This is just a ‘marker posting’ to note that I’ve got a series coming.
Why? Well, that snide remark that pointed me at Johah Goldberg’s works… I’m now the proud possessor of “Liberal Fascism” written by same. Subtitle “The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Change”.
I’ve only read a couple of chapters. (The introduction and the first two, plus one from the middle and one of the appendix entries). I love it.
General Comments & Examples
The author has a very readable style, but, things can get a bit disjoint and / or dense. Partly this is due to my having not spent a lot of time reading the detailed history of Marx and / or Hitler and / or… So the author will make a one line comment on something and you are left wondering “Who is nurse Ratched?” (He doesn’t actually make that reference, but you get the point… if you have not read the book or seen the movie in which she figures, you are left a bit lost… It’s just assumed everyone has seen “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”)
So on page 13 is a reference to “the Blue Shirts of Kuomintang China, demanded the immediate seizure of the means of production”… and I’m trying to pronounce Kuomintang and realizing that I’ve got at least 10 minutes of Google time to put into it if I really want to know what that bit of Chinese history is about.
On page 11 we have:
Even more telling, FDR’s defenders openly admitted their admiration of fascism. Rexford Guy Tugwell, an influential member of FDR’s Brain Trust, said of Italian Fascism, “It’s the cleanest, neatest most efficiently operating piece of social machinery I’ve ever seen. It makes me envious.” “We are trying out the economics of Fascism without having suffered all its social or political ravages.” Proclaimed the New Republic’s editor George Soule, an enthusiastic supporter of the FDR administration.”
All well and good… but I sort of remember the Brain Trust from some long ago history books and have no memory at all of Rexford Guy Tugwell. But I suppose that is how it goes when you are reading a history book written by a historian who HAS read the references… Similarly a reference to Geribaldi reminds me that that page in my memory book has not been turned in a few decades as does a reference to Hegel and Engles. It’s been about 30 years since I read any of their stuff (that Sociology class…)
On page 36 we get this insight into Mussolini:
He also launched a theoretical journal, Utopia, named in tribute to Thomas More, whom Mussolini considered the first socialist. Utopia clearly reflected the influence of Georges Sorel’s syndicalism on Mussolini’s thinking.
“Syndicalism”… “Sorel”… Um, I think I heard that once before. Long long ago…
He goes on to describe the impact of “syndicalism” sufficiently to pick up a working meaning, but clearly I’m going to need to take time to check his meaning against references to make sure my supposition is correct. (One theme is that it doesn’t matter so much if your myth is right, as that folks believe it is right. The foundation of ‘moral relativism’ in a way, and the basis for much of the ‘fluidity’ of truth on the far reaches of the left side of politics…)
OK, this is one of those books that makes you think and where it’s handy to have a reference library or Google at hand… It’s going to take me some time to work through it and fill in the understandings that it brings to the table. But it DOES bring good things to the table…
Fascism is ill defined today. (He spends several pages exploring this point, and how that lets the Loony Side of Left toss Fascism bombs at anyone they don’t like). I prefer to have things more, well, clarified.
The author does give the tools to do that clarification, but they are somewhat spread out. If I’ve one complaint so far it is just that. You jump back and forth with name drops and -ism drops and have not got a foundation on which to place them. So I’m going to be building my own foundation. That will be showing up as some postings over time. But first, a hint…
“Fascism” takes its name from an Italian word meaning ‘bundle’. That word was often used to talk about trade unions. The Bundle is stronger than the individual sticks. So one clue is that the basis of the movement is in the name of Trade Unions in Italy. Mussolini had a rabidly socialist father. He learned socialism at his father’s knee and then went on to study it more formally. He was a strong advocate for socialist causes and founded several socialist support groups and media, long before becoming “Il Duce” (The Leader… just as Fuhrer mean “Leader” … be wary of folks who want to be “Leaders of men”…)
The author conveniently provides this history, with references. But, it would have been more clear, IMHO, had he started off with “Mussolini began life as a socialist. Raised in a socialist family. He spent years working in support of the cause and translating the works of key Marxists / Socialist writers.”
Now you have the context in a convenient package. Now all the nice stories and references fit together better.
This, though, leads to my only serious complaint so far. He talks about the “Liberal Fascism” and how modern socialist / progressive / left wing movements have a fascist root… but this simply glosses over (or perhaps truncates the historical enquiry?) at the point of Fascism. It ignores that Fascism is simply an outgrowth of early socialism, built by a socialist dictator schooled in socialism from birth and an ardent supporter of it.
I can see how “Liberal Fascism” is a catchier title and will sell more books than “Liberal Socialism” or even “Socialist Fascism”, but to not make that connection clear and up front, but rather have it be for the reader to work out, is a bit of omission.
At any rate, the number of things learned or remembered per page is quite high. The references are worth a lot, and the slightly disjoint / wandering presentation makes for a more entertaining, if less analytical, read. I’m going to enjoy this book.