I'm persuaded that Carlin was right - to the extent that fascism of any kind will come to America, it will do so in the guise of something "progressive." Indeed, American progressives, particularly before Hitler arrived on the scene in the 1930s, were openly sympathetic to Italian fascism. This isn't to say they copied it (or the fascism of Soviet Russia), as many claim. But rather that the ideas that gave birth to and fueled American progressivism - philosophical pragmatism, Bismarckian "top-down socialism," Marxism, eugenics and more - share common intellectual sources and impulses with those that gave us both socialism and fascism.
We've allowed the staggering moral horror of the Holocaust to color our conception of what fascism was. But Wells, the editors of the New Republic and such muckrakers as Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell didn't have any idea the Holocaust would happen when they endorsed Benito Mussolini's efforts.
Meanwhile, liberals routinely and cavalierly call conservatives Nazis and fascists - with the Holocaust fully in mind - without inviting an ounce of opprobrium from the same folks screeching about me. Naomi Wolf argues in "The End of America" that America today is in every important way identical to early-1930s Nazi Germany. Christopher Hedges (a former New York Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner) penned a book called, subtly enough, "American Fascists." Guess who he was talking about? Jesse Jackson, Paul Krugman and Bill Clinton, among other prominent liberals, have insinuated or declared that conservatives are the spiritual or intellectual heirs of Nazism.
Such charges are simply false. We've come to use the word "fascist" as a substitute for "evil" or "bad." The left in particular has institutionalized argumentum ad hitlerum as a means of delegitimizing viewpoints they find objectionable. That's why Al Gore calls his online critics "digital brownshirts" and suggests anyone who ignores his warnings are akin to those who willingly ignored the Holocaust.
As much as it may shock some, I'm not the first person to set the record straight. Maybe those authors didn't penetrate the public debate because they tend to write books titled "Illiberal Policymaking and Culture Formation, the Anglo-American Experience, 1912-2007." If I'd followed their example, no one would be buying my book, reading it or discussing it. And, you can be sure, I wouldn't have been invited on to "The Daily Show" to get smacked around for 20 minutes.
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