The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left, by Dinesh D’Souza, Washington, D. C.: Regnery Publishing, 2017. 293 pp. $29.99 (Hardcover).
The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left, by Dinesh D’Souza, is an ambitious and timely book with dual purposes: Refute the “big lie” that fascism and Nazism are “right wing,” and reinforce the author’s claim that “the Republican party has always been the party of small government, political liberty, and economic freedom” (32).
D’Souza, a prominent conservative intellectual, explains his motivation for writing the book, saying “the political left—backed by the mainstream media and the Democratic party—insists that Donald Trump is an American version of Hitler or Mussolini. The GOP, they say, is the new incarnation of the Nazi party.” He warns that “through the relentless pounding of Trump from all quarters, the Left is basically attempting a fascist coup” (230).
D’Souza holds that, contrary to leftist claims, “Right-wingers in America are the ones who seek to protect the rights of Americans to pursue happiness by limiting the power of the central state.” He says that the left, on the other hand, “is defined by its hostility to the restrictions placed by the founders on the federal government” (33).
D’Souza aims to “turn the tables on the Left, refute their bogus narrative, expose their big lie, and pin the Nazi tail precisely where it belongs—on the Democrat donkey” (29).
According to D’Souza, the left and the Democrat party are the real fascists: “They are the ones who use Nazi bullying and intimidation tactics and subscribe to a full-blown fascist ideology. . . . The self-styled opponents of hate are the actual practitioners of the politics of hate. . . . leftists blame their victims for being and doing what they themselves are and do” (3).
To make his case, D’Souza takes readers on a journey through history, revealing the links between European and American statism. He draws parallels between the rise of Mussolini and Hitler—as well as the so-called “progressives” in America. He unearths long-buried ties between the American left and fascist and Nazi policies—including the Democrat party’s support for plantation slavery, racism, and “genocide” against American Indians—which D’Souza claims partially inspired Nazi concentration camps and Hitler’s policies of extermination.
D’Souza shows the cross-pollination between the Marxist ideas and policies of Mussolini and Hitler and those of the Democrat party. He says fascism is “an Italian term that means groupism or collectivism,” and cites Giovanni Gentile as the “leading philosopher of fascism.” Gentile said: “for Fascism, the state and the individual are one” (52). D’Souza shows clearly that fascism and Nazism grew out of doctrinal differences among socialists. He describes fascism as a synthesis of socialism and nationalism and compares it to the American left:
Mussolini created the first national socialism, stripped of its German racial connotations. His was a vision of a nation organized along socialist lines in which everyone would share in the benefits and all would contribute their due portion. This language of course has Obama overtones, and we see an obvious congruence between the fascist unification and the modern progressive insistence that America is a single community and that everyone should come together and each one contribute his “fair share.” (85)
D’Souza also shows that Hitler was a dedicated socialist, pointing out that he renamed the German Workers’ Party the “National Socialist German Workers’ Party,” and publicly declared: “We are socialists. We are the enemies of today’s system of capitalist exploitation. . . . and we are determined to destroy this system under all conditions” (60).
Thus, D’Souza demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that Hitler and Mussolini were men of the left. D’Souza then moves on to their American counterparts:
Around the same time, however, and beaten by the fascists by only a hair, a closely related ideology developed in America that also called for a powerful centralized state. That ideology was, of course, progressivism. . . . Both the fascists and progressives viewed the centralized state as the logical outgrowth of everything they stood for. (85)
In a chapter titled “American Fuhrers,” D’Souza offers a plethora of quotes from FDR and his administrators showing the degree to which they consciously emulated European statists. For example, D’Souza quotes FDR’s Interior Secretary Harold Ickes who openly said, “What we’re doing in this country are some of the same things that are being done in Russia and even some things that are being done under Hitler in Germany” (185). D’Souza details how influential American leftists lionized Mussolini and Hitler right up through World War II. For instance, D’Souza points out that JFK, who admired both Mussolini and Hitler, wrote in his diary, “I have come to the conclusion that fascism is right for Germany and Italy” (27). It was only when they finally had to confront the horrors of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy that American leftists began to distance themselves from these totalitarian dictatorships and attempt to blame their atrocities on the right.
D’Souza shows this relabeling attempt by the left to be a “falsification of history.” He says that this deception “involves hiding the real evidence of fascism—including the very name of the leading philosopher of fascism [Giovanni Gentile].” He also claims that, “once that essence is exposed, it becomes obvious that Trump and the GOP cannot possibly be fascist, and that, on the contrary, fascism and Nazism are both ideologies of the Left” (31).
Overall, The Big Lie is rich in historical data and clearly demonstrates that fascism and Nazism belong on the political left. However, the book’s central thesis—that Nazism and fascism are primarily responsible for the rise of the American left—is false, and some of the author’s own arguments demonstrate this. For instance, he points out that the racist and genocidal policies of the early-American left, as manifested through the Democrat party, inspired Nazi policies.
Nazism and fascism are not the roots of the American left, but as D’Souza shows, these ideologies did further inspire elements of the left already in existence in America. D’Souza leaves the actual roots of the American left shrouded.
Because D’Souza is a Christian who actively defends his religion, this is unsurprising. The true cause of statism in America is the morality supported by Christianity, that is—altruism, the morality that upholds self-sacrifice as the moral ideal. Penetrating to the actual roots of the American left would require D’Souza to admit the culpability, not only of his religion, but also of conservatism. Today’s conservatives generally accept Christianity’s altruistic ethics and propagate it by enacting policies that mandate self-sacrifice and thus abrogate our liberties.
Which brings us to another massive problem in D’Souza’s book. Although D’Souza shows that Nazism and fascism belong on the left side of the political spectrum, he treats this fact as somehow exonerating modern conservatives from any culpability for the existence of such ideologies in America. D’Souza further claims that conservatism is the ideology of the right, that conservatives are “champions of limited government and individual rights” who stand for “economic freedom or capitalism, political freedom or constitutional democracy, and freedom of speech and religion” (232). In answer to the question, “What is it that American conservatives want to conserve?” he writes: “They want to conserve the principles of the American revolution” (42). D’Souza paints conservatives as classical liberals—defenders of individual rights. And this is D’Souza’s big lie.
Although, in certain respects, today’s conservatives are less statist than today’s “liberals,” they are by no means supporters of “the principles of the American revolution.” The organizing principle of the revolution was that the individual has an unalienable right to his own life, liberty, and property, and that the government was to be strictly limited to the protection of those individual rights.
Conservatives have utterly betrayed that principle by supporting massive violations of rights such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs, central banking, government-run schools, welfare programs, the “war on drugs,” the progressive tax code, regulations on businesses, subsidies for infrastructure projects, and on and on. Such entitlements and regulatory controls are clear instances of socialist and fascist policies; they treat the group as superior to the individual, and uphold the altruistic principle that the individual must therefore sacrifice for the group. Conservatives have supported these ideas for many decades. In other words, conservatives are as guilty as “progressive” Democrats for America’s leftward shift—and perhaps moreso, because they portray themselves as defenders of individual rights while constantly undermining them.
It’s worth noting that D’Souza is not the first to demonstrate that fascism and Nazism are on the left side of the political spectrum, and he does properly credit the work of Frederic Hayek and Jonah Goldberg on this count. However, conspicuously absent from D’Souza’s account is credit to the one thinker who provided the most cogent analysis of this matter: Ayn Rand. It seems impossible that anyone deeply interested in the roots of statism and its antithesis, capitalism, could have missed titles such as “The Fascist New Frontier,” “The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus,” or Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.As a public intellectual working in this field, D’Souza has a responsibility to be familiar with such works, and had he been, his own writing could have benefitted from the clarity and depth Rand has brought to these subjects. As Rand wrote in 1966:
The world conflict of today is the conflict of the individual against the state, the same conflict that has been fought throughout mankind’s history. The names change, but the essence—and the results—remain the same, whether it is the individual against feudalism, or against absolute monarchy, or against communism or fascism or Nazism or socialism or the welfare state.1
In regard to the proper meanings of left and right, and which ideologies belong where on the political spectrum, Rand saw the need for clarity on the matter by reference to the fundamental issue in politics: freedom vs. government controls: “I use the word ‘rightist’ to denote the views of those who are predominantly in favor of individual freedom and capitalism—and the word ‘leftist’ to denote the views of those who are predominantly in favor of government controls and socialism.”2
Although there is some interesting history and correct analysis in The Big Lie, the book itself is an effort to perpetuate a big lie. In his effort to exonerate conservatives of any culpability in America’s leftward drift, D’Souza ignores the fundamental cause of this drift and focuses instead on derivative political philosophers such as Giovanni Gentile. By evading discussion at the level of morality, the book serves to obfuscate more than to clarify.
In order to truly “turn the tables on the left,” we need nothing short of a philosophic awakening. We can’t have a free society that protects the individual if we accept a moral code that extols the “rights” of the group to sacrifice the individual to any alleged “greater good.” To achieve a society that actually enshrines “economic freedom or capitalism, political freedom or constitutional democracy, and freedom of speech and religion,” we need to embrace the moral code that mandates political freedom through the protection of individual rights. In short—as Ayn Rand repeatedly demonstrated—the politics of freedom depends on the morality of self-interest.
Until Americans who want to support freedom and capitalism are willing to challenge the morality of altruism, they will continue finding themselves in debates whereby each side says, in effect, “no, you’re the fascist!”—with each side having a point. If fascism and Nazism are evil—and they are—then they are so because they sacrifice the individual to the group, just as altruism demands. Likewise, if capitalism is good—and it is—then it is good because it upholds and protects the rights of each individual to act on his own judgment, just as egoism demands.