Books and authors: January 2008 Archives

Liberal Fascism

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I'm no Jonah Goldberg fan and I have no intention of reading his book, but I think he acquits himself surprisingly well in this interview. He's pretty good at avoiding the interviewer's Gotcha! proof-texts about Mussolini, and I much appreciated this (ellipses in original):

Payne also says that a "fundamental characteristic" of fascism was "extreme insistence on what is now termed male chauvinism and the tendency to exaggerate the masculine principle in almost every aspect of activity." How does that fit in with contemporary liberalism, especially Hillary Clinton, who was at one point in the subtitle of your book?

It's a great question. I've actually thought a lot about that, and I wish I had quoted that thing from Payne, because I say at the end of the book that the classical fascisms of mid-20th century were essentially masculine phenomena. They fit in the Orwellian dystopian vision of the future, where you have the strong father figure. ... That was the vision of a more sexist time when leadership was inherently male. I think one of the things that marks contemporary liberalism is that it's much more feminine. And I think that's probably to the better; I would much rather [get] hugs than blows from a billy club.

But there's another dystopian understanding of the future, which we get from [Aldous] Huxley's "Brave New World." That was a fundamentally American vision ... [T]he vision of the Huxleyian "Brave New World" future is one where everyone's happy. No one's being oppressed, people are walking around chewing hormonal gum, they're having everything done for them, they're being nannied almost into nonexistence. That's the fascism in Hillary Clinton's vision. It's not the Orwellian stamping on a human face thing, it's hugs and kisses and taking care of boo-boos. It is the nanny state. That is a much more benign dystopia than "1984," but for me at least, it's still a dystopia. An unwanted hug is still as tyrannical or as oppressive -- not as oppressive, but an unwanted hug is still oppressive if you can't escape from it ... [O]ne of the biggest distinctions between what I'm calling liberal fascism ... and classical fascism, is that classical fascism was masculine and violently oppressive and today's liberalism is feminine and not oppressive but smothering with kindness.

Anyway, it seems to me that his path to tieing fascism to liberalism is by using fascism as a sort of stand-in for statism. That seems problematic to me. Fascists and liberals are both obviously statists, but fascism tended to use statism in an exclusionary way -- "we are the Aryan nation," whereas most progressives are statist in a multi-culti all-inclusive way that tends to transcend the nationalism inherent in fascism. So I guess Goldberg is right that fascism is statist and liberalism is statist, but the uniquely horrible things about fascism had less to do with it being statist than with it being a rallying cry for one group of people to justify hating another group of people. Liberalism at its best doesn't do that. (Though I will note the obvious -- liberalism as practiced publicly is far from liberalism at its best, but then we'd have to say the same thing about conservatism, because people on every side of every debate are tempted to use their cause to rally people in hatred against the other, which sort of leads us to the uninteresting and obvious thesis that slightly fascist tendencies exist on all sides of the spectrum.)

But of course, those are just preliminary impressions based onthe interview and uninformed by the actual book, which I don't intend to read.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Books and authors category from January 2008.

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