Liberal Fascism

Here is Henry Farrell on the book.  Here is Matt Yglesias.  Here is Fred Siegel.  Here is Arnold Kling.  Here is another review.  Here is Megan McArdle on the BloggingHeads version.  Here is the Amazon link.  I am closest to the CrookedTimber commentator who wrote:

Jonah’s book, at its heart, is geared toward popularizing the arguments of smart intellectuals/academics, from John Patrick Diggins to A.J. Gregor to Hayek to Erik Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn.

Or try this excellent book, or for that matter John T. Flynn’s As We Go Marching.  I divide the arguments of Liberal Fascism into three categories:

1. The oft neglected but obviously true: For instance Mussolini really was a precursor of the New Deal and he was initially regarded with fondness by many on the American left.  This sort of claim is the core of the book and it does stand up after you take all the criticisms into account.  I am pleased to see it upend traditional "feel good" narratives of politics.

That said, a "who cares?" response might be in order from a social democrat.  Good people can have bad ideas, so can’t bad people — namely the fascists — have had some good ideas?  After all, George Lucas borrowed from Leni Riefenstahl.

2. The false claims: Contrary to what Goldberg argues, it simply isn’t true that Hitler and Nazism were essentially left-wing phenomena.  Not all right-wing ideas are Burkean, and the mere fact that the Nazis were "revolutionary" does not make them left-wing.  Furthermore the Nazis busted labor unions and used right-wing emotive tricks for their racism and authoritarianism.  When all those old Nazis popped up in South America, where did they all find themselves on the political spectrum?  Overall fascism has much stronger roots in the Right than Goldberg is willing to emphasize.

I also would have put more weight on the aestheticization of politics than did Goldberg.  That would help us see why supporters of the War on Drugs, while they favor very violent and possibly unjust means, should not be regarded as fascists.

3. The true but possibly misleading claims.  Goldberg writes for instance that Hillary Clinton is not a fascist.  OK, but simply to write that she isn’t a fascist is reframing the terms of the debate, and not in a way I am fully comfortable with.  I’m sure it bothers many Clinton supporters more than it bothers me.

Goldberg insists he only wants to stop the slander of the Right and its long-standing identification with fascism.  I am fully behind this goal of tolerance, and I might add I recall fellow Harvard econ grad students calling Martin Feldstein (and perhaps me!) a fascist on a regular basis.  That simply shouldn’t happen.  The problem is that Goldberg’s book will be interpreted by its buyers and readers as a call to do the same to the left.  Take a look at the cover and the title, both of which Goldberg distanced himself from on Comedy Central (I can no longer find the YouTube link).  But they’re on the book nonetheless.

Is Goldberg "to blame" for how his book will be interpreted, especially if he requests an interpretation to the contrary?  That’s a moot point.  But it gets to the core of why I don’t like the book more than I do. 

The bottom line: As Arnold Kling recommends, all parties involved should read Dan Klein’s "The People’s Romance," and start the debate there.

Addendum: Some of the critical web reviews admit they have not read the book, but they rely heavily on Goldberg’s (apparently controversial) web writings.  I’ve never read Goldberg before, so I am coming at this book "fresh."


Take a look at the cover and the title

Not sure what his publishing agreement says, but the publishing contracts I'm familiar with are very specific that it is the publisher, not the author, who determines title, interior design, and exterior (i.e., front and back cover and spine) design.

All Daily Show clips (every DS episode from the last 10 years, I believe) are available at

Here's the link to Jonah Goldberg's appearance:

Zeev Sternhell has written a lot about the ideological roots of fascism in Europe, and especially in France.

His conclusions may not apply litterally to the American side of the phenomenon, but his point of view is still worth a read:

I highly recommend his work on the matter.

"Left" and "Right" are not particularly helpful. That's why the GOP is in a tizzy--some of us are limited-government types, and some are definitely not. Dr. Jerry Pournelle proposed a two-axis description which I've found helpful:

In her critcism of the Alaska pipeline shutdown for maintenance, Hilary so much as said she would make the oil flow on time.


You are correct that almost all publishing agreements give the final say to the publisher on the title, cover, design. But, Mr. Goldberg would have had explicit consultation rights on those decisions in the contract. Moreover, no major publisher, and certainly not a Random House imprint (which Doubleday is), would foist a cover on an author that he decided he couldn't support or found objectionable. I work with Random House publishers every day, and Mr. Goldberg could have changed the title and cover if he wanted to. It's there almost surely because he agreed with them that it was the most "commercial" option and would draw attention (and even outrage) to the book.

His claim that it was his publishers doing is, quite frankly, a lie. And politics aside, that says a lot about him to my mind.

re: breaking unions.

No one did this more effectively than the communists, right? No god before theirs, especially for people that insisted on no distance between the individual and the state. Which has always been my definition of the term.

It's an interesting thesis. Perhaps in another 40-50 we'll be able to diagnose how people reason about themselves, their relationships and their government, and each components appropriate role in balancing human frailty.

I would agree with Daniel Klein that one needs to be careful about the
slipshod usage of the terms "left" and "right," which are not necessarily
always that meaningful, especially when one is making comparisons across
historical periods and geographical locations. The origin of the terms
comes from the seating arrangements in the French parliament immediately
after 1789, when the "Left" was anti-monarchist, including what would now
be called "classical liberals" as well as "further left" types who would
manifest themselves at their worst with Robespierre, while the "Right"
were the pro-monarchist faction, definitely very statist and pro-strong
central (and authoritarian) central control of the state and economy.

The original self-defined fascists in Italy always claimed that they
represented a "Third Way," with their dictatorial corporatism. It is
historically true that Mussolini came out of the socialist "Left" of
the Italian political spectrum right after WW I, even as many of his
appeals and policies (ultra-nationalism and racism) appealed to the
"Right." This appeal to a unifying nationalism via a "third way" has
long been part of the propaganda of classically fascist politica parties.

While "national socialism" was part of the official name of the
German Nazi party, they never did engage in any nationalizing of the
means of production, the bottom line sine qua non of classical socialism,
(and Hitler immediately purged the faction of the party that wanted to
do that, right after he first came to power). Its "socialism" amounted
to engaging in command control of the economy, which was the aspect that
Hayek focused on in his _Road to Serfdom_.

I've read Jonah's book. I agree with Kling and Cowen, for the most part, although it's arguable Jonah is claiming that Mussolini's fascism was "left-wing" IN THE CONTEXT OF AMERICAN POLITICS. Also, in response to one of the above comments, Jonah does not confuse "liberals" with "left-wingers," although he does attempt to indict both simultaneously, which becomes a problem at times. His most interesting liberal/fascist discussion concerns third-way, corporatist, economics -- old news for most libertarians, but Jonah's history of its evolution is still recommended.

Warts and all, it's a book worth delving into. I've been disappointed with the reaction, especially from those who should know better (Megan McArdle immediately comes to mind). It looks like the thing is quickly becoming kryptonite for those journos/intellectuals who like to stay within "respectable" company, and that's unfortunate, because there really is a lot of good stuff in there. I also think Jonah is doing an adequate job answering most of his critics at his blog, if you can stomach the sycophantic emails, whining in between:

What I'd like to see:
1. More thoughtful, engaging reviews from thoughtful, engaging reviewers.

2. Tyler Cowen, Arnold Kling, lesser known but reputable academics taking on the task of writing more academic/intellectual versions of Jonah's book. I know one could argue these books have already been written, but I'm of the camp there's still a lot to be said, discovered, and, of course, repeated.

Whatever the merits/demerits of "Liberal Fascism," this is an important event (I believe it's about to be something like #3 on the NYTimes Bestseller List) for those who care about freedom -- a word so beaten, battered, misunderstood. Libertarians, libertarian conservatives, libertarian liberals, libertarians whatever, should sieze the opportunity.

Yglesias writes,

Goldberg is, instead, a loyal foot soldier in the Republican Noise Machine. He's a steadfast supporter of the political party representing the dominant ethnocultural group in the United States, the party that supports torture and unlimited surveillance, the party that supports a larger and more aggressively employed military, the party that supports a more punitive criminal justice system at home, the party whose backers are prone to fretting about low birthrates, the need to police gender roles more rigidly, etc.
I'm not going to say that means contemporary conservatives are fascists. I agree with Goldberg that that's a superficial line of argument that completely ignores the sociocultural roots of American conservatism and European fascism. But nobody with allegiances like that can seriously turn around, point at the other ideological camp, at start yelling "fascism" at the slightest whiff of collectivism.

I'd say that's accurate. As Yglesias further suggests, Goldberg, based on his other writing, is a buffoon. I haven't read the book, so I guess I shouldn't say much about it. I will say that based on my knowledge of Goldberg I think it would be a waste of time, and see no reason whatsoever for Goldberg to think he is entitled to be taken seriously.

John V.,

The corporatist elements of classical fascism show up in many
of the modern social democracies, although within a democratic
context, which just happens to make all the difference. The
origins of corporatism were not "on the Left" but from the
Roman Catholic Church.

The most socialist element of German Nazism was its command
control of the economy, criticized forcefully by Hayek in his
_The Road to Serfdom_. No social democratic party anywhere has
ever followed that ideologically or attempted to put it into practice.

The biggest problem with Goldberg's book is that any definition of
fascism, and certainly every self-identified fascist political party
or movement, opposed political democracy and supported nationalistic
dictatorship. Given that this is a core element of fascism, this
renders Goldberg's arguments as poor nonsense as the fulminations
of the John Birch Society about how all the "liberals" were really
all "Communists."

I do have sympathy with Tyler on his complaint that many "on the left"
have been way too quick to throw the term "fascist" at many "on the right"
in American politics. That may be what ultimately lies behind Goldberg's
current screed, but it is no more defensible. As it is, to the extent
this book has anything to it, it is well worn ground covered by the likes
of Hayek for Europe, and it is simply drivel with regard to American politics.

Anyone arguing that fascism isn't "really" on the right hand side of the political spectrum might as well argue that girls are actually male.

Zinaida, what do you mean with "socialism, like fascism, was also theoretically/practically undemocratic and illiberal (in most parts of the world, it still is)."

What current socialist movements in which parts of the world?

Germane to analysis of ideological turf wars is this bit from my recently released Proteanist Manifesto.

Personal, individual ideologies are almost entirely irrelevant to actual political outcomes. Yet, ideology remains the primary means of signaling a particular tribal affiliation. Tribal affiliation confers various interpersonal, professional, and potentially economic benefits. It is therefore enlightened to signal affiliation with as many tribes as can be effectively managed.

I would be interested to see what the smarter-than-usual authors and readers of this wonderful blog have to say about this.

And if you know of prior art, please let me know.

-Haggers Barlowe

I have been allowed rto provide input before on covers for at least some
of the books that I have published and indeed was the source of some of
them. Authors are definitely in control of book titles.


I understand that Goldberg does not say this, but I shall repeat: the origins of
fascism are from the Roman Catholic Church, out of which corporatism came, along
with what was still a defense of religiously-based monarchism and feudalism in
the late 19th century. As the Church saw industrialization and socialism and
class conflict rising, it put forward the idea of national reconciliation of the
classes through Third Way policies that would give some things to both the
workers and the capitalists, as long as they would obey the king (or better yet,
the Emperor) and more importantly, the Church.

There were no socialist movements in charge of any nation on earth, except arguably
for brief periods of revolutionary upheaval such as during the Paris Commune (which
was in fact run fairly democratically). The first self-identified socialist to
serve in any actual government was Millerand who was Minister of Labor in a French
government in the first decade of the 20th century. This was a democratically elected
government. Of course, the Bolshevik regime after 1917 was not democratic, but then
it aspired to "communism" while being in practice "socialist," but the division between
anti-democratic communist-socialism and social democracy had already occurred prior to
1917, with the split within the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party between the
Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, and had also occurred within the German Social Democratic
Party over the question of revisionism, which blew up around 1900, although even the
left-wing of the German Social Democratic Party supported democracy, as manifested by
Rosa Luxemburg's criticism of Lenin after the Bolshevik Revolution.

I fear that both you and Jonah Goldberg are both in over your heads and indulging in fantasies.

BTW, if one is looking for nationalistic Third Way dictatorial political movements, Bonapartism
in France may well be the ultimate model, with Napoleon arguably coming "from the Left" but then
appropriating many elements "from the Right," especially after he crowned himself Emperor upon
conquering Vienna, which led the liberal revolutionary Beethoven to cross out the dedication to
Napoleon that he had planned for his revolutionary Symphony #3, the "Eroica."

On point 1)--I don't think this is news to anybody who has studied American history. Goldberg's point is just skewered and uninformed, and sadly for the reader, in that order.

The bottom line with Croly, Lippman, Dewey et al, is they were members of of a culture that was tremendously elitist and racist. That this may have affected them in regards to their admiration of leaders for the unruly masses doesn't seem to intrude, as instead Goldberg depicts this admiration towards race and the 'masses' as an inherent property of his mishmash of progressives/New Dealers/liberals, which ties well with making the mismash equal European fascism, but does absolutely little to explain anything about the radicalism of the New Deal except that some of its progenitors had contemptuous views about democracy in the abstract.

There was a left component of national socialism centered in Berlin and associated with the Strasser
brothers. They were of course purged as soon as the party came to power. Nevertheless, there are definite
'progressive' strains within German national socialism; accepting such an idea implies that you believe
modernization and increased social mobility are 'progressive. Thus, viewing fascism as simply reactionary
obscures a lot.

Somehow the quote in my last comment got deleted - it was the 10:14am comment, saying "Hilary so much as said she would make the oil flow on time."

One of the most biting reviews of this book is here:

1. I do not dispute that the Catholic Church provided/still provides much support for corporatism.

2. I do not dispute that democratic socialists existed before the revolution. However, "social democracy," as a widespread political movement, did not arise until later.

3. Yes, there is much the 20th century's bloody parade of political saviors owes to Bonaparte. There is also much the parade owes to explicitly marxist/socialist doctrine.


Boy, you really do not get it, do you?

The term "fascism" has a very precise and specfic origin, Italy after WW I.
Yes, Mussolini came from a socialist background, so there are some grounds
for claims regarding him and some of his associates. However, the corporatist
ideas that they ultimately adopted came from Roman Catholic Church encyclicals
of the late 19th century, not from German social democracy or American progressivism.
Identifying the latter in particular with fascism is simply ridiculous, although
one can find some overlaps in certain areas of policies.

Again, the crucial and central political idea of fascism was anti-democratic,
from top to bottom. No self-identified fascist movement or party ever supported
democracy, none, zero, nada, zip.

OTOH, socialism was originally democratic, only to develop an anti-democratic
faction later, which is unfortunately still with us (I would agree with you on
your current list of baddies in that regard). Marx supported democracy, at least
in some of his writings, Kolakowski notwithstanding, as did Engels, although he
would also support central planning. German social democracy, which in the late
19th century saw itself as strongly influenced by both Marx and Engels, supported
democracy, and always supported democracy, and continues to up until this day (the
party has had a continuous existence throughout). It has been democratic in all
the periods in which it has been in power, starting at the end of WW I.

Again, it was within the Russian party that the anti-democratic Bolshevik movement
appeared and ultimately took over. Of course, the party's name was changed later,
especially after 1917, when the split between anti-democratic "communists" and
pro-democratic "socialists" became clear. Of course the Soviets and their followers
were careful to identify their actual regimes as "socialist" as they knew that
communism was in principle classless and stateless, and so they were always officially
"in transition" to get there. Certainly it is true that some of these states and
parties retained the term "democratic" in their name, as in the Democratic Peoples'
Republic of [North] Korea. But, such labelings are pretty silly in light of the fact
that these regimes were and are clearly not democratic.

Well, I'm pretty well convinced: There's hardly a word in this thread that wasn't in As We Go Marching sixty years ago. Goldberg doesn't make the reading list, Flynn stays.

"His claim that it was his publishers doing is, quite frankly, a lie. And politics aside, that says a lot about him to my mind."

I don't see anywhere in the Daily Show clip where Goldberg denies responsibility for the cover, he just says "...Well, it's an attention grabber."

Most of the commenters here seem very keen to think the worst of him.

The members of Rush (the music group) have been accused of being fascists.


1. There was very little influence on European fascism or nazism from American Progressivism. At best Goldberg demonstrates some parallisms on economic policy (and arguably on nationalism, with some US Progressives being war hawks, even as others were not, such as Robert M. Lafollette). There is a common source of influence from the German Historical School on both the Progressives and the Nazis to some extent, but this is a point a bit beyond Goldberg, and certainly does not prove influence from the Progressives on the Europeans in any serious way. As it is, the overwhelming number of observers identify corporatism as the central economic ideology of fascism, and this unequivocally came from the Roman Cathoic Church, a crucial and central point that Goldberg fails to recognize, thereby profoundly discrediting his thesis.

3. Being anti-democratic was the widespread norm of most political thought prior to the 20th century. Neither Lenin nor Mussolini were at all original in coming up with it. I fully agree (and have done so already) that this is something that both a major branch of socialism and all of fascism agree on, being anti-democratic. It is Goldberg who wants to apply the term "fascism" to groups or people who were clearly pro-democratic. This again undermines his argument fatally.
Go to Wikipedia, or many other sources. Corporatism is listed as the central economic ideological idea of fascism. "National socialism" is really a slogan. To decide what it means or is one needs to define "socialism." The classical definition coming down from Marx is "state ownership of the means of production." I would buy that one may add that it may also involve command central planning, and of course many political parties calling themselves "socialist" (notably the social democratic ones), also supported redistributionist welfare state policies.
So, Mussolini did engage in some nationalization of the means of production, but only of some firms, not throughout the economy generally as did the Soviets. He did not engage in command control or planning of the economy, except in very limited ways. And he did not engage in much welfare state policies. Hitler did not nationalize at all. He did engage in command control of the economy, but he actually cut back some of the welfare state policies that had been put in place by his predecessors, the Social Democrats in the 1920s. These guys were only marginally socialist, despite the term being used by them, and of course the repeated assertions of Goldberg.

5. Traditional American Progressivism came to an end with WW I. Mussolini's fascism started right after it. It is rank historical nonsense to argue that Mussolini influenced Theodore Roosevelt or Upton Sinclair or Woodrow Wilson or Robert M. Lafollette or Richard Ely, although some of these were war hawks for sure (as are a lot of modern "conservatives," including Goldberg). Again, while there are some parallelisms, there was little direct influence from the American progressivs on any aspect of European fascism. Of course there was influence from Progressive ideas on FDR, and I will buy that one can see parallelisms between some New Deal policies (the NRA in particular) and some policies of the European fascists. It is also correct that there were socialists who became fascists or Nazis, with in Germany the most important being Werner Sombart. This case was thoroughtly discussed in Hayek's Road to Serfdom, which is one reason I find some of the praise for his supposed "originality" coming from many current self-styled "conservative" commentators so obnoxiously tendentious. Hasn't Newt Gingrich read RTS?

6. Again, the American Progressives simply did not exhibit the majority of characteristics that we associate with fascism. They were not racists, although some were into eugenics. They were not for inequality. They were not for crushing labor unions. And, most importantly, they were not anti-democratic. In the end, Goldberg's screed is only marginally above Ann Coulter's _Treason_ of a few years ago, which had FDR being a "traitor." This is nothing but the worst sort of propaganda dressed up with half-baked arguments

(And, as for Goldberg's arguments that the fascists were anti-Christian and anti-monarchist, well, Mussolini kept the Italian king in place, with him only being removed at the end of WW II for supporting fascism, and Mussolini signed the Concordat with the Church, still in place, which guaranteed the independence of the Vatican and allowed the Church to operate in Italian society as long as it avoided politics, a sharp contrast with how the Soviets treated the actual "Orthodox Christianity" that Goldberg misguidedly labeled as being what the fascists supposedly opposed.)

"Furthermore the Nazis busted labor unions": so that puts them on a par with other of the more, ahem, robust types of socialists - Bolsheviks and such. I don't see how it proves them to be not left wing.


What's with this unreasonable prejudice against bufoons?


While we are at it, of course I should grant Goldberg one point in terms of
his arguments about US progressives influencing European fascism and Nazism:
Wilson's eugenics minister in New Jersey ended up in Germany working in Nazi
concentration camps. I guess that seals it. Wow.


Probably there is no way for either of us to convince the
other. I did go to the site you mentioned, but could not
find a way to post anything there. It seems to be full
of mostly people falling all over themselves to praise him.
Clearly much of this business about "left" and "right" is
impossible to pin down, depending on slippery definitions
that have changed over time considerably. I would very
much like to directly confront Goldberg with some of the
major problems that stick right out like sore thumbs from
his book and that others have not yet pointed out that i
can see, but it does not seem that I shall get a chance to
(and it is also clear that he only responds to criticism
from people he views as sufficiently close to his general
views, e.g. Michael Ledeen).

Regarding eugenics, this is one area where his argument has
some bite, especially regarding Wilson and some of his associates.
However, I would simply note at this point a couple of things.
One is that while there were some progressives who supported
eugenics in the US, there were some who did not, and there were
also many who were quite conservative who did as well. As has
been written elsewhere, "eugenics was a broad church." Its
founder was a social conservative, Francis Galton in Britain,
and Winston Churchill there was also a supporter, not a leftist
or progressive by anybody's definition.

It remains up in the air where Hitler got his racist eugenicism
from. Such ideas had been popularized, although not using the
term (which was Galton's) in Germany in the late 1800s by Ernst
Haeckel, who neologized "ecology" (yes, many Nazis were into
ecology), with many of Haeckel's followers being fervent followers
of Hitler. The most direct influence from the US on Hitlerian
eugenics was in forced sterilization policies, where indeed Wilson
was very much an active leader. However, in the US there was
never any move towards the more extreme policies that one finds
in Germany later, outright killing of people.

I would agree, do agree, if that has not been clear, that Italian
fascism was not nearly so racist as German Nazism. On this I agree
with Goldberg that it was the influence of Hitler later that pushed
the Italian fascists towards more openly racist and anti-Semitic

There were varieties of fascism, some more racist, some
more pro-Church, but all anti-democratic. What is frustrating with
Goldberg is his picking and choosing of what is what. So, he declares
fascism to be anti-traditional Christianity based on the Germans mostly,
when most of the Mediterranean fascists were pro-Roman Catholic Church
to varying degrees, and the Italians being intermediate on this. In
describing American "liberals" or "progressives" as "fascists" he
conveniently ignores that none were anti-democratic, even though by
pretty much universal agreement being anti-democratic was a core
concept of fascism and nazism. It is of course this that has
people finding themselves lumped with this label of "fascism"
(even if it is "nice" fascism, as Goldberg puts it) getting annoyed.

Goldberg makes much of H.G. Wells, whose views were definitely
idiosyncratic, and his coining of this term "liberal fascism." I
would note that the same period of time also saw the use of the term
"libertarian communism." Check it out.

Finally, Goldberg would have more credibility that he is not just playing
games with terms and stacking the deck if he did not bring this forward
in such a blatantly partisan way. So, in a recent interview about his
book he proceeded to tar Gore, Obama, and Hillary Clinton with this
term, "liberal fascism," for making speeches about national unity. His
credibility would be a lot better if he also pointed out how rather
large numbers of attitudes and policies currently being supported by
leading figures in the other party also could bear application of the
use of the f-word along the lines he lays out, but, unfortunately, he
himself supports not only those leaders, but many of those policies himself.

Bottom line: I have already agreed that many "on the left" have
inappropriately used the term against opponents. That does not now
make it OK for him to use inappropriately also, and he has, big time.

I have sent a remark to Goldberg at his site, which he says he will put up.

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