Liberal Fascism lays out its thesis into a highly contentious and contested arena. The nature of extremist politics, its dynamics and its causes, conceptions and its brutality have been a constantly urgent debate since the end of the First World War. Born from the Smolny Institute’s crowded offices and out of Mussolini's train carriage on its way to Rome, this debate has been underwritten by a multiplicity of ideas.
Goldberg enters thus a contested field where the debate has a history of its own. Whilst the lineage of the Bolsheviks and later the Communists as well as the non or part Marxist SRs had a clear and direct line to older forms of political ideology, fascism does not. Generic fascism has no great books (Mein Kampf was a vanity piece, much less read than displayed, as was For my Legionnaires). Its roots are syncretic, a true and faithful child of the intellectual melting pot of the fin de Siecle period. As the work of Juan Linz makes clear, Fascism in all its forms entered a crowded political and ideological space in Europe and beyond. It's status as a newcomer marked out its doctrine, its 'tone' and its opportunities for both political growth and ideological autonomy. These factors, the intense atmosphere of synthesis at it's birth and the existing state of the political and philosophical arena should be foremost on the mind of an good analyst on the genus.
As I have little in the way of expertise on American politics, I shall concentrate rather on his exploration of fascism as a genus and its historical manifestations, along with a few note on methodology and his historical model
I will be using the 2007 Penguin paperback edition for references
His definition is thus:- 'Fascism is a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good. It take responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well-being, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, weather by force or through regulation and social pressure. Everything, including the economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives. Any rival identity is part of the "problem" and therefore defined as the enemy' (pg. 23). He then adds 'I will argue that contemporary American liberalism embodies all of these aspects of fascism'
His proposition is thus. Generic fascism is Statism with a leader cult that seeks a blanket uniformity of no particular orientation. He then highlights that Mussolini had been a leading light in the Italian Socialist movement and that Hitler had described his platform as Socialists and inherently anti-capitalist. Thus Fascism is left wing.
He quotes Roger Griffin, Roger Eatwell, Emilio Gentile and Ernst Nolte, all leading Historians and theorists on the nature of Fascism. It is thus very noticeable that his definition is entirely at odds with Griffin's palengentic ultra nationalism, Eatwell's holisitic national radical third way and Gentile's mass movement of national regeneration. He sums up his take as 'primarily a secular religion' (pg. 3). Note, no mention of nationalism as a political ideology. National is merely a contingent term within his definition.
This is hardly surprising. He quotes but does not engage with Stanley Payne, the leading anglophone expert of Generic fascism as Payne describes fascism as anti-Liberal, anti-Socialist and anti-Conservative, prefering to use the discredited Nolte's similar fascist minimum as straw man. All these scholars, people who have analysed thousands of pieces of primary evidence and know the history inside and out, are merely pandering 'convoluted' (pg. 3) models. Only Goldberg, and he find no academic to support his theory, sees clearly.
His 'minimum' fails on three grounds. Firstly, it does not realise the central nature of the nation to fascism. Without the nation, fascism has neither form nor substance. It becomes as he hypocritically laments, quoting Orwell, 'something undesirable' (pg. 4). Griffin, Eatwell, Gentile and Payne all believe (and have written masterful accounts to back up their claim) that fascism is concerned entirely with national rebirth and regeneration. Whilst the regenerative culturalist element is controversial amongst academics, particularly materialists, Nationalism's key place within fascist ideology is the only unifying element in serious work on the genus. Goldberg barely mentions it or the nationalist traditions within Italy and Germany (his two case studies).
The second failure comes from the real focus of his definition, Statism. He is determined to make fascism entirely a statist doctrine. Rather than their particular nations, fascists were thus solely focused on the 'a-national' state. State worship is in no way a particular mark of fascism as I have mentioned earlier here.
Neither, just as importantly, is it purely 'left' wing. Again, I have mentioned this before on both this blog and in comments on others. That Statism is the use of the modern state to affect political and social change, generally supported by rhetoric reasoning why this is necessary and indeed virtuous, is my 'maximalist' definition. The state is a entity that is implicitly well placed to achieve and pursue ideological goals. This 'promise' has been taken up by groups and 'actors' from across any meaningful political spectrum.
The founder of the modern welfare state, a form of 'Staatsocialismus', informed by teleological ideologies. - Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, Count of Bismarck-Schönhausen, Duke of Lauenburg, Prince of Bismarck, (1 April 1815 – 30 July 1898). This rabid 'left' 'winger' of repute installed the world's first state sponsored workers' insurance schemes, under the banner of 'Practical Christianity'. He, like Hitler, suppressed his 'fellow' 'left' 'wingers'. Is Bismarck the world greatest socialist sleeper agent? No, rather he was a conservative, deeply committed to the stability of the core elements of the Imperial throne. He thus used the state to co-opt the burgeoning and increasingly militant working class and to propose an explicitly anti-'creative destruction' form of social stability, a modernist paternalism, if you will. A form of Conservative social contract
Wilhelm the Second of Germany believed that Petr Stoylpin was an even greater leader than Bismarck, much to the chagrin of 'little Nicky'. Under Goldberg's interpretation, we can only see this as a 'far' 'left' talent spotter picking another possible. Stoylpin's conservative reforms were meant to allow the Autocracy to survive in the modern age, to protect his quasi-imbecile monarch from the onrushing challenges of the 20th century. In much conservative intellectual history, Stoylpin is the man who could have averted the Bloody revolution and brought Russia though until he was gunned down in a theatre by a 'intellectual' assassin. He planned to do this by increasing the range of state led welfare beyond Bismarck's model, including a whole raft of factory acts and new government bodies and overseeing the biggest property transfer outside of a revolution, his solution to the land question. He too framed his schema as enlightened autocracy. Is this now a 'left' 'wing' phenomena.
Lest we forget, the great model for Lenin, Stalin and indeed Hitler's command economies. It's another German who would perch on top of it, but not from Trier. Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg was to graze down on a vast state which ran everything from food supplies, industrial organisation and ownership, the Press, the Judiciary and would impose virtually slave labour conditions on millions of Poles and Slavs. This is the birth of the total state, a grand experiment in state power and reach.
While I've heard cases made why the authoritarian dictatorships of central and eastern Europe during the thirties were fascist, I have yet to hear one made that Carol II, Eldest son of Ferdinand I, King of Romania, and his wife, Queen Marie, a daughter of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, the second eldest son of Queen Victoria was a socialist. He carried out a parliamentary coup, making the Arch-Patriarch, Prime Minister, he created a single political party, The National Renaissance Front, and banned the largest anti-government movement, a 'fellow' 'left' 'wing' organisation called the Iron Guard. He had a compulsory youth movement to commemorate him and ceded power to various (dare I say, right) radicals to pursue anti-Semitic policies. His 'socialism', his conservative statism was seek the seemly effervescent nature of the fascist and National Socialist regimes (ignoring the bodies underneath, although Carol had one or two of his own) and thus transport Romania beyond a threatening future. For him and his in-house ideologues, only by using totalitarian tools could they 'conserve', only by state action, on a massive and unprecedented size, could Romania's 'essence' be preserved.
We see these tactics and political strategies as well as the rhetoric in Franco's Spain, the 'Estado Nuvo' of Salazar, Alexander of Yugoslavia's dictatorship, the twenty five year reign of the landlocked Admiral Horthy, even the empty hot air spouted by the ROI. This conservative statism was experimental in it's totalitarian sense and as brutal and intrusive as anything perpetrated by the Italian fascists or the Kun regime. Micro-management of morality, both public and private via censorship and political persecution was a common aim of these regimes as they 'nurtured' their ideological well spring.
'Innovations' in state function and the extension of its power and reach are long standing Conservative accomplishments. Pitt's abandonment of Habeas Corpus and the introduction of an income tax are surely right wing 'innovations' as are the forced purchase of the Suez canal by the Disraeli government or the prestigious use of force and provocation by local and federal government in industrial relationships in 19th century America. Consider who was pushing All the vices of statism were used by these regimes in order to preserve stability and protect an particular essence, a basic precept of the right.
The third error is remove Fascism from its time, culturally, materially and ideologically. Rather Goldberg places property and religion as markers, not nationalism, not the inter-war period and the circumstances of the period on the movement today, not its rhetoric, not its self conception. In making fascism a perfectly a-historical label, he is doing exactly what those on the left who he rightly condemns are doing. It is with the oft hand remarks of George Carlin that he does battle and with then his own cathartic take. Fascism is your particular bete noire, the anus of ideology. He can, as it is pre-moulded, apply it to the Social Liberalism of 20th century America and go 'There! Told you'. Frankly, does this make it fascistic to be concerned with public health, or as he mentions as proof of the Nazis' inherent 'left' 'winginess', 'the abolition of child labor (sic)' (pg. 69). He has accidentally bundled onto a truth and mistaken it for a weapon.
Frankly, by making his definition both insipidly bland and just honed enough to catch up 'em lib'rahs, he is being functionally mendacious. State solutions, i.e. using the state for political goals, for experimentation and doing so for an ideological reason are not part of a wing of the political spectrum. Rather they belong to the modern age. This is certainly not to say as such, I find statism somehow 'progressive' in itself. Rather like Modernity and indeed Modernism, it is a Janus faced creature. This modern and visionaire Leviathan is a dazzling repository of power and for those who sought, and continue to seek, political action a siren-like temptation and a stringent panacea.
So we are left with a definition that fails to identify the centre of generic fascism, that makes fascism a sculpted husk and plonks it on the mantle of Social Liberalism.
His case studies of Mussolini and Hitler are lazy. With quite a will, he fails to either come to terms with the time and place nor the political cultures and circumstances at the time. By concentrating on the major figures (neo-big man theory), he removes much of the complexities within Fascism and National Socialism.
In the Italian case, he mentioned the fact that Mussolini, as a socialist agitator and leading ideologue of the party was very well read and had a remarkable recall for leftist writings. He notes that he read Nietzsche, Sorel and Schopenhauer (pg. 34) thus he was inevitably left wing. Schopenhauer, who might be called a father to modern conservatism, Sorel, a thinker who was feted from across the political spectrum and Frederick Nietzsche might have been found on many a conservative or right radical's bedside table. Charles Maurras, the leader of a crypto-Monarchist Jew baiting organisation dedicated to preserving France was a fan of both of these writers. If Maurras is a father of modern Social Liberalism, and not of organic nationalism or proto-fascism, then make the case without exception. You must explain the universal and the particular and where they met
Whilst Goldberg never mentions Papini or the ANI or Corrandini or Voce or D'Annunzio , he concentrates on Sorel's syndicalism....badly. Syndicalism is, according to Goldberg, essential for fascism. Thus one must argue, where are the Hungarian, German and Romania syndicalists? There were none and no reason given for these unique ideological roots of the Italian case. The quote he give from Joshua Maravchik raise yet more conflicts. Syndicalism is a socialism that is 'simultaneously elitist and anti-statist' (Pg. 36). Yes, anti-statists gave birth to a state worshiping ideology.
He then mutters about Sorel. Sorel's social scission, Goldberg's key totem, was not purely about left wing revolutions, rather it was an analytical tools to understand and thus implement mobilising myth. Sorel's case was based on looking at the early Church and its use of myth and struggle and although he was a believer in proletariat revolution, he sought that to rupture and destroy what he conceived of a decadent and weak LIBERAL France, one created by Jacobins and proto-social Liberals. Goldberg uses an example, the use of the Tawana Brawley fake to create social scission by Black leaders (Pg. 37), but fails to use the literally hundreds of similar cases from various political traditions of social scission, the Southern Strategy of Nixonland or the Bismarckean Kulturkampf or even the Dolschstosslegende used by the NVP and the Vaterland Party before the founding of the DAP. He is constantly confusing the universal with particular, barely able to conceive of a comparative case if it dropped in his oatsmeal.
He then produces one of the soiled gems of the piece. 'The French Revolution was the first totalitarian revolution, the mother of modern totalitarianism and the spiritual model for the Italian Fascist, German Nazi and Russian Communist revolutions' (pg. 38). Now there is a relationship between totalitarianism and the 'Divine Republic' but not one as clear cut as he pronounces and filled with far more subtleties and nuances make his analysis seem quite idiotic. Whilst there is a clear lineage between the architects of the 10 August revolution and those a hundred and twenty five years later, the fascists and the great revolution have barely 'seen eye to eye'. More here
Generic Fascism loathed and still loathes the traditions of Liberal, Radical and Socialist narrative that sprung from the Great Revolution. He produces this to link Sorel and thus Mussolini to Rousseau, now the father figure of all the twentieth century's horrors in rightest historical imagination. I will only add briefly that this centrality of Rousseau given to the actions of the 'Divine Republic' is rarely put to bed, Rousseau was very popular but for Emile and his work on education rather then the Social Contract. Whilst he made a been one of the ideological forebears of the revolution, he shares this with other figures, closer to Goldberg's own ideological front door step. Locke, Smith and de Montesquieu are mentioned more in the debates of the Convention and in the letters of even the top of the Montagne (Gould)
He weaves his pygmy version of a 'political religion' take on fascism into Rousseau's 'civil religion'. Again he fails to notice the case that could be made that American Nationalism created a civil religion around the political system and the nation in the late 19th century. If civil religions are so hideous, then surely forcing the oath of allegiance on minors unable to sign legal contracts and the sacralising of the founding fathers is Goldberg's next target.
Fascism, as a syncretic movement, had been applauded by the pacifism of the wider Italian Socialist movement during the intervention crisis and indeed during the first decade of the century. Mussolini found himself outside the Bernsteinian reformists, the Kautsky-ie traditionalists, the Luxembourg-ist and Leninist parts of the 2I and the Austro-Marxists. For all his Leninist like volunteerism, Mussolini could not continue to understand Lenin's internationalism. He was a revolutionary who no longer believed in his cause. In the myth of the cleansing war and the struggles over Italian nationality in Austrian Tyrol and the Intervention crisis, he found his revolution. A revolution and a telos now transformed from the Social Republics or Workers States of Socialism at the time.
Italianism gave him another narrative, one that both appealed to his conceptions of Italy, Historical direction and his own role. He became the propheta and leader for a new Italy. The revolution was not emanciptory, it was transformative. Italy could become the modernist nation par excellent, revitalising its essential nature. Mussolini thought the modern form of nationhood made Socialism impossible and he thought the social Liberalism of Giolitti corrupting and poisonous. His cultural pessimism, his love of Nietszchean distain for the 'Age of Progress' brought him towards a regenerative conception of society. Given his own quasi-poetic depiction of the power of war and struggle to transform, it was redemptive too. And I would argue, using any meaningful definition, right wing.
Goldberg's work on Hitler is also quite breathtaking. He notes neither the influence of that renown and highly regarded bastion of the revolutionary movement , the German High Command or its creation, the Vaterland Partei, on the early DAP/NSDAP. Hitler early political role wasn't primarily to monitor the politics of the troops in 1918/19 for 'dangerous ideas' (pg. 67), rather he was meant to push the dolschstosslengende and reclaim the troops from revolutionary ideas as a public speaker. Drexler's party was merely one group of disperate and marginal figures who came from across the political spectrum, one Hitler belived he could dominate and then transform. As Goldberg's Hitler existed in a vacuum, he fails to note that a 'national' socialist party existed at the time as well as an internationalist one.
The SPD had been a loyal crutch of support to the Imperial German throne thoughout the wars (Ebert had lost two sons) and would expel its internationalist fringe by 1916. It then thundered against the inequities of the Versallies treaty and directed the Freikorps against the early KPD and Polish nationalists. Much SPD invective during the revolutionary period had been filled with nationalist rhetoric, bordering on anti-Slav in opposition to ‘Muscovite’ Bolshevikism. As Hobsbawm notes, one of the most ‘terrible’ cruelties committed by the conservatives onto a SPD member was to question their loyalty to Germany. It was, if one is merely using national socialist as a conglomerate term, a national socialist party. If the Nazis were merely offering a patriotic form of Socialism, how would they be different to the SPD? They were and marked the gulf in blood.
Goldberg highlights the young Hitler's admiration for the Christain Social Party of Fin de Siecle Vienna. Because Franz Josep annuled the election of its leader , Karl Lueger, twice, it must thus be a left wing varient of Popularism. If it was, it also had the backing of the Austrian Church and much of the Christian ruling classes of the city and elsewhere. Odd left wing, you've got there, Jonah.
National Socialism was a nationalism that based its nation worship of pseud race 'science' and on a myhtical unity that it sought to return to or recreate in a modern environment. The socialist in the equation was to simultaneously drive out the atomising, anomic a-social effects of oure capitalism and to destroy the base of class interest and self-preception for a 'classless' neeclass stable society. That type of socialism is in no way leftist, rather it is of the tradition of statsocialismus, socialism as cementing social stability and unity via state action and the destruction of organisations built for class struggle.
Yet National Socialism grew into a pre-formed political space. Its anti-Semitism had been largely made mainstream by much of the political right in the last twenty years of Imperial Germany and when challenged by the Nazis' rhetoric to go further, they did so. The Conservative Revolution of Junger, Jung, Spengler and Schmitt developed a series of ideas, paralel to the Nazis about social trasformation via totalitarian tools, extreme militarism and 'cleansing'. Theirs was a totalising movement based not on the re-creating mission of the fascist but the conservative regenerative one. By seeking to co-opt the power of the Nazi Party State, they planned to bring about a society which both conserved its 'eternal' being whilst modernity-proofing it. These were the bright young things of the German right, the William Buckleys' of their day, if you will forgive me the mischief. They were dedicated to the possibilities of the totalitarian experiment, as surely as any fascist or Bolshevik ever was.
Goldberg's model is severely flawed by the assumption that the right has always and forever consisted solely of small government conservatives and the left, statist 'librahs' and socialists. This might have a limited truth to it in the case of late twentieth century America (that binary of Conservative/Liberal is still pretty reductive even then), it fails anywhere else. Fascism took the terminlogy and narratives of Socialism (like Bismarck or Chamberlain or Disraeli or Stolypin) and used them to seek a legitimacy amongst those at the bottom of society as well as giving a economic template to their essential cultural struggle. Anti-Capitalism (as in unfettered markets and Manchesterismus) is as much a part of Metternich or Maurras or Spengler or Dollfuss as it is with Marx or Debs or Bakunin. It has never been an eternal of the left right dichotomy, regardless of the lazy generalisation of polemists of either aisle. We can add Goldberg to that list
Fascists believed society, under the influence of Liberal policy and socialist agitation, was becoming socially dividing and morally decadent; it was reaching a nadir. They sought revolutionary rather than 'evolutionary' means to regenerate this fallen state. But how exactly is this cultural pessimism and wish to act politicaly different that much of the right from the last two hundred years. This dreamers of the day went outside the traditional right because they thought traditional conservatism and radicalism had failed or would fail the challenge of Marxist or Trade Union Socialism and had accomadated the worst 'atomising' aspect of Liberalism. Fascists might well term Conservatives CINOs for all the conserving they had done.
The undoubted 'futurismo' of Fascism was essentially to destroy the crumbling political and social traditions that had not only failed to surmount the storm of modernity but betrayed the national essense and unity by coming to terms with atomising 'cosmopolitan' capitalism, It is noticably that after the elite coup against Mussolini in 1943 and the establishment of the Italian Social Republic (the total neagtion of all the words 'Social Republic' stands for), the rhetoric became hysterical anti-Conservative as well as anti-Communist and anti-Semitic.
The first Fascist state was still a monarchical society, one where many of the major levers of power were held by monarchic conservatives and traditional 'Savoyean' nationalists. It was in alliance that the Fascists ruled Italy, an alliance of both tactics and a shared conception, a shared frame of narrative and fears. The technocrats of the ANI and the modernisers around the throne saw in the fascist project, an opportunity to 'rearm' and reforge Italy for the modern age. Between the fascists and the right was a constant struggle, but one limited to the means and priorities of national regeneration. In Romania, in Hungary, in Austria, Spain, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, the Baltic States, Finland, Portugal as well as Germany and Italy, many Conservatives aligned with the fascist program of social transformation. They offering funds, electoral pacts, government jobs and protection, favourable media coverage and spoke out for political prisoners of the fascist movements and praised their martyrs. These alliances were fractious and at times violent, but in aisle
By no means is the conservative tradition inseparable from those of the ultra-nationalists. Conservatives and Fascist are not the same thing. They have clear differences, clear tensions, post 1945, they had clear memories of mutual bloodletting to send them separate ways. Yet, Conservatism and Fascism, as well as Right Radicals, Corporatists, Neo-traditionalists, Neo-Liberals, Libertarians, one can see a regenerative and re-creating impulse:- Political action as a method of retooling the essential nature of each society to overcome social change.
I am a Socialist, though quite a weird one. I believe in the myth of progress, I believe in progressing emancipation. I hold little regard to much of the institutions and systems of today apart from they normally work better than much of what came before. I don't see this as a reason to hold these things as sacrosanct. I share these broad opinions with the worst monsters in history. This is not a moral point I'm trying to make. Rather extremist politics, the type gleefully willing to take life for the greater good or some other abstract babble exists throughout the political spectrum. Every political tradition that deals seriously with power has the possibility of that bloodletting. One of the most depressing instances is the continued state of denial over the true horror of the Leninist system of governance on the Left. One motif is, of course, that the Soviet Union was state capitalist aka a right wing phenomena with nothing at all to do with Socialism.
A rubbish book