Definitions and Double StandardsHistorians/History
First, I'd like to thank HNN for paying me the compliment of all this attention. Not many authors draw this much firepower at all, much less two years after publication. I’m not sure what prompted the decision to tackle my book now, but I think it’s a sign of its impact that such eminent scholars as Robert Paxton and Roger Griffin feel the need to crush it (that Dave Neiwert and Chip Berlet attack it is hardly surprising and much less interesting). I suspect that one reason for this discussion is that the book is starting to catch on in academia itself. Every few weeks or so, I get an email from another professor letting me know that they will be using part or all of the book in their classes. By no means do they agree with all of it, but they treat it respectfully and have very interesting thoughts on one aspect or another of Liberal Fascism. It seems that in some circles this will simply not do and so we have a new round of attacks.
What’s that old saying? “If you’re catching flak, you must be over the target.”
Let me say up front that selecting David Neiwert to “introduce” the discussion – without telling me in advance – is pretty strong evidence that this symposium was intended a priori to discredit the book rather than honestly discuss it (usually, introducers at least pretend to be evenhanded). The slanderous and absurd bile in some of these initial responses – comparing my book to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and me to a Nazi propagandist – runs completely counter to the spirit of open debate. I would like to think that HNN didn’t know what it was getting into when it started this project.
So forgive me if I take all of this gnashing of teeth and rending of cloth over the polemical – as opposed to scholarly – nature of Liberal Fascism with a grain of salt. Neiwert and Bertlet are deeply invested in their cottage industry of spotting fascism and Nazism in the Republican Party, talk radio and elsewhere. In nearly every respect they are both caricature and embodiment of precisely the mindset I attack in my book (a mindset Professor Paxton claims doesn’t exist). Heaven forbid I adopt a Marxist mode of analysis, but it’s fair to say that for them to treat Liberal Fascism respectfully would be like a Luddite welcoming the cotton mill. I’ve dealt with Neiwert’s arguments before, so I won’t waste more time on him here.
On Definitions and Terms
Instead, let me make a general point in response to all of my hostile reviewers. They deeply misunderstand Liberal Fascism to one extent or another (by the way, I’ve addressed similar attacks before and all of the contributors would have been well served to have taken a look at my responses here and here).
They are furious at the way I define fascism. They are appalled by my selection of what I consider to be the relevant facts. They are aghast by the stories I leave out. But their examples for the most part amount to thin gruel. The vast majority of their corrections could have easily been acknowledged in my book (and often were!) without changing its overall argument one bit. Meanwhile, in their anger, they fail to deal with most of the major arguments of my book. Their silences are more significant that their sound and fury.
Indeed, the rage over all of my book’s footnotes and scholarly citations is at times bizarre. Griffin writes that Liberal Fascism “[i]s a work of sustained pseudo-historical calumny and defamation disguised under the (constantly slipping) carnival mask of an ‘alternative history’.” “The journalist Goldberg,” fumes Griffin, is akin to Nazi propagandists and the Holocaust denier David Irving. So much for the idea that liberals don’t argue ad Hitlerum. “Given this situation,” Griffin hyperventilates, “it is pointless to expend more than a few ergs of serious scholarly energy on refuting the legion distortions, calumnies, and lies ― both historiographical and definitional ― that pullulate in the pages of Goldberg’s book.”
By all means conserve your ergs. But Griffin, et al., seem to be arguing that by offering all of these footnotes and quotations I’m deceiving the reader. Griffin’s hilarious rhetorical overreach notwithstanding, if you read closely and with a cool head, his and his colleagues objections ultimately boil down to the fact that they don’t like the way I define my terms. That’s fine. But would it be better if I didn’t define my terms? Would it be better if I didn’t provide sources?
Griffin notes that “[Herbert] Marcuse accused liberal society of being totalitarian but at least this was based on a consistent Marxist critique of capitalism.” Can’t I be consistent on my own terms or is consistency a defense only for Marxists? I define Leftism in a way that places the National Socialists of Germany on the Left. Why? Well, one reason is they were socialists. Another is that they were cultural radicals who wanted to overthrow, among other things, traditional religion and custom.
For those who don’t know: I contend that in America (unlike Europe in important respects) “the right” is defined by two pillars: religious and cultural traditionalism on the one side and classical liberalism or economic libertarianism on the other. We can get hung up on the labels, but it is fair to say that people who are very culturally conservative are usually identified as “right-wing” and those who are very libertarian on economic matters are dubbed right-wing as well. Modern conservatives, for the most part, adhere to the “fusionist” school which tries to marry both traditionalism and laissez-faire in one coherent vision. Meanwhile, the Nazis – and, to a lesser extent, the Italian Fascists – rejected both of these worldviews while embracing statism. In my book (literally and figuratively) that puts you on the left. To date no one has successfully rebutted this argument.
Though Professor Feldman tries – and fails. He begins by quoting Mussolini’s The Doctrine of Fascism from 1932 as if it is definitive of fascism. He of course knows, but fails to say, that Mussolini was constantly changing his definitions of fascism and by 1932 was desperate to reboot the now decade-old “movement.” But even so, even if Mussolini’s statement that Fascism stands opposed to liberalism were correct, I’m still right and Feldman is still wrong. Mussolini makes it very, very clear in The Doctrine of Fascism that the “liberalism” he is speaking of is individualistic, free-market, democratic “classical liberalism” (Mussolini’s term). Contemporary liberalism – the liberalism in Liberal Fascism – is not that. It is progressivism by another name. The classical liberalism Mussolini (and the American Progressives, the Fabian Socialists et al) sought to bury is now called “libertarianism” in America. And in America, this kind of libertarianism is a right-wing phenomenon.
Meanwhile, others respond that in Germany Hitler was called a “right-winger,” as if that was dispositive. So what? Bukharin was a “right-winger” according to Stalin. Indeed, he was killed for his “right deviationism.” Does that mean we must call Bukharin a right-winger in the American context?
The Point of Liberal Fascism
Michael Ledeen, who has serious disagreements with my book, is nonetheless basically right. Liberal Fascism is “a work of political theory, not a history.” My historical analysis was always intended to illustrate and illuminate my theoretical argument. I have said many times that one of my biggest mistakes in the book was opting to “show” too much while “telling” too little. I think this is particularly true in the second half of the book. Some of the confusion it has generated is surely my fault; but the hysterical reaction of many critics is less a product of misunderstanding than the result of the baggage they bring to the book, professional wagon-circling and rank partisanship. I’m not going to dilate on this point too long. But I think contemporary liberals and leftists have grown so comfortable in their self-anointed role as arbiters of fascism in particular and political evil in general, that my book elicits a certain panic for those whose thinking is propped up by ideological clichés. For the professional historians, it’s hard not to detect a bit of a guild mentality behind some of the (hopefully) canned outrage.
Indeed, it’s worth noting that my basic argument is hardly as new or radical as many of my detractors pretend. Albert Jay Nock, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Eric Voegelin, Friedrich Hayek, Paul Johnson, and A. James Gregor have made many similar arguments, dating back decades. The intellectuals around Dwight MacDonald were discussing these issues in similar terms as well. That my argument is more controversial today than it was two generations ago is interesting, but it’s no more than that. Indeed, some of my critics might wish to revisit the works of such contemporary scholars as Gregor, Michael Burleigh, Sheri Berman, Wolfgang Schivelbusch, and David Cieply.
More to the point, the idea that one should uncritically genuflect to the “consensus” of historians is just silly. The consensus of experts always deserves attention, but it does not deserve blind loyalty. The consensus among historians (and all experts really) has been wrong so many times, we need not dwell on that point. Where I find the consensus from historians most useful is in the realm of facts. When a sufficient number of serious historians say X happened, I generally take their word for it (indeed, Professor Paxton backhandedly concedes that I get my facts right). But when the historians say X happened because of Y or you must understand X in this—and only this—way, I am less deferential. I suspect this lack of deference is one of the things that has put Professor Griffin off his feed.
Paxton vs. My Scholarship
For reasons of length and the repetition of so much of the criticism, I think I should concentrate my fire. And since Robert Paxton—the most respectable of my attackers—is the only one who offers an argument approaching something like scholarly sobriety, let me concentrate on his broadsides. I will try to take them more or less as they come, though he doesn’t make that easy, since he repeats and contradicts himself in odd ways. At the end I will deal with his factual errors and misstatements.
Professor Paxton begins by noting that I have long been vexed by ad Hitlerum arguments from the left. That this was part of my motivation is hardly a secret, I admit it in the book (again, would it have been better had I kept it a secret?). Would that professional historians were more honest about that their motives. I fail to see how my honesty should be a strike against me, never mind how it proves that I am taking liberties out of some sense of victimhood.
His first substantive and “bottom line” charge:
The bottom line is that Goldberg wants to attach a defaming epithet to liberals and the left, to “put the brown shirt on [your] opponents,” as he accuses the liberals of doing…. The reader perceives at once that Goldberg likes to put things into rigid boxes: right and left, conservative and liberal, fascist and non-fascist. He doesn’t leave room for such complexities as convergences, middle grounds, or evolution over time.
Except, as anyone who has read my book knows, I insist (sincerely, I assure you!) countless times this is not my intent. But don’t take my word for it, take Professor Paxton’s. Later in his own critique, he notes that I distinguish “liberal fascism” from “classical fascism” (i.e. Nazism and Italian Fascism). In fact, I define liberal fascism very differently than classical fascism and note over and over that liberal fascism evolved to shed militarism and the genocidal racism of Nazism (just as I acknowledge that liberalism has shed its fondness for the hard eugenics of the Progressives). If only Dr. Paxton could “leave room for such complexities as convergences, middle grounds or evolution over time” when reading the plain text of my book.
Ah, but “liberal fascism” is a gobbledygook word according to Paxton:
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.
Here we are getting closer to the rub. Robert Paxton wants to talk about the anatomy of fascism and he has opted to emphasize harm as its defining characteristic (a claim not universally accepted, by the way). I find this understandable but not entirely persuasive. I find it much more obvious that the justification, indeed exaltation, of violence is not a specifically fascist attribute but is characteristic of nearly all revolutionary movements. Surely “harm” is a major component of Stalinism, Maoism, Pol Potism and Jacobinism.
Moreover, it would be nice if Professor Paxton could at least nod to the fact that I am not the first person to use the phrase “Liberal Fascism”—that was the impeccably socialist H.G. Wells—or acknowledge the fact that the title of my book was intended to have at least some attention-grabbing irony to it.
I’m skipping ahead for a moment because it’s relevant to this discussion. Paxton writes:
Once in power, the two fascist chieftains worked out a fruitful if sometimes contentious relationship with business. German business had been, as Goldberg correctly notes, distrustful of the early Hitler’s populist rhetoric. Hitler was certainly not their first choice as head of state, and many of them preferred a trading economy to an autarkic one. Given their real-life options in 1933, however, the Nazi regulated economy seemed a lesser evil than the economic depression and worker intransigence they had known under Weimar. They were delighted with Hitler’s abolition of independent labor unions and the right to strike (unmentioned by Goldberg), and profited greatly from his rearmament drive. All of them would have found ludicrous the notion that the Nazis, once in power, were on the left. So would the socialist and communist leaders who were the first inhabitants of the Nazi concentration camps (unmentioned by Goldberg).
Here we go again. Since my book has come out, I’ve come to learn that the plight of independent labor unions under Nazism is of abiding importance to understanding Nazism. It has come up in reviews and debates many times. If I understand the argument, it goes something like this. Nazis “crushed” labor unions (the Nazis actually saw themselves as folding labor into the government, giving it a “seat at the table” as it were) and sent labor and other socialist activists to concentration camps. Hence, proof of the “rightwingness” of Nazism.
I find this argument bizarre. First of all, how did independent labor unions do under Stalin? Under Castro? Under Mao? Are those regimes not left-wing? Hitler sent Communists and rival socialists to concentration camps. This was evil, to be sure, but how was it right-wing? Stalin liquidated the Trotskyites (and 31 other flavors of socialists) too. Why is killing rival Communists and socialists right-wing when Hitler does it and not when Stalin does it? If your answer is that Stalin was somehow “right-wing” when he did these things, then your definition of right-wing is simply “evil”—and that validates a big chunk of my book.
Now, Professors Paxton and Griffin might respond—with some merit—that they don’t consider fascism “right-wing.” It’s “neither right nor left” as the famous saying goes. That is a fine and respectable argument for them to make. But not only do I disagree with them (I think fascism – a “heresy of socialism” in Richard Pipes’ words – is left-wing), so do the vast majority of liberals who insist – and have insisted for generations – that fascism is right-wing. Curiously, this sixty-odd-year-old refrain from the left doesn’t seem to prompt stern letters and essays from the “neither-nor” school.
Moving on, Paxton writes:
Fascism is given an equally broad definition: it is any use of state power to make the world better and to create a community. This is not only too vague to mean much, it is simply wrong. Authentic fascists have never wanted to make the whole world better. As uncompromising nationalists, they want to make their own group stronger, purer, and more unified, and establish its domination over inferior groups, by force if necessary. Goldberg’s real target is state activism, and matters would be much clearer if he had just left it at that.
Put aside that this is not how I define fascism, I agree that “authentic fascists have never wanted to make the whole world better.”
Which is why I never say they did. Again, Professor Paxton is the one using rigid boxes, not me. He’s already noted that I distinguish liberal fascism from classical or authentic fascism, but whenever this causes him trouble he ignores the distinction to suit his rhetorical purposes. Just in case, here are just a few instances where I make this distinction.
Less than a full page into my book I write:
If fascism does come to America, it will indeed take the form of “smiley-face fascism”—nice fascism. In fact, in many respects fascism not only is here but has been here for nearly a century. For what we call liberalism—the refurbished edifice of American Progressivism—is in fact a descendant and manifestation of fascism. This doesn’t mean it’s the same thing as Nazism. Nor is it the twin of Italian Fascism. But Progressivism was a sister movement of fascism, and today’s liberalism is the daughter of Progressivism. One could strain the comparison and say that today’s liberalism is the well-intentioned niece of European fascism. She is hardly identical to her uglier relations, but she nonetheless carries an embarrassing family resemblance that few will admit to recognizing.
On page 8-9:
Now, I am not saying that all liberals are fascists. Nor am I saying that to believe in socialized medicine or smoking bans is evidence that you are a crypto-Nazi. What I am mainly trying to do is to dismantle the granitelike assumption in our political culture that American conservatism is an offshoot or cousin of fascism. Rather, as I will try to show, many of the ideas and impulses that inform what we call liberalism come to us through an intellectual tradition that led directly to fascism. These ideas were embraced by fascism, and remain in important respects fascistic.
On page 16 I write:
I would not dream of saying that today’s liberals are genocidal or vicious in their racial attitudes the way Nazis were.
On page 22:
Today’s liberalism doesn’t seek to conquer the world by force of arms. It is not a nationalist and genocidal project. To the contrary, it is an ideology of good intentions. But we all know where even the best of intentions can take us. I have not written a book about how all liberals are Nazis or fascists. Rather, I have tried to write a book warning that even the best of us are susceptible to the totalitarian temptation.
Dr. Paxton is of course free to disagree with this assessment, but intellectual honesty would seem to require he simply acknowledge it.
Is it wrong or beyond the pale for me to argue that today’s liberals have inherited progressive notions that have much commonality with fascism? Look, Bolshevism can fairly be called a variant of Marxism and so can democratic socialism, right? I would not accuse democratic socialists of being would-be mass-murderers (like the Bolsheviks) but I should be able to argue that they share a certain Marxist lineage with Bolsheviks. Meanwhile, Paxton is shocklingly—and encouragingly—silent in response to my argument that Progressivism in America had much in common with fascist currents in Europe, save for his grudging acknowledgment of Progressive eugenics. Just for the record, I would have loved to have heard his thoughts – no matter how critical – on the links between Italian and American Pragmatists, an area ripe for further investigation by scholars of fascism.
Paxton also writes:
Having headlined the violent history of “liberalism,” Goldberg soft-pedals that of fascists, especially Mussolini. There are the ritual references to Auschwitz, but he denies that racial extermination is integral to Nazism by noting how many Progressive reformers fell for Eugenics in the early twentieth century.
This is simply untrue, and terribly unfair. I do not deny that “racial extermination is integral to Nazism by noting how many Progressive reformers fell for Eugenics.” In fact, I concede over and over that racial extermination is integral to Nazism. I do not claim, however, that it is unique to Nazism because it isn’t. If Dr. Paxton would like to argue otherwise, I’m all ears.
Similarly, I deny that racial extermination is integral to fascism because it isn’t. As a group, the Italian Fascists, as Paxton well knows, did not embrace racial extermination, even under intense pressure from the Nazis. They eventually adopted some Nurembergesque laws (again under intense pressure from the Nazis), and they embraced colonialism and many other sins, committing war crimes in Abyssinia, but they were not driven by or exponents of genocidal racism. Rabid nationalists? Si. Bigots? Forse. Genocidal racists? E no. Since the doctrine and term Fascism were born in Italy, not Germany, I think this is highly relevant. That is why I try to clarify the issue by speaking of “Hitlerism” when speaking of the Nazis’ genocidal racism.
Rather than acknowledge any of this, Dr. Paxton opts to muddy important distinctions, while denouncing me for my alleged failure to make them.
With fascism reclaimed, Paxton moves on to defend the term liberalism.
Several times, he criticizes me for painting with too broad a brush when discussing liberals and how they think. Obviously, there’s some merit to the complaint. But there is merit to all such complaints about books even remotely similar to mine. No doubt Chris Hedges speaks too sweepingly of how “conservatives” think and the “conservative mind” in his book American Fascists. Ditto Naomi Klein, Frank Rich, Paul Krugman, Naomi Wolf, Robert Reich and virtually every journalist, pundit, intellectual and—yes—scholar when writing for a broad audience about contemporary politics (if you don’t believe me, I once again refer readers to the oeuvres of Messrs. Neiwert and Bertlet). I think it’s safe to say that my book is better sourced, footnoted and backed up with examples than the vast majority of such books.
If Professor Paxton wants to stroll past the evidence and assert I am creating a strawman out of contemporary liberals, that’s his right. But does he really want to claim that liberals and leftists don’t routinely argue that the further away you get from them the closer you get to fascism? This was accepted either as a doctrinal truth by Marxists like Adorno and Horkheimer or as an ill-defined sentiment by liberals like Richard Hofstadter and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. It is a regular theme running through progressive journalism and campus activism. In mainstream politics, advocates of limited government—in economics and race relations—have been dubbed fascists for half a century. Harry Truman insisted that Thomas Dewey was the front man of a Hitlerian plot. Barry Goldwater was derided as a fascist by LBJ and the liberal commentariat, and Reagan of course was routinely dubbed a fascist. When Newt Gingrich introduced the Contract with America, Rep. Charlie Rangel exclaimed “Hitler wasn’t even talking about doing these things.” Which is true enough. And let us not even start with George W. Bush. It’s fine to scorn me for taking too much offense at such things, it is another to insinuate that I’m imagining it, particularly when two of the contributors—Messrs. Neiwert and Bertlet—make their living from precisely the practice Professor Paxton claims do not exist.
Professor Paxton also thinks it’s terribly unfair for me to associate contemporary liberals with leftist radicals in the 1960s. This just comes across as sour grapes. The fact that Hillary Clinton did have ties to, and sympathies for, radicals is surely relevant. If Mussolini studied St. Francis of Assisi as dutifully as Hillary Clinton studied Saul Alinsky, I’d wager that professor Paxton would find it interesting and important. But about Mrs. Clinton, such investigations are beyond the pale. Likewise, if a Republican had a relationship with David Duke or Lyndon LaRouche remotely similar to President Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers or Rev. Jeremiah Wright, one can only imagine how much the Neiwerts and Bertlets would bang their spoons on their highchairs. Professor Paxton makes no effort to explain why these linkages are irrelevant and silly, he just says they are.
The Business of Fascism
Let’s move on to the discussion of big business under fascism. Paxton says that big business ultimately took over big parts of the government under Italian Fascism. He’s right. Something similar happened under the New Deal and under Woodrow Wilson, a point none of my critics rebuts or takes much interest in. He suggests that labor was locked out of the system in Italy more than I let on. I’m happy to concede that point. As for big business having outsized influence in Fascist Italy, anyone who read my chapter on fascist economics in good faith wouldn’t expect me to be surprised that “regulatory capture” can happen in Italy too.
Goldberg hijacks scholarly work and applies it in misleading ways for his own purposes. Henry Ashby Turner, Jr., showed conclusively that German businessmen were often skeptical of Hitler in the early days. Since they gave money to all non-Socialist parties, the small amounts they gave the Nazis prove nothing. But Turner’s book stops in January 1933. Goldberg extends Turner’s conclusions misleadingly into the later period, ignoring the way German businessmen adjusted to the new situation.
Uh, no. I apply Turner’s conclusions accurately to what happened after 1933. One of my central points about big business—in Germany and in America—is that it is opportunistic and pragmatic with no real devotion to free-market principles. I am at a loss as to why I am correct for invoking Turner on this point to demonstrate how German businessmen behaved prior to 1933 but “misleading” when I argue that big business remained opportunistic and pragmatic after 1933. Professor Paxton certainly agrees with me that big business was pragmatic and opportunistic after 1933, he just wants to make it sound like he doesn’t.
Then Paxton writes:
David Schoenbaum meant his title Hitler’s Social Revolution ironically: Hitler recruited all the losers in Germany’s 1920s crises, and then betrayed them by following policies favorable to big business and big agriculture after January 1933. Goldberg appropriates this book’s first half misleadingly to support his fantastical conclusion that Hitler was always “a man of the left.”
I cite Schoenbaum—accurately—on how the Nazis appealed to the masses to gain power. Dr. Paxton’s own excellent book The Anatomy of Fascism focuses on the differences between fascists in power and fascists out of power. I have no objection to the argument that Nazi economics were in fact bad for poor and working class Germans and friendly to (some) big business. In fact, I make that argument in explicit detail. What I object to is the idea that this makes Nazi economics right-wing or free-market. Out of power, the Nazis insisted they were socialists. In power, they made pragmatic concessions with reality, specifically the needs of the war machine, and “betrayed” the masses. But they nonetheless moved Germany in a socialist and statist direction. Indeed, Michael Mann—no friend of my book—concedes in his book that had the Third Reich lasted much longer it’s doubtful it could be described as “capitalist” at all.
It’s also a bit ironic, given that as we speak, the Obama Administration has found itself in a mess as it has been very friendly to big business while (allegedly) giving the shaft to labor unions. Indeed, it has bailed out the banks, it owns two of the three auto companies (along with labor—which has a seat at the table) and has done precious little to tangibly help the poor and working class. Does that make the President right-wing in any meaningful sense in the American political spectrum? Maybe in some faculty lounges and faux-revolutionary-cell dorm rooms, but not in the real world.
Your Scholarly Powers Are Weak…
Paxton tries to end the rhetorical light show by drubbing me with all of my supposed errors of judgment and scholarship or by insinuating that I’m taking liberties with the facts. I’ll take them in rough order, starting with the insinuations.
This book is stuffed with references to scholarly work that make it look authoritative. But when something really surprising comes along, we look in vain for a footnote.
Did Hitler really write a fan letter to that Jew-loving plutocrat FDR in 1935? No footnote.
He did (it was technically a cable), and there is a footnote.
The cable in question is footnoted at the end of the paragraph in which it is mentioned. Footnote 38 sends the reader to John A. Garraty’s famous article “New Deal, National Socialism, and the Great Depression,” in which Garraty writes:
At the end of Roosevelt's first year in office Hitler sent him a message through diplomatic channels offering sincere congratulations for "his heroic efforts in the interests of the American people. The President's successful battle against economic distress is being followed by the entire German people with interest and admiration," Hitler announced.
Paxton goes on:
How do we know that the New Dealer Hugh Johnson read Fascist tracts, and for what purpose (p. 156)?
We know it because lots and lots of historians have written about it. Hugh Johnson’s fondness for fascism has been documented in countless works (many cited by me), including John Patrick Diggins justly respected Mussolini and Fascism: The View from America as well as Johnson’s own autobiography. It also appears in Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s excellent work (which covers some of the same ground) The Three New Deals. The sentence Dr. Paxton points to does lack a footnote, but these sources and Johnson’s relationship to fascism are frequently cited and sourced throughout the larger discussion.
I’m curious: is Paxton really suggesting he didn’t know about Johnson’s affinity for Italian Fascism, or is he suggesting that I’m making something up that he in fact knows to be true? If the former is the case, I beg his pardon for presuming his familiarity with current scholarship and the historical consensus. If the latter, I await his apology.
And that FDR put a hundred thousand American citizens into camps (p. 160)? Does he mean that C.C.C.?
When I say that FDR put 100,000 people in camps, I am referring to the Japanese-American internees. I’m sorry I wasn’t clear enough (not all of the 100,000-120,000 people FDR interned were citizens). Still, I’m more than a little shocked that Professor Paxton couldn’t figure out what I was talking about.
In what sense was “deconstruction” a Nazi coinage (p. 173)? Goldberg probably means Heidegger, but he wants us to think Goebbels.
When I say on page 173 that the philosophical term “deconstruction” was coined by Nazis I mean that the term “deconstruction” was coined by Nazis. As I write on page 16:
The historian Anne Harrington observes that the “key words of the vocabulary of postmodernism (deconstructionism, logocentrism) actually had their origins in antiscience tracts written by Nazi and protofascist writers like Ernst Krieck and Ludwig Klages.” The first appearance of the word Dekonstrucktion was in a Nazi psychiatry journal edited by Hermann Göring’s cousin.
Exactly where and when did Al Gore say that global warming is the equivalent of the Holocaust, and what were his actual words (p. 314)?
In his book Earth in the Balance, Al Gore employs several extended Nazi/Holocaust metaphors and analogies. He writes that “today the evidence of an ecological Kristallnacht is as clear as the sound of glass shattering in Berlin.” He repeatedly refers to the unfolding “ecological holocaust” and invokes Martin Niemoller’s famous quote (“When the Nazis came for the Communists, I remained silent; I was not a Communist. ... When they came for the Jews, I did not speak out; I was not a Jew. ...”) to label himself and other environmentalists “the new resistance.”
The list of bombshell remarks smuggled into this text without any reference to a credible source could go on and on.
Since the “bombshell remarks” Professor Paxton thought were worth mentioning are all accurate, maybe that will cause professor Paxton to rethink some things?
Paxton goes on:
While Goldberg is reasonably careful of names, dates, and quotations, his more general judgments often go badly awry. It is not true that “the hard left had almost nothing to say about Italian Fascism for most of its first decade” (p. 30). The Third International diagnosed it right away, clumsily, as an agent of capitalism.
Professor Paxton may have the better part of the argument, but I took my lead on this point from, among others, John P. Diggins, who writes “The misreading of events in Italy may be due to the unfortunate fact that in the twenties few outstanding European Marxists gave serious thought to the subject.” He adds in a footnote: “Aside from the Italians, the only important European radicals to devote attention to Fascism in the twenties were Leon Trotsky and Karl Radek [both of whom I discuss—JG]. In 1924 Trotsky stated that Fascism was merely an emergency instrument of the bourgeoisie for use in extreme situations and that it would soon be replaced by Menshevism…”
The Italian elections of 1924 were not “reasonably fair” (p. 50), for according to the Acerbo Election Law passed at Fascist insistence just beforehand, the leading party would automatically receive two thirds of the parliamentary seats.
Of course, we are very deep in the weeds now. As to the fairness of the 1924 elections I defer to Dr. Paxton, though I’m hardly alone in my characterization.
It is untrue that Germany spent relatively little on armaments in the first years; they spent as much as they were allowed under the Versailles Treaty, and then arranged secretly for further training and arms development in the Soviet Union (p. 151), a point that ought to suit Goldberg quite well.
This is a misreading. I wrote, in the context of the shocking militarism of the early New Deal:
Presumably it is not necessary to recount how similar all of this was to developments in Nazi Germany. But it is worth noting that for the first two years of the American and German New Deals, it was America that pursued militarism and rearmament at a breakneck pace while Germany spent relatively little on arms (though Hitler faced severe constraints on rearmament).
Relatively refers to “in relation to America,” or at least that was my intent. I’m sorry if that is unclear. And, yes, it does suit my argument that the Nazis had common interests with the Soviets.
Hitler never ever campaigned from the back of an old pickup truck (p. 289).
As for Hitler and his truck, I concede error. I had read in Henry Ashby Turner’s book that Hitler was “reduced to riding back and forth across Berlin in the back of a paneled delivery truck.” I guess I misread that as “pickup truck.” How much Dr. Paxton wants to invest in this automotive taxonomical dispute is entirely up to him.
Oh, and there was one charge he made at the beginning of his essay that’s worth rebutting as well:
Jonah Goldberg knows that making the Progressives, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt and FDR the creators of an American fascism – indeed the only American fascism, for George Lincoln Rockwell and other overt American fascist or Nazi sympathizers are totally absent from this book – is a stretch so he has created a new box: Liberal Fascism.
George Lincoln Rockwell does appear in my book – on page 196, in the context of the Nation of Islam’s efforts to join forces with American Nazis. Other Nazi sympathizers such as Joseph Kennedy and Father Coughlin appear at great length in the book. I also discuss W.E.B. DuBois’s initial sympathies for National Socialism.
Professor Paxton ends with another strawman about how I believe all state action is evil, and spirals off with some more smash-mouth stuff.
I must say that I was terribly disappointed in Paxton’s response because I hold him in such high regard. I’m not shocked he disagrees with me, I just thought he would do a better job of explaining why. Still he stands head-and-shoulders above some of the spittle-flecked ranters.
This is not to say that there aren’t good criticisms to be made. I think Griffin is correct that I should have included in my definition of fascism some reference to the revolutionary nature of fascism (though why he finds the need to put revolutionary in ALL CAPS is beyond me).
As I have argued elsewhere, I think some of the criticisms about the title and the cover—and, for Paxton’s benefit I will throw in the chapter headings and subheadings—are certainly legitimate, even if I disagree with them. This book was unfairly attacked two years before its publication and, now, two years after. I wish it had been dealt with more seriously and honestly by its liberal critics, but it’s worth noting that if they had their way, the book would have been completely ignored. If it seems like I sometimes shouted my points where I might have more persuasively whispered them, I regret that. But if shouting was necessary to open the debate and change the way people think about these issues, and perhaps even shake up the historical consensus, I make no apologies for raising my voice.
Thanks again to HNN for this opportunity. Perhaps we can meet here again in two years when everyone has had a chance to calm down.
HNN Special: A Symposium on Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism
- Neiwert: Introduction
- Paxton: The Scholarly Flaws
- Griffin: An Academic Book - Not!
- Feldman: Poor Scholarship, Wrong Conclusions
- Berlet: The Roots of the Book
- Michael Ledeen Responds to Liberal Fascism
- Goldberg: Definitions and Double Standards
- Feldman: An Open Letter to Mr. Jonah Goldberg
- Griffin: Definitions and Double Standards - A Rebuttal
- Neiwert: Goldberg’s Response Fits His History of Evasion
- Griffin: Definitions and Double Standards - A Rebuttal
comments powered by Disqus
Elliott Aron Green - 2/3/2010
Carlos, my concern is not just which end of the alleged left-right spectrum is closer to fascism. I am saying that for scientific understanding --as much as possible for the social sciences-- we ought to and need to get rid of the whole notion of left-right, of a political spectrum. Maybe we ought to stop thinking so much about ideology and more about interests. In turn, interests ought to be defined as what interests a state or party or faction or individual or body of public opinion, not what others or outsiders perceive as their interests. Maybe ideologies serve more as covers for interests than as the original, basic motivation for political actors.
Maybe you ought to read --if you have not done so yet-- the book Facundo by Sarmiento, which may give you an idea of my thinking. Telling the story of Manuel de Rosas, the 19th century Argentine warlord, Sarmiento shows that de Rosas was willing to change ideology and party and color [both with and against los colorados, as I recall]. All the while he was promoting his own power and influence.
Unfortunately, Sarmiento's book is unjustifiably neglected in American political science.
Kevin Eric Kennedy - 2/3/2010
Apologies for referring to you as "Susan," Colleen.
Kevin Eric Kennedy - 2/3/2010
You're absolutely right, Susan: Goldberg is not a scholar, but a polemicist. And it does not speak well for the serious nature of HNN that it granted him a forum for his bile. Like many other conservatives, whether in print, on the blogosphere or on Fox, Goldberg has learned that there are loads of money to be made by hurling verbal grenades at what they consider to be liberals. We could laugh at such antics if they were not so dangerous. As President Obama pointed out at his recent appearance before the House Republicans, you cannot compromise with your political opponents once you have demonized them. Most Republican politicians and pundits know that Democrats are not fascist-communist baby-killers from Mars, but they won't admit it as long as there are so many votes to win and so much money to make by inciting fear and hatred.
By the way, Adam Cody calls your comment "absurd." He also chided me for not including hard data in a comment, because that is apparently the only kind of information he can process. He also encouraged me to leave my liberal ignorance behind me and gain insight into the real workings of the world by imbibing the wisdom of the Mises Institute. Among other things, this organization is a repository of authoritarism, racism, misogyny and homophobia. But do they express their irrational hatreds in a very scholarly way.
Carlos Roberto Aguilar - 2/2/2010
I think we should look at the left today and the right today, and ask, who has more in common with fascists? And, even if one side thinks more like a fascist, that does not mean it is fascist, and furthermore fascism does not equal evil.
It's pointless to argue about what used to be defined as right-wing, because these standards do change, even in relatively short periods of time. Take Pat Buchanan for instance -he is still tagged as a right-winger, but mainstream conservatives believe pretty much the opposite of what he believes, and plenty of leftists share his anti-war and protectionist stances.
So, again, let's look at the right and the left today. The right is, for the most part, socially traditional and economically libertarian. The left sees the state as an instrument to change and improve society. The right today has its ideological roots in Burke and Hayek. The left is inspired by Hegel, Wilson and FDR. So who shares more ideologically with 20th century fascists? Goldberg's thesis is not that controversial after all.
Kevin Eric Kennedy - 2/2/2010
The government was not effective because of nearly thirty years of Reaganist deregulation policies, which were also pursued by the so-called liberal Bill Clinton. Alan Greenspan, who was running the Fed the whole time, also bears enormous responsibility for the crisis. Not only did he impose his Ayn Randian pseudo-philosophy on the Fed, but he also worked for the dismissal of tougher regulators at other government agencies.
Many ordinary people did indeedd take out loans they couldn't afford, but in many cases they were taken advantage of by unscrupulous lenders who persuaded them they should take on such obligations. And you can't blame small mortgage-holders for the giant roulette game the Wall Street traders played with those bad loans. The meltdown was primarily the result of the neo-liberal orthodoxy that dominated American politics for so long. Blaming the victim is an old but effective tactic conservatives have long used to and absolve themselves of the consequences of their failed ideology.
Elliott Aron Green - 2/2/2010
Kevin, how about considering the role of govt and such govt-linked bodies as FannyMae and FreddieMac in bringing about the crash?
Are you aware that govt officials urged banks to make the sub-prime loans that were part of the reason for the crash? By the way, ACORN was urging, even demonstrating, for mortgage loans to be made to people who were not likely to be able to pay off the loan, especially not if the interest rates were variable and were to go up as the general interest rates in the economy went up.
It is not that I believe in unfettered, unregulated markets or unregulated banks and securities firms. I do not so believe. Rather, I believe that the govt's intervention in favor of sub-prime loans was very wrong-headed, very harmful. Further, the SEC was simply, terribly incompetent in dealing with the Madoff swindle. Madoff's operation was reviewed/inspected 2 or 3 times by SEC inspectors who found nothing. So the govt proved to be incompetent in that situation. Let's not be simplistic about govt effectiveness.
Adam Cody - 2/1/2010
Your characterization of Goldberg's response is absurd on its face.
And your position seems highly ideological with all absence of context of how these "liberal historians" [it's in the title of the special header at HNN] wrote in such an unprofessional manner that it resembled more of an ignorant flame war one would see on the politico forums.
Those of us with "real jobs" would of been fired for writing to our clients or co-workers like these "liberal historians" did; using such vitriol and vile. Reminds me of the climate-gate emails to be frank.
Kevin Eric Kennedy - 2/1/2010
Thank yóu, but I'm not interested in cults.
Adam Cody - 2/1/2010
As you didn't argue from facts or positions I can't respond directly to your statement except point out the absence of the data and also your absence to acknowledge the complexities involved in figuring out "what went wrong" goes to show your position is purely parroting ideological talking points.
Note, not that your unique in this - one can see it everyday even on the economic/business news channels. The Kudlow report proves this daily with the left/right guests he has.
Try researching the various writers at mises.org , fee.org, or cato.org to see how one might interrupt the recent events differently than you do now. You might not agree with them, you most likely will not, but surely you can't simply dismiss them out right.
Elliott Aron Green - 2/1/2010
Stalin probably killed more Communist leaders and intellectuals than Hitler did. Goldberg rebuts Paxton by pointing out that Stalin crushed his socialist and Communist opponents ruthlessly, as Hitler crushed his. We might add some names here, the National Bolsheviks [the Strasser brothers], Ernst Rohm, etc. So crushing socialist opponents is not a distinguishing feature of fascism or Nazism or right-wingers. This brings us back to the problem of definitions, which Goldberg identifies as crucial. And I agree.
Goldberg wants to characterize socialists and the Left as statist, as if that were their defining trait. Maybe it is a defining trait for them. But why only for them? Let's get historical, guys. How about Colbert and his mercantilist economics in the 17th century? Was he a socialist? A Leftist? Was Colbert's King Louis XIV a socialist or Leftist, perchance? So what sense does it make to define statist economics as a defining, distinguishing feature of socialism or Leftism?
Yes, the fascists and Nazis were statists too. Indeed, the cult of the state already existed in Germany long before Hitler. Didn't Hegel too exalt the state? And Marx was influenced by Hegel. Indeed, the Communists used to claim that Hegel was close to the "truth" but was standing on his head until Marx came along and stood him right side up. Does that make Hegel a Leftist?
As for Liberalism, in continental Europe Liberal usually means a partisan of free market capitalism, not statism. So the problems of definition and taxonomy are great.
Isn't it time already to get rid of
the asinine Left-right spectrum paradigm which leads to confusion and more confusion?
To go back to the quarrel over the book. Then we have the issue of Judeophobia, which almost all of the commenters, and Goldberg too, if I am not mistaken, have prudishly subsumed under the name "racism." So the Italian fascists were not especially Judeophobic until Hitler forced them to issue the racial laws circa 1938. Maybe, forse. In any case, the Italian Jews were not rounded up for deportation until after the Germans had brought back the deposed Mussolini in the fall of 1943. On the other hand, the Communist USSR allied with Hitler to get WW2 started in 1939. Further, the Liberal American president, Mr FD Roosevelt, basically cooperated with the British policy of preventing Jewish refugees from finding refuge in the US or elsewhere, except for relatively token exceptions. The UK, as we know, issued the 1939 "White Paper on Palestine" which closed off to the Jews the internationally designated Jewish National Home when the Jews most needed a home. Can we define the democratic UK as Judeophobic or anti-Jewish racist therefore?
To add a piquant detail, in an essay "I was a Red Viennese," a Jewish socialist from Vienna in the 1930s [Alfred Werner?] tells about a socialist friend of his who, after the Anschluss, told him that the Nazis were socialists too, after all. So things would not be so bad under the Nazis in Austria.
Kevin Eric Kennedy - 2/1/2010
An American standing today admist the ruins of the economy and saying, "Big government is the problem, what we need is more deregulation," is like a German standing among the rubble of 1945 Berlin and saying, "Democracy is the problem, what we really need is a dictatorship."
Honestly, even the Pope has abandoned the faith. Didn't you see Alan Greenspan at that congressional hearing, a broken man, forced to admit that the guiding philosophy of his whole career was fundamentally wrong. "I was mistaken, markets don't regualte themselves."
You keep talking about theory, but the neo-liberalism that just came very close to destroying the US and maybe even the world economy wasn't based on a scientific theory, but a kind of theology. No one was allowed to question the divine wisdom of deregulated markets. And now millions of Americans have lost their jobs, hundreds of thousands have lost their homes, and countless more have lost faith in the system. Meanwhile Wall Street and its lobbyists have ensured that no serious reform has yet taken place, leaving open the possibility of a much worse crisis in the future.
And you still think goverment is the problem?
Colleen Boye - 2/1/2010
...Goldberg spent a sentence building serious scholarship for every sentence he spends working in creative insults towards everyone who disagrees with him, he might actually produce a book that supports a thesis.
Colleen Boye - 2/1/2010
If there is a large movement of people who you know value your writings and they all interpret you in one way and act on it, and you are aware of this, and you fail to correct them, then yes, you're responsible, even if that's not what you personally meant.
Also, all his chapter titles are "This Liberal Is a Fascist", "That Liberal Is a Fascist." If he throws a disclaimer into the middle of the chapter, that doesn't change that his major thesis is "Liberals are fascists."
Adam Cody - 1/30/2010
Don't tilt your cards or anything in point #1. :) Seriously, that's your opinion of capitalism and free-markets that either ignores evidence that contradicts your assumption or ignores evidence that the government "protections and regulations" can and do often more harm than good to the "ordinary people".
On your point #2, are you speaking about my placements of them on an economic left-right scale? Fascism can be talked about as having an economic policy theory, as well as Nazism. As well as the requirements of the size of the State to implement the ideology - size is almost a causation of the economic model an ideology chooses. I'm not sure what part you are actually disagreeing with here though.
On #3, well specifics on what other parts would of help so I could try to clarify.
Maarja Krusten - 1/30/2010
Kidding? Not at all. Sullivan tackles tough issues and tries to sort through them in public. That's actually the way it works behind the scenes with Presidents only it isn't possible to reveal much of that grown up world. The political side can get quite cartoonish. You'd be amazed at how much more adult things are on the operational side. Sully reflects more of the grown up side than most bloggers I read. But hey, to each his own. If you like other bloggers, fine with me, why wouldn't it be?
Joe Dees - 1/30/2010
Governments and people being antisemitic or otherwise racist indeed does not constitute fascism, but governments justifying their usurpation of individual prerogatives to state dictats by appeals to racist ideology, as Nazi Germany did, DOES.
What you are contending is that individual property rights are lost on BOTH extremes; on the collectivist extreme (fascist, theocratic and communist) because the state arrogates unto itself the prerogative to dispose of individual property at will, and on the anarchist extreme, because no state that could defend individual property rights from the depredations of other individuals would be permitted to exist. On this we agree. It is the CDR (constitutional democratic republic) that is the form of goverment that best protects private property rights. But that does not make either those who lean more towards Millian liberalism or those who lean more towards Burkean conservatism each more or less fascist than the other. As I previously pointed out, the liberal-conservative spectrum has NOTHING WHATEVER TO DO with the indiviualist-collectivist spectrum or either protecting private property rights or failing to do so; it has instead to do with the desire to conserve within government what works, even if it works a bit imperfectly, vs. the willingness to take liberties and experiment by changing what imperfectly works, risking the chance that the result works even more imperfectly or not at all, in the hopes that it will work even better than it already does. The liberal-conservative spectrum can only manifest itself withing the context of an empowered citizenry within a country with a malleable consensual government - that is, within a CDR. It can neither manifest in totalitarian collectives like communism, fascism or theocracy, where the citizenry has no power to implement governmental change, or under absolute individualist anarchies, where there would exist no government at all about which to debate such decisions.
Mark L Liveringhouse - 1/30/2010
Andrew Sullivan courageous? You have got to be kidding? He is FOR everything until it becomes unpopuluar. Then he is against it. He is completely spineless.
Kevin Eric Kennedy - 1/30/2010
1. Today's "conservatives" (actually radical free-marketeers) want to demolish every last vestige of New Deal liberalism and leave ordinary people at the mercy of deregulated markets. At this moment, we're suffering the consequences of this ideology. Some form of market capitalism is the only viable form of economic organization for our time, but it can't be left to its own devices. That's why we need a strong state to regulate the excesses of the market.
2. I don't believe you can legitimately speak of "communist/socialist/fascist" theories of the state as some kind of monolithic theoretical construction. One of the hallmarks of fascism, in contrast to Marxism, is its decisionism, that is, its disdain for theory and glorification of the will.
3. I have no idea what the rest of your reponse is about.
Mark L Liveringhouse - 1/30/2010
"appealing to racial superiority and right to rule; it is an exact and precise definition that applies in all cases historically recognized by common historical consensus as fascist."
But the point you miss, I think willingly, is that despite the "historical consensus" this is not a sufficient condition to define fascism. The reason for this is it can also define feudalism and other "isms". Anti-semitism was not an unique idealogy of National Socialists. ANd it was not common to fascists either.
"s for the maximization of individual liberties"
Again, a term you simply choose to warp. But, since you do, the term obviously implies the maximization of individual liberty within the constraints of a limited government. The minimum conditions for governemnt is the protection of individual property rights.
Rush Limbaugh believes in this. Barrack Obama may in a very limited sense. Adolf Hitler did to a lesser extent. I argue, as does Goldberg, on a spectrum this places Barrack Obama much closer to being a "fascist" than Rush Limbaugh. I would argue that a true anarchist does not believe in individual liberty because they would not recognize any boundaries based on property rights.
Adam Cody - 1/29/2010
Why infer an insult when one wasn't made?
You wrote, "as a liberal, that is, someone who believes in a strong state with a clear separation of powers to protect the people from the excesses of the market,".
Now, of course I don't believe that's detailed enough to fully understand your position - especially your inclusion of "with a clear separation of powers". Was that including as a deterrent to the accusation of a 'dictator'? [side note, IMO that doesn't work very well because every dictator is back by an oligarchy of
But, if it's considered as a passing comment, it does sound awfully close to the communist/socialist/fascist theories of state power and economic theories. Hints of class warfare and the need of the State to protect 'us' from the market [capitalist]. That the State should be "strong", meaning "big" - the "Nanny State". I don't think it was stated as strong as in military strength.
Fascism is sometimes referenced as the "third way" or "third position". In the middle of, or rather transcending, socialism and capitalism. IMO, this is what the liberal historians here are skirting around in regards to Fascism being "right wing". It ignores that it simply can't be based upon it's
economic theory and it's need for a large State to pursue that economic theory.
The "new" view of left-right has socialized type economies and large States on the left. Free-market capitalism and small State theories should be on the right in that case. The ends, should hold anarcho-socialism [see Marx-Engels] and anarcho-capitalism [used generically] on each extreme. Classical Liberalism is easily distinguished from modern Amercian liberalism [progressivism] in this context as well.
Now, it would be to each person the burden to understand that Left-Right doesn't simply anything about a political theory as being more evil than the other. We only would know the results of what was done by specific people, countries, and
so forth in very specific circumstances in time. Ones political leanings on the better theory of the State and economies obviously colors where one would determine where the most "freedom" lies -- but it simply is ones opinion.
Kevin Eric Kennedy - 1/29/2010
Perhaps I should give Sully another chance. "New Rules" is indeed hilarious, and I too find Jon Stewart not only funny but deadly accurate in his political satire. (His "Wonder Years" piece the night before last, telling the Democrats to stop kowtowing to the Republicans. THEY'RE NOT GOING TO LET YOU INTO THE CAR!. Very funny but also kind of sad.)
Maarja Krusten - 1/29/2010
Thanks for the thoughtful response, much appreciated. Keeping this brief as I’m out on my lunch break and using my Smartphone. Keyboard’s a bit small. Yeah, I’ve seen Sully on Maher, he’s ok but the format doesn’t give him the range his blog does. (Isn’t Maher’s New Rules a hoot? My fave actually is Jon Stewart, his “Stop hurting America” is classic. I’m not a fan of the “Crossfire” format which in my view traps both sides into boxes where little beyond the formulaic is permitted. I like people who break out of boxes. Stewart zeroed in on that brilliantly.)
Sully appeals to me in part because he is less boxed in than a lot of bloggers. I think that’s tremendously hard to accomplish in the blogosphere. (Also in parts of thw academy.) In the context of my observations about Nixon the official versus Nixon the politician, it’s useful to consider that depending on one’s profession, the working world encourages self-improvement. That requires capacity to learn and to look inwards. Take the Texas Attorney General’s office, which includes several courses based on linguistics/communications Professor Deborah Tanen’s Working 9 to 5. Yes, really! That the Texas AG’s office does that exhibits genuine confidence and commitment to improvement, in my view. In the solution-oriented world, you can’t just pitch to the Alphas (jocks and Queen Bees in high school terms) and Betas (the yearning or anxious Alpha wannabee kids) and ignore the Gammas (the self-actualized, friendly, mellow, get along with kids of all cliques types). You have to think about and respect what makes people tick, what boxes them in, help them avoid feeling trapped or cornered, etc. The crippling Nixonian template precludes that in some places, sometimes.
Kevin Eric Kennedy - 1/29/2010
Thank you for your recommendations. I am familiar with Brooks from his NYT columns and his appearances on the PBS Newshour. I usually disagree with him, but I still find him to be a thoughtful conservative, an endangered species these days. I saw Sullivan a few times on Bill Maher and was not very impressed. I prefer to read Mark Mardell's blog on America on the BBC website.
Maarja Krusten - 1/29/2010
If you're following events in the U.S. from abroad, in addition to Brooks, I also recommend Andew Sullivan's blog, The Daily Dish, at The Atlantic's site. Sullivan comes across to me as intelligent and searching. Added bonus, he seems like a courageous dude. He describes himself as belonging to No Party or Clique. (I too am an Independent. Not surprising that someone who studied Nixon in depth ended up unaffiliated with any party or ideology.) Sullivan does, of course, display partisanship on some issues. But he links to a wide array of sources and his blog sometimes shows a refreshing willingness to confront some really, really tough issues.
Maarja Krusten - 1/29/2010
No, there's a lot more to it. These are tricky issues which require a framework for discussion that is very difficult to build. I know something about some of the factors. After finishing graduate studies in history, I worked for 14 years as an employee of the U.S. National Archives where I received training in public access review. Over the course of 10 years, I listened to 2,000 of the 3,700 hours of Richard Nixon’s secret tapes to determine what could be released to the public and what required restriction for national security, personal privacy and other governmental restrictions. It was a fascinating job for someone such as I, who had worked on Nixon’s campaign in 1968 and cast my first vote for President for him in 1972.
One of the more sobering lessons that I learned in studying Nixon's tapes was that there are two competing cultures. The governmental world relies on a man's grown up side. Yet the culture of the political world can drag him back to high school, with its tribalism and taunts and reductionism. And sometimes trickery. (Think Reese Witherspoon's 1999 movie about high school, Election.) Mix in the emotional baggage that every person accumulates—and the high level of vituperation Presidents face--and maintaining balance becomes very challenging. The tension between the elements can be enormous and every President has to find a way to resolve it. The lucky ones are introspective enough to recognize the challenges and have aides (rather than sycophants) who can help navigate treacherous waters. Some Presidents do quite well, others falter. They are, after all, as human as any of us.
We may actually have an edge on them in terms of support structures. John Podhoretz, who once worked for a Republican president, observed in a memoir (Hell of a Ride), “This might sound pretty awful, but people who reach this West Wing level are, generally speaking, not especially reflective. Washington ambition discourages reflection.” In fact, Podhoretz believed that if politicians were capable of “even minimal soul searching,” that “the conundrums of conscience would make them ineffective and indecisive.”
David Brooks, one of the more intelligent and thoughtful columnists on the scene, observed in 2007 in a column called “A Small, Quiet Voice” that in his view, “Politics, as you know, is a tainted profession. Professional politicians cannot serve their country if they do not win their races, and to do that they must grapple with a vast array of forces that try to remold and destroy who they are.” Brooks opined that “No normal person can withstand the onslaught of egotism and come out unscathed. And so there are two kinds of politicians: those who become creatures of the process, and those who, like [Deborah] Pryce [then about to retire from public life], resist and retain the capacity to be appalled by what they must do. An amazing number gladly surrender. ‘Public people almost eagerly dehumanize themselves,” Meg Greenfield wrote in “Washington,” her memoir. ‘They allow the markings of region, family, class, individual character and, generally, personhood that they once possessed to be leached away. At the same time, they construct a new public self that often does terrible damage to what remains of the genuine person.’”
So how did this affect the man whom I had supported, Richard Nixon, and what was his legacy? Although very smart and capable (David Gergen believes he would have made a good history professor), Nixon battled a number of resentments. He actually did a number of good things (Stephen Ambrose, with whom I once worked, observed that the nation lost more than it gained when Nixon had to resign.) But Nixon’s inability to control his resentments and control his emotional baggage led to a crippling template. It has contributed to a type of political emotional tyranny which can hold voters in thrall as much as some state action. It relies on blame-and-praise reductionism, not on digging deep to get at the heart of issues. At its most benign, it shows up in the type of verbal comfort food for voters described in a letter to the editor published in Thursday’s New York Times. At its worst, it rewards blame shifting and denial. As a result, there is little room for real debate on some issues.
Could this book forum have been handled somewhat differently by some of the historians who wrote the essays about Mr. Goldberg’s book? Sure. Could he and Mr. Ledeen have chosen a different approach to engaging with critics? Sure. My advice to both sides would have been to study the framework in which the other sides operates and strive to avoid pushing buttons rather than using them. But it’s easier to do those things when there is a robust framework in place already which supports the type of debate for which many of the parties have been calling. That requires recognizing and confronting some of the factors I described above. Hard to do after the fact. It’s not surprising that well worn grooves channel comments along the usual pathways.
These issues actually deserve examination. My parents lived under totalitarian regimes (first Communist, then Nazi) when their sovereign, democratic nation in Europe was forcibly occupied by foreign forces. Luckily for me, they were able to escape and come to the United States as displaced persons. (My Dad, a journalist, ended up working as radio script writer for the Voice of America. A noble endeavor.) With such a background, it should not surprise you that I am dismayed when I hear ordinary U.S. citizens misuse the terms Communist and Fascist. Such misuse dilutes and diminishes the horrors that totalitarian systems force on those in their grip. But much of that comes from ignorance. And the emotional nanny state that holds so many political players in thrall. Very hard to do resist or throw off.
If you’re interested in following a Republican columnist who writes thoughtfully about politics and civic resilience and maturity (more often immaturity), I recommend David Brooks in The New York Times. He’s very well read and it shows. His writing also suggests he is a self-actualized person so not a lot of emotional baggage on display. He also is solution oriented. Very refreshing.
Kevin Eric Kennedy - 1/29/2010
Jonah Goldberg is an entertainer who poses as a poltical thinker. HNN could just have well devoted an issue to one of Goldberg's colleauges at Fox like Hannity, O'Reilly, Beck or Palin. I for one refuse to waste any more time on either Goldberg or his misguided acolytes.
Kevin Eric Kennedy - 1/29/2010
No false premise here. Churchill even admits in that speech that he had previously praised Hitler, but Hitler had failed to live up to that praise. Of course Churchill wasn't a fascist, I never suggested that. My point was that one could use Goldberg's warped logic to make such a claim.
Kevin Eric Kennedy - 1/29/2010
And it sounds as though you are a FASCIST fascist with your simplistic reasoning.
Kevin Eric Kennedy - 1/29/2010
Sorry, but my intellect is too limited to appreciate the humor. How does political theory make calling liberals fascists funny?
Kevin Eric Kennedy - 1/29/2010
So falsification of history is acceptable if done in the name of political theory?
Joe Dees - 1/29/2010
One other note: The various and sundry constitutions of the different CDRs are not perfect, or even in principle perfectable, documents; they are amendable in order to answer to subsequently emerging exigencies that their original authors, bound to their own times and cultures, never could have. In fact, Jefferson's 'tree of liberty' quote notwithstanding, the very amendability of constitutions, by allowing for the evolution of the documents in response to novel challenges, needs and opportunities and the demands of the citizenry that they be addressed, forfends against the need for revolution.
Joe Dees - 1/29/2010
There's nothing fluid whatsoever about the attempt to justify the supervenience of individual prerogatives under a collectivist rubric by appealing to racial superiority and right to rule; it is an exact and precise definition that applies in all cases historically recognized by common historical consensus as fascist.
Second, it has also been true of other, earlier (and later) movements as well, and a reappraisal as to whether or not they, too, should be considered to be fascist might be in order.
But the point is that not only fascism, but also communism and theocracy, are movements of state power. Race vs. religion vs. class erasure as rationales for the assumption of such state power is the means by which to distinguish between them. As for the maximization of individual liberties, that is more of a libertarian position than a conservative one per se, and it, too, can be taken too far, as in the case of anarchism, which does not even cede government the right to exist at all (which is why there is only one type of extreme individualism (anarchism) but multiple types of exteme collectivism (fascism, communism, theocracy); there can be no multiple rationales for the supervenience of state power over individual prerogatives when the very right or wisdom of the existence of a state is what is contested. States of anarchy, however, devolve to the nihilistic law of fang and claw and the war of all against all, where life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short, as Hobbes observed. Truly, Bazarov, in Ivan Turgenev's novel Fathers And Sons, understood not for what he asked.
CDRs (constitutional democratic republics) such as found in the Americas, Europe and the Far East occupy the sweet spot moderate sensible center between such extremes. They recognize the necessity of implementing some collective actions to accomplish collectively beneficial objectives that individuals are unable or unwilling to achieve (infrastructure, common defence), while still leaving the decision of what objectives should or should not be undertaken to the electoral consensus of freely deciding individuals, via popular electoral vote for candidates that support or oppose such objectives in their campaign platforms, and are subject to being defeated in the next election should they fail to follow through on such public commitments. Meanwhile, a constitution preserves minority rights from discriminatory majority electoral tyranny while still allowing for the implementation of legitimate national decisions that adhere to common consensus, by mandating that all citizens be viewed equally under the law.
Mark L Liveringhouse - 1/28/2010
The problem with the racial emphasis of fascism is that these types of racial/nationalistic basis are not unique. Therefore, I cannot see how this can be what is soley attributed to such an idealogy.
I see two problems with trying to define fascism.
First, the idealogies were very fluid and not real consistent. That is why zealots of today on both sides can assign traits of the fascists to their political enemies.
Second,, it is an idealogy that is probably confined to its specific era. Without the catastrophic political end of the First World War and Depression the fascist movements in Europe probably would never have existed.
But, in the end, the fact is that fascism was a movement of state power. It is ridiculous to try to attribute such actions as typical of right wing conservatives like myself and Jonah Goldberg. No were in the doctorine of Hitler or Mussilini did they ever consider that maximizing individual liberty to be an important objective.
Karl Keller - 1/28/2010
Kevin, my boy, you are not fascist. Not a fascist of the genocidal, war-mongering type, I would presume.
You are, however, a LIBERAL fascist, with your longing for a "strong state" to protect us from the "excesses of the market."
How's that shoe fitting? Nice and snug?
Karl Keller - 1/28/2010
Terry, my boy, don't know whether any of Goldberg's recent appearances on Beck are on YouTube, but in the one I just happened to see (trust me it was a pure channel flip accident) Jonah was quite consistent and nuanced.
Jonah is never EVER says modern smiley faced liberals are equivalent to Nazis. Never.
This just in: we are not responsible for the mental processes of other people.
Chip Berlet - 1/28/2010
This is really thoughtful stuff. Thanks. I need to chew on it for awhile.
Adam Cody - 1/28/2010
"..but, as a liberal, that is, someone who believes in a strong state with a clear separation of powers to protect the people from the excesses of the market, it is infuriating to be called a fascist"
If you enjoyed political theory as much as I do, you could of had a chuckle at what you wrote. And maybe Goldberg's premise wouldn't of came off as absurd to you.
Chico Rutski - 1/28/2010
I'll just ignore paragraph 1.
Paragraph 2: Goldberg's point is that apparantly Hitler felt that he had enough in common (philosophically/politically?) with FDR to reach out to him on a personal level. He doesn't say that it proves that FDR is a fascist. From reading the book, I don't believe Goldberg even thinks that FDR was a fascist.
Paragraph 3: False premise. A simple google search could have helped: http://richardlangworth.com/2009/06/did-churchill-praise-hitler/
Paragraph 4: So I guess you generally have a problem with the field of political theory? Better not tell these guys: http://www.political-theory.org/ .
Seriously though, the two "examples" of "absurd"ity and "distorting history" that you listed in your post are insufficient to discard Goldberg's literary work en masse. It really just demonstrates that you disagree with him on a philosophical level.
Paragraph 5: Yep, I guess I was correct. I guess we can just file your post under "complete lack of objectivity".
Joe Dees - 1/28/2010
I thought that I should try to explain why racists and religious supremacists chose conservatism to infiltrate, while communists chose liberalism; it has to do with their differing approaches to the status quo ante.
The heart of the stance of Burkean classical conservatism is an if-it-ain't-broke-don't-try-to-fix-it approach; to conserve what works, and to only - cautiously and carefully - change what doesn't. The heart of the Millian liberal stance, on the other hand, is to take liberties; that is, to experiment, by changing what already works, risking the chance that the result might not work as well, in the hope that it might work even better.
The status quo ante in the early 20th century was one of rampant institutional racism still remaining from our past as a slave-owning nation, and a Second-Awakening-fueled accretion of excessive official obesiance towards religious piety that would have caused church-state-searation-advocate founders and framers like Jefferson and Paine to shudder and blanch. But it was also a state in which unfettered capitalism had fueled the greatest engine of prosperity the world had ever known, with all the class stratification that this entailed.
Racists and theocrats therefore chose to infiltrate conservatism, and add institutional racism and official religious obesiance to the list of things that worked (since they worked for THEM), and communists chose to infiltrate liberalism, striving to add our Adam Smith economic foundations to the list of things with which we should experiment.
However, racism only worked for the preferred complexion, much as Saddam's Iraq only worked for Sunnis, and most (not all) conservatives were acute enough to grasp this, and to add institutional racism to the list of things that needed to be changed. Likewise, religious obesiance only worked for adherents of the religion being officially kowtowed to, and most (not all) conservatives were sharp enough to grok that the identity of the privileged religion was not set in stone, so it was in everyone's best long term interest not to advance such official preferences. At the same time, most (not all) liberals realized that if they sank the rising economic tide, all the boats in our national harbor would sink with it, and were loathe to risk killing our economic golden goose, although many of them have apparently made the mistake of thinking its strength is inexhaustible, and have forced it to pull a cart ever-more-heavily laden with an ever-increasing panoply of costly entitlements.
I might add that, casting around for justifications for their racist stance, many US racists seized upon Biblical scriptures (particularly the story of Hamm, whom God supposedly burned with a mark mandating that all his progeny would be slaves, for the sin of witnessing his father Noah's drunken nakedness, a mark they self-servingly interpreted as darkness of complexion), where slavery and racial/ethnic intolerance were both rife and accepted implicitly. In fact, the KKK explicitly considered itself to be a Christian organization, and attempted to make common cause with domestic theocrats particularly, and influential ministers generally. But then again, in addition to slavery, such practices as genocide, homophobia, and the chattelhood and sexual slavery of women were also widely accepted social norms back then, and only the most dogmatically blind of religious ideologues would calibrate their contemporary moral compasses to match any of these mores and folkways of a two-millennia-old tribal society, and strive to replicate its ancient cultural traditions in our present-day civilization. US racists could find a few, but only a few, leading religionists willing to publicly ally themselves with such an odious cause.
Joe Dees - 1/28/2010
Racial supremacism, like religious intolerance and economic class resentment, is indeed at heart an individual affliction - but a group of individuals operating according to the dictates of a shared affliction, and striving in concert to governmentally reify it, constitutes a collective. When that politically active affliction is class distinction erasure, the collective is communist, when it is religious superiority and rule, the collective is theocratic, and when it is racial/ethnic purity and supremacy, the collective is fascist.
The KKK weren't just a gaggle of garden-variety racists; they mightily strove to protect, preserve and extend officially sanctioned racism in America. That indelibly brands them as fascists. Of course, as I originally stressed this does not mean that adherents of classical Burkean conservatism are any more racist (or any more theocratic) than are adherents of classical Millian liberalism, nor are classical Millian liberals more likely than classical Burkean conservatives to favor communism (for instance, Scoop Jackson and JFK); it just so happens that, as I also mentioned before, many in both the conservative and liberal camps are not clear as to what positions on such issues their political stances do and do not entail, and are therefore ripe for infiltration by such alien ideologies - and just as communists have, for whatever reason, predominantly striven to infiltrate liberalism, so also have fascists and theocrats predominantly striven to infiltrate conservatism - and sadly, all of these attempts, by all of these alien ideologies, have historically met with some degree of success vis a vis their respectively chosen targets.
Kevin Eric Kennedy - 1/28/2010
I just discovered that Goldberg is a commentator for Fox. No surprise there. He fits in well with his colleagues Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. Just like them, he makes the most outrageous charges and then acts surprised when people take offense. And then he claims he didn't say anything offensive, anyway. He was just pointing out interesting connections no one else had noticed before.
Case in point: Adolf Hitler supposedly sent a congratulatory message to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Therefore FDR was a fascist. Of course, Goldberg doesn't come out and state his claim so clearly, but the suggestion is obviously there.
But consider this: Winston Churchill once complimented Adolf Hitler in the early 1930's. He said something to the effect that, if Great Britain were to find itself in such dire straights as Germany did, he wished that it would a leader like Hitler. (Sorry, I don't have the source at hand, but I'm sure the Churchill experts among you could produce it.) So, according to Goldbergian political logic, Churchill was a fascist too.
When called out on his falacious historical reasoning, Goldberg and his defender Ledeen respond by saying that Goldberg isn't writing history, but political theory. So distorting history is acceptable if done in the name of poltical theory? In any case, Goldberg's entire argument rests on his historical analogies, absurd as they are. If the historical claims he makes are false, then the whole book has to be rejected, as it should be.
I now regret wasting so much on this Fox rodeo-clown and his so-called political theory, but, as a liberal, that is, someone who believes in a strong state with a clear separation of powers to protect the people from the excesses of the market, it is infuriating to be called a fascist. But what am I saying? Goldberg, Beck, Palin et. al. aren't calling anyone anything: they're just asking questions, right?
Adam Cody - 1/28/2010
Here's an article for the person I believe he's referring to.
A sociologist I believe:
DAVID CIEPLEY, University of Denver
Totalitarianism Nightmares and the Retreat to Liberal
Found that here:
Charles Lavergne - 1/28/2010
"How would you classify the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s? A Leftist movement?"
This is yet another question which Goldberg addressed in the book. The KKK in the early 20th century were, indeed, populist New Dealers. The only quality they had that might render them "right-wing" was their racism (religion being a relatively non-partisan issue at the time.)
Thus to say that the KKK was a right wing organization is to say that not only is racism unique to the right (which is false) but that simply being a racist earns a person or group a spot among the right wing regardless of all other positions they may hold (which is absurd.) This is exactly the sort of intellectual laziness which Goldberg's book was intended to refute.
Rick Perlstein - 1/27/2010
Jonah, checking your sources, I find no references to a "David Cieply" in any of the major scholarly databases, nor a single reference to a "David Cieply" and "fascism" outside of your post. Could you point us to what I missed?
Chip Berlet - 1/27/2010
>>" the right has a basic libertarian view of trying to maximize individual liberty"
In some sectors, indeed, true. But Christian Reconstructionists and Christian Identity adherents would impose totalitarian rule from the political right. Not everyone on the right is a libertarian unless your definition of conservatism and the Right revolves around libertarianism. Then you have a circular argument.
How would you classify the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s? A Leftist movement?
Joe Dees - 1/27/2010
Race/ethnicity was still the main wellspring that both Hitler and Mussolini tapped in order to rally their respective nations against the perceived injustice of their respective national shames. Hitler pointed to the hypothesized confluence of three German Aryan tribes as the pinnacle of the development of the human species, while Mussolini invoked the glories of ancient Rome and its supposedly stellar citizenry, each to claim that their diminished contemoporary national statuses were richly undeserved and had been rudely and unfairly forced upon them by relatively barbarian and species-regressive inferiors, and that this dire injustice required focused, massive and drastic redress.
Although the Nipponese Chrysanthemum Empire which comprised the third leg of the Axis powers was a theocracy with Hirohito a living God-King, it also claimed both racial and cultural superiority for its people, and not only over blacks and caucasians, but also over other asians. It believed that it was divinely deserving of and destined to hegemonic rule over the Pacific theatre and its inferior (to them) indigenes, and placed its entire society to the task of reifying that faith by any means available to it.
Ron Binns - 1/27/2010
Are you seriously equating Robert Paxton with some misguided nutjob at a tea party rally? There's a reason Goldberg is responding to Paxton and not Joe Schlabotnik from Milwaukee.
Mark L Liveringhouse - 1/27/2010
But the invocation of racial superiority does not define fascism, particularly in a unique sense. In fact, the common denominator of fascism is national superiority, not racial.
Fascism is really a political movement whose goals were to gain control of the state to seek to redress issues in the aftermath of the Great War 1914-1918.
The critical aspect of the Italian and German Fascist movements was that they opposed the governments that were influenced by liberal democratic idealogies. They saw these governments as failing economically with high inflations and unemployment, as well as being weak with respect to the rest of the world.
One major aspect of the movemenst was that domestic political issues flavored each movement, and from this also influenced their agenda once they achieved power.
For example, the Fascists of Italy believed that Italy did not receive their fair share of the spoils in the aftermath of WWI, and this led them to a foreign policy that tried to deliver colonial rewards.
In Germany, on the other side of the peace table in 1919, the treaty ending WWI was also major source of resentment domestically that the Nazis with their well received story of Jewish betrayal were the most effective exploiters.
But, the common thread in the movement was the seizure of total power of the State to achieve the goals, domestic and foreign, of those the movement represented. By seizing this total power they replaced state power over the individual.
ANd, that is the basic point of Goldberg's book, and his reason for writing it. The modern progressives, those striving for more power to the state, accuse the "Right" of being Fascists even though the right has a basic libertarian view of trying to maximize individual liberty and property rights.
From this paridigm we can understand such liberal decisions as Kelo v. New London. It was not the "Right Wing" Supreme Court justices that supported this decision, but those on the left. The "little guy" was completely swept away by the power of the state, and it was the left wingers like Stephen Beyer and Ruth Ginsberg that led the way.
Terry Welch - 1/27/2010
OK, then: Why doesn't Goldberg work to correct those conservative sweethearts calling Obama a Nazi as much as he does to correct his dastardly liberal detractors?
Nothing you wrote actually answers my question, buddy.
Rich Xapt - 1/27/2010
Liberal Fascism = the administration/policies of Barack Obama.
Everyone knows (or is catching on to this), hence all the sniveling "scholars" (snicker, snicker) from the left trying to get out front and obscure the truth.
Chip Berlet - 1/27/2010
Yes, and it does make having meaningful conversations a bit difficult. But I rather think that after WWII neofascist movements developed a form of "International Fascism" that removed the geographic limitation, otherwise I think you have mapped the territory very well, thanks.
Joe Dees - 1/27/2010
While it is true that communism, fascism, theocracy are all collectivist totalitarianisms, they are different kinds of collectivist totalitarianism, invoking different rationales for the placement of the collective will over individual prerogatives. Fascisms typically invoke racial supremacy, while communism invokes the elimination of class distinctions and theocracies invoke the commands of some holy scripture or other. Because races cannot be changed while political and religious views can be, the reach of communism and theocracy is potentially global, while that of facism remains at first regional; it can only conquer other races, eliminate them and replace them, not convert them.
But none of these is related to either classical Edmund Burkean conservatism or classical John Stuart Millian liberalism, and it is as much an error to confuse classic conservatism with right-wingism (either fascist or theocratic) as it is to confuse liberalism with leftism. The problem is exacerbated when neither liberals nor conservatives grasp these distinctions; this allows their political movements to be infiltrated by such adherents of ideologies, and their agendas to be altered by them.
Karl Keller - 1/27/2010
So Terry Welch complains that the "right wing nutjobs" get the same "message" and those awfully darned nice liberals.
Perhaps the darnded nice liberal critics are as intellectually incapable as those "right wing nutjobs"?
No, that couldn't be could it.
Terry, Terry, Terry...a tiresome left wing tactic. Accuse the other side of doing what YOU do, only accuse them of being WORSE. Classic.
Terry Welch - 1/27/2010
Goldberg seems to be saying that all those darn liberals are simply getting him wrong: He never intended to suggest that American liberals are the equivalent of Nazis and to say he did is just being stupid.
So why is it that he ONLY argues this when liberals read his argument this way? Many right wing nutjobs believe that his books thesis is "liberals=Nazis" (just look at the many, many signs to that effect at the tea parties or the Glenn Beck "documentary" in which Goldberg himself took part) and yet Goldberg seems content with their use of his oh-so-scholarly work.
Chip Berlet - 1/27/2010
I do wish to point out that in my esay I agreed with Goldberg that too many folks on the Left toss the term Fascism around without even having a vague idea how to define the term.
Alas, I now must wipe the spittle from my keyboard.
(In two years I will buy everyone a beer, but you all have to get to New York City--no beer halls, though--a real pub.)
- Merrittocracy with Keri Leigh Merritt: Kevin Kruse on the 2020 Election
- Radical Protests Propelled the Suffrage Movement. Here’s How a New Museum Captures That History
- Not Every U.S. Presidential Race Has Been Decided on Election Day. Here’s What to Know About America’s History of Contested Elections
- Control, Alter, Delete:Hong Kong Activists and Academics are Hurrying to Digitize Historical Records
- Voter Fraud, Suppression and Partisanship: A Look at the 1876 Election