"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’"—Attributed to Ronald Reagan
In Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, perhaps knowingly, perhaps unwittingly, former National Review Online editor and now syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg has produced a book on religion. The constant theme of his text is that people, the majority of them high-minded and well-meaning, view the state—"the God-state"—as the only means of correcting the world’s defects. It’s an attitude that, when translated into programmatic action, all but guarantees hell on earth.
Since Day Six of Planet Earth, human beings have made a habit of making wrong decisions. Once the human race decided that acceptance of the Almighty’s governance was unacceptable, it arrogated to itself the task of self-government. We can’t say we weren’t warned, and the evidence for our lack of qualification for the task is infinite. You don’t even have to go back into history six thousand years to see how well that decision turned out.
Jonah Goldberg’s book covers the modern Progressive/liberal movement, starting with the twentieth-century "fascist moment." It looked like the time had come for totalitarianism (a word coined with only benign intent): the total state, run by technocrats, would succeed after anemic classical liberalism’s "failure" to provide for everyone’s needs. All that was required was the political will to overcome established religion and the divisive, outmoded concept of individualism.
As Goldberg is careful to point out, fascism took root and flourished differently in different cultures. In America it enjoyed (under Wilson, FDR, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, and every administration except Reagan’s) virtually unchallenged acceptance. If there wasn’t an actual shooting war going on to justify fascistic government intrusion into the private lives of American citizens, then some synthetic "crisis"—"the moral equivalent of war"—would serve just as well.
Today’s liberals were yesterday’s Progressives (and now prefer that name again). The will to power (with the best of intentions, of course) is still present in the political sphere, and the old labels of Left and Right, Republican and Democrat, have lost their traditional meanings.
In fact, according to Goldberg, the normal spectrum of political positions could be discarded: "We’re all fascists, now." By that he appears to mean that the progressive impulse has been so deeply imprinted on the American psyche that it isn’t now a matter of whether you want the total state to impose itself on your life, but only of how much intrusion you’re willing to put up with.
When everything, regardless of how personal or trivial, is politicized, the state has an implicit mandate to interfere in every aspect of its citizens’ existence. Progressive technocrats, the enlightened rulers of the therapeutic state, will be there to scold, cajole, and heal—even if it means the abolition of freedom of choice.
But don’t worry—they only want to help.
A few quotes will give the flavor of Liberal Fascism:
"Introduction: Everything You Know about Fascism is Wrong"
And yet even though scholars admit that the nature of fascism is vague, complicated, and open to wildly divergent interpretations, many modern liberals and leftists act as if they know exactly what fascism is. What’s more, they see it everywhere—except when they look in the mirror. (p. 3)
Today’s liberal fascism eschews talk of Christianity for the most part, except to roll back its influence wherever it can (although a right-wing version often called compassionate conservatism has made inroads in the Republican Party). But while the God talk may have fallen by the wayside, the religious crusader’s spirit that powered Progressivism remains as strong as ever. (p. 15)
1. "Mussolini: The Father of Fascism"
Mussolini’s radical lust to make the state an object of religious fervor was born in the French Revolution, and Mussolini, an heir to the Jacobins, sought to rekindle that fire. No project could be less conservative or less right-wing. (p. 52)
2. "Adolf Hitler: Man of the Left"
For these reasons, Hitler deserves to be placed firmly on the left because first and foremost he was a revolutionary. Broadly speaking, the left is the party of change, the right the party of the status quo. On this score, Hitler was in no sense, way, shape, or form a man of the right. There are few things he believed more totally than that he was a revolutionary. And his followers agreed. (p. 59)
3. "Woodrow Wilson and the Birth of Liberal Fascism"
More dissidents were arrested or jailed in a few years under Wilson than under Mussolini during the entire 1920s. Wilson arguably did as much if not more violence to civil liberties in his last three years in office than Mussolini did in his first twelve. Wilson created a better and more effective propaganda ministry than Mussolini ever had. In the 1920s Mussolini’s critics harangued him—rightly—for using his semiofficial Fascisti to bully the opposition and for his harassment of the press. Just a few years earlier, Wilson had unleashed literally hundreds of thousands of badge-carrying goons on the American people and prosecuted a vicious campaign against the press that would have made Mussolini envious. (pp. 80-81)
Wilson was the first president to speak disparagingly of the Constitution. (p. 86)
4. "Franklin Roosevelt’s Fascist New Deal"
Indeed, the New Deal was conceived at the climax of a worldwide fascist moment, a moment when socialists in many countries were increasingly becoming nationalists and nationalists could embrace nothing other than socialism. Franklin Roosevelt was no fascist, at least not in the sense that he thought of himself this way. But many of his ideas and policies were indistinguishable from fascism. And today we live with the fruits of fascism, and we call them liberal. From economic policy, to populist politics, to a faith in the abiding power of brain trusts to chart our collective future—be they at Harvard or on the Supreme Court—fascist assumptions about the role of the state have been encoded upon the American mind, often as a matter of bipartisan consensus. (p. 123)
We have been on the road to serfdom, we may still be on that road, but it doesn’t feel that way. (p. 161)
5. "The 1960s: Fascism Takes to the Streets"
. . . John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson represented the continuation of the liberal quest begun by Woodrow Wilson and his fellow progressives—the quest to create an all-caring, all-powerful, all-encompassing state, a state that assumes responsibility for every desirable outcome and takes the blame for every setback on the road to utopia, a state that finally replaces God. (p. 200)
6. "From Kennedy’s Myth to Johnson’s Dream: Liberal Fascism and the Cult of the State"
Historically, for many liberals the role of the state has been a matter less of size than of function.
Progressivism shared with fascism a deep and abiding conviction that in a truly modern society, the state must take the place of religion. For some, this conviction was born of the belief that God was dead. . . . But there is a . . . kind of fascism that sees the state not as the replacement of God but as God’s agent or vehicle. . . . [T]he state is the ultimate authority, the source and maintainer of values, and the guarantor of the new order. (pp. 201-202)
7. "Liberal Racism: The Eugenic Ghost in the Fascist Machine"
. . . [W]e need to understand that American Progressivism shares important roots with European fascism. No clearer or more sinister proof of this exists than the passion with which American and European progressives greeted eugenics—widely seen as the answer to the "social question." (p. 246)
There’s a general consensus among liberal historians that Progressivism defies easy definition. Perhaps that’s because to identify Progressivism properly would be too inconvenient to liberalism, for doing so would expose the eugenic project at its core. (p. 253)
8. "Liberal Fascist Economics"
In the left’s eternal vigilance to fend off fascism, they have in fact created it, albeit with a friendly face. Like a medieval doctor who believes that mercury will cure madness, they foster precisely the sickness they hope to remedy. (p. 285) [Actually, such bizarre scientific errors are more characteristic of the Renaissance and after than of the Middle Ages.—Ed.]
It was not only inevitable but intended for big business to get bigger and the little guy to get screwed. (p. 293)
Indeed, the myth of the right-wing corporation allows the media to tighten liberalism’s grip on both corporations and the culture. (p. 312)
9. "Brave New Village: Hillary Clinton and the Meaning of Liberal Fascism"
Hillary Clinton is conventionally viewed by her supporters as a liberal—or by conservative opponents as a radical leftist in liberal sheep’s clothing; but it is more accurate to view her as an old-style progressive and a direct descendant of the Social Gospel movement of the 1920s and 1930s. (p. 319)
Hillary’s vision holds that America suffers from a profound "spiritual crisis" requiring the construction of a new man as part of a society-wide restoration and reconstruction effort leading to a new national community that will provide meaning and authenticity to every individual. Hers is a Third Way approach that promises to be neither left nor right, but a synthesis of both, under which the state and big business will work hand in hand. It is a fundamentally religious vision hiding in the Trojan horse of social justice that seeks to imbue social policy with spiritual imperatives. (p. 330)
10. "The New Age: We’re All Fascists Now"
There is simply no denying that liberalism is deeply committed to the creation and imposition of culture. Indeed, it’s transparently obvious that liberals care primarily about culture. During the 1990s, for example, liberalism dove headlong into the culture-formation business, from Hillary Clinton’s politics of meaning to the gender norming of college sports, to gays in the military, to the war on smoking. (p. 360)
If society is moving in a direction not of its choosing, it is often because it is being pushed by the self-appointed forces of progress. (p. 367)
The traditional family is the enemy of all political totalitarianisms because it is a bastion of loyalties separate from and prior to the state, which is why progressives are constantly trying to crack its outer shell. (p. 377)
Many on the left believe we must romanticize nature in order to create the political will to save it. But when such romanticism becomes a substitute religion and dissenters heretics, conservatives need to make it clear that environmental utopianism is as impossible as any other attempt to create a heaven on earth. (p. 384)
"Afterword: The Tempting of Conservatism"
In short, liberalism in this country succumbed to the totalitarian temptation: the belief that there is a priesthood of experts capable of redesigning society in a "progressive" manner. That progressive priesthood brooks no opposition, and it is in the ascendant today on many fronts. (p. 392)
To paraphrase Chesterton: the danger of an America which stops believing in itself isn’t that it will believe in nothing but that it can believe in anything. And that’s where the darker dystopian visions start becoming plausible. Like useful idiots of yore, today’s liberals want nothing but the best, but by pushing open the door to get it, they may well let in something far worse. (p. 394)
Much as with state interference in business or other realms of life, once the classical liberal vision of the state as a dispassionate arbiter and adjudicator is discarded in favor of a mommy state that plays favorites, it is only reasonable for people, groups, and businesses to compete for Mother’s love. (p. 397)
—Mike Gray is a critic and correspondent for The American Culture.