Revisiting Liberal Fascism

"When fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown or black shirts. It will be in Nike sneakers and Smiley shirts"
— George Carlin

Back in 2008, American Enterprise Institute fellow Jonah Goldberg wrote the bestselling Liberal Fascism. With America’s entire political and media establishment claiming “right-wing extremism” as the most urgent national security issue, Goldberg’s book has more relevance today than when it was written.

Only slightly outside the mainstream, the far-Left press is explicit in its references to right-wing “fascism.” From the Daily Beast in January, “Donald Trump Is Leaving, but American Fascism Is Just Getting Its Boots On.” From Open Democracy, also in January, “Donald Trump’s Insurrection is the beginning of years of street violence.” And just in from the high-minded journal Foreign Policy, “Trump’s movement is a uniquely American fascism, built on a century of American imperialism.”

How is it that “Trump’s movement” can be the target of so much fearmongering and growing repression, when tens of thousands of black-clad Antifa and Black Lives Matter protesters have invaded the streets of countless American cities for over a year with rioting, looting, and beat-downs? Early on, Goldberg’s book made the claim, backed up now by ample evidence, that the Right has no monopoly on fascist violence.

Here is Goldberg’s definition of fascism:

Fascism is a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good. It takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well-being, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure. Everything, including the economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives. Any rival identity is part of the ‘problem’ and therefore defined as the enemy. I will argue that contemporary American liberalism embodies all of these aspects of fascism.

The book, which is scrupulously researched, describes the economic and political history of fascism, making the case that European fascism was originally a left-wing, socialist, populist movement, and thus the American counterparts of the European fascists were the Progressives.

Fascism is typically equated with anti-Semitism, militarism, dictatorship, demagoguery, genocide; all those phenomena historically associated with the extreme right-wing. But as Goldberg patiently explains, over and over, while one variant of fascism may have embodied all of this evil, it doesn’t change the fact that the modern political Left has the same intellectual roots as Europe’s fascists who emerged in parallel with American progressives about 100 years ago.

Around the time Goldberg’s book came out, a pioneering philanthropist in Sacramento, California, named Charles Goethe, who had founded the local university and donated large tracts of land for parks and schools, had his name systematically expunged from local history. He was an early victim of what we now call “cancel culture.” His crime? Notwithstanding his social consciousness and generosity, Goethe believed in eugenics. But the well-meaning people busily demonizing Goethe today ignore the fact that Goethe, who was born in 1875, was a progressive, and virtually all progressives believed in eugenics. And they were the intellectual counterparts of the European fascists.

A few years ago I watched a German-language version of the movie “Titanic,” released in late 1943. Watching the movie, I was struck by how obviously the plot was slanted to demonize wealthy profiteers; the villains were well-heeled capitalists whose desire to make a few extra dollars of profit spelled doom for the passengers on the Titanic. This was dissonant to me. Weren’t the fascists right-wing? Weren’t they the ultimate capitalists? This is a common misconception. 

The Nazis were socialists—national socialists, but socialists nonetheless. They believed in a partnership of government and industry for the purported benefit of the working man. And their economic model was ominously similar to what is manifesting today in America—egged on as much by unwitting liberals as by errant conservatives. Neither wing has a monopoly on enabling behaviors to create this “third way” economic model—known variously as corporatism, socialism, or economic fascism.

Just as fascism is a widely debated, widely misunderstood term, liberal is also a word that has two meanings. Goldberg describes how the terms “liberal” and “conservative” acquired their modern definitions: 

In the past, liberalism had referred to political and economic liberty as understood by enlightenment thinkers like John Locke and Adam Smith. For them, the ultimate desideratum was maximum individual freedom under the benign protection of a minimalist state. The progressives, led by Dewey, subtly changed the meaning of this term, importing the Prussian version of liberalism as the alleviation of material and educational poverty . . . for progressives liberty no longer meant freedom from tyranny, but freedom from want . . . classical liberals were now routinely called conservatives, while devotees of social control were called liberals.

If the rise of leftist street violence over the past year, in the service of an ostensibly liberal political agenda, validates Goldberg’s arguments, the “climate emergency” integral to today’s “great reset” is further evidence of his relevance. As Goldberg writes: 

The most tangible fascistic ingredient [of environmentalism] is that it is an invaluable ‘crisis mechanism.’ Al Gore constantly insists that global warming is the defining crisis of our time. Skeptics are called traitors, Holocaust deniers, tools of the ‘carbon interests’ . . . the beauty of global warming is that it touches everything we do—what we eat, what we wear, where we go. Our ‘carbon footprint’ is the measure of man.

True to the economic model of fascism, the measures being advocated supposedly to combat global warming are the biggest gift to the “corporatists” in the history of the world. The powerful vested interests that constitute the “alarm industry” are the ones who, ironically, anyone who truly believes in individual rights and property rights should be worried about.

What is “the religion of the state?” It would be, at any cost, to fight racism, climate change, and wear your mask. That religion, increasingly enforced in the streets by thugs, endlessly blasted into our minds by corporate media, is the fascism of our time. A thoughtfully written article in the leftist journal Counterpunch makes the case that fascism and liberalism are false oppositions because they’re just two sides of a common capitalist coin. The author claims that “capitalist crimes” are only properly opposed by Communism. 

Nice try. It is true that fascism preserves a role for mega-corporations to serve as junior partners to the state, but fascism’s shared affinity with Communism to brutally repress dissent is the more salient commonality.

It really doesn’t matter if they fall under the ideals of true conservatism, classical liberalism, libertarianism, or even enlightened conventional liberalism—the values of individual freedom, free markets, private property, and limited government are under attack in America. The “green” fascism of environmental extremists, along with the “antiracist” fascism of Antifa and Black Lives Matter, are being given cover and credibility by corporate interests.

It is the Left, not the Right, that informs America’s 21st-century version of fascism.

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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also the director of water and energy policy for the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

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