Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Book Review: Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning by Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is a conservative columnist and an editor at National Review. In his book Liberal Facism, Goldberg makes a very interesting case for the proposition that liberals are a lot more fascist than conservatives, though they constantly use the F word to besmirch conservatives and right-wingers.

The Italian word ‘fascismo’ is derived from the Italian word ‘fascio’ and the Latin word ‘fasces’. Fascio means ‘bundle’ or ‘union.’ In ancient Rome, ‘fasces’ was a bundle of rods tied together and was a symbolic of a magistrate’s authority. It denoted strength through unity since a bundle of rods can’t be broken up as easily as a single rod. Giovanni Gentile, the Italian philosopher who described as the Philosopher of Fascism wrote an essay called ‘The Doctrine of Fascism’ which was signed by Benito Mussolini and attributed to Mussolini. Fascism, as propounded by Gentile and Mussolini, propagated a nationalist ideology, that gave the ruler total authority to solve the nation’s economic, political and social problems. The main difference between fascism in its initial stages in Italy and communism is that communism preaches global brotherhood of workers and is not nationalist. Both idelogoies relegate the individual to the background and give importance to collective rights. It is worth noting that in its initial stages, Italian fascism was not inherently racist. It was only in the late 1930s that Mussolini adopted Hitler’s antipathy to the Jews and expelled many Italian Jews from his party. After World War II started, fascism began to be associated with Nazism, totalitarianism and racism.

Goldberg examines the ‘fascist’ streaks in US presidents ranging from Wilson to Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson to Kennedy and says that liberal fascism in the United States predates Italian fascism. Hillary Clinton is also labelled ‘fascist.’ In simple terms, Goldberg labels any form of authoritarianism and suppression of a dissenting view as fascism and he says that liberals are much more guilty of such ‘fascism’ than so called conservatives and right wingers. Goldberg gives various examples of how so called left-wing liberals have used ‘fascist’ methods to promote their ideologies, be it abortion rights or higher taxes or greater welfare measures. Goldberg’s grievance is that liberals have been so successful in linking fascism with right-wing ideology and conservatism that most Americans tend to make that association.

I do agree with Goldberg that liberals may be as much guilty of using authoritarian measures to promote their goals as anybody else. To give a recent example, animal rights activists in the UK carried out a protracted campaign of intimidating employees and suppliers of Huntingdon Life Sciences, a company which carries out testing of medicines and other pharmaceutical products. Some of those activists were sentenced to long prison terms very recently.

Goldberg’s arguments are not necessarily water-tight. For example, he says that the Klu-Klux-Klan disliked Mussolini and hence are not fascist. Further, Goldberg does not even mention or try to explain the existence of right-wing fanatics such as Aryan Nations or the British National Party. The Oklahoma City bombing was carried out by a right-wing fanatic. None of these find a mention in Goldberg’s book.

Further, I don’t agree with Goldberg when he traces the ‘common’ roots of fascism and liberalism and tries to show them to be the same. It is true that Mussolini and Hitler were socialists. Liberals in the USA and elsewhere did like Mussolini and supported him till he became a German ally. It is also true that Communism as practised in the Soviet Union and the China of the 1950s and 1960s had a few things in common with fascism. However, trying to say that welfare socialism promoted by the some US Democrats and the Labour Party in the UK is fascism is downright silly.

At the end of the day, you may not agree with Goldberg. Nevertheless I would recommend that you read this book, if only to understand how a conservative American’s mind works.

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