The term "liberal fascism" has become increasingly fashionable to bandy about but mostly in right wing circles because this enclave of under-educated folk don't know the difference between any of the historical political-economic systems, whether fascism, socialism, or Neoliberal capitalism. Hence, it's no surprise the term would be misused.
What prompted the Right to inject the boogeymen of liberal fascism into the ongoing cultural wars? Well, a sequence of incidents. First you had the way most of us in the liberal spectrum came down like a ton of bricks on Nate Silver for hiring climate denier Roger Pielke Jr on his Fivethirtyeight blog. Then there has been the massive criticism of the Right - as in the 'Hobby Lobby' case, trying to exploit the specious "religious liberty" theme to justify aborting the contraceptive sections of Obamacare. Finally, there was the Brandeis University announcement that it would rescind an honorary degree it planned to award to Ayaan Hirsi, a best selling author and critic of Islamo-fascism.
Here, we need to back up and explain that there is no such thing as a "left wing Islamo-fascism" no matter what the militants call themselves. This would have about as much "left wing" bona fides as Hitler's National Socialist Party would have socialist bona fides. (Leading to the continued confusion that remains today between genuine socialism - which is wholly left wing - and Hitler's Right wing version). IF "left" is synonymous with Liberal, then no kind of fascism can be permitted. Fascism is a creature of the Right, not the Left, and has been since the days of Hitler and Mussolini.
It is instructive here to consult Douglas Rushkoff's Chapter Four ('Individually Wrapped'). in his book, Life Inc. - How Corporations Conquered the World and How We Can Take It Back. He
"American corporatists saw in fascism a counterbalance to FDR's strong-handed tactics and aggressive social welfare programs.....Henry Luce, a co-founder of TIME magazine, put Mussolini on the cover five times and traveled the country arguing that corporations - not government - were really in charge of America. Luce convinced many business people that fascism might be corporatism's best hope for organizing and influencing people."
One is led to question why American corporatists would want to invoke fascism to offset FDR's pro-government programs. There are several reasons, all of them tied to the historically accepted characteristics of fascism and germane to Rushkoff's point, as well as mine, i.e. that liberalism and fascism are counterpoised:
Corporate Power is Protected -- The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation are often the ones putting government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and a power elite. This automatically sets domestic non-military and social insurance programs in opposition, and at risk - from the nascent pro-corporate economic structure.
Labor Power is Suppressed -- Because the organizing power of labor is the only real remaining counterbalance to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely or are severely suppressed. We have seen this happen progressively in this country as unions have all but vanished from the landscape and are mightily resisted where they might find new places to begin.
Supremacy of the Military -- Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized. This is deliberate in all fascist nations-systems, given their opposition to providing domestic social insurance for the masses. Thus, if the military spending can be made large enough it can deplete the tax commons to the extent that inadequate money is available to support social -domestic needs.
Obsession with National Security -- Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses and special attention is focused on those who complain about inadequate domestic resources, say because they are at the mercy of increased military spending and inciting wars by which to validate such spending. If then a "boogeyman" can be created and sustained it can also be used to mute the demand for addressing domestic needs. Create a system of color -coded alerts or 'warnings' then you keep most people in tow, and also the critics at bay.
The 1983 American Heritage Dictionary defined fascism as:
"A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism."
The U.S.-based dictionary definition has gotten somewhat squishier since then, as all the larger dictionary companies have been bought up by multinational corporations (e.g. Bertelsmann AG, NEWSCorp etc.), who would be more invested in obscuring key definitions to align with their corporatist bias.
Benito Mussolini, however, was quite straightforward about all this. In a 1923 pamphlet titled "The Doctrine of Fascism" he wrote,
"If classical liberalism spells individualism, Fascism spells government."
But not a government of, by, and for (We) The People - instead, it would be a government of, by, and for the most powerful corporate interests in the nation. In 1938, Mussolini brought his vision of fascism into full reality when he dissolved Parliament and replaced it with the "Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni" - the Chamber of the Fascist Corporations. Corporations were still privately owned, but now instead of having to sneak their money to folks like John Boehner and useful idiots like the Tea Partyers, they were openly in charge of the government.
The above preliminaries are useful in parsing salon.com writer Alex Pareene's take:
“All of these seemingly unconnected incidents can be understood with one simple word: fascism. Liberal fascism. “Fascism” as a term has been abused by leftists over the decades, but it is a definable and concrete thing. Essentially, fascism is when a bunch of people criticize something they disapprove of or are offended by, and ask that the thing or person that offends them not be rewarded in some fashion."
But as we've seen, fascism is a lot more complex than merely a "bunch of people criticizing something they disapprove of or are offended by, and asking that the thing or person that offends them not be rewarded in some fashion."
This is what I would call the "elementary school version" of fascism. Comprehensible to those at the fourth grade level - i.e. grasped easily in the personal antagonism 'he said-she said' domain, but unfitting for an adult of even moderate intelligence to really grasp what fascism is about.
As for "liberal fascism" it can only make sense in the cartoon context Pareene describes, but not in the formal definitional sense.
If you're at a cocktail part and engage in a political debate (not advised), don't interject "liberal fascism" unless you want to be thought of as an over-sized, ill-informed 4th grader!