Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from chapter 1 of “The Big Lie” by Dinesh D’Souza. Reprinted by permission of Dinesh D’Souza and Regnery Publishing.
To hear the left tell it, Donald Trump is a fascist if not actually a Nazi. “I feel Hitler in these streets,” actress Ashley Judd chanted around his inauguration. Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns terms Trump “Hitleresque.” Columnist Andrew Sullivan terms the GOP today a “neo-fascist party.” And MSNBC host Rachel Maddow says, “I’ve been reading a lot about what it was when Hitler first became chancellor … because I’ve I think that’s possibly where we are.”
The charge that Trump and the right are fascists and neo-Nazis is used to establish Trump as an illegitimate president, the GOP as a party in cahoots with him, and to justify getting rid of both “by any means necessary,” which is actually the name of one of the many so-called antifascist groups. The media barrage against Trump, the street violence of Antifa and other groups, are all based on the premise that the left is fighting a modern incarnation of the Hitler movement of the 1930s.
I agree that there is a fascist strain in American politics today, but who are the real fascists? Is fascism a phenomenon of the left or the right? This question is rarely asked in a serious way, and I want to give credit to two worthy predecessors who have begun to plough this ground. The first is the economist Friedrich Hayek, whose “The Road to Serfdom,” first published in 1944, made the startling claim that Western welfare state democracies, having defeated fascism, were moving inexorably in the fascist direction.
Hayek identified fascism as a phenomenon of the left, a cousin of socialism and progressivism. And he warned, “The rise of fascism and Nazism was not a reaction against the socialist trends of the preceding period but a necessary outcome of those tendencies.” While Hayek’s book was written in a pedantic, measured tone, appealing to progressives to learn from one who had witnessed firsthand the rise of fascism in Europe, progressive scholars immediately set about reviling Hayek, with one, Herman Finer, accusing him of displaying a “thoroughly Hitlerian contempt for the democratic man.”
If you spotted, in this reaction, the familiar progressive ploy of seizing the Hitler card and playing it right back against Hayek, then you are beginning to see the big lie at work. Here is Hayek making a case for how progressives are moving in the direction of Hitler, and without answering this charge and with no supporting evidence whatever, the left turns around and accuses Hayek of being like Hitler.
Jonah Goldberg received pretty much the same treatment for his important book “Liberal Fascism.” Goldberg argues, “What we call liberalism – the refurnished edifice of American progressivism – is in fact a descendant of and manifestation of fascism.” Goldberg argues that fascism and communism, far from being opposites, are “closely related historical competitors for the same constituents.” Goldberg terms progressivism a “sister movement of fascism” no less than Communism, displaying a “family resemblance that few will admit to recognizing.”
Goldberg traces innumerable links between progressivism and fascism, spelling out the left-wing laundry list in both the platforms of Mussolini and Hitler, and then showing their parallel in modern American progressivism. Goldberg uses a broad brush, even detecting an odor of fascism in modern progressive environmentalism, vegetarianism, holistic medicine and child care policies. Even though he occasionally overdoes his fascist comparisons, his book is well worth reading for its originality and comprehensiveness. Once again the left set upon Goldberg with a vengeance, charging him with being, of all things, a fascist.
Hayek and Goldberg are my starting point. But I go much further and delve into areas of inquiry completely untouched by them. Hayek, for example, asserted that fascism and Nazism emerged out of the left but he never showed how this occurred. Drawing on the work of scholars like A. James Gregor, Renzo de Felice and Zeev Sternhell, I tell the riveting story of how fascism and Nazism both emerged out of a debate within socialism. The problem began when the central prophecies of Marxism failed to occur. This created a massive crisis within the left, and essentially Marxism split into two camps: the first became Leninism and Bolshevism, and the other became fascism and Nazism.
Goldberg associates the American left with fascism, but he does not dare to make an equivalent link with Nazism, probably because he doesn’t want to risk associating the left with genocide and concentration camps. This is where my book actually takes off. As Goldberg well knows, fascism and Nazism are two different things. Hitler virtually never referred to himself as a fascist, and Mussolini never ever called himself a Nazi or a National Socialist. I intend to show that there are deep and profound connections not just between the left and fascism but also between the left and Nazism.
In some ways the progressive Democrats are even closer to the German Nazis than to the Italian fascists. The Italian fascists, for example, were much less racist than the Democratic Party in the United States. There are no parallels for the costumed racial terrorism of the Democratic Party-backed Ku Klux Klan in Italy, although one can find such parallels in Nazi Germany. Democratic policies of white supremacy, racial segregation, and state-sponsored discrimination were also completely alien to Italian fascism but right at home in the Third Reich.
Here, for instance, is a passage from Robert Paxton’s “The Anatomy of Fascism.” “It may be that the earliest phenomenon that can be functionally related to fascism is American: the Ku Klux Klan.” Long before the Nazis, Paxton points out, the Klan adopted its racial uniform of robes and hoods and engaged in the type of intimidation and violence that offered “a remarkable preview of the way fascist movements were to function in interwar Europe.” If this seems like a surprising concession by a progressive, Paxton protects his political side by omitting to mention that during this period the Ku Klux Klan was the domestic terrorist arm of the Democratic Party.
Notice that as with the racial terrorism of the Klan, the racism of the Democratic Party in America far preceded the racism of the Nazis. Moreover, Nazi racism lasted for 12 years while Democratic racism lasted for well over a century. Democratic racism was preceded by the Democrat-run slave plantation and Democratic policies for the relocation and extermination of American Indians. We think of concepts like “genocide” and “concentration camps” as unique to Nazism, but what term other than genocide can we use to describe Democratic president Andrew Jackson’s mass relocation of the Indians? Didn’t Jackson and his allies systematically seek to dispossess, disinherit and dismember the Indians as a people? Using the official United Nations definition of genocide, it’s obvious that he did.
Moreover, what is the slave plantation if not a special type of concentration camp? This may seem like an outrageous analogy. How can anyone compare a forced labor system, however unjust, to Nazi camps designed and used to kill people? But as we will see, the concentration camps were also work camps. In the German camps and on the Democrat-run plantations, forced labor was employed with “human tools” solely with regard to productivity and with little if any regard for the lives of the workers who were, in both cases, regarded as inferior and even subhuman. The analogy between the two worst compulsory confinement and forced labor systems in human history is not merely legitimate; it is overdue.
Moreover, this whole issue has been raised to a completely new level since the publication of historian Stanley Elkins’ path-breaking book “Slavery.” Elkins not only drew an elaborate comparison of the plantation as a “closed system” akin to a concentration camp, he also showed that slavery produced personality types eerily similar to those described by Nazi camp survivors. So the point is that even on some of the institutions and practices uniquely associated with the Nazis – from genocide to the concentration camp – the Democrats in a sense got there first.
In this book I will show what the left learned from the Nazis, and also what the left taught the Nazis. It turns out that the left provided the Nazis with some very important policy schemes that the Nazis then murderously implemented in Europe. Hitler, for instance, specifically said he intended to displace and exterminate the Russians, the Poles and the Slavs in precisely the way Americans in the Jacksonian era had displaced and exterminated the native Indians. The Nazi Nuremberg laws were directly modeled on the segregation and anti-miscegenation laws that had been implemented decades earlier in the Democratic South.
Forced sterilization and euthanasia aimed at eliminating racial “defectives” and producing a “superior” Nordic race were two additional schemes the Nazis got from American progressives. This is not my view of the matter; it is the Nazi eugenicists’ view of the matter. In the early twentieth century, eugenics and social Darwinism were far more prevalent in America than they were in Germany. Margaret Sanger and her fellow progressive eugenicists didn’t get their ideas for killing off undesirables – or preventing their births – from the Nazis; the Nazis got them from their American counterparts who dominated the field of international eugenics. So there is a two-way traffic between Nazism and the American left.
This is a story that deeply implicates the heroes of American progressivism: Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. Wilson was a veritable progenitor of American fascism. One may say of him that he was fascist even before fascism became cool. In addition, he was a racist who was almost single-handedly responsible for the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, the organization that according to historian Robert Paxton is the closest American precursor to a Nazi movement.
Franklin Roosevelt was an avid admirer of Mussolini and one who closely collaborated with the worst racist elements in America, working with them to block anti-lynching laws and exclude blacks from New Deal programs and naming a former Klansman to the Supreme Court. Mussolini, for his part, praised FDR’s book “Looking Forward” and basically declared FDR to be a fellow fascist. Hitler too saw FDR as a kindred spirit and the New Deal was widely praised as an American form of fascism in the Nazi Party’s official newspaper Volkischer Beobachter and other Nazi publications.
JFK toured Nazi Germany in the 1930s and came back effusive with praise of Hitler and his theory of Nordic superiority. “I have come to the conclusion,” JFK wrote in his diary, “that fascism is right for Germany and Italy.” Touring the Rhineland, JFK echoed Nazi propaganda at the time. “The Nordic races appear to be definitely superior to the Romans.” Hostility to Hitler, JFK insisted, stems largely from jealousy. “The Germans really are too good – that’s why people conspire against them.” Even though JFK fought in World War II, he retained a soft spot for Hitler as late as 1945, when he described him as the “stuff of legends…Hitler will emerge from the hate that now surrounds him and come to be regarded as one of the most significant figures to have lived.”
These facts are known to many progressive scholars. But after World War II, as this group came increasingly to dominate the academy – a dominance that was fully consolidated by the late sixties – the progressives recognized how crushing it would be if Americans knew about the actual record of progressivism and the Democratic Party. What if people, especially young people, knew the links between revered progressive figures like Wilson, FDR and JFK on the one hand, and the hated Mussolini and Hitler on the other? Such knowledge would not merely topple progressive heroes from their pedestal. Basically it would be the end of progressivism and the Democratic Party.
So progressives decided to tell a new story, and this is the story that has now become our conventional wisdom. In this story, the very fascism and Nazism that were, on both sides of the Atlantic, recognized as left wing phenomena from the outset now got moved into the right wing column. Suddenly Mussolini and Hitler became “right wingers” and the people who supposedly brought them to power became “conservatives.” The left, then, became the glorious resisters of fascism and Nazism.
To make this story work, fascism and Nazism had to be largely redefined. The big problem was that Mussolini and Hitler both identified socialism as the core of the fascist and Nazi weltanshauung. Mussolini was the leading figure of Italian revolutionary socialism and never relinquished his allegiance to it. Hitler’s party defined itself as championing “national socialism.” So the progressives had to figure out how to move these avowed left-wingers to the right, and how to get the “socialism” out of “national socialism.” This was not an easy task.
How to do it? Taking a cue from the Marxists, the left figured out as early as the 1960s that it had to suppress altogether the fact that fascism and Nazism were systems of thought. According to the left-wing historian Denis Mack Smith, “Italian fascism originated not as a doctrine but as a method, as a technique for winning power, and at first its principles were unclear even to its own members.” Historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, who is extensively quoted in the media linking Trump to fascism, insists nevertheless that fascism is “one of those words that is very hard to define precisely” because “fascism was all about contradictions, and this kind of ambiguity has remained in fascism.”
In reality such nonsense can only be sustained by refusing to take seriously the fascists themselves. As historian A. James Gregor writes, “Under the crabbed influence of the Marxist analysis of fascism, fascist statements are never analyzed as such. They are always ‘interpreted.’ Fascists are never understood to mean what they say. As a consequence, there has been very little effort, to date, to provide a serious account of fascism as an ideology.” Instead the left identified fascism with amorphous tendencies that could just as easily be applied to numerous other political doctrines: authoritarianism, militarism, nationalism and so on.
Think about this: we know the name of the philosopher of capitalism, Adam Smith. We also know the name of the philosopher of Marxism, Karl Marx. So, quick, what is the name of the philosopher of fascism? Yes, exactly. You don’t know. Virtually no one knows. My point is that this is not because there were no foundational thinkers behind fascism – there were several – but rather that the left had to get rid of them in order to avoid confronting their unavoidable socialist and leftist orientation. This is the big lie in full operation.
If statism and collectivism are at the core of fascism, National Socialism adds another explosive ingredient – anti-Semitism. This much is well known. What the progressives have carefully disguised, however, is the degree to which Nazi anti-Semitism grew out of Nazi hatred for capitalism. Hitler draws a crucial distinction between productive capitalism, which he can abide, and finance capitalism, which he associates with the Jews. For Hitler, the Jew is the unproductive money-grubber at the center of finance capitalism, the entrepreneurial swindler par excellence.
This hardly sounds “right wing”; in fact, with some slight modification, it echoes progressive rhetoric about greedy Wall Street investment bankers. Thus progressives realized the necessity of hiding the true basis of Hitler’s anti-Semitism, and to do this, anti-Semitism itself had to be redefined.
As you can see, we are dealing with a big, big lie – a lie that keeps getting bigger, and one that encompasses many smaller lies. We need to understand the big lie in all its dimensions in order to be free of it. Once we are free of it, the left is finished. Their power over us is gone. They had the race card and now they have the Nazi card, but they have no other cards left. If they lose this one, they lose their moral capital and are exposed for what they are – the bigoted, thuggish, self-aggrandizing thieves of our lives and liberties. They are the true descendants of Mussolini and Hitler, and in defeating them we can finally lay to rest the ghosts of fascism and Nazism.
Dinesh D’Souza’s new book “The Big Lie: Exposing The Nazi Roots of the American Left” is published by Regnery.