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Liberal fascism revisited

The hearing of the Hobby Lobby case by the Supreme Court this week inspired Kevin Williamson to meditate on the deeper currents running through it. Williamson’s NRO column is “The right not to be implicated” and I commend it to your attention.

Williamson notes the dramatic revision of public orthodoxy that moves us “from forbidden to compulsory in record time, and vice versa.” He invites us to consider the case of the legal and social standing of homosexuals:

Until just over a decade ago, homosexual intercourse was a crime in many jurisdictions. Then in 2003, the Supreme Court overturned the sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas, which was in my view a bad decision with a good outcome. That same year, California considered a civil-union law, which was the source of some controversy. Opponents argued that it was a step toward the much more serious issue of gay marriage, and Democrats rejected that as a red herring: “Nobody is talking about gay marriage,” said John Longville, a Democratic assemblyman, “except the people who are trying to wave it around as a straw-man issue.” Within five years, that straw man was flesh and blood. Along the way the conversation changed from whether states could legalize gay marriage to whether states could prohibit it, and from whether the federal government should recognize same-sex marriage to whether it could refuse to do so. The Democratic governor of Kentucky says that he desires the Supreme Court to “bring finality and certainty to this matter,” which, given his party affiliation, is a way of saying without saying that he wants a national legal mandate for gay marriage. And the matter already has progressed to the point at which we as a nation, having only recently legalized gay marriage, are debating the question of whether bakers and photographers should be locked in cages if they decline, for their own moral or religious reasons, to participate in gay weddings.

Williamson observes: “It is a perversion of the English language that our so-called liberals are the least liberal faction in our polity. American liberalism is the creed that you are entitled to think as you like and entitled to do as you are commanded.”

But liberals want to control our thoughts too. They seek to stigmatize heterodox thought as bigoted or criminal or otherwise beyond the pale. They seek to destroy those with whom they disagree.

Jonah Goldberg wrote the book on Liberal Fascism. “It is my argument,” he writes, “that American liberalism is a totalitarian political religion.” In a related column, Jonah explains:

According to contemporary liberalism, the government is the control room of society, where problems get solved, where institutions get their marching orders, where the oceans are commanded to stop rising. Each institution must subscribe to the progressive vision: All oars must pull as one. We are all in it together. We can do it all, if we all work together. Yes, we can.

In my book, Liberal Fascism, I called this phenomenon the “liberal Gleichschaltung.” Gleichschaltung is a German word (in case you couldn’t have guessed) borrowed from electrical engineering. It means “coordination.” The German National Socialists (Nazis) used the concept to get every institution to sing from the same hymnal. If a fraternity or business embraced Nazism, it could stay “independent.” If it rejected Nazism, it was crushed or bent to the state’s ideology. Meanwhile, every branch of government was charged with not merely doing its job but advancing the official state ideology.

Now, contemporary liberalism is not an evil ideology. Its intentions aren’t evil or even fruitfully comparable to Hitlerism. But there is a liberal Gleichschaltung all the same. Every institution must be on the same page. Every agency must advance the liberal agenda.

The liberal Gleichschaltung underlies Obamacare, as one can see in the Hobby Lobby oral argument itself. “One religious group could opt out of this, and another religious group could opt out of that, and everything would be piecemeal, and nothing would be uniform,” Justice Kagan complained, and we can’t have that.

The political syndrome about which Williamson writes reflects liberal fascism at work, and it is not any (or much more) sympathetic to free thought than it is free action. Thus the parade of liberal organizations seeking to enforce the liberal Gleichschaltung and to stigmatize disapproved thoughts. Williamson rightly observes: “It is a perversion of the English language that our so-called liberals are the least liberal faction in our polity.”

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