The facts your liberal friends need to hear By Jonah Goldberg
The Nazis and Italian Fascists won-over big business, cultural elites, the youth and the lower-classes because they portrayed themselves as heroically on the side of progress, protecting the environment and the poor. Fascists preached unity, togetherness and an end to division. Liberals need to think about why this rhetoric sounds familiar today.
Liberals, perhaps more than anyone, believe that we should be vigilant against the threat of fascism. Now, they also believe that fascism can only come from the Right--I think they're wrong. But, what liberals - and everyone else - very much need to understand is that whatever direction fascism comes from, it's popular. Fascism succeeds in democratic countries because it convinces people that it's the wave of the future, it's progressive, it's young, it's vital, it's exciting. Fascist promise to fix what's broken in our democracy, to heal our wounds, to deliver us to promised lands. So if you think fascism comes from the Right, fine. But at least keep in mind that it won't sell itself as dull, or uptight, or old-fashioned.
Let me take a moment to give you a concrete sense of what I mean.
Fascism appealed to youth activists. Indeed, the Nazis and Fascists were in major respects youth movements. In 1931, 60 percent of all German undergraduates supported the Nazi Student Organization. "Their goal," the historian John Toland wrote of the young idealists who fed the Nazi rise to power, "was to establish a youth culture for fighting the bourgeois trinity of school, home and church."
Meanwhile, middle and lower class Germans were attracted to the economic and cultural populism of Nazism. The Nazi party began as the German Worker's Party. The Nazis economic rhetoric was eerily similar to John Edwards "Two Americas" talk. The Nazis promised to clamp down on Big Business - particularly department stores, the Wal-Marts of their day - and end the class struggle. Theodore Abel, an impressively clever American sociologist, gives us insight into why working class Germans were attracted to Nazism. In 1934 Abel took out an ad in the Nazi Party journal asking "old fighters" to submit essays explaining why they had joined. He restricted his request to "old fighters" because so many opportunists had joined the party after Hitler's rise. The essays were combined in the fascinating book Why Hitler Came Into Power. One essayist, a coal miner, explained "Though I was interested in the betterment of the workingman's plight, I rejected [Marxism] unconditionally. I often asked myself why socialism had to be tied up with internationalism-why it could not work as well or better in conjunction with nationalism." A railroad worker concurred, "I shuddered at the thought of Germany in the grip of Bolshevism. The slogan 'Workers of the World Unite!' made no sense to me. At the same time, however, National Socialism, with its promise of a community . . . barring all class struggle, attracted me profoundly." A third worker wrote that he embraced the Nazis because of their "uncompromising will to stamp out the class struggle, snobberies of caste and party hatreds. The movement bore the true message of socialism to the German workingman."
Nazism's appeal to the professional classes was just as strong. Raymond Dominick, a historian specializing in the history of German environmentalism, found that by 1939, 59 percent of conservationist leaders had joined the Nazi party, while only 10 percent of adult males had. Forty five percent of medical doctors had joined and roughly one quarter of teachers and lawyers had. The two groups of professionals with the highest rates of participation in the Nazi Party? Veterinarians were first and foresters were a close second. Dominick found a "unique nexus between National Socialism and nature conservation."
The Nazis and Italian Fascists won-over big business, cultural elites, the youth and the lower-classes because they portrayed themselves as heroically on the side of progress, protecting the environment and the poor. Fascists preached unity, togetherness and an end to division.
Liberals need to ask themselves where do they hear this rhetoric the most?
I'm not saying that merely being for the environment, the poor or national unity makes you a fascist. But what I am saying is that if you're concerned about spotting fascism on the horizon you can't just look at people you don't like. That's like only looking for your lost car keys where the light is good. Huey Long reportedly said that if Fascism comes to America it will be called "anti-Fascism." Liberals can still make their arguments that fascism comes from the right. But until they understand that wherever fascism may come from, it never arrives save in a form that the best and the brightest are willing to accept with open arms.
And if liberals don't know their history, they won't be equipped to spot it when it comes knocking.
Jonah Goldberg is the author of the New York Times bestseller Liberal Fascism.