Let me start with a clear statement. Donald Trump is not a fascist. Neither are the various right-wing populist parties arising all across Europe. Both Trump and his European counterparts accept contested elections at the only source of government legitimacy. They do not glorify violence for its own sake or have paramilitaries. Their goal is not to overthrow democracy, but to make it narrower and less inclusive. I hereby apologize for my earlier post, written at a time when Trump seemed headed for defeat and was sounding increasingly paranoic, relying more and more on his Alt Right followers. I wondered then if he might lead the Alt Right into a fascistic third party. That was Trump on the run and facing defeat. Trump triumphant is promising to govern much like a conventional Republican, only anti-trade and pro-Russia.
Watching the rise in Europe of parties that resist austerity and scapegoat immigrants, I began to reconsider my rejection of Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. And not, I certainly did not agree that fascism is left-wing or liberal. I accepted from the start that fascism was not libertarian in its economics. But that by itself did not make it left-wing. What was driven home more clearly for me was that fascism was Keyesian, and the right-wing populist movements in Europe today are Keyesian, or at least anti-austerity. In a U.S. context, that makes them center-left, just as the center-left government of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Barrack Obama responded to an economic downturn -- however imperfectly -- with a Keyesian stimulus. But it isn't so simple in Europe. In Europe, in the 1930's and today, the center-left has lined up behind anti-Keyesian calls for austerity, while right-wing populists have rejected such calls in favor of a semi-Keyesian stimulus. Yet these European parties are seen by all, including themselves, as right-wing, as is Trump in the U.S. and his semi-fascist followers on the Alt Right.
Jonah Goldberg generally responded to Trump with entirely appropriate horror. But has any of this led him to question his view that fascism was a left-wing movement? The answer appears to be no. Goldberg's basic reason for condemning Trump is that he is a closet liberal:
Trump is not a conservative. He has some instincts that overlap with conservatism — the importance of law and order, the value of military strength etc. — but these instincts are not derived from any serious attachment to ideas or arguments. They stem from his lizard-brain machismo and his authoritarian streak. He never talks about liberty or limited government unless someone shoves it into his teleprompter. His ideas about economics and public policy are shot-through with dirigisme.He laments that conservatives seem eager to abandon libertarianism for whatever Trump says. But does it never occur to him that maybe there just aren't all that many libertarians out there, and that the Republican Party's appeal for a long time has been to "lizard brain machismo" and an "authoritarian streak"? Indeed, has it never occurred to him that when he and other libertarians endorsed the policies of George W. Bush -- basically, that we have the right to invade any country we feel like and that the President can do whatever he wants (indefinite detention, "enhanced interrogation," surveillance without oversight, etc) so long as he uses the words "national security" first -- that these libertarians themselves were succumbing to "lizard brain machismo" and an "authoritarian streak" and abandoning their basic distrust of the state?
And when asked about the choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, it never seemed to occur to him that Trump's enthusiasm for torture was any worse than Clinton's wish to increase economic regulations. Indeed, he considered Clinton more dangerous in the short run. Trump he considered more dangerous in the long run, not because of any disaster that might happen, but the Republican Party ceasing to be conservative (i.e., libertarian) and instead being "protectionist, pro-authoritarian, and dirigiste" and perhaps even embracing identity politics, i.e., white identity politics, while Democrats are the party of minority identity politics.
Several things are wrong here.
For one, Goldberg seems to assume that all identity politics is the same, and that it is the sole preserve of the left. He is wrong on both counts. The first is particularly offensive. In saying that the Nazis resembled today's liberals because both practiced identity politics is saying that the identity politics of affirmative action and the identity politics that leads to gas chambers are really not so different. My first impulse is to say that there is an identity politics of inclusion and an identity politics of exclusion, but Goldberg would said that that is a distinction without a difference. He would say that any affirmative action admissions policy to include more blacks and Hispanics is simply a policy to exclude whites and Asians. There is an identity politics of dividing up the goods by identity group instead of on individual merit, and there is an identity politics of shutting some groups out altogether.
Or in more concrete terms, consider US politics, North and South, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Both practiced identity politics. In the North, identity politics was a spoils and patronage system. Different groups of immigrants and ethnicities voted for politicians of their ethnic group, who brought them home a share of government jobs, services etc. In the South, ethnic politics meant white people shutting black people out of the system altogether and denying them the right to vote, or to receive any share in government and its spoils. Goldberg would doubtless find both systems repugnant.* But they are not morally equivalent. One is merely a form of corruption; the other is outright oppression and denial of rights. Today's liberal forms of identity politics are closer to the ethnic spoils system that existed among big city patronage machines than the total exclusion that prevailed in the South. And Hitler -- well, he began with total exclusion and went WAY beyond it.
For another thing, Goldberg is quite wrong in thinking that identity politics is the exclusive preserve of the left, or that white identity politics is anything new. Nationalism, after all, is a form of identity politics, and very much a thing of the right. But maybe Goldberg means identity politics within domestic politics. Well, this whole business of red state versus blue state, the Heartland versus the coastal elites, rural versus urban, Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays, Real America versus -- well, that is never quite said, is itself a form of identity politics. And if Goldberg responds that this is a less harmful form because it is not ethnic identity politics, I would say that a lot of it, but especially fulminations against "political correctness" is simply white identity politics in disguise.
And perhaps most significantly, Goldberg never seems to consider just how dangerous "lizard brain machismo" and appeals to it are. Goldberg makes the tired old "frog in the pot" argument, that Clinton will incrementally turn up the heat, while Trump will start it at boiling. The "frog in the pot" argument is patently false. If the water heats up gradually the frog will, in fact, notice when it starts to get uncomfortable and jump out. But a frog thrown in boiling water is unlikely to survive long enough to jump out. And that is not so bad a metaphor. If taxation and regulation reach the point where people feel them as oppressive, they can be rolled back through the democratic and lawful process. Granted, it is not always easy to do. But, after all, this country once regulated routes and fares for every truck, train and plane. We don't do that anymore. Left to the democratic process, we would probably have less regulation than we have now, but more than Goldberg and fellow libertarians consider appropriate. And we most certainly would not get rid of New Deal and Great Society programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, deposit insurance etc, distasteful as these things may be to libertarians.
"Lizard brain machismo" on the other hand, is the stuff of lynch mobs, of pitchforks and torches, the sort of thing that can short-circuit democratic process and the rule of law in a big hurry. Goldberg seriously misjudges how little of the Republican Party's appeal is based on actual libertarianism and how much has been based on covert appeals to "lizard brain machismo." Trump simply took what was covert and made it overt. Crowds ate it up.
When Goldberg wrote Liberal Fascism, he defined fascism broadly enough to mean essentially any expansion of government beyond what he saw as its proper bounds. He argued that conservatives (defined as "classical liberals," i.e., libertarians) could not possibly be fascists because they wanted to keep government to a minimum, while modern liberals favored government and were therefore fascists. He also acknowledged that the book was largely an to angry response to liberals falsely calling conservatives fascists. And he made silly attempts to establish the defining core trait of fascism as eating organic food. (Or maybe opposing public smoking or cruelty to animals). There is a lot of room to argue about the core defining programmatic trait of fascism, but I think it fair to say that the core defining psychological definition of fascism is its appeal to "lizard brain machismo." And I think it not too much a stretch define the psychology of liberalism (classical or modern) as "unswayed by appeals to lizard brain machismo." And a psychological definition of conservatism might be "conscious of the appeal of lizard brain machismo but strongly resolved to resist it, either in oneself or others." Of course, I would also consider "lizard brain machismo" a reasonable definition of authoritarianism in general, and fascism a mere sub-category of authoritarianism.
I don't defend liberals' abuse of the term "fascist" to accuse conservatives of being fascists. But this abuse of the term can be explained without defending it. Liberals understand that the psychology underlying fascism is lizard brain machismo. They recognize that some aspects of conservatism do, indeed, appeal to lizard brain machismo. And they see that a good many members of the Republican Party and the Conservative Movement are, in fact, acting more out of lizard brain machismo than ideological principles. So they (falsely) define both conservatism and fascism as simply appeals to lizard brain machismo and lump them together. This is wrong. But it does contain a psychological insight that Goldberg is willfully blind to.
But even if Goldberg were to concede that "lizard brain machismo" is what lies at the core of all authoritarianism, including fascism, and that it poses a greater threat to liberty than mere over-regulation, he might then ask why I define it as right-wing. After all, I concede that it is not conservative. Well, for starters, I certainly agree that there is an authoritarian left that appeals to "lizard brain machismo." Communism certainly fit the bill, as did black nationalism and the like. Black Lives Matter undoubtedly has its share of authoritarians, and there are definite signs of nastiness among Bernie Sanders' more hard core followers. But the authoritarian left is far less influential in the US (for now) than the authoritarian right. Next, I would point to Goldberg's own definition of conservatism as including "the importance of law and order, the value of military strength etc." Yet he concedes that emphasizing these things can appeal to "lizard brain machismo" as well as true conservatism. Hot news flash: if an important part of the conservative program also appeals to authoritarians, then it leaves the conservative movement vulnerable to infiltration by authoritarians. (Isn't that what William F. Buckley was all about -- keeping the authoritarians out of conservatism? And doesn't that imply that they had an unfortunate tendency to sneak in in disguise?)
And then there is the point made (though no longer accessible) that since vote share is a zero sum game, when a new political movement gains adherents, then someone else necessarily must be losing adherents. When the Nazi Party grew, for instance, other parties had to be shrinking. Which parties were shrinking reveals who was switching votes to the Nazis. And the answer is clear.
|Vote the year of the hyperinflation|
Votes to the center diminished, and the loss is visible on the pie charts, but not all that spectacular because the center vote was not all that large to begin with. What is significant, though not shown on the pie charts is that Catholic Center share of the vote remained almost unchanged, while the non-Catholic center vote shrank almost to zero. The Nazis were not winning votes from political Catholics, but Protestant moderates were defecting en masse.
Finally, once the Great Depression hit, votes to traditional right-wing parties made a spectacular decline, to half their former strength in 1930, and to a mere sliver by 1932. And the Nazi Party was gaining at almost the same rate. The bulk of Nazi votes came from defection from right-wing parties. The obvious conclusion is that what the Nazis were offering appealed to the right wing and to non-Catholic moderates, but much less to the Left and not at all to political Catholics.
|Last vote before the Depression|
|Votes as the Nazis took over|
And here is the really maddening thing. Goldberg knows this. At least, that is the take-away from the linked conversation with Hugh Hewitt about the Alt Right. The Alt Right are some of Trump's earliest and strongest supporters. And they are, if not fascists, at least wannabes. They are truly deplorable. And neither Hewitt nor Goldberg makes any attempt to deny that they really are right-wing. Goldberg does say that he considers Trump to be "a liberal" and "a New York Democrat" and that that is why he got some of his answers wrong, from a conservative perspective, such as being reluctant to condemn David Duke or saying that women should be punished for having abortions. In that, Goldberg compares Trump to Mitt Romney. But he ignores something really obvious. Romney's poor grasp of what it was to be a true conservative hurt him with Republican voters. Trump, on the other hand, was wildly appealing, all lapses from the true faith notwithstanding. Somehow it never occurred to either man that maybe this meant that most Republicans are not true conservatives by their lights but, well, something else. Something that reacts favorably to appeals to "lizard brain machismo." They both discuss how to isolate the Alt Right and distinguish them from true conservatives, with Goldberg wanting to draw a sharp line and write out people who have a foot in both camps (like Ann Coulter), and Hewitt wanting to give fence sitters the benefit of the doubt. But Goldberg makes a very revealing comment about the Alt Right:
There are a lot of people who don’t know what the alt right is. I live in these swamps. I’ve been having these fights for 20 years. I didn’t hear the term alt right until Donald Trump came up. But I know a lot of the people behind the alt right, because I’ve been getting it, they’ve been attacking me and then saying nasty anti-Semitic stuff to me since I started working at National Review. I mean, people are like, the guys at VDARE and these other places, they’ve all coalesced around this idea of the alt right, and it is not a coalitional idea where they want to be part of the conservative movement. It’s that they want to replace the conservative movement.. . . Milo [Yiannopoulos, an Alt Right shock jock] writes grand defenses of these guys who send pictures of me in gas chambers, and of David French’s black adopted child being gassed, and sent pictures of, you know, me being hung. And Milo thinks that stuff is hilarious.Yes, that's right. These aren't "friendly fascists" or "smiley face fascists," they are actual defenders of classical fascism. And Goldberg has been dealing with them for 20 years. That means he was dealing with them the whole time he was writing Liberal Fascism and claiming that fascism is a movement of the left, and that the biggest threat to liberty these days is from public smoking bans and the like. That means he was dealing with them when David Neiwert pointed out that there are actual fascists in the US today and Goldberg replied by dismissing them as trivial compared to the mortal peril from Hillary Clinton's latest blather. Think of that every time Goldberg calls liberals the real fascists or dismisses real fascists as too marginalized to matter. He was "liv[ing] in the swamps" and fighting these guys even as he said it!
And there is one more thing to add. Goldberg really should go back and take a refresher course on how Mussolini and Hitler came to power. They didn't come to power by violent revolution, or by winning an absolute electoral majority for their parties. They came to power by making an alliance with conservatives. There were plenty of countries in which the conservatives remained resolutely opposed to fascism. In all cases, they were able to keep the fascists out of power. (Although many of these countries became right wing dictatorships of other kinds). Only in Italy and Germany did the conservatives ultimately decide that the fascists were the lesser evil compared to the left.*** And not just the Hard Left, or the Communists. Conservatives developed wildly exaggerated fears about the Social Democrats, even though they regularly respected all rules of the game, and convinced themselves that the SD's were such an intolerable threat that they were prepared to make common cause with the fascists against them. Then he should read how many fellow conservatives were prepared to make common cause with Trump, despite his Alt Right followers, because they regarded Hillary Clinton, hardly distinguishable from Obama, as so grave a threat that our form of government might not survive her election. And he should really think about it.
*And, ironically, the harshest critic of the Northern system of ethnic patronage were the people Goldberg most despises as proto-fascists -- the Progressives. Progressives disdained the ethnic spoils systems as corrupt and sought, instead to introduce a professional civil service that introduced to sort of technocratic, administrative government that Goldberg sees as the biggest threat to liberty today. (Proof, once again, that politics of the past don't line up so well compared to politics today). Presumably Goldberg would say that ethnic patronage machines and a technocratic civil service are simply different forms of the same error -- the belief that government is capable of doing good.
**And, it is fair to ask, what about European populists like Marine LePen, who are gaining vote share exactly as the center-left parties decline or even disappear. Doesn't that make them left-wing? And here I will have to pass it off by saying that does seem the logic of what I have said so far, but these parties are nonetheless uniformly seen as right-wing.
***Spain is something of a special case, and people are divided on whether to consider Franco a fascist. The usual conclusion, though, is that Franco is better characterized as a reactionary who made an alliance with the fascists and then discarded them when they were no longer useful to him.