Who is “fascist”?

Thomas Sowell's picture

Those who put a high value on words may recoil at the title of Jonah Goldberg’s new book, “Liberal Fascism.” As a result, they may refuse to read it, which will be their loss — and a major loss.

Those who value substance over words, however, will find in this book a wealth of challenging insights, backed up by thorough research and brilliant analysis.

This is the sort of book that challenges the fundamental assumptions of its time — and which, for that reason, is likely to be shunned rather than criticized.

Because the word “fascist” is often thrown around loosely these days, as a general term of abuse, it is good that “Liberal Fascism” begins by discussing the real Fascism, introduced into Italy after the First World War by Benito Mussolini.

The Fascists were completely against individualism in general and especially against individualism in a free market economy. Their agenda included minimum wage laws, government restrictions on profit-making, progressive taxation of capital, and “rigidly secular” schools.

Unlike the Communists, the Fascists did not seek government ownership of the means of production. They just wanted the government to call the shots as to how businesses would be run.

They were for “industrial policy,” long before liberals coined that phrase in the United States.

Indeed, the whole Fascist economic agenda bears a remarkable resemblance to what liberals would later advocate.

Moreover, during the 1920s “progressives” in the United States and Britain recognized the kinship of their ideas with those of Mussolini, who was widely lionized by the left.

Famed British novelist and prominent Fabian socialist H.G. Wells called for “Liberal Fascism,” saying “the world is sick of parliamentary politics.”

Another literary giant and Fabian socialist, George Bernard Shaw, also expressed his admiration for Mussolini — as well as for Hitler and Stalin, because they “did things,” instead of just talk.

In Germany, the Nazis followed in the wake of the Italian Fascists, adding racism in general and anti-semitism in particular, neither of which was part of Fascism in Italy or in Franco’s Spain.

Even the Nazi variant of Fascism found favor on the left when it was only a movement seeking power in the 1920s.

W.E.B. DuBois was so taken with the Nazi movement that he put swastikas on the cover of a magazine he edited, despite complaints from Jewish readers.

Even after Hitler achieved dictatorial power in Germany in 1933, DuBois declared that the Nazi dictatorship was “absolutely necessary in order to get the state in order.”

As late as 1937 he said in a speech in Harlem that “there is today, in some respects, more democracy in Germany than there has been in years past.”

In short, during the 1920s and the early 1930s, Fascism was not only looked on favorably by the left but recognized as having kindred ideas, agendas and assumptions.

Only after Hitler and Mussolini disgraced themselves, mainly by their brutal military aggressions in the 1930s, did the left distance themselves from these international pariahs.

Fascism, initially recognized as a kindred ideology of the left, has since come down to us defined as being on “the right” — indeed, as representing the farthest right, supposedly further extensions of conservatism.

If by conservatism you mean belief in free markets, limited government, and traditional morality, including religious influences, then these are all things that the Fascists opposed just as much as the left does today.

The left may say that they are not racists or anti-semites, like Hitler, but neither was Mussolini or Franco. Hitler, incidentally, got some of his racist ideology from the writings of American “progressives” in the eugenics movement.

Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism” is too rich a book to be summarized in a newspaper column. Get a copy and start re-thinking the received notions about who is on “the left” and who is on “the right.” It is a book for people who want to think, rather than repeat rhetoric.

login to post comments | Thomas Sowell's blog

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
JeffC's picture
Submitted by JeffC on Thu, 02/14/2008 - 5:55pm.

Thomas Sowell thinks Goldberg’s book “Liberal Fascism” is a great book. It exemplifies the type of shoddy intellectualism shown by Sowell, Podhertz, Kristol, et. al which defines modern neo-conservatism. Together they have cheered on and provided the intellectual backing for the most widespread and fantastic collection of policy decisions which turned out to be colossal failures in the history of the country. Together, they have an almost stunning record of being wrong on every single pronouncement they have ever uttered.

David Oshinsky hit the nail on the head with his review of the book:

Heil Woodrow!

Brad Reed was not as kind, “But despite Goldberg's protestations and caveats, "Liberal Fascism" is indeed a remarkably silly work that's jam-packed with the same sloppy logic and dodgy research that we've come to expect from today's conservative pundit class.”


His whole review is here:

Comical New Heights of Historical Revisionism

Why is Goldberg down on Fascism anyway, since his own magazine the National Review used to regularly run approving pieces about Francisco Franco (who is still dead).

yardman5508's picture
Submitted by yardman5508 on Thu, 02/14/2008 - 5:10pm.

turns to fascism, I recall the article by former {and late} vice-president Henry Wallace which I have linked below. You will have cut and paste since I am too technologically illiterate to figure out how to hyperlink. Keep the faith


Democracy is not a spectator sport.

sniffles5's picture
Submitted by sniffles5 on Thu, 02/14/2008 - 5:24pm.

My own personal favorite website that explains fascism:
12 warning signs of Fascism

yardman5508's picture
Submitted by yardman5508 on Thu, 02/14/2008 - 5:27pm.

Keep the faith

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

sniffles5's picture
Submitted by sniffles5 on Thu, 02/14/2008 - 4:51pm.

It's become quite fashionable in revisionist circles nowadays to attempt to conflate "fascism" with "liberalism". Nothing is further from the truth, but hey to this group "truth" is a somewhat flexible term.

Consider U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for example. He is literally the product of a Fascist upbringing. He attended the American Fascist school as a boarding student and I believe he was in the last class that actually had the word "Fascist" in their diploma. Adolph and Benito soured the world on the term "Fascist" so the school is now called the American Statist school.

If you believe Justice Scalia holds liberal beliefs, you'll have no problem whatsoever with the odd "liberal=fascist" claptrap being disseminated today.

Submitted by sageadvice on Thu, 02/14/2008 - 7:48pm.

There is little difference in Fascists and our current, "so-called." Ultra- right- wing section of the republican party.

It has been generated over taxes and the Supreme Court rulings of years ago.

They have a distinctive belief that the "elite" must rule over the ones who are not elite.

The only way to become an elite is to fully agree and cooperate with everything the leadership indicates.

The weak, lazy, poor, jobless, no insurance people, and of bad breeding, and critical of the elite, are the enemy!

They have been around in small numbers for a long time, but the current media technology has allowed elite sponsors to pay more and more to the willing to spout their propaganda. (Limbaugh)(FOX).

They usually are uneducated, smooth. wordy, and charismatic! (Limbaugh-Hannity).

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.