Get Out Your Godwin’s Law-O-Meter

I originally posted this at but then I remembered that at Chicago Boyz there are likely many readers and bloggers who are fans of Jonah Goldberg and might enjoy reading him squaring off against leftist academic critics:

HNN is running a symposium on Jonah Goldberg’s recent book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning:

While I know a great deal about the historical period in question, I have not read Goldberg’s book, so I am not going to comment on his core proposition except to say that IMHO, I tend to find arguments that the intellectual roots of Fascism and Nazism are located exclusively on one side of the political spectrum are flatly and demonstrably wrong. Goldberg’s polemical thesis though, yields a hysterical reaction because he is jubilantly shredding the hoary (and false) assertion of the academic Left, going back to the pre-Popular Front Communist Party line of the 1930s, that Fascism is a form of radicalized conservatism and a secret pawn of big-business capitalism.

Therefore, the following series amounts to an intellectual food fight between Goldberg and (mostly) a band of clearly enraged leftist professors. Enjoy!:

HNN Special: A Symposium on Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism

After all, who doesn’t like an intemperate, online argument about Nazis? :)

17 thoughts on “Get Out Your Godwin’s Law-O-Meter”

  1. I learned a lot from Goldberg’s book and it has stimulated me to try to find more about the Wilson administration and the early Progressive movement. The fury about the book was really hot soon after it came out and Amazon had over 500 one-star reviews, virtually all of them from people who had not read the book. They have now removed most of them but this is a campaign that must be coordinated by someone as most conservative books by major figures get hit with this

    My review is here.

    Incidentally, my copy of volume I of Pogue’s biography of Marshall came and I am half way through. My copy came from the Command and General Staff College Library and it was noted that the 1972 edition was “obsolete.” Not knowing any better, I am enjoying it.

  2. “I learned a lot from Goldberg’s book and it has stimulated me to try to find more about the Wilson administration and the early Progressive movement.”

    It’s a weird period Herbert Croly, Colonel house and other figures in the circle that admired Wilson politically, basically rejected America’s constitutional principles and democratic politics in favor of an elite -run paternalistic technocratism to order the lives the commoners for their own good. This is why stalwart liberals back then were also sometimes enthusiastic eugenecists. They did not see that as incompatible until mid-WWII.

  3. The left has an ongoing romance with authoritarianism far more than the libertarian right. For example, look at the last two pages of a pretty good essay by James Fallows in Atlantic.

    We could hope for an enlightened military coup, or some other deus ex machina by the right kind of tyrants. (In his 700-page new “meliorist” novel, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us, Ralph Nader proposes a kind of plutocrats’ coup, in which Warren Buffett, Bill Gates Sr., Ted Turner, et al. collaborate to create a more egalitarian America.) The periodic longing for a “man on horseback” is a reflection of disappointment with what normal politics can bring. George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower were the right men on horseback.

    Of course, if Obama’s agenda was being accepted, they would like the voters more

    Jacob Weisberg has similar sentiments.

    In trying to explain why our political paralysis seems to have gotten so much worse over the past year, analysts have rounded up a plausible collection of reasons including: President Obama’s tactical missteps, the obstinacy of congressional Republicans, rising partisanship in Washington, the blustering idiocracy of the cable-news stations, and the Senate filibuster, which has devolved into a super-majority threshold for any important legislation. These are all large factors, to be sure, but that list neglects what may be the biggest culprit in our current predicament: the childishness, ignorance, and growing incoherence of the public at large.

  4. Interesting. Unpopular policies which a certain segment of the population rejects is, somehow, “political paralysis.” Only for the partisan of one or the other stripe. For the other guy, it’s all good.

    Sheesh, what a quote Michael Kennedy!

  5. M. Kennedy,

    those articles you quoted are exactly why I support the Right Wing. The Left has a tendency towards totalitarianism which I don’t see in the Right. This is especially important in how it relates to free speech. College campuses are microcosms of what America would look like if the Left ran the country. Nowhere are people more closed minded than on College campuses. Maybe some religious institutions come close, but they don’t pretend not to be. Europe is run by Leftists and people go to jail for “speech crimes” all the time. I guess that old observation is right about the GOP being the stupid party and the Democrats the evil party?

  6. To a pretty good approximation, the Left promotes more government intervention and the Right less. Dirigisme vs Laissez Faire.

    A couple of issues usually put forward as exceptions really aren’t: Military spending: There has been no lack of military spending by the regimes on the left. Moral busy-bodying by government: Anyone who has been paying attention to the left/green alliance could not argue that the Right has a monopoly on that.

    In essence, then, the Left and Right represent the ends of a scale from, at its extremes, total government (pure Socialism) to … total Laissez Faire (which some obtuse people call “anarchy”). On that basis, regimes like Nazism and Italian Fascism are therefore solidly leftist. They have some characteristics (militarism, nationalism) which are also found on the right, but these are not determinative either way, because they are also found on the left.

  7. I’m no academic, by a long shot. But I find the rank and file lefties seem quite religious in clinging to their talking points, fed to them from their higher power. Of course their higher power is some “progressive” blog or talk show.

    On most topics those guys get a feeling of “elitism” by spouting a little knowledge “from above”. They can’t argue their points, nor do they understand them well, but they still have no doubt they are in the superior position. They wallow in their specialness, and don’t you dare expose their cult.

    AGW is an area where this is most obvious to me, as few true believers have devoted time to the science. Now that “the scam” is revealed, they are in denial and still demeaning the “flat earthers”.

    While there is some of this on the right, Obama seems to be the paragon of the shallowness of the leftist elite. Lying is an acceptable means, mandating is preferred, and it would be best if those that disagree would just shut up while he “mops up”.

    I’m ordering Goldberg’s book.

  8. Can anyone recommend a good book on Woodrow Wilson?

    Goldberg makes a good case that Wilson was a source of much oppression during his rule. It was very presuasive and thorough.

    Funny, but my earliest impressions of the stuff Wilson was pulling was in John Dos Passos “USA” trilogy. He wrote from a far left, International Workers of the World prospective.

    Hope to see a strong critique from the freedom-loving Right.

  9. “Dirigisme” and “dirigible” have the same root word. The Left isn’t captaining the Titanic, it’s taking us to Lakehurst.

    Neiwert’s a hack. His book “The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right” was my first clue. His casual use of the word “teabagger” sealed it. Would anyone take seriously a foreign policy brief that matter-of-factly referred to foreigners by ethnic epithets?

    (Setting the sexual innuendo aside, “teabagger” suggests the opposite of what the Tea Parties are all about – they want to dump the tea, not bag it.)

    Paxton left the planet with this quote:

    “Liberal Fascism is an oxymoron, of course. A fascism that means no harm is a contradiction in terms. Authentic fascists intend to harm those whom they define as the nation’s internal and external enemies. Someone who doesn’t intend to harm his or her enemies, and who doesn’t relish doing it violently, isn’t really fascist.”

    American leftists relish in nonviolently harming those whom they define as the nation’s internal and external enemies. Ever look at the tax code? The rest of their economic policy? It’s all about bribing favored groups and standing on the necks of all the Great and Little Satans out there.

    There is an American leftism that means violent harm to its enemies – Ken Gladney was on the receiving end of it – and the non-violent Left seems all blasé about it. That scares the hell out of me.

    Goldberg did a wonderful job of countering the critics.

    This wasn’t exactly UIL debate where each side gets equal time. This was one of those Sally Jesse Raphael shows where Sally, her three other guests and the entire audience gang up on the token right-wing heretic.

    HNN has increased my interest in this book.

  10. AKH: “Paxton left the planet with this quote” Amen.

    I have a natural inclination to believe that a person who has studied a topic long at least avoids some basic errors, and thus, I retain an initial sympathy to academics speaking on a subject, no matter how many times I have been burned. This is because I have heard amateurs butchering topics that I do know something about, not getting some very basic points.

    But the academic makes a different sort of mistake which is equally wrong. Which is more damaging likely varies from topic to topic, and what particular academic/amateur we are attending to.

    I would gladly give someone like Paxton the benefit of the doubt in their pronouncements. But when they reveal their reasoning, and it turns out to be nothing more than the tripe quoted above, I draw back. Paxton is merely saying that fascism means harm and liberalism doesn’t, so they can’t be connected. I think a middle-school social studies class could knock that down without any hints from the teacher.

    Analogy from baseball sabermetrics. I generally trust a scout who says that he thinks Player X from Single A has a good swing and will be able to move up. But if he keeps talking and reveals that what he really means is that he hits the ball far sometimes, and led the league in homers last year despite his terrible batting average, then I no longer trust the scouts judgment.

  11. Sebastian Haffner, who came of age in 1920s and 1930s Germany (I reviewed his book a couple of weeks ago) wrote about the Communists and the Nazi sympathizers he knew:

    “They both came from the ‘youth movement’ and both thought in terms of leagues. They were both anti-bourgeois and anti-individualistic. Both had an ideal of ‘community’ and ‘community spirit’. For both, jazz music, fashion magazines…in other words the world of glamour and ‘easy come, easy go’, were a red rag. Both had a secret liking for terror, in a more humanistic garb for the one, more nationalistic for the other. As similar views make for similar faces, they both had a certain stiff, thin-lipped, humourless expression and, incidentally, the greatest respect for each other.”

  12. “Neiwert’s a hack. His book “The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right” was my first clue. His casual use of the word “teabagger” sealed it. Would anyone take seriously a foreign policy brief that matter-of-factly referred to foreigners by ethnic epithets?” (AK Henderson)

    What if Right-wingers started calling the Left “pole-smokers” for supporting gay marriage? Also another red flag is the word “Hate.” If there’s one thing that I’ve noticed is that the people who cry “hate” the most tend to be the biggest haters?

  13. I am not knowledgable of that period of history and I am a conservative, but from my perspective I think Goldberg won the exchange. When I am an outsider I always look for the most concrete part of the exchange and it seems that Goldberg won it handily. For example, Feldman quotes Mussolini’s 1932 _The Doctrine of Facism_ in which Mussoline, the creator of fascism, says that fascism is opposed to liberalism. Case closed, right? Well, as Goldberg points out in his rebuttal, in Europe the word liberal actually means classical liberal – laissez-faire. That is an obvious thing and you can’t follow politics very long without knowing how Europeans use the word. Surely Feldman knows that too, and yet he led with that quote.

    Apropos to the “focus on the facts” heuristic, the other arguments seemed to consist of strongly worded accusations by high status intellectuals rather than fact based arguments. They did succeed in getting the low status and uncredentialed conservative rattled, but I don’t think they made a compelling evidential argument against Goldberg’s thesis.

  14. One of the first things one needs to do these days when discussing “fascism” with the general public is to get the other person to get a dictionary and look the word up before engaging.
    Many are surprised to find that it has an actual, legitimate meaning, and often, the opposite kind of meaning that the subject believed it had.
    One can also make sport by telling statists (to use the politically correct term) that “Nazi” translates literally to “National Socialist Party”- they were socialists, as far as they were concerned. Nothing’s tougher on the “BushHitler” groove.
    It’s not as much fun as sneaking up behind our beloved progressives and whispering “Sarah!”, though.

  15. When it comes down to it, regardless of what a fascist is or isn’t, Neiwert is trying to make the argument that people shouldn’t be allowed to have certain views or perspectives becuase he thinks its “dangerous.” This is the lowest form of intellectual activity. People like Neiwert and his ilk for some reason believe that they’re the “deciders” when it comes to what can be talked (or written) about in public. It doesn’t matter if the people who hold the wrong beliefs are peaceful and respectful, he will still use guilt by association, take things out of context, and attempt revoking their free speech. He is everything McCarthyism was supposed be and then some. People like Neiwert start campaigns to get people fired from their jobs and removed from the public sphere. They fancy themselves as “watchdogs” with Gods special permission to judge what “respectable dialog” is. They are the opposite of my understanding of respectful and honnorable. Their hypocrisy knows no bounds. They define the word “chutzpah.” They will excuse real examples of hateful language when it comes from ideological peers, while fear mongering the words of gentlemen. They support edicts that outlaw speech while accusing others of supporting totalitarianism. They live in a constant war-footing state-of-mind and fight by controlling discourse and firewalling off “improper” myths, narratives, and heroes. These are the champions of degeneracy and the stranglers beauty.

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