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Letters by a modern St. Ferdinand III about cults

Gab@StFerdinandIII -

Plenty of cults exist - every cult has its 'religious dogma', its idols, its 'prophets', its 'science', its 'proof' and its intolerant liturgy of demands.  Cults everywhere:  Corona, 'The Science' or Scientism, Islam, the State, the cult of Gender Fascism, Marxism, Darwin and Evolution, Globaloneywarming, Changing Climate, Abortion...

Tempus Fugit Memento Mori - Time Flies Remember Death 

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Book Review: Jonah Goldberg's work on Liberal Fascism.

Fascism has nothing to do with 'right wing' ideas. Boo hoo hoo.

by StFerdIII

The incoherence of our political discourse results in part from sheer ignorance of political philosophy and its history. Abetted by a superficial media, we trade in sound-bite labels and epithets, free-floating signifiers that communicate not ideas but feelings or prejudices — “conservative,” “liberal,” “progressive,” and of course “fascist” are all terms that seldom have any accurate meaning. This sloppiness makes it more difficult to conduct the political debate where it should be: at the level of fundamental assumptions about human nature, the proper role of government, and the goods suitable for the state to pursue.

Liberal Fascism goes a long way to providing that lost history and recovering the true origins and meanings of our political principles and ideals. Goldberg, a syndicated columnist and editor at the National Review, modestly calls himself a journalist. But he has in fact written a well-documented, fast-paced history of modern politics and political philosophy. Along the way, he sweeps away self-serving liberal and progressive myths, and recovers the true roots of progressive/liberal politics — in the deification of the state as the instrument of utopian aspirations, the same dynamic of 20th century fascism.

Given that “fascist” is the most abused term in the political lexicon, Goldberg’s first task is to correct all the misconceptions about historical fascism, the most important being that it was a “conservative” political movement, one created by bourgeois capitalism to ward off a decline created by its own contradictions and the socialist alternative. In reality, fascism is a phenomenon of the left, not the right — an “inconvenient truth,” Goldberg writes, “if ever there was one.”

This confusion about fascism’s origins if furthered by the misleading contrast usually made between fascism and communism. But as Goldberg shows, “they are closely related, historical competitors for the same constituents, seeking to control and dominate the same social space,” a space opened up by the decline of Christianity, to which both were hostile, and by the utopian pretensions of scientistic politics. Moreover, both shared the belief that “the era of liberal democracy was drawing to a close,” that it was time to abandon “the anachronisms of natural law, traditional religion, constitutional liberty, capitalism and the like”: “God was long dead, and it was long overdue for men to take His place.”

Thus both were “utopian visions and the bearers of great hopes,” international movements attracting believers throughout the world, including America. The key difference between these two socialistic philosophies was the question of nationalism. Communism located the essence of human identity in transnational economic classes, whereas fascism “offered a new religion of the divinized state and the nation as an organic community.”

As Goldberg documents, historical fascism had much in common with American progressivism and pragmatism and their notions that political, social, and economic “experiments” conducted by rational technocrats — “experts” liberated from traditional religious superstitions, dogmas, and customs — could correct the injustices and inefficiencies created by laissez-faire capitalism and rampant individualism. Throughout the Thirties and Forties, many progressive Americans admired Mussolini and Hitler, for like those two dictators, American progressives were “militaristic, fanatically nationalist, imperialist, racist, deeply involved in the promotion of Darwinian eugenics, enamored of the Bismarckian welfare state, [and] statist beyond modern reckoning.” And like fascism and communism, progressivism was (and still is) totalitarian, not in the lurid sense of gulags and concentration camps, but as “the quest to transcend the human condition and create a society where our deepest meaning and destiny are realized simply by virtue of the fact that we live in it,” a “benign tyranny where some people get to impose their ideas of goodness and happiness on those who may not share them.” In other words, smiley-face fascism.

To achieve these utopian goals, progressives, as did fascists, pinned their hopes on strong leaders, “men of action” who could sweep away the grubby trimming of democratic politics, and with “bold experiments” and the “third way” move society toward the brave new world of social justice and national renewal. Hence the liberal-progressive fondness for political leaders like Woodrow Wilson or Franklin Roosevelt, the two greatest expanders of state power in American history, or more recently John F. Kennedy.

As Goldberg reminds us, despite the obvious differences between German fascism and the American progressive variety — the latter usually expressed in the accents of therapeutic maternalism — “Progressives did many things that we would today call objectively fascist, and fascists did many things we would today call objectively progressive.” Goldbergs’s point, then, is not that liberals are Nazis, but that the shared assumptions behind much of liberal politics and historical fascism need to be identified and their implications for individual freedom confronted. And this analysis should put to rest the canard that true conservatism — traditionalist, anti-utopian, respectful of faith, a champion of the free individual instead of the state — is fascist.

The bulk of Goldberg’s book documents his argument in meticulous detail. His history of Italian and German fascism, Woodrow Wilson’ totalitarian turn, and Franklin Roosevelt’s aggressive expansion of the state by means of New Deal policies reestablishes the intellectual continuity of liberal ideals with those of fascism, which accounts for the mutual admiration among Mussolini, Hitler, and Roosevelt evident everywhere before Hitler’s military aggression began to manifest itself in the Thirties. The New Deal in particular, that revered icon of modern liberalism, “was conceived at the climax of a worldwide fascist moment,” a time when nationalism and socialism coalesced and the yearning for lost community became the rationale for increasing state power.

As a consequence of Roosevelt’s policies, “today we live with the fruits of fascism, and we call them liberal. From economic policy, to populist politics, to a faith in the abiding power of brain trusts to chart our collective future — be they at Harvard or on the Supreme Court — fascistic assumptions about the role of the state have been encoded upon the American mind, often as a matter of bipartisan consensus.”

Even more fascinating is Goldberg’s history of the Sixties, which was the decade of fascist renewal in America on every front, despite the patina of New Left politics. In the universities, postmodern epistemic, linguistic, and moral relativism had its origins in the fascist avant-garde and its “revolt against reason,” as does the identity politics behind contemporary multiculturalism. Politically, the glamorized cult of violence evident in groups like the Black Panthers and the Weathermen likewise derived from fascistic idealizations of “men of action” like Mussolini, who called his brand of socialism “the greatest act of negation and destruction.” Indeed, much of the baleful legacy of the sixties, from the smarmy “politics of meaning” to the worship of callow youthful “idealism” and spurious “authenticity,” finds its antecedents in the fascism of the Twenties.

And while the culture was being subjected to these neo-fascist developments, politicians like John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were furthering the project started by Wilson and Roosevelt to make the state a god-like power able to solve all humanity’s ills and usher in the brave new utopian world. Lyndon Johnson called it the “Great Society,” which in Johnson’s own telling, “rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice,” and is a place “where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect,” where “the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community.” These, of course, are the same utopian promises made by the bloodiest tyrannies of the 20th century.

The most malodorous skeleton in the liberal-progressive closet is the fondness for eugenic tinkering in order to reestablish the lost, organic national community whose integrity had been compromised by immigration and the wrong sorts of people promiscuously reproducing. Just as the body is compromised by disease, so too the body politic could be attacked by toxins, and thus politics “becomes in effect a branch of medicine: the science of maintaining social health.” Darwinian-stoked fears of population explosions among maladaptive peoples — now kept viable by advances in technology and better nutrition — created a demand for techniques of social control over such evolutionary losers, including abortion and forced sterilization.

Socialist heroes like Sidney Webb, George Bernard Shaw, Harold Laski, John Maynard Keynes, and H.G. Wells were all avid eugenicists. And in America, one of liberalism’s most revered judicial icons, Oliver Wendell Holmes, famously stated in Buck v. Bell, the Supreme Court decision legitimizing forced sterilization, the eugenic credo: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” Such social-control, public-health rationales for abortion continue among liberals today, as in the argument made by Chicago economist Steven Levitt that abortions among inner-city black women have lowered the crime rate. Or as liberal Nicholas Von Hoffman has argued, “Free cheap abortion is a policy of social defense.”

Fascistic statist assumptions today most obviously impact our lives in economic policy. Despite the liberal lie that big business is inherently fascist, “if you define ‘right-wing’ or conservative in the American sense of supporting the rule of law and the free market, then the more right-wing business is, the less fascist it becomes.” The “Third Way” economic policies that want the heavy hand of the state involved in the economy is closer to traditional fascism, which was a populist movement frequently railing against big business and blood-sucking corporations.

Today, the devil’s bargain accepted by big business basically allows corporations to make their profits as long as they go along with the government’s political program — with the added bonus that the metastasizing government regulations furthering that social agenda are affordable by big businesses, but often ruinous for smaller ones. Thus today we see big corporations eagerly embracing diversity or environmental dogmas, making themselves into what Goldberg calls “government by proxy.”

Easily Goldberg’s most useful chapter in a very useful book is his analysis of Hillary Clinton’s political career. Clinton’s fondness for the vaporous “politics of meaning,” for state interference in family life and child-rearing, for government’s thumb on the economic scale, for vague goals of creating “community” — all have eerie similarities to Italian and German fascism. Like those political movements, Clinton “draws her vision from the same eternal instinct to impose order on society, to create an all-encompassing community, to get past endless squabbles and ensconce each individual in the security blanket of the state . . . . The village may have replaced the ‘state,’ and it in turn may have replaced the fist with the hug, but an unwanted embrace from which you cannot escape is just a nicer form of tyranny.”

These assumptions about the legitimate scope of government interference in our lives are so engrained in our political consciousness that “we’re all fascists now,” as Goldberg concludes. In movies, sexual politics, environmentalism, and the obsession with organic food we see the same underlying, essentially fascistic idea: society is corrupt and sick, and the god-state and its elite priests need to step in and set us all straight. Thus even for conservatives there is a “totalitarian temptation,” as Goldberg’s analysis of the Bush administration’s “compassionate conservatism” illustrates: “The very adjective ‘compassionate’ echoes progressive and liberal denunciations of limited government as cruel, selfish, or social Darwinist,” and its use “represented a repudiation of the classical liberalism at the core of modern American conservatism because it assumed that limited government, free markets, and personal initiative were somehow ‘uncompassionate.’”

Goldberg’s book ultimately is a call for correctly understanding a conservatism besmirched by liberal smears and its own partisans’ compromises: “Conservatism is neither identity politics for Christians and/or white people nor right-wing progressivism. Rather, it is opposition to all forms of political religion. It is a rejection of the idea that politics can be redemptive. It is the conviction that a properly ordered republic has a government of limited ambition.” These are the ideals of the American republic, and they are the best guarantors of our freedom. Goldberg’s important book is a good first step towards reinvigorating the conservative tradition.

[by Bruce Thornton, A review of Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism. The Totalitarian Temptation from Hegel to Whole Foods (Doubleday, 2008, 496 pp.)]

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