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Best Of Tnr 2008: Jackboots And Whole Foods

Michael Tomasky artfully (and brutally) dispatches of Jonah Goldberg's book, Liberal Fascism:

Is it really equally true of liberalism and fascism that each "views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good"? Is it equally true under each system that "everything, including the economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives"? Is there really no appreciable difference--how clever, the way he slides quickly past this!-- between "force" and "regulation and social pressure"? This is ignorant nonsense, and over the course of four hundred pages it becomes excruciatingly dreary nonsense. Goldberg would have difficulty distinguishing between, say, seat-belt laws and the banning of political parties. Yes, the former may well be a manifestation of the "nanny state," but it does have an indisputable social utility--and more importantly it is not exactly comparable to the latter. Is Social Security a fascist program? Goldberg implies as much, partly because Roosevelt felt moved to push for the program owing to pressure from his (admittedly) quasi-fascistic left in the persons of Huey Long and Father Coughlin, and partly because Social Security is, after all, administered by the state. And once you start implementing public pension systems, well, how far away can the execution of political opponents really be?

However much or little Goldberg knows about fascism, he knows next to nothing about liberalism. Anybody familiar with Liberalism 101 grasps that there is something deep within liberalism, from its earliest beginnings, that prevents it from degenerating into fascism, and that is its explicit recognition that the state must serve both common purposes and individual liberty. Liberal theorists from John Locke to Cass Sunstein, with hundreds in between, have addressed this point. It is absolutely central to liberal theory and liberal practice. We do believe in such a thing as the common good, yes we do. We want more of it, and we want a democratic leader who will summon us to believe in it, who will locate for us the intersection of self-interest and common interest at which citizens can be persuaded to participate, together, collectively, in a project larger than their own success.

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