nazis like Thomas Jefferson and co. But he also wants “to puncture the smug self-confidence that simply by virtue of being liberal one is also virtuous.”

The very reason Goldberg’s thesis will come as such a shock to so many is because of the “long march” through the cultural institutions, advocated by Gramsci, implemented by the New Left. Our entire understanding of history is predicated on conservative bad, liberal good. Films are forever told this way – often deliberately distorting historical fact to fit in with the liberal story. Goldberg is trying to undermine that consensual lie.

And he has more than good reason: by denying its monstrous history, by pushing it out of bounds and beyond the pale, by having us believe they are simply more virtuous people and always have been, left-wingers force us to argue with their emotions. When I was fourteen, I pinned a petition to my bedroom door that read “No More War!”. It boasted six signatures (at least half of which were sarcastic). Needless to say, I had no actual plan of how I – or anybody else, of course – would go about stopping all wars. If you wanted to argue with me, you had to argue with my teenage emotions, which was never an attractive proposition. Yes, my petition was heartfelt, but so what? It was also there to impress girls. I didn’t pin a petition to my bedroom door that read “I keep falling in love with girls!”, but it would’ve amounted to the same thing.

“An individual has no meaning apart from the society in which his individuality has been formed,” wrote Herbert Croly, founder of the New Republic. This is the central theme of leftist thought, and it is hideously wrong in every way. Neither man nor society is perfectable. That lesson really should have been learned by now, but instead we have Hillary banging on about her “burning desire” to “make the world … better for everybody.”

“For all their prattle about “participatory democracy” it’s shocking how few democrats ranked as heroes to even the “peaceful” members of the movement,” Goldberg writes about the 68ers. Oh, I have worked with these people! Lefties who crow about democracy but support (the “textbook fascist”) Castro and insist any country which elects a conservative government is not a democracy. This, says Goldberg, is “how the liberal Gleichschaltung works; contrary voices are regulated, barred, banned when possible, mocked and marginalized when not. Progressive voices are encouraged, lionized, amplified – in the name of “diversity,” or “liberation,” or “unity,” and, most of all, “progress.””

Enough already. “Fascism, at its core, is the view that every nook and cranny of society should work together in spiritual union towards the same goals overseen by the state,” writes Goldberg. Sound familiar? Statolatry (worship of the state), the divinization of community and the creation of a civil religion are hardly the stuff of National Review or the Wall Street Journal. These are all distinctly socialist lunacies.

Goldberg wastes no time identifying that pointy-headed goofball Jean-Jacques Rousseau as the father of modern fascism. It was Rousseau who dreamt up all that guff about “forcing men to be free,” wrapping it up in sweeter-smelling but equally dangerous baloney about governments that are “well-intentioned” (a chestnut that never seems to decompose). It was Rousseau’s theory of the general will that “divinized the people while rendering the person an afterthought.”

And so, the French revolution was the first fascist movement. Rousseau’s grotesque ideas produced Maximilien Robespierre, who chose to exterminate all those who opposed “progress” and stood in his righteous way.

But for Goldberg, “the elephant in the corner that the American left has never been able to admit, explain or comprehend” is that, in one of the book’s standout claims, “Woodrow Wilson was the twentieth century’s first fascist dictator.”

Woodrow WilsonWilson was “a priest of the cult of expertise”. He was inspired by Bismarck and Prussia’s top-down socialism of eight-hour workdays, health care and social insurance. Under Wilson’s presidency, Goldberg says, America briefly became a fascist country.

Yes, that smarts. But “nothing that happened under the mad reign of Joe McCarthy remotely compares with what Wilson and his fellow progressives foisted on America.”

The author documents how under Wilson’s fascistically-controlled wartime government “Your home, your private thoughts, everything was part of the organic body politic, which the state was charged with redeeming.” But he needn’t have bothered. I was sold the moment I read the words to a popular kid’s song of the time, “A Little American’s Promise” which bangs on about being loyal to America by not leaving a scrap of food on my plate or eating between meals. Yikes!

Wilson’s statist progressivism laid the foundations for what Goldberg calls “Franklin Roosevelt’s Fascist New Deal.” Again, the evidence is all there (for those who care to see it). Hitler admired FDR, who greatly admired himself. Roosevelt’s generals were openly inspired by Mussolini’s Italy, Hitler’s Germany and asked “why should Russians have all the fun of remaking a world?” As Goldberg neatly puts it: “a modern-day Hitler or Mussolini would never dismantle the New Deal. To the contrary, he’d redouble the effort.”

In other words, the Fascists may have lost the war, but except for the brief and ultimately neutered moment of Reagan and Thatcher, the fascist legacy won out. After defeating National Socialism, the British voters elected a socialist government to erect its statist vision – a monstro-erection we still live with. Americans “still live under the fundamentally fascistic economic system established by Wilson and FDR” – what Goldberg calls “an “unconscious civilization” of fascism”.

Again, you may approve of this legacy, but Goldberg wants you to see it for what it is: a legacy of fascism. Fascism is not just about Auschwitz: “fascism was already fascism before the Holocaust.” What links this early fascism to modern liberal-leftism is not just that Wilson and FDR are liberal icons, but the modern leftist belief that “the state should be allowed to get away with anything, so long as it is for “good reasons”.” You cannot be a “fascist” if you want to dismantle – or even just question the desirability of – the New Deal or the Welfare State.

Fascism stands in direct contrast to classical liberalism – and yet classical liberals are often the ones tarred with the “fascist” brush. Meanwhile,

The fascist tinge can be seen in all the left’s pin-ups, from Nietzsche and Heidegger, through Paul de man, Herbert Marcuse, Frantz Fanon, Georges Sorel, Michael Foucalt, Carl Schmitt – all have barely disguised relationships with Nazi regimes … And yet all it takes if the abracadabra word “Marxist” to absolve most [left-wing intellectuals] of any affinity with these currents. The rest get off the hook merely by attacking bourgeois morality and American values – even though such attacks are themselves little better than a reprise of fascist arguments.

After FDR came the Sixties – a time of peace, hope, love, and, of course, clenched fists, violent riots, bombings, assassinations and all round blood chic. Goldberg describes the “movement” as “little more than a fascist youth cult … Madness, cruelty and totalitarianism were “in.” Thugs and criminals [like the Weathermen, the Black Panthers, Mao Tse-Tung, and others] were heroes, while champions of the rule of law were suddenly “fascists.””

This penchant for reflexive fascistic violence is alive and well today in the anti-globalisation and environmental movements. This week, in the Times, environment editor Robin Pagnamenta wrote “Saving the planet: is it worth it?” in which he suggested that energy bills will go up to counter global warming and that this was ultimately a good thing (fewer people will read his column). Well, that’s bad enough, but here’s just a selection of the reader comments left below his piece:

As long as we have share holders and politicians we are going nowhere fast Doug P

The question should be: Are people worth saving? Subramaniam

the planet is not ours; all other species have rights too. Peter Vernunft

China seems to have succeeded in population control, perhaps the solution may lie in their methods. John J

A stupid question. Of course the planet is worth saving, but not for humans, one of natures failed experiments. Derek Home

Obviously I'm not exactly for culling of the human population but you have to wonder when it is such an effective model (or usually sometimes the only model) for over population in other species. Mark P

Of course the planet is worth saving though not for the ghastly destructive, greedy, self regarding virus of human kind. Sadly our good points are vastly over shadowed by those spawned by our kill, grab and pollute nature. Our philosophies have changed littlle during our short history and one can but wish the next 'thinking' species better luck. Stephen Seymour Clancy

There are 650,000000,000000 humans on this little rock and there are more on the way, tell me how are we going to survive, there's hardly enough food as it is. So we have to cut the number of humans to 0,000000,000000. Yep that's right you gottit. Total annihilation. Kieran

The solution stares us in the face. Democracy cannot solve the problem, because it lacks the will to impose the necessary sanctions on those unwilling to cooperate. To be able to do what is necessary, we shall have to switch to some form of totalitarian government, probably fascism. John J

This is the Times, folks! Britain’s establishment paper of record! If these sorts of species-haters inhabit mainstream forums, Google only knows what else is being written and planned out there in the dark corners of cyberspace.

My point is that if these comments aren’t fascist, what is? Advocating fascism is, after all, a bit of a giveaway. And yet you can bet your mortgage on the fact that none of these posters would consider themselves ‘right-wing’. (And if they do, they are horribly delusional.) How is anything these modern-day Times readers say about the human race different to what Goebbels said about the Jews?

The Nazis (who, Goldberg notes, were environmentalists, vegetarians, and animal rights fanatics) would have recognised the knee-jerk liberal passion for endless “crises” of some form or another, from the environment to public health (the Nazis were also anti-smoking, committed to a war on cancer, and big time into alternative medicines). Hillary Clinton has suggested that every child is born into an immediate state of crisis, and that therefore the state must intervene in its upbringing as “there isn’t really any such thing as someone else’s child.”

Meanwhile, what was Hitler if not an advocate of identity politics? Modern liberals “still believe that the state should organize society on racial lines”. And the leftist “infatuation with eugenics … has simply been whitewashed out of existence.” (I can’t help wondering if the progressive George Bernard Shaw would have been welcome on the “human stud farm” he advocated. Goldberg somehow resists the temptation to speculate.)

Said the father of Fabian Socialism, Sidney Webb: “No consistent eugenicist can be a ‘Laissez Faire’ individualist unless he throws up the game in despair. He must interfere, interfere, interfere!” If that quote didn’t exist, I’d have to make it up. Its horror cannot be exaggerated. The eugenics rests upon treating people as cattle and thinking it’s all part of “the game”. As for the “interfere” riff; that about sums it up.

As is necessary, Liberal Fascism is littered with quotations from everyone from Che Guevara to Hillary Clinton in which all the customary liberal-leftist buzzwords tell their own story: “experiment,” “experimentation,” “perfected,” “laboratory school,” “greatest social experiment in history,” “fix the people,” “a living laboratory for experiment,” “efficiently operating piece of machinery,” “bold, persistent experimentation,” “human reconstruction,” “action, action, action!”

Hillary Clinton, Town ProdderHillary talks of her desire to be “a town prodder”; Che’s motto was “If in doubt, kill him.” Goldberg is not saying Hitler and Auschwitz could happen in America, but he does fear fascism with a smiley face; a caring fascism, a feminine fascism, a fascism of feelings and feeling your pain, a fascism in which you can host “baby showers with a safety theme” (Hillary’s suggestion) and where the “sensitive, caring government” (Hillary’s guru’s phrase) is never not there to “help” and “improve” and “fix” and “prod” and “perfect” – all of which were the core hallmarks of Hitler’s fascist project.

“Above all, try something,” said FDR. This pressure to “do things” – to “remake the world” – is irresistible to the left. And these days much of that pressure comes from the media, which thrice daily insists that “THE GOVERNMENT MUST ACT”. Sadly, the whole system is designed to favour intervention, from the ever-swelling budget to a reflex culture which demands endless government bans.

Not that conservatives are immune to the temptations, of course. In order to look like “good” people, conservatives concede ground on liberal dog-whistle issues to show that they “care”. Debates start and end on liberal territory: “What should the government do to make society fairer?” “How can we come together to defeat global warming?” “What measures must we now take to improve safety on our roads?” You can hardly answer “Nothing,” “We can’t,” and “You’re joking, aren’t you?” to these questions – unless, of course, you’re happy to be called an “evil, heartless fascist.”

There’s also the neoconservatives. Goldberg warns that “Whenever [conservatism] is willing to sacrifice its political liberalism in the name of implementing its cultural conservatism, it flirts with a right-wing socialism all its own.”

The phrase “Liberal Fascism,” incidentally, is not Goldberg’s. It belongs to the moronic leftist icon and hugely influential intellectual crackpot, H.G. Wells. Addressing the Oxford University Young Liberals in the summer of 1932, Wells spoke of the need to create “organizations to replace the dilatory indecisiveness” of democracy. It was time, he said, to create a “new world order”. And how would these bright young things do this? “I am asking for a Liberal Fascisti, for enlightened Nazis,” preached Wells.

Politics is about trade-offs and informed choices and no, we do not need to “get beyond” it. It is incumbent on all us non-fascists to revel in the sheer messiness, the “dilatory indecisiveness” of our liberal democracy. We should start by reading Goldberg’s book, which of course is not available in this country.

Dominic Hilton, Research Fellow (with thanks to Frank MacMillan)

Liberal Fascism at

Liberal Fascism, the blog

Posted in login to post comments

Submitted by dominichilton on Fri, 2008-02-29 00:02.

Richard D North (not verified) | Fri, 2008-02-29 10:29

Blimey - talk about throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Suddenly, it's the lefties who are fascists. But most western lefties are just horribly bossy, which doesn't quite cut it as fascism, surely?

The word "fascist" ought to be preserved for people who publicly celebrate the use of civil violence as a good in itself. That covers the democratically-elected Nazis (and if they're not fascist, who is?) It probably lets off the soviet monsters - but only from the charge of fascism. Sure, that's v debateable.

But the idea of "liberal fascism" is just horribly over-egged and silly.

There's another good calibration. I don't say that fascism is just about intemperance taken to extremes. But extremism comes into it. Liberals sleep-walk in a kindly way to some very bad places. They are hideously, blindly smug. But they are, mostly, at least fairly mild. "A mild fascist": now that would be an oxymoron.

Jim Ryan (not verified) | Fri, 2008-02-29 16:43

Richard D North: "But the idea of "liberal fascism" is just horribly over-egged and silly."

Question neatly begged, book unread. Read the book, Mr North. Goldberg came with 400 pages. You haven't shown up yet.

Troy (not verified) | Fri, 2008-02-29 17:01

With all due respect Richard -- read the book first. That uber liberal H.G. Wells coined the phrase "Liberal Fascism" to identify his brand of liberalism.

Violence is a tool of fascism but is not the raison d'etre of it. "Fascism" ought to be preserved for those who are actually fascist -- not for those who disagree with the First United Church of Public Administration and its adherents.

The smiley-face cover of Goldberg's book is a gentle poke at what George Carlin (and Goldberg riffing on the theme) of a smiley-face totalitarianism. Your Labour Party is not chock full of brown-shirted jack-booted thugs. That does not make it any less totalitarian -- especially if its policies are taken to their logical conclusions. That's why we call it the Nanny-state. You're gonna get a hug from Nanny Brown -- whether you want it or not.

Anyway -- the book is a great read, even if you don't agree entirely with his thesis, there are a lot of great endnotes and quotes, etc.

Sherman (not verified) | Fri, 2008-02-29 17:09

Mr. North,

You say, "The word "fascist" ought to be preserved for people who publicly celebrate the use of civil violence as a good in itself."

I'm curious. Do not Mao's Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot's Year Zero and Stalin's dekulikization campaign meet your criteria? If not, why not?

Similar "civil violence" campaigns have occurred in every Communist country, although not always as drastic or affecting as many people as those I listed above.

It is generally accepted that Commies killed roughly 100M people during the 20th century, a multiple of those killed during this period by any other ideology. If killing 100,000,000 people isn't a public celebration of civil violence, what would qualify in your mind?


Russell Warrick (not verified) | Fri, 2008-02-29 21:25

another fascist lefty obscures the obvious.

shayne mckinney (not verified) | Sun, 2008-03-02 15:55

Fascism is government control of private industry. Nothing to do with War or Violence. Everything to do with big controlling governments and seeded in the idea that companies that try to make profits are evil and governments are good. Quite liberal if you ask me.

Richard D North (not verified) | Mon, 2008-03-24 11:06

I am chided with not having read the book. Fair-do's. My remarks are remarks on a review.

These remarks come from someone who has been on the right all his life and who has been appalled by the over-use of the word "fascist" as applied to right-wingers. It seems sensible to protect lefties from being the target of the same nonsense (even when they've been culprits).

It seems a mistake to label all vicious totalitarianism as fascism. I don't know who was the more irrational and vicious, Stalin or Hitler. I am not even sure whether fascism is a subset of nazism or the other way round. Ignorant me. But they seem the same sort of thing. (Stuff to do with a strong leader, racial purity, longing for the Roman Empire.) You can mix in bits of socialism, as the fascists did, and it still doesn't quite mean that socialism is necessarily fascist.

So I am remain content that totalitarian fascism is something which happened in Germany, Spain and Italy. Totalitarian socialism happened in the USSR and China (and in places in theri maw). Neither is happening now anywhere.

But the review seems to suggest that because socialism has sometimes and in extreme been fascist, then all socialism is fascist. It also seems to say that all liberalism is more or less socialist, so fascist too.

(I suppose I ought to defend the Islamists from the frequent charge that they are fascist on the same grounds.)

Ed (not verified) | Fri, 2008-02-29 14:58

Wonderful review! So often the politicians of both "conservative" and "liberal" parties try to outdo each other with promises the government must do more. We have forgotten that the best government is one that governs least.

Jim Hill (not verified) | Fri, 2008-02-29 16:48

Der Führer was a National Socialist

By that logic, the Dear Leader is a lifelong advocate of democracy and republics, because, after all, it's the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea.

Maybe fascism isn't really what is described here? A little wider search might turn up some alternative views. Maybe even some written before the present spate of propaganda-by-labeling.

The phrase "defensive projection" might also be worth researching.

ronan (not verified) | Fri, 2008-02-29 18:08