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Liberal Fascism, Revisited

Reader Deuce has posted an interesting comment in the earlier Liberal Fascism thread, one which, in my judgment, merits a more substantial response.

I begin by noting that, in the original entry, I wrote the following:

That things possess a distinct essence or nature, and that these things can be situated in radically different social and theoretical contexts, depending upon the narrative framework within which they acquire collective meaning, are considerations altogether too nuanced for Goldberg's labours.

The significance of this remark is simply that particular ideas or social practices, even if they may be regarded as possessing some sort of transhistorical essences, acquire meaning only within determinate social, economic, and political contexts. It is, in consequence, insufficient to observe that, to continue the illustration, fascists often evinced a concern for health and organic foods, contemporary liberals do the same, and both were/are willing to police individual conduct (or at least engage in moralizing discourses to this effect) in order to ensure that the common good in this area of existence is respected, deriving the conclusion that both fascism and liberalism share an ideological lineage. Narratives matter.

One might advocate organic farming and foods on grounds of the imperative to attain a mystical and collective communion with nature, towards the end of achieving the regeneration of a volk sunken in decadence and degeneration, heralding the dawn of a glorious terrestrial Reich of glorious progress (Fascism). One might advocate organic farming and foods on grounds of our primal oneness with Gaia, which oneness is sundered by synthetic and industrial techniques (Neo-pagan environmentalism). One might advocate organics on grounds of their purported benefits to physical health, since the extension of physical existence is the summum bonum of the liberal social contract, where neglect of this duty is indicative of a repudiation of the contract in favour of religious doctrines for which the body does not exist for itself (Contemporary liberalism). Finally, one might advocate organics on grounds of their conformity with, and respect for, the natural, inherent teleologies of created things, and the duty of man to serve as a steward of the natural gifts given to him (Agrarianism and natural law). That both fascism and contemporary liberalism share certain preoccupations tells us little in the absence of the architectonic narratives which provide the final causes, if you will, of the preoccupations. Similarly, that any one of these narratives would countenance some form of social regulation of consumption implies very little of substance; the social regulation of the private occurs in all societies, in all social systems, without exception; the salient point is not the that of the regulation but the what, how, and why of the regulation. The mainstream conservatism that Goldberg is defending, at least on this specific point, as evidenced by past controversies, engages in the social regulation of the private no less than the other systems or notions; we have merely become conditioned to perceive the modes of this regulation as natural, as expressive of freedom. The regimen of the market, and its regimentation along various utilitarian metrics, tends at first to crowd out traditional alternatives (remember, we are discussing foodstuffs, particularly), and later to reintroduce them, not as integral elements of a holistic manner of living, but as consumption goods; that is, you may not have a holistic mode of existence, but you may feign to have one (you may have the simulacrum) purchasing it in the marketplace and thereby ratifying the logic of the market: the primacy and supremacy of individual choice, self-creation. In other words, what various narratives proclaim of certain aspects of human existence are reduced to the oxymoronic under the hegemony of the market, whether we call this latter classical liberalism or conservatism. One can state that this is better than "coercion", but it is still a value-judgment, and still entails the social regulation of the private. The ends are different, and the medium of discipline is different, being privatized and possessed of a certain character, but it occurs all the same.

As regards the lineages of ideas, while Bramwell's strictures against philosophical genealogies are sophomoric and cynical (no doubt influenced by the very protean nature of what he has observed of conservatism), and his cavalier dismissal of conservative luminaries, of whom the present generation is unworthy, is risible, it nonetheless remains that lineages of this type are convoluted and rife with contradiction. Modern individualism finds its geneses in sources as disparate as the Christian doctrine of the person, the personalism of high medieval spirituality, as seen in St. Francis, Renaissance myths of self-creation (perhaps associated with pseudo-Platonic notions of innate divinity), the Cartesian cogito, the Hobbesian-Lockean acquisitive subject, and others. It does not follow that there exists a straight line from Christianity to the self-created superman, nor that these are consonant; it doesn't follow that all of the constituents are coherent, and that the broth offers no discordant flavours. Again, I'm not interested in writing Contra Bramwell; but to the limited extent that intellectual genealogy is not a straight-line, deductive enterprise, Bramwell has a point, though he obviously overstates it.

What follows from this is that there may occur innumerable instances of intellectual borrowing and illumination, without these occurrences entailing that there is any substantial theoretical overlap. Franciscan spirituality infused a certain individualism into medieval devotion; it doesn't follow from this that the musings of Pico della Mirandola derive from this Christian source. More pointedly, that Progressives, and a few American presidents (bad ones, in my judgment) occasionally expressed admiration for this or that aspect of the fascist programme, and may even have borrowed practical methods or ideas, does not mean that the philosophical lineage is close. For one thing, did those American progressives subscribe to the irreducible fascist minimum, palingenetic ultra-nationalism: the myth of national rebirth, out of the slough and mire of decadence, into a glorious future of technocratic progress, coupled with a militant nationalism - a belief in national superiority and a corresponding denigration of the commitments and loyalties of The Other? That seems doubtful to me, though there may be some exceptions. Or, to consider another example, one might be prompted by a recollection of the teenaged reading of Marx to think about primitive accumulation, and to pursue inquiries into the phenomenon; but this does not acquire the decisive stamp of Marxism until and unless one arrives at the formulation that primitive accumulation is a stage in the dialectical transition from feudalism to capitalism, which is thus a necessary and determined precondition of the transition from capitalism to communism.

For that matter, the palingenetic myth is one of the most consistent and enduring features of human cultural consciousness, assuming various secular forms, as well as the religious forms of covenant and redemption. It does not follow from this that fascism is a derivative of orthodox religion, merely that it instantiates, with different material, final, and efficient factors, an archetype of human consciousness. The upshot of these considerations is that intellectual genealogy requires that the practitioner attend to complex lineages and determinate natures, and that he be prepared to evaluate those natures, and the specific policies they engender, according to the nature of things - what sort of being man is, what sort of things things are, etc. This, Goldberg, as evidenced by past controversies, is reluctant to do. As a result, Liberal Fascism provides some wealth of interesting, engrossing detail, but falls short of showing us how fascism and liberalism can be similar in certain details, utterly different substantively, and, all at once, alike in the formal respect of promoting and celebrating the new man, the superman, unchained from reason and history, hurtling into the future of progress.

Comments (12)

If Goldberg contends, because of Hitler's eating habits, that all Fascists were into health foods, then he was probably wrong about that too. Herman Goering was a first class glutton, for example. Why does tofu and a Volvo equate one with liberalism? Because, probably, they are the adults and your gun toting, Ted Nugget types are the spoiled brats of the American landscape. Sean Hannity on the radio today said that Goldberg's book is the best one he's read in a long time, enough said?

"Sean Hannity on the radio today said that Goldberg's book is the best one he's read in a long time, enough said?"

Dumbing down our culture is no longer the exclusive privilege of the Left. Hannity and friends will further diminish the collective IQ of their audience and do great violence to the English language by resorting to this book. By November it will be a GOP talking point; "Obama/Hillary supports higher corporate taxes - it's part of the national socialist agenda."

The next 9 months are ideal for a prolonged retreat at a monastery with a well-stocked wine cellar.

The next 9 months are ideal for a prolonged retreat at a monastery with a well-stocked wine cellar.

Perhaps something stronger than wine: http://www.chartreuse.fr/pa_green&yellow_uk.htm

My favorite comment so far on the book was over at Crooked Timber: "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a daycare worker giving a toddler a sugarfree bran muffin—forever."

My general response to the whole genealogy argument is that they are siblings just like Cain and Abel were siblings.

People who eat Tofu and drive Volvos are adults, while people who eat meat, hunt, have a gun for home defense, and (presumably) drive larger cars are spoiled brats, Russ? Don't you think maybe you are overgeneralizing just a tiny bit? Myself, though I have no love for Ted Nugent, I think I'd rather have my daughters look for an adult man who owns a gun, knows how to shoot it, eats meat, and hunts than one who eats Tofu instead of meat and drives a Volvo. Or, perhaps to put it more cautiously, I'd consider the former group a more hopeful, er, hunting ground for a mature male without wacky ideas than the latter.


Okay, I need to lower my rhetoric here, a very fine lot at that. I, actually eat both, and find it silly to politicize a food. I'll work on being more clear. Thanks Lydia

Sorry, folks. You are looking through the wrong end of the telescope. The essential point is these behaviors find their genesis not in love for liberty but in the impulse to manage the great unwashed toward a more perfect society. Whether benevolent or evil in intentions, this desire to command a nation of people toward what is "good for them" is totalitarian. Liberals like fascists of old do not rely on the powers of persuasion and discussion. Instead, they use the coercive power of government to mold this vast sea of individuals into a "most excellent" society and a more "perfect" justice.

In other words, we can play the endless game of arguing that this alligator is actually different from that crocodile. But the real observation is that they both live in the same swamp.

Michael Dooley,

Fascism was a type of "totalitarian" government but fits the mold of liberalism very poorly. To tell the truth, I thinks it's a gambit of the far right, trying to kick up dirt in order to obscure the reality. The far right is buddies with corporations far too comfortably. It gave one contract to Halliberton and guaranteed them profits and it appears to give them immunity from any laws. The far right, has taken the idea of Jewish scapegoats, and made Muslims the new evil, untrusting great public menace. More than that, they are even using the old Nazi trick of labeling the opposition as communists to garner a more powerful unitarian presidency. Also their shameless copying of Goebbles propaganda machine, now called Fox News is unsettling. Fascists of old, btw, used "powers of persuasion' and gas chambers to get their idea across. I'm not saying the conservatives in America are fascists, but if anyone is going to labeled that odious name, it will by the Hannities and Kristols.


The Hannities and Kristols are by nature not creatures of the far right. For the spectrum to mean anything, it has to flow from Communism on the far-left, to anarcho capitalism on the far-right. By definition anyone on the far right is an ideological libertarian, objectivist or anarcho capitalist, not an American conservative.

There is a large swath of the modern American left that is in general quite Fascistic, and whose politics and views are very similar to what the Italian Fascists advocated. There are always exceptions to this, as there are American leftists who are generally sensible about placing limits on their own collectivist tendencies.

What matters here is what the natural conclusion of "liberalism" would be in America. There are many variants of the common cold, and yet we don't have hangups about calling them all "the common cold." If the results of similar memes is essentially the same, then it is simple and logical enough to conclude that they are sufficiently related to not get all uptight about splitting hairs over how deeply related they are to one another.

For the sake of simplicity, if liberalism and Fascism have at least, let's say a 60% overlap in their values and politics, it's sufficient to call them fellow travelers, if not outright political bedfellows. I think the real reason there is so much squeamishness about admitting that there is a lot of common ground between the totalitarian ideologies of Europe from that era and American progressivism and modern liberalism, is that it would put a lot of people's friends and families in a bad light.

Fascism is an authoritarian political ideology (generally tied to a mass movement) that considers the individual subordinate to the interests of the state, party or society as a whole. Fascists seek to forge a type of national unity, usually based on (but not limited to) ethnic, cultural, racial, religious attributes. The key attribute of fascism is intolerance of others: other religions, languages, political views, economic systems, cultural practices, etc. Various scholars attribute different characteristics to fascism, but the following elements are usually seen as its integral parts: nationalism, statism, militarism, totalitarianism, anti-communism, corporatism, populism, collectivism, and opposition to political and economic liberalism.

Individual subordinate to the state? During Clinton [liberal] era I only had to pay taxes, the rest I was on my own. Not too bad.

Fascists seek to forge a type of national unity, usually based on (but not limited to) ethnic, cultural, racial, religious attributes.

Again during Clinton years I thought religiously anything I wanted, and felt American as I wanted. I was never coerced in anything.

The key attribute of fascism is intolerance of others: other religions, languages, political views, economic systems, cultural practices

Now, we can squarely lay this attribute to right wingers, right?

Lastly, Fascists like Hitler loathed liberals.

Universal education is the most corroding and disintegrating poison that liberalism has ever invented for its own destruction.
Adolf Hitler

As indicated somewhere upthread, the irreducible fascist minimum is palingenetic ultra-nationalism, the notion that national rebirth, from decadence and cultural lassitude, will be achieved in part by the domination of other nations, whose identities are devalued and denigrated, and whose own patriotic sentiments are held to be illegitimate and retrograde.

Absent this ideational structure, fascism cannot exist. Some theorists want to reduce fascism to a synonym for statism, or any rejection of a certain formulation of individualist doctrine; they are playing postmodernist with language.

the notion that national rebirth, from decadence and cultural lassitude, will be achieved in part by the domination of other nations, whose identities are devalued and denigrated, and whose own patriotic sentiments are held to be illegitimate and retrograde.

That's as succinct a characterization of American Neocon foreign policy as I can remember seeing in print.

Hitler did not hate the sort of "liberalism" that you think of, Russ. He hated classical liberalism, the ideology of John Locke, not the ideology of the modern Democratic Party.

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