Jonah Goldberg on his Book

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Here is an interview with Jonah Goldberg explaining his own views, his own take, his argument from his new book. (On with Helen and Glenn Reynolds, Mr. and Mrs. Instapundit).

The book is obviously controversial–the title alone is that–so I think it’s good to check in with his views first before reading others.

Goldberg emphasizes that he is not saying that all liberals are fascists. He is arguing that the narrative of 20th century political discourse is that fascism is a movement of the right-wing whereas in fact (according to him) it is actually a left-wing movement. Nazism was the national socialist party–he is putting the emphasis on the socialist.

From there he argues American progressivism (from Woodrow Wilson, through FDR, social gospel-ism, to Hillary Clinton) is not the son or daughter of continental National Socialism, but as he says, more its niece or grandniece. i.e. Progressivism is about the state running everything–the so-called nanny state.

And that I think is where there are some cracks in the floorboards of his thesis (to put it nicely). It is certainly true that the Italian and German fascists appealed to the proletariat and lumpen-proletariat to gain power. In that sense, as Goldberg himself gives away (without realizing the implications it seems of what he is saying), the Nazis co-opted rhetoric from the Communists. Hitler admitted to putting the red in the Nazi Flag in order to appeal to red-sympathizers. But that actually suggests shrewd manipulation of symbols and rhetoric more than ideological equivalence.

The liberal democrats of Europe (prior the end of WWII) were in large measure aristocrats, industrialists, etc. Fascism, like communism and socialism, arose out of the failure of liberal democracy and laissez faire economics. 1) Politically in the utter carnage of the WWI. 2)Economically with the Great Depression.

From this interview at least, Jonah is not taking seriously enough the failure of the liberal democrat order as in part explanation for the rise of such movements.

It is more correct to say that Nazism and Communism are movements of the ends. i.e. Politics is less a spectrum than a sphere and when you go totally to one side you end up doubling-back in the other direction. Which is why Nazism and Communism were both totalitarian and though enemies to each other (in Spain, in WWII, and so on) more alike each other than either was like liberal democracy. So sure, in an American context, further right usually means something like libertarianism or free marketism not Fascism. But the US was never Fascist; large swaths of Europe was. It’s anti-market sure, but not all anti-market rhetoric equals political left.

Though, to be fair, fascism did decide ultimately for a deal with the industrialists and the army. It was a worker’s party movement, but by at least 1938, if not before, the real power lay in its deal with the upper classes and its unity of the state through a revival of pagan religion, racial theories, and militarism.

So the grandniece element of progressivism is actually then is the early ’30s Fascism. Which is starting to make the thesis a double and triple asterisk, calling into question the title of the book imo. Jonah also wants, seems to me, to act as if Nazism 2.0 (the war-mongering part) doesn’t count. And if we take that away Nazism 1.0 was of the same very general ilk as progressivism. But is this even a viable argument? For Italy maybe–maybe, really slightly maybe. But no chance with Germany. Hitler was intent on war all along. Iberian and Croatian Fascism was a Catholic conservative revival, so definitely not there.

Again true, that the most “progressive” eugenics laws in the world prior to the German concentration camps belong to the state of California, which sterilized people labeled “retards” or “mentally deficients.” Eugenics was the common belief of the entire educated classes, and yes plenty of otherwise well-meaning social progressive types–working for laws to prevent children from worth like slaves in plants, food inspection, and the like–subscribed to eugenics. There were however plenty of conservatives, particularly European, who approved of such eugenics measures by the on-the-ground progressives, due to their fear of being out-bred by the lower classes.

The only “conservatives” who were against such biological family planning/social engineering were for example those who favored the permanence of the values of agrarian life (i.e. Roman Catholic Church): women in the home barefoot and pregnant. So they were right about the eugenics/engineering aspect, but the alternative was itself deeply flawed.

But is this progressivism or the zeitgeist? I mean the US was then still living with “separate but equal” segregation, racism was officially sanctioned governmental policy–to support white agrarian farm owners, not exactly liberal urban progressive fascisti. The largest social organization was the Protestant-kultur Ku Klux Klan–again strong in rural, small city settings. And Europe was in the midst of colonial imperialism and its attendant racist White Man’s Burden theories.

FDR did place American citizens in concentration camps. But his (FDR’s) court-packing plan was sent, well, packing. In short, does it make sense to make this comparison when Hitler used democratic means (early on) in order to overthrow the democratic order versus illiberal decisions made within a still liberal governmental order? I mean FDR didn’t use his Civilian Conservation Corps types to enforce his Supreme Court plan. His plan was defeated by democratic means. Woodrow Wilson lost the vote for the League of Nations, and it didn’t happen as a result. He accepted the defeat. Think Il Duce or Ein Furher would have been so gracious? (See Spencer Ackerman on this very point).

If the state is controlling everything (fascist), then why can democratic and constitutional measures prevent the state from enforcing its will?

The Nazis prior to the industrialized phase did have the most progressive environmental legislation in the world. Hitler and crew were vegetarians and taught animal protection. Heidegger’s later anti-technology writings have often dovetailed with a brown-shirted environmentalism. And Heidegger’s affiliation with the Nazis is well known. But Goldberg, claiming for himself to be the first to make this argument in such detail, is coming pretty late to the game on that front.

I mean the obvious response to the Nazis were environmentalist vegetarians is that the Nazis liked sex with their wives (I assume). Therefore (by this bad syllogism) everyone who likes sex with their spouse is a Nazi.

He is closer to the mark when he says (relative to the enviro issue) that it might be better to use the term “holism”–which is how totalitarianism was meant originally by Mussolini. Not a police state but where the state was god–no one was allowed outside the confines of the state. Collectivist.

The American “Liberal Fascist” tradition is a friendlier, kindlier version of this tendency. Unfortunately he keeps referring to the “left” as if there was one such left. With all the caveats, he should argue, seems to me that the dominant trend in (modern progressivist) left is statist not fascist.

But again is any liberal, take the most liberal–I don’t know Dennis Kucinich–calling for the abolition of the Bill of Rights? Sure there are legitimate arguments about the status of say owning a hand gun or school vouchers for religious schools, which separate the two US parties, but I mean really.

I understand all the points he is trying to make about the difference between fascism 1.0 and 2.0 but the word is so loaded, it’s really a dubious enterprise I think.

It’s worth asking whether everyone on the left (or “progressives” of either party) are about total State control or whether some just think on some issues, there needs to be some governmental regulation. Hard-line libertarian rhetoric aside, the FDA might not be fascist but just regulatory. Is it really, after the medicines are tested, the deluge?

JG does argue that compassionate conservatism is another version of this tendency, at least staying true to his libertarian tendencies. Though, given his support for the Iraq War, he never questions neo-conservatism, which has its roots in Trotsky—meaning I suppose I could write a book called Conservative Communists, where it turns out Communism is a movement of the right (apparently) and we’ve always had it backwards. (But I wouldn’t be implying that conservatives are communists you see?).

And a side point, politicians asking people to put aside differences in order to get things done, might not be about “the cult of unity” as Goldberg repeatedly states, but just about compromising to get something done. Give and take. Not soft-fascism.

The piece that could be used to say in fact Nazism was a movement of the right is that Nazism did align with the corporate interests and was really about state corporatism/state industrialization/state capitalism. And that it could be argued with the current Republican economic authoritarians, selling off government to corporation-interests. I’m not saying George Bush is a fascist, I’m actually saying unless someone is a swastika-wearing, Fourth-Reich seeking, Jewophobe, then they are not a Fascist. I think Goldberg is playing too much sleight of hand here.

Instead terms like corporatist, statist, republican, democrat, libertarian, progressive, are sufficient for the American political context. The US was never taken over by either a Communist or Fascist regime. Because Fascism is not a movement of the American right. But it does have deep affinities with the European right–the non-monarchical right that is (except for Catholic Fascism). The American right is quite different from its continental European cousin. In the Euro context it is correct to call Fascism a movement of the far-right (so long as you remember far-right weirdly lines up with far-left because both are illiberal/totalitarian).

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Published in: on December 27, 2007 at 11:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] I said, in my earlier review of his interview on the book, Goldberg is on better ground here. Again this relates to early Italian (and somewhat German) […]


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