"Liberal Fascism" by Johan Goldberg (2008)
"Yet selective quotations and sweeping generalizations..."
I should probably start by saying that I'm not a person who enjoys talking about politics. When people start in with all their "right-wing" and "left-wing" and "liberals" and "conservatives" my thoughts tend to journey elsewhere, to a magical world of wonder where people (and cute, talking animals) don't pepper their speech with quite so many "isms."
So by my own admission I'm not quite prepared to discuss "Liberal Fascism" without sounding completely ignorant, completely apathetic, or both. I've never found politics that interesting, and I have never seen the point of political parties. I tend to agree with George Washington, who intimated that political parties were harmful to any democracy.
In other words: "A (insert political affiliation here) is anyone who disagrees with me, or anyone I don't like, and a (insert opposing political affiliation here) is anyone who agrees with me, or anyone I like." This pretty much sums up what I get out of most political discussions.
So in this book, "Liberal Fascism," author Jonah Goldberg claims that fascism originated with liberals in several countries, and is in no way the creation of right-leaning conservatives. OK, I'll buy that... I guess. He goes on to trace the origins of fascism, and also the progress of fascist ideas in American political history. He pinpoints the Wilson administration in particular, though of course he finds evidence of fascist policies in the democratic administrations that followed it.
The author is a right-wing, conservative type of guy, and he's tired of being labeled a fascist by no-good liberals who don't know their own political history. I think that such frustration is understandable, but his arguments are a bit thin, and a bit too easily proven. In the end that's the problem with fascism: it's so ill-defined that once you see it in one place, you start seeing in everywhere.
Which, in a way, points out another weakness in his argument. If Wilson, FDR, Kennedy, and Clinton were such rampant fascists, ready to trample the Constitution for the sake of "progress," what were the so-called conservatives doing during their administrations? Were they all so steadfast in their defense of individual freedoms? Were they all so forthright?
I have trouble believing that the abuses of individual rights perpetrated from the 20s onward were the responsibility of liberals alone, and I think that any attempt to find something as badly defined as "fascism" in previous Republican administrations might be equally successful. I think, in other words, that it might be more to the point to say that fascism is a human phenomenon, irrespective of political affiliation.
But hey, what do I know? I barely know my reactionaries from my socialists. I (mistakenly) thought that Hitler was just a self-obsessed, exploitative racist, and not someone who failed to understand fascism as Mussolini practiced it. I suppose I find it more instructive to trace the "mistakes of history" back to qualities that exist within every individual and every group, and not back to one particular political group that I don't like.
This, to me, is the most disappointing thing about "Liberal Fascism," in that it fails to draw a more meaningful lesson from the Holocaust. Instead of realizing that yes, such a thing can happen anywhere, among any sorts of people, the author chooses to paint the liberals with that brush, whatever a liberal might happen to be.
"Liberal Fascism" might be a new kind of name-calling, but it's still just name-calling, and as such it fails to enlighten its intended audience. Like many ongoing political discussions, its premise revolves around familiar "Us vs. Them" type arguments, which are, incidentally, one of the signs by which fascism is often known.