Who Is 'Fascist'?

Modern liberals commonly accuse conservatives of being "fascists."  History tells a different story, however — a story that will be important to anyone with an interest in ideas, or an appreciation for integrity.

Those who put a high value on words may recoil at the title of Jonah Goldberg’s new book, Liberal Fascism. As a result, they may refuse to read it, which will be their loss — and a major loss.

Those who value substance over words, however, will find in this book a wealth of challenging insights, backed up by thorough research and brilliant analysis.

This is the sort of book that challenges the fundamental assumptions of its time — and which, for that reason, is likely to be shunned rather than criticized.

Because the word “fascist” is often thrown around loosely these days, as a general term of abuse, it is good that Liberal Fascism begins by discussing the real Fascism, introduced into Italy after the First World War by Benito Mussolini.

The Fascists were completely against individualism in general and especially against individualism in a free market economy. Their agenda included minimum wage laws, government restrictions on profit-making, progressive taxation of capital, and “rigidly secular” schools.

Unlike the Communists, the Fascists did not seek government ownership of the means of production. They just wanted the government to call the shots as to how businesses would be run.

They were for “industrial policy,” long before liberals coined that phrase in the United States.

Indeed, the whole Fascist economic agenda bears a remarkable resemblance to what liberals would later advocate.

Moreover, during the 1920s “progressives” in the United States and Britain recognized the kinship of their ideas with those of Mussolini, who was widely lionized by the left.

Famed British novelist and prominent Fabian socialist H.G. Wells called for “Liberal Fascism,” saying “the world is sick of parliamentary politics.”

Another literary giant and Fabian socialist, George Bernard Shaw, also expressed his admiration for Mussolini — as well as for Hitler and Stalin, because they “did things,” instead of just talk.

In Germany, the Nazis followed in the wake of the Italian Fascists, adding racism in general and anti-Semitism in particular, neither of which was part of Fascism in Italy or in Franco’s Spain.

Even the Nazi variant of Fascism found favor on the left when it was only a movement seeking power in the 1920s.

W.E.B. DuBois was so taken with the Nazi movement that he put swastikas on the cover of a magazine he edited, despite complaints from Jewish readers.

Even after Hitler achieved dictatorial power in Germany in 1933, DuBois declared that the Nazi dictatorship was “absolutely necessary in order to get the state in order.”

As late as 1937 he said in a speech in Harlem that “there is today, in some respects, more democracy in Germany than there has been in years past.”

In short, during the 1920s and the early 1930s, Fascism was not only looked on favorably by the left but recognized as having kindred ideas, agendas, and assumptions.

Only after Hitler and Mussolini disgraced themselves, mainly by their brutal military aggressions in the 1930s, did the left distance themselves from these international pariahs.

Fascism, initially recognized as a kindred ideology of the left, has since come down to us defined as being on “the right” — indeed, as representing the farthest right, supposedly further extensions of conservatism.

If by “conservatism” you mean belief in free markets, limited government, and traditional morality — including religious influences — then these are all things that the Fascists opposed just as much as the left does today.

The left may say that they are not racists or anti-Semites, like Hitler, but neither was Mussolini or Franco. Hitler, incidentally, got some of his racist ideology from the writings of American “progressives” in the eugenics movement.

Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism is too rich a book to be summarized in a newspaper column. Get a copy and start re-thinking the received notions about who is on “the left” and who is on “the right.” It is a book for people who want to think, rather than repeat rhetoric.

Thomas Sowell is a Senior Fellow at The Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California. He has published dozens of books on economics, education, race, and other topics. His most recent book is Economic Facts and Fallacies, published in December 2007.

4 comments from readers  

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I'm going to have to get this book, and I expect its importance is going to escalate in the coming months...Especially after November!

Mr. Goldberg has set himself up as a target by even presuming to voice the opine such a thing exists, and should he not commit "Arkansas suicide" during the reign of HITLERy or Mark-Of-McCain, could easily write a sequel about the degeneration and loss of genuine conservative principles within the GOP over the last seven years, called CON-servative Fascism.
I will certainly buy this book on Mr. Sowell's recommendation. I have been puzzled for years over the terminology "left" and "right" which seemed to me woefully inadequate as useful tools in the discussion of political ideas. If you have statism on one hand, and individual freedom on the other, it leaves no room for such ill-conceived, slippery words as right and left. Thank you Mr. Sowell, for bringing my attention to this book.
I was looking for a new read and this has definitely caught my attention. I find it interesting that this hits on the "progressives" in the eugenics movement. In college, doing some research, I came across Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood. In her earlier works, around the turn of the century, she first wrote about "farms for the unfit," where the non-"thoroughbreds," as she defined them, would be sent. These writings actually influenced what become concentration camps. Also, in her Birth Control Review, Sanger even published writings and findings by the Nazi scientists.

And yet, every time you bring up Sanger to a hardcore Planned Parenthood supporter, they either deny it, or simply state that not all of Sanger's "crazy" ideas represent modern Planned Parenthood. And then they freeze when you remind them that even Sanger argued against the seperation of the birth control argument from the eugenics argument.
November 6:

Wow -- I guess I will be buying this book and reading it during the 'barak' years.

I need a little time yet to recover from whatever it was that aflicted me while reading 'Atlas Shrugged' this past September. My mind kept mixing-up directive 10-289 with the Economic-Recovery-Act.

I was reading it one time just-before I listened to Senator Obama's remarks on the 'campaign-trail' in Germany...

Then when I was just about finished with the book, I put it down, turned on my radio, and heard about Bernanke having all the bankers in the room, telling Citibank they had to take the money and abide by the agreement. That move alone will probably not work out as badly as the precedent it set for a subsequent administrations' actions.

Now that Mr. Obama has been elected I'll need to get this 'Liberal Fascism' of mr. Goldburg's read soon to avoid the inevitable literary-LSD that it will surely have me ingest later into the administration...
To post comments, please log in first. The Atlasphere is a social networking site for admirers of Ayn Rand's novels, most notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In addition to our online magazine, we offer a member directory and a dating service. If you share our enjoyment of Ayn Rand's novels, please sign up or log in to post comments.