Vital Signs

The Myth of "Red Fascism"

In a recent discussion with a younger colleague about his book-in-progress on American historian Richard Hofstadter, I learned that, during the student riot at Columbia in 1968, Hofstadter repeatedly likened student radicals to European "fascists." My colleague found this remarkable, given the fact that Hofstadter had spent decades agonizing over the "paranoid style" of the American nativist right. For Hofstadter and others of like mind, however, the campus radicals were not progressive reformers but haters of "liberal democracy." Some of them, in deference to black nationalists, took a pro-Arab, anti-Israel stand; and this confirmed for Cold War liberals (soon to become neoconservatives) that their enemies —apparently on the left—were actually throwbacks to the interwar right.

This political geography went as far back as the "red fascist" images popularized by Truman and other Democrats during the early years of the Cold War. In order to smooth the transition from battling international fascism to resisting international communism, it was useful to blur the distinction between the two. Both were portrayed as faces of the same totalitarian foe; and though Stalinoid European refugees presented the "authoritarian personality" as an exclusively rightwing pathology, it was easily coopted as a Cold War liberal weapon. By the early 50's, Seymour Martin Lipset was speaking...

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