Jonah Goldberg Off in His Socialism-Fascism Calculation

To say that Marxism is to blame for fascism is missing the point.


Could we have gotten fascism without Marxism?

Responding to a strained attempt to disentangle Marx from all the 20th-century corpses, Jonah Goldberg says, "You don't get anything called Fascism without having Marxism first."

I'm not sure this is true—at least not in the way Jonah intends.

Marxism did lead to fascism, yes, but in the sense that one could say capitalism led to Marxism. Marx conceded that capitalism was an improvement on feudalism. He thought humanity could do better still. Similarly, the fascist intellectuals of the early 20th century thought socialism didn't go far enough. It was stuck in the materialist paradigm of class conflict. Fascism would transcend this by binding all classes together under the mystical organism of a fatherland.

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The work of "syndicalists" like the Frenchman Édouard Berth and the Italian Sergio Panunzio goes a long way toward confirming Jonah's thesis that, in its pre-mass murder phase, fascism was a respectable-seeming critique of classical liberalism that could, to modern ears, pass for a muscular sort of communitarianism.

But I wonder if you could pull a thread here, and another thread there, and still arrive at the basic fabric of fascism.

First and foremost, it seems to me, it was the Protestant Reformation and the diminution of the scope of the Catholic Church that paved the way for fascism. This was the point of history at which the beast of European nationalism was unleashed.

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As the liberal Catholic writer Damon Linker has observed:

For the better part of the past 2,500 years, the political imagination of the Western world has been enchanted by an image of communal unity ... This vision of politics was probably never anything more than a philosophical idealization covering over the complexities of ancient and medieval political life. Yet it captured something important about the character of politics in relatively homogeneous premodern societies—and especially about political life in Europe during the Middle Ages, when for several centuries the overarching institutional structure of the Catholic Church managed to contain many of the continent's social, cultural, and geographical tensions while also conferring a sense of shared metaphysical meaning on the hardships and suffering of daily life.

What do we have so far? The lid has been blown off. Europe is no longer a holy empire. The squabbling nationalities emerge. The killing fields aren't far behind.

To get to modern fascism, we need another ingredient. Actually, two. We need market liberalism, whose miraculous productive capacity also led to psychic pain and a sense of moral rot. It produced a riot of "atomized individuals," as the fascists put it. But the key protofascist reaction to liberalism wasn't necessarily Marx; it was romanticism. The Enlightenment liberals had parched the human spirit, and the romantics believed they could restore it. Enter, a century-and-a-half later, the fascists, who were poised to dump bourgeois liberalism into the dustbin of history.

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We'd still need the apparatus of the totalitarian state, which is where Marxist theory proffered much help. But the idea of despotism was nothing new to the human imagination. One could even torque the Hobbesian "sovereign" to justify the quest for absolute power.

I'm aware of how the history of this stuff played out. But I think it oversimplifies things to say, as one actual fascist ( Georges Valois) did, that "nationalism + socialism= fascism."

Over to you, Jonah.