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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ideology and "Fascism" 


Tim Noah reviews Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism:
Liberal Fascism, then, is a howl of rage disguised as intellectual history. Some mean liberals called Goldberg hurtful names, so he's responding with 400 pages that boil down to: I know you are, but what am I?

Among the liberals I know, you don't, in fact, hear the word fascist bandied about much, and if somebody blurts it out to describe contemporary conservatism, the most common reaction is a rolling of the eyes. It's a provocation rather than an argument, much overused by the left during the 1960s and now mostly absent from mainstream political discourse.


True and untrue. I do think LF is an identity-politics argument made in response to a common identity-politics argument. Goldberg is indeed responding to overheated rhetoric about the loss of freedom in the Bush administration (yes, Tim, this stuff is out there, and not just in throw-away Hollywood comments). He is also, I think, responding to a meme that has some traction in dinner table conversation- the idea that fascism emerges from or can be identified with the right, not the left.

He does a superb job of demonstrating the following:

1) the ideological heritage of the left is full of leaders who took actions that are appropriately described as fascistic
2) Left-leaning heros were, on occasion, admirers of fascists

Noah's point is that among his own cognoscenti there is no need to re-state these obvious facts. That same criticism could be leveled at lots of books, and, I'll wager, quite a few of Noah's columns. So I'm not sure it amounts to much. Goldberg's book isn't written for Noah's dinner party of bien pensants.

On the other hand, Goldberg's argument is not too far, logically, from the one he deplores. They tend toward the fallacy of generalization: Wilson engaged in fascistic behavior. Wilson was a man of the technocratic left, therefore leftists are fascists. The difference is that Goldberg's accusers are historically ignorant and Goldberg is not.

Which leads me to the real value of this book. I don't believe the temptations of state power are unique to "the right" or "the left". They are simply a human and bureaucratic hazard. Goldberg puts together a fascinating history of the use of state power in the pursuit of ends that were and are deemed noble by the left. If you have no time for the book, read Goldberg's article on Woodrow Wilson. It will leave you shaking your head at the idea that any modern politician would voluntarily label themselves "progressive":
Under the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, Wilson's administration shut down newspapers and magazines at an astounding pace. Indeed, any criticism of the government, even in your own home, could earn you a prison sentence. One man was brought to trial for explaining in his own home why he didn't want to buy Liberty Bonds.

The Wilson administration sanctioned what could be called an American fascisti, the American Protective League. The APL – a quarter million strong at its height, with offices in 600 cities – carried government-issued badges while beating up dissidents and protesters and conducting warrantless searches and interrogations. Even after the war, Wilson refused to release the last of America's political prisoners, leaving it to subsequent Republican administrations to free the anti-war Socialist Eugene V. Debs and others.

Now, obviously, none of the current crop of self-described progressives are eager to replay this dark chapter. But we make a mistake when we assume that we can cherry pick only the good parts of our past to re-create.


There's much more to say (and I will likely edit this post, because I have to get back to something else), The real point is that social engineers, imperialist and racists need the coercive power of government to realize their plans. That way lies the Road to Serfdom. It is certainly not a road paved with free markets and individual rights. From an ideological perspective, the latter the only reliable contra-fascist indicators. Ideologies that subordinate these principles hazard becoming fascist.



20 Comments:

By Blogger Christopher Chambers, at Wed Feb 27, 02:00:00 PM:

I teach a course at Georgetown called The Public Intellectual in Modern Journalism. Jonah and his freaky mommy are neither. William Kristol and HIS freaky mama (and daddy) Gertrude and Irving--yeah. The late great Bill Buckley, hell yeah. But don't elevate this fat turd to the status of a right-wing Upton Sinclair or Ed Murrow. Pretty Please. There is a method to the madness of how hack books like this get to press and are promoted--involving farsical plugs on Fake...er...Fox News and then right wing blogs. You have now become a cog in that wheel. How's it feel? ;-)  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Wed Feb 27, 02:17:00 PM:

Stalin and his commie brethren filled mass graves with many tens of millions. Even Hitler paled by comparison, and lightweights like Pinochet only managed a few tends of thousands.

Its pretty clear who the heavyweights are when it come to racking up the body counts. Leftists.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Feb 27, 02:50:00 PM:

Even Hitler paled by comparison
Reminder: National Socialist  

By Blogger Christopher Chambers, at Wed Feb 27, 02:51:00 PM:

Wow Purple...that's real lovely observation. I didn't know we were keeping score! Or playing nanny nanny poo poo child recess games. Or perhaps this is a new right wing reality show? How about Shaka Zulu versus Napoleon, or Jefferson Davis versus Tamberlane in Slave or No Slave? The Hutus versus the Catholic Church in "The Real World vs. Road Rules Genocide and Torture Challenge." Hotubs, witches and machetes, y'all! And frankly I think Hitler, Pinochet, Franco, Mussolini, Samoza, Dick Cheney and Ed Meese are all supremely misunderstood and misappreciated blokes...hehehehe  

By Blogger Andrew Hofer, at Wed Feb 27, 03:26:00 PM:

Chris - I don't feel any different. I read the book, I commented, I have an opinion on where it belongs in discourse.

I've noticed that we all tend to have much higher standards of discourse for those on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum.

And, of course, I'm quite pleased to use it as a vehicle for my own agenda - libertarianism is the true opposite of fascism! Like to see the book "Libertarian Fascism", I would.  

By Blogger Viking Kaj, at Wed Feb 27, 03:38:00 PM:

Revealing perhaps my libertarian bias, and dislike of a strong federal government, I think we have been on the road to facism ever since the end of the civil war. Remember that Lincoln suspended habeus corpus? But the kicker was the the 14th amendment, which has increased the influence of the Federal Government completely out of proportion. Since then both parties when in power have at times exhibited dangerous tendencies towards facism.

Some of the choicer moments from the democratic party follow.

Let's start with the foundation of the modern military industrial complex which can trace its roots to William Randolph Hearst who famously said of the Spanish American War: "You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war." The Panama Canal and a two ocean navy were no longer options after that conflict.

I'll also bet few here know that J. Edgar Hoover, nominally a democrat, got his start working closely with the American Protective League immediately after World War I developing massive index files on all sorts of people without probable cause.

Or how about Joe Kennedy (first head of the SEC under Roosevelt, and father of JFK and Bobby) who advocated abandoning England in the run up to World War II? He was a famous Republican if there ever was one.

Or that Bobby get his start on Capitol Hill as counsel to Tail-gunner Joe McCarthy's Committee on Unamerican Activities?

I'm not even going to get started on the Clintons and Janet Reno.

Of course, the bending of the public interest by both parties lately to benefit large corporations smacks of Krup AG in Essen (amorers extraordinaire to the 2d and 3rd Reichs).

Unfortunately, centralization of power always seems to bring out the facist in everyone.  

By Blogger Andrew Hofer, at Wed Feb 27, 03:46:00 PM:

"frankly I think Hitler, Pinochet, Franco, Mussolini, Samoza, Dick Cheney and Ed Meese are all supremely misunderstood and misappreciated blokes...hehehehe"

I think that's precisely the sort of comment that prompted Goldberg's book. Looks like I'm not the only one who's a cog in this system!  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Wed Feb 27, 04:03:00 PM:

Chris - if you are truly a "teacher" of a course at Georgetown, could you please re-read your first sentence (or shall i say pretty please) and note that your comment about the Goldberg family or the Kristols didn't precisely follow form the first phrase. They are neither what exactly?

I point this out because your error isn't a typo. It's sloppy, disorganized structural thinking. And it reflects (in a moresane way) alot of the insne slop you throw up on this board.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Feb 27, 04:29:00 PM:


I point this out because your error isn't a typo. It's sloppy, disorganized structural thinking.


So what else is new? CC commits some stream of consciousness to keyboard, to provoke outcries from the "rightwingnuts," as he puts it. That is his MO.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Feb 27, 05:20:00 PM:

I personally prefer "right-wing polka dancers" to simply "rightwingnuts".

Rightwing nuts can actually have a utilitarian value in terms of being a threaded fastener. But there is no sane rationalization for the existence of a "right-wing polka dancer"; this type of person can honestly be marginalized as "the other", which was the intent all along.

-David, now new and improved "the other"  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Feb 27, 05:27:00 PM:

"I teach a course at Georgetown called The Public Intellectual in Modern Journalism."

There's one reason the university environment is so fucked up. Phonies like Chambers teach.

Zhombre  

By Blogger Steve M. Galbraith, at Wed Feb 27, 06:42:00 PM:

Well, we all lose our scepticism (fear? dislike?) about government once we start to hold its power.

Very seductive.

My prayers and thoughts go to the Georgetown undergrads.  

By Blogger Christopher Chambers, at Wed Feb 27, 09:46:00 PM:

Indespensible Destiny (a frequent and conservative commenter on this blog) and I share lots of chuckles whenever I get the wingnuts hissing like so many stray cats, flushed from the safety of the basement of a condemned apartment building. What's the deal here? can't more like your GOP candidate in his graceful apology for yet another wingnut comment at a rally, or his admission of a brainfart in his Iraq War statement yesterday? hahaha
By the way, the conservative gentleman at the Society of Jesus seem to have no problem with me, thank you, nor, interestingly, do my frat boy lacrosse player students. Call it the "Obama Effect."

Now, that said, I'm wondering is it really fair to paint someone like Stalin as being a leftie. OK in origins, yes. Technically. But even as a kid he was a sociopath as well as an opportunist; he could have just as easily been working for the Czar. I know technical considerations don't bother you or Jonah--fascism is a construct of the right, period. It hides behind the free market, anti-trade unionism, patriotism and yes, I'll admit, uses government power as a hammer. But again, that's the irony of the right wing. Indeed fascism uses the loving complicity of corporate and old money interests before muscling in that as well. So think about Stalin. He basically turned Communism, the soviet state, into an evil Ford or Standard Oil. There is some scholarship recently thatsuggests Stalin LITERALLY was a fan of Henry Ford and John D Rockefeller (as well as Walt Disney hahaha). Lenin was scared of the guy; Trotsky and his gang said the guy had sold out Karl Marx. Look what happened to Trotsky, and indeed, the whole communist world including the Workers Party over here when Stalin signed the Nazi-Soviet pact. Funniest irony is that many of the ancestral neocons who are mean old Bush-loving farts now (including Bill Kristol's dad), started out as Trotskyites!
I dunno my fine supply side home-skillets--I think the dude could be classified as a rightie, and done so with a straight face.

OK, carry on. Wouldn't want you to miss Glenn Beck or Hannity. ;-)

PS, actually under the "new paradigm" Jonah probably is a public intellectual and a "journalist." That's what i tell my students. The flip side is that neither means a damn thing these days, sadly. Even William Kristol would say that. Right winger Judge Richard Posner--whose book Iuse as a text--would agree...  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Feb 27, 10:52:00 PM:

By the way, the conservative gentleman at the Society of Jesus seem to have no problem with me, thank you, nor, interestingly, do my frat boy lacrosse player students. Call it the "Obama Effect."

I'm sure the Jesuits have the patience of a saint, and those frat boy lacrosse players must also be very gracious and patient to put up with your condescending crap and bragging about your dreadful novels at the bottom of the amazon dot com sales list. The Duke lacrosse players withstood an immense amount of crap from two-bit black academics who assumed their guilt simply because they were white, middle-class college athletes.

zhombre  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Feb 28, 12:24:00 AM:

I have BERNAD GOLDBURGS book THE 100 PEOPLE WHO ARE SCREWING UP AMERICA and it mentions MICHEAL MOORE and quite a few others the only one i dont aree with is judge ROY MOORE  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Thu Feb 28, 03:11:00 AM:

"Mindless Dreck" is obviously new here - he's taking Chambers seriously. Of course Chambers *was* serious when he praised Hitler, a champion of the Palestinian cause like one of this year's Presidential candidates.  

By Blogger Andrew Hofer, at Thu Feb 28, 06:12:00 AM:

"fascism is a construct of the right, period. It hides behind the free market..."

Once again, you prove that Noah is wrong and Goldberg's book supposedly redundant mountain of evidence clearly does have to be presented. Apparently many left-leaning folks have become completely unhinged from the history of progressivism.

I didn't approve of some of the piling-on in the comments here, but if you make such statements in your course, you do your students and Georgetown a major disservice. They are publicly un-intellectual.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Feb 28, 10:34:00 AM:

If you make such statements in your course, you do your students and Georgetown a major disservice. They are publicly un-intellectual.

Not to mention ignorant of the historical foundations of fascism.

Why be so defensive about the dangers modern liberalism presents to democracy? A weakness is not the same as a fatal flaw, and it's possible to mount a positive defense of liberalism that isn't ad hominem or absurd on it's face. While you don't manage that, CC, it can be done.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Feb 28, 04:49:00 PM:

Chambers is fishing.

If you take the bait, that's your fault.  

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