I want to put some further relevant supporting material
under my thoughts in the immediately prior Stiglitz Post.
I will do this with a mini-series on Jonah
Goldberg’s 2007 book Liberal Fascism.*
(In these Posts, Jonah Goldberg will be shortened to ‘JG’.)
Let’s clear up one point immediately: JG here is not making some easy, rabble-rousing
rhetorical connection between ‘Hitler’ and the American government. He is not
suggesting that the Democrats or the Republicans or the Beltway denizens of
today are ‘Nazis’ or any such thing. This is not a replay of 1960’s
hyper-excited Boomer imagery, deployed – as was the accepted practice of the
times – against ‘the Establishment’. The Boomers were a youthy (my only public
thank-you here, to George W. Bush) bunch, and took full advantage of all the
disadvantages of that age in the human life cycle.
That’s not what JG is doing here.
Rather, he is running an x-ray scan to see beneath
the surfaces of current – and historical, going back to the American Progressives
of the early 1900s – American political philosophy and praxis in order to see
if the same dynamics that fueled Progressivism were also the dynamics that fueled
Fascism as it is properly defined (a totalitarian or totalizing approach to
government towards its citizenry).
Let’s not forget that the same era that saw
Progressivism take root here was the era that saw Europe wrestling with how to
some control the rapidly modernized, industrialized, and corporatized polities
of Western Europe and Russia. It was an era of intense political-philosophical
speculation and imagining – so characteristic of Western and European
civilization – driven by a robust and heady sense of the ‘new’ and a burning
desire to somehow keep human beings from being trampled by the newly-engorged
corporate and capitalist behemoths that seemed to be connected to shocking
amounts of urban and rural poverty throughout Western Europe and Russia.
It was the European Left that sought to alleviate
this shocking state of affairs; if ‘business’ and ‘commerce’ had somehow morphed
into ‘corporatism’ then shouldn’t ‘government’ and ‘governance’ somehow
counter-morph into some legitimate coercive power that could alleviate or even
eradicate the effects of corporatism’s monstrous engorgement? Shouldn’t
government speak-for and work-for ‘the little people’ and those whose lives
seemed rather vividly to be merely sources of lubricant to make the great
Machine grind on?
It will be JG’s point to insist that Marx and
Mussolini and Hitler were all seeking to achieve this, from the Left. (Yes, the
easy equation has long been that since Hitler opposed the Communists of the
Left then Nazism had to be a movement of the Right; but JG (very thoroughly) makes
the case that the Communist and Fascist and Nazi movements were equally rival
offspring of the European Left.)
And further, that while it had roots in some deep
currents in American politics, Progressivism here was working toward those same
goals, and – willy or nilly – by seeking to establish and harness some of the
same dynamics and ‘solutions’.
Which, as I have often said and as JG reveals (I
believe he makes and supports his case clearly and substantively), would and
did put American Progressivism on a collision course with the Framing Vision
and its utterly indispensable first-principles and with the entire unique
philosophical Grounding of what the Framers themselves realized was the Great
American Experiment in human self-governance.
Perhaps since it was all spun for popular consumption
as simply a pragmatic adaptation responding to the huge challenges of the new
and the modern, and since it was all designed to somehow liberate; and since
Progressivism spun itself as a form of ‘liberalism’; and since it all turned out (until the latter part of
the century, after 1970 and increasingly so since then) so ‘abundantly’ for
Americans … perhaps in light of all that the actual dynamics and principles
inherent-in and constitutive-of the American Progressive thrust remained
unconsidered for so long.
But that was then and now is Now.
So to this first installment about Goldberg and his
He notes (p.9) that until 1941 Italian Fascism was
seen “as a progressive social movement”. Many were the elite intellectual admirers in
Europe and the U.S. who watched Mussolini throughout the 1920s and 1930s as he
became the Great Leader and the strong Man of Action who both whipped the mushy
Italian polity into shape and stood up for the little-people and for (to use
Gramsci’s term) the ‘marginalized’.
Of course, once the war got started for the U.S.
after Pearl Harbor, then that admiration had to be finessed-away. (The equally
long-standing general and elite admiration for the Soviet variant of
Strong-Government-On-Behalf-of-the-Masses lasted somewhat longer – until the
later 1940s, and in many cases was resurrected in the later 1960s here.)
To achieve that finessing, emphasis was shifted away
from Fascist social programs and objectives and onto the militaristic and
imperialist and nationalist elements of the Fascist program. (Although when he
gets to the early – first-wave, if you wish – American Progressives of the
early 1900s, JG will amply demonstrate through acute and numerous quotations
just how exuberantly imperialist and militarist and nationalist American
Progressivism also was, from its inception.)
And, of course, once the Holocaust (a Nazi rather
than Italian Fascist production) was revealed, then politically it was utterly
essential for a thoroughly Progressive American politics and its intellectual elites
to distance themselves from the whole shebang: Hitler and Mussolini both. (Again
oddly, when the revelations of the monstrous Soviet Gulag came out – partially
through Khrushchev’s revelations in 1956 and much more vigorously and vividly
through Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s books – not widely available here until the early
1970s – there was not so much of an outcry; and Solzhenitsyn was not warmly
received when he spoke at Harvard in June of 1978 – perhaps because he was not
only indicting the Left’s favored alternative to ‘capitalism’ but also because
he was sternly and forthrightly urging a return to spirituality upon American
elites who by then were thoroughly committed to secularizing government and
culture . Solzhenitsyn could be soooo judgmental.)
Thus Nazism (self-proclaimed from the get-go as not
only a national but also a social “revolution”)
and Italian Fascism were quickly and neatly pigeon-holed as ‘right-wing’ (JG
doesn’t get into the ‘social’ elements of Japanese militarism, which were much
more muted despite the eager and frenzied support of the young and lower-class
officers of the Army).
But both Fascism and Nazism had from the beginning
shared between themselves – and with
some of the basic themes of American Progressivism – strong tendencies toward
elitist governance, statist government, and centralized government that would
reach ‘totally’ into all aspects of the nation’s life and re-fashion the very
citizens themselves into some ‘new’ form. (Allow me here to suggest today’s New
Feminist Man as a direct conceptual descendant of New Soviet Man and New
Fascist Man and New German Man.)
JG reaches back – quite appropriately – to the
French Revolution, that beacon to all 19th and early-20th
century European leftist thought: that enterprise also demanded a thorough
secularization and laicization of government. You can say that this was merely
a necessary requirement in order to liberate society and culture from a Church
which – in its abiding desire for ‘order’ as opposed to civil war – had allied
itself with (or at least reconciled itself to) the dominant governmental regime of the day.
But I will say that this secularization was also
inherently necessary since the Revolutionary state was seeking to replace the
Church as the primary object of the citizens’ beliefs and hopes. The Revolution
was setting itself up as the this-worldly and very ‘demonstrable’ ‘god’ to
replace that ‘abstract’ and other-worldly entity served by organized religion.
The Church and all organized religion and any other-worldly religious impulses
were, in other words, viewed by the Revolution as its rival – and thus had to be erased and swept away forthwith if any
lasting ‘progress’ was to be effected.
Thus JG will say that “American liberalism is a
totalitarian political religion”. (p.14) But nowadays it’s a “nice” one – “nannying,
but not bullying”. (p.14) Although I think that the more it becomes entrenched
(and it has, even since the end of the G.W. Bush administration) there is the
inevitable and ineluctable increase in the bullying – both foreign and
Because after all, everything is political now (it
started its most recent surge, you may recall, with the now-familiar mantra
that ‘the personal is political’). What you eat, smoke, read, or in any other
way ‘prefer’ – it’s all political now (and therefore open to the ‘compelling
interest’ of the state). Oy.
As a newbie ‘religion’, “Liberals place their faith
in priestly [I would say ‘priest-like’] experts who know better, who plan,
exhort, badger, and scold. They try to use science to discredit traditional
notions of [any rival] religion and faith, but they speak the language of pluralism
and spirituality to defend ‘non-traditional’ beliefs.” (p.14) As any newbie
must, if it’s going to shove open space for itself.
And like the classical fascists, the current
American mutation speaks of “a Third Way between right and left, where all good
things go together and all hard choices are ‘false choices’”. (p.14)
And here JG raises a solid point: all good things
have to somehow mysteriously and mystically ‘go together’ (through some secular
liberal version of the old Invisible Hand or God’s Providence or whatever
magical mystery dynamic) because the Beltway – Progressive since the early
1900s in both the Democratic and Republican variants – was committed to
pandering to every Identity-group’s demands without any serious thought as to
either a) how each of those demands would work out and individually impact the
common-weal or b) how they would or would-not fit together into a coherent
whole among themselves as national-policy.
Ditto that the Beltway couldn’t then allow wide
public deliberation about the possible or probable or inevitable consequences
or trade-offs of all these demands, because once the Citizenry thought it had a
role in making serious choices as to the nature and operating dynamics of their
culture and polity, then quite possibly a number of those Identity-groups’
demands would be rejected. How can you have a ‘revolution’ – or a lot of them
all at once – if you let ‘the masses’ (who by definition ‘just don’t get it’)
have a say in what is or isn’t going to happen? And what is or isn’t going to
be imposed upon them?
And so thus, any framing of a new imposition as
being a ‘hard choice’ to make has to be nipped in the bud. All of this – the Beltway
needed Us to believe – was going to work out and come up roses with no major
costs or consequences. You just have to believe
(as religious-types had been saying for millennia).
You were to take it as an article of faith and dogma
that “with the right amount of tinkering we can realize the utopian dream of ‘creating
a better world’”. (p.15) And, as We shall see, creating better ‘people’ in the
process as well. I would only add that in order to market and sell these new
impositions in such a way as to lull the herd they had to be spun as having no
downsides or trade-offs, much as used-car salespersons will assure you about
the car whose tires they very much would not like you to speculatively kick.
And to demand to look under the hood would be the
very height of mulish un-believing and back-lashing. And who needs a lesson in
what happens to ‘un-believers’? And back-lashers?
JG raises here – and will get into much greater
detail with meaty quotations from major players later in the book – the point
that first-wave Progressivism was very much a religious and thus in its context
a Christian undertaking. While “today’s liberal fascism eschews talk of
Christianity for the most part” (p.15) yet it wasn’t always that way. The
spirit of the domestic and foreign benevolent but robustly masculine “religious
crusader” was interwoven into the warp and woof of Progressivism from Day One. (Nor
was such a ‘crusading’ mentality limited to males; you can look up a long list
of that era’s female crusaders, and don’t forget Carry Nation – the hatchet-wielding
saloon-smasher from the frontier towns of Kansas).
To first-wave Progressivism, religion and politics
very much worked hand in hand. But – I would say – that was all before they met
Marx and Gramsci and Mussolini and got a different religion entirely. (And
then, a while later, along came Mao and Ho and Che … and the band jazzed up and
In a tantalizing aside, JG notes that the “postmodern
left” does “speak a language that Nazis would understand”: such keys words as ‘deconstruction’
and ‘logocentrism’ first saw the light “in anti-science tracts written by Nazi
and protofascist writers like Ernst Krieck and Ludwig Klages”; with the
first-ever reference to Dekonstrucktion
being made in a psychiatry journal edited by a cousin of Hermann Goering.
(p.16) The more things change … ach!
Even more acutely (and ominously) current talk
around here of destroying “whiteness” “is more than superficially reminiscent
of the National Socialist effort to ‘de-Judaize’
German society”. (p.16) [italics mine]
All in all, JG says, “the fact remains that “Progressives
did many things that we would today call objectively fascist, and fascists did
many things that we would today call objectively Progressive”. (Are you pouring
a stiff drink yet? I’m smoking my favorite comfort-pipe just to keep my hands
steady. And fasten your seat-belt because the intellectual history just gets
more revealing as it goes on here.)
And pre-emptively, but perfectly logically and it’s
a point worth making, JG notes that it is inaccurate to “assume that fascism
was simply the ideology of Jewish genocide”, (p.16) for which, he suggests, the
more apt label would be ‘Hitlerism’. Fascism, properly speaking, was a
socio-cultural and socio-political programme with its own presumptions and agenda
and objectives and methods, all designed to make life better for the little-people
against the awesome and awful weight of a corporate metastasis that was somehow
crushing the lives of hundreds of millions. Fascism, I would put it, sought to
combat ‘oppression’, ‘hegemony’, ‘dominance’ and ‘marginalization’. That it
wound up somewhere else altogether is a point worthy of much contemporary
deliberation and reflection.**
The crimes of Hitlerism and Nazism “erased” (p.17) awareness
of the similarities between the fascist and later socio-political and
socio-cultural approaches to harnessing government power and coercive authority
in the service of liberating or de-marginalizing and improving the lot of ‘the
little-people’. And of improving – through that same government coercion – the little-people
themselves, root and branch.
Thus Progressivism’s similarities to the programmes,
objectives, agendas and methods of fascism need to receive far more examination
than has heretofore been the case around here. Good for JG.
He notes the Nazi anti-smoking and public health
drives (and Hitler himself was both a non-smoker and a vegetarian, although
with an artery-wrecking addiction to cream-cakes). Where does this quote come
from? “Nutrition is not a private matter!” … It comes from a Hitler Youth
The Reich’s concern was that Christianity – with its
emphasis on humans being intended to conquer nature (the ‘Judeo’ part of
course was ignored) – and capitalism – with its alienation of humans from their
natural state – worked conspiratorially “to undermine German health”. (p.19) If
you tossed in ‘patriarchy’ and perhaps ‘whiteness’ …
But what is always admirable about JG is that he
never settles for the oh-so-modern (or postmodern) quickie rhetorical trump.
Being concerned for “health” doesn’t make you a fascist. Rather, “what is
fascist is the notion that in an organic national community, the individual has
no right not to be healthy and that therefore the state has the obligation [and therefore the right] to force us
to be healthy for our own good”. (p.19) [italics mine] Which rather neatly
limns one of the major operational axes of what I have always called the
National Nanny State.
Acutely, JG immediately goes on to note that this “sort
of moral bullying intrusion [by the state] … were it couched in terms of
traditional morality, liberals would immediately denounce as fascist”. (p.19) Both
marvelous in capturing the complexity of conceptual historical development and also
We are seeing here substantively good intentions and
concerns that have yet been infected with “the Marxist hope that we could
create a perfect world by rearranging the means of production” (p.21) or by any
other ‘clear and simple’ recipe of re-arrangement (of the culture, the society,
and/or the people themselves).
“The history of totalitarianism is the history of
the quest to transcend the human condition and create a society where our
deepest meaning and destiny are realized simply by virtue of the fact that we
live in it”. (p.19) Yes. Although I would add here that any such effort to a)
reduce human fulfillment to the Mono-plane of this-worldly existence and b)
place the entire burden and efficacy for perfecting the this-worldly dimension
on the power of the (elite-enlightened) human will is bound to come up short on
its best days, and to fail rather substantially on the other days, and to
mutate into a monstrous Leviathan (or Leviatha) on any day.
Fascism – similar to Communism and Progressivism – is
expansionist because it sees no natural boundary to its ambitions”. (p.19)
Meaning that it acknowledges no Grounds or Boundaries (German: Grunde und Grenze) that come from Beyond
itself and to which and by which it can be judged and held accountable – another
reason why one must stop being ‘judgmental’). Hence, to draw a current example,
this country – having already imposed upon its own masses the putatively
enlightened perturbations of its elites – now seeks to go forth and bring the
Good News to any other country on the planet where – in the government’s
opinion – the masses (especially of favored and ‘valorized’ Identity-groups) are
being in any way ‘oppressed’.
JG quotes H.G. Wells who told a meeting of the Young
Liberals at Oxford in 1932 that “Progressives must become ‘liberal fascists’
and ‘enlightened Nazis’”; the term “liberal fascism” is his. (p.19) It was a
pleasant and uplifting idea, if you think about it just a little. Beyond that
Progressivism – let there be no mistake about it –
envisioned itself as bringing about a New World Order; thus Progressive Woodrow
Wilson spun America’s efforts in World War 1 and his otherwise pacifist
Secretary of State – William Jennings Bryan – was self-seduced by his own
excited dampdream of “a Christian world order, complete with a global
prohibition of alcohol”. (p.19)
You see where this sort of thing can easily lead.
Today – and who can be surprised? – what passes for ‘liberalism’
(and is actually Progressivism and not Liberalism in the classical sense)
refuses to think about its own history. In fact, if you haven’t noticed, nobody
of that persuasion really cares to talk much about ‘history’ at all – except as
a recitation of grievances that justify whatever it is they want to do right
now. With a history like this, who wants people poking around?*** Or perhaps to
simply dip into the past for a tactically useful (if not altogether
illuminating) proof-text or encouraging reference; thus Joe Biden’s recent
incantation at the Democratic Convention that “we are on our way”, echoing the assertion
of FDR that the country was getting better all the time, as it were: every day
and in every way.****
Nor does JG let non-liberals off the hook, since –
as We shall see – Progressivism has now rooted itself in both Parties. He
quotes George W. Bush about leaving no child behind and “how, when somebody
hurts, government has got to move”. (p.23) This had previously been a
responsibility ascribed to the Deity – Who presumably had the omniscience and
omnipotence and total benevolence to become so minutely involved in each
individual life’s trials and tribulations. But by now the U.S. government has
eliminated what it considers to be the middle-man and will faithfully execute
the Omniscience, Omnipotence, and Benevolence on its own – thank you very much –
especially since its prior old-school responsibility to the protection,
preservation and defense of the Constitution and the faithful execution of the
laws are now … well, soooo old-school.
“Fascism”, says JG, “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.” (p.23) [italics JG’s]
Unpacking that succinct recitation just a bit, I
would say that for all practical purposes We can see all of those dynamic
purposes functioning now among Us. The State is not overtly worshipped, but the
rival – religion – is continuously undermined.*****
And that the “organic unity” dynamic is operational
even in this Age of Identity Politics: everybody is included who is ‘oppressed’
in any way by the one excluded group: the white, patriarchal, straight, older
(you can add: sexually violent or ‘industrial-age’ or ‘unionized’ or whatever
as suits you) Male. Under the heel of that oppressor, you can include all the ‘marginalized’
and ‘victimized’ of any sort whatsoever.
The infantilization of the Citizenry – alarmingly willingly
– is evidenced by the wistfully eager reliance of so many on ‘the President’
(whoever it may be) as Our ‘leader’ and Our ‘commander-in-chief’ and Our
national Empathizer-in-Chief and needs no great description. It will only get
worse as the increasingly damaged economy throws more infantilized persons into
the maw of those “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that have always
bethumped the species.
There is actually no single “will of the people”, no
Volksgeist. Indeed, it has precisely
been the aim of Identity Politics and Political Correctness to ensure that no
serious public deliberation take place, lest ‘divisive’ fractures in the façade
appear too clearly. But that simply results in the government and its enfoeffed
elites getting to say just what that “will of the people” is – which is a
potentially fatal development.
The government is for all practical purposes ‘totalitarian’
since there is no element of national life, culture, or society that is
conceptually immune to government imposition in one form or another, by law or
regulation or policy. And of course, to assuage ‘pain’ or redress grievances of
oppression or victimization, the government will accept no un-Correct
limitations on its writ.
Employment and advancement of those who dissent in
thought or action are increasingly becoming doubtful (on top of the problems with
the economy and jobs and hiring in general). The social pressure to conform is
now joined by the economic pressure to conform.
And “religion” will conform or it will be undermined
by whatever means necessary. (See Note ***** below.)
Not a comforting x-ray at all. But if We are to
regain (I won’t say retain) the genuine life and polity envisioned by the
Framers then We have to face the x-ray and do some serious and urgent thinking.
As Ike said: So much remains to be done.
I will continue this mini-series, and at a faster
clip than I have previously been Posting.
*Goldberg, Jonah. Liberal Fascism. Doubleday: New York, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-385-51184-1
(hard cover). It’s also out in paperback.
**JG notes that Jewish folk survived the Holocaust in
their largest numbers under regimes controlled by Mussolini and Franco. Franco –
for whom I hold no brief – actually used his dictatorial powers to abrogate the
1492 Spanish Edict of Expulsion of Jewish folk from that country. Jewish folk
fared far less well under the aegis of the putatively ‘liberal’ French and
Dutch. [If you haven’t noticed, I dislike the term ‘the Jews’ and won’t be
using it in any of my Posts; to me the phrase contains too much a whiff of
disrespect, despite its short-hand conversational advantages.]
***There is an odd – even weird – echo of this in
the current rape-law insistence that a complainant’s ‘history’ should be out-of-bounds
for judging any present complaint.
****I added this last phrase from Emile Coue, 19th
and early 20th-century French psychologist: “Every day and in every
way I am getting better and better”. He proposed that patients deploy this
auto-suggestion to encourage themselves and keep up their spirits. It seems to
me nowadays around here to be a primary suggestion of the political Parties,
moving the voters to close their lying eyes and simply ‘believe’ or ‘hope’ –
because if enough folks do so, then of course everything actually will get better. To which I can only
respond with French politesse: Mais oui – “but of course”, as the
patient is gently ushered out to the sun porch by understanding staffers.
*****This is especially true of those religions that
have not truckled to the State by ‘baptizing’ its agendas and providing ‘benefit
of clergy’ to the government’s programmes. Thus where some elements of
fundamentalism (seen more publicly in Reagan’s day than presently) simply
solved their problem by identifying the National Security State with God’s
Will, and others of a more ‘liberal’ bent largely adopted the agenda of the National
Nanny State as God’s Will, the Catholic Church – as the largest dissenter –
stubbornly retained its witness to a Multi-planar reality or Reality, Grounded
in a Beyond and indeed in a God Who has created all human beings in His Image,
and to Whom all earthly governments must hold themselves ultimately and
Labels: American politics, contemporary liberalism, Jonah Goldberg, Progressivism