March 02, 2008

One of the stranger aspects of contemporary American “€œmainstream conservatism”€ is the obsession with “€œfascism,”€ a political philosophy one might have supposed was safely buried under the rubble of 1945 Europe. National Review and The Weekly Standard are full of dire warnings about the dangers posed by “€œIslamofascism,”€  and Jonah Goldberg is being hailed by the likes of Glenn Beck and Hugh Hewitt as an intellectual giant for his new best seller in which he critiques fascism of the “€œliberal,”€ American variety. National Review Online has created a new weblog for Goldberg, where he can both promote his book and himself and dispense his wisdom on all matters “€œfascist.”€ And all manner of lesser neocon bloggers are busying themselves uncovering the alleged “€œfascist”€ roots of everything they oppose.


One of the reasons I find this phenomenon strange is because my own understanding of conservatism was formed by reading National Review for many years, beginning as a sophomore in high school. In addition to reading the current issues of the magazine, I wrote a paper on James Burnham in college, which prompted me to read not only most of Burnham’s books, but all of his pieces in NR from the beginning of the magazine until his stroke, as well as many other articles in the magazine from 1955 until 1978. The impression conveyed was that “€œfascism”€ no longer existed, except as a term of abuse by the left, and that many leaders denounced as “€œfascists”€ were in fact statesmen and patriots, including Francisco Franco and Augusto Pinochet. Not only did Burnham admire Franco, but he was succeeded as the magazine’s foreign affairs columnist by Brian Crozier, a biographer of Franco who was fulsome in his praise for the Spanish dictator. Burnham and Crozier would certainly have been astonished to learn that the greatest threat facing America in 2008 apparently would be “€œfascism,”€ a word that George Orwell correctly noted “€œhas now no meaning except in so far as it signifies “€˜something not desirable.”€™”€


Of course, while the old NR was deprecating concerns about “€œfascism,”€ many other political quarters were full of denunciations of “€œfascists”€ and dropping of the F-word. But those denunciations came from the Left, including the Communist Left. There is a reason Communists routinely denounced their enemies as “€œfascist.”€ If “€œfascism”€ were seen as the embodiment of political evil, the Communists”€™ own crimes would be overlooked and ultimately forgotten. This strategy has been remarkably successful, as shown by the plethora of movies still being made over 60 years after the death of Hitler about the crimes committed by the Nazis, and the paucity of movies made about the crimes committed by a political system that killed 100,000,000 people, that threatened America for decades, and that still imprisons thousands in such places as China, Cuba, and North Korea. Nazism is dead, but it lives forever in our imaginations. Communist Parties still rule millions of people, but there is reluctance to even call Communists “€œCommunist.”€ I have even seen Red China described as a “€œfascist”€ state by a NRO regular. Who will remember those millions killed by the Communists now that even conservatives strain to label their opponents as “€œfascists,”€ thereby validating the view that the greatest political evil that ever existed, or could ever exist, is “€œfascism?”€

The hallmark of real fascism was extreme nationalism, often coupled with white racism and anti-Semitism. Yet under the influence of Trotskyites like Christopher Hitchens, conservatives now regularly label jihadists”€”who oppose white racism and disdain the nation-state and long for the Caliphate”€”as “€œIslamofascists.”€ Moslems have been waging war against the West virtually from the time of Mohammed, but apparently what makes the jihadists evil is an imagined similarity between them and Hitler and Mussolini.


The need to label everything conservatives oppose as “€œfascist”€ hardly stops with Osama bin Laden and his ilk. Goldberg sees FDR and the New Deal as “€œfascist,”€ even though FDR was far more eager to wage war against Hitler than was the contemporary American Right, which remained true to the traditional American foreign policy enunciated by George Washington in his Farewell Address. What is significant about Roosevelt is not that some New Dealers shared the same admiration of Mussolini voiced by Winston Churchill”€””€œRoman genius… the greatest lawgiver among men”€”€”but Roosevelt’s willingness to discard the legacy of the Founders, both in the domestic arena and in foreign policy. Indeed, it is odd that Goldberg wants FDR to be remembered for his “€œfascism”€ when his Administration did not contain a single spy for Hitler or Mussolini but was honeycombed with agents of Stalin.


Goldberg and his admirers also seem not to fully appreciate that what so thoroughly discredited fascism was not the domestic policies of Mussolini’s Italy, but the aggressive wars waged by the Fascist dictators, culminating in the horrific Nazi crimes of World War II. Mussolini was largely admired before he invaded Ethiopia, and it is unlikely that he would be remembered as he is today if he had not cast his lot with Hitler. It is of course true that Hitler was not a laissez-faire capitalist, but as John Lukacs points out in The Hitler of History, Hitler was largely indifferent to economics. Of course, there are also far less emotionally charged historical models for corporatism than Mussolini’s Italy, such as Social Democratic Sweden. Thus arguing that support for state regulation of the economy is somehow Hitlerian or “€œfascist”€ is intellectually dishonest.


It is also intellectually dishonest to argue that the sort of foreign policy favored by Goldberg and the other “€œanti-fascists”€ at NR is in any way Hitlerian. But Goldberg is so committed to an aggressive U.S. foreign policy that he argued on his Liberal Fascism blog on Feb. 24 that “€œconservative dogma is the great bulwark against fascism or fascistic policies in part because it breaks the historic linkage between activist foreign policies abroad and totalitarian impulses at home.”€ In other words, even though those who like invading other countries have often also liked building up the state and curtailing freedom at home, crusading around the world for “€œdemocracy”€ and invading foreign countries at will is now okay and definitely not “€œfascist”€”€”as long as you still want to repeal the “€œdeath tax.”€ Goldberg and all the other budding “€œanti-fascists”€ on the right would do well to remember that Hitler is consigned to infamy not because of the Autobahn, but because of his own “€œactivist foreign policy,”€ and that the Americans who opposed the New Deal also vigorously opposed FDR’s “€œactivist foreign policy.”€ It is time for American conservatives to stop looking for spurious historical parallels to the policies of long-dead European regimes, and to rediscover the traditional policies of our Founders, including an unwillingness to meddle at home or abroad.


[Kudos to “All 4 Humor” for documentary photo of house pet suspected of liberal fascism]


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