Book Reviews

Hitler with a Smiley Face

By July 12, 2008 No Comments

It is a good rule that one must never judge a book by its cover, but with every rule there are always exceptions. The illustration on the dust jacket of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (Doubleday, New York, 2007) is a fairly accurate representation of his thesis: The iconic 1970s’ Happy Face, with Hitler’s patent clipped mustache on it. We are confronted with a new form of fascism, without uniforms and boot-stomping marchers, but with an endless supply of petty authoritarian-inclined do-gooders all cheerfully focused on stripping autonomy from individuals and saving us from ourselves.

To someone expecting yet another of the tedious left vs. right mud-slinging matches that clutter up the politics sections of today’s bookshelves, Goldberg comes as an erudite surprise. However, notwithstanding the usual consignment of Nazis, Fascists and hard-line Soviets as ‘Right Wingers’; Goldberg points out that what used to be described as the Left is the true off-spring of the totalitarian impulse in our history. Indeed, most of today’s conservatives draw their inspirations from the Enlightenment figures that inspired classical liberalism in the 19th century, and are the inheritors of that tradition.

What is common to a Fascist, is something shared equally by a Wilsonian Democrat, a Sixties radical and a modern progressive. They all yearned for political action in a mass movement that sought ‘progress’ without direction; for a new society in which all would be better without actually bothering to spell out the details first. Change first, improvements second. Fascism is alive and well, but its true home is in the heart of the modern progressive. Goldberg’s book should be essential reading for any student of contemporary politics and 20th Century history. Alas, one doubts it will appear in today’s school libraries and civics courses as a resource book.