Liberal fascism sounds like an oxymoron – or a term for conservatives to insult liberals. Actually, it was coined by a socialist writer, none other than the respected and influential left-winger H.G. Wells, who in 1931 called on fellow progressives to become "liberal fascists" and "enlightened Nazis." Really.
His words, indeed, fit a much larger pattern of fusing socialism with fascism: Mussolini was a leading socialist figure who, during World War I, turned away from internationalism in favor of Italian nationalism and called the blend Fascism. Likewise, Hitler headed the National Socialist German Workers Party.
These facts jar because they contradict the political spectrum that has shaped our worldview since the late 1930s, which places communism at the far left, followed by socialism, liberalism in the center, conservatism, and then fascism on the far right. But this spectrum, Jonah Goldberg points out in his brilliant, profound, and original new book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (Doubleday), reflects Stalin's use of fascist as an epithet to discredit anyone he wished – Trotsky, Churchill, Russian peasants – and distorts reality. Already in 1946, George Orwell noted that fascism had degenerated to signify "something not desirable."