|January 8, 2008|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|LC Class||JC481 .G55 2007|
Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning is a book by Jonah Goldberg in which he argues that fascist movements were and are left-wing. Published in January 2008, it reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list of hardcover non-fiction in its seventh week on the list. Goldberg is a syndicated columnist and the editor-at-large of National Review Online.
Summary of contents
In the book, Goldberg argues that both modern liberalism and fascism descended from progressivism, and that before World War II, "fascism was widely viewed as a progressive social movement with many liberal and left-wing adherents in Europe and the United States". Goldberg writes that there was more to fascism than bigotry and genocide, and argues that those characteristics were not so much a feature of Italian fascism, but rather of German Nazism, which was allegedly forced upon the Italian fascists "after the Nazis had invaded northern Italy and created a puppet government in Salò."
He argues that over time, the term fascism has lost its original meaning and has descended to the level of being "a modern word for 'heretic,' branding an individual worthy of excommunication from the body politic", noting that in 1946, the socialist anti-fascist writer George Orwell described the word as no longer having any meaning except to signify "something not desirable".
Origin of title and cover
Goldberg has said in interviews that the title Liberal Fascism was taken from a 1932 speech by science fiction pioneer and socialist H. G. Wells at Oxford. Goldberg quotes Wells as stating that he wanted to "assist in a kind of phoenix rebirth" of liberalism as an "enlightened Nazism." In the book, however, Goldberg writes that he "did not get the title of this book from Wells's speech, but ... was delighted to discover the phrase has such a rich intellectual history". This apparent contradiction was clarified in a subsequent interview where Golberg states "The truth is that Liberal Fascism was originally a working title I came up with independently for the proposal. But the idea was always that we might change it for the actual book since it is such a bloody shirt. But then I read up on Wells and his call for 'Liberal Fascism,' and I was like, 'What the hell, this is more apt than I realized.' So in a way, the title comes from Wells and in a way it doesn’t." Before being published, alternative subtitles included The Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton and The Totalitarian Temptation from Hegel to Whole Foods.
The smiley face with an Adolf Hitler-style mustache on the cover of the book is a reference to comments made by comedian George Carlin on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher that "when fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jackboots. It will be Nike sneakers and smiley shirts. Smiley-smiley."
||This article contains too many or too-lengthy quotations for an encyclopedic entry. (June 2013)|
When Goldberg was a guest on The Daily Show to promote his book, his interview with host Jon Stewart went overtime, as Stewart and Goldberg debated many of the claims made in the book. The interview ended with Goldberg laughing and Stewart remarking "Can we air any of this?". The recorded interview was edited for broadcast.
Goldberg is certainly right when he says that most academics have willfully ignored modern liberalism's progressive-fascist roots, although scholars such as James Ceaser, John Marini, and others (including me) have in fact been calling attention to the progressive origins of modern liberalism for the past 20 years. Liberal Fascism clearly draws from these works but makes surprisingly little reference to them, even in a few instances when the book's observations sound awfully familiar. Yet if Goldberg proceeds, in some respects, down a path blazed by others, he does so with the kind of terrific writing and energy that is certain to make the connection between modern liberalism and its statist ancestors a more prominent factor in America's political battles and debates.
Jonah Goldberg argues that liberals today have doctrinal and emotional roots in twentieth-century European fascism. Many people will be shocked just by the thought that long discredited fascism could mutate into the spirit of another age. It's always exhilarating when someone takes on received opinion, but this is not a work of pamphleteering. Goldberg's insight, supported by a great deal of learning, happens to be right.
A review in Publishers Weekly said:
In this provocative and well-researched book, Goldberg probes modern liberalism's spooky origins in early 20th-century fascist politics. ... Goldberg's study of the conceptual overlap between fascism and ideas emanating from the environmental movement, Hollywood, the Democratic Party and what he calls other left-wing organs is shocking and hilarious. ... The book's tone suffers as it oscillates between revisionist historical analyses and the application of fascist themes to American popular culture; nonetheless, the controversial arc Goldberg draws from Mussolini to The Matrix is well-researched, seriously argued—and funny.
Larry Thornberry of the Washington Times called the book "a major contribution to understanding the history of political ideas and attitudes over the last two centuries and change. ... Readers of Mr. Goldberg's column and articles are warned that they will find little of his usual humor and whimsy. "Liberal Fascism" is not a tome. But it's a relentlessly analytic treatment of a large, serious and complex subject."
Mr. Goldberg presents a strong and compelling case that the very idea of fascism emanated from the ranks of liberalism. ... He has read widely and thoroughly, not only in the primary sources of fascism, but in the political and intellectual history written by the major historians of the subject. ...Some will rightfully take issue with Mr. Goldberg when he describes the administrations of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Clinton as fascist. On this, he strains and pushes his evidence too far to convince the reader that these paragons of liberalism can be called fascist in any sense of the term. Mr. Goldberg makes a stronger case when he accuses the New Left of classic fascist behavior, when its cadre took to the streets and through action discarded its early idealism for what Mr. Goldberg correctly calls "fascist thuggery."
Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism is a flawed but useful attempt to redraw the political map. Goldberg shows how Woodrow Wilson began and Franklin Roosevelt amplified an almost-fascist concentration of power in Washington. FDR boasted of his 'wholesome and proper' buildup of power because he was leading 'a people's government.' Goldberg shows how liberals came to believe that authoritarian government is fine as long as representatives of 'the people'—themselves—are in charge.
Economist Thomas Sowell wrote,
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. It is a book for people who want to think, rather than repeat rhetoric.
Philip Coupland, whose paper "H.G. Wells's 'Liberal Fascism'" was used as a source for Liberal Fascism, criticized Goldberg's understanding of the term:
Wells did not label his 'entire...philosophy' liberal fascism, not in fact and not by implication. Liberal fascism was the name which he (and I) gave to his theory of praxis, that is his method of achieving his utopian goal, not the goal itself. ... Wells hoped for activists who would use what he considered to be 'fascist' means (technocratic authoritarianism and force) to achieve a liberal social end. In contrast, a 'liberal fascist' would pursue fascist ends but in a 'liberal' or at least more 'liberal' way.
Austin W. Bramwell wrote in The American Conservative:
Repeatedly, Goldberg fails to recognize a reductio ad absurdum. ... In no case does Goldberg uncover anything more ominous than a coincidence. ... In elaborating liberalism's similarities to fascism, Goldberg shows a near superstitious belief in the power of taxonomy. ... Goldberg falsely saddles liberalism not just with relativism but with all manner of alleged errors having nothing to do with liberalism. ... Not only does Goldberg misunderstand liberalism, but he refuses to see it simply as liberalism... Liberal Fascism reads less like an extended argument than as a catalogue of conservative intellectual clichés, often irrelevant to the supposed point of the book. ... Liberal Fascism completes Goldberg's transformation from chipper humorist into humorless ideologue.
The book reads like a Google search gone gaga. Some Fascists were vegetarians; some liberals are vegetarians; ergo... Some Fascists were gay; some liberals are gay... Fascists cared about educating children; Hillary Clinton cares about educating children. Aha! ... Like Coulter, he's got a bunch of footnotes. And for all I know, they check out. But they are put in the service of an argument that no one with any knowledge of the topic would take seriously.
has drawn a kind of history in absurdly broad and comically wrongheaded strokes. It is not just history done badly, or mere revisionism. It's a caricature of reality, like something from a comic-book alternative universe: Bizarro history. ... Goldberg isn't content to simply create an oxymoron; this entire enterprise, in fact, is classic Newspeak. ... Along the way, he grotesquely misrepresents the state of academia regarding the study of fascism...
David Oshinsky of The New York Times wrote: "Liberal Fascism is less an exposé of left-wing hypocrisy than a chance to exact political revenge. Yet the title of his book aside, what distinguishes Goldberg from the Sean Hannitys and Michael Savages is a witty intelligence that deals in ideas as well as insults—no mean feat in the nasty world of the culture wars."
Michael Tomasky wrote in The New Republic: "...I can report with a clear conscience that Liberal Fascism is one of the most tedious and inane—and ultimately self-negating—books that I have ever read. ... Liberal Fascism is a document of a deeply frivolous culture, or sub-culture. ... However much or little Goldberg knows about fascism, he knows next to nothing about liberalism.
In his book Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free, Charles P. Pierce describes Goldberg's book as "Apparently written with a paint roller" and "a richly footnoted loogie hawked by Goldberg at every liberal who ever loosely called him a fascist." Pierce also claims that Goldberg ignored historical facts relating to his accusations against Woodrow Wilson:
It seems that Wilson was a Progressive, and Goldberg sees in the Progressive movement the seedbed of American fascism which, he argues, differs from European fascism, especially on those occasions when he needs it to differ because he has backed up the argument over his own feet. Anyway, Wilson brought the country into World War I. Therefore, Progressives love war.
David Gordon, a libertarian scholar with the Mises Institute, wrote in his review "Fascism, Left and Right" that "Jonah Goldberg has ruined what could have been a valuable book." While offering agreement with some of Goldberg's underlying thesis concerning the progressive nature of fascism, Gordon nonetheless finds insurmountable flaws to the book. Gordon states that
"[Goldberg] seems to me too ready to call any resort to "identity politics" fascist; and while he criticizes the 'compassionate conservatism' of George Bush, he turns a blind eye to the effects of Bush's bellicose foreign policy on the domestic scene. Goldberg himself supports the Iraq war; when one is faced with a "good" war, apparently, the link between war and fascism no longer need be of concern"
Gordon's review discovered numerous historical errors that other negative reviews failed to mention. He faults Goldberg's claim that Rousseau is a precursor to fascism and his interpretation of various philosopher's statements.
In January 2010, History News Network published essays by David Neiwert, Robert Paxton, Roger Griffin, Matthew Feldman, Chip Berlet, and Michael Ledeen criticizing Liberal Fascism. They also published Goldberg's response which several authors responded to.
In the end, Goldberg's point that the fascist label has been used by some liberals to defame almost anything they don't like is a valid one. So is his contention that American conservatism has no connection or similarity to European fascism - even if some American conservatives were not especially alarmed by Hitlerian racism or, for that matter, American Jim Crow. But he should have stopped there. To go on to label American liberals "nice fascists" isn't exactly a smear, but it's not exactly helpful to public discourse either. Then again, if Goldberg had stopped short of doing that, the chances are a book called Liberal Fascism wouldn't have made it onto the best-seller list.
- "Hardcover Nonfiction". New York Times. March 9, 2008. Retrieved March 5, 2008.
- Goldberg 2008, p. 9.
- Goldberg 2008, p. 25
- Goldberg 2008, p. 4
- Politics and the English Language George Orwell, 1946.
- "H. G. Wells: A Political Life", Journal article by John S. Partington; Utopian Studies, Vol. 19, 2008.
- Glenn Reynolds & Helen Smith (December 27, 2007). "The Glenn and Helen Show: Jonah Goldberg on Hillary, Huckabee, and Liberal Fascism". Politics Central (Podcast)..
- Goldberg 2008, p. 21.
- Goldberg 2008, pp. 429.
- Noah,Timothy, Has Jonah Goldberg Gone Soft on Hillary? in Slate, June 27, 2007
- Goldberg, Jonah, "When a conservative and liberal 'talk'" in South Florida Sun-Sentinel, January 25, 2008
- Goldberg 2008, pp. 1–2.
- January 16, 2008: Jonah Goldberg, The Daily Show
- Jonah Goldberg. "Praise for Liberal Fascism", National Review Online, January 15, 2008
- "Nonfiction Reviews: Week of 26 November 2007". Publishers Weekly. November 26, 2007. Retrieved December 24, 2007.[dead link]
- What liberal thought has in common with fascism, The Washington Times, Larry Thornberry, February 17, 2008.
- Ron Radosh, "America's 'Fascist Moment" The New York Sun, Ron Radosh January 4, 2008
- "Fascists on the left" World Magazine, Marvin Olasky July 12, 2008
- "Who is 'Fascist'"
- 2009 Abstract to "H.G. Wells's 'Liberal Fascism'", Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 35, No. 4, (2000)
- Goldberg's Trivial Pursuit, The American Conservative, Austin W. Bramwell, January 27, 2008.
- "Conservative Cannibalism The Nation, Eric Alterman, February 21, 2008
- Jonah Goldberg's Bizarro History, The American Prospect, David Neiwert, January 8, 2008
- David Oshinsky (December 30, 2007). "Heil Woodrow!". New York Times. Retrieved February 20, 2008.
- Michael Tomasky (March 12, 2008). "Jackboots and Whole Foods". The New Republic. Retrieved March 5, 2008.
- Gordon, David. Fascism, Left and Right, Ludwig von Mises Institute, January 31, 2008
- Richard Bernstein. "Are American liberals 'nice fascists'?", The New York Times, January 30, 2008
- Book discussion blog on National Review Online
- BookBites - Quotes from the book
- 'The Daily Show' Interview with Jonah Goldberg
- What 'The Daily Show' Cut Out by Jonah Goldberg
- Dr. Milt Rosenberg interviews Jonah Goldberg on WGN Radio - Extension 720
- Glenn Reynolds & Dr. Helen Smith's radio show interview Jonah Goldberg.
- Hugh Hewitt's Interview with Jonah Goldberg
- Investor's Business Daily's interview with Jonah Goldberg
- "Book Discussion on Liberal Fascism". C-SPAN. 9 January 2008. Retrieved 26 April 2015.
- Robert Wright's interview with Jonah Goldberg on Bloggingheads.tv.
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