In Eager Anticipation

by Henry Farrell on February 18, 2009

A correspondent tells me that Jonah Goldberg is preparing a very serious, thoughtful, rebuttal that has never been made in such detail or with such care to some of the impolite things that I have said about his magnum opus, _Liberal Fascism._ I just want to make a public note of this, as a class of a general spur and reminder to reinforce Jonah’s good intentions. I would be _very disappointed indeed_ if his refutation were to be postponed until the never-never …



SEK 02.18.09 at 4:08 am

Christ almighty. I’m not sure what more I can do to become his official nemesis. I’ve tried and tried but it just ain’t happening. Seems he prefers big differences he can ungenerously generalize about to detailed refutations of his misreadings. Well then fine, I say, fine.

(And good day, sir.)


John Emerson 02.18.09 at 4:45 am

As I’ve said before, I have discovered the actual liberal-Communist-Fascist: U. S. Sen. Lundeen of Minnesota’s Farmer Labor Party, ancestral to the present liberal DFL, who was accused of being a Communist in 1934 (because he entered a bill providing for a race-blind social security system) and was accused of being a Nazi in 1941 (because he was an isolationist.)

He was a Spanish-American War veteran who also field-tested the M-1 rifle.


Justin 02.18.09 at 4:47 am

Scott, if you write a post tonight that uses the words “Spencer” and “alone”, I can ensure that an informant will let Goldberg know that you agree with at least 79% of his argument.


Righteous Bubba 02.18.09 at 5:18 am

The link in the post is screwy. You should chop the first bit off.


Ciarán 02.18.09 at 8:09 am

Goldberg was on the BBC’s excellent Start the Week three weeks ago. I was perplexed: I thought we’d be in smackdown territory but instead he gave a strange spiel along very trivial ‘shucks: strong state people can be a bit authoritarian, much like that fella Hitler’ lines. Which I guess means that his rebuttal will go along the lines of:

1. All those liberals have misinterpreted my work, alleging that Liberal Fascism suggests that liberals might be fascists. How could they possibly think that?

2. So there.


dave 02.18.09 at 8:33 am

rm post from banned commenter Lex/Dave


M. Townes 02.18.09 at 9:25 am

The link should go here, rather than the old CT post it now sends to.


Freshly Squeezed Cynic 02.18.09 at 9:41 am

Ciarán: that was the whole point of the book, wasn’t it? Eliding the differences between liberalism, social democracy, communism, socialism and fascism to imply that all these share a common immoral impulse towards authoritarianism which his own supposedly Hayekian conservatism does not (ignoring the authoritarian abuses he endorses, but that’s by the by), but with enough hedging and “I’m not saying Liberals are Nazis, but…” to allow him to accuse a reader who calls him on it that they’re misinterpreting him.

“Squint and tell me if it looks like a swastika.” was always the name of the game, which is why the book is full of dumb shit like “The white male is the Jew of Liberal Fascism”. But Goldberg is well aware if he came right out with that, it’d be completely difficult to defend himself, so obviously stupid is the statement. So he blunders over his more wingnutty parts, obfusticates, and employs fuzzy definitions, not because, as some have said, he’s a shitty historian (though no doubt the man is not an AJP Taylor), but because it’s the only thing that makes his book look superficially unlike a foaming Bircher tract from the 50’s.


John Quiggin 02.18.09 at 10:16 am

I’ve (ab)used my superpowers to fix the link. Hopefully, it now points where Henry intended.


Ciarán 02.18.09 at 10:33 am

@6 and @8 but please understand my disappointment. I was hoping for at least a clever list of parallels along ‘Hitler built teh Autobahn; Bill Clinton was a Roads Scholar’ lines.

The only funny thing to come out of it was Andrew Marr mentioning that the book seemed to focus on Hilary Clinton, not Barack Obama. Goldberg had to formulate a reply that didn’t involve ‘I expected the draft-dodging lesbian to be running for President, not the black dude.’


rea 02.18.09 at 11:23 am

that was the whole point of the book, wasn’t it

Hitler and Stalin wanted books to have points, too, you know. Mr. Goldberg proudly declines to go there.


novakant 02.18.09 at 11:33 am

I can imagine that it must be tempting to engage Goldberg for the sheer fun of it, but since he’s neither arguing in good faith, nor presenting a serious argument, I think it means doing him a favour more than anything else. All publicity is good publicity.


Matt McGrattan 02.18.09 at 11:55 am

Nick Cohen seemed to endorse it, when he reviewed it for the Graun/Observer.


Freshly Squeezed Cynic 02.18.09 at 12:01 pm

Hitler and Stalin wanted books to have points, too, you know. Mr. Goldberg proudly declines to go there.

Oh, of course! Burning them is more his thing, I suspect. In a proud, limited government kind of way which is IN NO WAY RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY BAD THING. Obviously.


bert 02.18.09 at 1:15 pm

The point of the book was to provide rhetorical ammunition for American rightwingers in today’s battles. As an ardent Bushie, Goldberg was called a fascist (often with the level of seriousness, thoughtfulness and care appropriate to calling Jonah Goldberg a fascist – ie not much). It rankled.

His problem is that he responded not by trying to defuse the weapon but instead by attempting to smuggle it across the lines. It’s a new Wunderwaffe, to be deployed in dormroom bull sessions and talk radio shouting matches. An army of mini-Goldbergs can now say “No, no. You’re the fascist!” Any argument, any approach, any allegiance that embraces any degree of collective action is enough to trigger the charge.

The historical and intellectual content of his argument is entirely secondary to this core rhetorical purpose, and is slapped on top ad hoc. His “research” on Spencer demonstrates the approach.

In the past couple of weeks, Jonah seems to have been on a promotional tour in the UK. As well as Start the Week, he popped up on News24. (First Bush House then White City, you might say.)

At the same time, a meme flared briefly about the BNP being left wing.
A coincidence?
You be the judge, but I blame the Jews.
And the homosexuals, them too.


Freshly Squeezed Cynic 02.18.09 at 1:56 pm

Huh. I noticed the blogspat about the BNP, but didn’t connect it with Jonah’s Magical Mystery Tour until now. Silly me.


Marc 02.18.09 at 2:03 pm

He deliberately ignored every single republican administration when talking about political authoritarianism in the USA; when asked he said “that isn’t the story I wanted to tell”. This tells you everything you need to know about what a complete hack he is.


P O'Neill 02.18.09 at 2:48 pm

Jonah spent almost the entire fiscal stimulus debate in London and Hawaii. It’s just possible that he doesn’t care about actual issues when polemicism is much more fun.


Hidari 02.18.09 at 3:45 pm

Oooooooooooh you should forget about Goldberg. For sheer…er….idiosyncracy of argument Nick Cohen has now left him standing. Goldberg cites him approvingly.

Cohen begins: ‘It is undeniable that the best way to have avoided complicity in the horrors of the last century would have been to have adopted the politics of Jonah Goldberg’ which certainly demonstrates that there is now some strange new use of the word ‘undeniable’ I was previously unaware of.

Some other facts you may well have been unaware of:

‘Nazism was the first example of modern identity politics’.

‘Fascism was a pagan movement, whose mystic tropes are repeated by new age healers, vegetarians and greens.’

‘Avant-garde Nazi philosophers – Heidegger, Paul de Man, Carl Schmitt – are venerated by nominal leftists in the postmodern universities, who love their contempt for traditional morality and standards of truth. ‘

Well I certainly know that’s the reason I ‘venerate’ these authors but then I, like so many others in this milieu, work in a ‘postmodern’ university.


Adam Kotsko 02.18.09 at 3:55 pm

If there’s one thing you can say about Carl Schmitt, it’s definitely that he was wishy-washy and hippy-ish.


norbizness 02.18.09 at 4:30 pm

If it’s one thing fact-free attention-whores despise, it’s attention.


ScentOfViolets 02.18.09 at 4:58 pm

But I had thought that the definition – or at least the characteristics – of Fascism were rather noncontroversial:

1 Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
2 Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
3 Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
4 Supremacy of the Military
5 Controlled Mass Media
6 Obsession with National Security
7 Religion and Government are Intertwined
8 Corporate Power is Protected
9 Labor Power is Suppressed
10 Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
11 Obsession with Crime and Punishment
12 Rampant Cronyism and Corruption

As I understand it, you don’t have to score a 12/12 before you can talk about a movement or state or what have as Fascist.

The controversy is in who to apply the label to, even when it clearly fits. Thus it’s perfectly okay to call ‘liberals’ Commies, or the more popular epithet, Socialists. But it’s not okay to call certain other groups Fascists.


CJColucci 02.18.09 at 8:26 pm

Has the Doughy One’s book made enough of a splash to warrant discussing it, even for the purposes of ridicule, this late in the game?


nick s 02.19.09 at 1:41 am

Has the Doughy One’s book made enough of a splash to warrant discussing it, even for the purposes of ridicule, this late in the game?

In the history of publishing, perhaps.


John Emerson 02.19.09 at 2:05 am

One of the key traits of fascism Bush was approaching was the control of the media, the law, and the state by the Party. The Republicans demanded, and got, plants in all of the major media, for years have selected judges from a partisan political organization (the Federalist Society), and have been placing political appointees in professional, Civil Service positions.


socialrepublican 02.19.09 at 2:31 am


Not really.

3 is so common amongst political movements as to be anodyne. One might as well say ‘fascists live under the earth’s yellow sun

4 is untrue. Hitler hated the traditional military but was forced into alliance with them . The plans of Roehm for a people militia, devoid of Prussian cliques and aristocrats were popular within the wider movement and accorded with a long tradition of rhetoric. Mussolini had a similar attitude, needing the military, lacking the strenght to change it, but deeply suspicious of the whole institution. One more example, Pavelic abandoned the Home guard, the military formed out of the old Croatian element of the Yugoslav army, and looked instead to his party para-military formations in the Ustasa Militia.

5 is again so common as to be heuristically useless. For Jonah’s sake, lets consider the conservatives who controlled the media, Hindenburg, Pitt, the wartime governments of Asquith and Churchill.

6 again, not really a particular. One might say every state that has ever lasted more than a month (and ever a few that did not) has been obsessed by national security.

7 depends. The NSDAP and the PNF were quite clearly secular movements but the Falange, the Ustasa, the Iron Guard, the South Africa movements, the ZBOR and the OUN ultras were. Religion is used as a marker, dividing the ‘healthy’ volk from the ‘sick’. But that merely depends on the particulars of the movement’s rhetoric and circumstance

8 again depends. While in the case of the two most ‘successful’ movements, the NSDAP and the PNF, deals were made (indeed that might be the reason they were able to ‘conquer the state’, big business was very much at the beck and call of the new leadership. Further, other movements, such as the Guard in Romania and the Scythe Cross in Hungary were explicitly anti-capitalist, as in they saw the operation of industrialisation and commerce as unhealthy activities, undermining their precious volk. Lets not forget that big business continued to fund in the main the nationalist parties in Germany till 1932.

9 is common, but with fascism, it had its own reasons. Trade unions and labour power were an affront to the ‘majestic’ unity of the nation. Just as fascists hated the ‘establishment’ for being a nation within the real nation, so unions, with their ‘decadent’ psuedo-marxism and their materialism seemed to seperate rather than unify the ‘healthy’

10 is again untrue. Evola, one of the foremost thinkers in both Mussolini’s Italy and in the post war international fascist movements was his nation’s leading dadaist. Despite it’s presumed innocence from dealing with the Third Reich, Bauhaus architects continued to be commisioned until 1938. How else would one classify Junger or Heidigger or Gentile or Marinetti or Papini or Eliade but as intellectuals. Fascism hatred was reserved for what it preceived as decadent art or intellectual enquiry, a source of disruption and corruption in their shinny new world.

11 is the central plank of most governments since the 17th century. It is barely a fascist trait solely.

12 is a by product of disfunctional civic societies. The CCP manages to be both a horrifically repressive government, not fascist and eye wateringly corrupt at the same time. Remarkable stuff.

There is a fairly recent (last 20-15 years) definition of fascism that has far greater heuristic use. Building on the work of Mosse, Payne, Rogers Griffin and Eatwell and Emilio Gentile, this ‘new consensus’ has a remarkable power in evaluating the fascist movements in both ‘struggle’ and power. Fascism is thus a form of ultra-nationalism, that seeks to ‘save’ the nation from preceived collaspe and decadence by rebirth and political action. While it is easy to doubt, fascists considered themselves revolutionaries, breaking a temporal narrative of decline and regenerating the nation and it’s volk.

This is not of course to say Jonah is in the same parsec to the truth. Fascism, for several very good reasons, is most at home on the right of the political spectrum. The similarities he ‘discerns’ are merely the common ‘solutions’ of 20th centruy politics, taken up across the political spectrum, even those sainted and humble conservatives.


socialrepublican 02.19.09 at 2:32 am

Whoops, should read-

The NSDAP and the PNF were quite clearly secular movements but the Falange, the Ustasa, the Iron Guard, the South Africa movements, the ZBOR and the OUN ultras were not.


ScentOfViolets 02.19.09 at 3:00 am

Shrug. You can dilute any component of that list by making the definition sufficiently exclusive, I suppose. And this list is hardly unique; I’ve seen dozens like it put forth by people of various pedigrees, some quite impressive. The flip side is that all these diagnostics seem to keep coming back to the same core concepts, however they are atomized or fused as items to be ticked off.

Not to say that you’re not right about a better formulation; on that I really couldn’t say. I’m just pointing out that there seems to be a certain degree of unity on what characterizes Fascism. Iow, it’s not just a label to be used as a club to beat opponents, like say, ‘activist judges’, or ‘liberal’.


socialrepublican 02.19.09 at 3:14 am

Fascism is a political ideology, but is rarely treated like one. One could say (and idiots have) on the basis of the first republic that Liberalism is intrisically a movement that seeks to kill enemies and those ‘unvirtuous’ or that given the slaughter after the ’98 that all Conservatism is profoundly anti-Irish. The problem with many ‘laundry list’ minimums is that they confuse the core ideology with various and historical contigent manifestations. Stanley Payne does a compehensive list in his ‘A History of Fascism’ which seperates organisation, ideology and manifestation. One might say that things like a leader cult and a para-military mass movement are inevitable consequences of fascist nationalism but without defining and analysising that core nexus of ideas, how can you know?


JM 02.19.09 at 2:31 pm

Here’s Umberto Eco’s list of the elements of Fascism: click here.


Righteous Bubba 02.20.09 at 2:07 am

Has the Doughy One’s book made enough of a splash to warrant discussing it, even for the purposes of ridicule, this late in the game?

Certainly among crazy dumbasses.

Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot (to name a few of the most egregious examples), all held at their sociopolitical core the same pseudo-religious tenets that Marx proposed, and the staggering amount of death and torture those monsters precipitate dwarf, by several orders of magnitude, the suffering resultant from any religious beliefs. ( I know, some who are ignorant of history will object and say that Nazism and Fascism were Right-Wing movements. To them, I suggest they read Jonah Goldberg’s seminal book “Liberal Fascism” to learn the truth. The word Nazi was an acronym stemming from the German name for the National Socialist Party!)

Exclamation point in the over-excitable original.


socialrepublican 02.20.09 at 11:00 am

‘The word Nazi was an acronym stemming from the German name for the National Socialist Party!’

When the movement was first founded, it was called the Nazi-Sozis or some such as in National and Socialist. After 1925, the Sozi was dropped and the nation part remained.


norbizness 02.20.09 at 4:29 pm

Righteous Bubba: You’re still multiplying with a zero, though. QUARANTINE, PEOPLE.


Righteous Bubba 02.20.09 at 5:30 pm

You could quarantine if the dope wasn’t providing content for newspapers television and radio. The more public abuse he gets the better because he’s simply awful at meeting it.


Luther Blissett 02.22.09 at 8:38 pm

W. E. B. Du Bois admired Mussolini. Therefore, the civil rights movement is inherently fascist. QED.

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