Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Jonah Goldberg Attacked!

George Mason University’s History News Network (HNN) ( had a special issue in which they responded to Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism . This book claims that the left, and not as often assumed, the right, is the ideological predecessor to fascism. And while one respondent added to the website after the special issue dedicated to Liberal Fascism credits the book with some merit; all the writers included in the original HNN special issue were all from the Left and against Goldberg. Their style and bias, ironically, proves that the fascist tendencies in the Left are alive and well.

There is some debate of facts herein. The editor of the special, David Neiwert, does admit that the fascists called themselves “socialists” (hence ‘National Socialism’). But asserts that they quickly shifted to the right. There they attacked the Left and labor unions. Goldberg points out that they attacked the communists to wipe out their competition on the left and that if getting rid of unions I not “leftists , then Lenin, Stalin, Mao, were not leftists either.” Goldberg has been invited to refute the panel with an article. But Neiwert is the only person that even pretends to take Goldberg’s arguments seriously.

Several of the contributors to this issue use collusion between big business and government as proof that the fascists were of the right and not the left. They do not even air Goldberg’s argument that the left’s business regulation ties corporations to the State and strengthens them by making competing start-ups prohibitively expensive. Goldberg makes the case that big business, in fact, prefers collusion with the government to Laissez Faire policies. Indeed, FDR’s desire to meld the State and industry, the visual style of FDR’s ‘Blue Eagle” campaign, his packing of the Supreme Court, and ignoring of the tradition of two Presidential term limits, make Goldberg’s case of government regulation and fascist trappings feasible.

The second essayist, Robert Paxton says that “Liberal Fascism is an oxymoron . . . a fascism that means no harm is a contradiction in terms.” Goldberg provides great evidence to counter these claims. As left-leaning scholars like Matthew Frye Jacobson who never tire of reminding us of our imperialist moment will tell you, Teddy Roosevelt largely wanted War with Spain to strengthen the virility of our nation. Woodrow Wilson created a 250,000 person citizens’ army to spy on dissenters during World War One and outlawed free speech with his sedition laws. The violence of the 1960s Left can be ignored in these neo-hippies rewriting of history, but the Weatherman and current academic Bill Ayers helped launch our left-leaning Presidents run for office. Violence and the American Left are not incompatible.

Roger Griffin, in his HNN essay “An Academic Book - Not,” calls Goldberg’s work “an airbrushed Playboy variant of racist political pornography.” And, he says that “neo-Conservatives and Republican fundamentalists” have an “obsession with restoring Aryan purity and white supremacy.” This obscene diatribe of guilt by association proves one of Goldberg’s main contentions; the left slanders others as fascist at the drop of a hat. Mirroring the group-thing rife in HNN’s collection, Griffin says Liberal Fascism has the “anti-intellectual tenor of Bushite politics” and mentions that he has “no academic credentials.” Then he accuses Goldberg of bias for being anti-Democratic and anti-Clinton. Griffin notes that Goldberg claimed that Stalin and the left loved to call all that disagreed with them “fascist.” Then he immediately uses t-shirts apparently worn by a white supremacist musical group to again call the right “fascist.” We wonder if Griffin has ever heard of the concept of irony.

My doctoral dissertation focused on Frances Kellor, the Progressive head of the Americanization movement that greeted immigrants from 1906 to 1921. I contend that her life’s work specifically attempted to deal with the worry her fellow New Nationalist intellectuals, like Herbert Croly, had about the growth of the State undermining democracy and inaugurating a rule by centralized power. Croly called for a strong populist leader to embody the spirit of the nation and labeled his friend Theodore Roosevelt as the best living example. Randolph Bourne, a famous progressive intellectual, very famously worried that most Progressives like John Dewey thought World War I a great opportunity to centralize power.

Every one of these HNN historians know that mainstream intellectual historians like James Kloppenberg and Kevin Mattson peg the clash between rule by Progressive statist elites and democracy as the central question of the Progressive era. These historians know that Goldberg’s work fits right in with such interpretations and Liberal Fascism discusses Croly’s New Nationalism at length. The next to last author, Matthew Feldman, accuses Goldberg of being “selective of facts.” There is a strain of disingenuous propaganda within each of these HNN writers. Every serious historian knows that facts do not piece themselves together to make objective books. Historians use evidence to make arguments. But these academics, instead, feign outrage that there could be any interpretation that conflates fascist leanings and progressive thought.

The final article, by Chip Berlet, notes that Tea-Party Patriots believe “liberals are pushing America onto a slippery slope towards tyranny that begins with government social planning.” This is presented as total paranoia that no intellectual could stomach. Instead, in the final article, Berlet warns that we see “ultra-right and neofascist ideologues in the U.S. trying to organize the right-wing populist movement towards aggression and violence.” In the next and last paragraph he says we must fight such “demonization and scapegoating.” In explaining that fascism and liberalism have the same roots, Goldberg mostly looks at history. Ironically and characteristically, rather than engaging the argument and admitting some historical truth exists in Goldberg’s argument, this HNN collection ends by slandering its political opponents.
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