A Goldberg conjecture

by Henry on January 19, 2008

So I did a bloggingheads a few days ago with Dan Drezner, where we discussed the Jonah Goldberg liberofascism book, and whether or not it was fair to dismiss it without having read it (my answer was emphatically yes: when the dude stops pretending to do research perhaps I’ll start pretending to take him seriously; then again, given his past form, my limited time resources etc, perhaps not). But in retrospect, maybe this was the wrong question to debate. I’m intrigued by the question of precisely why Goldberg apparently expects this book to be given sober consideration as an important intellectual contribution to debate between the left and the right etc.

Matt Yglesias attributes this to slow wittedness on Goldberg’s part. That Goldberg, after wandering into the center ring wearing his red rubber nose, baggy pantaloons and big floppy shoes, is asking in all sincerity why nobody takes him seriously, only adds to the hilarity. But while I understand (and have in the past partially succumbed to) Matt’s temptation to give a swift kick to aforementioned pantaloons, I can’t help wonder whether there’s something more general happening here. Not only does it seem a bit weird that anyone could think that a book along these lines was a serious intellectual enterprise, but other conservatives who clearly aren’t stupid such as Ramesh Ponnuru and David Frum have written books either with similarly dimwitted titles (Ponnuru’s The Party of Death anyone?) or similarly stupid arguments (David Frum’s truly awesome double-header with Richard Perle, An End to Evil, a book which I recommend unreservedly to CT readers ).

My working theory – open to modification, revision etc as people with better factual knowledge poke holes in it, is that this has to do with the vagaries of the culture wars and the conservative publishing industry. It’s been clear since at least the 1960s and the success of Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative that there is a big potential market for conservative books that make grossly over-the-top arguments. Hence the success of Richard Viguerie, Judith Regan when she wasn’t suing Rupert Murdoch and others in getting various nutty bestsellers out there (and no, I don’t think that this is all cross-subsidization to conservative book clubs etc etc). This pre-existing market and set of publishers then began to intersect with the world of soi-disant conservative intellectuals in the 1990s thanks to the culture wars, which made it both profitable and respectable (in the sense that you still got reviews in the NYTBR, cushy slots in the Hoover Institution etc) to publish bottom-feeder harangues about Teh Evils of Teh Left. The Venn diagram for the left was, I think, a little different – there never was the same kind of systematic crossover between so-called public intellectuals and muckraking bestsellers about the depraved personal habits, plots for world domination etc of conservatives. Not, of course, that there weren’t books written by lefties about conservatives’ depraved personal habits, but they didn’t tend to sell as well, and they certainly didn’t get treated by the cognoscenti as serious contributions to debate etc.

Hence, my conjecture about Jonah Goldberg’s reactions: he came of age in a movement where intellectual contribution and partisan hackery have become indistinguishable from each other thanks to the substantial profits and low reputational costs of writing rightwing partisan trash. Hence also his genuine incomprehension of why his book doesn’t get the respect it deserves. After all, people took Dinesh di Souza seriously in his time. But since I haven’t done any proper research on this myself (something which I’m happy to admit; I’ve no intention of doing the whole never has a blogpost been written with such seriousness and such care routine), I’m happy to hear corrections, elucidations, vigorous criticisms, alternative hypotheses etc.

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Sunday Bookchat « The Opinion Mill
01.20.08 at 5:22 am

{ 191 comments }

1

P O'Neill 01.19.08 at 9:45 pm

It’s interesting to read this profile (from several years ago) of the editor of the Son of Lucianne’s book: the Son of Saul. Note his perspective that the fact the liberals attack these books — all the way back to the provocatively titled (for its day) The Closing of the American Mind proves both the worth of the book and the worth of him for helping publish it. He does complain about the rise of “abrasive personalities” on the right, but the hatred of Zabar’s seems to blind him to its current manifestation.

2

Dan Nexon 01.19.08 at 9:56 pm

I don’t think this is a mystery.

He’s put a lot of effort into the book. He thinks he has pieced together something important. He gets a lot of daily affirmation from a variety of VERY SMART, VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE(tm). Getting lots of praise from the talk-radio right goes with the territory–and therefore counts for little, in the end–so why wouldn’t he want affirmation as a serious intellectual?

I don’t think there’s any indication that he’s stupid or dumb, or not, in fact, intellectually capable. He’s just, as Henry suggests, not in an environment where he’s ever been forced to make a really rigorous argument. And so he can’t seem to quite distinguish between, on the one hand, what he’s done and, on the other, what he’d need to do to write a serious book rather than one that many rightfully see as little more than a mishmash of stuff we already knew–about how many progressives were racists and about how fascism was an offshoot of democratic socialism–cooked in a broth of Hayek to produce an argument that doesn’t really add up.

3

Jeff 01.19.08 at 10:03 pm

Bellow: “A new generation is rising, and while they may eschew the conservative label, they will undoubtedly challenge the stridency and dogmatism of their liberal parents and teachers.”

Please. He doesn’t see stridency and dogmatism on the right?

4

Rich Puchalsky 01.19.08 at 10:11 pm

He expects his book to be considered because it has right-wing propaganda pushing it, and because his handlers appear to have chosen to tell him to go for publicity through Coulteresque overstatement.

And whenever someone writes yet another one of these “Isn’t Goldberg stupid? Watch me not consider his book!” pieces, he’s proved a little more correct. There is no such thing as bad publicity. The total number of words written about Goldberg’s book probably adds up to the sum of all other words written about political books on blogs for the last year. And for what? His stupidity isn’t even really all that funny.

5

SEK 01.19.08 at 10:18 pm

For the record, not only did Goldberg want someone else to do his research for him, but when I responded to his request I was told my expertise wasn’t the kind of expertise he wanted. Seems Goldberg wanted Spencer to say something Spencer never said, but which some post-Hofstadter historian said he did. That may be his point—New Dealers tarred Spencer, when he was really a swell person!—but he plays into the consensus misunderstanding of the influence of Darwin on Spencer. Anyone who reads Spencer (instead of about him) realizes he was Darwinian in rhetoric alone—his true commitment was to the form of neo-Lamarckism he championed in his various 1890s kerfuffles with Darwinians. Apparently the truth didn’t sit well with him (as I document in the aforelinked post).

6

cw 01.19.08 at 10:37 pm

It’s very hard to tell what JG is really thinking with this book. The book has been super successful in the sense that lots of people are buying, in the sense that it gives his side another catch phrase to bash liberals with, and in the sense that it’s generated a ton of noteriety. From this perspective, Goldber looks smart and cynical and the desire for his thesis to be taken seriously is just a pose.

On the other hand, that’s a 500 page book. He did a lot of research (though he didn’t draw any rational conclusions from it). It took three or four years. He could have achived the success mentioned above with the same title and cover and 200 pages of drunken theorizing. Inother words, he did a lot of unnecessary work, if he only wnated the cynical success.

So judging by all that work he’s put in and stuff he’s written to critics, I think that he means the book to be serious, and the cynical success is just the work of his publisher and luck.

7

nick s 01.19.08 at 10:55 pm

A few points:

1. The cover came three years before the book.
2. This is the same ‘controversialist faux-history’ attempt to move an author beyond the limited audience of Regnery hackjobs: see Malkin’s In Defense of Internment.
3. Bruce Bartlett was told explicitly that anti-Cheney editorials were costing his wingnut welfare foundation money.
4. The internet troll exists in print publishing.

8

tom s. 01.19.08 at 11:00 pm

“Not, of course, that there weren’t books written by lefties about conservatives’ depraved personal habits, but they didn’t tend to sell as well, and they certainly didn’t get treated by the cognoscenti as serious contributions to debate etc.”

In all fairness, surely Michael Moore has sold a book or two? Stupid White Men perhaps?

9

Dan Miller 01.19.08 at 11:26 pm

When was the last time you saw Stupid White Men treated as a serious contribution to debate?

10

Righteous Bubba 01.19.08 at 11:47 pm

His stupidity isn’t even really all that funny.

I dunno, the Liberal Fascism blog has lots of howlers. This is my favourite, which should appeal to diligent researchers everywhere.

11

Carl 01.20.08 at 12:08 am

I’d take a Goldberg variation over a Goldberg conjecture any time!

12

Rich Puchalsky 01.20.08 at 12:13 am

Eh — that may be stupidity, or it may just be the Big Lie technique. It’s sort of hard to tell whether statements like that are one or the other. But it doesn’t really matter, because if someone keeps saying over and over that e.g. Iraq attacked us on 9/11, it doesn’t matter whether they are stupid or lying, it’s equally effective either way.

Maybe I should just say that my personal sense of humor doesn’t find yet more Republican stupidity funny and leave it at that, but I’m tempted to generalize it into a principle. Isn’t humor supposed to be witty or well-crafted or something? Can one really laugh again and again at the same person taking the same unscripted slip-and-fall?

Here’s an argument from humor authority: the Poor Man has evidently had enough of Goldberg, because The Editors haven’t bothered with him since they came back. If the Poor Man thinks it’s over…

13

James D. Miller 01.20.08 at 12:14 am

Goldberg’s book is currently ranked #1 on Amazon. If left-wing college professors dismiss the book without reading it they will do no harm to Goldberg, but will be making themselves even more irrelevant to the intellectual world outside of college campuses.

14

John Emerson 01.20.08 at 1:33 am

I have covered Goldberg (at my link).

Goldberg has even linked to me! Which presumably means that he doesn’t find me threatening (in terms of the people he needs to please).

My thesis is that Goldberg’s importance derives from the media turf he’s been granted by the owners of the media turf, and that as long as he keeps them happy he needn’t care what we think.

I think that we’re in a harder position than we realize. Taking Goldberg seriously lends him credibility, while allowing him to play rope-a-dope with whatever we say — his patrons and his target readers just don’t care about the things we care about.

But if we ridicule him, mushy-headed centrists will sympathize with him. And ignoring him does nothing one way or the other.

My theory is that we’ve all become helots and crofters — people of no account on the national political level. Even though many of us have PhDs and shit.

15

Azael 01.20.08 at 1:41 am

Hmmm. Seems to me that the simpler explantion is the best: He’s both incompetent and completely unaware that he’s incompetent.

This phenomena is quite well documented. This paper, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, spells this out quite clearly: Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments. Here’s the abstract:

People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.

Thus, Goldberg is simply a boob on a scale that boggles the imagination. Worse, his complete incompetence in this area gifts him with the inability to accurately assess his competence; such an assessment would clearly have led him to run – not walk – away from writing such a stunningly silly book based on what amounts to a Monty Python sketch about the class of dead people and their relationship with Al McCogan. He simply doesn’t have the facilities to see what a complete ass he’s made of himself and so continues to up the ante on national TV in a never ending train wreck.

Personally, I don’t think it could have happened to a nicer guy.

16

R. Stanton Scott 01.20.08 at 1:42 am

I think these books reflect an ongoing effort to change the terms of American political debate by shifting social norms and redefining terms.

Goldberg’s book looks to me like an attempt to frame what he sees as political correctness and nanny-statism as totalitarian by calling it fascism.

17

Seth Finkelstein 01.20.08 at 1:47 am

Regarding “intellectual contribution and partisan hackery have become indistinguishable from each other thanks to the substantial profits and low reputational costs of writing rightwing partisan trash” – take a look at David Brock’s memoir Blinded By The Right. It covers how that process evolved in detail, from a former insider’s view.

18

Zinaida 01.20.08 at 1:48 am

Okay. You guys represent the premiere blogospheric voice of the academic liberal left… something like that. Jonah’s book, at its heart, is geared toward popularizing the arguments of smart intellectuals/academics, from John Patrick Diggins to A.J. Gregor to Hayek to Erik Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn. Jonah offers more names here:
http://liberalfascism.nationalreview.com/post/?q=MDUzZTBiNTM3ODllODRjYzhhODdkZjM3MzRlMmUxMjc=

Yet of all the critical commentary, the only efforts that confronted the substantive core of the book were Fred Siegal’s review in the Wall Street Journal (Jonah responds here: http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=ODRhZWIyOTcwMWZlNDgyZjMwOWIyNGRjOTZmMWIxZDQ=) and Michael Ledeen’s review, which while a worthy critique, still leaves a lot of Jonah’s history and arguments standing: http://pajamasmedia.com/xpress/michaelledeen/2008/01/14/fascism_liberal_and_otherwise.php

If treating Lucianne’s son seriously is beneath you, so be it. But can this whole brouhaha at least instigate some discussion concerning the respective thinkers Jonah is popularizing? Maybe in the context of Sheri Berman’s new book? As a fairly open-minded, libertarianish observer, I think this could be a really fun, interesting, perhaps even civil, conversation.

(I presently await the avalanche of snide remarks, but have faith someone here will take up the offer. Holbo?)

19

Henry 01.20.08 at 2:06 am

James – by the logic of your (not very good) argument, you should be out there combing the NYT bestseller list every week, and vigorously engaging with the arguments to be found there for USG UFO cover-up conspiracies, secret clauses in the constitution that mean you don’t have to pay taxes, Celestine prophecies &c &c. After all, I’m sure that you would _hate_ to demonstrate your irrelevance to the public debate as an elitist college professor. And if you _do_ want to do that, more power to you; it’s thankless but useful work.

As for myself, I’ll stick to the unabashedly elitist position that there are good arguments and bad arguments, and only the good arguments are worth debating seriously. The bad arguments, if they become sufficiently widespread and pernicious, may require some intellectual garbage pick-up, but that is a different process entirely. If there are any good arguments in Goldberg’s _magnum opus_, I have yet to be acquainted with them – if you care to provide them, I’ll promise to give them due consideration.

John – I think that things have gotten better since the 1990s – there’s less automatic deference to nonsense than there used to be (albeit we are still a long ways away from where we should be).

Seth – I haven’t read this book, although I know I need to at some stage …

20

smaug 01.20.08 at 2:13 am

Err, how do we take this statement:

My working theory – open to modification, revision etc as people with better factual knowledge poke holes in it, is that this has to do with the vagaries of the culture wars and the conservative publishing industry

As not equivalent to this statement:

‘m working on a chapter of the book which requires me to read a lot about and by Herbert Spencer. There’s simply no way I can read all of it, nor do I really need to. But if there are any real experts on Spencer out there — regardless of ideological affiliation — I’d love to ask you a few questions in case I’m missing something.

Does anyone writing about Marx have to attest to reading both volumes of Das Kapital? Does anyone writing on Weber have to have read every work by Weber?

This does not mean that Goldberg should be taken seriously, but the rationale for doing so won’t stand as presented here.

21

John Emerson 01.20.08 at 2:24 am

To quote myself:

“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a daycare worker giving a toddler a sugarfree bran muffin — forever.”

22

ed 01.20.08 at 2:32 am

…we discussed the Jonah Goldberg liberofascism book, and whether or not it was fair to dismiss it without having read it…

The cover of the book compares Liberals to [Benito] Mussolini and [Adolf] Hitler (yes, that Hitler). Hmm…is it OK to dismiss without reading? Hmm…

23

smaug 01.20.08 at 2:33 am

If left-wing college professors dismiss the book without reading it they will do no harm to Goldberg, but will be making themselves even more irrelevant to the intellectual world outside of college campuses.

This is hogwash. Goldberg has a track-record at NRO, and so one can conclude that if his arguments are stupid in general, then one is unlikely to make the time to read hiswhole book. The sub-title “secret history” makes me skeptical. What’s secret about it?

24

ed 01.20.08 at 2:40 am

I think these books reflect an ongoing effort to change the terms of American political debate by shifting social norms and redefining terms.

Intellectually, Liberal Fascism: More Like Hitlery Clinton If You Ask Me, does for the academic study of fascism what Creation Science does for the academic study of biology: creates out of whole cloth some foothold for the true believers.

Practically it’s a ruse a la the classics of Big Tobacco and Big Oil to cloud the waters just enough to allow Big Media to engage in another big game of on-one-handism (e.g., views of Earth’s shape differ, film at 11).

25

ed 01.20.08 at 2:42 am

er…close the italics after “…Ask Me”

26

James D. Miller 01.20.08 at 3:13 am

Henry,

You don’t have to take on all the NYT bestsellers, just the ones that directly compete with you in the marketplace of ideas. Many economists consider it their obligation to argue in the popular press against ideas we feel are silly.

Think of how your willingness to mock Goldberg’s book without having read it looks to the many people who have read Liberal Fascism. It strengthens his thesis that his evidence is overwhelming and so liberals will fear to seriously engage him.

27

JP Stormcrow 01.20.08 at 3:45 am

I find it interesting to look at the recent (last 15-20 years) history of these kinds of books with what I regard to be one of the fathers of them all from the 19060s – None Dare Call It Treason (closet commies everywhere in the government). The latter was much more ‘underground’, but ultimately sold millions. I wonder if it is that last bit which helped to spawn the cottage industry in these books.

28

ed 01.20.08 at 3:57 am

The sub-title “secret history” makes me skeptical. What’s secret about it?

Yeah, I haven’t seen anyone call bullshit on that yet. It’s right there on the cover right next to the serious and thoughtful Hitler smiley face.

29

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 01.20.08 at 4:33 am

If left-wing college professors dismiss the book without reading it they will do no harm to Goldberg, but will be making themselves even more irrelevant to the intellectual world outside of college campuses.

I’d quibble that reading the book actually a sign of relevance, with collapsing mortgate markets and oil prices at an all-time high.

30

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 01.20.08 at 4:36 am

“I’d quibble that whether…” Otherwise, as I said.

31

Walt 01.20.08 at 4:48 am

Oh, James D. Miller, brave truth-teller. Let me guess, you don’t know that Mussolini was the leader of a party self-named the Fascists either.

32

snarkout 01.20.08 at 5:00 am

Seconding Stormcrow’s nod to the Stormer book, None Dare Call it Treason. Robert Welch’s “The Politician” was first by a good ten years, but was (if I recall correctly) self-published and didn’t have nearly the commercial success that Stormer had. I have some hackwork that predates Stormer — Masters of Deceit, published under the name of J Edgar Hoover but presumably written by someone else, and whichever book of Welch’s Regnery published (which I haven’t read) are the ones that immediately come to mind — but I think Stormer is really the grandfather of this strain of publishing.

33

Hume's Ghost 01.20.08 at 5:00 am

I think that Goldberg, D’Souza, Coulter, Malkin, et all should be thought of as the political equivalent of Martin Gardner’s hermit scientists, and treated as such. There approach to reality and politics is equivalent, epistemologically, to that of creationists to biology and science.

The best review of Goldberg along these lines that I’ve seen is this one

http://bouphonia.blogspot.com/2008/01/parallels-correspondents-and-relations.html

All the same, there’s something to be said for recognizing that while Goldberg’s logic may be different from ours, it “works”…at least within that shadow world from which he launches incursions against our own. Indeed – and this is the main point – it works much better in that world than our logic would. If you free yourself, for a moment, from your bias towards accuracy and honesty, and focus strictly on what gets personal and professional results, you can see that asking Goldberg to use commonly accepted standards of evidence and proof is like asking a tailor to use a railroad spike as a needle. You’d place him at a disadvantage, to say the least.

This, I think, is why it’s almost pointless to criticize him for inaccuracy, and why we can take him somewhat seriously when he insists that he made his argument as carefully and thoroughly as he could; given the tools he couldn’t allow himself to use, and the facts he was obliged to ignore in order to begin his project, let alone to complete it, it’s probably true.

Like the baraminologists, he’s forced to look for evidence of lineage where it must be, rather than where it is; to view fascism as a right-wing ideology would be to conjoin things that stand “at distance in the intellect of God.” And like the baraminologists, he’s caught between envying the power of a respected academic discipline, and being unable to meet its standards. Therefore, like so many other cranks, his tactic is to gather up an assortment of pleasing facts like some ideological bowerbird, arrange them in a pattern for which a “logical” explanation can be offered (as though the pattern were a natural phenomenon, instead of an invention), and peddle that explanation to people who want to enjoy the authority of Science without any of the responsibilities it imposes.

34

Hume's Ghost 01.20.08 at 5:00 am

For clarity’s sake, everything below the link should have been in the blockquote

35

Henry 01.20.08 at 5:07 am

smaug – the difference is that this is a blogpost which self announces itself to be a tentative stab at the issue, rather than a book length “never has this issue been debated with such seriousness and such care” (or whatever the exact phrase that Goldberg used to pat himself on the back in such an ostentatiously silly fashion) magnum opus that pronounces itself the last and best word on the subject.

James D. Miller – if you don’t want to go after the Celestine prophecies, fair enough. But you could devote yourself instead to refuting the economic ideas of, say, Lyndon LaRouche. Despite the popularity of LaRouche with generations of gullible undergraduates, few, if any, economists to my knowledge have deigned to address LaRouche’s manifold economic insights head-on. They thus exposed themselves to the scorn of LaRouchies whose conviction that the economics professoriate Just Couldn’t Handle the Truth would seem to be not entirely unreasonable on your argument.

I imagine that the reason that economists didn’t get stuck into a back-and-forth with LaRouche was a combination of (a) they had better things to do with their time, and (b) they didn’t want to provide him with undeserved legitimacy by suggesting that there might be a serious debate to be had with him on the issues. Hence too my disinclination to engage in a detailed exegesis of Mr. Goldberg’s views on intellectual history (not that he is anywhere near as malign or pernicious as LaRouche, who is a deeply nasty character, but life is too short and his understanding of the issues, on the basis of interview, blogposts etc, doesn’t appear worth taking seriously, or devoting serious effort to refuting). Doubtless the many Goldberg readers out there who are waiting for my rebuttal will be disappointed, but so it goes.

36

nick s 01.20.08 at 5:10 am

Michael Ledeen’s review, which while a worthy critique, still leaves a lot of Jonah’s history and arguments standing:

Uh huh. Some readers of that review think Ledeen is annoyed that Jonah is demeaning Italian fascism by comparison to modern American liberalism. I think that’s a bit harsh. Ledeen does have a certain amount of integrity remaining from his academic past, and, most of all, doesn’t want to be considered the intellectual progenitor of Liberal Fascism. That was as blatant a hand-washing as you’ll get from fellow-travellers among the American right.

And picking up on what Henry said, the academic disdain for The Secret — other than as indicative of a socio-cultural phenomenon — apparently hasn’t rendered philosophy departments ‘irrelevant to the intellectual world outside of college campuses.’

You may claim that the comparison is faulty, but you’d be wrong: the Opus Magnum Pantloadae is not operating in the same marketplace of ideas: it’s the guy on the street selling knockoffs before the cops arrive.

37

Sortition 01.20.08 at 6:27 am

he came of age in a movement where intellectual contribution and partisan hackery have become indistinguishable from each other

I would be surprised if the two were ever distinguishable (in the sense of receiving different treatment in respected circles) in any society. Whenever there exists a need by powerful people of an argument, that argument will be made, and it will receive respectful treatment.

If you think Goldberg et al. are in any way unique in their ability to command serious attention to patently absurd arguments, you have not been reading the New York Times op-ed page.

38

andyoufalldown 01.20.08 at 8:06 am

Smaug — I hate to bring up the rather painful and horribly elitist concept of “research,” but yes, most serious writers on Marx have read all three volumes of Capital; indeed, they’ve also read hundreds and hundreds of pages of essays and book projects that Marx never published.

As for Weber, I’ve seen a syllabus for an undergraduate seminar which assigned practically everything that he wrote, so yes, I would say that someone who is writing about Weber should be expected to, you know, read what Weber actually wrote rather than skimming a few Wikipedia articles.

39

Bruce Baugh 01.20.08 at 8:25 am

James D. Miller: Your list of people addressing the subtance of Jonah’s arguments is woefully incomplete. For starters, it doesn’t include David Niewert, who presented not just a footnoted dissection of flaws in the book but an actual bibliography of better work.

CW, you keep commenting on the hard work and much research Jonah must have done, but there’s literally no evidence for either. We have an example in this very thread of him turning away good scholarship, and many examples of him coasting entirely on other people’s volunteered labor. The book as published is badly written and edited, and while it’s long, that only means it took time, not that it required creative effort; any professional writer can explain the difference between churning out verbiage and writing carefully. It’s a big book, but it’s a bad big book.

40

tgb1000 01.20.08 at 9:04 am

I always enjoy seeing conservative arguments like James D. Miller’s, that liberal professors are irrelevant in the outside world. Of course other conservatives (and sometimes the very same ones!) lament how liberal professors are brainwashing the leaders of tomorrow. You can’t be both irrelevant and all-powerful at the same time, except in the conservative imagination.

41

Martin Wisse 01.20.08 at 10:29 am

Emerson said:


Taking Goldberg seriously lends him credibility, while allowing him to play rope-a-dope with whatever we say—his patrons and his target readers just don’t care about the things we care about.

But if we ridicule him, mushy-headed centrists will sympathize with him. And ignoring him does nothing one way or the other.

I argue on my own blog that what needs to be done is to 1) educate about true fascism without directly engaging Jonah’s book and 2) drag the sheer stupidity of saying that “the quintessential Liberal Fascist isn’t an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore” into the spotlight.

42

Hidari 01.20.08 at 11:02 am

May I ask a question, as a non-American. This man Goldberg is clearly clinically stupid, and his book is, equally clearly, worthless. So why are you all discussing it (instead of, say, something important like the collected works of Lyndon LaRouche, or David Icke’s latest book on the real story of the British royal family)?

I know you’re just teaching (so to speak) the controversy. But this man and his lunatic book have been discussed in the ‘liberal’ media just as much as the conservative. The tone is different, but as Andy Warhol once pointed out: don’t read your reviews, weigh them. The fact is, this imbecile gets just as much publicity from liberals as from ‘conservatives’ (there are, of course, no longer any real conservatives left in the US but still).

However, Goldberg is clearly onto a winner. I look forward to his follow up books ‘Why American Conservatism is really Communism in disguise’, and then the trilogy ‘Why up is down’, ‘Why black is white’ and ‘What the fact that a complete fucking moron like me can make a million from the increasingly deranged American Right says about contemporary America’.

43

bad Jim 01.20.08 at 11:14 am

The appropriate approach is to note that Doughy Pantload has at length produced a book, and leave it at that. Specialists in fecal products may don face masks and tease apart its constituent components, but the rest of us can consider ourselves fortunate not to have stepped on it.

44

david 01.20.08 at 11:48 am

Is it okay not to read Alex Tabarrok’s book because “people who aren’t convinced by my crayon drawings about human motivation shouldn’t be allowed to vote” is a bad argument? Cause that book seems to have been taken seriously by lots of people.

Underneath the obvious point that Goldberg’s book is stupid and worthless, is the endlessly fascinating world of how we determine authority. I just don’t know how to get down there from here. It’s very hard to penetrate the stupid.

45

novakant 01.20.08 at 1:13 pm

Well, ironically Social Democracy and Fascism were presented as cousins german on this blog by Henry – a juxtaposition that I find simply absurd no matter what the source and level of discussion.

46

John Emerson 01.20.08 at 1:59 pm

I have supported the argument here that there’s some kind of historical relationship between Social Democracy and Fascism — Keynesianism of a sort, a social safety net buffering the harshness of capitalism, and some sort of continuation of the old communitarian social contract, which required the rejection of “classical liberalism” in its Austrian or British forms.

But Goldberg’s argument is something quite different, shabby cherry-picking and fugue associational logic customized to let him say any stupid thing he wants.

Someone should write a punchy little piece explaining that classical liberalism is dead as a doornail except for rightwing nostalgia geeks, and also explaining why it was a very good thing that it died. It should include a chapter explaining that the Europe has been standing at the beginning of the road to serfdom for 50-70 years now, and that that train doesn’t seem like it will ever leave the station.

Of course, our Hayek bots are capable of arguing that immiserized contemporary Sweden is the very face of slavery, with the horrible bran muffin of fascism ground into everyone’s face daily and even hourly — worse than the U.S.S.R., since the Swedish public sector is bigger than the Soviet public sector was! But this kind of argument is relatively easy to oppose.

47

tom s. 01.20.08 at 2:32 pm

The default position for any book is to be ignored. Any suggestion by an author that their book is worthy of more than this requires a hell of a lot of substance before anyone has any duty to do anything with it. To be honest, I don’t know why you folks are giving this one the space you are.

Dan Miller (#9) asks “when was Stupid White Men” (and other Moore books) taken as a serious contribution to debate? Well my teenage son at the time and other 17-or-so-year-olds sure as hell took it seriously. And so did a lot of other people.

But I guess that’s not what you mean by “debate”? That sounds a little elitist to me.

I know this is an academic blog, so caveat emptor and all that, but I’m afraid this thread smacks, unfortunately, of chummy disagreements among the chattering classes.

48

John Emerson 01.20.08 at 3:04 pm

As I argued (at the link), Goldberg’s book is of no interest, but the Goldberg phenomenon is important. He’s an effective part of the Movement Republican propaganda machine. He controls media turf at the LA Times.

There are pitfalls in all three approaches: refuting him seriously gives him credibility and allows him to play rope-a-dope, never conceding anything, which ha can do because the media judges (publishers, etc.) are on his side.

If we ridicule him, we risk being caricatured as unserious elitists.

If we ignore him, he shows up on TV over and over again being taken seriously, and Republicans and thoughtless moderates end up being confirmed in rightwing views.

It’s not hopeless, but it’s very tricky. Goldberg (unlike Coulter, Savage, Beck, and Limbaugh) is able to seem scholarly, reasonable and intelligent; he can talk NPR talk.

49

Ginger Yellow 01.20.08 at 3:09 pm

I can’t speak for anyone else, Hidari, but I talk about Liberal Fascism because I find it and the “intellectual” contortions Jonah has to do to defend it so funny. What’s not to like about Jonah admitting he has no idea what Mussolini says in The Doctrine of Fascism, and that anyway it doesn’t really matter what he said, he was still a lefty?

50

Tom Riel 01.20.08 at 3:19 pm

Up here in Canada, Goldberg’s book is #27, it’s #3 in the US. That means people who aren’t partisan conservatives are probably buying it. I think that means that Goldberg’s arguments should be debunked in detail. And it should be done in a very prominent way. Otherwise his arguments could leech their way into our public discourse such that when the topic of fascism comes up liberals could have to spend a certain amount of time showing why they are crap.

I actually think it should be something like a CT Book Event, or anti-Book event in this case. I know your utterly opposed to this Henry, and if Goldberg was 3000 or even 300 on the bestseller list, I’d agree. Instead of just dismissing him, his newfound popularity should be ‘Coulterised’.

51

John Emerson 01.20.08 at 3:57 pm

I think that a punchy list of 100 gross factual errors and illogical arguments from the book and the TV appearances might be effective.

They’d have to be either substantive errors or else simply too ridiculous to believe — e.g., Jonah’s unawareness that Mussolini is called a fascist because he called himself a fascist.

The text should be punchy and easy to read, but there should be careful footnoting available somewhere.

The ludicrousness of some of the smears can be highlighted, e.g. the Brown or Swarthmore grade school teacher Fascist.

100 errors standing alone might be enough, or maybe there should be a brief sketch of what Goldberg is trying to do. The pure viciousness of the accusation (which he has been fudging already) should be underlined by informing the audience of what the Fascists were like and what they actually did.

52

Bruce Baugh 01.20.08 at 5:19 pm

Hidari: It’s as John Emerson says. Jonah is a highly connected, very prominent writer and editor within the modern conservative movement. He’s been given very important platforms and is treated within the movement as someone who is articulate, informed, and insightful. If he didn’t have his connections, he’d matter no more than any fifth-tier blogger, but since he does, his work is a thrust within the overall conservative campaign and therefore needs some attention. It’s entirely about how others are using his work, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

53

Randy Paul 01.20.08 at 5:31 pm

So I did a bloggingheads a few days ago with Dan Drezner, where we discussed the Jonah Goldberg liberofascism book, and whether or not it was fair to dismiss it without having read it.

When someone purports to write a book about fascism and makes but two tangential references to Francisco Franco, completely ignoring Mussolini´s and Hitler´s aid to Franco (hardly a leftist) and makes zero mention of the volunteers that Franco sent to help the Nazis fight the Soviets, it ought to be acceptable to dismiss it without reading it.

54

Zinaida 01.20.08 at 5:31 pm

So the presumption here is that Jonah’s book has no substance and merely marks a continuation of the vast right-wing noise machine (Coulter, Malkin, etc.), or, in a more interesting framework, the paranoid, conspiratorial style of Stormer, et al. Having read the book, though, I don’t see how this is the case. Again, Jonah is popularizing the work/research of respectable academics/intellectuals. If engaging with Jonah or his book is too plebian, so be it. But I’m still waiting for a sustained critique of the ideas and arguments he’s popularizing (reading Niewart on this matter is like watching a kid at a carnival throw a thousand balls anywhere but in the whole while still demanding the prize a thousand times over):

http://www.amazon.com/Mussolini-Fascism-John-Patrick-Diggins/dp/0691005818/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1200846291&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.com/Three-New-Deals-Reflections-Roosevelts/dp/0312427433/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1200846911&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.com/Faces-Janus-Marxism-Fascism-Twentieth/dp/0300106025/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1200847036&sr=1-2

http://www.amazon.com/Russia-Under-Bolshevik-Regime-Richard/dp/0679761845/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1200847436&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.com/Hitlers-Beneficiaries-Plunder-Racial-Welfare/dp/0805079262/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1200847556&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/Seduction-Unreason-Intellectual-Nietzsche-Postmodernism/dp/0691125996/ref=pd_bbs_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1200847669&sr=1-1

These links just skim the surface. It should also be noted Jonah cites the consensus historians repeatedly (Payne, etc.). As he put it elsewhere, the consensus history argues fascism was both anti-liberal and anti-conservative, but the “liberal” refers to the classical liberalism of the free market/rule of law and the “conservative” refers to traditionalism/social conservatism; incidentally, these are the two pillars of the “fusionist” modern American Right. Jonah will be posting a full bibliographic essay shortly.

Re. John Emerson: Isn’t modern American liberalism, in any of its pure senses, “dead as a doornail” as well? Isn’t this the nature of our political system, one marked by disappointing compromise? I am glad you concede a social democracy-fascism link (as does Sheri Berman). Most Americans, however, are wholly unaware of these historical/ideological parallels, which is why this discussion is welcome in my mind. You can go on and on about how the welfare state is warranted anyhow, even given this history. But the history is still well worth reciting, for the same reasons, say, Jeet Heer is interested in exposing the ties between National Review and Franco, Pinochet, etc.

55

Matt Weiner 01.20.08 at 5:42 pm

Is it okay not to read Alex Tabarrok’s book because “people who aren’t convinced by my crayon drawings about human motivation shouldn’t be allowed to vote” is a bad argument?

I think you mean Bryan Caplan’s book The Myth of the Rational Voter. It sounds like it’s on a much higher level than Goldberg’s, which I do not mean as much of a compliment.

56

John Emerson 01.20.08 at 5:46 pm

Among other things, Goldberg has minimized the harm that fascists and the KKK did. Neiwert at Orcinus has some stuff up on that.

It’s as if Goldberg sees sowing confusion as his main job. His book is enough of a mess that I can just barely see it being denounced by some of the surviving rational elements within the Republican Party. Ledeen pulled his punches, but he did seem to have some awareness that that it’s a good idea to use a little restraint and some discretion when spreading misinformation, if only for fear of blowback.

57

rea 01.20.08 at 5:51 pm

The reason we talk about Goldberg, despite the batshit crazy nature of his “ideas,” is that yesterday’s batshit crazy nonsense becomes, if not thoroughly discredited in public debate, tomorrow’s conventional wisdom.

58

"Q" the Enchanter 01.20.08 at 6:20 pm

Really? I can’t dismiss a book without reading it and “seriously” considering its “arguments”? Man, have I got a lot of reading to do.

59

John Emerson 01.20.08 at 6:22 pm

There’s also the “Overton Window” effect. Eventually people will be able to say “Yes, Goldberg overstated his case, but…….” In other words, he doesn’t have to sell his whole argument. If he can just slip a few nuggets into the conventional wisdom, he wins.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window

60

engels 01.20.08 at 6:37 pm

If left-wing college professors dismiss the book without reading it they will do no harm to Goldberg, but will be making themselves even more irrelevant to the intellectual world outside of college campuses

How’s Goldberg’s book selling in Sweden, James? In Egypt? China? I think that most of “the intellectual world outside of college campuses” would agree that you are full of shit.

61

John Emerson 01.20.08 at 6:48 pm

The key word is “outside college campuses”, Engels, not “intellectual world”. I do agree that the “Liberal Fascism” phenomenon has to be taken seriously, even though its ideas don’t.

I also think that dealing with Goldberg is tricky, as I said above. One problem is that his TV and radio publicity will be almost all favorable or at least respectful, for reasons outside our control. There’s a whole world of discourse out there where right-wing truism are dominant and basic principles of argument and evidence are ignored, and it’s hard ro figure out how tobreak into that world.

62

engels 01.20.08 at 7:03 pm

There’s a whole world of discourse out there where right-wing truism are dominant and basic principles of argument and evidence are ignored, and it’s hard ro figure out how tobreak into that world.

Well, it doesn’t seem like that where I live. I fear that somebody is confusing the “world outside college campuses” with the US of A…

63

John Emerson 01.20.08 at 7:33 pm

Engels, are you serious? I am fully aware that the U.S. is not the world. I would be happy to be in a better nation than the one I happen to be in right now. I’m happy that you’re happy, but if you have nothing to offer in this particular argument, couldn’t you just shut the fuck up?

No problems where you are? Good! Wonderful! We have problems over here.

64

Dan Nexon 01.20.08 at 7:50 pm

“As he put it elsewhere, the consensus history argues fascism was both anti-liberal and anti-conservative, but the “liberal” refers to the classical liberalism of the free market/rule of law”

Jonah’s simply wrong about this, as his repeated refrain about “Manchester liberals” showcases. Fascism opposed, simultaneously, economic liberalism and political liberalism, whether conjoined or apart.

I think you seriously misunderstand what’s going on here. As I noted above (#2), the problem is that Jonah’s produced “little more than a mishmash of stuff we already knew—about how many progressives were racists and about how fascism was an offshoot of democratic socialism—cooked in a broth of Hayek to produce an argument that doesn’t really add up.” Jonah isn’t so much popularizing the work of respected academics and intellectuals, he’s written an incoherent screed derivative of their work yet less than the sum of its parts.

In brief, his argument would be defensible–if a waste of additional dead trees–if it was nothing more than a retread of Hayek’s claim that social democracy, communism, and fascism are all manifestations of “statism” and thus all points on the road to serfdom.

But that’s not his argument; rather, he replaces the phrase “statism” with “fasicsm” and then makes us slog through page after page of false syllogisms, dissemblings, selective evidence, and the like to reach the conclusion that contemporary political liberalism is fascistic. What Niewert’s been doing well, and you don’t see to get, is to show two things:

(1) that the key factors that define fascism simultaneously distinguish it from democratic socialism & political liberalism on precisely on the grounds of its opposition to representative democracy, respect for basic human and political rights, and so forth;

(2) that Goldberg’s book requires us to ignore genuine fascists in the United States, almost all of whom tend to live on the right-hand side of the spectrum.

I just spent some time listening to Goldberg complain about how many progressives were racists and eugenicists, so why would people want to call themselves “progressives” (the fact that this *still* doesn’t make progressivism fascism I note only in passing).

All I could think was: for the same reason Goldberh and his compatriots call themselves “conservatives” *even though* many conservatives not that long ago were racists and in favor of eugenics–or things equally bad. Because they rightfully recognize that the core ideological propositions you embrace can be shorn of these particular elements and come out better.

But this cannot be done with fascism, because what makes fascism fascistic is not Keynsian economics, but a total rejection of political liberalism. You cannot be a “liberal fascist” or even a “social-democratic fascist,” for reasons that Berman explains rather well in her *very good* book on the connections between fascism and democratic socialism (for the record, Sheri Berman does not “concede” a fascism-social democracy link; it is a central part of her argument about the ideological shifts created by the crisis of the 19th century European order).

65

engels 01.20.08 at 7:55 pm

O-kay…

66

ed 01.20.08 at 8:33 pm

John Emerson wrote that one of Jonah’s assets which has led to him getting any cred is that, “he can talk NPR talk.” Yeah, I guess (this speaks more to the lamitude of NPR than the eruditity of Goldberg), but as we all saw with the Jon Stewart smackdown*, Jonah’s NPRspeak degrades to full blown Newspeak Babble at the slightest challenge.

So let us challenge Mr. Goldberg. Repeatedly.

*truth be told, Stewart pulled some punches himself, yet still easily demolished the jackass Goldberg

67

John Emerson 01.20.08 at 8:39 pm

I didn’t see the Stewart. I have no idea how effective it would be for a semi-informed, uncommitted viewer. Unfortunately, Stewart mostly reaches high-information voters. (But maybe I’m wrong).

“NPR talk” isn’t content. It’s just seeming reasonable, speaking in a certain tone of voice, nodding in a certain way, adopting certain professorial mannerisms, etc. Your words could be advocating a war of extermination against Islam, and as long as your presentation was mild-mannered and professorial, it would fly on NPR.

68

ed 01.20.08 at 8:50 pm

“NPR talk” isn’t content…

Either way, I thought Goldberg started losing it after he was exposed/challenged.

How on earth you’ve managed to escape the Stewart video is a mystery, it’s all over the Internets. Here’s a link anyway:

http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=147884&title=jonah-goldberg

69

John Emerson 01.20.08 at 9:41 pm

No sound on one computer, no internet on the other.

I’m not disagreeing with you. Baiting Goldberg until he starts sputtering and saying moron shit is absolutely the best strategy, but probably only Stewart can do it. Keeping his composure and keeping a straight face while lying and talking nonsense is Goldberg’s stock in trade.

If you want to know the wrong way to attack Goldberg, go to my link. Goldberg linked to it with this message:

Jonah Goldberg: Baaaaaaaad

So argues this guy.

01/19 05:06 PM

He knows that my kind of argument rolls of his audience’s back. (His audience: moderates and centrists who don’t pay attention but like nice people (of whom I am not one), plus Bush’s 30% — the neo-Confederate Armageddonist anti-tax authoritarian married, pregnant, and in the kitchen hard-core.

70

John Emerson 01.20.08 at 9:43 pm

What Jonah said:

Jonah Goldberg: Baaaaaaaad

So argues this guy.

01/19 05:06 PM

71

Donald Johnson 01.20.08 at 10:43 pm

“Most Americans, however, are wholly unaware of these historical/ideological parallels, which is why this discussion is welcome in my mind. You can go on and on about how the welfare state is warranted anyhow, even given this history. But the history is still well worth reciting, for the same reasons, say, Jeet Heer is interested in exposing the ties between National Review and Franco, Pinochet, etc.”

See, this is precisely the sort of reasoning that I think Goldberg wants to encourage. Most of us uneducated slobs think fascism is bad because fascists were torturers and murderers. But apparently what we don’t realize is that fascists also favored a welfare state. Ah ha, so that means social security is one step along the path that leads to concentration camps.

So for all I know there could be an historical connection between liberal progressive ideas on the welfare state and what fascists favor. So what? Well, I know the answer to that. It means that if you favor the welfare state you favor Auschwitz.

I’m actually sympathetic to people (usually leftists) who get a little overwrought and describe liberal American Presidents as fascists because they bombed villages in Southeast Asia, or because they put antiwar dissidents in jail. “Fascist” may be inaccurate and exaggerated, but I can understand the reaction. The person is condemning the imprisonment of people for their political views or condemning the slaughter of innocent people in war, the sorts of things we condemn fascists for doing. But if Jonah mentions these sorts of things, he should also mention the Republican Presidents who supported mass murderers and overthrew democratic governments in order to install dictators.

Now as for National Review and Pinochet, I used to read National Review and they were the sort that would usually downplay or deny the atrocities of rightwing dictators. I’m tempted to call them fascist, but I haven’t read Jonah’s book, so I’ll refrain.

72

andyoufalldown 01.20.08 at 11:00 pm

novakant: To ally the “cousins-german” idea (fascism and social democracy were reactions to the same structural problems) with Goldberg’s nonsense (liberalism is fascism) is a genetic fallacy.

re the Daily show interview: Hilarious. The best moment is when Goldberg tries the “very serious argument which has” line, and Stewart says “so how is organic food fascist?” Goldberg tries the “Well, I explain that in my book, haven’t you read my book,” but eventually he explains that… wait for it… the Nazis had an organic conception of the state. So organic food is fascist. (!!!!!)

73

John Emerson 01.20.08 at 11:07 pm

Say what you will — I’m not saying that he was perfect or that he never did anything wrong — but Pinochet did NOT force toddlers to eat sugarfree bran muffins. Priorities, folks! Priorities!

74

Walter 01.20.08 at 11:34 pm

I actually think it should be something like a CT Book Event, or anti-Book event in this case.

Maybe just an old fashioned book burning?

75

John Emerson 01.21.08 at 1:33 am

Apparently I was wrong. Goldberg was not hired because the LA Times wanted a stupider, more right wing columnist. They just hired him because they were cutting costs and he charges a bargain rate.

Soon the think tanks will be providing the newspapers with all of their editorialist, FREE!!!!!

76

ed 01.21.08 at 2:15 am

Jonah Goldberg is essentially a version of Nathan Thurm.

Examples:
JG: Hitler was obsessed with Teh Organic…so are Teh Liberals…ergo…
JS (exasperated): That’s like saying that mustaches are fascist.
JG: No it isn’t

77

DW 01.21.08 at 2:46 am

OK, could one of Goldberg’s fans explain something to me? I always got the impression that Nazis and other fascists were bad because

1. They started aggressive wars that killed millions of people.

2. They rounded up millions more people into concentration camps and either worked them to death or simply killed them outright.

3. They were racist and anti-semitic, attempting to kill off the Jews.

4. They ran secret police and showed a contempt for civil liberties.

Call me frivolous, but this seems a little more important than whether they liked organic foods or opposed smoking. So if you wanted to determine who their modern heirs are you would want to identify which political movement:

1. Supports starting wars. Bonus points if there’s an obsession with manliness.

2. Likes rounding up people into prisons without due process.

3. Makes racist and anti-semitic appeals in their politics. These might be coded – for example, industries with a high percentage of Jews (media, academia, etc.) may come in for criticism.

4. Shows contempt for civil liberties.

So if you can show a political faction in America that has these characteristics, you’ve got your heirs to fascism. Just trying to help here.

78

John Emerson 01.21.08 at 2:58 am

DW: No, the Nazis were bad because they made people eat bran muffins. Yuk. ran muffins.

See, we’re beyond the possibility of parody. What’s said in #78 is obviously true and tells us what was wrong with the Nazis — not why they got that way, or the deep significance of their ideology, but just why they are almost univserally perceived to have been very bad.

But how many people in the American media will come straight out and tell Goldberg that his book is worthless because it ignores these points? Jon Stewart didn’t. The Times didn’t. Krugman probably will, and Olbermann will if he ever does Jonah. But everyone else mainstream will treat it as a “point of view”, a “contribution to the debate”, or a joke.

79

gray 01.21.08 at 3:44 am

I could scarcely believe the “organic” bit until I heard it for myself. Clearly one of the greatest pseudo-intellectual debunking moments in web history.

Please . . . if any Goldberg defenders/rationalizers are still reading this thread see that then respond.

Organic State = Organic food . . . . . . . ROFL

80

Zinaida 01.21.08 at 4:14 am

In addition to Dan Nexon’s argument (“EVERYBODY — meaning me, Sheri Berman, and a few other guys — already is aware of the scholarship of John Patrick Diggins, Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Richard Pipes, etc. , therefore Jonah isn’t saying anything anyone already doesn’t know”…yah, riiiight), I find dw’s argument equally uncompelling. Communists, in practice, have been just as bloody, racist, nationalist as their fascist brethren, yet we do not equate Communism with its mere bloody/nationalist excesses. We study its ideological roots, its philisophical heritage, its fears, its hatreds (in the words of John Lukacs), its hopes, its ideals and its stated programs.

Going back to Dan Nexon, your dismissal of a possible democratic and/or liberal fascism strikes me as a wee bit facile. Social democracy, after all, is the liberal/democratic refinement of socialist doctrine. That is, most scholars still consider it a kind of socialism, even though the word is also afforded to all the left-wing dictators as well. If you subscribe to Richard Pipe’s (or A.J. Gregor’s, or perhaps even Sheri Berman’s?) belief (which I do) that fascism, like Bolshevism, marked a heretical break from Marxism , a nationalist, corporatist one, then it seems inconsistent to allow for the idea of a democratized/liberalized socialism without allowing for the idea of a democratized/liberalized fascism.

On Niewart: for every David Niewart cataloging all the racist/antisemitic scumbags who consider themselves on “the right,” there’s a David Horowitz cataloging all the racist/antisemitic scumbags who consider themselves on “the left.” Both enterprises are meaningless when discussing the contours of modern american political discourse, where racism/antisemitism hardly plays a role (I can’t wait for the CT choir to start singing on this one).

On war, civil liberties: It’s always amazing to me how leftists and/or liberals are so quick to assume themselves the guardians of peace. As any good leftist would (rightly) argue, american liberals have just as awful a record in supporting war and clamping down on civil liberties as american conservatives (including our most recent fiasco, I might add). And as any good liberal would (rightly) argue, leftists have just as awful a record in going to war, clamping down on civil liberties (more awful?) than american liberals and conservatives combined. Of course, we don’t have any examples of leftists taking America to war, simply because we’ve never had an actual leftist in power, but leftists seem alright with violence, war, civil liberties crackdowns, etc., elsewhere, as long as such things are being done in the name of anti-imperialism, marxism, socialism. IN SUM, war, civil liberties deficits seems to be much more a problem of the modern nation-state, perse, than any one faction within it. If/when the left gets its way, and America willingly retreats from the world, or unwillingly disintegrates (neither of which, by the way, I automatically presume to be a net loss, although I don’t immediately presume such things to be a net gain either), they’ll still be plenty of war. For instance, I look forward to watching Sweden, et al. go to war once they lose their ability to export national defense concerns to Pax Americana.

81

P O'Neill 01.21.08 at 4:25 am

Soon the think tanks will be providing the newspapers with all of their editorialist, FREE!!

Consistent with the observation that the one bit of the Wall Street Journal that they always gave away was a few choice cuts from the opinion page, and now they’ve made the whole thing free.

82

functional 01.21.08 at 5:22 am

(my answer was emphatically yes: when the dude stops pretending to do research perhaps I’ll start pretending to take him seriously; then again, given his past form, my limited time resources etc, perhaps not).

This is bad pool. Academics are constantly circulating drafts of papers or books, the WHOLE POINT of which is to elicit comments from people who may have read things that you haven’t read. This is even more resoundingly true of any academic who takes on the gargantuan task of writing a broad intellectual history of a 100-plus-year period — given that there are literally tens of thousands of books and articles that might be relevant to any of the numerous topics you would discuss in such a book, it would be complete academic malpractice NOT to seek a bit of guidance from more specialized experts. That’s all Goldberg was doing in the linked comment.

83

Marc 01.21.08 at 6:45 am

Z, you’re talking about a book where the author skips over every single republican president when looking for examples of authoritarianism – while reaching desperately for parallels in every democratic president. Passage after passage in excerpts look like middle school history essays. And we’re supposed to take it seriously? This is a book with working titles linking Mussolini, Hillary Clinton, and Whole Foods. I’m surprised he left out Mr. Rogers and Big Bird. The entire exercise amounts to “cats have tails, dogs have tails, thus cats are dogs.”

It does, however, provide a virtually endless source of entertainment. In the “Plan 9 from Outer Space” sense.

84

dswift 01.21.08 at 7:50 am

Many fine nutshellizings of Goldberg’s ultimate intentions and techniques.

Forgive me if it’s been mentioned — I made it through about half the comments — but here’s what Goldberg is: a standard-issue college Republican who never grew up intellectually and who brilliantly mixes his gifts of gab and narcissism.

His is the sort of narcissism that’s required in order to keep the right-wing movement in power. Narcissists get to do neat stuff we can never do, like drawing conclusions then cherry-picking (and misrepresenting) the evidence to fit.

Goldberg is a propagandist. He considers himself quite the insouciante. He’s “likable” — TV-mass ready fodder who appeals to the hard-of-thinking. He seems likable enough, in fact, so it saddens me that when the Bush-Cheney-Romney era is finally written up, poor Jonah will be a footnote in Chapter 22: Banality of Evil Redux.

85

Zinaida 01.21.08 at 7:56 am

Marc,
First off, the thrust of what I’m getting at here is that even if Jonah’s book itself is a load of crap, many of the scholarly arguments and ideas he’s popularizing are both serious and serve as useful correctives to the public discourse on Fascism and contemporary American politics at large. Secondly, I don’t agree with your characterization of the book. Sure, it’s partisan as all hell, and Jonah fails to really acknowledge how much the American right has come to accept, even exploit, the progressives’ gift of a corporatist political economy (his “tempting of conservatism” chapter notwithstanding). But, despite what SadlyNo, et al. would have you believe, Jonah’s book does not follow the obvious strawman logic that says: A involved B, C also involved B, therefore A = C. Rather, for anyone who gives the book an honest reading will admit, all the talk about organic foods, the war on cancer and smoking, vegetarianism, animal rights, anti-department store campaign, etc. is simply there to argue Fascism out of its popularly-understood “genocidal racism/nationalism and nothing much else” box. He’s making the point, one that Sheri Berman and a host of consensus historians of Fascism have already made (but the public at large has failed to absorb), that Fascism was, at its conception, a well-intentioned, socially-conscious mass reaction to modernity’s discontents.

Look, for most CT readers, popular books written by non-academics, much less conservative pundits, much less conservative pundits already carrying a boat load of partisan baggage, are to be ridiculed as a point of departure. Fine. I get it. Have a ball! But just because you refuse to take Jonah or his book seriously, doesn’t mean the discussion his book is already raising should be ignored, or more accurately, left for the morons. John Emerson’s self-parody of the paranoid, conspiratorial, huffy, secluded, product-of-the-left-wing-echo-chamber mind doesn’t help much either (well, it might help therapeautically, in the most immediate sense).

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Martin Wisse 01.21.08 at 8:08 am

All Goldberg’s book is good for in fact is confirming the European stereotype that America is a land of thickies.

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Z 01.21.08 at 10:08 am

For instance, I look forward to watching Sweden, et al. go to war once they lose their ability to export national defense concerns to Pax Americana.

Oh, rest assured, should Sweden ever finds itself in a war, it will manage honorably. More seriously

IN SUM, war, civil liberties deficits seems to be much more a problem of the modern nation-state, perse, than any one faction within it.

Yes, and more precisely, the more the state is democratic and tolerant of counter-power (political oppositions, free press, voluntary associations, unions…), the least these problems seem to occur, and this is why today’s american liberal cherish those values to the point that no one would be called a liberal if he did not defend them. When the state on the other hand actively fights against democracy and these counter-powers, when it suppresses elections and political oppositions, when it restricts free press, forbids unions and free associations-something done by each and every fascist governments during the XX° century-these abuses seem to happen more often than not. Troubling isn’t it? Oh, and by the way, here you have it, in words that should be plain for an eleven years old, it is absurd to call liberal fascists, thus Jonah Goldberg’s book is absurd and can be dismissed straight away, and no amount of organic food or pertinent arguments from Sheri Berman can change this.

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novakant 01.21.08 at 11:22 am

Communists, in practice, have been just as bloody, racist, nationalist as their fascist brethren

communists/bolsheviki/stalinists != socialists/social democrats/liberals

duh

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John Emerson 01.21.08 at 11:36 am

Zinaida, where were you back a few days ago when I put out the call for idiots? That was a terrible thread. Lemuel Pitkin now hates me because of it. But there were no idiots defending Goldberg — what could I do?

Communists, in practice, have been just as bloody, racist, nationalist as their fascist brethren, yet we do not equate Communism with its mere bloody/nationalist excesses.

For most people, a pretty high degree of oppressiveness and vilence is part of the definition of”Communist” and “fascist”. We don’t “equate” Communism and fascism with their most negative aspects, but these negative aspects are a necessary part of the definition.

Both enterprises are meaningless when discussing the contours of modern American political discourse, where racism/antisemitism hardly plays a role.

There are many reasons why you are wrong. “Southern strategy” might be a place to look. Or the CCC. Or the paleocons. Or Neiwert’s actual research. When you equate neiwert and Horowitz that’s just an assertion.

Even if Jonah’s book itself is a load of crap, many of the scholarly arguments and ideas he’s popularizing are both serious and serve as useful correctives to the public discourse on Fascism and contemporary American politics at large.

He isn’t popularizing these books, he’s tendentiously misrepresenting them. Sheri Berman has been discussed here, and on that thread I even supported her thesis to a degree.

Rather, for anyone who gives the book an honest reading will admit, all the talk about organic foods, the war on cancer and smoking, vegetarianism, animal rights, anti-department store campaign, etc. is simply there to argue Fascism out of its popularly-understood “genocidal racism/nationalism and nothing much else” box.

No what he’s doing is using a definition of fascism which has been so entirely emptied of meaning that it applies to every political group anywhere except for the most doctrinaire Hayekians and Miseians. With that definition it’s easy to prove that American liberals are fascist — so are social democracy, Christian democracy, and most traditional conservative parties (there have been conservative nanny states too, you know).

But for most people, the negative aspects of fascism are quite reasonably essential to the definition, so that the “fascist” label still has a strong stigma (as it indeed should). Goldberg wouldn’t have used the “fascist” word at all without that stigma; smearing liberals was his goal.

And on top of that, he is writing these things while on the staff of a magazine which within recent memory (until 1975) enthusiastically praised the world’s only remaining actual fascist.

And thank you for what you said of me personally! Coming from you, I feel fine about it. Some of us are giving Goldberg a serious critique, and some of us are ridiculing him. The serious critique alone wouldn’t be enough, because neither Goldberg’s true believers (Bush dead-enders) nor his target audience (thoughtless moderates) care about details. Goldberg deserves to be laughed off the stage, and maybe my bran muffin joke will help.

But just because you refuse to take Jonah or his book seriously, doesn’t mean the discussion his book is already raising should be ignored, or more accurately, left for the morons.

Let me correct that for you.

How about:

“But just because Jonah’s book is dishonest, clownish, inaccurate, and worthless, it doesn’t mean that the discussions in the books he’s misrepresenting should be ignored”

Most here would agree, and there’s already been at least one post on this topic. I might also mention Scott Eric Kaufman (an occasional commentator here and friend of many of us, who has a blog called “Acephalous”) who — as we speak — is writing his PhD thesis about, among other things, racism in the works of such early XXc Socialist authors as Jack London.

If you want to know the motivation behind my contempt for Goldberg, it’s that the political movement he belongs to, Movement Republicanism, is by any reasonable definition far closer to fascism than American liberalism is. For that reason, I cannot treat Goldberg as anything but despicable and clownish, and I have to question the motives of the people giving him so much media space. You have said nothing whatsoever to change my mind.

:-)

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Mrs Tilton 01.21.08 at 12:27 pm

Zinaida @85 argues that Jonah’s book is a vulgarisation of Berman et al. That’s as may be.

In the same way, perhaps, those creationists who argued that punctuated equilibrium meant evolution was wrong could be deemed vulgarisers of Gould and Eldredge. Sometimes vulgarisation is more than mere dumbing down. It’s entirely possible for a vulgarisation to create a new, emergent Stupid.

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engels 01.21.08 at 12:45 pm

Maybe Goldberg:Berman::Fascism:Social Democracy?

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jcasey 01.21.08 at 3:36 pm

John Emerson said a punchy list of 100 or so errors in the text would be a step in the right direction. that’s a good idea and I’ve got a few categorized by logical error over at my place. In the meantime, perhaps I could point out (re #85) that the following justification for Goldberg’s opus merely reinforces the straw man objection:

Rather, for anyone who gives the book an honest reading will admit, all the talk about organic foods, the war on cancer and smoking, vegetarianism, animal rights, anti-department store campaign, etc. is simply there to argue Fascism out of its popularly-understood “genocidal racism/nationalism and nothing much else” box. He’s making the point, one that Sheri Berman and a host of consensus historians of Fascism have already made (but the public at large has failed to absorb), that Fascism was, at its conception, a well-intentioned, socially-conscious mass reaction to modernity’s discontents.

I wonder then what the point is. This justification seems to suggest that any well-intentioned (and grossly misrepresented and caricatured NRO style) public policy initiative invites comparison with fascism. That’s just plain silly. And besides, stoned teenagers aside, people know that fascism extends well beyond (even though it may essentially include them) racism and nationalism. But Goldberg doesn’t really know that or even really care.

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John Protevi 01.21.08 at 3:40 pm

Zinadia, I’d pay more attention to your argument (such as it is: we shouldn’t discuss the book Goldberg has written, but rather the books others have written, which Goldberg might have written if (a) he were smarter, and (b) if they weren’t already written) but I can’t shake the image of teh Scandoliberalfascist menace you conjure.

I look forward to watching Sweden, et al. go to war once they lose their ability to export national defense concerns to Pax Americana.

If you want to imagine the future, picture a Volvo circling an Ikea parking lot — forever.

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Rickm 01.21.08 at 4:05 pm

Zinaida-

Is your post supposed to be a rebuttal to Dave’ Neiwert’s critique of Goldberg’s book? Have you read what Dave wrote? It is absolutely devastating.

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Dan Nexon 01.21.08 at 4:32 pm

“Communists, in practice, have been just as bloody, racist, nationalist as their fascist brethren, yet we do not equate Communism with its mere bloody/nationalist excesses. We study its ideological roots, its philisophical heritage, its fears, its hatreds (in the words of John Lukacs), its hopes, its ideals and its stated programs.”

Well, given that when I teach “Mass Violence and Genocide”, I assign The Black Book of Communism, I have no idea what you’re talking about here. I seem to recall most political theory courses that I have been involved with also discuss the practice of Marxist-Leninism.

I believe, also, that the fascism course irregularly offered by my department also studies both the ideology and practice of fascism.

Regardless, if your argument is that the practice of Marxist-Leninism was as bad, if not worse, than fascism, you’ll find no disagreement here.

So I wonder what the point of this exercise is, other than to take us back to point I made above: if Goldberg wants to retread Hayek, that’s fine; he can argue about how statism is the root problem, but that’s a different set of claims than to reduce statism to fascism, which is where talk of things like “organicism” (in ideological roots, a conservative rather than liberal view of state-society relations, in matter of fact) takes him off the rails.

You dismiss, moreover, my argument as “facile” but provide no actual rejoinder to it, rather than to retread the genealogical connection between democratic socialism and fascism. This is, moreover, doubly irrelevant to the American context, where contemporary liberals defend welfare-state policies on liberal rather than socialist grounds.

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Righteous Bubba 01.21.08 at 4:54 pm

First off, the thrust of what I’m getting at here is that even if Jonah’s book itself is a load of crap, many of the scholarly arguments and ideas he’s popularizing

I suggest “poopularizing”.

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jcasey 01.21.08 at 5:09 pm

Righteous bubba and John Protevi make excellent points that merit repeating. Goldberg’s book–and its merits–are the subject of criticism. A defense of Goldberg cannot be that there are other books by people that argue for similar things. The claim is that Goldberg’s arguments stink. Whether other people have made better arguments is immaterial to criticism of Goldberg’s work. I would further suggest that attempts to say “but Goldberg has a point” even though his arguments and facts are wrong is just a sophistical change of subject.

What Goldberg does is a variation of what George Will has made a career out of doing–setting up straw men liberal positions and then comparing them to fascism and communism (at the same time). It’s crap when Will does it; and it’s crap when Goldberg does it. No amount of “they have a point about well-meaning social policy” will rescue them.

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SEK 01.21.08 at 6:06 pm

functional,

Did you read the link I posted above (and here again for your convenience)?* What you think Goldberg was up to doesn’t square with what I know he was up to. He wasn’t engaging in a scholarly dialogue with experts—he wanted someone to validate his misconceptions of Spencer’s thought. When I refused, he testily questioned my authority, despite the fact that I provided, like, evidence and stuff.

*Lest I be accused of self-promotion, I share a masthead with one of the CT contributors, so I’m not some random fool. (Fool, yes; random, no.)

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functional 01.21.08 at 6:58 pm

SEK — no disrespect, but I’ve seen enough academics among different fields to know that they often vigorously disagree amongst themselves — even as to medical, genetic, and other scientific issues, but certainly as to eminently contestable issues such as political thought or intellectual history.

Even looking at your entirely one-sided summary of an email conversation, Goldberg apparently thought that he had some academic authorities in support of whatever view he was taking of Spencer; you seem to have disagreed, but that doesn’t remotely prove that you are so thoroughly and indisputably correct that no one else is allowed a different interpretation.

Bottom line: As with Henry, it’s not fair to accuse Goldberg of wrongdoing simply because he did something that academics do all the freaking time — here, taking one side of an issue where academic authorities can be found on both sides.

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R 01.21.08 at 7:01 pm

I have no plans to read the book, but it occurred to me that if I wasn’t going to bother to read it, I probably shouldn’t spend too much time reading about why other people weren’t going to bother to read it either…

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Righteous Bubba 01.21.08 at 7:13 pm

Bottom line: As with Henry, it’s not fair to accuse Goldberg of wrongdoing simply because he did something that academics do all the freaking time—here, taking one side of an issue where academic authorities can be found on both sides.

“Taking one side” may differ from an intentionally produced smear.

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Mrs Tilton 01.21.08 at 7:18 pm

Functional @96,

it’s a truism that academics differ, but if that’s your defence of Jonah, you’re missing the point a bit.

Jonah blegged for info about Spencer from people who know about Spencer. SEK knows about Spencer and volunteered his knowledge. Because what SEK had to say wasn’t what Jonah wanted to hear, however, Jonah angrily rejected it.

It seems Jonah wasn’t really looking for information about Spencer so much as for emailed support from the lurkers.

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Rickm 01.21.08 at 7:18 pm

functional-

Goldberg isn’t merely disagreeing with the mainstream academic opinion on fascism: he’s attempting to overthrow the entire edifice, and replace scholar’s definition of fascism with his own.

He makes claims that no serious scholar, that I know of, supports (“The white male is the Jew of liberal fascism”, “Hitler was a man of the left”, and the only reason people think Mussolini was a fascist was because of his support in World War I). These are ridiculous claims.

Moreover, on the stuff that Goldberg is right on, he is not presenting anything new. How much chutzpah does one have to claim that one is doing a work of revisionist history, without including any new information derived from primary sources?

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functional 01.21.08 at 7:22 pm

RB and rickm — you’re posting mindlessly. I wasn’t talking about the whole book. I was talking only about the specific Herbert Spencer issue that SEK brought up, where it was being claimed that Goldberg doesn’t/can’t do research, the evidence being that Goldberg agreed with other Herbert Spencer scholars rather than with SEK’s view (whatever that is).

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John Emerson 01.21.08 at 7:25 pm

Jonah: I’m working on a chapter of the book which requires me to read a lot about and by Herbert Spencer. There’s simply no way I can read all of it, nor do I really need to.

I do not think that normal academics work that way. He wanted to plug Spencer into his argument without knowing anything about Spencer. He wasn’t asking for help with the subtleties of a difficult question.

This looks like the standard-average frat-boy scam, one or two notches less contemptible than hiring someone to write your paper for you. His whole attitude toward scholarship is fratboyish, figuring out how to fake it with minimum effort.

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functional 01.21.08 at 7:40 pm

Emerson — you like others are wilfully interpreting Goldberg in the worst possible light. Read more charitably, Goldberg was obviously saying that he had read a “lot” about Spencer, but not “all of it,” and that he wanted to run his interpretation by a more experienced expert.

Look, if you’re writing a biography of Spencer, that would be bad. But if you’re writing a broad intellectual history, there’s no single human being on earth who could read “ALL” that has been written about, say, 300 or 400 individual politicians and intellectuals. Nor — as Goldberg rightly says — would you “need” to do so. Instead, by necessity, you would have to confine yourself to reading a fewer number of works. And then, at some point, you would be VERY WISE to ask more specialized experts to take a quick look and let you know if you’re on the right track.

That’s the only intellectually responsible thing to do. It’s only because of sheer prejudice that anyone has said otherwise.

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Righteous Bubba 01.21.08 at 7:45 pm

RB and rickm—you’re posting mindlessly.

Entirely possible on my part, but the exchange between SEK and Goldberg indicates to me that Goldberg isn’t interested in finding stuff out – you know, doing research.

It’s not that he has to take the side advocated by some stranger, but considering it is nice if he wants to do work that involves detail and care. It was a bleg in the first place, so the quality control in place is likely low.

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Rickm 01.21.08 at 7:46 pm

functional,

Let’s parse Goldberg’s statement, shall we?

He wrote:

“I’m working on a chapter of the book which requires me to read a lot about and by Herbert Spencer. There’s simply no way I can read all of it, nor do I really need to.”

Ok, so a chapter in his book–not a paragraph or page–’requires’ Jonah ‘to read a lot about and by Herbert Spencer’. He then follows the aforementioned statement with this: “there’s simply no way I can read all of it”. What is the ‘it’ referring to? Everything that Spencer wrote and everything that was written about Spencer? No, of course not. The only reasonable interpretation was that Jonah meant that there is “simply no way I can read…a lot about and by Herbert Spencer.”

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functional 01.21.08 at 7:54 pm

Pointless parsing, rickm. 1) The book doesn’t have an entire chapter on Herbert Spencer. If I were writing a book on political deception throughout all of history that included a chapter on the Bush administration, it would be quite natural to say, “I’m working on a chapter that requires me to analyze the Iraq War,” rather than saying, “I’m working on 1.42 pages about the Iraq War.”

2) The key word is “ALL.” Goldberg was saying that he didn’t need to read “ALL” of the stuff that has ever been written “about” Spencer.

So what’s the intellectual standard now — if I write a book that mentions Spencer on a page or so, I’m required to read a shelf-full of books on Spencer? Again, no one could ever write a broad-ranging book if that were really the standard (as opposed to a criticism cooked up just to apply to Goldberg).

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John Emerson 01.21.08 at 7:54 pm

Well, there are good reasons to suspect Goldberg, based on his other practices, so he doesn’t get the normal benefit of the doubt. He’s been well known for some time as a lazy researcher who contracts out his columns to others — exactly the frat-boy type.

I think that everyone who’s done scholarly work of any kind, when they see Goldberg’s blegs, thinks “Why should I read something by somebody who brings nothing much of his own to the table?” Goldberg has source books written by actual scholars, and those are the books people should read. (Why not Goldberg’s “popularization”? Because he cherry-picks and misrepresents his sources in order to score cheap political points. That’s not what popularization is.)

Kaufman, who knows something about Spencer and dealt with Goldberg specifically on the Spencer question, ended up without much respect for Goldberg’s scholarly seriousness. That’s direct evidence.

I guess what you want us to say is something like, “A serious scholar might do something a lot like like what Goldberg did, and it would be OK”. Probably that’s true. And perhaps the original indictment of Goldberg here should have been phrased slightly differently.

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jcasey 01.21.08 at 7:55 pm

It’s hilarious and ironic that those who support Goldberg’s position (or his scholarly method) insist on the principle of charity. If this principle were held by them with any seriousness, they couldn’t read any three word string of Goldberg’s very charitable “Liberal Fascism.” Besides, functional’s interpretation (that Goldberg had read a lot of and about Spencer) is just wrong–he says he needs to.

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Righteous Bubba 01.21.08 at 8:00 pm

It’s only because of sheer prejudice that anyone has said otherwise.

There is indeed prejudice towards Jonah Goldberg because he was something of an idiot before writing his obviously ridiculous book.

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jason 01.21.08 at 8:05 pm

zinaida @ 81,

You write,

Social democracy, after all, is the liberal/democratic refinement of socialist doctrine.

This analogy doesn’t work. If item A comes before item B that doesn’t mean A is its root or cause; both could as well be manifestations of a more fundamental pheonomenon or cause, item C.

Fascism and liberalism are different in their fundamental, defining characteristics. The things that make fascism problematic — say, the hostility to freedom, autonomy, and privacy that are virtually its raison d’être — are not present in liberalism. (Even if certain of liberalism’s features, such as its embrace of some state economic activism, offends a libertarian sensibility, conservatism is no more purist in its attitude to freedom.) This is not to say that liberalism can never intrude upon people’s freedom to an objectionable extent, but that modest and careful claim, which would be persuasive to many on the left as well as the right, is not the one Goldberg chooses to make. Instead he talks about commonalities of roots and about fascism’s actually manifesting itself within liberalism at times and about how fascism itself was leftist.

I think that what liberalism and fascism have in common is simply their status as examples of collectivism, a broader term with more positive and negative connotations and applications than fascism has, and therefore a less useful rhetorical shorthand device for someone seeking to render liberialism inherently insupportable. But it’s, you know, a more accurate claim, one that does not obscure the differences between these two ideologies — differences which are fundamental, not superficial. This process of obscuring, and the polemical use to which it’s being put, I think are a large part of what so exercises us on the left when we consider Goldberg’s book.

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SEK 01.21.08 at 9:15 pm

fuctional,

Here’s the point of confusion:

the evidence being that Goldberg agreed with other Herbert Spencer scholars rather than with SEK’s view

Goldberg wasn’t disagreeing with other Spencer scholars—he was parroting the view that non-Spencer scholars have of Spencer, the “common knowledge” that’s the legacy of popular misunderstanding about his work and contribution to American political thought at the turn-of-the-last-century. Had his position been one of informed dissent from the scholarly consensus, that’d be a different matter entirely. What he does in the book’s terrible twice-over: he bolsters the common knowledge with poor, obsolete scholarship, yells “Gotcha!” and moves on as if he’s made a point.

That said, a commenter at my place nailed what’s wrong with Goldberg’s position:

In promoting his books, the message is ‘Everything you thought you knew about fascism is wrong! Free yourself from the tyranny of liberal academic groupthink!’ But, inform him that he’s wrong about Spencer and the response is ‘You can’t be serious: everybody knows Spencer believed such-and-such; it’s an Academically Acknowledged Fact!’

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John Emerson 01.21.08 at 9:28 pm

Point, Kaufman!

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novakant 01.21.08 at 10:15 pm

To ally the “cousins-german” idea (fascism and social democracy were reactions to the same structural problems) with Goldberg’s nonsense (liberalism is fascism) is a genetic fallacy.

Well, it’s mainly a matter of framing, but I actually disagree strongly with the cousins thesis on its merits – the cousin relationship is so broad that it’s practically meaningless and you will have to stretch the facts hard to get more specific. There was a worldwide economic crises – everybody was reacting to structural problems. I could dig up a few Roosevelt speeches that could have been made by national socialist or social democrats: are Roosevelt and the New Deal also ‘cousins’ of fascism?

But back to framing. Even if this is thesis is presented in a more thoughtful and learned manner, be it by Ferguson on the right or Berman on the left – the thing that sticks with the majority of people is that social democracy and fascism have sprung from the same well and thus are rather closely related. I fear this is very harmful for political discourse.

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John Protevi 01.21.08 at 10:54 pm

Emerson—you like others are wilfully interpreting Goldberg in the worst possible light.

This is to the Internet comments of mere mortals what Naples is to Italian cities — its terrible beauty, its singular audacity, its amazing combination of corruption and bravura all threaten to bring the viewer to the point of mortal collapse.

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novakant 01.21.08 at 11:36 pm

test

119

novakant 01.21.08 at 11:37 pm

why are my comments being eaten?

120

Matt Weiner 01.22.08 at 12:43 am

novakant — are you using the word “soc1alism”?

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John Emerson 01.22.08 at 12:52 am

The word soc*alism includes the word c*alis and is suppressed. Also, The Man is attacking liberating discourse.

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novakant 01.22.08 at 1:42 am

I think I’m missing some in-joke here or maybe it’s just to late.

It might have been my usage of the exclamation mark before the equal sign, when I made the rather obvious point against Zinaida that communists/bolsheviki/stalinists are not to be mixed up with socialists/social democrats/liberals, that alerted the blogging software.

FWIW my second post was in response to andyoufalldown and the point was twofold:

I still think that the thesis that social democracy and fascism spring from a common source is

a.) wrong or so broad as to be meaningless, because due to the worldwide crisis of the time everybody was reacting to structural changes and I could dig up some Roosevelt speeches that could have been written by socialists or fascists

b.) that even when the point is made by people infinitely more learned and thoughtful than Goldberg, such as N. Ferguson on the right or S. Berman on the left with whom it would be worth debating, the thing that will stick in the minds of the majority of people is that social democracy and fascism spring from the same well and are therefor quite closely related, so that I consider such claims also as politically very harmful

good night

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nick s 01.22.08 at 6:47 am

So what’s the intellectual standard now—if I write a book that mentions Spencer on a page or so, I’m required to read a shelf-full of books on Spencer?

How about “yes”? At least, “yes” for the sort of book you apparently would like Liberal Fascism to be. That’s the rule-of-thumb for the kind of research that’s distilled into a doctoral thesis. If you want to call that a false comparison, then I’ll have to note that Goldberg announced his plan to write this book in 2003, the cover and listing appeared on Amazon in 2005, and the book itself was finished in mid-2007. Doctoral degrees are completed in the same time-frame by graduate students with teaching responsibilities.

John Emerson is right: that Corner post was the equivalent of requesting a Cliff’s Notes version of Spencer’s work, just as a lazy undergraduate would troll in search of an essay argument for a novel he hasn’t read.

This is why the best description of the O.M.P. is travesty, in the literary sense. He knows that the kind of book he’s aping requires actual research, but he also knows that a) doing the reading is hard work; b) it might spoil his potted argument; c) he can pull it off with a spoonfed précis.

Picking up on SEK, I think it’s fair to say that if this book could have been written, with the same broad thesis, in a scholarly fashion, it would have already been done so by a precocious historian with an eye on climbing the greasy pole.

It’s certainly possible to offer interpretations that radically challenge established historiography — J.C.D. Clark comes to mind — but there’s a difference between that kind of informed dissent, to borrow SEK’s phrase, and a ‘secret history’ from a controversialist dabbler.

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Matt Weiner 01.22.08 at 1:06 pm

I think I’m missing some in-joke here or maybe it’s just to late.

No, we’re serious — any comment containing the string “c i a l i s” is held for moderation, including “s o c i a l i s m” and “s o c i a l i s t.” That’s what happened to your comments.

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novakant 01.22.08 at 2:15 pm

oh ok, thanks, that’s certainly quite hilarious

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functional 01.22.08 at 9:49 pm

How about “yes”? At least, “yes” for the sort of book you apparently would like Liberal Fascism to be.

I feel pretty confident in saying that there’s never been a trade book published that had a bibliography long enough to meet your standard here.

Picking up on SEK, I think it’s fair to say that if this book could have been written, with the same broad thesis, in a scholarly fashion, it would have already been done so by a precocious historian with an eye on climbing the greasy pole.

Are you aware of the political proclivities of most historians? What on earth makes you think they would receive such a book kindly, no matter how well substantiated?

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Righteous Bubba 01.22.08 at 10:07 pm

Are you aware of the political proclivities of most historians? What on earth makes you think they would receive such a book kindly, no matter how well substantiated?

Those fascists! Case closed!

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Walt 01.22.08 at 10:18 pm

I think at this point functional has made it clear that his mind is as closed as you can possibly imagine. And yet we’re the fascists. (Well, the rest of you are. I never went to Swarthmore or Brown.)

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Fellow Traveler 01.23.08 at 12:52 am

Most of these posts are non-responsive insofar as Goldberg’s thesis is concerned. It simply won’t do to preemptively assail an author on the grounds that his taxonomy is unconventional or that he is engaged in word-games when said author has penned a 496-page book principally arguing that, 1) The conventional taxonomy errs, and 2) The error is more than semantic. Goldberg’s critics unwittingly affirm the necessity of his book.

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tzs 01.23.08 at 2:37 am

If Jonah wants his efforts to be taken seriously, then he’s going to have to sit down and do some actual research.

The fact that he doesn’t seem to know German nor Italian makes me highly suspicious he has done even the basics necessary–i.e., go back to the original sources and read them in the original. I doubt he has read more than a thimble of the analysis that already exists out there, and I’ll take any bet you want that anything in Italian or German that hasn’t been translated has been totally off the radar.

So I’m supposed to bow down and take seriously the task of analyzing the efforts of someone who, even at a first glance, didn’t do his homework?

Forget it. Someone slap Jonah upside the head and tell him to look at what a real work of scholarship looks like before he tries wasting our time again.

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John Emerson 01.23.08 at 2:37 am

So functional, basically you’re going to reject all criticism that comes from professional historians or other scholars, because they’re all liberals?

There’s a bit more to scholarship than “a bibliography long enough”. Some well-received books have rather short bibliographies.

Popular books can condense and summarize, but they can’t say things that scholarly works have shown to be wrong.

And so: who is the populist anti-intellectual (perhaps fascist) here? Me or you?

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functional 01.23.08 at 2:48 am

Picking up on SEK, I think it’s fair to say that if this book could have been written, with the same broad thesis, in a scholarly fashion, it would have already been done so by a precocious historian with an eye on climbing the greasy pole.

Good point. I wonder if a respected historian might have written a similar book before.

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functional 01.23.08 at 2:59 am

So functional, basically you’re going to reject all criticism that comes from professional historians or other scholars, because they’re all liberals?

You mean, actual criticism by experts who have read the book or who at least show any sign of knowing what it says (rather than relying on patently false caricatures)? I’m happy to consider such criticism.

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John Protevi 01.23.08 at 3:22 am

You mean, actual criticism by experts who have read the book or who at least show any sign of knowing what it says (rather than relying on patently false caricatures)? I’m happy to consider such criticism.

functional, we await your reading of Dave Neiwert’s reviews of Goldberg’s book, which match your criteria. You can start here, but please do follow the links provided in Neiwert’s piece back to his other reviews.

Don’t punk out on us. Come back soon with your response. We’ll be waiting. If you don’t, we’ll know you as a coward and blowhard.

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functional 01.23.08 at 3:36 am

I was talking about actual experts, not someone who non-ironically cites Umberto Eco as having proved that “fascism” means modern right-wingers.

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jcasey 01.23.08 at 3:40 am

Goldberg has “responded” to Neiwart’s latest criticism. To say the least, his responses merely underscore the fact that he has no interest in honest discussion, as he dishonestly rips Neiwart’s claims out of context and obsesses over his motivations. Given this deplorable behavior, why is it that his supporters scream foul when someone challenges the veracity of Goldberg’s views? Does he extend the same charity to others?

137

SEK 01.23.08 at 3:41 am

Functional,

A professional philosopher as hostile to the Continental/multicultural/feminist/&c. traditions as Goldberg is finds Eco’s list penetrating. Care to explain how fascist (in Goldberg’s sense) Leiter is?

(And for the record, I read a pre-publication galley of the book, so I’m not shooting from the hip here. It is as tendentious and poorly researched as advertised.)

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John Protevi 01.23.08 at 3:44 am

functional, you are a coward and a blowhard.

139

jcasey 01.23.08 at 3:53 am

I think Functional–and Goldberg–has completely misunderstood Neiwart’s point with Eco’s (and others’) definitions of fascism. The point isn’t to call righties like Goldberg “fascists.” No one seriously does that. The point is twofold. First, to object to the claim that lefties think fascism means anything bad and therefore right wing. No one believes that. Second, fascism, as Neiwart means to point out, has a fairly specific historical definition as a right wing movement. As Neiwart stresses, however, its being a phenomenon of the right–read Mussolini if you doubt this–does not mean righties are actual fascists any more than lefties are communists. This just means Goldberg’s thesis is factually groundless–i.e., false.

Saying it’s false, by the way, is not the same as calling Goldberg a liar.

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Righteous Bubba 01.23.08 at 5:07 am

Jonah’s response to Neiwert is ridiculous from the get-go:

Neiwert:

The cult of tradition.

[Who are the folks who beat their breasts (and ours) incessantly over the primacy of 'traditional Judaeo-Christian culture'?]

Goldberg:

Uh huh. First, Judeo-Christian culture isn’t a “cult” it’s like, you know, our culture.

Apart from the likelihood that Jonah doesn’t read Italian or German he’s not so hot with English either.

141

Righteous Bubba 01.23.08 at 5:09 am

Whoops, square brackets should have been blockquoted as they’re Neiwert’s…and other tag issues as well.

Anyway Jonah mistakes “the cult of tradition” as equating to calling whatever the cult uses as its totem for the cult itself.

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functional 01.23.08 at 5:35 am

fascism, as Neiwart means to point out, has a fairly specific historical definition as a right wing movement.

Sheer question-begging. What explains the fact that — as Neiwert takes great pains never to discuss — there were so many progressives in the early 20th century that had such admiration for fascism and Mussolini? That’s a fact that can’t be wished away simply by waving your hands in the air and whining that Goldberg didn’t read enough books about Herbert Spencer, or whatever silly double standard is invented next.

I saw Goldberg, forget where, making the obvious and undeniable point that if John Ashcroft (for example) had taken to calling himself a “Confederate,” people would rightly ask what the hell he was up to. But when modern liberals (like Hillary) relabel themselves as “progressives,” no one bats an eye — and it’s because they’ve bought into this rose-colored view of history in which “progressives” did nothing except bring us antitrust law and safety regulations (whereas, in reality, they also supported eugenics, threw political dissidents in jail, made gooey-eyes at fascism, etc.).

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Righteous Bubba 01.23.08 at 6:23 am

I saw Goldberg, forget where,

Okay, you read Jonah Goldberg. We get it. In case you haven’t noticed he’s written a recent book with a Hitler smiley on the cover. He’s a fool.

What I’m really interested in is a defense of this sentence: “The white male is the Jew of liberal fascism.”

Come on functional: defend that sentence and convince me that it wouldn’t be better jabbered from under some rags in an alley by a bum off his meds.

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John Emerson 01.23.08 at 10:26 am

It simply won’t do to preemptively assail an author on the grounds that his taxonomy is unconventional or that he is engaged in word-games when said author has penned a 496-page book principally arguing that, 1) The conventional taxonomy errs, and 2) The error is more than semantic.

That’s pure Humpty-Dumpty-ism: “A word means what I say it means.”

His new definition does not help us to pick out the actual regimes and movements which did call themselves fascist, and which were customarily called fascist by others. It just lumps a lot of people he disagrees with.

We understand what Jonah did: he came up with a new definition of fascism customized for the purpose of saying that liberals are fascists, or like fascists. (A moving target there; the title and cover clearly imply that liberal really are fascists, but Goldberg won’t let himself be pinned down).

His material point is that, like almost all real-world political movements anywhere since 1932, and most of them since 1917, an many of them before that time, fascism and liberalism are neither traditionalist conservatives nor (Austrian) free-market liberals. He just calls that aggregate “fascist”, in defiance of pretty much else’s definition. It’s like the last Austrian Habsburg came back to life to denounce the modern world.

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MFB 01.23.08 at 12:15 pm

My God, you people have time on your hands!

How are you ever going to get the trains running on time, take Madrid or make it to Lake Como before the partisans get there, if you spend so much time wittering about whether fascism is liberal, liberalism is fascist, or whether Jonah Goldberg ought to be painfully euthanised as a subhuman whose genes should not be allowed to pollute the pool?

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jcasey 01.23.08 at 12:21 pm

Functional,

Everyone understands that Goldberg wants to revisit the history of the progressive movement and uncover its secret passion for Mussolini or for things Mussolini liked. What does this establish? That the “progressives” of then either (a) liked Mussolini’s views on some things; or (b) they also liked some of the same things the fascists liked. As for (b) I’m a big fan of on-time trains. But that doesn’t make me a fascist. As for (a), that was then, and those people are not the same progressives by a long shot. (b) Turns out to be a fantastically ridiculous logical error–the undistributed middle. (a) is a variation of genetic fallacy (on the most charitable formulation. One could drive a truck through the logical confusion in Goldberg’s argument–nitpicking with his critics about this or that point and misusing grown up terms like “begging the question” does nothing to change that. Neiwart has offered several different historical and contemporary versions of fascism. They have in common (among other things) their being rightwing movements. Again, does that mean the right wing now is fascist? Absolutely not, no one argues that. Does that mean some extreme elements of the right (here and abroad) are fascist? Yes. Does that mean all extreme right wing movements are fascist? Nope. Some are just theocratic. Ask Mike Huckabee.

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Dan Nexon 01.23.08 at 1:39 pm

“I saw Goldberg, forget where, making the obvious and undeniable point that if John Ashcroft (for example) had taken to calling himself a “Confederate,” people would rightly ask what the hell he was up to. But when modern liberals (like Hillary) relabel themselves as “progressives,” no one bats an eye—and it’s because they’ve bought into this rose-colored view of history in which “progressives” did nothing except bring us antitrust law and safety regulations (whereas, in reality, they also supported eugenics, threw political dissidents in jail, made gooey-eyes at fascism, etc.).”

See my answer to this at #65. Somehow Goldberg and his friends call themselves “conservatives” without worrying too much about their predecessors’ own support for absolute monarchy, slavery, racism, and, interestingly enough, fascism. The valence of “conservative” is different in the contemporary period than it once was, just as the valence of “progressivism” is different now.

Admiration of Wilson’s internationalism does not require admiration for his virulent racism. Admiration for many elements T.R.’s new nationalism doesn’t require admiration for his part in the anti-hyphenation campaign.

PS: although I’d generally be less concerned about what The New Republic thought about Mussolini in the 1920s than what writers at the National Review thought over the last few decades about him and other fascists.

Which, while I’m at it, takes us back to the question of why Jonah’s taking this moment in time to instruct us about the dark side of progressivism on issues such as suspension of civil liberties. I think there was a rather illuminating thread on this very blog about that subject….

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Uncle Kvetch 01.23.08 at 2:45 pm

Uh huh. First, Judeo-Christian culture isn’t a “cult” it’s like, you know, our culture.

Good God.

We’re talking about a strutting, unapologetic simpleton here. A walking, talking answer to the hypothetical, “What would George W. Bush be like if he were a wannabe intellectual instead of a politician?” And we’re expected to engage him and take him seriously.

I weep for my country.

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Randy Paul 01.23.08 at 2:56 pm

I´ll repeat this for functional´s sake:

When someone purports to write a book about fascism and makes but two tangential references to Francisco Franco, completely ignoring Mussolini´s and Hitler´s aid to Franco (hardly a leftist) and makes zero mention of the volunteers that Franco sent to help the Nazis fight the Soviets, it ought to be acceptable to dismiss it without reading it.

Not to mention the fact that the magazine for which he blogs/writes lavished praise on Franco.

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Zinaida 01.23.08 at 5:18 pm

Arnold Kling’s take: http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=011108A

I know John Emerson*, et al. don’t care a rat’s ass what a George Mason type thinks (intellectual agoraphobia, alas), but for those who do make their way out of the house, it’s worth a look, in addition to the linked essay: http://www.independent.org/pdf/tir/tir_10_1_1_klein.pdf

*Whenever I read Emerson, I can’t help being reminded of the Woody Allen quip: “I’m not a narcissist. If I were to compare to any god, it’d be Zeus.” Sorry I’m picking on you, John. If only you didn’t epitomize everything wrong with the ‘vision of the anointed’ crowd. Ok, ok, Kaufmann and Farrell qualify as close seconds. To be fair.

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nick s 01.23.08 at 5:28 pm

functional:

Really, what’s your fracking point? That the politics of the 1930s across Europe and the US show a fracturing of the laissez-faire model of consensus that took the Great Powers over the precipice in 1914? Because that’s really not controversial. (Others have linked to Thomas Laqueur’s lecture on this period from his History 5 class entitled ‘The Failure of Politics Between The Wars’. Listen to it.)

John Emerson is correct to say that the Goldberg Uncertainty Principle, in which a definition changes every time you look at it, seems to re-establish fascism as ‘anti-laissez-faire’, which is both absurd and dishonest.

As for the ‘political proclivities’ of historians, Niall Ferguson isn’t doing too badly for himself, and one of the linchpins of his reputation is a revisionist analysis of whether Britain should have entered the Great War.

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Fellow Traveler 01.23.08 at 5:36 pm

Emerson – Why are you not content to contest Goldberg’s thesis? Why is it necessary to claim that he has engaged in bald assertion? (“A word means what I say it means.”) A 496-page exposition may ultimately fail to make its case, but it is manifestly not bald assertion. A perusal of the index points toward a cumulative argument. (Having just begun the book, I’m impressed by the manner in which he establishes themes inductively, through a wide-ranging survey of seemingly disparate corners of the intelligentsia. His discussion of Wilson’s “war socialism” is quite good.)

Your suggestion that he has reverse-engineered his thesis carries the presumption of insight into his method and motive. Even if this charge could be proved, it would be irrelevant to an assessment of the thesis. An intellectual, whether actual or aspiring, is better served by centering discourse on ideas. This fixation on the author’s personality (or alleged dishonesty) is simply not interesting.

What is interesting is the way in which this debate seems to touch upon the philosophy of language. How do we distinguish a linguistic convention from an existential property? What is the relationship between the two? Where is the divide? How does Goldberg’s book answer these questions? If you read up through this sequence of posts, for example, you’ll find that linguistic arguments elicit existential replies and vice-versa. Frequently, the various interlocutors are not talking about the same thing.

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John Protevi 01.23.08 at 5:39 pm

Zinaida, with friends like you, does Goldberg really need enemies? Kling writes:

Reviewing Goldberg’s book is difficult. I would argue that it is many books, written by an author with Multiple Personality Disorder. There is Goldberg the revisionist historian, Goldberg the outraged conservative child, and Goldberg the troll.

Yowza!

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John Emerson 01.23.08 at 5:55 pm

Kling: In my view, Goldberg should have written his revisionist history without dropping the f-bomb [i.e., without using the word "fascism".]

Kling seems to be saying politely that if Goldberg, or perhaps someone else, had written quite a different book, it might have been a good one.

Zinaida, don’t apologize. But you seem to be objecting to the way I argue, or the kind of person I am, rather than saying that I’m wrong about anything. That makes you seem like an ignorant resentful populist, which is not generally regarded as a good thing to be. (And in fact, something I’m occasionally accused of being.)

In your face, Kaufman! Yo’ mama, Farrell! Bite me, guys!

155

Righteous Bubba 01.23.08 at 6:02 pm

Zinaida, with friends like you, does Goldberg really need enemies?

Indeed. More Kling:

In my view, Goldberg should have written his revisionist history without dropping the f-bomb.

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John Protevi 01.23.08 at 6:27 pm

But enough fun, Zinaida, your act is getting tiresome. Do you really think CT readers are unaware of critiques of statism? That your little links are going to send us to arguments we haven’t read many, many times already? And do you also think there are no left critiques of statism? That there is neither a liberal (limited government) left, nor an anarchist left? And that we haven’t studied those arguments as well as the Hayekian ones? Just what site do you think you have stumbled upon? Just because we crack wise with dunderheads doesn’t mean we haven’t done our homework.

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Righteous Bubba 01.23.08 at 6:50 pm

Enjoy Jonah misquoting his own book. That’s white male not white man.

Yes, it’s picky and petty, but hey, I’m a fascist.

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functional 01.23.08 at 7:05 pm

Randy Paul — are we to take your assertions about “two tangential references” to Franco on sheer faith?

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John Protevi 01.23.08 at 7:22 pm

zinaida, you’re busted. randy paul posted at 2:56, before your 5:18 which provided us with such merriment. but when you come back you don’t deal with the way you’ve been shown to be a tiresome hack whose idea of a “serious” review is one that calls Goldberg a child and a troll, and whose idea of an enlightening link is to bog-standard libertarian critiques of statism. the conclusion: you’re a wimp who can’t take the heat and has to look for nits to pick in posts before you’ve made a fool of yourself.

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John Protevi 01.23.08 at 7:24 pm

yikes! i’ve confused my tiresome hacks with my cowardly blowhards. sorry, functional.

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Zinaida 01.23.08 at 9:49 pm

John Protevi,
I am well aware that CT enjoys many readers/writers well-versed in the libertarian/classically liberal critique of contemporary politics. The reason I began posting here in the first place was in the hopes of engaging these people. Dan Nexon’s posts were interesting (yet I still don’t understand why the idea of a liberal/democratic socialism — social democracy — is just fine, while the idea of a liberal/democratic fascism is nonsense*; was H.G. Wells really that much of a moron?). It was especially fascinating watching John Emerson grandstand about how everything marginally truthful in Jonah’s book is already known by everybody, while a flood of rabid commentators, on this blog and across the blogosphere, simultaneously displayed shock at the very suggestion that socialism, progressivism, modern liberalism and fascism would actually have anything whatsoever to do with one another.

Anway, with regards to left critiques of statism, I have yet to read one which is both consistent and sincere. If you have a recommendation, please, divulge. (Reading Chomsky or Guerin on ‘anarchism’ is very entertaining, in a vaudeville kind of a way.)

*See #81

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Randy Paul 01.24.08 at 1:07 am

Functional,

I looked in the index. There are two mentions of Franco: one in reference to Pat Buchanan´s sort of anticommunist leanings and one in reference to franco allowing Jews sanctuary during WWII and revoking the decree banishing Jews.

So no, please don´t accept mine on faith. I actually looked. Perhaps you should do the same before making youself look tendnetious and clueless.

Warm regards,

RP

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Righteous Bubba 01.24.08 at 1:41 am

…a flood of rabid commentators, on this blog and across the blogosphere, simultaneously displayed shock at the very suggestion that socialism, progressivism, modern liberalism and fascism would actually have anything whatsoever to do with one another.

At a minimum, I agree that they are all in sentences written by people such as yourself.

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Dan Nexon 01.24.08 at 3:02 am

My understanding is that Wells’ concept of liberal fascism was about having a revolutionary, autocratic elite create his vision of a liberal utopia. I’m not sure what relevance this has to the substantive objection I made: that what distinguishes fascism from democratic socialism and contemporary liberalism is that the former rejects political liberalism while the latter two movements embrace it.

Now, one could construct a political system ruled by autocrats but forwarding certain liberal principles. This world has some experience with dictators implementing liberal economic programs. And one could, I suppose, speculate about a benign autocrat presiding over a system with otherwise extensive civil liberties. But this would hardly amount to a “liberal fascism” unless we redefine fascism as any form of autocracy[*].

Which, I suppose, amounts to a long-winded way of saying that just because Wells’ uses the term doesn’t render it coherent or meaningful.

I really enjoyed the Kling essay, by the way. He makes the same point, but more eloquently, that I’ve made here and on Niewart’s blog: that Goldberg’s basically taken Hayek, redefined his category of “statism” and “fascism,” and then stirred in some dirty laundry from the annals of progressivism and the American left. But it doesn’t work, because if we adopt a Hayekian position, fascism is a manifestation of statism, not the master category.

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Dan Nexon 01.24.08 at 3:04 am

My understanding is that Wells’ concept of liberal fascism was about having a revolutionary, autocratic elite create his vision of a liberal utopia. I’m not sure what relevance this has to the substantive objection I made: that what distinguishes fascism from democratic soc1alism and contemporary liberalism is that the former rejects political liberalism while the latter two movements embrace it.

Now, one could construct a political system ruled by autocrats but forwarding certain liberal principles. This world has some experience with dictators implementing liberal economic programs. And one could, I suppose, speculate about a benign autocrat presiding over a system with otherwise extensive civil liberties. But this would hardly amount to a “liberal fascism” unless we redefine fascism as any form of autocracy[*].

Which, I suppose, amounts to a long-winded way of saying that just because Wells’ uses the term doesn’t render it coherent or meaningful.

I really enjoyed the Kling essay, by the way. He makes the same point, but more eloquently, that I’ve made here and on Niewart’s blog: that Goldberg’s basically taken Hayek, redefined his category of “statism” and “fascism,” and then stirred in some dirty laundry from the annals of progressivism and the American left. But it doesn’t work, because if we adopt a Hayekian position, fascism is a manifestation of statism, not the master category.

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John Emerson 01.24.08 at 10:13 am

I feel the same way about you, Zinaida!

I think that there were things on this thread that you might have learned from, even in the things I wrote, but nothing really to confirm your prejudices the way that Goldberg’s book does. (And indeed, I said something different than what some of the others did! Though I do share their anger at Goldberg’s cheap trick).

And yes, everything true Goldberg has said was better said by someone else, and from Goldberg there’s more value-subtracted than value-added. Even some of the conservative critics have said as much.

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Mrs Tilton 01.24.08 at 10:58 am

Anway, with regards to left critiques of statism, I have yet to read one which is both consistent and sincere. If you have a recommendation, please, divulge.

It’s been talked about here often enough before, but see Seeing Like a State by James Scott.

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engels 01.24.08 at 12:15 pm

with regards to left critiques of statism, I have yet to read one which is both consistent and sincere

You see the trouble with statements like that is that they reveal that you are either remarkably ignorant of most of what has been written by people on the left over the last couple of centuries, or just a nutjob. At this point, I can’t say I really care which.

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Zinaida 01.24.08 at 1:53 pm

Dan Nexon,
I fear we’re talking past each other. I mentioned Wells as an aside, only to reinforce the fact that at one point in time, not long ago, fascism and progressive politics were not framed so as to be opposites. But that is only an aside. My main point was this: if one accepts the idea that mussolini’s fascism was a nationalist, corporatist “heresy” of marxism, much like bolshevism was an unscientific “heresy,” and later on, virtually identical to fascism in its nationalism (as most developing world socialisms have become), it doesn’t make much sense to allow for the idea of a liberalized/democratized socialism — social democracy — while finding the notion of a liberal fascism hokum. The kind of “liberal fascism” Jonah sees in American politics differs from Mussolini/Hitler fascism about as much as social democracy differs from Lenninist/Stalinist (and for that matter, Titoist or Castroist) socialism. This is because socialism/communism and fascism, taught to the greater public as opposites, are not at all opposites, but various strains of the same collectivist seed. It’s about time this fact, well-accepted among academics, becomes well-accepted among the public at large.

John Emerson,
I agree that there is much “value-subtracted” in Jonah’s book. I wouldn’t have posted Kling’s review if I hadn’t. However, I do see the book as a net gain; one, because I don’t see see its “vulgarization” of serious, academic works being as vulgar as you and others contend, two, because (unlike Kling, but in his own words), I believe Jonah’s book DOES succeed in exposing, to a wider public, the liberals’ and/or left’s “faith in unproven scientific fads, faith in technocratic elites, and faith that those who share progressive ideology have superior wisdom and moral standing that justifies ruling over others. I believe that the best way to insulate oneself against romanticizing the state is to recognize these faiths and their dangers.” Clearly, our differences here derive from differences in political temperament or preference.

Mrs. Tilton,
Thank you. I’ve actually skimmed a little Scott here or there at various bookstores. He offers a very interesting critique of the state (although, as Delong notes, still a very Hayekian one). What I’m really looking for, though, and have yet to find, is a left-anarchist, left-libertarian offering a vision for the future that does not blatantly contradict his/her own anti-hierarchy, anti-authority stated goals. The localist, kibbutz-like formula comes closest to this ideal, but since it still disallows individuals from associating, trading as they see fit, it is a far cry from the kind of freedom left-anarchists/left-libertarians purport to represent. I always wonder, “if it is localism you seek, why not call for voluntary communes insulated within a greater free-market framework?”

Engels-
If you know of writers who address the above sufficiently in your mind, please direct me.

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someone 01.24.08 at 2:50 pm

It’s quite a leap, though, from “insulating oneself against romanticizing the state” to advocating anarcho-communism.

It is possible, you know, to criticize statism, realize its dangers and so on without demanding immediate abolition of the state.

You’re asking to produce such a justification of very radical concept (anarcho-communism) that you would be able to accept as reasonable; well, don’t be surprised that it’s difficult to find.

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jcasey 01.24.08 at 3:31 pm

Zinaida writes:

I agree that there is much “value-subtracted” in Jonah’s book. I wouldn’t have posted Kling’s review if I hadn’t. However, I do see the book as a net gain; one, because I don’t see see its “vulgarization” of serious, academic works being as vulgar as you and others contend, two, because (unlike Kling, but in his own words), I believe Jonah’s book DOES succeed in exposing, to a wider public, the liberals’ and/or left’s “faith in unproven scientific fads, faith in technocratic elites, and faith that those who share progressive ideology have superior wisdom and moral standing that justifies ruling over others. I believe that the best way to insulate oneself against romanticizing the state is to recognize these faiths and their dangers.” Clearly, our differences here derive from differences in political temperament or preference.

Let’s not equivocate on the faith-based party here. “Faith” in scientific “fads” (weasel word) ain’t the same thing as religious “faith”. To assert as much amounts to the fallacy of equivocation. I have well-founded faith in the authority of the scientific community; I don’t have well-founded faith in the clarity or authority of the sum total of competing religious traditions.

One more point. Every time you seal yourself in the voting cubicle, you attempt to choose how others will be governed–whether they can have private consensual gay sex, abortions, drugs, or whether they can have private phone conversations, a right to a speedy trial, etc. Of course the lefty thinks his ideology is superior. To point that out is to say absolutely nothing meaningful. Goldberg, and you his sophistical defender, think your ideology is superior. That’s why you bother to make these arguments.

Goldberg’s defenders are beginning to outstrip him in sophistry.

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Righteous Bubba 01.24.08 at 3:45 pm

I don’t see see its “vulgarization” of serious, academic works being as vulgar as you and others contend

Have you noticed the book’s cover?

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Dan Nexon 01.24.08 at 6:29 pm

“This is because socialism/communism and fascism, taught to the greater public as opposites, are not at all opposites, but various strains of the same collectivist seed.”

I don’t think we’re talking past one another. I agree that this line of argument, unlike Goldberg’s, has some intellectual coherence. But I think it is, ultimately, wrong.

National Socialism isn’t properly understood as a heresy of Marxism.

The primary contradiction of modern history (if there was one, which there isn’t) is not individualism against collectivism/statism.

And fascism is simply incompatible with political liberalism. Indeed, Well’s own confused attempt to stipulate a “liberal fascism” and how that project fared in the face of actual fascists undermines, rather than supports, the possibility of such a fusion.

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Stuart 01.24.08 at 6:44 pm

Whew. I read through 173 comments, and the best I can distill from all this is that people love their labels, and will launch the verbal equivalent of thermonuclear war over who gets to assign the labels they choose to which phenomena.

Look, it isn’t novel to say that collectivism comes in different flavors and manifestations, but that many of the animating impulses are similar and draw on a number of similar sources. Hayek said it first and best, but his prose is as attractive as cardboard. Boiled to its essence (and no, I haven’t read the book yet), that’s what I think Goldberg is saying, but in bouncier prose than Hayek: if you favor statist or collectivist solutions, or prefer that kind of social organization, there’s a lot of baggage that historically has come along with that approach (squashing individuals, infringements of rights, militarism), and you have to work really hard to implement your views without encountering the pitfalls that others have before you – so hard that maybe it’s not possible to do it effectively. The proposition that fascism and communism are both different fruits of the same orchard shouldn’t be shocking to anyone, nor should anyone be shocked that modern left-leaners draw from some of the same sources. Goldberg’s errors are (1) using the “fascist” label instead “statist” or “collectivist” and (2) not recognizing that there are strands of statism in modern conservative thought as well.

Other than that, though, it looks to me like Goldberg accomplished what he set out to do: get a lot of attention by making those on the other side of the political fence from him holler and scream and fling poo at him.

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John Protevi 01.24.08 at 6:59 pm

stuart, you are being much too kind (or you are being disingenuous) by saying that these are “errors” by Goldberg:

(1) using the “fascist” label instead “statist” or “collectivist” and (2) not recognizing that there are strands of statism in modern conservative thought as well.

The whole point of the book (see the title) is to use the fascist “label”!

You’re like Kling: it would have been better if Goldberg had not used the central rhetorical strategy (it really doesn’t deserve the term “thesis” as far as I can tell from the reviews I’ve read [in addition to Kling, see e.g., Neiwert]) of his book: in other words it would have been better if Goldberg had not written the book he did, but another, better one, which unfortunately, has already been written.

As far as hollering and screaming and flinging poo, I think Goldberg has that market just about cornered. Unless you think “the white male is the Jew of liberal fascism” isn’t poo-flinging.

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jcasey 01.24.08 at 7:01 pm

Stuart writes:

Whew. I read through 173 comments, and the best I can distill from all this is that people love their labels, and will launch the verbal equivalent of thermonuclear war over who gets to assign the labels they choose to which phenomena.

That’s an unfortunate cop-out. I think the matter is far less arbitrary than you make it seem. On top of that, I think the “thermonuclear war” remark grossly misrepresents the majority of what people have said here and why they’ve said. Most seem to think they have some grounds for applying the labels they do. To ignore those grounds is to ignore the question at hand.

One more thing. Your re-interpretation of Goldberg substantially weakens his thesis as to alter it completely. That’s not what he says in the book; and that’s not how he characterizes what he says in the book.

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Zinaida 01.24.08 at 7:14 pm

Someone,
Of course. As a libertarianish observer, I happen to find the “middle way” proposals equally unconvincing, both for their presumptuousness (as to what is right or wrong for everyone) and their proven incompetence and/or boomerang effects (I’m thinking mostly Public Choice Theory). Although I understand where reasonable people can disagree here, and my original assertion was indeed confined to the more extreme left-libertarian proposals.

jcasey,
When Kling refers to “faith in scientific fads,” he is thinking of nefarious examples in history (particurly those touched on in Jonah’s book) when questionable science has been employed on behalf of coercive politics. In any case, of all the complaints you bring forth — concerning “faith-based” politics, sex, abortion, drugs and “national security” excesses — there is little a standard libertarian, even many libertarian conservatives would disagree with (Kling himself is a libertarian). In other words, none of these complaints make you a liberal or leftist. The problem, in Kling’s view and mine, is that most liberals/leftists seem to believe as long as the government isn’t intruding with regards to sex, drugs or national security, intrusion is allowable, if not preferable. (We could go on and about Jonah’s own inherent inconsistencies, given the fact he’s not a libertarian. I’d agree with you.)

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jcasey 01.24.08 at 7:29 pm

Zinaida–

I mean for the two points (the one about science and the one about political coercion) to be separate.

1. The only people who have standing to question scientific fads are scientists. No one would endorse following scientific fads, obviously. So that doesn’t say much. Having a government, however, you have to make policy. And if it turns out in some study that asbestos is bad, for instance, then maybe that ought to be a consideration.

2. Politics is by its nature coercive. That’s what you do with your vote. You decide how you think others should live. You decide, ultimately, what things should be coerced. So claiming some view is coercive is to say nothing more than that someone thinks he’s right. The question, the one we ought to waste our time on, is whether that person is right.

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Righteous Bubba 01.24.08 at 7:40 pm

The problem, in Kling’s view and mine, is that most liberals/leftists seem to believe as long as the government isn’t intruding with regards to sex, drugs or national security, intrusion is allowable, if not preferable.

What distinguishes a libertarian world where a government won’t intrude on various things from practical examples of governments that can’t intrude on things?

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Righteous Bubba 01.24.08 at 7:43 pm

Never mind that dumb question. Am I still allowed to pretend it’s early?

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Stuart 01.24.08 at 7:55 pm

Mr Protevi, the number of times people in this thread called Goldberg “stupid” is to me evidence of reflexive defensiveness about the labels. Goldberg may be many things, but stupid isn’t one of them (at least not according to my dictionary’s definition of stupid). As I said, I haven’t read the book and don’t know whether I will. But as someone who admires Hayek a great deal, I don’t find objectionable the idea that a liberalism based on governmental intervention and control of various aspects of life shares philosophical roots with a fascism that likewise supports governmental intervention and control of various aspects of life. That doesn’t mean liberals are fascists, but it could well mean that way back in the day, people would have seen the points of commonality more than they do now. Of course, by now we have several decades of events behind us that have changed our perspective.

I still maintain it’s just arguments over labelling. And that Goldberg now has a best-seller because people are shrieking about him.

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someone 01.24.08 at 7:55 pm

…I happen to find the “middle way” proposals equally unconvincing…

You’ve gotta be kidding, Zinaida. There’s absolutely nothing outside total anarchy that you would find appealing, nothing at all? Any form of government is the equivalent of totalitarian fascist state? With all due respect, that’s a bit extreme, don’t you think?

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Zinaida 01.24.08 at 8:07 pm

jcasey,

1. I’m not quite sure how to respond to your belief that “the only people who have standing to question scientific fads are scientists.” For one, I disagree. I believe anyone has standing to question whatever they damn well please. And anyone has standing to question such questioning. Secondly, you write as if “scientists” exist as one block.

2. “Politics is by its nature coercive. That’s what you do with your vote. You decide how you think others should live.” Precisely. It is for this reason many theorists have proposed political (anti-political) dispensations, mostly involving free-market, federalist and localist mechanisms, so as to maximize the diversity and optimize the opportunity of various living. Given the fact democracy is fundamentally majoritian, it is a very unflexible thing. The market is far more responsive to the needs/desires of everyone, not just the 51 percent of the 10-40 percent of the nation’s populace that shows up on election days (and this doesn’t even touch on the unresponsive relationship between what the voters decide in the voting booth and what is actually implemented by the politicians once elected). To return to Kling: http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=101007A

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John Emerson 01.24.08 at 8:17 pm

Calling liberals fascists, or lumping them with fascists, is a deliberate insult and a misleading slander, and liberals are quite rightly angered by insults and slanders.

It’s pretty nasty to claim that an angry response to a lying insult is somehow excessive or silly. Anger is the normal, appropriate response to them, and anything less is wrong.

And Goldberg really is stupid, though with the help of his enablers, he’s been doing very well for himself.

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jcasey 01.24.08 at 9:28 pm

Zinaida–

I would return to my original point that “fads” is a weasel term. No one wants to believe in faddish science. The tendency to do so is no more a product of liberalism than any other political theory. While you’re busy being really charitable to the very very uncharitable Goldberg, try it just a little bit on liberals.

And of course science and scientists isn’t just one block. It just seems pointless to whine about science fads when one doesn’t have the intellectual basis for determining which ones are fads and which ones are not.

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Zinaida 01.24.08 at 9:59 pm

someone,
I don’t know where you catch me saying; anything short of anarchism is totalitarian/fascist. However, I do believe, for the most part, anything short of the kind of classically liberal dispensation advised by the George Mason, Public Choice theorists ill-advised. I could see why other reasonable, freedom-inclined people might prefer the Chicago school of economics, or the MIT school, even a Galbraithian or Rawlsian political economy, I just happen to stand elsewhere.

jcasey,
It is not, per se, about a supposed link between modern liberalism and bad science as it is between the historic tendency of government to use bad science so as to further social control.

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jcasey 01.24.08 at 10:10 pm

Zinaida–

You first said:

I believe Jonah’s book DOES succeed in exposing, to a wider public, the liberals’ and/or left’s “faith in unproven scientific fads, faith in technocratic elites, and faith that those who share progressive ideology have superior wisdom and moral standing that justifies ruling over others. I believe that the best way to insulate oneself against romanticizing the state is to recognize these faiths and their dangers.”

Now you say:

It is not, per se, about a supposed link between modern liberalism and bad science as it is between the historic tendency of government to use bad science so as to further social control.

Those seem to be rather different positions. The first seems to allege Goldberg has uncovered some fundamental truth about “the left”; the second makes the generalized claim about coercive government in general.

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someone 01.24.08 at 10:30 pm

Zinaida, in then next Goldberg-related post here there’s a link to Will Wilkinson discussing the book with Goldberg; I watched it yesterday. In that video Will Wilkinson (who is an anarcho-capitalist libertarian) says something like “from where I’m standing fascism, liberalism, communism – it’s all the same thing” (or something to that effect). It sounds like this is where you’re coming from as well. Which is fine, as far as it goes, just not very interesting; it’s just that you don’t see the details, you position yourself too far away from the phenomena being discussed.

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Randy Paul 01.24.08 at 10:43 pm

Functional,

Well?

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Zinaida 01.24.08 at 10:45 pm

Someone,
That may be true. Although I do try to spend a good portion of my time reading left-of-me literature (this, regrettably, includes a lot of literature). And, as implied in my previous post, I do believe there are many distinctions worth making; for the record, I do not believe communism, fascism and liberalism are all the same thing. Nor does Jonah from what I can tell. And if you pressed Wilkinson on the issue, I’m sure he’d deny such an easy equation, too. Personally, I don’t find any political observation THAT interesting (I prefer more literary pursuits) but since politics has become such an all-encompassing aspect of our lives, it’s hard to avoid it.

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John Emerson 01.24.08 at 11:39 pm

“From where I’m standing fascism, liberalism, communism – it’s all the same thing”.

This is indeed OK, if “OK” means “ignorant, silly, and obnoxious”.

There are reasons why fascists, like Communists, are hated, and Wilkinson isn’t aware of any of them. Liberalism is not pristine and without flaws, but it isn’t fascist.

We’re falling off the bottom of the page, so goodbye, all!

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