Introduction: Everything You Know About Fascism Is Wrong
1. Mussolini: The Father of Fascism
2. Adolf Hitler: Man of the Left
3. Woodrow Wilson and the Birth of Liberal Fascism
4. Franklin Roosevelt's Fascist New Deal
5. The 1960s: Fascism Takes to the Streets
6. From Kennedy's Myth to Johnson's Dream: Liberal Fascism and the Cult of the State
7. Liberal Racism: The Eugenic Ghost in the Fascist Machine
8. Liberal Fascist Economics
9. Brave New Village: Hillary Clinton and the Meaning of Liberal Fascism
10. The New Age: We're All Fascists Now
Afterword: The Tempting of Conservatism
Appendix: The Nazi Party Platform
For Sidney Goldberg, Hop Bird
Everything You Know About Fascism Is Wrong
George Carlin:...and the poor have been systematically looted in this country. The rich have been made richer under this criminal, fascist president and his government. [Applause.] [Cheers.]
Bill Maher: Okay, okay.
James Glassman: You know, George — George, I think you know — do you know what fascism is?
Carlin: Fascism, when it comes to America —
Glassman: Do you know what Nazis are?
Carlin: When fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jack-boots. It will be Nike sneakers and Smiley shirts. Smiley-smiley. Fascism — Germany lost the Second World War. Fascism won it. Believe me, my friend.
Maher: And actually, fascism is when corporations become the government.
Outside of a few academic seminars, this is about as intelligent as discussions about fascism get in America. Angry left-wingers shout that all those to their right, particularly corporate fat cats and the politicians who love them, are fascists. Meanwhile, besieged conservatives sit dumbfounded by the nastiness of the slander.
Bill Maher to the contrary, fascism is not "when corporations become the government." Ironically, however, George Carlin's conclusion is right, though not his reasoning. If fascism does come to America, it will indeed take the form of "smiley-face fascism" — nice fascism. In fact, in many respects fascism not only is here but has been here for nearly a century. For what we call liberalism — the refurbished edifice of American Progressivism — is in fact a descendant and manifestation of fascism. This doesn't mean it's the same thing as Nazism. Nor is it the twin of Italian Fascism. But Progressivism was a sister movement of fascism, and today's liberalism is the daughter of Progressivism. One could strain the comparison and say that today's liberalism is the well-intentioned niece of European fascism. She is hardly identical to her uglier relations, but she nonetheless carries an embarrassing family resemblance that few will admit to recognizing.
There is no word in the English language that gets thrown around more freely by people who don't know what it means than "fascism." Indeed, the more someone uses the word "fascist" in everyday conversation, the less likely it is that he knows what he's talking about.
You might think that the exception to this rule would be scholars of fascism. But what really distinguishes the scholarly community is its honesty. Not even the professionals have figured out what exactly fascism is. Countless scholarly investigations begin with this pro forma acknowledgment. "Such is the welter of divergent opinion surrounding the term," writes Roger Griffin in his introduction to The Nature of Fascism, "that it is almost de rigueur to open contributions to the debate on fascism with some such observation."
The few scholars who have ventured their own definitions provide a glimmer of insight as to why consensus is so elusive. Griffin, a contemporary leading light in the field, defines fascism as "a genus of political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism." Roger Eatwell claims that fascism's "essence" is a "form of thought that preaches the need for social rebirth in order to forge a holistic-national radical Third Way." Emilio Gentile suggests, "A mass movement, that combines different classes but is prevalently of the middle classes, which sees itself as having a mission of national regeneration, is in a state of war with its adversaries and seeks a monopoly of power by using terror, parliamentary tactics and compromise to create a new regime, destroying democracy."2
While these are perfectly serviceable definitions, what most recommends them over others is that they are short enough to reprint here. For example, the social scientist Ernst Nolte, a key figure in the German "historians' dispute" (Historikerstreit) of the 1980s, has a six-point definition called the "Fascist minimum" that tries to define fascism by what it opposes — that is, fascism is both "anti-liberalism" and "anti-conservatism." Other definitional constructs are even more convoluted, requiring that contrary evidence be counted as exceptions that prove the rule.
It's an academic version of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle: the more closely you study the subject, the less clearly defined it becomes. The historian R. A. H. Robinson wrote twenty years ago, "Although enormous amounts of research time and mental energy have been put into the study of it...fascism has remained the great conundrum for students of the twentieth century." Meanwhile, the authors of the Dictionnaire historique des fascismes et du nazisme flatly assert, "No universally accepted definition of the fascist phenomenon exists, no consensus, however slight, as to its range, its ideological origins, or the modalities of action which characterize it." Stanley G. Payne, considered by many to be the leading living scholar of fascism, wrote in 1995, "At the end of the twentieth century fascism remains probably the vaguest of the major political terms." There are even serious scholars who argue that Nazism wasn't fascist, that fascism doesn't exist at all, or that it is primarily a secular religion (this is my own view). "[P]ut simply," writes Gilbert Allardyce, "we have agreed to use the word without agreeing on how to define it."3
And yet even though scholars admit that the nature of fascism is vague, complicated, and open to wildly divergent interpretations, many modern liberals and leftists act as if they know exactly what fascism is. What's more, they see it everywhere — except when they look in the mirror. Indeed, the left wields the term like a cudgel to beat opponents from the public square like seditious pamphleteers. After all, no one has to take a fascist seriously. You're under no obligation to listen to a fascist's arguments or concern yourself with his feelings or rights. It's why Al Gore and many other environmentalists are so quick to compare global-warming skeptics to Holocaust deniers. Once such an association takes hold, there's no reason to give such people the time of day.