The End of Fascism
Megan McArdle calls for an extension of Godwin’s Law that would put an end to “using the word fascist to apply to the current, or indeed previous, administration.”
How is this helpful? Has clarifying the distinction between fascism and socialism really added to most peoples’ understanding of what the Obama administration is doing? All this does is drag the specter of Hitler into the conversation. And the problem with Hitler was not his industrial policy–I mean, okay, fine, Hitler’s industrial policy bad, right, but I could forgive him for that, you know? The thing that really bothers me about Hitler was the genocide. And I’m about as sure as I can be that Obama has no plans to round up millions of people, put them in camps, and find various creative ways to torture them to death.
I agree with her conclusion but not her argument.
Last things first: The Final Solution was possible because Nazi Germany was a fascist state and therefore no one dared question Hitler’s orders. Genocide is, however, not a necessary outgrowth of fascist ideology nor have most genocides been carried out by fascist governments. Benito Mussolini, the Founding Fascist (if you will) wasn’t a mass murderer and Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and Omar al-Bashir aren’t fascists. The genocide was what made Hitler evil, not what made him a fascist.
With that out of the way, I completely agree that dubbing American presidents and their policies fascist is not a helpful way to advance the debate. See, for example, my previous decisions of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism and the Obama cult of personality. While there may be aspects of the Bush or Obama policies that have something akin with Communism or Nazism or Fascism or whathaveyou, those terms have so much extraneous baggage that the discussion invariably strays from the actual thing being criticized. [As Dave Schuler points out in the comments, there's a name for this: "poisoning the well."]
We should be careful here to differentiate name-calling from the actual substantive argument. It’s a very different thing to argue that bringing up the idea of nationalizing health care makes you a Marxist/Socialist/Communist than to argue that enacting a given policy will naturally lead down a road to ever-more-powerful government. So, Friedrick Hayek’s Road to Serfdom is a different than Ann Coulter’s Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism or even Al Franken’s Lies (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them): A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.