However much one might disagree with Jonah Goldberg, the New Review columnist, there can be no doubting the importance of his #1 US best-seller, “Liberal Fascism”, recently published in Britain and every bit as relevant to this country as it is to Goldberg’s native United States.
In essence, Goldberg’s thesis is that fascism and liberalism – in the sense of progressive politics – were ever close bedfellows in the 1920s and 1930s, what with Mussolini being approvingly quoted by both Lenin and Stalin, and Hitler’s rhetoric focusing as much on the socialism as on the nationalism, at least until 1938. (Goldberg also amusingly points out that Hitler was the first populariser of organic food, environmentalism and “free love”, among other supposedly “liberal” causes.)
More tellingly for the current crisis, Goldberg explains how a political movement, describing itself as “liberal”, and, “progressive”, has in fact co-opted both terms to deliver an Orwellian present in which to express opinions that contradict this movement’s views is immediately labelled “fascist”.
Reading the most recent blog of my ONE colleague John Calder, one thinks immediately of Vince Cable’s treatment at the hands of Gordon Brown. When Cable criticised Brown’s economic mismanagement, the latter’s reply was to ignore the points made and respond, “we have never been wrong in our economic forecasts” – subtext: if you don’t agree with me, you must be wrong.
If Jonah Goldberg goes too far — especially on issues such as race and abortion — then his book is nonetheless profoundly significant for its lucid description of the moral turpidtude at the heart of our politics and, by extension, our civic life today. Expressing opinions that are counter to today’s moral current is certainly not illegal: but the allegedly “progressive”, and actually proto-fascist, thinking that holds sway will see to it that such opinions are marginalised at best and, at worst, ignored.
Just last weekend, such thought control has had an ugly outing in the case of Damian McBride’s attempts to smear the Conservative leadership, a spin-doctor’s hubristic belief that his web of stories might turn the doomed course of the New Labour Battleship Potemkin.
It’s too easy to dismiss this sad story as part of the culture of the sound-bite, and a here-this-minute-gone-the-next media. In fact, it’s part of a steady campaign to remove intelligent debate from public life, stifle inconvenient facts, and assert control over more and more of our lives on the part of a corporate statism that finds its most obvious expression in America’s Hilary Clinton and Britain’s Gordon Brown.
Let us only hope, as Calder suggests elsewhere, that both of these figures, although still wielding power, are already yesterday’s men (and women). As I’ve suggested in another post, though, the alternatives on offer hardly seem any better. Moral renewal of the kind called for by John Calder and Vince Cable is indeed the only solution to these problems: and that’s not something that any number of trillions of dollars of bail-outs, quantitative easing and cash hand-outs for new cars can bring us.