My book isn’t like Dinesh’s latest book. It isn’t like any Ann Coulter book. It isn’t what the Amazon description says or what the Economist claims it is. Or what Frank Rich imagines it is. It is a very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care. ~Jonah Goldberg on his forthcoming book, Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton

Goldberg was responding to the strange Timothy Noah piece that speculated that the reason why Goldberg’s book keeps getting delayed is that it is running up against the “post-election Zeitgeist shift.”  Goldberg proposes the rational answer that he has had, well, lots of other things to do and it simply hasn’t been finished yet.  Even if that weren’t the case, book publishing is notoriously slow and unpredictable and delays can happen for all kinds of reasons that normally have nothing to do with content or the public mood.  Byzantinists have been waiting for years to see John Haldon’s new revisionist interpretation of Iconoclasm, and it hasn’t come out yet.  This is probably not because his publisher decided that there was a big upsurge in public hostility to Iconoclasm.

Even so, unless Goldberg produces a masterpiece of scholarship in fascism studies and political philosophy, I am doubtful that he will be making a “very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care.”  Ezra Klein has fun with this rather excessive statement.  First of all, it is arguably the case that another, far greater NR contributor of the past, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, has already more or less advanced the core of any argument linking left-liberalism to fascism to the extent that he has thoroughly defined leftism and classified communism, fascism and mass democracy as embodiments of the principles of 1789 in his classics Leftism Revisited (the updated version of Leftism) and Liberty or Equality?  Why is it that I think that someone who senses latent fascism in Rod Dreher’s book will not do as good of a job in analysing the subject as the great man K-L?  I just have a feeling. 

The traditional knock on any suggested overlap between left-liberalism and fascism is that fascism is supposedly a reactionary, anti-1789 force, while K-L has done generally very good work exploding that myth (and Stanley Payne’s work on fascism specifically further explodes the image of fascism as reactionary or counter-revolutionary).  It is quite possible to make an argument that left-liberalism and fascism do share in the principles of 1789 and essentially possess the same view of human nature as something malleable and perfectible (although they may have fairly different ideas of what the perfected, new man should look and act like), but K-L and others made arguments like this for decades.  Old Right critics of the New Deal noticed and pointed out the blatantly obvious similarities between FDR’s economic policies and those of Mussolini–how bitterly ironic it is that the New Dealers could somehow accuse their foreign policy opponents of sympathies for fascism that they possessed to a much, much greater degree!    

Because K-L was a right-liberal, I think his one blind spot was his confidence that classical liberalism of the post-1867 Austrian type was fundamentally different from the ideologies he was condemning.  He connected the identitarian and totalitarian aspects of communism, fascism and democracy through their common inheritance of the principles of 1789 and their other common features, but the right liberals in Austria, Germany and elsewhere inherited just the same principles as their ideological cousins.  In their centralism, “rationalism,” nationalism and hostility to Christianity (at least in any institutional, established or Catholic form), the right-liberals of the 19th century were in many respects the forerunners of collectivist nationalism in Germany, Austria and Italy.  (They are “right-liberals” only to the extent that they are less collectivist, egalitarian and democratic than some of their fellows–their liberalism did and always will place them on the left.)  Looking at it in terms of voting patterns, we see that Freisinnigen and National Liberals became German nationalist and Nazi voters.  (In his earlier work, K-L stressed the Protestantism of these voters, but he should have emphasised more the reduction of their religion to a vague Herrgott piety that was easily compatible with the exaltation of state and people.) 

Goldberg’s argument will probably end up making a certain amount of historical sense, because he will largely be echoing what other students of this question have already said.  I suspect he will have to do some fancy footwork to exonerate much of the late 19th century right-liberal tradition and pin fascism entirely on “left-liberalism,” since I assume from his past writings that he has zero sympathy for much in the European conservative tradition that opposed all such manifestations of liberalism.  In any case, all of this material has not only been covered before but has been thoroughly and fairly extensively covered.

The bigger problem with this project, it seems to me, is that it simply turns around against the liberals the old Marxist and liberal habit of trying to discredit an opponent by calling him a fascist.  I don’t actually disagree that left-liberalism and fascism do share certain characteristics, just as I wouldn’t disagree that neoconservatism (a species of left-liberalism as far as I’m concerned) shares certain characteristics with fascism.  Both of these seem to me to be empirically demonstrable claims.  As a matter of historical interest and understanding, such observations might be useful.  As political commentary, I have to admit they usually wind up sounding pretty tendentious.  They do not come across as thoughtful, even if the author does make such observations thoughtfully. 

Once you have affiliated your enemies’ ideas with fascism, you have moved that bit closer to saying that your enemies’ ideas are more or less inherently illegitimate and dangerous.  It is still possible, though not very common, to espouse sympathies for certain elements of communism without being driven into the wilderness, but for fascism this is simply impossible.  To link someone’s views with fascism is to attempt to damn them irreparably.  It’s true that many leftists and liberals have often done this and still do this all the time, but it used to be a mark of the restraint and prudence of conservatives that we did not generally engage in the same sort of quasi-intellectual smearing.