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.