|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 Goldberg 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. The book was negatively received by critics in popular press as well as academia.
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."
The book was widely praised by conservative authors and commentators including David Pryce-Jones (a colleague of Goldberg's at National Review), Daniel Pipes, Charles Murray, Newt Gingrich, Bruce Thornton et al. The conservative dailies of Washington Times and New York Sun also reviewed the work in favorable terms. Christian publications like World and Publishers Weekly too praised the book.
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.
Curtis Yarvin wrote about the book:
One reason the Jonah Goldbergs of the world have such trouble telling their right from their left is that they expect some morphological feature of the State to answer the question for them. For anyone other than Goldberg, Stalin was on the left and Hitler was on the right. The difference is not a function of discrepancies in administrative procedure between the KZs and the Gulag. It's a function of social networks. Stalin was a real socialist, Hitler was a fake one. Stalin was part of the international socialist movement, and Hitler wasn't.
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 ...
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.
... 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.
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.
A review in the Claremont Review of Books said:
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.
David Gordon 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.
- "Hardcover Nonfiction". The New York Times. March 9, 2008. Archived from the original on November 13, 2013. Retrieved March 5, 2008.
- Goldberg 2008, p. 9.
- Goldberg 2008, p. 25
- Goldberg 2008, p. 4
- "Politics and the English Language" Archived July 15, 2010, at the Wayback Machine 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). Archived from the original on December 28, 2007..
- Goldberg 2008, p. 21.
- Goldberg 2008, pp. 429.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on May 1, 2015. Retrieved April 28, 2015.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- Noah, Timothy, Has Jonah Goldberg Gone Soft on Hillary? Archived March 9, 2010, at the Wayback Machine 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.
- Jonah Goldberg. "Praise for Liberal Fascism" Archived September 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, National Review Online, January 15, 2008
- What liberal thought has in common with fascism Archived February 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, The Washington Times, Larry Thornberry, February 17, 2008.
- Ron Radosh, "America's 'Fascist Moment'" Archived March 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine The New York Sun, Ron Radosh January 4, 2008
- "Fascists on the left" Archived July 10, 2008, at the Wayback Machine World Magazine, Marvin Olasky July 12, 2008
- "Nonfiction Reviews: Week of 26 November 2007". Publishers Weekly. November 26, 2007. Archived from the original on December 10, 2007. Retrieved December 24, 2007.
- 2009 Abstract to "H.G. Wells's 'Liberal Fascism'", Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 35, No. 4, (2000) Archived November 1, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
- Goldberg's Trivial Pursuit Archived January 5, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, The American Conservative, Austin W. Bramwell, January 27, 2008.
- Yarvin, Curtis (May 29, 2008) “OL7: the ugly truth about government.” Archived May 29, 2017, at the Wayback Machine Unqualified Reservations (blog). Archived May 9, 2017, at the Wayback Machine
- "Conservative Cannibalism Archived February 29, 2008, at the Wayback Machine The Nation, Eric Alterman, February 21, 2008
- Jonah Goldberg's Bizarro History Archived January 10, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, The American Prospect, David Neiwert, January 8, 2008
- David Oshinsky (December 30, 2007). "Heil Woodrow!". New York Times. Archived from the original on April 25, 2009. Retrieved February 20, 2008.
- Michael Tomasky (March 12, 2008). "Jackboots and Whole Foods". The New Republic. Archived from the original on February 2, 2014. Retrieved March 5, 2008.
- Gordon, David. Fascism, Left and Right Archived October 14, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, Ludwig von Mises Institute, January 31, 2008
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 28, 2010. Retrieved January 25, 2010.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- Richard Bernstein. "Are American liberals 'nice fascists'?" Archived April 27, 2018, at the Wayback Machine, The New York Times, January 30, 2008
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 1, 2012. Retrieved December 28, 2011.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- 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. January 9, 2008. Retrieved April 26, 2015.
- Robert Wright's interview with Jonah Goldberg on Bloggingheads.tv.
In Defense of Food
by Michael Pollan
| #1 New York Times Best Seller Non-Fiction
March 9, 2008
by Valerie Bertinelli