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"