Jonah Goldberg. 2009. Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change. New York: Random House.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
One of the challenges being a social conservative today arises because both political parties drink the same progressive cool-aid. Mainstream politicians in both parties twist the U.S. Constitution to suit their needs, manipulate markets with tax policy, promote corporate interests, and endorse an imperial presidency. Individual freedom and democracy have given away to individualism defined as consumer choice and gender/minority rights.
With most politicians drinking the same cool-aid, the body politic lacks an effective opposition to keep elected officials honest and to offer voters real alternatives. Large corporations control most politicians and, through their media affiliates, they control most public discourse—shutting down debate once their perspective is expressed (political correctness). For dedicated news watchers, this means that the national news now looks more like the local news written large—weather, accidents, and human-interest stories has replaced most reporting on political debates. When a book like Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism comes out explaining how this manipulation of the public works, it is both fascinating and hard to evaluate.
In part 1 of this review, I provide an overview of the Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, while in part 2 I examine his arguments in more detail. While a number of topics could be discussed, let me focus on three: progressivism versus classical liberalism, the media, and demythologizing National Socialism.
Progressivism Versus Classical Liberalism
Classical liberalism focused on personal liberties and limiting the power of government. Jeffersonian democracy promoted small business, especially family farms, empowering voters, and limiting government. In the nineteenth century, the U.S. government opened up frontier lands by granting small tracts of land to settlers hoping to give them a stack in managing local communities and governments. Competition in markets (small business), politics (multiple parties), and religion (no state religion) was actively encouraged to limit the development of powerful groups and to maintain an informed electorate. Democracy cannot thrive when voters point to a business, party, or church and just say: me too.
Classical liberalism began to lose its influence after the Civil War because the war effort encouraged the development of large, urban-based corporations to supply federal troops. Wealthy owners entered politics and saw America falling behind Europe in the development of colonies. Large corporations soon controlled both markets and the political process and saw the need to extend their influence worldwide, especially as the old Spanish empire began to come unraveled in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia. The Spanish American war set the stage for the election of progressive politicians, such as Teddy Roosevelt. Intervention in foreign markets was soon followed by intervention in domestic markets.
The election of progressive Woodrow Wilson was a turning point in progressive thought because World War One offered him the opportunity to intervene even more deeply into domestic markets and to develop sophisticated propaganda organizations, such as the Committee on Public Information (109). Thanks to the writings of John Dewey, progressives began to focus on education as a tool for social engineering. Goldberg (88) cites Wilson, then president of Princeton University: “Our problem is not merely to help the student to adjust themselves to world life…[but] to make them as unlike their fathers as we can.”
The Lincoln Administration impressed Wilson because he saw war as a tool for implementing his social agenda (84). “War was the midwife of progress” from the progressive view (99). Classic liberalism died off because it did not aid the progressive desire to centralize power and limit debate.
Goldberg articulates the problem with the progressive media better than anyone that I have read. He writes:
“If big business is so right-wing, why do huge banks fund liberal and left-wing charities, activists, and advocacy groups, then brag about it in commercials and publicity campaigns? How [do you] explain that there’s virtually no major issue in the culture wars—from abortion to gay marriages to affirmative action—where big business has played a major role on the American right while there are dozens of examples of corporations supporting the liberal side?” (312)
The uneven playing field is not limited to corporate donations. Goldberg writes:
“These speech regulations in turn give an unfair advantage to some very big businesses—media conglomerates, movie studios, and such—to express their political views exempt from government regulation…[For example] The New York Times is pro-choice and supports pro-choice candidates—openly on its editorial pages, more subtly in its news pages. Pro-life groups need to pay to get their views across, but such paid advertising is heavily regulated, thanks to [republican] McCain, at exactly the moment it might influence people—that is, near Election Day. One can replace abortion with gun control, gay marriage, environmentalism, affirmative action, immigration, and other issues, and the dynamic is the same.” (313)
The same dynamic is working in public schools where Christianity is classified as a religion and Christian participation in the classrooms is severely limited. Meanwhile, other religions and causes are openly taught, especially on college campuses. The operative phrase is ABC (anything but Christian).
Demythologizing National Socialism
Because of the association of National Socialism (Nazism) with anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, it has been rightly demonized. As a consequence, it is hard for Americans to understand how much Nazi social policy looks like that of today’s progressives. In Germany today, Hitler is remembered for putting Germans back to work in the Great Depression, building the Autobahn, and promoting the design of the Volkswagen Beetle.
Americans are not anxious to hear that German National Socialists crafted their Jewish legislation after American sterilization (Indiana 1907) and other racially-motivated laws, such as the Davis-Bacon Act (1931; 263-266). Or that many prominent democrats, such as Senator Robert Byrd, were members of the Klu Klux Klan because after the recruiting film (1915), The Birth of a Nation, the Klan was considered a progressive institution, no more racist than Americans more generally (259). This is not the America that we like to remember, but these American ideas influenced National Socialism more than vice versa. The effect on Germany was more profound because the German constitution did not protect minorities as well as the U.S. Constitution and because Germany was more racially homogeneous (263).
What surprised me most about Nazi social policy, beyond the focus on eugenics and euthanasia, was their interest in vegetarianism, environmentalism, and health consciousness (385). The Nazis also promoted animal rights (387). The Nazis were the first to study the effects of smoking on health and actually campaigned against alcoholism. Goldberg cites the Hitler Youth health manual: “You have a duty to be healthy.” (389) The theme here is using social control to make you a better person, but you don’t necessarily get a vote in the matter.
Demythologizing National Socialism makes it obvious that Nazis were truly socialists. While they used draconian methods to implement their social policy, the same policies are being promoted today by progressive politicians using psychology and the media campaigns that most people are simply unaware of.
If you believe that this is not true, why are human resource departments today, especially in large corporations, using psychological testing to screen candidates, including pastors. Armed with a psychological profile of the ideal candidate, the pool of applicants limited before qualifications are even considered. While it is illegal to use racial profiling (negative profiling), positive profiling (filling a racial quota) is legal and emotional intelligence (a highly subjective term) is routinely used to exclude alpha males.
Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism offers a conservative reading of the last century of progressive politics both in the U.S. and Europe written in journalistic style. The title of the book, Liberal Fascism, is a progressive self-description coined by H.G. Wells in 1932. The cover art depicting a mustached smiley face captures the tension between strong leadership focused on people’s perceived needs and traditional American skepticism of power unchecked by constitutional restraint.
Goldberg’s history of progressivism documents the genealogy of many of today’s most bitterly debated issues. Did you know that the term, culture war (kulturkampf), dates back to the Bismarck period (late nineteenth century) in Germany? I learned a great deal reading Goldberg. Perhaps, you will too
Goldberg Chronicles Progressivism, Part 2
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