Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Chapters 8 and 9 of Liberal Fascism: Clinton-Era Liberal Fascism

This last part of the core argument of Liberal Fascism is where Goldberg's thesis is the strongest and therefore toughest to prove: that the political ideology of the Clintons is fascist.

He succeeds by showing that this is an acceptable description of this ideology:

In Clinton's village, however, there is no public square where free men and women and their voluntary associations deal with each other on their own terms free from the mommying of the state. There are no private transactions, just a single "spiritual community that links us to a higher purpose" managed by the state.

This is fascist enough for me. Of course, there is no brutality in this fascism, and this is a sense in which Clinton-era fascism is nice which I don't think Goldberg touches upon. Instead of intimidating their opposition with violence, Clinton-types procures allegiance to their project by appealing to the many Americans who harbor envy and resentment of the wealthy, who fail to find fulfillment in ordinary projects separately from the state, or who long for the excitement of being part of a brave new creation of a Great Society. in my opinion, Goldberg doesn't just barely prove that Clinton-era liberalism just barely counts as fascistic. He shows that it is squarely in the center of the set of fascistic ideologies and is unexcelled by any of them.

There are many implementations of fascism, and as I've suggested in an earlier post, brutality is not essential to fascism. Also there are several techniques for gaining power as a fascist: democratic, rhetorical, and brutal techniques. A fascist government can come to power by means of any combination of these techniques. These techniques can be hypnotic in effect upon followers of the regime. And it is necessary for the fascist state to cultivate this effect if it is to succeed. After all, it requires a crippling of each individual's ability to distinguish his personal fulfillment from that of the state - a sort of forgetfulness of who he is.

This concludes my series on the argument in Goldberg's book. I haven't said anything about chapter 8 on the means by which the fascist politician gains the cooperation of big business because there is nothing in it of philosophical interest for me to comment on. It is a depressing chapter that shows how the fascist politician appeals to the envy and resentment of the middle and lower classes and to big business's desire for government assistance. These appeals enable the fascist to achieve a partnership between government and big business: tentacles for the fascist state. If you aren't inclined to read the whole book, just read this chapter to get a picture of one of the chief techniques by which the fascist puts us in the deplorable position in which we now find ourselves.
Paul Johnson’s Review of Liberal Fascism

The review is in the current issue of National Review. It's delightful. Johnson plays the part of a figure well beloved in philosophy: the logical positivist, the logic-chopping epistemic disciplinarian, the Humean empiricist. A most salutary personage. True to his habit of exploding others’ analyses, the fellow in this case implies that Jonah Goldberg's book fails because “fascist” has only a precise historical meaning and a usage as a meaningless brickbat, and Goldberg’s attempt to make some other sense of it is therefore doomed. A logical positivist-type figure will tell us that a key term at issue is meaningless; such an exhibition of epistemic hygiene can be compelling. In any event, it entices the chastened philosopher to meet the review’s challenge.

Johnson tosses up a quick reductio ad absurdum, saying that if you buy Goldberg’s analysis of “fascism,” then you may as well consider Abraham Lincoln to be a fascist. The argument doesn’t come off, however. Quite simply, Goldberg offers an analytic definition of “fascism” that does not include Lincoln. Johnson never grapples with Goldberg’s analysis. He consigns it to the netherworld of political maneuvering, where utterances are full of sound and fury but signify nothing. So, Johnson’s article doesn't meet its burden.

Goldberg analyzes “fascism” as the religion of the state. I don’t see how it’s religion, since, to me, religion entails myths and rituals. I’ve said instead that fascism is totalitarianism with a cult of personality, where "cult" refers to a compulsive alignment of the will, not to a full-fledged religion. This internecine quibbling aside, there is an analysis on the table which Johnson never refutes.

The point of the book is that its definition of "fascism" not only is correct but also includes sorts of totalitarianism that are not widely recognized as fitting objects of the term “fascist.” Johnson’s review never offers a thorough refutation of Goldberg’s analysis, instead rather denying the inherent plausibility of the project. This is begging the question.

Johnson’s own analytical definition reduces “fascism” narrowly to the Mussolini-type implementation of totalitarianism - “it’s strict historical context” – denying without further ado that there can be a philosophical project here. It was a salutary play, evocative of Ayer and Hume. If this sort of tendency to epistemic conservatism is going to be about in the forum, I’m going to need more popcorn. Still, Johnson doesn’t succeed in bringing his criticism off. The role of logical positivist is well and good. But it does have the burden of proving that the analysis on the table is gibberish. Merely asserting that it is so does not suffice.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Levels of Topic in Liberal Fascism

There is political philosophy and intellectual and social history in the book. The book reports some history and uses it in a philosophical analysis. Therefore, it's difficult to understand the book if you don't discern these levels.

In this connection, I'll revise the taxonomy of totalitarianism that I presented below. I still maintain that "fascism," as a term in political philosophy, is totalitarianism with a cult of personality. But there is also the historical fact that "fascist" is a proper noun referring to certain regimes of the 20th Century. Let's give this usage a capital "F": "Fascist". This ambiguity can create confusion, as certain states that follow fascist ideals are not amongst the Fascist states.

Here is how to resolve the confusion. The Fascist states were particular implementations of fascism. There were other implementations (including the Soviet Union, America during its fascist moment, etc.) Now, "fascism" has an etymology involving bundles and "fascia" that is specific to certain historical circumstances. It was used to name the regimes of those circumstances: the Fascists. It was also used to name the political philosophy of those regimes. As it turns out, this political philosophy is not significantly different from that of other regimes that are not Fascist regimes. That their implementations may be different shouldn't be allowed to obscure this point. One shouldn't mistake an interesting historical difference between two fascist regimes for an interesting philosophical difference. There is no interesting philosophical difference amongst any of the fascist regimes. But you might conclude otherwise if you make this mistake.

This taxonomy seems fitting:

1. libertarianism

2. conservatism

3. totalitarianism (state power is pervasive, complete)
3.1. fascism
3.1.1. socialist fascism (Marxist fascism; the state should own the capital)
3.1.2. communist fascism (the state, the people, and the general will will become one, and private property will be eliminated)
3.1.3. corporatist fascism (state does not possess capital but merely controls it)

The fascist states - states embracing the fascist political philosophy - may subscribe to any or several of the three listed implementations: socialist, communist, and corporatist. They may aspire to a communist implementation but undertake socialist one provisionally to that end. They may aspire to a socialist implementation and undertake a corporatist one provisionally. To point out that one supposed implementation of fascism is different from the Fascists' implementation does nothing to refute the book's thesis that both were fascistic.
Reviewing Books

If you intend to write a negative review of a book, then be sure to follow these common-sense guidelines.
  1. Address the argument of the book in full. Make sure you have restated the argument in your review and demonstrated that it is unsound. Don't pretend that a couple of marginal objections are devastating.
  2. Make sure that you do not take the credentials of the author or the intentions you imagine him to have had in writing the book as relevant to your evaluation of the book. For instance, if the book is in a field in which you are an expert and the author is not, be careful not to let that fact substitute for actual evaluation of the book's argument.
  3. Refrain from considering yourself entitled to insult the author when you have not adhered to guidelines 1 & 2.
The extent to which you knowingly violate any of these guidelines is the extent to which you engage in sophistry (or pseudo-inquiry.) Everyone can be subject to the temptations of sophistry to some degree, but a little care can dispel the temptation. And you will find that as the years roll by the persistent application of this care gets easier and more thorough in its results.

By the way, it is not only in the interest of inquiry that you should follow the guidelines suggested above but also in your own self-interest. Failure to follow #1 can make you appear less intelligent than you are. Failure to follow #2 can embarrass you as petty: as jealous of your own accomplishments and more interested in their favorable public comparison than in their actual worth. Failure to follow #3 marks you as someone who may be ignored.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Liberal Fascism Chapters 4 to 7: New Deal, Great Society, 60’s Radicalism, and Liberal Racism

These central chapters offer an abundance of intellectual and social history. There is a lot there and there is no reason to summarize it here. At this point in my series on the book, I’ve made the philosophical points of my own that I wanted to make: the points about the analysis of “right,” “left,” “liberal,” and “fascist,” the point about the core piece of political philosophy of the book being an argument that liberalism is evil because its fascism, and the refutation of the "So What?" criticism. What remains after this post is for me to subject the last section of the book – the chapters on liberal economics and Clinton-era liberalism – to scrutiny, since it is there that the best chance that the “So What?” criticism might be resurrected.

Still, I have a few thoughts about this middle section of the book. Here is the picture that these four chapters seem to me to paint. The history of 20th Century American liberalism was a mix of this:
  • Eugenicist enthusiasm and disgust for the poor and the non-Anglo Saxon. This is the fascistic goal of creating a new Man.
  • Big-government experimentalism: New Deal social experimentation with big-government programs, with no particular moral philosophy or philosophy of human nature, and no clear picture of what the Great Society would be like or on what grounds its future superiority justifies downgrading the importance of individual liberty and self-reliance.
  • Rage and violence (the ‘60s.)
  • Multiculturalism, in which people are thought to have absolute rights to have their subculture preserved, and in which one’s ethnicity replaces one’s humanity or individual character as the primary quality in virtue of which one deserves respect.
I can add to the thesis that liberal fascism in America was stupidly experimentalistic by noting that, indeed, the philosophical work came decades later. The best work of liberal philosophy of social justice, John Rawls’s 1971 A Theory of Justice, came after the social programs were all underway. And Rawls’s theory (see Philosoblog’s archives) turns out to be of little merit. The moral philosophy of liberalism was an afterthought; it was a day late and a dollar short.

The common philosophical theme in the four features of 20th Century liberalism is the antipathy of liberalism to individualism. By "individualism" I mean the view that each individual’s rights to his property and liberty should be values of near-trump status (values that should almost always override other considerations), while individual character and humanity are to be the basis by which respect due to anyone is determined. There was no sign in liberalism of reverence for the sanctity of the individual or for his duty to look after himself. Without such salutary considerations, the liberal mind was left to contemplate the tardiness of country’s progress toward to creating the Great Society. Most of the 20th Century had slipped by and still no Great Society. The rage erupted in the ‘60’s. Liberals realized that it would be a long hard slog against conservative America to bring off the socialist utopia. Multiculturalism, a philosophically incoherent idea, was embraced as an additional armament for fighting conservative culture and disempowering the wealthy.

What’s left of the eugenics movement is continued pressure on the abortion and birth-control fronts. Of course, support for abortion is not motivated only by eugenics. It is aimed at eliminating the way of life that entails that a mother’s duty to keep her child alive is more weighty than her right to be free of entanglements that might inhibit her ability to compete in the business place against the traditional players. However, it’s difficult to accept that liberalism’s enthusiasm for eugenics evaporated after WWII and the Holocaust. An obscene compulsion to build a new Man, so well suited to the fascist project of building the new State, doesn’t just disappear so easily. Having been confronted with the hideous reality of itself in the Holocaust, the compulsion produces self-loathing and guilt, as it should. If the obsession with eugenics did not persist, the guilt would eventually suffice and itself fall away, leaving the liberal to regard blacks as neither worthy of extermination nor elevation on pedestal. But if the obsession persisted in spite of the guilt and self-loathing it aroused, we shouldn't be surprised to find the conscious mind and behavior elevating the blacks and other minorities onto a pedestal. This is the origin of multiculturalism. It isn't merely a tool to erode the power of traditional American culture; it is also a symptom of the persistence of the eugenicist impulse in the liberal mind. But that's only my view. As for Goldberg, he says,

There are only three basis positions. There is the racism of the left, which seeks to use the state to help favored minorities that it regards as morally superior. There is racial neutrality, which is, or has become, the conservative position. And then there is some form of “classical racism” – that is, seeing blacks as inferior in some way. According to the left, only one of these positions isn’t racist. Race neutrality is racist. Racism is racist. So, what’s left? Nothing except liberalism.

However, I do not find it plausible that liberal fascism underwent an abrupt and complete revolution from racism to regarding minorities as superior. Let's speculate for a moment on an alternative view of the matter. It is more likely that both racism and the contradictory compulsion to regard minorities as superior persist in the liberal mind. Both are irrational impulses aimed at building the Great Society and new Man. Even after the Holocaust, embracing race neutrality was not an option, as racial neutrality would militate against the fascistic dogma that individual qualities outweigh group membership. A mind that must persist in seeing people more as members of groups than as individuals if it is to accomplish its most important goal doesn't drop this cognitive habit so easily. The irrational hatred of blacks was tenacious, by the late 20th Century deeply ingrained in the liberal-fascist mind. Given the political goals of this mind, the unavoidable guilt and self-loathing resulting from its hatred of blacks therefore could find only one resolution: to extend grossly exaggerated and inappropriate amends to blacks. Think of “protesting too much.”

So, eugenics is gone, for the most part (though it remains disturbing that Margaret Sanger, the founder of what is now called Planned Parenthood, had a goal of eliminating the black population in America.) What’s left is the hatred, the guilt, and the irrational and grotesque amends. But the amends aren’t entirely irrational, as they contribute to eroding the values and social structures championed by the conservative. I think that most liberals still fear and loathe blacks, while believing that they have profound regard for blacks and celebrating them as special or even superior. Yet, this incoherent psychology incoherence is better suited to the goals of the fascist mid than any other psychologically possible alternative. It's incoherent, but it works.

This picture of liberal racism dovetails with the general view of liberalism that emerges from these central chapters. Liberalism – American fascism – involves a kind of mild derangement. I’ve called it a hypnotic state in previous posts. This is because the mind of a liberal embraces certain values while shielding itself from the force of arguments that show them to be bad ideals. This is a mind which makes itself believe that its big-government ideals are not totalitarian while the small-government ideals of the conservative are totalitarian. Liberals aren’t insane, of course. Insanity is more profound impairment. Nor are liberals evil, by and large. It’s just that they are obsessed with a fascist vision, an evil political goal. The obsession manifests itself in various derangements. I think that one of these is simultaneous hatred and reverence for blacks and other minorities. Of course, this is really just speculation, as plumbing the depths of psychology usually is.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Liberal Fascism and the "Who Cares?" Objection

Goldberg has several times in the book and on the book's blog (here, here, and here) handled the objection that says, "Who cares if contemporary liberalism has fascist antecedents? The books doesn't really prove that liberalism itself is fascistic. Or if it does prove that, it has to back-peddle with this qualification that liberalism is 'nice' fascism. So, at most the book is a trivial historical footnote."

Goldberg seems most concerned with exposing the hypocrisy and ignorance underlying the frequent claims of liberal that conservatives are fascists. He also puts his finger on the heart of the matter here, though he doesn't go far enough:

Moreover, a major point of the book is that we are constantly looking in the wrong direction for incipient fascism or totalitarianism or whatever you want to call it. Fascism was popular. It was seen as the wave of the future. The totalitarian temptation endures in every human heart, but we are trained to believe it can never come from "the good guys" (i.e. liberals and progressives). It must only come from the shiny-booted villaims[sic] of the right. Not only is this childish and ahistorical, it is very dangerous.

Here is where I think Goldberg is close to the mark but doesn't quite get the force of his book's analysis "liberalism" and "fascism," He should have said this:

Liberalism is a form of fascism. Fascism is evil. Therefore, liberalism is evil.

By "evil" I mean that, whether liberals realize it or not, if they had the political system they wanted people would be much less able to live good lives than they would in a conservative society. Of course, to say that liberalism is evil sounds unhinged. We've all been semantically hoodwinked, in the ways that I've pointed out in the last few posts. But when you consider that the book shows that liberalism is a form of fascism and fascism is evil, it's impossible to avoid the conclusion. As for "nice," this is window-dressing. There are flavors of fascism (Nazism, Bolshevism, the "nice" kind), but not degrees. This is because totalitarianism doesn't come in degrees.

Let's go into some detail here. This is a key point.

I claim that, thanks to Liberal Fascism, there is a interesting philosophical analysis of liberalism in the offing: liberalism is evil because it is a form of fascism and fascism is evil.

Let's take a closer look at the criticism of this analysis: the "So What" argument. This is the argument that, although the premises - the history presented by the book - are true, the conclusion follows from them only in a weak and uninteresting sense. Liberalism has fascist roots only in the sense that it shares with fascism the goal of a large, powerful, and omnipresent welfare state in which all subjects of the state attain freedom and happiness. (Etc. See the "vision of fascism" and the definition of fascism in posts below.) Liberal fascism is a kind of fascism that renounces the violence, brutality and oppression of the kinds that the term "fascism" usually connotes. So, Goldberg's book shows that "fascism" can be analyzed into (a.) liberalism and (b.) the evil kind. It's a true but arcane piece of history, nothing more. It's not interesting, because it shows precisely that liberalism isn't the evil kind but the "nice" kind. Then, for Goldberg to trumpet his thesis as interesting shows only that he doesn't even understand it himself. Furthermore, the fact that he defends it against this criticism so often by saying that at least the book takes to task those liberals who call conservatives fascist proves that even he knows there is no philosophical substance in the book but only a correction of the historical record. Okay, so liberals have to eat crow on this point. So what? There is no philosophically or politically interesting sense of "liberal fascism" but only a modestly interesting historical point to it.

There is the criticism. It's a good one. A inchoate version of it may be found here, where Arnold Kling has assessed Goldberg as a troll as much as anything else. A succinct statement may also be found in Goldberg's mailbag (already linked above.)

The problem with the criticism is simple and direct:

The evil of fascism lies not in its accidental violence and brutality. It lies in its essential totalitarianism.

Brutality, murder, and incarceration are evils. But they are common and not unique to fascism. And any American not smitten by liberalism or cowardice is willing to suffer them, rather than endure totalitarianism. Let's put it this way. Totalitarianism is the far greater evil than brutality because unlike the present and finite instances of brutality it may or may not use to achieve a stronghold, it stretches far into the indefinite future, making possible incalculably many instances of future brutality and preventing even those lives that it does not brutalize - which are many more in number - from being good lives. Fascism is evil because it eliminates the conditions of the pursuit of happiness. Do we really need to prove this to ourselves? No, let us count it as another sure premise in Goldberg's argument.

So, the criticism from "So what?" turns out to be a red herring. It attempts to divert our scrutiny of the evil of fascism from fascism's essential evil to the accidental evils of the violent form of fascism. "Liberal fascism" therefore stands as a term with deeply philosophically and politically interesting meaning, which it takes Goldberg 400 pages to flesh out. The analysis that Goldberg has in the offing - he hasn't said whether he agrees with it - is sound. In my view it is the reason the book is a momentous work.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Conservatism and What Goldberg's Liberal Fascism Accomplishes

Goldberg's book shows that there is no reasonable interpretation of "liberal but not fascist" that makes sense, given the usage of the term "fascist" in the last 100 years and the nature of fascism. Conservatism, on the other hand, is not logically compatible with fascism. So, the book is a piece of philosophical analysis: it analyzes the meanings of the terms "fascist" and "liberal." Whereas a book of straight history or political science would attempt to uncover causes of events and ideas, Liberal Fascism looks at logical entailments provided by the meanings of those two terms.

The thesis is highly non-trivial. In other words, it is far from obvious that liberalism is fascistic. It is interesting to consider why it is not obvious. The hypnotic power of fascism enables liberals, who live in a time when "fascism" connotes evils of various kinds that no liberal would consciously prefer to embrace, to be fascists while believing that they are not fascists. The hypnotic state is able cleanse the fascistic mind of any impression that its purposes are pernicious. Even the loss of its own name has been necessary in order pull this off, fascism has not spared this expense. It lets the liberal mind reason that, as fascism is full of evils and liberal projects are not evil, therefore liberal projects are not fascist. Instead, as the liberal mind conceives it, those people who make themselves obstacles to the creation of a new liberal society are precisely the fascists. This is the hoodwinking that fascism can administer to a mind made vulnerable by its resentments and hatreds and excited by unity and change. Fascism can make itself seem to be where it is not and not to be within oneself.

Communist fascists have propagated the appearance of an association between fascism and conservatism by labeling enemy fascists "right-wing." Long ago, "right" may have meant conservative and therefore opposed to totalitarianism, and by entailment, opposed to fascism. 20th Century communist fascists used the term "right" simply as a smear to label their competitors: Hitler, Mussolini and conservatives. The semantic hoodwinking was masterful and complete: if fascism is somehow conservative, then of course liberals can't be fascist. Indeed, it was ingenious. It was brought of by the destruction of the meaning of "right." For "right" is now settled into its new semantic space, no longer meaning "conservative opposition to fascism" but instead the oxymoronic pseudo-meaning of "conservative/fascist." It is impossible for a term to mean anything when it is so incoherent. This is why "right" is now a meaningless term. The fact that it doesn't appear to be meaningless only shows that the conceptual confusion is deep and not obvious.

This is why liberals can't see so easily that it is liberalism that is fascist and conservatism that is anti-fascist. There is nothing the conservative can do to rectify matters, besides laying out the facts and hoping they sink in. To this end, there is Goldberg's book on liberalism. But one also needs to come back again and again to retell the nature of conservatism, laying bare its incompatibility with fascism and the delusions of the mind that believes otherwise.

Conservatism has political and moral levels. This is enormous territory, but here are some salient points.

The political philosophy of conservatism is the preference for a government that is as small as possible while still able to fulfill its roles as military defender of the country and provider of a few other services that it is more prudent to have the government provide than to have the private sector provide. Conservatives can deliberate over which those few are, but the point is they be few in number and of kind that does not require an intrusive government. Conservatives need to maintain a large set of values and they realize that big governments are likely to inhibit that maintenance or even crush it utterly.

The moral level of conservatism pertains to that set of values. There is a large set - a heritage - of values that conservatives cherish as required for a decent society and as tending to produce good lives better than alternative sets of values. These values compete quite frequently, requiring deliberation and trade-offs in the plethora of particular cases in which they apply. (Please search my archives for more on the moral level of conservatism.) The conservative moral vision implies the following.

1. It likely to be wrong-headed to prefer a new value over the traditional set of values. The egalitarians' economic equality is an example of such a new value. The preference for the new value disastrously inhibits the extent to which the traditional set of values can be fulfilled. Liberty and self-reliance, amongst a variety of other values, are neglected in favor of the new value. So, not only is the new value's genuine worthiness no good grounds, the costs of maintaining it are enormous.

2. It is wrong-headed to fetishize one of the traditional values at the expense of the rest. Deliberation over the set of values that we want to uphold is not a matter of using one as a trump. Libertarians take liberty to be such a trump, but there is no good argument that shows that liberty should be taken as a trump. Bleeding-heart liberals say that they take poverty relief as a trump value (and if they divest themselves of all their wealth, they really do.) But no good argument shows that poverty relief is not a trump value.

This is the lay of the philosophical land. If you get the lay of the land, you can see that the championing of self-reliance is not a ruse aimed at perpetuating slavery, and that "self-reliance is slavery" is Orwellian. And you can see that conservatives are not fascistic for their belief that some values are better than others, or their belief that deliberation over them requires that the government be small and out of the way. If you get the lay of the land you see that there is nothing fascistic in the conservative view that the policy of redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor will be unjust because it will often entail taking from the innocent and giving to the vicious and because it will erode the self-reliance of the poor. Whether or not you agree with conservatives about these things, you can see that they are not ruses made up by conservative fascists intent upon subjugating the poor. It couldn't be that, as "conservative fascists intent upon subjugating the poor" is as full of incoherence as can be. It is meaningless verbiage.

Hypnotic states induced by anger and excitement and nurtured by masterful orators with forceful personalities can make one believe impossible and incoherent things. One such hypnotic state can make one believe that the champion of small government is the totalitarian, while the advocate of an all-encompassing welfare state is anti-totalitarian. Thanks to Marx, this hypnosis, which has poisoned our world for the last hundred years, has also been equipped with a powerful shield against any reasoning that might unravel it. This is the reflexive tendency to dismiss conservative arguments simply as deriving from the enemy's counter-revolutionary impulses and therefore to be dismissed out of hand as unneedful of consideration or comparison with the arguments for leftism - as poor as these are - accepted by the fascist. The fascistic mind's delusional and hypnotic state is therefore also durable. This is why it is rare to see a liberal who has a good grasp of what conservatism is. In order to get a good grasp of it, he must have let fall away a tenacious hypnotic state without which it is hard to remain liberal.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Take the Quiz!

Internet quizzes are fun! Try this one. Make a check mark on a piece of paper for every “yes” you answer.
  1. Do you have a deep sense of discontentment with the way your society is organized and the way people in it lead their lives?
  2. Do you want to be part of the creation of a better society by leaving old conservative ways behind as obsolete, as outmoded, as supported by rich elites to secure their power, and as ignorantly maintained by benighted lower classes who don’t understand that they could have a better world?
  3. Do you think that people who don’t want to be part of the movement toward a new society, or who claim that such a project violates their rights to be left alone to do as they please, are obstacles to social justice?
  4. Do you feel excited when inspiring speakers and experts in science, technology and social justice explain how we can create a new and better society?
  5. Do you think the government should be doing much more to create better lives for people and that it has its hands tied by moneyed groups with narrow interests?
  6. Do you think the government should step in to control big business and the distribution of wealth, so that no one is allowed to be well-off while anyone else has to struggle in poverty - so that we can all be more devoted to a less self-interested, collective social action?
  7. Does the excitement you get by contemplating moving toward a new society make your present personal interests (school, career, hobbies, family, etc.) seem hum-drum or somewhat meaningless?
  8. Do you have any fascist tendencies?
If you answered “yes” to at least two of #1-7, then you have fascist tendencies. The more yeses you answered, the stronger your fascist tendencies are. If in addition to some yeses in #1-7 you answered “no” to #8, then you are in a hypnotic state.

UPDATE: Another quiz? Oh, boy!
  1. Do you have a vision for society in which everyone can rely upon himself and be independent of the government for his welfare?
  2. Do you think the government's main purpose is to protect its citizens and not to create good lives for them?
  3. If you were magically made president with an agreeable Congress, would your instinct be primarily to maintain security and enforce the law, rather than to redesign society in a way that you would prefer society to be?
  4. Is the thought of letting the Federal Government take over the management of the health care system repugnant to you?
  5. Do you like the American Founding Fathers and feel either antipathy or nothing at all for those American leaders who created big government and the welfare state?
  6. Are you liberal (in today's colloquial sense of the term, meaning "on the left")?
If you answered mostly yeses to #1-5, then you don't have much in the way of totalitarian tendencies. If, in addition to mostly yeses in #1-5, you answered "yes" to #6, then read A Case for Conservatism or Liberal Fascism and answer #6 again.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Thanks, Libertarians. Also, Some Miscellany

Dwelling on the pervasiveness of totalitarian viewpoints these days has made me realize that, um... well... okay. I like libertarians. There, I said it. Thank you, libertarians. I'm glad there is you. I'm a conservative, and it seems I've posted enough in the last five years on this ol' blog about how you shouldn't fetishize liberty the way you do. After all, you share with conservatism an understanding of what is at stake between totalitarianism and individual liberty, and you strongly champion the latter in a world in which so many people are hypnotized by the former. Did I mention I'm glad there is you? I am. Every time I think of you. XOXO!!

Some notes:

I'll be posting on Goldberg's chapter on the New Deal this weekend. I love a book in which each chapter is richer than the last, and so far, this book delivers. The reason it will be read twenty years from now is that it is well argued and full of factual support, insightful at many points, highly non-trivial, and true. What's the genre of the book? Applied political philosophy. It's a philosophical analysis of "liberalism" and "fascism," using historical data. Historians and political scientists will be too quick to criticize it, just as the ichthyologist I mentioned a post or two back was looking at things a level or two in abstraction below his interlocutor. The book is philosophical analysis, not history or political science.

My series on war and moral responsibility continues. A post on Michael Walzer's article on Dirty Hands is coming right up.

Finally, this is a philosophy blog. I hope you'll dip into the archives. The posts there haven't aged. Unfortunately all the comments got deleted by Haloscan or somebody a year or so ago. But it's all good, as the kids say these days.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Liberal Fascism Chapter Three

I've given my definition of "fascism" (totalitarianism with cult of personality) a couple of posts below. I would also say that fascism has a vision:

We're all marching off to create a radically new society in which the maladies of human society are wiped away, the worker is not deprived of his wealth by capitalists, and everyone fulfills himself in a collective that is designed by men of action and innovation who intuitively know the will of the people. Anyone who stands in the way will be eliminated or forced to bend his will to this project.

The rest is details. There are socialist, militarist, pacifist, and bureaucratic varieties, there are varieties in which the state and big business act as partners, and there are varieties in which the state owns all business. There are fascist police states that brutalize deviation of thought and individuality of action, and there are states that use a more subtle way of compelling compliance of will by hypnosis or causing their people gradually to become slothful and dependent upon the state. There are fascist states that eliminate intellectuals and ones that elevate them. There can be "top-down" fascist states spearheaded by and elite, and there could conceivably be "bottom-up" decentralized ones in which every man is a bully.

It is best not to get lost in the details, but much to the chagrin of the reader, Goldberg's Chapter Three reveals the terrible truths about Woodrow Wilson, "the twentieth century's first fascist dictator." There is no point in retelling them here. They constitute one of the darkest stories in our history. Instead, I'll note that Michael Ledeen has laid out quite a few objections to Liberal Fascism, and in particular, he objects to Goldberg's characterization of Wilson.

Ledeen argues that Wilson was not a fascist because he was not a one-party dictator. However, Mussolini was a fascist leader at times when he was not a one-party dictator. And I don't see any contradiction between "there are two parties in the state" and the vision and definition of fascism that I have offered. There may be some practical reason perceived by the fascists for the need of two parties. Perhaps there is a labor party and an intelligentsia party, or a military party and a labor party. The Ledeen article, while instructive, is composed of non sequiturs to the effect that since X lacked detail #472, he wasn't a fascist or wasn't a leftist, or since Y lacked detail #83 he wasn't a fascist. What is so obvious is that X and Y share the vision and the definition of fascism.

Ledeen is like the ichthyologist who has forgotten that what he is studying is fish and not an irreducible plurality of carp, haddock, herring, etc. Goldberg has claimed that Mussolini, Hitler, and Wilson were all fish. Ledeen points out that they were demonstrably different kinds of fish in unobvious ways, thereby missing the obvious.

UPDATE: Yikes. Richard Jansen, in a comment on Ledeen's post, recites quite a few Nazi socialist platform planks, concluding quite judiciously:

Of course other elements were involved: ein folk, ein Reich, ein fuhrer, but socialism was strongly in the mix.

It is unfortunate that Ledeen responds in this way:

Racism is the core of Nazism, these economic/social "principles" are epiphenomena. I don't know a serious scholar of Nazism who thinks otherwise, frankly, except the Holocaust deniers, who are 'serious' in a sick way.

That's sophistry. First, the claim that Nazism was socialist does not entail holocaust denial. It appears to me that Ledeen has at least obliquely associated Jansen with holocaust denial. Second, it is impossible to be epiphenomenally socialist and yet not socialist. Perhaps Ledeen meant that the socialism was "not essential." But what would count as evidence that Nazi socialism was not an essential part of Nazism? What sort of thing is a Nazism that doesn't champion the socialist platform Jansen recites? Who knows. But we have a term, "genocidal anti-semite," and we shouldn't confuse it with "Nazism." In any event, Ledeen offers no substance. He should rethink his reply and emend it. It's unworthy of him, to put it mildly.

UPDATE: Goldberg has more. Welcome NRO readers!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Notes on Goldberg, Liberal Fascism Chapter Two

Jonah Goldberg is aware of the semantic slipperiness of the "right" and "left." In speaking of Hitler as having "destroyed the Left," leaving "the Right" to remain, Goldberg reflects, "But ask yourself, how do we normally talk about such things?" In other words, Goldberg knows the terms can deceive.

Unfortunately, he goes on to argue that Hitler was on the left, not the right, assuming that conservatives are on the right, not the left. But there is no interesting sense in which conservatism is to the "right" of any ideological center. And "left" and "right" have such a deep history of being used to draw distinctions between competing fascists that "right" cannot be properly used to label conservatism. "Right" is a vacuous term properly used only in the speech act of calling one's fellow socialists to the task of opposing an enemy. It's a demented term, and for conservatives to continue to use it impairs their ability to reason about political matters. Left and right are, by inalienable senses of the English terms, progressivistic. They signify motion away from the existing frame of reference. Inevitably, if you say that you are on the right, you connote the notion that you have some cockamamie plan for taking our society and moving it away from its existing values to somewhere else, somewhere to the "right."

I know that I am starting to sound like a broken record on this point, but if you think I'm dwelling pointlessly on mere semantics that don't matter, I suggest you consider the title of Goldberg's momentous book.

Goldberg seems to know that something is amiss here. After defining "left" as "the party of change" and "right" as "the party of status quo," and arguing that Hitler, since a revolutionary, was on the left and not the right, he says, "If we put aside for a moment the question of whether Hitlerism was a phenomenon of the right, what is indisputable is that Hitler was in no way a conservative...." But there is the rub. If it is clear that Hitler is not a conservative and debatable whether he was on the right, then it follows that "right" and "conservative" do not mean the same thing. Moreover, conservatism and Hitlerism share no points of political philosophy, and therefore they can't even be two different species of the right. What they do share is that they have been subject to the brickbat, the speech act, "right," being hurled at them by certain fascists who call themselves "left." When it seems possible for one to consider Hitlerism and one's own conservatism as potentially of the same family of political views, then one has been hoodwinked and cannot tell who one's ideological opponents really are.

Goldberg himself puts his finger on this distinction between mere labeling of a political competitor and genuine naming of an ideology. He recognizes that "the Soviet Union defined all nationalisms as right-wing." He says of Hitler's hatred for the communists and Jews who he thought had betrayed Germany during WW I, that it "was not - as communists themselves have claimed - grounded in a rejection of socialist policies.... It was bound up inextricably with a sense of betrayal of German honor pathological anti-semitism." Goldberg shows that Hitler embraces socialist policies. So, Hitler didn't disagree with socialism; he merely opposed those socialists labeled "communist," favoring those labeled "nationalist." Yet, Goldberg still wants to infer from this that Hitler was not of the right. Finally, Goldberg stumbles hard over the difficulty:
But even if Nazi nationalism was in some ill-defined but fundamental way right-wing, this only meant that Nazism was right-wing socialism And right-wing socialists are still socialists.... [W]e in the West have apishly mimicked the Soviet usage of such terms without questioning the propagandistic baggage attached.

Goldberg knows there is a Soviet hoodwinking here, but he still spends pages arguing about whether or not Nazism shares with conservatism a place on the "right." In short, there is no good sense in which a conservative can use the word "right." It's only non-misleading usage entails that the speaker is a fascist.

There are other insightful passages in this chapter on Hitler in which Goldberg sees that "right" is merely a label used by one leftist against his leftist enemies. This is why it isn't cogent for him to maintain that conservatism is on the right. Again, I emphasize that this isn't "mere semantics" because when the fundamental terms of the philosophical terrain are left to remain obscure, one cannot say precisely what one's philosophy is. It isn't obvious how "conservatism" should be philosophically defined. I've given the problem a good deal of thought over the years, as has John Kekes. I find it impossible to reconcile any of the best thoughts about conservatism with any meaningful sense of "the right." I would never say that Goldberg is on the right. He shouldn't say it of himself.
Goldberg's Liberal Fascism Chapter One

The upshot of this chapter on Mussolini is that in the case "leftism vs. fascism" in Italy, "the distinction was hardly a difference." But socialists and fascists fought tooth-and-nail in Italy? Tell that to Leon Trotsky or my cousin Sheldon Harte, Trotsky's secretary. The ice pick in Trotsky's forehead and the bullet in my foolish cousin's back refute the inference that anyone who brutalizes a leftist is anti-leftist. Mussolini was a leftist as surely as the monster who killed Trotsky and Sheldon.

The chapter demonstrates that Mussolini never moved fascism "from left to right," even when his Fascist party lost to the socialists and he reformulated his slogans from "socialist" to "populist." If you've read the chapter, consider this bird's eye view of some of the concepts involved.

A political philosophy can have a variety of implementations. There can even be two vociferously opposed political parties that espouse the same political philosophy but advocate different implementations. Consider that the rhetorical exaggerations of the differences delivered by leaders of the opposed parties - leaders with megalomaniacal and hypnotically persuasive personalities - can propagate very distorted views of each party's position. Indeed, each party's leader is prone to aver of the other that his party is so different as to have reached the point that it doesn't espouse a genuine form of the political philosophy it is supposed to espouse. He might even announce that the opposition's philosophy is precisely opposed to his own party's philosophy. "If the Fascists don't want to implement a socialist totalitarian state using the techniques and low-level platform planks that we Socialists know are the true way to get to the goal, can't we be forgiven for suspecting that they are not socialists at all? Populism? A capitalist ruse!" You see the kinds of confusions and the tricks that were in play. It can result in ice picks and bullets in the back of "traitors" to socialism.

The confusion between philosophy and its implementation, along with the violence, fear and cult of personality that are found amongst both the fascists and the socialists of the 1920's, explain why it could be that fascism would become deeply semantically cloaked in anti-leftist garb and remain there for decades.

The fascists wanted militarism and government control of the economy for the stated purpose of achieving the socialist totalitarian goal. So did the leftists. If you can't understand this, then you can't think about what is at stake in America today between the left and conservatism.

Let's take an even more general bird's eye view of the semantic history. In one region of the terrain below we have squabbling megalomaniacs who yearn to be dictators of a socialist totalitarian state. Each loudly denounces the other as a power-hungry enemy of the working class. They oppose one another, though not philosophically. In addition, they use handy labels to distinguish themselves: "socialist left" and "fascist right," labels which seem to draw a philosophical differences where there in fact is none. In another region of the terrain, called "Liberty," we observe a philosophy according to which the individual is to rely upon himself for his welfare and to be protected from governmental (and other) infringements upon his liberty to pursue happiness as he sees fit. In Liberty there is no totalitarian project, dream of a general will, or utopian urge to consign traditional, common-sense values to the trash heap. Rather, Liberty must perpetually refute this philosophy and repel attempts by the totalitarians to subjugate Liberty. We gaze back again upon the totalitarian terrain, and we notice one of the two competitors - the one labeled "fascist right" - has died. Now, if the modus operandi of the totalitarian who remains - "socialist left" - has been to denounce anyone who opposes him as a power-hungry enemy of the working class and to distort philosophical differences beyond recognition, we should not be surprised when he denounces Liberty in this way. Why should he tell the truth, after all? It isn't in his interest. The philosophy of Liberty gets smeared, therefore, as "fascist right."

Thus does it become possible for the mind to believe that Liberty's attempt to conserve its basic philosophy is the reaction of those with "rightwing fascist" tendencies to the left's attempt to create "social justice." Mind-numbingly stupid beliefs such as this can indeed be embraced because class envy and cults of personality have hypnotic power. When a society has been semantically hoodwinked in this way and then grows wealthy, slothful, and uninterested in clinging to the values self-reliance and individualism that it has long maintained, it can slide neatly into the control of precisely the fascist state that it is so dimly sure it is being careful to avoid.

UPDATE: Goldberg explains. Also, title of post changed from "...Chapter Two" to "...Chapter One."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: Reflections on the Introduction

When a people loses important components of its language it loses ability to think about the objects of those lost terms. "Fascist" (as a meaningful term) has been all but eradicated from the language and as a result we are unable to think through certain important and deplorable facts about our political situation. Goldberg’s book recovers “fascist.” For this it is a work of lasting value.

To me, “fascism” has always meant utopian totalitarianism with a cult of personality. “Cult of personality” can taken as either a people's hypnotic obedience to a totalitarian leader of forceful personality or just a “general will” to which every member of a nation is compelled to bring his own will to compliance. If this is a reasonable sense of “fascism,” then Goldberg is right that the French Revolution was fascist, as well as Nazi Germany. Stalin was also a fascist. Liberal Fascism intends to demonstrate that liberalism (today’s soft leftism, not the classical liberalism of yore) is also fascist. It is.

Let me offer a taxonomy of political theories that will show how this can be so:

1. Libertarianism (minimal state, liberty as the value that trumps all others)

2. Conservatism (there is a large set of traditional values that have proven worth maintaining and over which we are perpetually obliged to deliberate in order to make the tough and sometimes tragic decisions about how to maximize the fulfillment of as many of them as possible; the state should be very small, so that the determinations of this deliberation – and not a general will or utopian disdain for the perpetual task of deliberation over the set values - can hold sway)

3. Totalitarianism (state power is pervasive, complete)
3.1. Fascism (as defined above; the state should control the capital)
3.1.1. Leftism (Marxist fascism; the state should own the capital) Communism (the state, the people, and the general will will become one, and private property will be eliminated) Socialism (the state should control the capital)
3.1.2. The Right (there is no such thing as the right)

Now, any outline point that had only one subheading was to absorb that subheading. Unless there was more than one species of a genus, the single species was to be absorbed into the genus itself. And, upon inspection, there isn't a dime's worth of difference between 3.1 and 3.1.1, as far as political philosophy is concerned. Therefore, fascism and leftism are the same thing. Hitler was a leftist. Stalin was a fascist. And vice versa. The parsing? They were having you on. There is no taxonomically salient difference between the two. They were competitors selling the same goods, pretending they were different. And there is no such thing as 3.1.2.

No, there is no such thing as “the right.” It is an epithet coined by Stalinist fascists to disparage competing fascists. Goldberg's book discloses the fallacies that have smeared the term “fascism” into semantic oblivion. But he hasn't noticed that “right” is a genuinely meaningless term, one which, unlike “fascism,” is semantically unrecoverable. What was the fallacy that produced it’s vapid place in our contemporary forum?

Conservatism has opposed and competed with fascism/leftism continues to do so. Meanwhile, the fascists who got labeled “the right” died out before the 20th Century was even half over. The fascists labeled “left” won and survived. They are around today. True to the Stalinist tradition, they label their remaining competitors – conservatives - “the right.” After all, if you have a vacuous but useful epithet lying around, you may as well use it. Dimly, unaware of the linguistic subterfuge, conservatives accept the appellation. After all, why wouldn't a conservative want to be labeled as exactly opposite, by some measure or other, to fascism/leftism?

By the meaning of the English word, “right” is off to the side of something. It is not on center: at the prudentially rational sweet spot where the many moral values we hold are all countenanced and given place in deliberation. Old conservative values are in the middle (and I don't mean "moderate,” a term that means "only slightly smitten by fascism/leftism.") They are in the middle of all the good values which, by debate (which we do not ever want to stop) and tragically prudent reasoning, we can fulfill only partially, and never all of the values completely. By saying that conservatism is to the "right," we lead the mind to assume that it's off on some vector away from this middle, with the left at the opposite end. But this is a perfectly incorrect model of the philosophical terrain. Stalin hoodwinked us. He made us unable to think about what we really believe.

Replace the left-vs-right model with a web of values, like a spider's web, with a center, a sweet spot where those decisions lie that best fulfill as many of the values as possible (a sort of satisficing or net satisfaction optimum, where there is the best resonance with as many of the valuable strands of the web as possible.) Fascism and leftism are represented by the space outside of the web and on the same plane as the web, where one has traveled along any of the radial strands away from the center and left the web. The various trajectories by which one can leave the web are the flavors of fascism. Hitler is at, say, 3:00 far outside the web, having traveled along the strand that represents the value of lifting the German people out of their misery. Lenin is at 10:00, having traveled along the strand of regard for the welfare of the lower and working classes. It's all statism and general-will-oriented anti-individualism, in which one no longer makes any effort to hit the sweet spot of values. It's all fascism. And it's all leftism. In no sense is the center of the web - conservatism - to the right of anything.

Some upshots and asides:
  • The libertarian has seized upon liberty and tried to pull it above the plane of the web, wrongly thinking that holding it above all other values is the right political philosophy.
  • Various "moderate" positions, all incorrect, lie on the web. However, they do not lie at its center, but rather at varying distances from it, and, to various slight degrees, suffering from the hypnosis that is fascism. The fact that they are labeled "moderate" is yet another semantic hoodwinking perpetrated by fascism. There is nothing moderate about being only slightly smitten by fascism.
  • Conservatism is by nature a big tent, with various bickering amongst conservatives about where exactly the center lies.
  • By labeling conservatism off to "the right" and opposite to fascism, the fascist can bring his audience to believe that conservatism opposes the only strand of value remaining in the fascist's tenuous grasp (the relief of the plight of the poor, say, or the amelioration of the suffering of the German people.) It's a brilliant semantic hoodwinking. Because in no way is conservatism opposed to relieving the plight of the poor or ameliorating the suffering of the German people. Those are precisely strands in the conservative's own web.
In sum, I'd say that, just by the looks of Chapter One, Liberal Fascism is a momentous book that will prove to have lasting value. By demonstrating contemporary liberalism's fascist commitments, Goldberg has revealed it's location at the very edge of the web of value - with some liberals in the group still just inside the web, some of them well beyond it. The book repairs a fundamental semantic blind spot in our political cognition. But Goldberg still frequently refers to conservatism as “the right.” He has another term to recover. I recommend a second edition of the book to this end.

UPDATE: Title of post changed from "...Chapter One" to "...the Introduction"