Groupe de Recherches Anglo-Américaines de Tours
Editor-in-chief Georges-Claude Guilbert
(Literature, Civilization, Cultural Studies, Gender Studies, Linguistics)
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A peer-reviewed journal of Anglophone Studies


Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism or the Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (London: Penguin, 2007), 9.99£, 487 pages, ISBN: 978-0-141-03950-3—Priscilla Morin, Université François Rabelais - Tours

Liberal Fascism or the Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, written by Jonah Goldberg, is certainly not a book that leaves you unaffected or neutral. Goldberg, a conservative columnist and contributor to the National Review, has written what seems like a serious historical analysis of fascism reinforced by copious footnotes and bibliography. But the overall tone of the book is reminiscent of right-wing talk radio in America, the likes of Rush Limbaugh, or of the now deceased fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell. The favorite technique of these conservatives is to hammer away at their audience that the real fascists in America are feminists, liberals, ecologists and homosexuals. All this is simply an attempt to sully the left while exonerating the right of any wrongful intentions. Unlike Limbaugh’s or Falwell’s, Goldberg’s diatribe against liberals in America has the veneer of a well-researched historical analysis which makes this book all the more worrisome. Many readers could be led by the supposedly well-supported arguments to take Goldberg’s interpretations seriously. Incoherence and telling omissions, however, are to be found in such numbers in this work that, in the end, the overall impression is of another revisionist attempt to redefine the roles of important events and presidents in the U.S.
Goldberg starts his work by defining “fascism” in a chapter called, ”Everything you Know About Fascism is Wrong”: already a rather subjective title. Fascism, Goldberg says, is ”a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of a body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people”. Goldberg then goes on to say that it views “any action by the state as justified to achieve the common good “[23]. Although his definition is cleverly presented, the reader is surprised to learn that Woodrow Wilson, U.S. President during World War 1, and New Deal President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, as well as the Progressives of the Progressive movement which started in the late 1800s were in reality all fascists. Goldberg then proceeds to attempt to prove that American liberalism encompasses all the aspects of his definition with its emphasis on the all powerful state seeking to set up the perfect society.
Before taking the reader on a hunt for what he purports to be the fascist disease in America (or perhaps it is only the Democratic Party that is sick), Goldberg devotes a chapter each to Mussolini and to Hitler. Mussolini is a far more convincing fascist and in Goldberg’s description is a compassionate, strong leader concerned by bringing discipline and order to a country severely in need of structure and strong leadership. The book fails to mention, however, that both Italian/fascists and German/Nazis at the beginning were merely street thugs who gradually assumed political power and took over the control of government, and, once having done so, proceeded to persecute everyone who was socialist or communist. Both became violently anti-socialist, the Italian Squadristi beat up and murdered the socialists who had supported Mussolini before he came to power. The Nazi concentration camps were full of socialists and communists in addition to the Jews. Goldberg seems to have a certain fascination for Mussolini as he develops his persona in more detail than Hitler’s. But then how could he justify the Nazi concentration camps?
The book continues to describe every kind of “liberal” ideology from the Progressives to Hillary Clinton as examples of American fascism, leaving out, however, all the Republican Presidents in the same period. The Ku Klux Klan is barely mentioned and there is no mention of the right-wing nationalist white brotherhood movements in the U.S. that could be more accurately defined as fascist groups. People, like David Duke, former KKK member from Louisiana, whom many might think a more real fascist than President Franklin D. Roosevelt could ever have been, are also never discussed.
Instead the book skillfully exposes arguments to show how the steps taken by President Woodrow Wilson during World War I to gain popular support for the war effort - actions such as setting up the Committee on Public Information, a propaganda organ, encouraging citizens to spy on each other, and to seek out those of German ancestry, or passing the Sedition Act, which banned disloyal or abusive language about the U.S. government and the military - in essence led to a form of socialist dictatorship. Goldberg is almost convincing in his analysis of Wilson as a fascist, but he fails to mention that all these steps were dismantled after the war. The years after Wilson saw Republican presidents in office and a rise in a new Ku Klux Klan and the racist 1921 and 1924 National Origins Act, but these are never mentioned.
Curiously, the chapter on Franklin D. Roosevelt is much less convincing in its attempts to depict Roosevelt as a fascist. Goldberg cites just a few examples like the Civil Conservation Corps which provided a form of military discipline to unemployed young people. This Goldberg says is what Mussolini did. In reading this chapter one gets the feeling that the author doesn’t seem to have a very clear handle on just how Franklin D. Roosevelt was a fascist.
The book then skips over the Eisenhower years as though they were barely worth mentioning in the search for fascists and only briefly talks about the Joseph McCarthy period as almost unimportant. According to Goldberg, “Nothing that happened under the mad reign of Joe McCarthy remotely compares with what Wilson and his fellow progressives foisted on America.”[113]
Quickly turning to the Kennedy years, the book points out how perfectly Kennedy fit the fascist playbook on every front: creation of crisis, rationalistic appeals to unity, the celebration of martial values, and the utilization of mass media to glamorize the state and its program, a cult of personality, even the Peace Corps is a martial organization. It is obviously in the last half of the book where Goldberg enjoys himself the most as he races from the cult of the state under Lyndon Johnson and his war on poverty, to the politics of meaning of Hilary Clinton, glossing over the Reagan and Bush years. It is this part that more closely resembles talk radio, as Goldberg rants on about Hilary Clinton as on old-style Progressive. At this point the reader has understood that for Goldberg fascism can only be understood as a Democratic Party disease. The last chapters are perhaps more amusing as the author lets himself go on a no-holds-barred attack against the liberal-Fascist elites.
“Liberal Fascism” in essence is a weak attempt by a right-wing conservative at historical revisionism, supported by mostly secondary sources. It is reminiscent of other endeavors made, by some recent historians, to deny things like the existence of the Holocaust. This is far from scholarly research which starts out with no conclusions but formulates its opinion after careful reading of serious sources. This book does the opposite. It starts out with a foregone conclusion and seeks sources to support its thesis.

© 2009 Priscilla Morin & GRAAT 









Senior sub-editor: Hélène Tison