Jonah Goldberg discusses Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson as fascists. His conclusion: Lincoln no, because the times required it due to the war; Wilson, yes, because he was undertaking such steps even while we were at peace.
It’s commonly accepted that Lincoln often functioned more as a dictator than as a President, but that was justifiable as we were in a war the likes of which we had never seen, before or since. Wilson centralized and empowered government because he wanted to be powerful. Very different impulses were at work. It’s a question that had occurred to me while reading Liberal Fascism. Goldberg, in the book, does point out that Wilson was an admirer of Lincoln’s accomplishments in centralizing government, while objecting to the reason. (Wilson was no supporter of racial equality.) Lincoln, while believing in a stronger central government as a rule, likely would have blanched at some of the steps Wilson took in peacetime. Wilson then did become effectively a dictator during World War I. It’s this we often forget about when looking back on that time. Harding’s campaign slogan (“A Return to Normalcy,” containing one of my favorite invented words) was not just a call to get back to America’s historic detachment from world affairs, but also a call to end arrests for political activism, suppression of dissent. All the things the Left like to pretend Bush is doing now, Wilson was doing back then. (In many ways they share some faults, though: Bush certainly seems to have a Wilsonian views of world affairs. Wilson went to war to make the world safe for democracy; Bush went to war, at least in part, to promote democracy.)
I’m still working my way through Liberal Fascism, and while I don’t agree with every point, I’ve certainly learned a lot about history. (All that stuff about Wilson was really enlightening.) It’s definitely worth your time reading.