David Neiwert is a freelance journalist based in Seattle. He is the author of The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right (PoliPoint Press, 2009).
Note: Jonah Goldberg will be responding to this feature.
It has now been just a little over two years since the release of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. Despite its provocative title and thesis – and particularly its open challenge to the established historical assessment of the nature of fascism among academics – it was greeted largely with silence among those academic historians and political scientists.
Few spoke out, as Roger Griffin suggests, because they recognized that Goldberg’s book was more of an exercise in polemics than a historical work, and as such not really appropriate for academic consideration. Its use of history was so shoddy and propagandistic, and its claims so frankly absurd, that very few of them considered it worth taking seriously.
And yet, here we are two years later, and it turns out that many people indeed have taken Goldberg’s book seriously. Not only was Liberal Fascism a national bestseller, but its core thesis – that, "properly understood, fascism is not a phenomenon of the right at all. Instead, it is, and always has been, a phenomenon of the left” – has become widely accepted conventional wisdom among American conservatives, and has played a significant role in the national discourse. Along the way, it morphed into the claim that the agenda of Democratic liberals, and particularly President Obama, was an innately fascist attempt to impose a totalitarian state, something Goldberg himself only intimated in the book, though he later confirmed it in a National Review article.
Nowhere is this more evident than at gatherings of the Tea Party movement, the right-wing populist phenomenon that has sprung up in opposition to the policies for which Barack Obama was elected president. It is common at Tea Party rallies to see signs equating Obama with Hitler, and declaring the current regime “fascist.”
Similarly, Goldberg’s thesis has become the running theme for Glenn Beck’s wildly popular Fox News program, in which Beck regularly insists that Obama is secretly a radical fascist (or Marxist, or socialist, or Communist, depending on that day’s flavor), and that the progressive movement – dating back to Woodrow Wilson – not only is at the root of all the nation’s miseries, but represents a concerted effort to remake America as a totalitarian state. Beck has regularly equated fascism with progressivism, a claim central to Goldberg’s book. And indeed, Goldberg himself has appeared on Beck’s show numerous times to promote these claims.
Beck is hardly alone in this regard. At various times, such right-wing pundits as Rush Limbaugh (for whom the claim was actually old hat), Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage have promoted the “liberal fascism” thesis as well.
Often the discussions of “liberal fascism” on these national opinion shows have come in the context of promoting Tea Party activism. A classic case involved a town-hall forum on health care in August 2009 in western Washington, where Rep. Brian Baird -- who had decried the ugly nature of the town-hall disruptions by in fact comparing some of these extremists to "Brownshirts," and then appearing on the Rachel Maddow show, where he compared them to Timothy McVeigh -- was attacked at his town-hall meeting on health care by a former Marine named David Hedrick who accused Baird and House Speaker of Nancy Pelosi of being the real Nazis.
Of course, this ensured him a guest slot on Fox News, and so Hedrick shortly appeared on Sean Hannity's August 29 program to explain his thinking. Hedrick, as made clear, had absorbed and swallowed Goldberg's thesis whole:
Hannity: I read that one of the main reasons that you wanted to be there is because Congressman Baird had used the term "Brownshirts" to describe people showing up at the town halls. You confronted him on that. What happened?
Hedrick: I did confront him on that, and I don't think it's acceptable language that he is, you know, comparing us to Nazis. And it's -- Pelosi did this, he did this, now he's compared us to McVeigh, and talked about bombings there. And, uh, basically I called him on it, I said, 'You know what? If you want to call us Nazis, let's look at the Nazi doctrine. Let's look at National Socialism. And what is National Socialism? Since you let the cat out of the bag, we'll talk about it.
National Socialism is very much what we see today in this administration. It's a policy on what's line for line -- it's the same economic policy, it's the same political policy. And so if they want to talk about Nazis, then they better be careful about that conversation, because they might find that the swastika is on their own arm.
Of course, a little context for what provoked Hedrick's outrage might be useful. When Baird made his "Brownshirts" and "McVeigh" remarks, he was referring to some of the tactics being used by some of the teabaggers, who had in fact bombarded his office with threatening phone calls and missives. Baird explained that some Tea Partiers had faxed death threats and made them by phone as well. According to Baird’s Vancouver district director, one phone message from Aug. 10 said: "You think Timothy McVeigh was bad, there is a Ryder Truck out there with your name on it."
What's most noteworthy, perhaps, about this episode is the way Goldberg's thesis was used to attack anyone who pointed out the frequently violent and intimidating behavior of the extremists who increasingly populated the ranks of the Tea Party movement. It wasn’t the right-wing protesters openly carrying weapons, Obama=Hitler signs, and loudly disrupting the discussion of health-care reform at town-hall sessions who were behaving like Brownshirts, they insisted – it was the liberals who showed enough nerve to stand up to them.
This absorption of the "liberal fascism" thesis dangerously distorts the public discourse precisely because, like so many other components of right-wing belief systems, it’s fundamentally untrue. As the four essays that follow make thoroughly clear, the historical record itself unequivocally repudiates Goldberg's thesis. As such, Liberal Fascism has distorted and polluted the public’s understanding of the nature of fascism, nearly to the point of rendering the word essentially meaningless.
One of the more striking aspects of Goldberg’s dishonesty is how he manipulates his definitions in self-serving fashion that lets him move the goalposts at will, as though we were playing Calvinball. John Cole calls this “the Goldberg Principle”: "You can prove any thesis to be true if you make up your own definitions of words." For instance, his operative definition of fascism is actually just the generic definition for totalitarianism, and it omits entirely the special characteristics that distinguish fascism from other forms of totalitarianism. One of these, for instance, is its overpowering, indeed dominant, antiliberalism – a fact that Goldberg conveniently omitted from throughout his entire 400 or so pages, and later dismissed by claiming that the “liberalism” it opposed was not modern liberalism, but classical liberalism (as though the two have no connection whatever).
Goldberg’s whole approach, for that matter, involves omitting contradictory factual information. His thesis begins with a real fact: fascism originally based its public appeal, like most right-wing populist movements, by claiming to represent a “neither left nor right” solution but a transcendent unifying force. As such, it often made socialist-sounding appeals in its rhetoric, particularly in its nascent stages. Goldberg explores this in depth by trotting out multiple examples of socialist-sounding rhetoric from fascists, as well as endorsements of fascism by gullible socialists. As Michael Tomasky noted in his scathing review for The New Republic:
Yet for all his chapter and verse on the proletarian rhetoric that Nazis employed, Goldberg somehow forgets to mention certain other salient matters, like the fact that within three months of taking power Hitler banned trade unions--and on the day after May Day, 1933. Their money was confiscated and their leaders imprisoned. And the trade unions were replaced with the Nazi "union" called the German Labor Front, which took away the right to strike. Hitler did many worse things, of course. I single out this act because it would hardly seem to be the edict of a "man of the left." And there exist about a million nearly epileptic quotes from Hitler and Goebbels and other Nazis expressing their luminous hatreds of liberalism and of communism, none of which seem to have found their way into the pages of Liberal Fascism.
Goldberg responded by arguing that the fascists were just foreclosing on their competition: “All that need be said is that if Hitler’s ban on independent trade unions disqualifies him as a leftist, then Lenin, Stalin, and Mao were not leftists either.” This is, in fact, the argument that Goldberg attempts to make in his book as well: That the fascists occupied the "political space" on the Left, and thus were simply out to compete against their fellow leftists.
But this is where Goldberg most deeply portrays a lack of respect for the historical material available to him, because any careful study of the actual details of how the fascists came to power in both Italy and Germany makes abundantly clear that they were occupying the available political space on the right -- and had charged hard in that direction from early on in their drive to power. The ideological shift by Mussolini and Hitler away from appeals to socialist sensibilities occurred in the defense of wealthy landowners and the established economic and cultural powers, and it entailed a wave of murderous violence against socialists, leftists, and any form of progressive.
As you will see laid out in detail in these essays, the path to power for both Italian Fascists and German Nazis was essentially the same: They presented themselves as "revolutionary socialists" in their initial appeals but, finding the political space for such a movement already well occupied on the left by socialists and communists, shifted their appeals and their alliances to the right and center, particularly with business capitalists who financed them, sponsored their activities, and essentially contracted with them to engage in systematic violence against the Left. Yet there is not even a scintilla of acknowledgement of this historical reality in Liberal Fascism.
In assessing the broader effects of Liberal Fascism, it may be useful to recall George Orwell’s concept of “Newspeak,” the official language of the totalitarian regime of 1984. Newspeak combines two ideas that, conventionally speaking, are virtual (if not precise) opposites, and presents them as identical -- thereby nullifying the meaning contained in each word: "War is Peace." "Ignorance is Strength." "Freedom is Slavery." It serves two functions: It deflates the opposition by nullifying its defining issues, and throws the nominal logic of the public debate into disarray; and it provides rhetorical and ontological cover for its speakers' own activities and agenda.
Goldberg’s book, merely in conflating the seemingly contradictory terms “liberal” and “fascism,” fundamentally nullifies the meanings of both words – and its core thesis, that fascism was “a phenomenon of the left,” is a historically false fraud. At its core, Liberal Fascism is an act of Newspeak that pollutes the national discourse by destroying our understanding. And when large numbers of people believe nonsense that is simply and provably false, not only is our resulting discourse deeply irrational, but so are the democratic outcomes.
If it were only a work that, like so many other right-wing polemical tracts of the past decade that traduce history (Michelle Malkin’s In Defense of Internment springs to mind) faded from public view and had little effect on the public, it might be acceptable to simply let it fade into obscurity. But Goldberg’s book has not faded; and its toxic effects seem to be growing with time.
Realizing this, I corresponded with some of the historians and political scientists whose work I’ve found helpful in trying to understand the nature of fascism. All of them – Roger Griffin of Oxford Brookes, Robert O. Paxton of Columbia, Matthew Feldman of Northampton, and Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates -- are widely recognized specialists in the study of fascism, and have played large roles in shaping the academic discussion of the phenomenon. They agreed that it was time for historians to step out from behind the academic curtain, take a stand and call out the book for the historical travesty that it is. And so each of them has tackled four different, yet interrelated, aspects of Liberal Fascism’s misbegotten nature.
Thanks to History News Network, we present our modest effort to correct the historical record regarding the nature of fascism, and to draw attention to the toxic effects of Goldberg’s fraud. If nothing else, it’s become manifest that a serious national conversation about right-wing populism – of which fascism is a distinct species – needs to be had, and without the haze of irrationality that now hangs over it. Perhaps these essays will help spark that conversation.
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
comments powered by Disqus
Jaber Aberburg - 5/22/2010
That's why it's wrong to call anybody on the left "liberal".
That's why it's wrong to call everybody on the left "liberal".
Jaber Aberburg - 5/22/2010
Both are (partly) right but neither tells the whole story.
Paxton is right that liberalism ought to mean something else than what it means in the US today, i.e. "leftist ideology".
Liberalism grew out of the European Enlightenment and emphasized individual rights and freedom, in oposition to the powers of King and Church. This was both a movement against state intervention in the economic sphere, but also about political rights (and individualism). Therefore, there is an important conceptual distinction between economic and political liberalism. This is by the way common in European political theory and public debate. Paxton only focuses on the economic liberalism here but he is right that current use in the US is misleading. Extreme economic liberalism is more or less what is called libertarianism in the US today. However, political liberalism does not necessarily include - at least extreme - economic liberalism, although historically the emergence of the bourgeoisie and a modern capitalist economy is connected with the emergence of liberal democracy. But it's perfectly possible for a country to adhere to the ideals of political liberalism (with a consitutional democracy, individual rights, freedom of speech, free elections, rule of law etc.) and still have a significant public economic sphere, with the state interfering in the economy. (To what extent, is an interesting topic, because obviously if the public sphere becomes too big and powerful, there is the risk that society is APPROACHING a totalitarian state... but note the nuances here, this doesn't mean that health care reform = totalitarianism.)
Then there is "social liberalism", which I guess is a combination of political liberalism and some degree of state intervensionism. In this sense the kind of policies of e.g. FDR could probably reasonably be labeled liberalist. But I don't know enough about FDR, and it's important to distinguish liberalism from any kind of collectivism. That's why it's wrong to call anybody on the left "liberal".
There are many shades of liberalism and I don't know nearly enough about this. But I believe that a fundamental distinction is between liberalism and collectivist ideologies, typically communism and fascism, but also soscial democracy and to some extent conservatism. Especially the kind of religious fundamentalism you see in the "conservative movement" in the US today is anti-liberal. But also, social democracy is collectivist and stands in oposition to liberalism.
So, David is right that there is an ideological connection between at least parts of the contemporary American left and "classic liberalism", since classic liberalism contains both political and economic liberalism. I believe there are those on the left in the US today who could be labelled social liberalist.
But there are also social democrats on the US left (and of course, socialists and communists) and that is not compatible with liberalism.
Paxton is right of course that (at least extreme) economic liberalism stands in oposition to what most modern US "liberals" (i.e., on the left) think, but I think his definition of "classic liberalism" is too narrow, as I have argued. In fact, you can be a liberalist (in the non-US sense) and not belong on the left of the political spectrum, but also not be a libertarian.
Scott Yeager - 2/2/2010
Correct. In North America they are self identified extreme conservatives/christian fundamentalists. Naturally they could be followers of Pinochet, Castro, The Shah etc.
James Draper - 1/29/2010
I would like to thank David Neiwert, Jonah Goldberg, and all the others for such a spirited debate on HNN. The study of the history of fascism is essential, I believe, to give Americans the tools to fight it from all sides of the political realm. I will have to add a few of these titles to my reading list.
Matt D'Aguiar - 1/29/2010
Thanks for listening!
Adam Cody - 1/28/2010
To say that "Authoritarianism" (like "Totalitarianism") can be found both on the left and the right ignores the point that your model of left-right allows [requires?] for the State to be large and powerful on each end? Are non-Statist centrist in your model?
Both "Authoritarianism" (like "Totalitarianism") require the force and coercion of State machinery guided by an oligarchy - an oligarchy of legal thugs.
Jeffrey Todd Singer - 1/28/2010
We obviously won't agree on the substance of Goldberg's book as I found the book and his response to its critics compelling.
But how can you say the following with a straight face:
"What's most noteworthy, perhaps, about this episode is the way Goldberg's thesis was used to attack anyone who pointed out the frequently violent and intimidating behavior of the extremists who increasingly populated the ranks of the Tea Party movement. It wasn’t the right-wing protesters openly carrying weapons, Obama=Hitler signs, and loudly disrupting the discussion of health-care reform at town-hall sessions who were behaving like Brownshirts, they insisted – it was the liberals who showed enough nerve to stand up to them."
Let's begin with the words "frequently violent" -- what do you mean by that? Incidents of violence at tea party protests or health-care town-hall debates? How many incidents compared to the number of protests/town hall debates? Was this number higher or lower than was to be expected based on some sort of analysis you performed of past trends?
Next we have "intimidating behavior of the extremists" -- see above comments and apply here again.
Then you suggest that these "extremists increasing populated the Tea Party movement." Again, what is the basis for this statement. Did you do some sort of demographic analysis of the Tea Party movement (size n) over time and map out incidents of violent behavior that started to increase at time t, which also corresponded to a movement that had grown to size n+1? If not, how can you make a statement like that with a straight face while accusing Mr. Goldburg of distorting the public discourse?
Next you mention that protesters were openly carrying weapons, but neglect to tell your readers that this is perfectly legal in many states!
Then you mention the infamous Obama=Hitler signs without also providing your readers (at a website for history buffs) with some history context:
Finally, you suggest that protesters were loudly disrupting townhall debates on healthcare. Again, no numbers, no context or trends, no sense of whether or not other contentious issues in American history have generating passionate and loud debates from citizens in open forums (without consulting lots of history books, my guess is the answer is yes!)
So we are left with what amounts to a rant against the Tea Party movement, which you obviously don't like politically, but don't have the decency and integrity as a journalist to treat fairly -- sort of like a guy I know who wrote this book about fascism...
Chip Berlet - 1/28/2010
But the recent research shows that "Authoritarianism" (like "Totalitarianism") can be found in both the Left and Right. It just has more legs in North America these days.
But if someone is using those legs to stomp on me, I don't really care what color shirt they are wearing--it still hurts.
Adam Cody - 1/28/2010
And where would libertarian/miniarchist/anarchist favoring free-market capitalism and property rights fall on that line of left-right?
Those type of ideologies don't want a large government [if any] and wouldn't be interfering with the "rot" to stomp them out -- well, maybe if they caught the "rot" in the act of trying to steal/harm their private property.
Maarja Krusten - 1/27/2010
If you haven't figured it out, the reason I was offering comments on how The Corner comes across to this independent and former conservative, it was because I thought its denizens would be addressing the issue of the HNN essays. I had a small, faint hope that Cornerites might more inclined to listen to someone of that ilk. It's too late now, however. I see Mr. Goldberg has posted his response on HNN's top page. Moreover, he and Mr. Ledeen have posted entries at The Corner, much along the lines I expected from having browsed the site in the past. I did try, however!
Thanks again for your post and for providing me the opportunity for clarification.
Scott Yeager - 1/27/2010
It might worth reading The Authoritarians by Bob Altmeyer. It is a free online book that relies on science to make it's conclusions. Authoritarians in North America are not left wing at all, just the opposite.
"For example, take the following statement: “Once our government leaders and the authorities condemn the dangerous elements in our society, it will be the duty of every patriotic citizen to help stomp out the rot that is poisoning our country from within.” Sounds like something Hitler would say, right? Want to guess how many politicians, how many lawmakers in the United States agreed with it? Want to guess what they had in common?"
Philip Nuesslein - 1/27/2010
"please raise the level of your criticisms to something resembling civility"
I'm curious as to why you didn't address that to the "historical scholors" who participated in this? From allegations of holocaust denial and being a nazi propagandist to accusations of (gasp!) not being a professional historian, the tenor of the entire series is childish and churlish.
Until you address the problems in the series, I'll find your admonitions to be more civil less than persuasive.
Chip Berlet - 1/27/2010
I don't mention Friendly Fascism: the New Face of Power in America because it totally misdefines fascism and confuses syndicalist corporatism with commercial corporations.
(and please raise the level of your criticisms to something resembling civility--so far most everyone else has obliged, thanks)
Maarja Krusten - 1/27/2010
Thanks for the note. I did not mean my criticism to come across as an "attack." I viewed it as feedback. If you go back and re-read what I wrote, I did not call for objectivity or balance. Nor did I let the left off the hook. That is not necessary for an advocacy site. What I find unappealing at The Corner is the inability to offer constructive criticism of the party for which the essayists advocate. Falling silent at the DOJ OPR report is a good example of that. The writers don't seem to recognize some of the opportunities offered them, they bypass too many, in my view. And their writing style is very, very different from that which attracts me. Please see what I said about gaining strength throw owning your weaknesses at the other thread. http://www.hnn.us/readcomment.php?id=139990&bheaders=1#139990
If people such as David Brooks, Michael Gerson and Kathleen Parker (all Republicans) set the tone at The Corner, it would be my kind of place to hang out to learn about the conservative perspective. As to the left, I can't off the top of my head even come up with people on the other end of the spectrum who match up well with Brooks, Gerson and Parker. Kevin Drum is pretty good on some issues. But many left leaning bloggers fall into the same traps as I perceive at The Corner.
Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate the opportunity to offer clarification. And I very much appreciate your characterization of my other comments. You're a brave dude to have waded through some of the longer ones, LOL. I'll keep this brief as I'm finushing lunch.
Dale R Streeter - 1/27/2010
I'm puzzled by your attack on The Corner. I don't doubt your findings at all, I've read your posts before and they are allways measured and thoughtful. But, your expectation that a blog on a Conservative site should be objective and even handed while not expecting the same from Liberal sites surprizes me. As I'm sure you're aware, a blog is an opinion post and no one expects balance from them as a general principle. Of course, it's always refreshing when one encounters it.
N. Friedman - 1/26/2010
"True moral courage means not just focusing on facts, but speaking out to protect people whom your own side has hurt rather than sheltering only your own."
Your original words conveyed more or less the same thoughts.
By the way, I commented on your other post about Michael Ledeen's article.
Maarja Krusten - 1/26/2010
Many thanks for your very kind words, N. Please overlook my syntax errors. I simply typed, hit post, and ran for my train. I didn't have time to proofread. The sentence you like so much should read "True moral courage means not just focusing on facts, but speaking out to protect people whom your own side has hurt rather than sheltering only your own." I shook my head with dismay when I saw the Cornerites, who try so hard to explain the importance of values and principles and integrity, and seem to yearn to be regarded as exemplary, ignore the DOJ OPR report issued in 2008. Truly a missed opportunity but not uncommon. I've seen bloggers on the left falter the same way. As I said of The Corner, perhaps I just have a very different definition of courage than most of the people who blog there. I don't see NRO as a supportive network, real support is very different than what I usually see there.
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. (My mind just flashed to 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.
Using my Smartphone as I'm out 4 lunchso keeping this short. Be well.
N. Friedman - 1/26/2010
You have written a brilliant post. I could not agree more. I like, in particular, your remark: "True moral courage means not just focusing on facts, but speaking out to protect people whom your own side has hurt, not from sheltering only your own." It reminds me of Nietzsche's remark that "Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies."
As always, thank you.
Matt D'Aguiar - 1/26/2010
“I think I’m safe in paraphrasing the historian E. H. Carr who said that one of the tools he brought to his reading of other people’s written history was to ask, “in what year did they write this, and where and when were they born.” That goes for the esteemed panel you’ve assembled at HNN. Not one essay is seriously critical enough to relegate Goldberg’s book to the Island of Misfit research.
I’m always surprised that critics of Goldberg never mention Bertram Gross’s very solid book, Friendly Fascism: the New Face of Power in America (1980), or Robert Proctor’s extraordinarily solid and important scholarship on medical science in pre-War, Weimar and Nazi Germany.
But that surprise is trumped by my bemusement that you are the self-styled editor of “crooks and liars.” It seems to me that you’re also the editor of some simplistic analysis and C.V. padding at the HNN. Is Goldberg polemical? Not one of your panelists proved this to be the case. “Polemical” is the overused curse- word of the historical profession.
In his Farewell Address, George Washington warned us to "Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism." The same goes for the impostures of pretended “experts” who sniff at the winds of discontent and wave away the stench by vigorously fanning themselves with their diplomas.”
Maarja Krusten - 1/26/2010
I can see some value in a small group of historians and history buffs discussing the factual accuracy of a book such as this one. But I don’t think we were the primary audience, any more than we are for any polemical book. A polemical approach at its heart is emotional, not factual.
I probably have a darker view of politics than most of you because I spent so many years screening the Nixon tapes to see what could be released to the public and what required governmental restriction. My specialty was identifying information related to “governmental abuses of power.” After spending over a decade immersed in the White House, studying the nexus of policy making and politics, I’ll never look at politics the way I did before I did such work.
For better or worse, politics often involves manipulation and appeals to emotion rather than reliance on factual narratives. Facts may be dismissed as irrelevant. As Donald Rumsfeld once wrote to Nixon’s chief of staff in an eyes only memo in June 1972, “The more people ‘feel’ and believe (as opposed to understand) that the President has ideals, hopes and concerns, the more they will accept his approach . . . because they will feel he is going--and taking them--where they want to go, and doing it skillfully. And when a human being walks into the voting booth pulls the curtain, shrugs his shoulders at the complexity of the mechanism and then votes, that's what he wants.”
At HNN, we argue facts while out there, others, including Mr. Goldberg’s fellow bloggers, use a different approach. The real challenge is not how to reach Mr. Goldberg or one’s fellow historians, but how to get citizens to value factual accuracy more than they do. (I don’t see that as a partisan problem.) Any number of factors can inhibit this
Mr. Goldberg is a blogger at National Review’s The Corner. Check it out some time and decide for yourselves whether factual or emotional appeals or some combination are the norm there. There’s a lot of discussion of values and principles at NRO but much of it seems to occur in a very closed loop. It’s a binary world of conservatives and liberals where moderates are ignored (we’re not even on the radar screen). I don’t think binary thinking is inherent to conservatism (I once self identified as a conservative Republican and don't automatically dismiss what conservatism has to offer even now). It’s a place where people define courage very differently from the way I do.
I don’t see a support network to help Mr. Goldberg accept the factual corrections offered here. The Corner is unlikely to help him. To me as an occasional reader, The Corner is like a fraternity house where a bunch of guys gather and high five each other over their mutual brilliance (it’s not a gender based weakness there, I’m just using frat house as an example). (Some academic blogs share that weakness). If you meet one of them outside the frat house, he may quietly acknowledge that issues are much more complex than the group admits. But he’ll never feel able to say it around his fraternity brothers.
Check The Corner’s archives and pick any issue related to governance that interests you to see how it was handled or if it was mentioned at all. The test I applied to The Corner was whether anyone at The Corner wrote in condemnation of some of the problems with politicized hiring at the Department of Justice during the Bush administration. True moral courage means not just focusing on facts, but speaking out to protect people whom your own side has hurt, not from sheltering only your own. The Corner and its denizens never discussed the DOJ problems as the Bush administration issued its investigative reports at the end of his term. Perhaps they will surprise me, but I think it is very unlikely factual criticism of Mr. Goldberg’s book will be taken by Cornerites as an opportunity to learn.
Again, as an historian, I certainly think there is value in sorting out the facts related to Mr. Goldberg’s book. But the place on the web where he makes his home doesn’t seem to have the necessary qualities needed to deal with the issues raised here on HNN. And a lot of voters, some of whom have genuine anxieties and worries, even if they lack historical knowledge, don’t know how to sort factual appeals from emotional ones. The Corner is unlikely to appreciate what you are trying to do. But the real challenge for historians is in figuring out a way to connect with the general population, not with each other as historians.
I’ve gone on long enough and I have a train to catch, got to run.
Adam Cody - 1/26/2010
"and later dismissed by claiming that the “liberalism” it opposed was not modern liberalism, but classical liberalism (as though the two have no connection whatever)."
But in "The Scholarly Flaws of Liberal Fascism By Robert Paxton" we read:
" To his credit, Goldberg is aware that the term “liberal” has been corrupted in contemporary American usage. It ought to mean (and still means in the rest of the world) a principled opposition to state interference in the economy, from Adam Smith to Ronald Reagan. Goldberg sometimes refers to “classical liberalism” in this sense, and with approval."
Just wondering how you resolve this?
Edmond Dantes - 1/25/2010
Anyone ever hear of "truthiness?" I see it guiding a lot of discussions on fascism lately.
Edmond Dantes - 1/25/2010
John, how dare you post your opinions on the author's motivations and claim some quasi-neutrality on the subject! If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem! Now go buy one of their books!
Maarja Krusten - 1/25/2010
Thanks for the clarification, I appreciate it.
Daniel De Groot - 1/25/2010
The comparison wasn't between Goldberg and O'Neil or Clarke, but between the attempt to write off Neiwert's criticism as being grounded in spite and therefore somehow false.
The former proposition (spite) isn't shown, and even if it were, the latter is still poor reasoning. Neiwert can hate Goldberg with a passion and still be correct in his critiques of the latter's book.
I agree Goldberg has no particular personal experience that should give his views on fascism any special credence, but that's not why I think his book is nonsense.
I'm just tired of those who baselessly impute the motivations of critics as a shortcut to engaging in the substance of their arguments.
Maarja Krusten - 1/25/2010
That should be "level of responsible would not be the same." Reporting the news is nothing like making the news.
Maarja Krusten - 1/25/2010
I don't see any parallels to books by Paul O'Neill (whom I've met and talked with) and Richard Clarke. Those were men who had held high executive ranks in Washington, had walked the halls of power, and who wrote about what they had seen and now they interpreted it. Jonah Goldberg never has held an executive position in the federal government. Whatever he draws on, it is not direct, personal experience. He is a pundit whose background is in journalism. If he had written a book about his career journalism, such as Bernard Goldberg's Bias, I could see your mentioning O'Neill and Clarke, although the level of responsibility would be the same. But that is not the case.
Daniel De Groot - 1/25/2010
I recall much the same line was used to dismiss the books of Richard Clarke and Paul O'Neil. Both turned out to be spot on and the "sour grapes" ad hominem shown for what it was.
Neiwert's criticisms are either accurate or they are not. His hurt feelings over having a lower ranked book don't matter (nor have you provided a reason that Neiwert decided to pick on Goldberg's book instead of any of the other 24,539 books ahead of him).
Javier Ramirez - 1/25/2010
Thank you Chip for being consistent and principled in your criticisms. I hope others follow your example.
Chip Berlet - 1/25/2010
As an amateur magician (I really wake up academic conferences!) I think I detecta sleight sleight of hand. The issue here is whether or not Neiwert picked serious scholars of fascist history to write essays. Dismiss me and Neiwert as progressives as you like, but Griffin, Paxton, and Feldman are serious and reputable scholars. Are you suggesting you pefer to read only the history by scholars with who you assume you already agree?
I read conservative and right-wing scholars all the time, and cite them when they have something valuable to contribute. Don't you agree that is a good idea?
Perhaps I am confused. Help me out.
And thanks for posting.
Chip Berlet - 1/25/2010
I think intellectuals of the Left and Right have an obligation to clean up their own kitchens and comment on the squalor of the others, cooking of facts. I have criticized leftist histrionics about fascism, and did so in my essay. I totally agree with you, Javier Ramirez. Thanks for a thoughtful comment.
Chip Berlet - 1/25/2010
Griffin worked with Payne to produce a book on Fascism and Political Religion dedicated to Payne.
THE SACRED IN TWENTIETH-CENTURY POLITICS
Essays in Honour of Professor Stanley G. Payne
Edited by Robert Mallett, John Tortorice, and Roger Griffin.
I have a chapter in that volume.
Payne was hardly overlooked. All of us are tremedously influenced by the work of Payne, who is now emeritus at the University of Wisconsin.
I don't believe what we wrote about fascism contradicts any of the major points in Payne's excellent writings on fascism.
Did you spot something in particular?
Javier Ramirez - 1/25/2010
Why? Is this how we deal with trash, to ignore it? Do you ignore trash at your home or do you pick it up and throw it away? Comments like these sound like the high road and something noble. They're not. Lets have a debate on these issues in the public forum like this one. The public is only harmed by such an attitude of ignoring topics. Lets educate or stop criticizing the public when they fall for this.
My comments to Robert Paxton's essay should tell you where I stand with Goldberg's book. I wont repeat them here. Having said that there are plenty of Goldberg's on the left. Im thinking of Chris Hedges' American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. I have no sympathy for the religous right whatsoever. However when I read Goldberg's book I thought I was reading a right version of Hedges. Hedges attempts to make the same sensationalistc connections to fascism. It fails miserably. I know that HNN is left leaning but there has not even been one review of his book on HNN, at least a search has never dug one up.
This review in the NYT says it all about Hedges' book http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D05E2DC1F31F934A35752C0A9619C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=print.
My point is that there is plenty of "trash" when we choose to see it. Are we too blinded by our political prejudices to smell and clean it up, left or right?
Lisa Kazmier - 1/25/2010
I think ignoring this piece of trash is fairly well deserved and you pay a bit too much attention. Its premise is polemical and aimed at those who cite it. Why take their ignorance seriously?
Dale R Streeter - 1/24/2010
You wrote, "I corresponded with some of the historians and political scientists whose work I’ve found helpful in trying to understand the nature of fascism. All of them – Roger Griffin of Oxford Brookes, Robert O. Paxton of Columbia, Matthew Feldman of Northampton, and Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates -- are widely recognized specialists in the study of fascism, and have played large roles in shaping the academic discussion of the phenomenon. "
I'm at a loss to find you did not include one of the best known, authoritative, and respected historians of fascism in your survey, Prof. Stanley Payne of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Did he decline to contribute or was he overlooked in your desire to obtain a wide range of experts? Or, as the heading indicated, were only liberal historians contacted? Any divergence from that worldview, it would seem, would blunt the point of the exercise.
John Connally - 1/24/2010
Mr. Neiwert's The Eliminationists is ranked #24,540 in sales on Amazon. Mr. Goldberg's book, which so infuriates Mr. Neiwert, ranks at #1,325. Envy can be a strong motivator.
Amazon offers a "buy together today" option for Republican Gomorrah and Idiot America when one purchases The Eliminationists. A similar offer is extended for Blacklisted by History upon purchase of Liberal Fascism. I see a whole slew of polemics from both sides aggressively trampling the historical record and distorting the facts to prove the wickedness of the other.
History has shown that both the left and the right are very capable of creating totalitarian regimes - whether you find it convenient to label them "fascist" or not.
I don't plan on reading either book. I prefer to read history.
- Why are Historians at War with the New York Times?
- Labor Historian: Amazon's Warehouse Victory is a Big Step, But Just a Step
- John Mack Faragher on California History as American History
- Nicole Hemmer Reviews Martin and Burns's "This Will Not Pass"
- "We're Still Here": Past and Present Collide at a Native American Residential School