Liberal = Fascist?

I haven't read Jonah Goldberg's book, and frankly, am not likely to, so I won't comment on the contents. But I have watched the Will Wilkinson Bloggingheads with Mr. Goldberg, and his defense of the title therein is well, kind of silly and pointless.

Jonah Goldberg once made one of the more interesting throwaway remarks about fascism I've ever seen, to the effect that when he is confronted by liberals ranting about fascism, he likes to ask "Other than the genocide, what is your disagreement with the fascists"--usually to blank and confused stares. The point being that genocide is not actually a tenet of fascism, merely something that was done by one fascist state, and that those who rant about "fascists" in government almost never have any knowledge of the actual history of the political movement.

But his definition of fascism is not ultimately much more satisfying than "Right wing governments I don't like." In my limited reading on the subject, it seems clear that the intellectual heritage of fascism is at least 50% from the left--but Goldberg has erased the right wing elements of its paternity, such as nationalism and militarism. While it is true that the attributes commonly used to define fascism--the nationalism, the racism, the collective Will of the People embodied in a great leader--can make it hard to exclude Josef Stalin, that doesn't mean one can't distinguish Communist Russia from Nazi Germany. It is possible to develop meaningful criteria that fit Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy, but not Mao's China or Stalin's Russia, and two of the main ones were an explicitly central obsession with ethnic purity, and a co-opting of traditional, generally conservative social institutions. Goldberg has largely defined those elements out of fascism in order to disguise its right wing heritage.

The fascist ideal, which I'd liken to the dream of making every citizen behave like a cell within a mighty body, driven by a Great Leader functioning as the brain, was in many ways a new and pernicious vision. But the constituent parts, such as ferocious group loyalty, xenophobia, an antipathy to individualism, and the hunger for a charismatic strongman, were certainly not. Chopping off the bits that you think aren't so bad in order to use what remains to label your political opponents is bad faith.

While I will go so far as to concede that phrases like "politics of meaning"--implying that interaction with the state, devoid of any particular purpose, is supposed to elevate and ennoble our otherwise drab lives--have a creepy whiff about them, it is silly to call Woodrow Wilson a dictator, or Hillary Clinton a fascist. It seems particularly disingenuous to note that fascist is not the same thing as evil, and then act all bewildered when your political opponents get upset about being labeled a fascist. There are plenty of evils that are not fascist, and one could theoretically have a fascism that didn't involve a police state or oppression of minorities, just as one could theoretically have a communism that didn't involve famines and thought crimes. But in modern America, the association it has picked up is "evil", and it's not really such a useful term that we need to "rescue" it.

The name "Judas" does not mean "traitor" in Hebrew, and there were undoubtedly all sorts of nice chaps by that name running around Israel in the early BCs. Nonetheless, the associations the name has picked up since then mean that if you call someone a "Judas", you cannot reasonably expect to get out of it by saying "Oh, I didn't mean Judas Iscariot, I meant Judas ben Eliezer. Wine merchant, lived in Bethlehem around 75 BC. Nice guy, saved thirteen kittens from a hungry wolf."