-- by Dave
Well, while I've largely given up on actually having a good-faith dialogue with Jonah Goldberg regarding my review of his book Liberal Fascism and his response to it, I've decided to at least continue with my detailed counter -- not in the hopes that it will produce anything in the way of genuine dialogue, but because Goldberg's book in many ways presents a "teachable moment" -- an opportunity to clear up and debunk misconceptions about the nature of fascism, and along the way, one hopes, actually enhance the public understanding of it.
So let's take a look at Goldberg's response, even though, as I've noted, it utterly neglects to address the review's central point (namely, that the continuing presence of real American fascists residing well on the right side of the nation's political aisle, both contemporaneously with those Europeans who he sees as fascism's only significant manifestation, and contemporarily in our current society, clearly disproves his claim that fascism, particularly in America, is "a phenomenon of the Left"). Because the response itself helps make clear that the shoddiness of Goldberg's methodology permeates and contaminates his entire enterprise.
(Incidentally, for a hilarious but incisive takedown of the response, check out Gavin's post at Sadly, No! Also, see Tom Hilton's e-mail exchange with Goldberg for a picture of why it's proving so worthless to even attempt to engage him in an honest discourse -- it's like conversing with the Queen of Hearts.)
Goldberg's unwillingness or inability to honestly engage the discussion is a product of something that manifests itself in his response: In the process of preparing this book, he evidently tried to imagine what the critical responses might be -- and prepared accordingly. So when someone offers a critique that doesn't fall within any of the potential lines of attack for which he has prepared, he simply refuses to even recognize its existence and dismisses it out of hand -- as he did in tossing off my insistence he address my central argument with a strawman-style mischaracterization of what that point actually was.
But as we'll see, the entirety of even the prepared lines of defense he's concocted is a farrago of falsehoods, presumptions, distortions, and straw men piled one atop the other (including an entire line of argumentation built upon responding to an argument I don't even make). His entire methodology, moreover, is essentially a thesis that's gone searching for supporting evidence -- the opposite of anything resembling a serious historical inquiry.
Goldberg is much offended, of course, that I've compared his work to David Irving's in this regard, saying "he tries ever so slightly to tag me as a member of the David Irving Holocaust-denier camp." But that, of course, isn't what I'm saying at all: Rather, my point is that he employs the same historical methodology as Holocaust deniers, which is rather a different thing. I once made a similar point about Michelle Malkin's methodology in her book In Defense of Internment -- and predictably, as Jonah did, she simply tossed it off as a "smear" rather than answer the point.
But I make this comparison measuredly -- not as a tossoff way of smearing Goldberg, but to make a serious point. It's coming not from someone who likes to call conservatives fascists willy-nilly, but as someone who's listened to Irving speak, read his books, and is intimately familiar not only with his arguments and claims but with his methodology.
Let me restate what the methodology constitutes, just so we're clear:
- [I]t selects a narrow band of often unrepresentative facts, distorts their meaning, and simultaneously elides and ignores whole mountains of contravening evidence and broader context.
Most of all, it tries to represent this narrow band of facts, distortions, and falsehoods as representing the whole of the picture, when in fact the mass of the greater historical context paints if not a wholly different picture then at least a measurably more complex one.
This methodology is manifest not just in his book but in his response. For example:
- Then there’s the omnipresent canard that I must be wrong because of fascism’s “overwhelming anti-liberalism.” Neiwert is again displaying either his ignorance or his dishonesty. It is absolutely true that a great many academic definitions — Ernst Nolte’s “fascist negations” for example — cite fascism’s anti-liberalism. And it is true that Mussolini and Hitler spoke of their disdain for liberalism many times, and there are many quotes to that effect. But guess what? These two European statesmen were speaking in — wait for it! — a European context where liberalism generally means limited government: classical or “Manchester” liberalism. They were most emphatically not talking about progressivism or socialism, which are the correct label for American liberalism and/or the American left (as I demonstrate at length in my book).
As he does consistently throughout the book, Goldberg here defines his terms -- in this case, "classical liberalism" -- in a very selective way that is clearly designed to enhance his premise, but in fact does not represent either a complete or really even an accurate decription of the term in question. (Some wags are now referring to this as "the Goldberg principle": "You can prove any thesis to be true if you make up your own definitions of words.")
"Classical liberalism" indeed involved limited government and, more importantly, laissez-faire economics, the things that most make it an important antecedent of modern conservatism. But it also involved, just as significantly, the primacy of the rule of law and democratic institutions, the advancement of civil liberties and civil rights, and freedom from restraint -- things all very much part of the basic strains of modern liberalism, which in turn largely is descended from social liberalism, itself an offshoot of classical liberalism.
This is an important point, because in reality modern conservatism and modern liberalism have much more in common with each other, in terms of philosophical foundations, than either do with any forms of fascism, or for that matter communism. The latter are both totalitarian, but fully distinct species of that phenomenon. (More on this point later.) The former, in contrast, are both fundamentally democratic, built on a foundation of philosophical humanism that is their shared heritage.
Indeed, this common ground is the basis for what Rick Perlstein calls "the American consensus": the great power-sharing agreement between mainstream conservatives and modern liberals that has held sway in the United States since the FDR era, and is now threatening to break down in large part because of an increasingly hostile conservative movement that openly states its intention to end that agreement -- and acts accordingly. This is a large part of why Goldberg's book is such a noxious contribution to the public discourse, because it's clearly intended to drive a wedge farther into that consensus by casting liberals as not just antiliberal, but indeed the embodiment of everything we've come to think of in the postwar era as the truly demonic.
Let's also stipulate that when historians -- and not just the actors themselves -- describe fascism as "antiliberal," their meaning extends well beyond mere classical liberalism to include "the Left" generally, which would include not just European communists and socialists, but the democratic socialists and social liberals generally associated with modern American liberalism. They do so not just because the actors themselves engaged in frequent tirades against "the Left" generally as often as they disparaged "liberalism," but because, as we shall explore in more detail shortly, their actions clearly demonstrated their vehement, indeed violent, opposition to the principles of all these factions.
Yet Goldberg is so intent on his thesis that he openly discards the historical consensus that fascism was indeed a phenomenon of the right and not of the left:
- Yes, it’s true. Many historians call Nazism a right-wing enterprise. One of the arguments of my book is to demonstrate that these historians are wrong to do so. If that enrages the trade guild controlling most of academia, them’s the breaks. But simply saying that people say my view is wrong doesn’t make it wrong. I marshal hundreds of pages of evidence to back up my points. Neiwert thumbs through the indexes of a few books to make his. Moreover, I am hardly alone in this point of view. Friedrich Hayek, Paul Johnson, Richard Pipes, Milton Friedman, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, John Lukacs, Joshua Muravchik, A. James Gregor, Michael Ledeen, Ayn Rand, and — as I show in my book — countless contemporary observers of classical fascism agree with my view in whole or in part.
As Gavin observes: "Well, he’s got us there. He does have the support of a large number of 'observers of classical fascism', all of whom happen to be right-wing ideologues, libertarians, and doctrinaire conservatives."
Perhaps more to the point, only two of these people (Johnson and Lukacs) are historians: Hayek was an economist, Pipes is a neo-conservative activist, Friedman is an economist, von Kuehnelt-Leddihn is an "aristocrat intellectual," Muravchik is an AEI "scholar", Gregor is a political scientist, Rand was an economist and author of monumentally bad fiction.
The reality is that, within the realm of academic historians, no one would seriously contemplate posing as even a master's thesis the notion that fascism was a "phenomenon of the left." No one. And the reasons for that, as we shall see, have far more to do with the weight of historical evidence than any silly, unprovable, and groundless claim that this historical consensus is purely the product of a "trade guild" mentality. Jonah's defense here, frankly, is reminiscent of the global-warming deniers who insist that the scientific consensus on the relation of human activity to the phenomenon is in fact far from established. But then, according to Goldberg, global-warming activists are just another form of "liberal fascists."
To emphasize this point, I've compiled an appendix (posted just below) comprised of various scholarly attempts to define fascism, and it tries to reflect the range of contemporary thought on the matter. If you survey these definitions and descriptions, you'll see that, in toto, there are very few traits described therein that even remotely fit the description of being left-wing generally, and certainly not "liberal" or "progressive" in either their contemporary or classical senses. In contrast, a large number of them are clearly traits we associate with the right generally -- particularly the militarism, the nationalism, the cults of masculinity and violence.
These descriptions, however, are only the end products of these historians' thorough examination of the evidence surrounding fascism. They are built, as we shall see, on the bedrock of historical fact, and the evidence regarding fascism's right-wing orientation is mountainous indeed.
I'd also like to call special attention to Goldberg's citation of Michael Ledeen (who also has a blurb on the book's jacket), because I think it reflects the dishonest way he represents even his alleged fellow travelers. Ledeen, in fact, has something of a history as a philo-fascist. His 1972 book, Universal Fascism, in fact was in the way of an encomium to primal first-stage fascism, or what he calls "fascism-movement," as distinct from "fascism-regime," which evidently is where it all went wrong. Ledeen specifically argues -- as does his intellectual mentor, Italian historian Renzo de Felice -- that "Italian fascism was both right-wing and revolutionary." In its movement stage, according to Ledeen, it was actually a thing of beauty and great promise. (Of course, by 2003, when Ledeen began touting the threat of "Islamofascism," his perspective on this presumably had changed.)
Indeed, we might well take note of the history of Jonah's publication, National Review, regarding its own record of philo-fascism, including its open adoration of Francisco Franco and its running attacks on the trial of Adolph Eichmann. By Goldberg's measure, this should stand as evidence that not just National Review but conservatives themselves are fascist.
Of course, that's a nonsensical standard that obliviates the larger context of conservatism generally. But Goldberg is content to proceed in exactly that fashion when it comes to liberalism. Goldberg has mounds of quotes from ostensible left-wing figures voicing their admiration for fascism and fascists -- most of them from before 1930 -- and for him, this is insurmountable proof of fascism's left-wing orientation.
Similarly, he is downright credulous when it comes to quoting fascists about their relationship to socialism:
- Again, as I try to show in my book, the reason we call fascism and National Socialism “right wing” is because these were forms of “right-wing socialism,” or, as both the Marxist theoretician Karl Radek and Leon Trotsky argued, “middle class socialism.” And while the academic literature is on my side of the argument that the Nazis appealed to the lower classes just as much as the Communists did (if not more so), I have no problem conceding that the nature of Nazi socialism was in some significant respects different from Soviet socialism. So call it right-wing socialism if you like. But don’t saw off the right-wing part and then bludgeon American conservatives with it.
The point here is that these were all different kinds of socialism. And in the Anglo-American tradition, socialism is a phenomenon of the Left. Period. And many, many more historians who would no doubt take issue with my book — Michael Mann and the Germans Götz Aly and Wolfgang Schivelbusch come to mind — nonetheless have written at length about the fundamental and indisputable antipathy the National Socialists had for capitalism.
The mistake -- almost certainly an intentional one -- that Goldberg makes here is in placing as much weight as he does, not just here but throughout his "hundreds of pages of evidence," on the words of fascist ideologues, and particularly on their words in the formative first stage.
The problem with doing so is twofold: not only were fascists prodigious liars and deceivers, they also were highly mutative and opportunistic. Because fascism is more in the way of a pathology than an ideology -- a pathology centered around the crude acquisition of power -- it would adopt and discard ideologies and ideas with great alacrity, depending on its needs in forming alliances and gaining access to the levers of state power. As Franz Neumann put it:
National Socialism ideology is constantly shifting. It has certain magical beliefs -- leadership adoration, the supremacy of the master race -- but it is not laid down in a series of categorical and dogmatic pronouncements.
Thus, to genuinely understand historical fascism, it's far more important to look at their actions as well as their words.
This is the approach in fact taken by Robert O. Paxton in his book The Anatomy of Fascism, which I'm going to rely on here for a bit because Paxton's methodology not only is sound -- built out of a lifetime's study of the broader historical context involved -- and his scholarship fairly representative of the historical consensus about fascism, he clearly lays out the flaws in a thesis like Goldberg's. This book was written in 2004, and Goldberg even cites, but it's clear that he ignores Paxton's warnings about the very methodological flaws that he insists indulging. Actually, he doesn't merely ignore them -- he dismisses them outright, but as we shall see, on wholly inadequate grounds.
Right at the outset in his introduction, Paxton makes clear that Goldberg's thesis is deeply flawed:
- Another supposed essential character of fascism is its anticapitalist, antibourgeois animus. Early fascist movements flaunted their contempt for bourgeois values and for those who wanted only "to earn money, money, filthy money." They attacked "international finance capitalism" almost as loudly as they attacked socialists. They even promised to expropriate department-store owners in favor of patriotic artisans, and large landowners in favor of peasants.
Whenever fascist parties acquired power, however, they did nothing to carry out these anticapitalist threats. By contrast, they enforced with the utmost violence and thoroughness their threats against socialism. Street fights over turf with young communists were among their most powerful propaganda images. Once in power, fascist regimes banned strikes, dissolved independent labor unions, lowered wage earners' purchasing power, and showered money on armaments industries, to the immense satisfaction of employers.
As he goes on to explore, the seeming internal contradictions of fascist rhetoric in opposition to fascist action has created much of the ongoing academic debate over its nature:
- Faced with these conflicts between words and actions concerning capitalism, scholars have drawn opposite conclusions. Some, taking the words literally, consider fascism a form of radical anticapitalism. Others, and not only Marxists, take the diametrically opposite position that fascists came to the aid of capitalism in trouble, and propped up by emergency means the existing system of property distribution and social hierarchy.
This book takes the position that what the fascists did tells us at least as much as what they said. What they said cannot be ignored, of course, for it helps explain their appeal. Even at its most radical, however, fascists' anticapitalist rhetoric was selective. While they denounced speculative international finance (along with all other forms of internationalism, cosmopolitanism, or globalization -- capitalist as well as socialist), they respected the property of national producers, who were to form the social base of the reinvigorated nation. When they denounced the bourgeoisie, it was for being too flabby and individualistic to make a nation strong, not for robbing workers of the value they added. What they criticized in capitalism was not its exploitation but its materialism, its indifference to the nation, its inability to stir souls. More deeply, fascists rejected the notion that economic forces are the prime movers of history. For fascists, the dysfunctional capitalism of the interwar period did not need fundamental reordering; its ills could be cured simply by applying sufficient political will to the creation of full employment and productivity. Once in power, fascist regimes confiscated property only from political opponents, foreigners, or Jews. None altered the social hierarchy, except to catapult a few adventurers into high places. At most, they replaced market forces with state economic management, but, in the trough of the Great Depression, most businessmen initially approved of that. If fascism was "revolutionary," it was so in a special sense, far removed from the word's meaning as usually understood from 1789 to 1917, as a profound overturning of the social order and the redistribution of social, political, and economic power.
Paxton also explains why the reliance on fascists' early rhetorical appeals is methodologically flawed (p. 53):
- Looking mainly at early fascism starts us down several false trails. It puts intellectuals at the center of an enterprise whose major decisions were made by power-seeking men of action. The intellectual fellow travelers had diminishing influence in the rooting and regime stages of the fascist cycle, although certain ideas reasserted themselves in the radicalization stage ... Further, concentrating on origins puts misleading emphasis on early fascism's antibourgeois rhetoric and its critique of capitalism. It privileges the "poetic movement" of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera that would impose "hard and just sacrifices ... on many of our own class," and "reach the humble as well as the powerful with its benefits," and the "great red fascism of our youth," as Robert Brasillach remembered it with fond nostalgia shortly before his execution for treason in Paris in February 1945.
As for the "hatred of capitalism" that they actually practiced:
- It turned out in practice that fascists' anticapitalism was highly selective. Even at their most radical, the socialism that the fascists wanted was a "national socialism": one that denied only foreign or enemy property rights (including that of internal enemies). They cherished national producers. Above all, it was by offering an effective remedy against socialist revolution that fascism turned out in practice to find a space. If Mussolini retained some lingering hopes in 1919 of founding an alternative socialism rather than an antisocialism, he was soon disabused of those notions by observing what worked and what didn't work in Italian politics. His dismal electoral results with a Left-nationalist program in Milan in November 1919 surely hammered that lesson home.
The pragmatic choices of Mussolini and Hitler were driven by their urge for success and power. Not all fascist leaders had such ambitions. Some of them preferred to keep their movements "pure," even at the cost of remaining marginal.
Paxton makes abundantly clear that the political space the fascists, in obtaining power, chose to occupy was clearly on the right. Goldberg, in contrast, insists that "fascism, properly understood, is not a phenomenon of the right at all" because, he explains, fascism and communism "are closely related, historical competitors for the same constituents, seeking to dominate and control the same social space." He claims throughout the book and elsewhere that fascists didn't seek out their political space on the right -- rather, they were doing so on the left.
He actually addresses Paxton's characterization with what can most kindly be characterized as a lame rebuttal (p. 47):
- In November the newly named explicitly left-wing Fascists ran a slate of candidates in the national elections. They got trounced at the hands of the Socialists. Most historians claim this is what taught Mussolini to move to the "right." Robert O. Paxton writes that Mussolini realized "there was no space in Italian politics for a party that was both nationalist and Left."
This, I think, distorts the picture. Mussolini did not move fascism from left to right; he moved it from socialist to populist.
Yet if Goldberg had actually bothered to read Paxton's account of how the move occurred -- or for that matter, any other historical account of these events -- he would know that the ideological shift by Mussolini had not even the remotest thing to do with populism. Rather, it all occurred in the defense of wealthy landowners and the established economic and cultural powers, and it entailed a wave of murderous violence against socialists, leftists, and any form of progressive.
From Paxton, pp. 60-64:
- Above all Mussolini bested D'Annunzio by serving economic and social interests as well as nationalist sentiment. He made his Blackshirts available for action against socialists as well as against the South Slavs of Fiume and Trieste. War veterans had hated the socialists since 1915 for their "antinational" stance during the war. Big planters in the Po Valley, Tuscany, Apulia, and other regions of large estates hated and feared the socialists for their success at the end of the war in organizing the bracianti, or landless laborers, to press for higher wages and better working conditions. Squadrismo was the conjunction of these two hatreds.
Following their victory in the first postwar election (November 1919) the Italian socialists had used their new power in local government to establish de facto control over the agricultural wage-labor market. In the Po Valley in 1920, every farmer who needed workmen for planting or harvesting had to visit the socialist Labor Exchange. The Labor Exchanges made the most of their new leverage. They forced the farmers to hire workers year-round rather than only seasonally, and with better wages and working conditions. The farmers were financially squeezed. They had invested considerable sums in transforming Po Valley marshlands in cultivable farms; their cash crops earned little money in the difficult conditions of the Italian postwar economy. The socialist unions also undermined the farmers' personal status as masters of their domains.
Frightened and humiliated, the Po Valley landowners looked frantically for help. They did not find it in the Italian state. Local officials were either socialists themselves, or little inclined to do battle with them. Prime Minister Giolitti, a true practitioner of laissez-faire liberalism, declined to use national forces to break strikes. The big farmers felt abandoned by the Italian liberal state.
In the absence of help from the public authorities, the large landowners of the Po Valley turned to the Blackshirts for protection. Glad for an excuse to attack their old pacifist enemies, fascist squadristi invaded the city hall in Bologna, where socialist officials had hung up a red banner, on November 21, 1920. Six were killed. From there, the movement quickly spread through the rich agricultural country in the lower Po River delta. Black-shirted squadristi mounted nightly expeditions to sack and burn Labor Exchanges and local socialist offices, and beat and intimidate socialist organizers. Their favorite forms of humiliation were administering uncontainable doses of castor oil and shaving off half of a proud Latin moustache. In the first six months of 1921, the squads destroyed 17 newspapers and printing works, 59 Peoples' Houses (socialist headquarters), 119 Chambers of Labor (socialist employment offices), 107 cooperatives, 83 Peasants' Leagues, 151 socialist clubs, and 151 cultural organizations. Between January 1 and April 7, 1921, 102 people were killed: 25 fascists, 41 socialists, 20 police, and 16 others.
... Long after his regime had settled into routine, Mussolini still liked to refer to the "Fascist revolution." But he meant a revolution against socialism and flabby liberalism, a new way of uniting and motivating Italians, and a new kind of governmental authority capable of subordinating private liberties to the needs of the national community and of organizing mass assent while leaving property intact. The major point is that the Fascist movement was reshaped in the process of growing into the available space. The antisocialism already present in the initial movement became central, and many antibourgeois idealists left or were pushed out. The radical anticapitalist idealism of early Fascism was watered down, and we must not let its conspicuous presence in early texts confuse us about what Fascism later became in action.
Paxton, p. 83:
- The Italian Fascist Party, having discovered that in its first identity as a Left-nationalist movement the space it coveted was already occupied by the Left, underwent the necessary transformations to become a local power in the Po Valley. The Nazi Party broadened its appeal after 1928 to court farmers desperate over going broke and losing their farms. Both Mussolini and Hitler could perceive the space available, and were willing to trim their movements to fit.
The space was partly symbolic. The Nazi Party early shaped its identity by staking a claim to the street and fought with communist gangs for control of working-class neighborhoods of Berlin. At issue was not merely a few meters of urban "turf." The Nazis sought to portray themselves as the most vigorous and effective force against the communists -- and, at the same time, to portray the liberal state as incapable of preserving public security. The communists, at the same time, were showing that the Social Democrats were unequipped to deal with an incipient revolutionary situation that needed a fighting vanguard. Polarization was in the interest of both.
Fascist violence was neither random nor indiscriminate. It carried a well-calculated set of coded messages: that communist violence was rising, that the democratic state was responding to it ineptly, and that only the fascists were tough enough to save the nation from antinational terrorists. An essential step in the fascist march to acceptance and power was to persuade law-and-order conservatives and members of the middle class to tolerate fascist violence as a harsh necessity in the face of Left provocation. It helped, of course, that many ordinary citizens never feared fascist violence against themselves, because they were reassured that it was reserved for national enemies and "terrorists" who deserved it.
The path to power for both Italian Fascists and German Nazis was essentially the same: They presented themselves as "revolutionary socialists" in their initial appeals but, finding the political space for such a movement already well occupied on the left by socialists and communists, shifted their appeals and their alliances to the right and center, particularly with business capitalists who financed them, sponsored their activities, and essentially contracted with them to engage in systematic violence against the Left. For the Nazis, Fritz Thyssen, head of the nation's largest steel producer, was only the most prominent example of business capitalists who funneled money to the Nazis both as they rose to power and once they gained it.
To characterize this shift as "populist" simply flies in the face of historical fact. And yet Goldberg insists on this, largely by making a nakedly false assertion about the nature of populism itself:
- An unwieldy phenomenon, populism had never been known as a conservative or right-wing orientation before, and it is only because so many were determined to label fascism right-wing that populism under Mussolini was redefined as such.
Well, as I explained in the review, populism in fact is a historically complex and broad phenomenon that has encompassed both right- and left-wing political spheres, and every point in between. Some of the previously observed right-wing expressions of populism in America included Bacon's Rebellion, the Know-Nothing nativists, and the Ku Klux Klan.
Indeed, as we have already discussed here in some detail, Goldberg is quick to dismiss the Klan as a clownish "creepy fan subculture" and dismisses the notion that they were fascist in an offhand manner -- relying, once again, on an anecdotal factoid as his "proof."
It's clear throughout the book that Goldberg believes liberals identify groups like the Klan as fascist simply because they are racist. Perhaps that's true for some liberals, but it's certainly not true in my case, nor for those historians who have affirmed that they were indeed not just genuine fascists, but perhaps the first real immanation of fascism. As I've explained, the Klan is definably fascist because it wholly fits the definition of fascism, of which its racism is only one expression. Indeed, its racism is really only a symptom of the deeper impulses to which it appeals.
And so not only does he make the same point again in his response, but he also proceeds to put an argument in my mouth that I never make:
- This point about race that Neiwert brings up is an important one — and one that I anticipate and discuss in my book. Because he believes that racism is inherently right-wing, the fact that the Nazis were racists means they had to be right-wingers. I concede, and talk at length, about the fact that the Nazis were racists. But racism, I’m sorry to say, is not definitively right-wing in my book (literally and figuratively).
If you'll read the review, you'll not only see that I make only a glancing reference to racism -- and I certainly never argue either that racism is inherently right-wing, or that this is what makes the Nazis right-wing. As we've seen above, what makes the Nazis definably right-wing is the actual manifestation of their agenda in action -- particularly its destruction of democratic institutions and norms; its violent attacks on left-wing organizing of any kind, including the banning of labor unions; and its open embrace of capitalism as the engine for their war machines once they obtained power.
Goldberg is quite right that racism itself is not inherently right-wing, particularly not for the period in question. I've actually explored this point in some detail on several occasions here, as well as in my book Strawberry Days -- pointing out that much of the early labor organizing on the West Coast between 1870 and 1920 was actually predicated on naked anti-Asian prejudice. Likewise, anyone who knows the history of labor unions at all is familiar with the racial animus stirred up by the use of black strikebreakers by various captains of industry.
Nonetheless, it is accurate to say that modern liberalism -- the liberalism that Goldberg seeks to smear by associating it with fascism -- does have as one of its current major traits an abiding opposition to racism. This is the legacy of liberals' long-running support for the Civil Rights movement and the legislative advancement of minority rights, its open embrace of multiculturalism -- for which it is regularly and often scorned and maligned by conservatives.
Indeed, for conservatives like Jonah, this embrace of the multicultural itself is evidence of racism -- because it's all about boxing everyone into their racial identity, you see, and not the notion that all racial identities deserve to be equally empowered. And so liberal efforts to overcome the effects of decades of racism are themselves racist, you see. (The Queen of Hearts is talking again.) This reasoning (if that's what you call it) is what gives Goldberg the chutzpah to emit this howler:
- In America, conservatives argue for colorblindness; the Left does not.
Actually, conservatives only seem to argue for colorblindness when it comes to efforts to overcome racism's legacy, like affirmative-action and racial-sensitivity programs. In the meantime, there's all kinds of color-awareness being promoted by conservatives nowadays: Patrick Buchanan and Bill O'Reilly are only two of the more prominent voices from the movement to argue vehemently about the need to save "white culture" and who worry about America being swamped by a brown tide. They're also kept company by figures like Jared Taylor and Peter Brimelow, not to mention the execrable Steve Sailer and the late Sam Francis, all of whom Goldberg may not consider conservatives (or maybe he'd just like to redefine them as "populists") but who do in fact operate at will within the conservative movement broadly. There's also Michelle Malkin, who has written an entire book advocating the use of ethnic-profiling measures to enhance national security -- by defending the mass incarceration of a single ethnic group during World War II as a shining example of such measures.
We can see that obviating this reality is the entire purpose of Goldberg's enterprise. He has repeatedly stated that what inspired him to write it was getting tired of hearing conservatives bearing smeared as fascists.
His retort in the text is of a piece with his methodology in general:
- Liberals are the ones who've insisted that conservatism has connections with fascism. They are the ones who claim free-market economics are fascist and that therefore their own economic theories should be seen as the more virtuous, even though the truth is almost entirely the reverse.
Who, exactly, claims that "free-market economics are fascist"? Hillary Clinton? Barack Obama? Keith Olbermann? Atrios? Please, Jonah, name some names. Because this is just a classic strawman argument.
He closes his response to me in largely the same vein:
- and that brings us to the close of his review which is really just a recitation of the same usual talking-points about how if you scratch an American conservative you find a Nazi underneath.
Of course, I've never made this claim (and particularly not in this review). Indeed, this is a gross mischaracterization of what I did write, which was the central thesis of the review, and bears repeating:
- What goes missing from Goldberg's account of fascism is that, while he describes nearly every kind of liberal enterprise or ideology as representing American fascism, he wipes from the pages of history the fact that there have been fascists operating within the nation's culture for the better part of the past century. Robert O. Paxton, in his book The Anatomy of Fascism, identifies the Ku Klux Klan as the first genuine fascist organization, a suggestion that Goldberg airily dismisses with the dumb explanation that the Klan of the 1920s disliked Mussolini and his adherents because they were Italian (somewhat true for a time but irrelevant in terms of their ideological affinities, which were substantial enough that by the 1930s, historians have noted, there were frequent operative associations between Klan leaders and European fascists).
Beyond the Klan, completely missing from the pages of Goldberg's book is any mention of the Silver Shirts, the American Nazi Party, the Posse Comitatus, the Aryan Nations, or the National Alliance -- all of them openly fascist organizations, many of them involved in some of the nation's most horrific historical events. (The Oklahoma City bombing, for instance, was the product of a blueprint drawn up by the National Alliance's William Pierce.) Goldberg sees fit to declare people like Wilson, FDR, LBJ, and Hillary Clinton "American fascists," but he makes no mention of William Dudley Pelley, Gerald L.K. Smith, George Lincoln Rockwell, William Potter Gale, Richard Butler, or David Duke -- all of them bona fide fascists: the real thing.
This is a telling omission, because the continuing existence of these groups makes clear what an absurd and nakedly self-serving thing Goldberg's alternate version of reality is. Why dream up fascists on the left when the reality is that real American fascists have been lurking in the right's closet for lo these many years? Well, maybe because it's a handy way of getting everyone to forget that fact.
I have in fact written at length about the crosscurrents between American proto-fascists and mainstream movement conservatives, and have done so by insisting rigorously on people making the distinction between them. But at the same time, it's important to understand that the rise in ideological traffic between the far right and the mainstream actually means that the constellation of traits that constitute the fascist pathology gain traction, and the demon itself starts to take shape.
This is why so many people outside the conservative movement look at its True Believers and see budding little fascists. If Jonah Goldberg is concerned about people mistaking conservatives for fascists, he'd do far more good calling on conservatives to stand back and take a look at where they're heading ideologically.
If conservatives like Jonah don't want to be mistaken for fascists, they won't embrace the racial politics of people like Buchanan or Brimelow or Malkin. They won't let a far-right extremist like Ron Paul, whose campaign is riddled with white supremacists, even into the Republican Party, let alone play a significant role in the GOP presidential campaign, and they won't embrace vigilante organizations like the Minutemen. Maybe they won't write books that manage to trivialize an utterly monstrous and destructive right-wing ideology, pretending that entities like the Klan really aren't right-wing in the process. But conservatives like Jonah have done all these things.
Most of all, perhaps, they could eschew the eliminationist rhetoric that has not only deeply infected the conservative discourse but has poisoned the larger public discourse as well. After all, as Robert Paxton observes:
- The legitimation of violence against a demonized internal enemy brings us close to the heart of fascism.
Books like Dinesh d'Souza's The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, Ann Coulter's Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, Sean Hannity's Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism and Liberalism, and Michael Savage's The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Schools, Faith, and Military all were about promoting the idea that liberals are America's internal enemy.
And it's clear we can add Liberal Fascism to that list. What's almost pathetically amusing about this is that we're talking about a book whose stated purpose is to make conservatives look less like fascists. And of course, its end result is very much the opposite.