Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg

There is a recently published book by Jonah Goldberg entitled “Liberal Fascism” that attempts to define the term, as well as, somewhat provocatively, admonish the political left that the “right wing” has no monopoly on fascism. The book, which is scrupulously researched, describes the economic and political history of fascism, making the case that (1) European fascism was originally a left-wing, socialist, populist movement, and (2) the American counterparts of the European fascists were the progressives.

Liberal Fascism
Jonah Goldberg’s
incendiary treatise.

The hardest thing for most readers to get past – and I’ve read most of the online reviews of this book – is that fascism is typically equated with anti-semitism, militarism, dictatorship, demogaugery, genocide; all those phenomena 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.

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.

Recently, in my current home town of Sacramento, California, a pioneering philanthropist named Charles Goethe, who founded the local university and donated large tracts of land for parks and schools, has had his name systematically expunged from history. Notwithstanding his social consciousness and generosity, Goethe believed in eugenics. But the well-meaning people who are busily demonizing Goethe today are ignoring 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 saw 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 villians were well-heeled capitalists of the 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 being solidified today in America – as much by unwitting liberals as by errant conservatives. Neither wing has a monopoly on their 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.”

There is far too much to this important book to summarize in a brief column. But the relevance of “Liberal Fascism” to environmentalism bears mention. 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.

We have repeatedly warned that there is no “denial industry,” indeed the measures being advocated to supposedly combat global warming are the biggest gift to the “corporatists” in the history of the world (read “The Alarm Industry”). The powerful vested interests that constitute the “alarm industry” are the ones who, ironically, anyone who truly believes in human rights should be worried about.

It really doesn’t matter if they fall under the ideals of true conservatism, classical liberalism, libertarianism, or even enlighted conventional liberalism – the values of individual freedom, free markets, private property, and limited government are under attack. The “green” fascism of environmental extremists, who are being given cover and credibility by corporatist interests, is the current incarnation of this dangerous ideology that mingles statism and populism in equal and potent measures. Goldberg’s book should be read, with an open mind, by every voter in America.

10 Responses to “Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg”
  1. Thomas Miller says:

    The liberal fascists are the Outer Party of “the Party” in the NeoLib & NeoCon ONE WORLD Government.

  2. Patrick Anderson says:

    Just finished the book. Quite an eye opener from a historical view. Very interesting conclusions concerning the alliance between big business and liberal elites. I would recommend the book although it can be a hard read at times.

  3. JamesG says:

    I don’t deny that the left and right wing extremists are really quite alike but it’s ridiculous to try to suggest Hitler was a liberal in either sense (as the picture on the cover clearly does). National socialism was one party in Germany. You’d think a historian, even an amateur, would take the trouble to find out who the other parties were: They included the socialists and the communists. Yes that’s right, the real socialists opposed Hitler and were largely exterminated later for that opposition. But of course the word socialism has many meanings too: In Europe it’s more of a progressive but in the US it’s a commie. The original utopian socialists had very little to do with the later hijacked version by Marx, which is why Europeans use the term Marxism to define Marx’s extreme version of socialism and utopian socialism to define the kindly types who just wanted a more equitable society. There is no such thing as liberal fascism – there is only fascism and to suggest otherwise is tawdry politicking.

    For the record the Titanic actually mocked the British rich but the American rich were shown up in a very good light it seemed to me. Just as unworthy but proper food for an American audience.

    As for the economic model of socialism, yes it is unrealistic but then so is the idea of unbridled free market capitalism. Both unfortunately rely on man’s honesty to work and consequently both are proven failures. The only useful system turns out to be a sensible mixture of the two, which we call social democracy.

  4. Ed Ring says:

    JamesG: Fascism is a difficult word to define, and the review here doesn’t do Goldberg’s book full justice. If you read the book, which weighs in at something like 375 pages, you will see the author provides a very thorough treatment of the various communist, socialist, fascist, marxist, etc., parties in the early 20th century. His overall point, that fascism is a utopian phenomenon that relies on populism, emotional appeals, and a hefty dose of social control and coercion, seems valid enough to me. And as you apparently agree, this can come from the left or the right. Goldberg isn’t suggesting all ultra-liberals are fascist, he’s reacting to the common (and equally false) accusation from liberals that all ultra-conservatives are fascist, and indeed that today’s liberals are the ideological descendants of the progressives 100 years ago, who at that time shared many ideological traits with the fascists in Europe. Goldberg’s book is relevant because he reminds us that governments can drift and creep into fascist modes from either side of the ideological spectrum – and woe to any society blind to this reality.

  5. ray says:

    Is this the same guy who wrote “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” (Danile Jonah Goldberg?) or do the names just sound similar?

  6. Ed Ring says:

    No Ray – if you Google the author’s name you will see that Jonah Goldhagen wrote that other book, with which I have no familiarity.

  7. JamesG says:

    I appreciate that the book may have some value but what the book says inside is less bothersome than the title, the accompanying picture and the subtitle which are extremely offensive. The roots of any political movement are totally irrelevant. History certainly gives us an insight into how bad things can get but comparing Hitler and Mussolini to present day liberals (again I refer to the shocking cover rather than the contents) is absolutely disgraceful. Also a more direct comparison of fascism stemming from the right would be Francisco Franco who exterminated only politicians from the left. Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin etc weren’t too particular who they killed because everyone was an enemy to them, which is why, to most scholars, their actions transcend mere politics.

  8. Ed Ring says:

    JamesG: Everything you’re saying is true. I think Goldberg was reacting to having such accusations hurled at him over and over by the left. Goldberg is trying to combat the notion that tyranny can only arise from the right. He is trying to say that utopia is unattainable, and well-meaning liberals may not appreciate the unintended consequences of ceding so much power to the state. He is saying we aren’t at risk of ending up in Orwell’s “1984,” where a brutal fascist dictatorship controls everyone, but more likely in Huxley’s “Brave New World,” where the fascist regime dopes everyone up with soma and hides its brutality behind a facade of benevolence. I don’t think Goldberg is suggesting the extreme right wing isn’t equally dangerous.

    Liberals – not all of them of course – love to deride many conservative thinkers as right-wing whackos, “wingnuts,” or even label them as Nazis. The same disgusting behavior emanates from the right, of course. The cover of Goldberg’s book may be offensive, but it is probably a factor in convincing millions of Americans to read it – and the message inside that provocative cover is that politics and ideologies are not nearly as simplistic as we often like to think.

  9. Klockarman says:


    Your analysis of Jonah Goldberg’s book is right on the money. You GET it.

    To commenter JamesG:

    I’m glad you brought up the provocative title of the book and the Hitlerian smiley face on the cover. Goldberg anticipated that the title and image would cause some to recoil, and he “presponded” in the introduction to the book and explained both.

    Regarding the Hitlerian smiley face Goldberg was inspired by a segment of Bill Maher’s TV show where George Carlin says:

    “When fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown or black shirts. It will be in Nike sneakers and Smiley shirts. Fascism – Germany lost WWII. Fascism won it. Believe me, my friend.”

    Goldberg on the title of the book:

    “The introduction of a novel term like “liberal fascism” obviously requires an explanation. Many critics will undoubtedly regard it as a crass oxymoron. Actually, however, I am not the first to use the term. That honor falls to HG Wells, one of the greatest influenceson the progressive mind in the 20th century (and, it turns out, the inspiration fo Huxley’s Brave New World). Nor did Wells coin the phrase as an indictment, but as a badge of honor. Progressives must become “liberal fascists” and “enlightened Nazis”, he told the Young Liberals at Oxford in a speech in July 1932.”

    So, JamesG, I suppose Goldberg could have titled his book “Enlightened Nazis – The Secret History of the American Left, blah, blah, blah.” But he didn’t. So I guess he was restraining himself.

    I highly recommend that every person read it. Borrow it from the library if you can’t stand the thought of giving Goldberg any of your money – my library had several copies (although the waiting list is long since it is so popular).

  1. [...] 17, 2008 Jonah Goldberg’s definition of fascism: “Fascism is a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs [...]

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