An Unusual Review of Liberal Fascism

Wednesday, January 30, 2008
...in that the author actually read Liberal Fascism before writing the review.

American Thinker: The Liberals' Mommy Fascism: "Liberals would say that 'liberal fascism' is an oxymoron, and a hateful one at that. How could liberals have anything to do with right-wing fascism? But sixty years ago Hayek in The Road to Serfdom had already made the connection. He quoted Peter Drucker: 'Fascism is the stage reached after communism has proved an illusion.' Communists and fascists, Hayek continues, 'compete for the same type of mind and reserve for each other the hatred of the heretic.'

Goldberg does not say that American liberals are street-fighting revolutionaries like Hitler and Mussolini. He means that they belong to the same nostalgic tradition as the communists and fascists. They want to use political power to reestablish in the alienated modern city the lost innocence of community and kinship of the pre-modern village."


12 comments:

Skookumchuk said...

They want to use political power to reestablish in the alienated modern city the lost innocence of community and kinship of the pre-modern village.

That is the crux of it right there, and why it is almost impossible to dampen these strong impulses. We may be destined to relearn these lessons over and over.

Also, a good - and much better written - book to read before Goldberg's book is this one, by Wolfgang Schivelbusch:

Three New Deals - Reflections on Roosevelt's America, Mussolini's Italy, and Hitler's Germany, 1933-1939

chuck said...

Three New Deals...

I believe that book was also mentioned in the WSJ review of Liberal Fascism and I've been meaning to look it up. Thanks for the reference.

truepeers said...

Eric Voegelin, writing in the 1950s, lumped liberalism and fascism and communism altogether under the label of Gnosticism: belief that the present world is a corruption of the original creation and that an elect with special knowledge are needed to reconnect us with the true creation. In other words, Gnosticism is widely popular in modern society because of a common inability to come to terms with the uncertainties and fears of a conflict-ridden, and, for many, meaningless, human existence, which leads many to need to believe in those who claim to have that special key that opens all doors to redeeming a fallen past, and insuring peace and unity in future.

The difference, for Voeglin, between the fascist and the liberal was essentially that the latter were in less of a hurry to redeem the past and insure the future. But the latter's deferral to a technocratic elite, to expert control of the sign system, or politics, and their attendant fantasies of overcoming certain hard realities with magical thinking about the human condition, was nonetheless a road to hell with good intentions, not unlike that of those who put all their faith in a single dear leader.

Liberal fascism is not so much a new idea as a lesson we never learn.

Skookumchuk said...

Thanks truepeers, for introducing me to Voegelin; I had never heard of him. And so my contributions to the Jeff Bezos Megayacht Fund continue to grow...

the latter's deferral to a technocratic elite, to expert control of the sign system, or politics, and their attendant fantasies of overcoming certain hard realities with magical thinking about the human condition...

The question is really - do people still defer to a technocratic elite? In Europe I would say yes, if grudgingly. Here not so much. We no longer worship Science in the manner of the Futurists, for example. But deference to a technocratic elite is not really necessary if you have an established state religion. And I certainly would class environmentalism as a type of Gnosticism. It is the thing closest to a state religion that we have today.

truepeers said...

Well if we're deferring to environmentalism we have a kind of technocratic elite - those for whom "the science is settled", which of course it isn't but a Gnostic can't admit it.

More generally, in America there are all kinds of managers trying to take the uncertainties out of things, which has the effect of trying to insure nothing very new (and maybe necessary, in the long run) happens. I just followed one of Wretchard's links to an earlier Belmont Club discussion on "open secrets" (problems which some or everyone in an organization knows, but only the foolhardy raise with management) where Wretchard argues:

"Is the problem in part our unwillingness to identify acceptable risk? When forced to deal with risk we, as a society, must set the standard at zero risk.

[Wretchard:]While most people accept a zero-risk situation is impossible we may actually demand -- subconsciously of course -- that the risk be hidden from us. Otherwise our enjoyment is ruined. In times past there was the memento mori to remind us that even on a summer's day the possibility that something could go terribly wrong was always present.

But moderns are less tolerant of disappointment. We don't want to be told that astronauts can die horribly; that wars are sometimes lost; that things fail or unaccountably break. That eventuality is regarded as "unfair" even though it is merely relatively improbable. The modern copywriter must on no account emphasize the necessity of "blood, toil, sweat and tears" in a cause one might lose anyway.

The "open secret" is not so much at variance with life as with our expectations of life. The ultimate open secret is the fact that we must live without guarantees. And to mention that is poor salesmanship. In that sense we've become more childlike than our ancestors. We've grown afraid of the dark because we've forgotten that through it lies our only chance at the light."

I think that's a good way of summing up a society that has chosen Gnostic "guarantees" and a managerial (if not strictly scientific) elite over hard realities.

I think the best Voegelin essay to buy is "New Science of Politics" if you have a mind for a review of political theory from the Puritans to Max Weber to start off the argument.

Skookumchuk said...

Sounds good, truepeers. I shall buy it and add it to the (ever growing) stack.

Skookumchuk said...

In that sense we've become more childlike than our ancestors.

Yes. I have seen that in disaster management, where the task seemingly becomes more difficult by the day. In part this is because the expectations of being taken care of are so high.

Apologies for the half-articulated thought here, but it is interesting to see where the people who respond to disasters come from - the South, the Midwest, the Rocky Mountain states. The populous coastal areas are massively under-represented. In fact, many persons active in the field are ex-military. It is an essentially military demographic. I have thought a lot about this, and it seems that the people who respond to such events are in large part those who accept the inevitability of risk, and who see life as inherently somewhat dangerous. Those who don't see it this way, those in the large blue cities who see this as a societal or governmental "failure" - don't show up. I understand this is very deep water, but I think there is something to it.

truepeers said...

Skook, there is definitely something to it. The scapegoating of the government for the Katrina aftermath was deeply revealing of coastal elites.

Last winter, there were large mudslides into the water reservoirs here; and as a precaution we went on a boil water advisory; and the high turbidity meant bottled water for most. As a consequence, many coffee retailers shut down, fearing they couldn't meet safety or quality requirements. People who couldn't get their fix of caffeine were having fits, and shouting at cafe/restaurant staff who couldn't serve coffee. It suggested to me that I just don't want to be here when the the big earthquake hits and the stores are empty for a few days. I predict madness; people just aren't adapted to deal with such uncertainties and hardships any more. When I make this argument, others argue that people will pull together in such a crisis. Who knows. Only the event can be truly revelatory. I'd put a lot of value in your emergency experiences.

bobal said...

The creation is the corruption. Early Asiatic art often shows a swastica in counterclockwise rotation, a winding back to the uncorrupt source. Just one interpretation. This world not to be fixed but abandoned.

Skookumchuk said...

When I make this argument, others argue that people will pull together in such a crisis. Who knows.

Sweeping generalization of the day. The Kansan will come out to San Francisco to clear away the earthquake wreckage, but the San Franciscan won't go to Kansas to help out after the tornado.

Now, there are many reasons for this, including the fact that one feels American in the broadest sense while the other feels himself belonging to a city-state that is somewhat antagonistic toward the country surrounding it. But there is also something about the individual's perception of the inevitability of risk, and their belief that a person needs to be able to deal with risk in a pragmatic and constructive way, instead of thinking magically about the event, that is somehow linked to their behavior in crises.

Rick Ballard said...

The Enlightenment gave us a U-Pickem ethos (with a veneer of scientistic language) that has generated an absolutely incoherent praxis that is fairly useless regarding anything to do with the concept of personal duty. Killing God doesn't appear to have been mankind's best decision.

Skook,

I look at your comment about people with military backgrounds being predominant in disaster preparedness as relating strongly to their sense of personal duty. Tie that sense of personal duty to a practical bent regarding logistics and you wind up with a very useful person to have around. You're already aware of Walmart's preparedness planning for disasters that is based upon their logistical skills and I'm sure you're aware that construction/engineering folks show up quite quickly after disasters (they know something about duty - especially wrt performance) as well as the folks from various religious organizations who come prepared to feed as necessary. The latter are the ones with the strongest linear development of mythos/ethos/praxis, although sometimes the logistical component isn't particularly useful.

The substitution of human reason for the mythical element will probably function very well.

When a new species arises with more than 5% of the individuals capable of actually exercising the faculty.

Skookumchuk said...

Killing God doesn't appear to have been mankind's best decision.

Ah, no.

It is certainly due to a strong sense of personal duty and to patriotism. But it also due to a very real sense of risk and of the fragility of what we take for granted in life and an almost automatic response that is in practical, concrete terms. As opposed to the kind of magical thinking that Truepeers describes.