Liberal Fascism: Wings Over the World Edition

by John Holbo on January 24, 2008

I know, I know. But I’m going to talk about it anyway. Here he is, today:

I tried to explain, for those whose feelings were so hurt they didn’t even crack the spine, that the title Liberal Fascism comes from a speech delivered by H. G. Wells, one of the most important and influential progressive and socialist intellectuals of the 20th century. He wanted to re-brand liberalism as “liberal fascism” and even “enlightened Nazism.” He believed these terms best described his own political views — views that deeply informed American progressivism and New Deal liberalism.

I happen to know a thing or two about this, through research on Wells’ work on his cinematic (Wells scripted, Korda produced, Menzies directed) good-bad boondoggle, the 1936 SF film, Things To Come [wikipedia].
I’ve posted about the film before on CT here. I wrote a really fun post about it at the Valve: how H.G. Wells prevented steampunk.

I might as well get a few more links out. If you want to read Wells’ book – his fictional future history, The Shape of Things To Come – it’s online here. YouTube has a couple clips from the film. [UPDATE: the whole thing is downloadable from the Internet Archive.] None of the relevant political writings appear to be available online. But if you want to read a scholarly article about Wells’ notion of ‘liberal fascism’, “H.G. Wells’ ‘Liberal Fascism’” [JSTOR], by Philip Coupland, in The Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 35, No. 4. (Oct., 2000), pp. 541-558, seems a reasonable starting point. If you want to look further, Coupland provides references.

I’ll be basing much of the following on Coupland, all I have access to tonight. (And most of my research has been in film history, actually.) Let’s consider Goldberg’s claim: “[Wells] believed these terms best described his own political views — views that deeply informed American progressivism and New Deal liberalism.” Indeed, let’s amplify. A few weeks back he said something similar, by way of dismissing Dave Neiwart’s review: “The title alone is enough to indicate its thoroughgoing incoherence: Of all the things we know about fascism and the traits that comprise it, one of the few things that historians will readily agree upon is its overwhelming anti-liberalism.” Goldberg: “you’d think I just made-up the phrase from whole cloth. Nowhere does Neiwert mention that I get the phrase from H. G. Wells, quite possibly the most influential English-speaking public intellectual during the first third of the 20th century.”

Well, let’s inquire: in what spirit was the phrase ‘liberal fascism’ advanced, in 1932? In what spirit did Wells’ audience receive it? Taking the latter question first, I must concede one strong similarity with the fate of Hillary’s ‘politics of meaning’. It got terrible reviews. John ‘the white fox’ Hargrave (founder of Kibbo Kift, the ‘green shirts’) reported on the speech for The New Age (“A Liberal Fascism”, August, 1932). He pointed out that it was obviously an impossible combination, like ‘an attempt for tepid boiling hot water’ or ‘harmless poison gas’ (I’m getting this from Coupland.) H.M. Tomlinson wrote “Mr. Wells Has His Joke,” which made the point that the liberals were about as likely to turn fascist as were “the guardians of the home for lost dogs.” But did the idea get any traction? Coupland mentions a single organization, the FPSI (Federation of Progressive Societies and Individuals), which apparently was induced by a £20 donation, plus Wells’ name on the letterhead, to agree to have it’s ‘basis’ redrafted on Wellsian lines. (But they proved to be tepid boiling water, at best.) That’s pretty much the high water mark for ‘liberal fascism’, in terms of political influence.

So: point to Neiwart.

But did Wells think it made any sense? Yes and no. You can read the Coupland article. Wells was imagining a two-stage evolution. An authoritarian, elitist stage, to be followed by a liberal stage. Obviously the two stages are mutually incompatible – Wells is perfectly aware that he is minting an oxymoron. But somehow the authoritarian stage will give way. Basically, Wells believed parliamentary democracy is incapable of bringing about a proper political order. Only an authoritarian, technocratic elite can do so. But when the ideal order is realized, it will be in some ways liberal. “One prosperous and progressive world community of just, kindly, free-spirited, freely-thinking, and freely-speaking human beings”. Well, maybe. Accordingly, Wells fits Spencer Ackerman’s characterization: a liberal fascist is one who won’t take his own side in a putsch. I’ll quote Coupland:

even on the page unresolved tensions between Wells the ‘liberal’ and Wells the ‘fascist’ were visible. Shifting from the voice of the ‘future historian’ narrating The Shape of Things to Come, Wells commented in his own voice of a ‘distaste . . . as ineradicable as it is unreasonable’ aroused by the actions of the Airmen, and continued that ‘but for “the accidents of space and time” ‘he would have ‘been one of the actively protesting spirits who squirmed in the pitilessly benevolent grip of the Air Dictatorship’. (p. 557)

Air Dictatorship? Roll tape:

theairdictatorarrives.jpg

Here’s the first paragraph from Coupland’s article:

‘Is Mr Wells a secret Fascist?’ was the ironic question posed in the British Union of Fascists’ (BUF) paper Action. In fascist eyes Wells was a ‘socialist’ and, even worse, an ‘internationalist’, but against the certainty of that knowledge was the perplexing fact that there appeared to be Blackshirts playing the role of Wellsian revolutionaries in the Wells/Korda film, Things to Come. The author of the letter which prompted this enquiry regarding Wells’s politics noted that ‘the supermen all wore the black shirt and broad shiny belt of Fascism! The uniforms were identical, and their wearers moved and bore themselves in the semi-military manner of fascists.’ A cinema audience, being familiar with the sight of Blackshirts on British streets for the previous three and a half years, would have naturally been struck in the same way, and ‘Observer’ wrote that ‘all around me last night I heard people commenting on it’.’

In the film, the two stages – the Air Dictatorship and the pure, rational order that succeeds it – are sharply distinguished, visually: the Airmen dress like fascists with giant, ridiculous Darth Tweety helmets. I did rather a good caricature, if I do say so myself, which I use in my film and philosophy class.

cabal.jpg

The next generation are all in white, with curtain rods as shoulder pads, and the biggest kneecaps you’ve ever seen.

kneesovertheworld.jpg

It’s quite a film.

There are some attempts to condense the fascist and liberal stages, clearly due to troubles getting the whole story crammed into one film. The Air Dictatorship is much more humane than in the book. For example (perhaps a reproach to a certain critic?) there is harmless poison gas, ‘the gas of peace’. Sleeping gas in white globes that the airmen drop on their reactionary enemies.

gasofpeace.jpg

I like the scene in which the white-clad leader, behind his glass desk, is listening to right-wing talk radio. (Hey, you can’t ban the stuff. We’re liberals! What do you want, speech codes?)

Since this film (which stank up the box office something fierce) is where ‘liberal fascism’ went to die a strange death, it’s pretty darn silly that Goldberg tries to waggle ‘liberal fascism’ as any sort of paradigm. Now of course he would reply that even if the slogan sank like a stone, was regarded as an oxymoron by Wells’ audience and even by Wells, still he was an important intellectual. This idea didn’t take, but his history books and novels were influential, etc. He made a big expensive film, even if it flopped. And it’s true that lots of intellectuals, on all sides, lost faith in democracy and liberalism in the 30’s. It was assumed by many that, one way or another, it was on its way out.

The problem is that this really doesn’t get you very far. Here’s something that struck me, listening to the Goldberg/ Wilkinson bloggingheads exchange. Goldberg is peeved at leftists for not believing that ‘history matters’. Or rather, for hassling conservatives about every little thing Reagan or Goldwater might have said, but not being willing to hassle liberals about every little thing Herbert Croly might have written. Before listening, I assumed Goldberg was taking the piss. But after listening, I’m convinced that – before some rather gentle questioning by Will – he just didn’t see the point. Conservatives revere Reagan. And, if you look at the map of states the Republican Presidential candidate can probably count on winning in ‘08, the Southern Strategy appears not entirely a dead letter. By contrast, the Dems are not exactly getting all Croly-er than thou, in their debates. There might be a reason for that. The fact that it turns out Goldberg has based his title on a thing that really only exists in an SF film is a nice way to underscore the problem. Round about minute 50 of the exchange, Goldberg is making the point that you shouldn’t get your European and American wires crossed. What is ‘left’ and ‘right’ in one context may not be in another. But then he says that, in the American context, being ‘on the right’ means respecting the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Basically, being willing to accept a liberal form of government. Now this works for getting H.G. Wells and Hitler on the ‘left’, if you must. But it places American liberals like Clinton, Obama and Edwards on the ‘right’. (So it turns out that what is wrong with trying to stick Hillary with a Hitler moustache is that she is a woman of the right, in American terms, whereas he was a man of the left, in American terms – although perhaps a man of the right, in European terms?)

Well, anyway, I obviously think Goldberg’s argument is quite foolish and unserious. And I thought you might be curious to hear a bit about the Wellsian background for ‘liberal fascism’.

If you want to get the Wells film, it’s cheap through Amazon

{ 3 trackbacks }

My New Book: Family Values Through Marijuana « Working’s For Suckers
01.25.08 at 4:03 am
Liberal Fascism
01.26.08 at 7:50 pm
Heavy is the Hand of H.G. Wells, pt 1 « zunguzungu
01.30.08 at 12:58 am

{ 72 comments }

1

Rickm 01.24.08 at 7:38 pm

Yeah, but John, did you actually READ the book??!?!

2

Kieran Healy 01.24.08 at 7:41 pm

I mean, he spent more than a year researching and writing it.

3

lemuel pitkin 01.24.08 at 7:48 pm

John Holbo, your work is done. The last word on Liberal Fascism is here.

4

Progressive Reactionary 01.24.08 at 8:00 pm

Stumbled across this film on weekend or late-night TV a year or so ago. Astoundingly bad.

So Goldberg based his central argument on a concept popularized by H.G. Wells in a story he made up? Seriously? And is frustrated at the lack of people on the left who will ‘seriously’ engage such an argument? Shameless. Effing shameless.

.

5

Jim Milles 01.24.08 at 8:04 pm

The entire film is available from the Internet Archive.

6

blog 01.24.08 at 8:05 pm

The problem with Goldberg is that he takes outlying abstractions that never take form in actuality to establish an association with an entire movement. Whereas the conservative, right-wing forms of fascism actually took root among the majority of its adherents who acted out their monstrous philosophy of limitless, boundless depravity. So Goldberg’s point seems to be that conservatives have not only the potentiality to be monstrously, limiltlessly depraved, but the will to power to actually be so, whearas liberals have much more sense and reject such evil, and can distinguish between fantasy and reality and reject the proposals of sci-fi writers. This points to a fundamental difference beteween liberals and conservative. The ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Goldgerg’s view of his critics as enemies is a case in pont. Isn’t paranoid enemy ideation classicly fascist? They create the fantasy of the enemy then act out their paranoid ideations. They are incapable of distinguishing between the myths they create for themselves and reality. The fall for their own propaganda.

7

Caecilius est pater 01.24.08 at 8:11 pm

The movie is available here in its entirety:
http://www.archive.org/details/ThingstoCome

8

Luther Blissett 01.24.08 at 8:18 pm

So Wells’s “liberal fascism” is just another name for the Communist “dictatorship of the proletariat”? And liberals are fascists because some liberals have thought that reform might take place outside of pure populism? And there’s no difference between imposing reforms that go along with the Constitution and imposing reforms that go against the Constititution? So that Bush’s executive is fine, but activist judges are blackshirts? Now I get it.

I knew we should have just waited for the South to vote against slavery and segregation.

9

blog 01.24.08 at 8:31 pm

I would classify Godlberg’s entire work as a paranoid delusion. It is in accord with Goldberg’s general sickness. He suffers fron delusions of grandeur, what with the whale comment and the enemies thing.

10

rea 01.24.08 at 8:34 pm

There’s a new sun Risin’ up angry in the sky
And there’s a new voice Sayin’ “we’re not afraid to die”
Let the old world make believe It’s blind and deaf and dumb
But nothing can change the shape of things to come

There are changes Lyin’ ahead in every road
And there are new thoughts Ready and waiting to explode
When tomorrow is today The bells may toll for some
But nothing can change the shape of things to come

The future’s comin’ in, now Sweet and strong
Ain’t no-one gonna hold it back for long

There are new dreams Crowdin’ out old realities
There’s revolution Sweepin’ in like a fresh new breeze
Let the old world make believe It’s blind and deaf and dumb
(But) nothing can change the shape of things

To come

(I’m still a Ramones fan; sorry . . .)

11

bob 01.24.08 at 8:53 pm

Wells’s idea for the Air Dictatorship came from the very un-liberal Kipling, e.g. With the Night Mail
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shape_of_Things_to_Come#The_Kipling_connection

12

Grand Moff Texan 01.24.08 at 8:54 pm

You mean … THIS is what we were supposed to be working for all along?

I want my fucking helmet.
.

13

Ben Alpers 01.24.08 at 8:54 pm

There was a lot of that sort of thing in the early 1930s. The film (and novel) Gabriel Over the White House (1932) imagined an ineffectual U.S. president who, following an automobile accident, briefly becomes a terribly effective dictator, only to suddenly die after quickly solving the problems facing the nation.

I also love-hate Things to Come. The knees-and-shoulderpads costumes always remind me of Klaus Nomi.

14

Grand Moff Texan 01.24.08 at 9:05 pm

Stumbled across this film on weekend or late-night TV a year or so ago. Astoundingly bad.

It is, without a doubt, the second-worst science-fiction film of all time.
.

15

David Neiwert 01.24.08 at 9:07 pm

John:

Many thanks. Incidentally, one might also point out that Goldberg is being disingenuous by saying, “I didn’t invent the phrase! H.G. Wells did!” Because he’s perfectly aware that he’s trying to introduce a new, “controversial” concept.

Right there, on p. 21, near the end of the Introduction, he writes:

The introduction of a novel term like “liberal fascism” obviously requires an explanation.

So, is he “introducing a novel term” or is he just quoting H.G. Wells? Goldberg, as he does consistently throughout his argument, wants to have his cake and eat it too.

Incidentally, you may want to check out my latest response to his nonsense.

16

lemuel pitkin 01.24.08 at 9:11 pm

It is, without a doubt, the second-worst science-fiction film of all time.

Don’t leave us hanging here, man…

17

Righteous Bubba 01.24.08 at 9:14 pm

Don’t leave us hanging here, man…

There are about 273 tied for first.

18

seth edenbaum 01.24.08 at 9:17 pm

Like Brooks, Goldberg is too conflicted and too stupid to know what he’s defending or why, so we end up with the defenders of a competent technocratic elite mocking the defenders of an incompetent one. The defenders competency, in victory, get to feel good about themselves. This resolves nothing, but at least we get an ass-covering discussion of Wells. Maybe next we can discuss modernism itself and fascism as an anti/modern movement. Or maybe the subtlety of A=~A too complex for the binary imagination

The neoliberal imagination: “History is like foreign travel. It broadens the mind, but it does not deepen it.”

19

Ben Alpers 01.24.08 at 9:17 pm

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians?

Plan 9 From Outer Space?

Moonraker?

20

Grand Moff Texan 01.24.08 at 9:22 pm

Don’t leave us hanging here, man…

All right, but now I must expose you to the three most terrifying words in the English language:

ITALIAN SCIENCE FICTION

“Star Crash” isn’t just the worst science-fiction movie ever made. It may very well be the worst film of any kind.

Choice quotes:

“Battleship! Halt the flow of time!”

“Scan the planet with our computer waves.”

[shudder ... twitch .... blink-blink]

Give me late-Soviet Rock Opera any day…
.

21

Alan Bostick 01.24.08 at 9:28 pm

Message From Space

22

another ramones fan 01.24.08 at 9:53 pm

Max Frost and the Troopers originally sang “Shape of Things to Come.” But the Ramones cover is pretty good.

Wouldn’t that have been awesome if they had called themselves Max Storm and the Troopers? Jonah could have put that in his book.

23

marcel 01.24.08 at 9:55 pm

Can’t wait for Goldberg’s take on Friendly Fascism. Imagine, friends (or is that Friends?) are the original fascists. Or, maybe in this case, fascists are the original friends. I’m a bit lost here, but I bet that someone, if not someone here then perhaps the Editors, can help Goldberg get this one right.

24

jim 01.24.08 at 10:12 pm

The movie isn’t _that_ bad. The first part — The War and consequent immiserization and anarchy — is fairly good. It’s when Raymond Massey flies in to rescue the world from the consequences of The War that it goes downhill.

25

Jay B. 01.24.08 at 10:41 pm

Fascinating stuff John.

But I think there’s an even easier way to interpret Wells’ incantation of “Liberal Fascism”:

One would assume that if, in 1932, someone wanted plan ol’ fascism, he would have just asked for it, right? But HG qualified his hopelessly naive call for an essentially benign, ‘enlightened’ autocratic system by giving it the “liberal” label to differentiate it with the actual fascism that was all the rage in Europe around that time. Goldberg might have caught the references to that fascism in the original “To Be or Not to Be” with Jack Benny and Robert Stack.

In other words, no matter how utopian and muddleheaded Wells’ idea was, it was clearly proposed as a liberal, liberating alternative to Actual Fascism. Which would, of course, infer, that fascism wasn’t liberal to begin with — otherwise HG Wells would have been a fascist!

26

Bruce Baugh 01.24.08 at 11:04 pm

Agreed with Jim @23. The first part of the movie is pretty good for capturing the sense of total ruin and horror, and various bits of it foreshadow real events fairly well. I’ve wondered sometimes if William Golding might have had the movie in mind when crafting the ending of Lord of the Flies, given what an irony torpedo it is to the whole concept of rescue by benevolent forces outside the fray.

27

Io non Enea 01.24.08 at 11:21 pm

Raymond Massey–heir to the Massey-Ferguson combine fortune. The first warning of Canada’s plans for world domination!! And the first to profit from the NAFTA highway!!

28

Brett 01.24.08 at 11:59 pm

This is a terrific post, John. But what’s your evidence for the following?

Since this film (which stank up the box office something fierce)

I had long thought that myself, but some work done (not by me!) on quantifying the popularity of films shown in Britain in the 1930s indicates that TTC was something like the 9th most popular film of 1936 (out of over a hundred shown). Now that I’m home and have remembered to check Christopher Frayling’s little book on TTC, he says it was ‘a critical success, but only did moderately well at the box office’ (Things to Come (London: BFI Publishing, 1995), 76). If all ‘stank up the box office’ means is that it didn’t turn a profit, that’s probably true — it was a very expensive production for its day, after all. But it does seem that quite a few people went to see it in 1936.

Bob’s right to point out the connection with Kipling’s ABC stories, but similar themes can be found in a number of Wells’ other works going back to The War in the Air (1908) and the Samurai of A Modern Utopia (1905). He seemed to like the idea of destroying civilisation and placing its recovery in the hands of authoritarian technocrats, who would bring about his desired world state: it’s one he kept coming back to. (The subtitle of The Shape of Things to Come is The Ultimate Revolution.)

29

PersonFromPorlock 01.25.08 at 12:26 am

Actually, Liberalism is more easily seen as evolved New England puritanism, with the state still herding the sinners to goodness under the direction of the Elect. The words are all different but the process is exactly the same.

30

seth edenbaum 01.25.08 at 2:25 am

A reformer, a prophet, an expert, a revolutionary committee sitting in enlightened New York would not be a fair vehicle of popular government. Isn’t democracy built on the experience and conviction that superior people are dangerous, and that the instinct of the common people are a safer guide? But what surprises me more is the disbelief in democracy, is this hatred of the countryside. is agriculture the root of all evil? Naturally, the first rays of the sun strike the east side of New York, but do they travel beyond.

George Santayana

31

seth edenbaum 01.25.08 at 3:14 am

Looking for a reference to the quote above I did a search for a few of the sentences, by coincidence (since only a few words overlap) I found DeLong, being as usual, an arrogant pedantic horses ass. Follow his links and it ends up serving my original purpose pretty well.
Tony Judt on Robert Reich The Wrecking Ball of Innovation I let my subscription to the NYRB lapse. Maybe I made a mistake.

32

J— 01.25.08 at 3:58 am

Also from the Coupland article (p. 549) and something Goldberg does not mention when he makes this “But Wells came up with it” argument: Liberal fascism was not the only term Wells used to identify the authoritarian vanguard movement he advocated. He also referred to it as “a sort of Liberal Communist Party” and “a greater Communist Party.”

33

Ben Alpers 01.25.08 at 7:01 am

@32: But “liberal Communism” is so God and Man at Yale. Been there, done that.

34

Pinko Punko 01.25.08 at 7:39 am

Battlefield Earth, clearly.

And their is a misspelling of our hero of the day, Neiwert, within this great post.

35

abb1 01.25.08 at 9:51 am

Before listening, I assumed Goldberg was taking the piss.

I always assumed (and still do) that he is complaining about American fascism being too liberal, too wussy: “Hillary is no Führer, and her notion of ‘the common good’ doesn’t involve racial purity or concentration camps.” She is not a strong enough leader.

36

ajay 01.25.08 at 11:00 am

Raymond Massey—heir to the Massey-Ferguson combine fortune. The first warning of Canada’s plans for world domination!! And the first to profit from the NAFTA highway!!

Yeah, people have made that argument before, but it never really got any traction.

You could also compare LF with the concept of the Open Conspiracy that Wells came up with (which influenced Bohr and Szilard among others…

37

praisegod barebones 01.25.08 at 12:14 pm

The introduction of a novel term like “liberal fascism” obviously requires an explanation.

So, is he “introducing a novel term” or is he just quoting H.G. Wells? Goldberg, as he does consistently throughout his argument, wants to have his cake and eat it too.

Look, that’s obviously being uncharitable. When Goldberg calls LF a ‘novel concept’, he’s not claiming to have invented it, he’s saying he’s come up with something which would be the basis for an interesting piece of prose fiction.

Rather than undermining this with his wittering about Wells, Holbo has just provided him with corroborating evidence. Liberal CTers shoot themselves in the foot again!

38

John Holbo 01.25.08 at 12:53 pm

“just provided him with corroborating evidence”

I do not think that means what you think it means, praisegod. Alternatively, you may have misread the post in some way.

39

stuart 01.25.08 at 1:31 pm

Isn’t quoting someone in 1932 talking about fascism as a positive thing fairly disingenuous in the first place place – at that time governments moving from the laissez faire attitudes that helped so much in causing the great depression towards a more authoritarian and active role was seen as pretty much essential (and it probably was, although not all of the actions taken were in the right direction of course). The early actions of the fascist governments were seen as a prime example of how the government could intervene into market failure and patch things up. A few years later he might well have called the same idea Liberal Keynesianism or something along those lines, to avoid the more negative connotations of fascism that had become apparent by that point, rather than being a synonym/example of interventionist government.

40

abb1 01.25.08 at 1:48 pm

Isn’t quoting someone in 1932 talking about fascism as a positive thing fairly disingenuous in the first place place…

It would certainly be highly disingenuous to use it as the basis for an argument, but I don’t think it’s disingenuous to use it for a book title or mention it casually.

41

crocodility 01.25.08 at 4:00 pm

Here he is, today:

“I tried to explain, for those whose feelings were so hurt they didn’t even crack the spine, that the title Liberal Fascism comes from a speech delivered by H. G. Wells…”

He contradicts this in Liberal Fascism. See page 429, note 19.

42

seth edenbaum 01.25.08 at 4:54 pm

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City intensified his attacks on the political leadership here on Wednesday, pointing to what he called the government’s failure to fix immigration policy and other problems of immediate concern to the nation.
In a speech before a group of his fellow mayors, Mr. Bloomberg described Washington politicians as shortsighted and said their priorities often reflected crass political calculations rather than sound policy judgments.
“We all know that spending decisions in Washington are driven by whatever will attract votes and campaign cash,” he said in criticizing the government for running up enormous budget deficits over the last few years.

Imagine that. Attracting votes and campaign cash. How tacky. Yes, what we clearly need is benevolent billionaire dictators who ignore the voters and care about nothing but their own interests.”

I found this through Atrios who responds: “There are certainly elements of our modern political system that we can all object to, but contempt for the wishes of voters by elites is something we should all shun. Voters may not always be as perfectly informed as we would like them to be, but this democracy thing is rather important as the alternative is probably, you know, a Bloomberg Plutocracy.”

The subject is the relation of elites to the public. Modern reform and elitism: can anyone say “judicial review?” Elite reformers? Not that I’m opposed but the questions are current. And the people are ahead of the leadership these days, including the intellectual leadership which we should admit you all proudly represent: the bureaucratic avant garde. Neoliberalism.
The genealogies of fascism and technocratic aristocracy are closely connected. Look it up. In fact you did, only to downplay it. You mock the idiot to avoid the questions that are being directed at you and what you represent, by people who are not idiots.

43

TRB 01.25.08 at 7:13 pm

Seth,
You keep using that word, “neoliberal”. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Since the 1970′s, and all around the world, neoliberals have been promoting the rule of the market, cutting public expenditure for social services like education and health care, deregulation, privatization, and eliminating the concept of “the public good” or “community”. Think Thatcher and Reagan, the IMF and the World Bank.

http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=376
http://www.zmag.org/ZMag/chomksydavie.htm

Or do you think that “neoconservative” means “the new conservatives in power after the liberals have been voted out”, so “neoliberal” means the “new liberals about to return to power after the conservatives have been voted out”? If so, you would be wrong about both terms.
http://www.publiceye.org/research/chart_of_sectors.html

44

josh 01.25.08 at 8:34 pm

Having read the Wells speech in which the term ‘liberal fascism’ appears some time before Jonah Goldberg discovered it (ahem. Pats own back smugly. Dislocates shoulder), I’d just add this to what John says:
As mentioned above, Wells was one of a large number of people who, in the face of the Depression, and the apparent success of both fascism and Communism, thought that liberal democracy was dead — and so called for embracing some form of militaristic collectivism. As John notes, he was conflicted about this, and the extent to which he was willing to disavow the values of liberal democracy was limited. It should also be noted that
a) Wells was far from alone; there were a number of thinkers who in the 1930s said positive things about fascism, and thought that non-fascist parties and movements might have to emulate fascism’s tactics and policies in order to succeed. This can be found all across the political spectrum: from Fabians such as Wells (cf the terminally embarrassing praise of every dictator available by Bernard Shaw), to some old-fashioned (European-style) liberals, to moderate conservatives (has Goldberg read what Churchill said about fascism in the ’20s and early ’30s?), to Christian thinkers occupying their own corner of the ideological map that doesn’t quite fit onto the left-right pole. There were also many who resisted this tendency — and they, too, came from all over the ideological map (one of the better critiques of Wells came, as usual, from Orwell, who was a semi-anarchist democratic socialist — even if most modern conservatives conveniently forget this).
b) Wells was well past his prime at this point; his pronouncements got increasingly despairing and, at times, almost unhinged as the decade wore on (see his aptly titled Mind at the End of its Tether [1945], where he gives up on humanity entirely). So I don’t think that he should be taken as quite so representative of the progressive/centre-left position as Goldberg thinks.
c) Nor do I think his influence in the US — and, particularly, the influence of his work from the period in and after which he called for liberal fascism — was as great as Goldberg suggests. I haven’t done much research on this, so can’t say for sure; but my impression is that the New Dealers were not all reading Things to Come and yelling ‘Eureka!’.
All of this suggests that Goldberg has a bit of a problem, for someone trying to write a work of intellectual-political history: he basically has no feel for — or doesn’t much care about — matters of historical context. Which is too bad. There could be a really good book written on the lure of fascism (or, more broadly, a sort o militaristic, collectivist authoritarianism) to people all across the ideological spectrum during the interwar period. But from what I’ve seen, Jonah’s book isn’t it.
Phew. Good to get that off my chest.

45

seth edenbaum 01.25.08 at 11:36 pm

“Seth, You keep using that word, “neoliberal”. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I know exactly what it means.

46

Jeffrey Kramer 01.26.08 at 1:12 am

I wonder if some Chinese leaders still believe they are practicing Communist Capitalism: that once the regrettable but necessary capitalist phase is over….

47

John Holbo 01.26.08 at 1:41 am

Seth Edenbaum: “The genealogies of fascism and technocratic aristocracy are closely connected. Look it up. In fact you did, only to downplay it. You mock the idiot to avoid the questions that are being directed at you and what you represent, by people who are not idiots.”

Seth, you almost always make the same basic reading comprehension error. You read a post. You think the author of the post should be talking about something else, which is more important. You angrily denounce the post as a bad attempt to talk about what you think the post should have been about. This really doesn’t make a lot of sense.

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seth edenbaum 01.26.08 at 5:03 am

John Holbo: If someone makes the idiot’s version of a complex and even halfway valid argument why shouldn’t the fact of that argument be acknowledged even as the idiot is mocked?

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John Holbo 01.26.08 at 6:12 am

Seth: “If someone makes the idiot’s version of a complex and even halfway valid argument …”

Look, Seth. The argument that fascism is a left-wing phenomenon is not halfway valid. Goldberg isn’t making an idiot’s version of the halfway valid argument you want me to talk about.

“The subject is the relation of elites to the public.”

No, that is what you WANT me to talk about, but it doesn’t follow that this is the subject of the post. Which, pretty obviously, it’s not.

I’m going to try one more time to make the difference clear. Look at the following two sentences.

1) Holbo discussed the wrong thing.

2) Holbo discussed the thing wrongly.

The two sentences say very different things. In response to my posts you always think 1). But you always say 2). It’s bloody hopeless.

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seth edenbaum 01.26.08 at 9:34 am

“Look, Seth. The argument that fascism is a left-wing phenomenon is not halfway valid.”
No in fact it is halfway valid but not more so. To deny the relation and romance of modernity nihilism and utopia is stupid: too anti-intellectual even for you.

But don’t even think of calling yourself a leftist, not to me at least. Just because wingnuts call Clintonite neoliberals “the looney left” doesn’t make it so. Is Brad DeLong a leftist too? Tyler Cowen? Lee Kuan Yew? Pierre Trudeau called Clinton “a republican” and I’ve never heard any reason to question him on that judgement. You want to make that case? Robert Reich says: “the Clinton administration—of which I am proud to have been a part—was one of the most pro-business administrations in American history.”
How did it happen? How did the rule of “reason” come to this?

You have it reversed:
1) Holbo discussed the thing wrongly.
2) Holbo discussed the wrong thing.
Both are true.

Why waste time pummeling an idiot? Why waste time on an easy target? And what if that easy target in his lazy half-assed way is responding to a real question? And what if in pummeling the idiot you obscure the real question beneath the rhetoric?
Goldberg made a lazy argument, and you made a lazy response. Why shouldn’t someone point that out?

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bi 01.26.08 at 9:44 am

seth edenbaum spews the “knowledge is elitism, ignorance is freedom” trope again.

Which of course is stupid, but somehow in the minds of these anti-elitists, being stupid equals being not stupid. Go figure.

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engels 01.26.08 at 10:07 am

Modern reform and elitism: can anyone say “judicial review?”

So

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engels 01.26.08 at 10:09 am

Whoops. I was starting to type something but it messed up and now I can’t be arsed to re-do it. Please ignore or delete.

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John Holbo 01.26.08 at 10:26 am

“Why waste time pummeling an idiot?”

Ah, Seth Edenbaum, the king of unintended irony.

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bi 01.26.08 at 11:57 am

Back to the topic: the Daily Howler calls this phenomenon “Global Dumbing” — the propagation of “dimwit stories” comprised of half-truths, lies, and outright rubbish.

Anyway, in the presence of this much horse manure, I guess it’s fair to say that, whenever some right-wing talking head starts bringing up a “point” based on some unspecified speech delivered on an unspecified day at an unspecified place, the odds are that it’s bogus.

And as for “why waste time pummeling an idiot?”, I quote from the Howler:

“The reader wants Kevin to focus on warming. But the public debate about global warming has also been shaped, in the past dozen years, by the types of dim-witted stories this readers wants Kevin to ignore. …

“Today, many liberals and progressives hope Gore will run for the White House. … But it would be very hard for Gore to run because of the profusion of dim-witted stories we liberals agreed to ignore in the past. Those stories were repeated endlessly, year after year, with very little challenge or criticism; inevitably, such stories get in the heads of the voters, leading to 32-46 polling outcomes. … long ago, we liberals helped create a world in which Gore simply _can’t_ be judged ‘on the merits.’ We did that by ignoring years of dim-witted stories. It’s the strategy advised by Kevin’s commenter — who cares about global warming instead!”

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seth edenbaum 01.26.08 at 4:22 pm

51- coming home at 3 AM writing’s a mistake, especially if its rushed.
The question is the origin of technocratic liberalism and technocratic elitism in the modernist sensibility. We’re back discussing fascist modernism again. One of the symptoms of the Weimarization of politics is the existence of an escapist idealism. Utopianism is a symptom of crisis not a cure.

“seth edenbaum spews the “knowledge is elitism, ignorance is freedom” trope again.”
I’m an elitist, sometimes a snob, just not a technocratic one. I grew up around lawyers, not engineers (and not legal philosophers). The technocratic model of a government as laboratory, as collaborative environment is less democratic than the model of government as divided, adversarial. Our press thinks of itself as a collaborationist elite, as does a large subset of the academy. The problems of the former are well known; discussions of the latter are more contentious (at least at technophilic websites.)

Government by experts is not a government of the people. Adversarialism is not the government of reason but of structured debate; the maintenance of the structure itself being more important than the outcome of any one case. To you that’s irrationalism: an argument against truth. It’s also the model of democratic government: of process.
There’s authoritarianism hidden in the logic of technocratic elites. Not news.
The subject is complex, too complex for Jonah Goldberg, and too complex for you.

later.

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bi 01.26.08 at 6:02 pm

“seth edenbaum spews the ‘knowledge is elitism, ignorance is freedom’ trope again.” — me

Instead of rebutting my point or defending the above thesis, Seth decides to respond with a pile of bullcrap. And bullcrap that’s devoid of concrete fact… oops, sorry, “concrete fact” is an authoritarian construct.

Oh please, Seth, _what’s your fscking point?_ Do you have any concrete proposals for doing _anything?_ Yeah, we’re listening. Now what? What earth-shattering insights do you have to share with us? Yeah, authoritarianism is bad, everyone knows that; so what sort of system of government (or non-government) do _you_ propose? How can we can bring about it? What concrete steps need to be taken?

But no, you refuse to actually say anything. What you’re merely saying is that everyone should listen to your voice talking about how everyone should listen to your voice talking about how everyone should listen to your voice etc. etc. etc. Yeah, we’ve seen that before. So what next? _Do you have anything else to say?_ What’s it that you actually wanted to say that prompted you to ask us to listen to your voice in the first place? Nothing?

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seth edenbaum 01.26.08 at 8:10 pm

bi,
go back up the thread to #31. Read DeLong, then Read Tony Judt and Robert Reich: the book review and the exchange.
I agree with Judt. Do you?

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abb1 01.26.08 at 8:41 pm

I don’t understand why it is wrong for collaborationist elite of academia to say their piece in this adversarial democracy thing? Everyone is a product of their environment, so why do you demand that John Holbo, card-carrying member of technocratic elites, should rise above his nature and act like someone else? John gives his perspective, you give yours, everybody should be happy, no bitterness necessary.

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Uncle Kvetch 01.26.08 at 10:37 pm

everybody should be happy, no bitterness necessary

Take away the bitterness and I’m not sure Seth would have anything to comment about.

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P 01.27.08 at 1:21 am

The Wikipedia article on Goldberg’s book is currently an supportive uncritical stub. Anybody want to add to it?

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seth edenbaum 01.27.08 at 6:04 am

This is odd.

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engels 01.27.08 at 11:08 am

Adversarialism is not the government of reason but of structured debate (Seth Edenbaum)

Irony is indeed dead.

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seth edenbaum 01.27.08 at 11:50 pm

Engels, read Tony Judt. Tell me if you agree with Reich that the restructuring of the American economy into what we have today has been a “natural” process. Af if that’s the case tell me, is economics a “natural” science? And is the move towards the privatization in economic policy as “natural” a process as natural selection? Is Judt akin to a creationist for arguing the point.? DeLong certainly treats him like one.

I’m not more bitter than Judt, who wrote Bush’s Useful Idiots: The Strange Death of Liberal America
or here, on Israel: The country that wouldn’t grow up

I’ve earned the right to be bitter,

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seth edenbaum 01.28.08 at 3:32 am

Here’s more: a discussion of corporate philanthropy and “warm glow”
“The talk will discuss the competitive advantage of corporations over charities and the government, and the importance of tax law in determining how consumers purchase warm glow from corporations.”
“Scientists” discussing the nature order of things?
But nature isn’t a democratic system. And neither is google.

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abb1 01.28.08 at 8:41 am

On the second thought, you’re right – why not be bitter? It’s a good style, interesting to read, elicits interesting reactions. Never mind.

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engels 01.28.08 at 9:47 am

Tell me if you agree with Reich that the restructuring of the American economy into what we have today has been a “natural” process.

No.

Af if that’s the case tell me, is economics a “natural” science?

No.

And is the move towards the privatization in economic policy as “natural” a process as natural selection?

No.

Is Judt akin to a creationist for arguing the point.?

No.

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bi 01.28.08 at 11:54 am

seth edenbaum:

“I’ve earned the right to be bitter.”

How? By growing up around lawyers and not engineers?

What is your whole darn point anyway? Do you actually have one?

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seth edenbaum 01.28.08 at 2:12 pm

I led you to the door but I guess I’ll have to walk you through it too.

“What is your whole darn point anyway?”

Liberal technocrats’ contempt for democracy

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libarbarian 01.28.08 at 11:11 pm

For those who are interested – the Wells novel on which the movie is based is “The Shape of Things to Come”

There certainly are some parts that turn my stomach – and I’ve just glanced through it.

For instance, some quotes from the man who is portrayed as the Architect of the future state:

1. “It is no good asking people what they want,” wrote De Windt. “That is the error of democracy. You have first to think out what they ought to want if society is to be saved. Then you have to tell them what they want and see that they get it.”

2. Criticize,” he wrote, “yes, but do not obstruct.” If a directive organization is fundamentally bad, he taught, break it and throw it away, but rid your minds altogether of a conception of see-saw and give and take as a proper method in human affairs.

3. All this tangle of ideas had to be swept aside. “About most affairs there can be no two respectable and antagonistic opinions,” said De Windt. “It is nonsense to pretend there can be. There is one sole right way and there are endless wrong ways of doing things. A government is trying to go the right way or it is criminal. Sabotage must cease. It has always been one of the ugliest vices of advanced movements. It is a fundamental social vice.”

YUCK!!!!

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Righteous Bubba 01.29.08 at 12:52 am

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engels 01.29.08 at 11:53 am

About most affairs there can be no two respectable and antagonistic opinions … It is nonsense to pretend there can be. There is one sole right way and there are endless wrong ways of doing things. A government is trying to go the right way or it is criminal.

Sounds like he’s a US-style “libertarian”…

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