It is a very easy trick to play. First of all make your definition as wide as possible. A precise definition will not catch all that you want to be caught by it. Then blur important distinctions and assert that anything that is vaguely authoritarian, or even statist, is objectively fascist. Highlight all the commonalities, ignore all the differences and thus 'prove' that they are the same. In that way you can make nonsense appear credible.
It also helps if there is a vague connection to some reputable history and there have been scholarly studies of the origins of fascism and its relationship to all kinds of radical and ecological thought. These overlaps are interesting. However, a few shared assumptions or common origins do not make ideologies identical and, as ideas and movements develop, very different beasts emerge.
The current basis of all this is yet another piece of best-selling polemical history, Jonah Goldberg's oxymoronic Liberal Fascism (to my horror given a surprisingly appreciative review by Nick Cohen). The book has long been a target of Neiwert's and now George Mason University's History News Network has invited a scholarly response. There is little support. The latest contribution to be posted, an open letter from Matthew Feldman in response to Goldberg's self-defence, is utterly damning.
So let me be totally clear in rejoinder: I have no agenda, and genuinely have no desire to slander you personally. But it needs to be said, loud and clear: your book is just ridiculous.More substantial contributions, including Feldman's original review, can be read here, here, here and here.
Whilst Michael Leeden mounts a partial defence, he admits that the book "is a work of political theory, not a history". Leeden also reckons that, "Despite the provocative title, he's not saying that liberalism is the same as fascism". Beck and Fox quite clearly have no such scruples, mounting an exercise in guilt by association and using this as a platform to question the legitimacy of the Obama presidency. After the Muslim terrorist death panel angles, they can now claim that he is a Marxist and a fascist simultaneously.
It is this deliberate, systematic and infectious undermining of Obama, sometimes based on lies, innuendo, breathtakingly false analogies and closet racism, that drags this debate about the merits of a book into the political arena and highlights this comment of Feldman's:
Furthermore, I believe, Liberal Fascism is also dangerous. ... I say again: your book is manna from heaven for actual, ideological, revolutionary, radical right-wing, ultra-nationalistic fascists.Once again, history is being misused as a justification for a wild and vicious political assault. Sometimes the debate becomes so absurd that you can't imagine anyone taking it seriously. However, you then read things like this:
The onward march of Fox News, the relentlessly rightwing channel that has revolutionised American television news by making it overtly partisan, has been boosted by an opinion poll that suggests it is the most trusted news operation in the country.
Almost half of all Americans surveyed in the poll of 1,151 registered voters said they trusted Fox News. That is a notably larger vote of confidence than the 39% who said they trusted Fox's great rival CNN, and vastly more than the credibility ratings of the traditional news networks ABC News (31%), CBS News (32%) and NBC News (35%).
Obama strikes me as a cautious centrist with some social democratic leanings, hardly deserving of the ludicrous rhetoric, conspiracy theories and monstrous distortions of the raving right. I suppose they haven't 'discovered' a link between him and Charles Manson yet, but give them time. And as the mood music changes, disillusioned liberals are joining in the chorus, making me distinctly uneasy that a deliberate attempt to sabotage the first African American presidency may yet prove successful and dash the hopes of a small amelioration of the lives of the poor. And in this instance a defence of the legitimacy of an elected president is also a defence of the proper use of history.