Ed Driscoll

H.G. Wells Would Understand

In the New York Sun, Ronald Radosh pens an extremely positive review of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism:

Not only is it a slander to yell fascist at the right; Mr. Goldberg presents a strong and compelling case that the very idea of fascism emanated from the ranks of liberalism. As he argues, contemporary liberalism descended from the ranks of 20th-century progressivism, and “shares intellectual roots with European fascism.”

When Mr. Goldberg uses the term “liberal fascism,” he is not offering a right-wing version of the left’s smears. He knows it is a loaded term. What he is talking about is the historical idea of fascism: a corporatist and statist social structure that creates a deep reliance of its subjects on the government and engenders a sense of community and purpose. In American politics, this tendency toward statism has always been much more at home on the left than on the right.

It is impossible in a short review to do justice to the rich intellectual history of American liberalism that Mr. Goldberg offers to his readers. He has read widely and thoroughly, not only in the primary sources of fascism, but in the political and intellectual history written by the major historians of the subject.

Readers will learn that the very term “liberal fascism” came from the pen of H.G. Wells, the famed socialist author who delivered a speech at Oxford University in 1932 that included hosannas to both Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany. “I am asking,” Wells told the students, “for a Liberal Fascisti, for enlightened Nazis.” Democracy, he argued, had to be replaced with new forms of government that would save mankind, producing a “‘Phoenix Rebirth’ of liberalism” that would be called “Liberal Fascism.” Like the activism, experimentation, and discipline that made the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany new dynamic societies, the West too could reach such a plateau by adopting the new soft fascism that suited it best.

Wells was not unique in offering this call to liberals. In giving us a true alternative history of modern liberalism, Mr. Goldberg shows how the ideological roots of fascism were liberal and left-wing, as were some of fascism’s early proponents, especially in the Italy of Benito Mussolini. Most of us today forget that Mussolini, to his dying day, considered himself a man of the left and a socialist, who through nationalism and the corporatist reorganization of the polity sought to modernize a dying, 19th-century liberalism. Many will nevertheless be surprised to find that Mussolini’s large band of admirers included the journalist Herbert Matthews, the comic Will Rogers, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, the historian Charles Beard, and the muckraker Lincoln Steffens. It only strengthens his case to find that one person Mr. Goldberg leaves out, the founding father of American trade unionism, Samuel Gompers, praised Mussolini’s creation of a new corporate state as a guide for American labor, and as a model for American society as a whole.

Read the whole thing–and barring more excitement from Iowa or some similar breaking news, Glenn Reynolds and Helen Smith’s recent interview with Jonah should air tonight at 7:00 PM eastern on XM’s POTUS ’08 channel in the last segment of PJM Political.