Someone recently emailed and asked me to rebut the claim that fascism is a right-wing system.
I have given this question considerable thought over the years; even when I was in college, liberals routinely smeared conservatism as a fascist political ideology. Indeed, how many times have we heard the mantra that communism and Nazism represented the two extremes of the political spectrum, left and right, respectively? This never made sense to me, as I knew that conservatism championed political and economic liberty and that communism and fascism were the direct antithesis of these.
I am thankful that my friend Jonah Goldberg has written the definitive work on this subject and set the record straight, in his scholarly and entertaining "Liberal Fascism." I strongly recommend it.
But let me share some thoughts I've developed over the years as to how the misunderstandings on these terms evolved, points which may or may not be addressed in Jonah's book.
Both communism and Nazism are evil totalitarian systems characterized by enormous power in the central government. It's true that in theory, Karl Marx predicted the eventual withering away of the state and the "dictatorship of the proletariat," when the people would rule, which was sheer fantasy because it was based on grossly erroneous assumptions about human nature, as history would repeatedly demonstrate.
But no one can deny that communism, in practice as well as theory, is a form of socialism, as evidenced, among other things, by the Soviet Union's proud self-identification as a "socialist republic." Likewise, Nazism and fascism, by definition, are socialist systems, with the state owning or controlling the major means of industry and production.
But there are differences in these systems, and I think these differences, along with historical reasons so well chronicled in Jonah's book, contribute to the left's soft identification with one and strong rejection of the other.
Apart from being centralized political systems, Nazism and fascism were nationalistic, patriotic and militaristic. Some have even said they were religious, but I see little authentic evidence of that. The Soviet system was more international in its orientation, being driven less by national fervor and more by world expansion. I'm not disputing that Hitler and Mussolini were expansionist, as indeed they were, but the Soviets were more focused on making communism a global system and diminishing the role of the nation-state in comparison with Nazism and fascism.