Monday, April 20, 2009

Liberal Fascism?

Jonah Goldberg has a popular book out right now -- I think it was the number-one non-fiction seller on Amazon -- called Liberal Fascism. I like Jonah Goldberg a lot, so I'm interested in his point of view (though I'm concerned there's some human solidity missing: Buckley minus any religious or high-cultural sensibility is not Buckley).

And there is clearly a very important point here, made strongly in Paul Johnson's classic Modern Times. (I haven't read Goldberg's book, but I've read enough to be pretty sure it's the same idea.) The point is basically this: standard wisdom says socialism and fascism are opposite ends of the spectrum. Therefore (since, I guess, there must be a simple spectrum) the farther one gets from socialism, the closer one gets to fascism. Particularly, anyone who is opposed to Big Government must be more or less a fascist.

But wait! Nazi is short for National Socialist. Fascists are socialists. And not only in name. Fascism is not anti-government -- that couldn't be farther from the truth. Fascism is about big government, about everything-inside-the-state, nothing-outside-the-state. Hitler had a lot more in common with FDR than with Barry Goldwater.

Now, this is a really important point. Hitler is unthinkable apart from statism. One of the greatest arguments for limited government -- made especially in Hayek's classic The Road to Serfdom -- is precisely that as the state grows, in tends to demand more and more, and be less and less tolerant of outliers. Big government is always bad for minorities; it may be coming for the rich and the Mormons now, but it will come for you eventually, as you fail to participate (be assimilated!) in the ways the state wants you too. Compulsory public education, for example, is a lovely tool for the Hitlers of the world, who cannot tolerate minority opinions. So is a state-dominated economy: they come for the CO2 now; what will they find intolerabe tomorrow?

So fine, fascism is a kind of socialism.

Nonetheless, Goldberg's Liberal Fascism argument has a crucial flaw. The flaw is essentially this: he tries to tarnish liberalism -- which is a kind of socialism -- with what's bad about fascism. But what's centrally hated about fascism is precisely the way it is different from liberalism. It's like saying, "Jacob and Esau are the same, because they're from the same family!" But the problem is, they relate to that family in opposite ways. What makes Esau reprobate (wish I could think of a non-theological example!) is not that he's Isaac's son, but that he's a bad son. What's bad about fascism (in the popular estimation) is not that it's socialist, but that it's national socialism.

I'm reading the first volume of Churchill's history of World War II -- that's the volume about the political lead-up; I'll read the military-history volumes another time, maybe. I just got to Churchill's summary of Hitler's philosophy; very nicely done.

Hitler was first and foremost, not a socialist, but a nationalist. Hitler believed in the German people. He hated everything that was internationalist. His hatred of both the Jews and Communism was precisely because they were international, not bound to the genius of a particular people -- specifically, the German people. He was a socialist, concentrating power in the state, precisely to strengthen the nation, the Volk. He believed the nation's strength was in struggle (Kampf), in fighting against other nations. He wanted war to make his nation strong.

Hitler is hated, not because he was for big government, not because he was a socialist, but because he was a racist, killing the Jews, and a war-monger, conquering his neighbors. I'm sorry, Mr. Goldberg, but it is simply absurd to try to smear this on liberals -- as much as I hate liberalism! It is like saying, oh, look at those chess pieces, they're both kings, they're just the same. No. One is black, one is white. They are opposed. Someday I'll study logic and know the technical name for this fallacy, but let's call it a smear: you say that because A is like B in one respect, it must be alike in all respects. Not so fast! Especially when the critical respect is precisely the one where A and B are opposite.

Liberalism is internationalist. Liberalism denies the genius of the American people. And you know, conservatism exalts the genius of the American people. "American exceptionalism," by itself, bears much more resemblance to the critical aspect of fascism, nationalism, than do liberal desires to be liked by Europe and the Middle East, to abandon the American Constitution for international law, to give up on our language and heritage and political philosophy in favor of what everyone else is doing.

And of course, the whole movement of "conservatives" (I don't think it is genuinely conservative) against immigration is much more akin to fascist concerns about racial and cultural purity than it is to liberal desires to water down anything distinctive about America. (Anti-immigration "conservatives" claim to be worried about illegal immigration, but if that were the case, the simplest answer would be to liberalize our immigration laws; instead, most of this clique wants to tighten the laws, and explicitly appeals to arguments about cultural purity, as well as the economic danger of outsiders; the latter argument is so manifestly anti-market that it seems clear these folks are really driven by the cultural argument.) Unfortunately, that's where the immigration argument is being played out: on cultural purity.

Conservatives are right to want legality; conservatives are right to oppose more-or-less open liberal efforts to water down American distinctiveness by promoting non-assimilating immigration. But when conservatives take the side of Big Government (fences, crack-downs on businesses, more militarization, stricter scrutiny of who deserves to be part of America, based especially on central-planning economic criteria) in order to maintain cultural purity, they have no right to claim that the liberals are fascists. Nationalist socialism: big government used to preserve the Volk: that is fascism.

The rest of conservatism, however, is at least as unlike National Socialism as liberalism is, because fascism needs the State in order to pursue its kind of nationalism. The irony of calling conservatives facists (apart from the immigration debate) is that conservatives appeal to a Constitution that rejects racial purity in favor of liberty. Conservatives want a country in which the government can't crack down on minorities, in which minorities of every kind flourish. Conservatism is based on this idea of limited government; and nothing more undermines the purposes of fascism than limited government. Hitler would never accept limited government. Limited government can't invade its neighbors and gas its minorities.

There is a very strong argument to be made that Unlimited Government tends toward fascism. Even Stalin, the great Internationalist leader, ended up a fascist, killing more Jews than Hitler, cracking down on dissenters, limiting travel and free speech and universities. This is the real Liberal Fascism argument: not that the essence of Nazism is socialism -- it isn't; the essence of Nazism is nationalism -- but that socialism, Unlimited Government, inevitably contradicts internationalism, because it inevitably ends by stifling dissent, the free movement of peoples and goods (notice that our Big Government folks are terrified of free trade), and the creativity of the people. Liberalism intends to use Big Government to make the world more tolerant; but the lessons of Stalin -- and Mao, and everyone else who has tried, even our homegrown anti-marriage,* public-education liberals -- is that the Dictatorship of the Proletariat ends up being more and more Dictatorship and less and less Proletariat; the attempt to eradicate intolerance ends in the greatest intolerance; the move to make the world fair and happy through force makes things more arbitrary and dreary than ever before.

International Socialism is, at its root, as opposed to the Nationalist part of National Socialism as Black Queen to White Queen. But by seeking its internationalist ends through socialist/Unlimited Government means, it ends up as intolerant as Hitler. The question, however, is not whether Internationalists and Nationalists are essentially the same -- they aren't! -- but whether the means, Unlimited Government, tends to pervert the ends to which it is directed. That is an argument better made, I think, by Hayek than by Goldberg.

*Is the defense of marriage Limited Government? Liberals -- genuinely confused on this, I think -- believe that marriage laws are an attempt to impose a particular culture, Christianity, on others. The association of Christianity with particular culture is already odd, from a historical perspective, pretty dumb. And of course it's worth noting that at this stage of the game, a central part of the argument is about self-determination, about whether courts can overrule the overwhelming voice of the people and a couple states can overrule the opinions of other states. Nonetheless, the key point is whether liberals are right that heterosexual marriage is merely the preference of a particular culture.

In brief, the response is no. First, heterosexual marriage is a product of nature, evolution: children need parents, both biologically and, therefore, socially. This has nothing to do with culture, everything to do with reason. And since heterosexual unions are universally the cause of new citizens, it does have to do with securing the rights of every single individual (we all begin as children) against those who would treat those individuals themselves as someone else's "right": the right to adopt, to call yourself a mommy when you aren't, to deprive a child of a parent, etc.

Second, and maybe more important, marriage is just a Thing. There is, simply, something out there that is Marriage: the commitment of the two biological partners in procreation to create an environment in which procreation can reach its natural end, adulthood. The real argument against gay marriage is not anti-gay, but pro-marriage.

The equality argument here is really upside down. Gays say they want the same rights everyone else has. But they have the same rights: they can enter into a heterosexual marriage if they want; the fact that they don't want to do that is not a deprivation of their rights (at least not in the political order). What they, in fact, want is to take away the rights of others to enter into marriage; what they are asking for is an elimination of a particular Office in the polis, not its expansion. They want to deny that there is any such thing as Marriage, by replacing the definition of that Thing, in politics, with a new one.

The proponents of "traditional marriage" don't always speak this clearly -- though democracy should not require you to speak clearly -- but in fact, heterosexual marriage is simply the right of citizens to enter into the most fundamental contract in the political order and to have that contract recognized by law. Eliminating the right of people to make that contract is a usurpation: Government stepping in where it doesn't belong; as in many things, it abandons one of the necessary functions of Limited Government in favor of a new intrusion of Government into life: in this case, Government redefining the pre-existing office of Marriage. Marriage law is a matter of Limited Government, not fascism.