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Are you a fascist?

Greg Yatarola | Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I have applied to write for The Observer every year since I graduated. This year, I was finally fortunate to find a staff with enough pity to accept me. One of the sample pieces I used to trot out was about the similarities between fascism and the modern Left. As a short essay must, it stayed on the surface in analyzing those similarities, which is about as much as I knew anyway. Those surface likenesses are pretty impressive, though. In fact, what first lit that particular bulb for me was a speech by Hitler advocating strict gun-control. It was pure liberal boilerplate. It got me thinking, and without much effort, I’d identified plenty more parallels.

But anything I’ve written could only look ridiculous compared to Jonah Goldberg’s new book, “Liberal Fascism.” Jonah writes for the conservative standard-bearer, National Review, and is a syndicated columnist. He’s been known mainly for his sharp-but-light-hearted wit and profound knowledge of pop-culture trivia. So it comes as some surprise to many that he uncorked a masterpiece, and not about “Star Trek” or “The Simpsons,” but about politics and history.

According to Jonah, what motivated him for this enormous effort was just what provoked my little sample tirade: he was sick of hearing “fascist” used reflexively by many liberals for persons or policies that they do not like. If you have never come across this slander, you probably haven’t been paying attention. It can be found at every level, from moron street demonstrators with their “Bush is Hitler” banners, to media professionals like Keith Olbermann and Bill Maher, to college professors. I remember even seeing it in my high school government textbook. There, on an illustration of the political spectrum, was “fascist” – two steps over from “conservative.” Some of you, while praying publicly for the unborn, may have even been taunted with “Go home, Christian fascists!” Is a richer irony even possible?

But Jonah argues that this is not a case of the pot calling the kettle black. No, it’s more like the pot calling the snowflake black.

To dismiss the notion that conservatism is somehow akin to fascism isn’t hard. Fascism, like its cousin communism, is a form of totalitarianism. Anyone at all familiar with conservative thought can tell you that two bedrock conservative principles are limited government and decentralization. Go far enough to the right, and you will end up with a near-libertarian order in which most of what little power the government has is concentrated at the local level. This is totally the opposite of a centralized, all-powerful state. And there are many other enormous differences which space forbids discussing.

Then why the smear? Liberals think that since conservatives are mean, and Nazis were mean, conservatives must be Nazis. They do not look in the mirror and see the nastiness and sheer vituperation regularly coming from Howard Dean, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, The New York Times, Air America, left-wing blogs, Hollywood, racist racial demagogues, etc. I could use the rest of my column this year documenting what George Will has labeled the “ferocity gap” between the Right and Left, and yes, I encountered it at Notre Dame, too.

Besides, people will think you are a totalitarian if you try to restrict what they most cherish, even if otherwise you’re completely anarchist. When she was little, I was far more indulgent with my niece than her parents were – except when it came to candy. My niece really loved candy, so much so that she’d sometimes sit and meditate about it, and I tried to keep her away from it. Naturally, she considered me much meaner and stricter than her parents, no matter how much I allowed or encouraged her to do things her parents would not tolerate. Replace my niece with liberals and candy with abortion, and me with conservatives, and you understand why liberals see conservatives as totalitarians. I do not wish to imply that liberals actually like abortion the way my niece liked candy; I would have to say, sadly, that based on my observation of American politics over the past decade, abortion on demand is what’s most important to most of the far Left.

We have all seen those funny surveys showing how dangerously ignorant Americans are, even (especially?) college students – you know, 93 percent can’t find Canada on a map, or something like that. But ignorance about facts and figures, like how many branches of government we have, is one thing. You can always just look that stuff up. Gross misunderstanding of important phenomena like totalitarianism is something else. For instance, isn’t it a common idea that the enemy of communism was capitalism? As if the main right denied those tens of millions of poor souls crushed under the hammer and sickle – whether by Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Kim, or other monsters – was the right to own a business.

It is my hope that liberal fascism will begin the long process of educating Americans about the true nature of one of history’s most awful movements, and the deep connections between it and more modern ideologies. I do not mind if the angry Left continues invoking their conservative-means-Nazi mantra, since it shows their own viciousness and their own ignorance. But I do hope conservatives will get better at answering it. Reading Jonah’s book would be a start.

Greg Yatarola is a 1999 alumnus who loves his niece very, very much. But he still hates candy. His address is [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.