Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism is a conservative’s wet dream. No, it’s better than that. The moment you read it — presuming you’re right-wing, that is — you will experience not only a rush of ecstasy, but also a surge of revolutionary fervour and evangelical zeal. You’ll want to email all your friends and tell them the wonderful news: ‘I’m not an evil bastard, after all!’
What Goldberg very effectively does is to remove from the charge sheet the one possible reason any thinking person could have for not wanting to be right-wing: viz, that being on the right automatically makes you a closet fascist/Nazi scumbag. By accumulating a mass of historical evidence so extensive it borders on the wearisome, Goldberg comprehensively demonstrates that both Nazism and fascism were phenomena of the Left, not of the Right.
The book, a New York Times No. 1 bestseller has, needless to say, enraged lefties (‘liberals’ as they’re more usually known in the States) everywhere. ‘In the first week I had half a dozen emails from total strangers saying, “How dare you accuse us caring liberals of being fascists!” and then going on to say what a shame it was that my family hadn’t been sorted out once and for all a few years back in the concentration camps,’ he says.
Goldberg is a New York Jew and growing up as a conservative in Manhattan’s impeccably liberal, Jewish Upper West Side, he said he often felt like a Christian in Ancient Rome. At school and university, whenever he spoke in favour of tax cuts or a free market economy, the response was invariably the same. ‘Nazi’, he was called. Or ‘fascist’. By the time he was established as a contributing editor to National Review, he’d had quite enough of this. He spent four years researching and writing the book which would put the record straight.
What he found astonished him. Nazism and fascism, it turned out, were closer kindred spirits of Soviet communism than he could ever have imagined. The first expressed itself through ideas about racial purity and Jew-hatred, the second with ideas about the primacy of the nation, but in most other respects they were all remarkably similar: seizing the means of production; empowering the masses; rule by experts; the elevation of youth and brute emotion over wisdom, tradition and intellect; the submission of the individual to the will of the state. As Goldberg wryly puts it, ‘The Nazis were not big on property rights and tax cuts.’
You wonder why no one has made this point properly before. ‘Yeah, that’s what one of my reviewers said: “That sound you can hear is the sound of millions of conservatives slapping their foreheads and going: ‘Why didn’t I write this book?’”’ says Goldberg. ‘So much of this information was low-hanging fruit. It really wasn’t hard to find.’
He has certainly plucked some gorgeous peaches. Here, for example, is what sounds like a spokesman for the animal rights advocacy group PETA: ‘How can you find pleasure in shooting from behind cover at poor creatures browsing on the edge of a wood, innocent, defenceless and unsuspecting? It’s really pure murder!’ In fact this is Heinrich Himmler talking. And compare and contrast — well, compare mainly — the attitudes of our current nanny state on everything from child obesity to non-smoking to those in the Hitler Youth manual: ‘Food is not a private matter!’ ‘You have the duty to be healthy.’
Elsewhere, Goldberg points out that it was liberals — not conservatives — who were the biggest advocates of eugenics; that America’s most racist (and fascistic) president was the arch-liberal Woodrow Wilson; and that during the supposedly wondrous New Deal of the beloved liberal president FDR, an immigrant dry-cleaner could have his door kicked in and be imprisoned for cleaning suits for five cents less than the agreed government minimum, while Nuremberg-style rallies — prompting a visiting British Independent Labour MP to complain it all felt far too much like Nazi Germany — were staged in New York.
Goldberg’s purpose is not to argue that liberals are bad people, still less that they’re all closet fascists. But he does want them to realise that people in glass houses are scarcely in the ideal position to throw stones. ‘I’m not a big believer in guilt by association. But their lack of self-awareness about the demons in their own midst is really astounding.’
But then, he argues, the problem with liberals is that they’ve always been so convinced of their moral righteousness that they never feel the need to analyse their position too deeply. Conservatives are continually agonising among themselves about precisely what the role of government should be — ‘where to draw the line between freedom and virtue’. For leftists, the dogma is settled: ‘Government should do good where it can, whenever it can, period.’
Which, of course, leaves little room for those who — as proper conservatives do — believe that government more often makes things worse than better. This is what bothered Goldberg about a recent speech by Obama stating his opposition to ‘ideology, small-mindedness, prejudice and bigotry’. That word ‘ideology’ is, of course, leftist code for ‘anyone who doesn’t believe in big government’. ‘It’s a deeply offensive and undemocratic way of pre-empting any principled disagreement to his statist policies,’ says Goldberg. In other words, in the US, it’s very likely going to be a case — after Wilson, then FDR — of Liberal Fascism redux.
But hang on a second: isn’t fascism all about war when liberals are all about peace and love? Not quite, says Goldberg, though this is indeed the most common misconception about the ‘f’ word. It’s not the war part of fascism’s inherent militarism that liberals find so attractive but the way it gives the state the chance to take control and put the whole of society on a war footing. In order to effect this sweeping social mobilisation, liberals need grand and apparently urgent causes to justify the bossiness and repression that this inevitably entails. ‘Climate change’ provided them with a perfect excuse for this kind of statist bullying; the new Great Depression has given them an even better one.
These are dark times for those who think big government is the disease, not the cure. The big problem in bipartisan political systems when governments move leftwards, says Goldberg, is that right-wing oppositions move leftwards too, creating what Barry Goldwater christened ‘Me Too Republicanism’ and what Dubya (a much bigger leftie than anyone yet credits) called Compassionate Conservatism. ‘It means buying into the fundamental assumptions of the Left, but promising to do everything a bit more efficiently,’ says Goldberg. ‘Which sounds nice, but is incredibly dangerous. Once conservatives abandon their dogma about the limits of state, there is nothing to restrain the “will to power” that makes them almost as destructive in government as a left-wing regime.’
He could almost be describing our future prospects under Cameron’s Conservatives. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated February 28, 2009