Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Fascism & Liberalism: Strange Bedfellows? -

The last month has been hectic, in ways that will shortly become apparent from changes to the site (as if the very re-emergence of the site over the last month hasn't been enough change!), I read Jonah Goldberg's book Liberal Fascism (again, motivated by Goldberg's appearance on The Daily Show). I was a bit disappointed in Stewart on this one, because he really didn't let Goldberg explain the premise of the book and pointedly ignored some fairly reasonable comments. He was talking at Goldberg, instead of to him. I was disappointed ... but I definitely wanted to read that book.

In Liberal Fascism, Goldberg makes the thesis that current liberalism dates back to the "progressive movement" of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Okay, no particular problem there. We expect such a historical tradition, right?

But then he proceeds to explain how the progressive movement was actually linked to Italian fascism (which is clearly distinct from Nazism, as he points out). In fact, as Goldberg points out, scholars can't even agree what the term fascist means. But whatever it means, it was not the evil that it has been portrayed in the years since. Italy, until it essentially lost sovereignty to Germany, actually protected Jews from persecution.

His whole point is that liberals are, in general, way too "liberal" about throwing around the word fascist to describe anything they disagree with, all the while not really having any understanding of what the word means. In fact, most liberals would be truly disgusted by some of the actions championed by "progressives" of the past, ranging from eugenics to clear support of corporate interests over individual liberty.

Goldberg is not attacking all liberals as being fascists. Oh, he doesn't like liberal politics, but that's not really his goal here. Instead, he's providing a thoughtful analysis of the historical evolution of liberal policies, and linking current liberal policy initiatives to their historical antecedents.

Perhaps one of the most entertaining aspects of the book, for me, was a very minor little side comment regarding World War I. It seems that, during this time, sauerkraut became temporarily referred to as "Liberty Cabbage" since America was at war with Germany. Granted, we were never at war with France, but it still bears similarities to the silliness regarding recent "Freedom Fries."

Goldberg's book didn't actually change my stance on a single issue, thankfully, but it did open my eyes to some of the historical roots, and possible dangers of extremism, that are inherent in the viewpoints I do hold. I think it's an insightful book, for both liberals and conservatives ... so long as they're willing to actually explore the ideas of the book instead of just embracing their own ideologies.

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