Liberal Fascism

I never used to be political. For much of my life, politics didn’t affect me. It was something I took note of, but it was something which seldom had much of an impact on me.

I’m someone who has wanted to understand the world rather than change it. How could anyone change the world if they didn’t understand it? How can you fix something if you don’t know how it works? The world is full of people trying to change a world that they don’t understand. And of course they will always fail.

I’m someone who wanted to understand the incomprehensible, mysterious world in which I found myself. And I can fairly safely say that I don’t understand anything much. Why do people form societies? Why do they make and trade things? What is money? How does anyone ever manage to make a profit making and selling things? What’s good and evil? What’s right and wrong? What’s truth and falsehood? What is law? What is justice? Those were the kind of questions I was asking.

Idle Theory was my eventual explanation, slowly pieced together over 40 years, for at least some of it. It provided a framework into which I could fit explanations. All living things were trying to cease being so busy. And living things are endlessly busy. They’re all working to stay alive. And us humans are no different. We make things – tools – to make life easier for ourselves. That’s why we wear clothes and live in houses: life would be harder without these things. And we divide up the work of making clothes and building houses and growing food among ourselves. And we trade clothes and houses and food, and needles and cotton and bricks and potatoes. What’s good and what’s right is what’s easy for everyone. Law is concerned with equity in our everyday lives and in the transactions between us. Economic growth is growth in easiness or idleness. Life is much easier now than it was only a few centuries ago. Back then they had slavery and starvation.

Mine was an abstract, almost academic, interest in the world around me. I had, after all, spent many years in university, and many years in university libraries.

All that came to an end on 1 July 2007, when I was expelled from society, and exiled to the outdoors. I was driven out of the library. Political events had at last had an impact on me. And I became politically active in ways I never had been before. I had found that I was not just an observer of the world, but fully immersed in it. I was, as it were, a geologist who got buried in a landslide. Or a biologist who got attacked by a shark. The world I was studying jumped up and bit me. And ever since that day I’ve been a soldier fighting in a war.

And all the questions I was asking gained a new urgency. They became real rather than abstract. I wasn’t just thinking about them: I was living them.

At Walt’s suggestion, I’ve been reading Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg. Smoking bans are a good example of liberal fascism. They are the work of people who don’t understand the world, but who nevertheless want to change it. Karl Marx once wrote: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways: the point, however, is to change it.” Did Marx understand the world in which he lived? Not really. Or no better than anyone else. But nonetheless the busybody wanted to change it.

Did Napoleon understand the world he set out to change? No. Did Mussolini? No. Did Hitler? No. Reading their potted histories in Liberal Fascism I’ve been struck by the poverty of their ideas. Yes, they’d all read lots of books. And perhaps after they’d read lots of books, they thought they understood the world. But whether or not they understood the world at all, they all wanted to change it. They were men of action rather than thought. They wanted to Do Something. It didn’t really matter that they didn’t know what they were doing, because Something Had To Be Done. And that is the nature of all busybodies: they all want to do something, but they don’t know what needs to be done. And so what they do always turns into a disaster, every single time.

I don’t know that this was what Goldberg was trying to tell me. I suspect not.  But it’s the lesson I have been taking from the book: these idiots didn’t have a clue what they were doing. Moreover, some of the idiots were knowingly irrational:

Sorel’s greatest contribution to the left – and Mussolini in particular – lay elsewhere in his concept of “myths,” which he defined as “artificial combinations invented to give the appearance of reality to hopes that inspire men in their present activity.” For Sorel, the Second Coming of Christ was a quintessential myth because its underlying message – Jesus is coming, look busy – was crucial for organizing men in desirable ways.

There it is again: Powerful myths can rouse men to action, get them to Do Something.

Even more impressive was Sorel’s application of the idea of myth to Marxism itself. Again, Sorel held that Marxist prophecy didn’t need to be true. People just needed to think it was true. Even at the turn of the last century it was becoming obvious that Marxism as social science didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Taken literally, Marx’s Das Kapital, according to Sorel, had little merit. But, Sorel asked, what if Marx’s nonsensicalness was actually intended? If you looked at this apocalyptic text . . . as a product of the spirit, as an image created for the purpose of molding consciousness, it . . . is a good illustration of the principle on which Marx believed he should base the rules of the socialist action of the proletariat. In other words, Marx should be read as a prophet, not as a policy wonk. That way the masses would absorb Marxism unquestioningly as a religious dogma. (p. 37)

It doesn’t have to be true: people just need to think it’s true. The only value in ideas lies in their ability to rouse people to action, get them to Do Something.

We’re still living in the age of Georges Sorel, unfortunately, even though he’s been dead for a century. The potent myths of our time are being used in precisely the ways he suggested. Smoking Causes Lung Cancer. Carbon Dioxide Causes Global Warming. It doesn’t matter whether they are true or not: all that matters is that people believe they are true. If they believe they are true, then they’ll stop smoking, and they’ll close down Western industrial civilisation (which, after all, is a form of smoking that generates more smoke than all the smokers in history). And the underlying rationale: Fear Of Smoke.

These are the fascists I’m up against: busybodies who use myths and scare stories to goad people into quite unnecessary action. But I don’t want to rouse men to action. I don’t want to get them to Do Something. I want them to be idle and free. Particularly if Doing Something always brings disaster – what else did busybodying Napoleon and Lenin and Mussolini and Hitler bring? That’s why the busybodies in Tobacco Control must be rendered inactive, and Tobacco Control must be shut down. These people must be stopped. It is fully in accord with Idle Theory to bring things to a stop.


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34 Responses to Liberal Fascism

  1. sackersonwp says:

    It’s the terrible, destructive desire to Be Remembered, to make Your Mark.

    • Barry Homan says:

      That kind of reminds me of a line from the last King Kong movie: “Hero? You got that wrong, pal. I’m not a hero. A real hero is a guy with bad teeth, a bad back, and a bald spot.”

    • Frank Davis says:

      Also from Liberal Fascism (p. 60):

      “I have to attain immortality,” Hitler once confessed, “even if the whole German nation perishes in the process.”

      Hitler is dead, so he did not attain immortality. But for him immortality probably meant being remembered forever.

      It’s a strange sort of immortality, to be remembered forever. It’s not what I think of as being immortal. As far as I’m concerned, being immortal means never dying. And everyone eventually dies.

      And would anyone really want to really be immortal in that second sense? It would be a strange sort of life to have a beginning, but no end. It would be like a book or a film which just goes on and on and on. Not the usual 300-400 pages or one and a half hours, but page after page, and hour after hour, no end to it. Wouldn’t immortality be infinitely tedious? It seems to me that whatever has a beginning ought to have an end as well.

      • As some 70 years after his death you can mention him solely by surname and not a single person here will go ‘huh?’, that’s probably as near as immortality as it gets.
        Chances are the name Hitler will live on for much longer than ‘Churchill’ or even ‘Stalin’ and how many teens today know who the US President was at the time…or care? Most of the teens I have spoken to only have the haziest knowledge of the rough details of WW2 or even why it was ‘2’. We do tend to confer immortality on villains more than heroes. Jack The Ripper will be alive and well in the public mind long after whatever that bloke’s name was that discovered anti-biotics (no joke, i would have to google it myself).

  2. This is the kind of order – democracy both real and sham – based
    on respect for blueprints and specialists, that Sorel most deeply feared
    and detested. A society of consumers without authentic moral values
    of their own, sunk in vulgarity and boredom in the midst of mounting
    affluence, blind to sublimity and moral grandeur, bureaucratic organisa-
    tion of human lives in the light of what he called la petite science, positi-
    vist application of quasi-scientific rules to society – all this he (Sorel) despised
    and hated.
    -Berlin on Sorel

    A better description of our modern world of ‘studies show’ , Youtube, ‘experts’ and Health Nazis it would be hard to find I think.

    • Frank Davis says:

      What are “authentic moral values”? Who is to say what is “vulgar” or “sublime” or possesses “moral grandeur”?

      My complaint against the Health Nazis is none of those things. My complaint is that they have taken away my freedom, and imposed their values (sublime or otherwise) upon me.

      • I , while i don’t disagree with you totally, would contend that the ‘authentic’ of ‘authentic moral values’ rather aptly describes the Tobacco Control Industry’s stance on, for example, vaping. Mankind came up with something that should have ticked all their ‘saving lives’ (and what could be more ‘moral’?) moral code boxes if those moral boxes authentic be and yet…
        As vulgarity is pretty much subjective I think we should understand it in this instance as pertaining to ‘Vulgaris’ or the comment section of the Daily Mail.

  3. Harleyrider1978 says:

    Humanity creates its own morals and civilization

    The basis of humanity – it’s the freedom of its lowest member ,for without a foundation of individual freedom and liberty all else means nothing but a mob running lose destroying anything or anyone in its path with an agenda!

    We’ve not been attacked by a mob but a few people pushing a political agenda acting as if it were a mob.

  4. garyk30 says:

    A great number of people do not care about politics.
    About 1/3 of adults voted for Brexit, 1/3 voted to remain, ad about 1/3 did not care enough to vote one way r the ther

    The Presidential election in the US found about 1/4 of adults voting for Trump, 1/4 voted for Hillary, and 1/2 not caring enough to vote.

    Most people have no idea and could care less what person is their local representative to Congress/Parliament.

    I suspect that morality is no more than the rule of those that shout the loudest or have the bigger stick.

  5. nisakiman says:

    I came across this site, and couldn’t resist commenting.

    The whole thing started with a book entitled Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. Published in 2010, it details how powerful interests pay shills posing as scientists to sow doubt about things like the dangers of smoking, acid rain, DDT, and climate change. The book was made into a movie in 2014.

    Looks like I touched a nerve. May need to get some popcorn in for this one! :)

      • Tony says:

        I’m afraid I can only see one rather tame comment.

        • nisakiman says:

          That’s odd, it’s a Disqus comments system.

          A couple of responses:

          “How did you manage to get on this site. Paid troll?”

          “The site moderator must be on a well deserved vacation for your comments to have lasted as long as they have. We usually just give deniers the boot immediately.”

          “E-cigarettes still have nicotine in them, the main stimulant AND the main cancer causing agent. “healthy alternative” my a$$.”

          “there is a distinction between the falsehood from the so-called experts and the consensus from the real ones.” (The real ones being the ones promoting Climate Change, presumably.)

          It always interests me the way standard bearers of both Climate Change and Tobacco Control react with fury if their dogma is ever questioned. They just can’t conceive the possibility that they might be wrong.

        • Tony says:

          Thanks. Using Firefox rather than my default ASUS browser I see 34 comments. Looks like a nest of true believers there. Activist school kids perhaps?

    • I wanted to post this reply there but the required ‘verification e-mail’ never came:

      @ vensonata. If ‘science is not for sale’, then the following quote is pure drivel:

      “… that scattered elite known globally as Science, which we regard, in desperation, as standing guard over the human race. The truth is that the race has come to regard itself as some stately ship, whereas likening it to a life raft would actually be too flattering. Science perforce resembles it. The scientific researcher is the perfect hireling. Even the money attached to a Nobel prize is not enough to finance a laboratory […] … the idea of a completely independent scientific researcher is almost as absurd as that of a traffic cop working at his own expense”.

      [Source: p 78 of A. D. Martin Sperry’s 1982 translation of Swiss essayist Jérôme Deshusses’ “The Eighth Night of Creation” (originally published in 1978).]

      Is the above nothing but the ranting of a paranoid mind?

      • nisakiman says:

        I think the moderators have noticed me – my last comment didn’t appear!

        Something like 98% of climate scientists agree, humans are increasing the planet’s temperature

        Ah, the ‘consensus’. It’s actually nowhere near 98%, but even if it was, that still doesn’t make it right. In the 17th century, 98% of scientists agreed that the sun revolved around the earth, and ‘deniers’ like Galileo were ridiculed and persecuted because they dared disagree with the ‘consensus’. Well, it was ‘science’, wasn’t it? The best scientific minds of the day agreed.

        Galileo’s championing of heliocentrism and Copernicanism was controversial during his lifetime, when most subscribed to either geocentrism or the Tychonic system.[10] He met with opposition from astronomers, who doubted heliocentrism because of the absence of an observed stellar parallax.[10] The matter was investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, which concluded that heliocentrism was “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in
        many places the sense of Holy Scripture.”[10][11][12] Galileo later defended his views in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which appeared to attack Pope Urban VIII and thus alienated him and the Jesuits, who had both supported Galileo up until this point.[10] He was tried by the Inquisition, found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, and forced to recant. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

        The ‘Holy Scripture’ referred to in the passage above can now be substituted with ‘Climate Change Dogma’. And the scientists who have the temerity to disagree are branded ‘deniers’, and excommunicated from polite scientific society.

  6. waltc says:

    Well, I’m flattered that you took my suggestion. I think you make a fine point about myths and I may need to go back to see if that was where Goldberg was going too. . What I recall is that all of these guys had “visions” (as in Sowell’s “Visions of the Anointed” ) and had the hubris to think they’d been anointed to impose them on the rest of us. (Tho come to think of it, so probably did Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Mohammed, and Confucius.) Their secular counterparts had an overwhelming urge to impose order and rationality on a naturally chaotic human society, believing it needed an imposed order beyond the Ten Commandments, and scorning Adam Smith’s idea that somewhere within the chaotic yin and yang of a free society, a better, or at least more serviceable–and possible– order would be achieved. And they all learned the hard way–for them and at great cost to their experimental subjects–that imposed orders don’t work. As Goldberg points out, eugenics was the apotheosis of both their fear of randomness, and their rampant egotism.

  7. Tony says:

    They believe their myth transcends rationality. Any attempt to use reasoned debate simply demonstrates, to them, the paucity of rational thought and demonstrates the divine essence of their righteousness.

  8. Totally O/T but Crippled Son has just informed me, his dear Ol’ Dad, about this :

    does it make me a sad old single-issue-obsessed git that my very first thought was ‘I hope they still smoke and preferably ‘Regal’ or ‘Kensitas Club’?.

  9. slugbop007 says:

    Thanks nisakiman I just downloaded Merchants of Doubt.


  10. slugbop007 says:

    It’s a new, revitalized, virulent form of Puritanism.


  11. Lepercolonist says:

    I recall reading Liberal Fascism when it was published. The title was an oxymoron. We always connect right-wing conservatives with fascism. Goldberg makes a strong case that indeed fascism is now from the left.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I think he’s making the case that it always was from the left. Nazism was a variant form of socialism. Italian Fascism as well. What’s interesting is that he finds fascists in unlikely places, where you never expected: Jacobins in revolutionary France, Woodrow Wilson in the White House.

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