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Liberal anti-fascism is a form of anti-fascism that is distinguished by its use of non-violent, legal and democratic methods in fighting fascism, which it sees primarily as a moral evil and as a threat to liberal democracy. Liberal anti-fascism can be contrasted with militant anti-fascism.
Peaceful means: Liberal anti-fascism is liberal in its methods in that it works within the legal and constitutional framework of liberal democracy. Typically, for example, its methods will include: raising awareness of racial prejudice as a moral wrong, calling upon the state to censor fascist expression and other forms of hate speech,[dubious ] calling upon the police to take action against fascist organisation.
Fascism as a moral wrong: Liberal anti-fascism sees fascism as an extreme form of racism or prejudice which must be denounced as morally wrong. This contrasts with a more political analysis of fascism as, for example, primarily anti-working class (the Trotskyist view of fascism) or as connected with structures fundamental to Western modernity, including imperialism (the view of fascism from intellectuals like Hannah Arendt, Paul Gilroy, Zygmunt Bauman and A Sivanandan).
Defending democracy from fascism: The third feature of liberal anti-fascism is that it sees fascism as a threat to democracy or liberal democracy. Thus, its opposition to fascism can be seen as essentially a defence of the status quo. In this perspective, fascism is seen as a form of extremism, with no place in a liberal democracy, alongside other forms of extremism, including that of the far left. This position is criticised by militant anti-fascists (e.g. Anti-Fascist Action), who call for a radical transformation of society as an alternative to fascism, and ultra-leftists (e.g. Jean Barrot), who see fascism and democracy as both forms of capitalism and therefore equally evil.
During the 1920s and 1930s, many liberal intellectuals opposed the rise of fascism in Europe. In Italy, for example, Benedetto Croce organised a Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals. Other key liberal anti-fascists in this period included Piero Gobetti and Luigi Einaudi in Italy, the circle around the Frankfurter Zeitung in Germany, Gheorghe Tasca in Romania, and Englishman Sir Ernest Barker.
In the 1940s in Chile supporters of Juan Antonio Ríos and Arturo Alessandri against former dictator Carlos Ibáñez del Campo formed a Movimiento Liberal Antifascista (Liberal Anti-Fascist Movement). Others described as liberal anti-fascists in the post-war period included Norman Mailer, Primo Levi. and Norberto Bobbio.
Historian David Cesarani has described a generation of post-Cold War intellectuals and politicians, such as Joschka Fischer, Peter Schneider and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, as engaging in a "revival of the spirit of liberal anti-fascism of the 1930s and 1940s", inflected with a more contemporary emphasis on human rights; these intellectuals, for example, used the example of the dangers of twentieth century fascism to argue for forms of humanitarian intervention in the Balkans and Middle East. More recently, in the same spirit, the American version of the Euston Manifesto claims to stand in the "tradition of liberal anti-fascism". In 2010, Jeffrey Herf wrote of a "revived and wiser liberal anti-fascism" emerging in Central Europe, citing as examples Die Welt columnist Richard Herzinger, influential German academic Matthias Kuntzel, Klaus Faber (the founding member of the Coordinating Committee of German Non-Governmental Organizations against Anti-Semitism), Anette Kahane (director of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation), and the Austrian journalist Karl Pfeifer.
Criticisms of liberal anti-fascism
Liberal anti-fascism’s dependence on the state is criticised by militant anti-fascists who argue that fascism needs to be challenged through direct action by the citizenry. Liberal anti-fascism’s defence of the liberal state and of the status quo is criticised by left-wing and anti-racist radicals who see the liberal state as responsible for or complicit with pernicious forms of racism (e.g. immigration control, institutionalised racism, police racism and other forms of state racism).
Liberal anti-fascism tends to appeal to a general public or public opinion not marked by race or class. This view is criticised by militant anti-fascists, who tend to orientate to the white working class, as the force within society both most likely to be recruited to fascism and most able to stop fascism. It is also criticised by many radical anti-racists, who argue that an anti-racist movement should be black-led or who see liberal anti-fascism as letting less spectacular forms of racism off the hook.
Those liberal anti-fascists who advocate some form of government regulation of hate speech, e.g. banning publications that incite racial hatred or deny the Holocaust, are criticised by libertarians and by other liberals who see this as a form of censorship or denial of the right to free speech.
- David Ward Antifascisms: Cultural Politics in Italy, 1943-1946; The Cambridge History of Italian Literature, Peter Brand y Lino Pertile eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999, p.514
- James Martin, 'Piero Gobetti's Agonistic Liberalism', History of European Ideas, vol. 32, (2006), 205-222; Steve Bastow, James Martin Third way discourse: European ideologies in the twentieth century Edinburgh University Press 2003, p.75; Wilda M. Vanek 'Piero Gobetti and the Crisis of the "Prima Dopoguerra"' Journal of Modern History March 1965; Censorship and literature in fascist Italy by Guido Bonsaver p.27
- Anthony Fothergill Reading Conrad: Melancholy in the shadow of the swastika Yearbook of Conrad Studies (Poland) 2007
- Joseph L. Love "Mihail Manoilescu" in Classical Development Economics and Its Relevance 2009 Anthem
- Andrezj Olechnowicz, 'Liberal anti-fascism in the 1930s the case of Sir Ernest Barker', Albion 36, 2005, pp. 636-660
- Peter Shaw "The Tough Guy Intellectual" Critical Quarterly Volume 8, Issue 1, pages 13–29, March 1966
- [http://www.jrank.org/literature/pages/16743/Primo-Levi.html Primo Levi Biography - ( 1919 – 87 ), Il sistema periodico
- Enzo Traverso "Intellectuals and Anti-Fascism: For a Critical Historization" New Politics Winter 2004 Vol:IX-4 Whole #: 36
- Cesarani After Eichmann: collective memory and the Holocaust since 1961 Routledge 2005, p.59
- Jeffrey Herf "Fresh Air in Central Europe" The New Republic August 25, 2010
- e.g. "The English Defence League" Freedom 19 June 2010; Interview with Federacija za Anarhistično Organiziranje (FAO), an anarchist federation of Slovenia 04.12.2009.
- e.g. Liberal anti-fascism page at Red Action; "UAF and EDL: Kick the fascists off the streets – no platform!" Permanent Revolution 17, December 2009; Phil Dickens "Anti-fascism in the 21st century: Against collaboration with the state" December 2009
- e.g. Liberal anti-fascism page at Red Action
- E. Fano Damascelli, 'La "restaurazione antifascista liberista". Ristagno e sviluppo economico durante il fascismo', I Movimento di liberazione in Italia, 104 (1971), 47-70
- Martin, James. "Italian liberal socialism: anti-fascism and the third way." Journal of Political Ideologies 7.3 (2002): 333-350.
- Martin, James. "Piero Gobetti and the rhetoric of liberal anti-fascism." History of the Human Sciences 20.4 (2007): 107-127.
- Andrzej Olechnowicz 2005 'Liberal anti-fascism in the 1930s: The case of Sir Ernest Barker', Albion 36, pp. 636-660
- Enzo Traverso "Intellectuals and Anti-Fascism: For a Critical Historization" New Politics, vol. 9, no. 4 (new series), whole no. 36, Winter 2004]