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.