January 29, 2008
The Liberals' Mommy FascismBy Christopher Chantrill
At the end of the Bush administration conservatives need to clear their heads and think about the future. It's time to do some serious political philosophy. Jonah Goldberg believes that the way to start is to understand how ubiquitous fascist ideas have become in our present age.
A project like that runs immediately into the problem, first articulated by George Orwell right after World War II, that the word "fascism" no longer refers to the specific movement founded by Benito Mussolini. It has become merely a handy pejorative. For half a century the left has used the word to define themselves as the good guys and anyone that opposed them as the fascist bad guys.
As a conservative writer routinely blackguarded as a Nazi and a fascist by the Angry Left Jonah Goldberg understandably wants to put an end to all that. He does it by proposing that we think of fascism as a broad approach to government in which the frank revolutionary movements of Lenin's Bolshevism, Mussolini's Fascism, and Hitler's Nazism are specific instantiations.
Then, in Liberal Fascism:The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning,he takes the fateful step. He argues that the American liberal tradition -- from early twentieth century Progressivism to the New Deal to Michael Lerner's politics of meaning and Hillary Clinton's It Takes a Village -- is also an instantiation of the fascist concept.
Liberals would say that "liberal fascism" is an oxymoron, and a hateful one at that. How could liberals have anything to do with right-wing fascism? But sixty years ago Hayek in The Road to Serfdom had already made the connection. He quoted Peter Drucker: "Fascism is the stage reached after communism has proved an illusion." Communists and fascists, Hayek continues, "compete for the same type of mind and reserve for each other the hatred of the heretic."
Goldberg does not say that American liberals are street-fighting revolutionaries like Hitler and Mussolini. He means that they belong to the same nostalgic tradition as the communists and fascists. They want to use political power to reestablish in the alienated modern city the lost innocence of community and kinship of the pre-modern village.
For Goldberg American liberal fascism begins with the Progressive movement that flourished at the turn of the twentieth century and reached its full flood in the "we planned in war" economy of the Wilson administration in World War I. American voters turned the Progressives out in 1920, so when the Progressives returned to power in 1932 with the New Deal they rebranded themselves as liberals.
Liberal or Progressive, the New Deal was fascist, Goldberg argues. The NRA, run by Army General Johnson, cartelized the entire economy, and the beloved Civilian Conservation Corps was consciously organized on military lines.
That was then. What about now? What about the Clintons? Fascists to the core, of course.
When we get to today's liberal fascism Jonah describes what I would like to call mommy fascism. The fascism of the 1930s was a daddy fascism featuring a militarized command economy and smart CCC uniforms with everyone marching in step. Mommy fascism is different and Jonah takes the reader through Hillary Clinton's It Takes a Village to show how it works.
If Orwell's 1984 described a masculine dystopia then Clinton's Village echoes the feminine dystopia of Brave New World "where man is smothered with care, not cruelty" from the very cradle.
Of course Clinton's army of experts are not volunteering their expertise. They are paid agents of the government, backed by the police power. This is not the myriad of civil society institutions but the monolithic power of the state.
Many critics think that Jonah's idea of branding Hillary Clinton as a liberal fascist is an insult to liberals. But I see his book instead as a challenge to conservatives. If liberals have moved on from daddy fascism to mommy fascism, isn't it time for conservatives to buttress our daddy conservatism with a mommy conservatism?
The problem with fascism, daddy or mommy variety, revolutionary or reformist, is that it turns the clock back on the modern differentiation of society and the separation of church and state. It closes the public square of freedom between faith and politics.
When you talk about the "politics of meaning" and imagine the nation as a scaled-up village, you are talking about combining meaning and politics, collapsing the political sector and the faith sector into one. When you merge all the sectors and institutions of society into one you are totalizing the differentiations into a single compact whole: fascism.
Compare this approach to government with the philosophy of modern conservatism.
Conservatism began with Burke and his astonishing prophecy in 1790 that the French Revolution and its politics of reason would end in blood. Inspired by Burke, conservatives have insisted that modern society should not be a monolithic empire of reason but a differentiated republic of human-scale associations. In the nineteenth century "little platoons" of ordinary men actually got to build this daddy conservatism, a vast infrastructure of churches, labor unions, and fraternal lodges.
But now that women have come out into the public square there's a desperate need to scope out a mommy conservatism that complements the masculine "platoons" with a more feminine "web of relationship."
We are talking about weaving a world in which "women with needs" would instinctively turn to a conservative web of relationship to meet their needs, and scorn the monolithic mommy fascism of Hillary Clinton and her experts.