Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Liberal health fascism

The term “health fascism” is often bandied about in relation to the banning tendencies of the Righteous, but equally it is often dismissed as a crude and simplistic term of abuse directed at what are really high-minded and altruistic policies. However, once you look into it, the term actually contains far more truth than might seem at first sight.

I have recently been reading Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg. This is an American book and so uses “liberal” not in the usual European sense but referring to a broadly left-wing viewpoint favouring greater State control over the economy and people’s lives. Goldberg’s central thesis perhaps goes beyond the remit of this blog, but in a nutshell he argues that Fascism is essentially an ideology of the political Left, not the right, and although modern leftwingers are not in an objective sense “fascist”, the two views share a common ancestry in the “Progressive” movement of the early 20th century, which sought to harness the power of the State to improve the human condition, and in the process might well end up eroding the rights of individuals.

This links very specificially to the modern tendency to wish to modify people’s lifestyles and economic choices in the interest of the “greater good” – something that was very much characteristic of Italian Fascism and German Naziism.

The following passages show how the Nazi approach to individual health and lifestyle has its close modern parallels:

The Nazis used the slogan “Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz” – “the common good supersedes the private good” – to justify policing individual health for the sake of the body politic. This is the same rationale used today. As one public health advocate wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine, “Both health care providers and the commonweal now have a vested interest in certain forms of behaviour, previously considered a person’s private business, if the behaviour impairs a person’s ‘health’. Certain failures of self-care have become, in a sense, crimes against society, because society has to pay for their consequences. In effect, we have said that people owe it to society to stop misbehaving.”

Compare all this with a typical admonition found in a Hitler Youth health manual: “Food is not a private matter!” Or, “You have the duty to be healthy!” Or as another uniformed health official put it: “The government has a perfect right to influence personal behaviour to the best of its ability if it is for the welfare of the individual and the community as a whole.” That last official was C. Everett Koop (former US Surgeon General).
There was a classic example of this in the pretty odious views on individual health expressed the other day by Dr Kailash Chand. Now, if he isn’t a health fascist, I don’t know who is.

And read the book - it will open your eyes.

17 comments:

  1. Interestingly, I can see the reason why, if people want free health care, that there is some form of Government action to reduce the likelihood of us needing health care, even if only for the reason that it will reduce the taxpayers burden.

    But that doesn't sit comfortably with the fact that I think people have a right to make their own choices...mmmmm

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  2. Dave has was is the key point. If you have the socialisation of health costs, why not the socialisation of health choices?

    Many criticise banking for the socialisation of the costs of failure whilst maintaining the privatisation of profits. Similar?

    If you look at the projection for future costs of obesity, the NHS is unaffordable. Obesity is the main reason the US spend more on health but get less than Europe.

    Smokers are taxed on the extra cost of their lifestyle choices, why not the fatties?

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  3. Isn't VAT simply a tax on all our choices?

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  4. Weren't you the closest to Adolf Hitler in Jeff Pickthall's political spectrum test, Cookie?

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  5. I hope so curmudgy. I think it was the question "would you like the trains to run on time?" what did it. Either that or "Pick your favourite moustache"

    We're not talking about rounding the fatties up into camps. Not yet, at least. Gotta see if the fattie tax works first.

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  6. I am completely unable to understand the suggestion that "Fascism is essentially an ideology of the political Left, not the Right", unless you're talking about Stalinism, but most people on the Left aren't Stalinists. To suggest otherwise is like saying that Tories are basically Fascists, which is nonsense. I note the examples quoted were Nazi & Fascist in origin.

    The role of the state in health matters is ensuring people can make informed choices: there's nothing wrong with that. It is when the state attempts to enforce the officially approved lifestyles that the term "health fascism" may become relevant. But I think it's a sloppy use of emotive language anyway.

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  7. This interview with Jonah Goldberg gives a good summary of his thesis in Liberal Fascism.

    "Mussolini was born a socialist, he died a socialist, he never abandoned his love of socialism, he was one of the most important socialist intellectuals in Europe and was one of the most important socialist activists in Italy, and the only reason he got dubbed a fascist and therefore a right-winger is because he supported World War I."

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  8. Having now read the article, I can see that he redefines the word 'fascism' in a way that suits his own hypothesis, but which is contrary to common usage. Fortunately, people who try to redefine words rarely succeed, as popular usage has its own way of deciding definitions, despite the best efforts of academics and linguists. Besides, it's not particularly helpful to suggest we're all fascists now, because the word becomes meaningless.

    I always assumed that Mussolini was called a fascist because he proudly proclaimed himself as one, which I thought was a useful clue.

    Interesting posting nonetheless.

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  9. I am from America. I did read the book. I had already been changing my mind before-hand, but this is the book that cinched it. After all the bans and Nanny impositions on our personal freedoms here, of which there are many, and thanks to this book, I will NEVER in my life vote for the Democratic Party here in the US - they are, as this book explains full well, liberal-fascists - no different than their regressive "progressives" of the last turn of century, when they lead us in admiration for Hitler and Mussolini both. I actually didn't leave the Democrats as much as the Democrats left the majority, certainly left me disenfranchised, and turned fascist in their demands. Very good book, everyone should read it though it's quite long - but excellent. It is extremely well researched and backed up by facts.

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  10. Yes, Anonymous, I can see your point that "the Democrats left the majority". That's explains why a Democrat, Barack Obama, was elected as President and a Democrat majority was elected in Congress. Instead of reading "well researched" books, I suggest you read your newspapers.

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  11. Liberal Fascism is very good isn't it? He says towards the end that he isn't trying to write a modern day 'Road to Serfdom' but that was what it most reminded of.

    He has to stretch things a tad to make everything fit the overarching theory. I'm not sure that supporting abortion is really the same thing as supporting eugenics, for instance, but it's very thought-provoking.

    Thanks for the ad for Velvet Glove, BTW!

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  12. You're welcome, Chris.

    I agree it's a very thoughtful and challenging book, but he does perhaps try to stretch the thesis too far.

    But the fundamental point that Fascism and modern-day US "liberalism" share a common ancestry in the early 20th century Progressive movement is a wholly valid one.

    And suggesting that Fascism (or indeed the BNP) is a basically left-wing ideology certainly touches a raw nerve amongst those who identify themselves as being on the Left ;-)

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  13. No, it doesn't touch any raw nerves at all. It's simply wrong.

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  14. By Iain Dale ~ a desperate wannabe Tory candidate for Parliament, so therefore a truly unbiased commentator! I really think you need to do better than that.

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  15. "It is true, of course, that in Germany before 1933, and in Italy before 1922, communists and Nazis or Fascists clashed more frequently with each other than with other parties. They competed for the support of the same type of mind and reserved for each other the hatred of the heretic. But their practice showed how closely they are related. To both, the real enemy, the man with whom they had nothing in common and whom they could not hope to convince, is the liberal of the old type.

    While to the Nazi the communist, and to the communist the Nazi, and to both the socialist, are potential recruits who are made of the right timber, although they have listened to false prophets, they both know that there can be no compromise between them and those who really believe in individual freedom."

    Hayek, 'The Road to Serfdom'

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  16. "Yes, Anonymous, I can see your point that "the Democrats left the majority". That's explains why a Democrat, Barack Obama, was elected as President and a Democrat majority was elected in Congress. Instead of reading "well researched" books, I suggest you read your newspapers.

    ... And so the point is well proven then.

    Hitler and Mussolini, both National Socialists (as opposed to the International ones who were outnumbered and believed "brown first, red later") , were extremely popular among their own people and here in the US - where Socialist/Progressives of the liberal persuasion helped to popularize and normalize them.

    Thus your comment is well received.

    Obama was truly popular this time around.

    So was Hitler and Mussolini - all three.

    And it's still MY personal choice.

    The Democratic party, it left me - not the other way around.

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