I just checked out Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism from the library again–every now and then I’ll pick it up and read whatever chapter or two grab my interest at the time.
One theme in the introduction is that “fascism” is difficult to define, and a simple, universally recognized definition doesn’t exist. He puts together a usable understanding, but I noticed something about each of the eras and events he discussed that might lead us to see a clear sign of fascism: it always implies force.
Although this is not a complete picture of fascism, I think the presence of coercion is a major trait that must be recognized to spot and prevent it. Fascism, then, is not necessarily a political ideology (although, as in the case of Italy’s Mussolini, especially, it can be) so much as it is a means of promoting an ideology.
On the left, fascism, seen in this way, classically manifests itself in communist governments: the Soviet Union, Cuba, China, North Korea, etc. The use of (indeed, reverence for) centralized, collectivized, government control is a key danger of a leftist government run amok.
The biggest myth about fascism (and Goldberg spends a great deal of time analyzing this one) is that it’s also a feature of an extreme, hard right government. Actually, the logical warping of conservatism wouldn’t be fascism, it would be anarchy; fascism of the right would be less common, particularly in the west, not because it is inherently more virtuous, but because an emphasis on limited government would naturally have the effect of decreasing the opportunities for and acceptance of fascist tactics. However, that is not to say that it doesn’t exist. The best examples of conservative fascism that I can think of are all theocracies: Iran, ancient Egypt, Puritan New England, etc. The reverence for tradition and order can be so elevated that it becomes primary even over freedom itself.
So what’s the warning here for America? Are we in danger of socialist-dictator fascism or theocratic fascism? I suppose the potential for both exists, though one silver lining of a country so polarized down the middle is that neither half would let the other get that out of control.
One observation, though, about a hybrid danger we might term “liberal theocratic fascism:” Continue reading