Friday, January 11, 2008

Jonah's response

-- by Dave

Jonah Goldberg has posted a response to my review of Liberal Fascism.

I'll have a great deal more in the morning, but I'd like to point out initially that, while expending a great deal of time excoriating and dismissing the review, he utterly neglects to address its central point -- the one raised in the review's subhed, to wit:
In his new book, Goldberg has decided to dream up fascists on the left rather than acknowledge the fact that the real American fascists have been lurking in the right's closet for lo these many years.

As the review states in its culminative paragraphs:
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). [More here on that.]

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.

Or, to put it more simply:
Why talk about liberals as fascists when we have living, breathing fascists in our midst today -- fascists whose philosophies are about as diametrically opposed to those liberals as one can find?

Jonah devotes not a single sentence to addressing this point.

What is so aggravating about Jonah's book is that much of the debate and discussion focuses on words and ideas whose real-world meanings were different in the 1920s and '30s than they are today, largely because contexts have changed so much in the ensuing years. A large part of Goldberg's response involves this discussion, and I'll have a great deal more to say on this shortly.

But the point is this: If we're going to talk about fascism, we should be referring to what it means currently. And there are indeed contemporary fascists, both in America and Europe, who continue to operate and organize, and whose presence and activities continue to affect us both politically and culturally. And these people are decidedly right-wing in its current meaning. Moreover, they are adamantly, diametrically, even violently opposed to "liberalism" in its common current meaning.

There are, in fact, people whose work it is to monitor and expose the activities of these factions, and the general decay of the usefulness of the term fascism is a source of constant dismay to them (as it is to me). When people throw the word "fascist" about willy-nilly, it makes it that much more difficult to make the public aware of the societal dangers posed by the activities of real fascists.

And a book like Goldberg's -- which almost renders the word finally, irrevocably meaningless -- is the worst immanation of this trend yet, in no small part because its fundamental silliness undermines something very serious indeed.

(Incidentally, I predicted elsewhere that Jonah would fail to tackle the review's central thesis. I hate it when I'm right about these things.)

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