Goldberg’s “Fascism” and the Real Thing

Jonah Goldberg’s gall is greatly to be admired. A contributing editor at National Review, Goldberg will soon issue forth a book entitled Liberal Fascism. Early peeks show that the dust jacket contains this clever apercu: “The quintessential liberal fascist isn’t an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade-school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore.” Chapter titles include: Woodrow Wilson and the Birth of Liberal Fascism, Franklin Roosevelt’s Fascist New Deal, Brave New Village: Hillary Clinton and the Meaning of Liberal Fascism.

 

From any other conservative, a book like this would be simple ideological boilerplate. Since at least the early 1930s, conservatives have been accusing liberals like Franklin Roosevelt of being fascists. What makes Goldberg’s book especially ripe and cheeky is his association with National Review, a magazine that has a very special relationship with fascism.

Since its founding in 1955, National Review has been a haven for writers who are, if not fascists tout court, certainly fascist fellow travellers.

Let’s put it this way: if Woodrow Wilson and Hillary Clinton are fascists then what word do we have for those who admired Francisco Franco? When the Spanish tyrant died in 1975, National Review published two effusive obituaries. F.R. Buckley (brother to National Review founder William F. Buckley) hailed Franco as “a Spaniard out of the heroic annals of the nation, a giant. He will be truly mourned by Spain because with all his heart and might and soul, he loved his country, and in the vast context of Spanish history, did well by it.” James Burnham simply argued that “Francisco Franco was our century’s most successful ruler.” (Both quotes are from the November 21, 1975 issue). Aside from F.R. Buckley and Burnham, many of the early National Reviewers were ardent admirers of Franco’s Spain, which they saw as an authentically Catholic nation free from the vices supposedly gripping the United States and the northern European countries. National Review stalwarts like Frederick Wilhelmsen, Arnold Lunn, and L. Brent Bozell, Jr. made pilgrimages to Spain, finding spiritual nourishment in the dictatorship’s seemingly steadfast Catholicism.

The really twisted side National Review‘s philo-fascism came through in 1961 when Israel captured Adolph Eichmann, a leading Nazi, and tried him for crimes against humanity. National Review did everything they could editorially to offer extenuating arguments against the prosecution of Eichmann, arguing that he was being subjected to a “show trial”, that this was post facto justice, that pursuing Nazi crimes would weaken the Western alliance and further the cause of communism. As the magazine editorialized on April 22, 1961, the trial of Eichmann was a “lurid extravaganza” leading to “bitterness, distrust, the refusal to forgive, the advancement of Communist aims, [and] the cultivation of pacifism.” (The editors didn’t consider that a mere 16 years after the death camps were liberated, a “refusal to forgive” the architects of genocide might be understandable).

At least one of the arguments National Review made on behalf of Eichmann had value: there is something troubling about post facto justice. But the problem with the magazine’s handling of this matter was the tone they took. They went out of their way to needle Jewish sensibilities on this issue, often in a cruel ways by belittling the seriousness of the Holocaust. In his 1999 book The Holocaust in American Life, the historian Peter Novick tells the story well:

The general circulation magazine that outdid all others in the frequency and vehemence of its attacks on the trial was William F. Buckley’s National Review. Its first commentary on Eichmann was noteworthy in that, at a time when all the other media were reporting his millions of victims, it spoke of Eichmann’s being “generally believed to have a primary hand in exterminating hundreds of thousands.” Two weeks later the magazine returned to the subject, attacking the “pernicious” trial that was “manipulat[ing] a series of ex post facto laws … to give assassination a juridical rationale.” National Review‘s Eichmann coverage then turned to anti-Semitic ‘humor.’ The magazine presented the imagined conversations of a vulgar Jewish couple: “Sylvie” spoke to “Myron” about Eichmann (and gold, and hairdressers) in their Central Park West apartment while “doing her nails … on an enormous crescent-shaped, gold-on-gold, French provincial Castro convertible.” A bit later, the National Review devoted an editorial to how the Communists were profiting from the “Hate Germany movement” being furthered by the Eichmann trial.

At the same time, National Review did an editorial about the attempt of George Lincoln Rockwell, the head of the American Nazi party, to speak in New York city. The editorial criticized the “mob of Jews who hurled insults at him. Some lunged at him, and were kept from Rockwell’s throat only by a cordon of policemen. Are we ‘against’ the Jews whose pressure kept Rockwell from exercising his constitutional right to speak, and who would, if given the chance, have beat him bloody? Of course.” But the editorial admirable defence of “the constitutional right to speak” had a limit; a paragraph later the editors are criticizing the civil rights movement for their “theatrical” challenge to white supremacy in the south, a response which was “met, inevitably, by a spastic response. By violence.” (This editorial, quoted by Novick, is from the June 3, 1961 issue of National Review). In effect, the editors were arguing that civil rights protesters in the south were as provocative as American Nazis marching in a Jewish neighbourhood in New York (with the violent response of white southerners receiving considerably more sympathy than those of Jewish counter-protestors). It’s worth noting that George Lincoln Rockwell had a slight connection with National Review: before becoming a Nazi he had been commissioned by the magazine to promote its profile among college students.

In his 1987 book From This Moment On, National Review editor Jeffrey Hart made a remarkable attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of Benito Mussolini. According to Hart, Il Duce made only “a single error in judgement” (his decision to support Hitler in 1940). Other than that, everything the fascist leader did was hunky-dory. “His 1922 blackshirt march on Rome brought to an end a period of political deadlock and leftist riot,” Hart asserts. “His domestic achievements were substantial…. There was repression, the administrating of doses of castor oil, but no Gulags and Belsens or Cambodian-style slaughter….Mussolini was probably better read than any other national leader of his time…. Mussolini’s leadership made even proletarians take some pride in being Italian, and his addresses, broadcast across the Atlantic, were listened to with respect in American-Italian households…. Mussolini stood 5 feet 6 inches and had a massive, handsome head…. Mussolini liked to interrupt his working day several times with sexual intercourse, often standing up and in his uniform, a very rapid performance.” The ode to Mussolini’s character and sexual prowess ends, appropriately enough, with a quote from Ezra Pound, the fascist poet.

In short, National Review was never a magazine that could be described as “anti-fascist” or even “anti-Nazi”. They went out of their way to belittle the crimes of fascists and Nazis. James Burnham expressed the magazine’s stance with his customary blunt brusqueness: “The whole concept of ‘fascism,’ for that matter, has been a fraud from the beginning. Like ‘peaceful coexistence’ and ‘détente,’ it is a tactical invention of the Soviet Agitprop…” So it takes a kind of plumy dumb courage for Jonah Goldberg to decry “liberal fascism”

Related posts can be found here, and here and here.

61 thoughts on “Goldberg’s “Fascism” and the Real Thing

  1. Lots of great info, thanks. Yeah, Jonah certainly has some balls. The whole argument seems silly and poorly conceived strategically. Overindulging in the f-word undermines the neocons more successful use of “Islamofascism” to scare people and mobilize liberal hawks. Cry wolf enough times and people won’t hear you any more–a depressing notion given that there are actual threats to American security in this world.

  2. All of this is very interesting and ironic, but how does it actually discredit the arguments in Goldberg’s book? This seems little more than another (rather longwinded) attempt to prove guilt by association.

    Now if you managed to dig up a more contemporanious instance of “philo-fascism” when Goldberg actually worked there then you might have something.

    1. No, no. But when you (Jonah Goldberg) are making a guilt-by-association argument yourself, that basically liberals have unconscious impulses towards fascism as long as they don’t admit that liberalism is fascist, then it’s embarrassing that your own magazine/ideology has ABSURDLY defended REAL fascists like Franco, Pinochet and the like when no one even among conservatives thought it was smart to do so.

      Basically, Jonah started the irrational argument, and was ten times more guilty-by-association. I think this guy isn’t calling him a Nazi but wants him to shut up and at least call it a draw.

  3. Agreed. This doesn’t address anything in Goldberg’s book (did the writer even read the thing?)

    It’s rather like saying: “Oh, well, John Haffner works for the ‘Kyoto Journal’? Well, you know those Japanese, they did a lot of nasty stuff in World War II. Rape of Nanking and all that. What kind of fellow associates with THEM?”

    I encourage the author to read this article before he writes anything else for publication. I assigned this for the first-year students in my class a few years ago, did them no end of good:

    http://faculty-staff.ou.edu/W/Jonathan.D.Wren-1/The%20Fine%20Art%20of%20Baloney%20Detection.htm

  4. JKP & Dan, This is not and does not purport to be a review of the book. The writer is pointing out, with good examples, the irony of that author tossing around the word fascist – and attempting to use its considerable power to smear by creating false equivalencies – considering that the magazine he works at has a record of actually defending real fascists.

    It was a single, simple, and utterly powerful point (not a review or a rebuttal of Goldberg’s arguments).

  5. I heard my grandparents periodically use the N-word growing up. I guess by the logic of this piece any attitudes I have involving race must therefore be suspect.

  6. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think you should have split the infinitive in your first sentence, so “Jonah Goldberg’s gall is to be greatly admired,” instead of “Jonah Goldberg’s gall is greatly to be admired.” The way you have it sounds retarded. Or perhaps you could go with “Greatly the gall of Jonah Goldberg is to be admired.”

    Come on, Jeet Heer, don’t fear the split infinitive — go nuts once in a while! Live, man, live!

    Your feedback on this urgent matter greatly would be appreciated.

  7. “This is not and does not purport to be a review of the book. The writer is pointing out, with good examples, the irony of that author tossing around the word fascist – and attempting to use its considerable power to smear by creating false equivalencies – considering that the magazine he works at has a record of actually defending real fascists.”

    And therefore utterly irrelevant in judging Goldberg’s arguments. In fact, the writer above is doing little more than engaging in his own smear campaign.

    Again, I refer you to the article I mentioned above. There’s a good list of logical fallacies at the end.

  8. jkp, I refer you to Q-tips so you can get the shit out of your ears.

    The post didn’t claim to be relevant to judging Goldberg’s arguments. You’re bringing that to the table, and your eagerly proffered little essay is irrelevant.

    The post is, in Mark’s excellent words, a description of “the irony of [Goldberg] tossing around the word fascist – and attempting to use its considerable power to smear by creating false equivalencies – considering that the magazine he works at has a record of actually defending real fascists.”

  9. Re: Kamper & the split infinitive

    In both examples cited by Kamper, the infinitive “to be” is not split; to split the infinitive would be to write “Goldberg’s gall was to greatly be admired.” Jeet Heer’s syntactical dilemna was how to make it clear that he didn’t mean Goldberg’s gall was in wanting himself to be admired (which Kamper’s suggestion conveys), but that Goldberg’s gall itself was to be admired, which the original wording conveys.

  10. “the irony of [Goldberg] tossing around the word fascist – and attempting to use its considerable power to smear by creating false equivalencies – considering that the magazine he works at has a record of actually defending real fascists.”

    What does “irony” mean again?

  11. As far as irony goes, it’s a little ironic that you use NR’s being on the wrong side of the Eichman debate to prove how ironic it is that Goldberg is accusing the left of being fascist. When I first read your post, I was a bit awestruck at how wrong on so many things one of my favorite magazines was. But then I thought about it some more and I realized that TODAY it would be the left that would be all up in arms about Israel’s illegal kidnapping of Eichman. NR would be the first magazine to defend Israel, as it has been for quite some tim on a variety of issues. So to me, at least the point about Eichman and American Nazi’s, is moot.

    1. THAT is the definition of irony. Why is it so hard to see his argument that you’re verifiying? He is now playing the brave anti-fascist, when his own publication’s roots are as (or more) based on sand as he supposes Liberalism is. Thus, of course he’d jump to Israel’s defence NOW, but he’s trying to pretend that back in the day, only conservatives would. That’s exactly what the authour showed WASN’T the case.

  12. From the second paragraph:

    “Since at least the early 1930s, conservatives have been accusing liberals like Franklin Roosevelt of being fascists. What makes Goldberg’s book especially ripe and cheeky is his association with National Review, a magazine that has a very special relationship with fascism.”

    It is not that Goldberg’s arguments are wrong–the book hasn’t been published yet, so nobody knows what they are. Rather, Mr. Heer asserts the arguments are “ripe” and “cheeky” by virtue of a particular historical context. And then the context is provided.

    Whether Goldberg’s argument holds up in the realm of pure reason isn’t the point. The point is, in this context it’s a pretty gobsmacking argument to make.

  13. It is no accident that NR’s easy relationship with fascist dictators was contemporaneous with its harsh treatment of Civil Rights “agitators”. The Southern strategy, born of conservative catering to racial fears, as well as of the more acceptable desire for “values”-centered politics and other conservative policies, was beginning about this time (early ’60’s), and was what drove this Goldwater conservative out of that movement and out of the Republican party.

  14. People, people, people… just because Goldberg writes for a magazine that was praising self-described fascists as late as the 1980s does not in any way undermine his thesis that our Wellesley educated primary school teachers are neo-Nazis. In fact, I’ve known they were fascists ever since the 8th grade, when Miss. Dupree gave me a C+ on my book report on _Atlas Shrugged_ merely because I “failed to clearly state or develop a thesis, failed to divide the essay into paragraphs, failed to employ punctuation or capitalization, and failed to employ verbs in nearly half of all sentences.”

  15. Re: NR’s defence of Rockwell’s right to speak freely. I don’t know what the ACLU said at the time, but I imagine it would be the same as NR’s.

  16. I think everyone is missing the point which is that Jonah Goldberg is a poopoo head and any one who reads National Review is a poopoo head.

  17. The complaint that the book is not yet published is exaggerated. Excerpts have been published — licitly or not — multiple places. And God knows Mr. Goldberg has been jawing about his thesis and proof for what seems like an eternity.

    From those excerpts (for instance, the laughable bit about how the Nazis were concerned with health food, thus showing the fascist roots of modern health-food-concerned liberalism) you can see how this comment on NR’s history is quite on point — it’s simply applying Mr. Goldberg’s own sort of logic to him.

  18. I love the fact that critics of the post above invoke Carl Sagan to illustrate what is alleged to be a sin of argument, the guilt by association problem.

    Couple of things — of the rhetorical faults that Sagan pointed out, that particular doesn’t exactly make the cut. (Sagan talks about the problem of correlation and cause — but the author above does not say that Goldberg’s association with the NR led him to write stupid stuff, nor does he argue that the NR sought Goldberg out because his stupidity fit their business and intellectual (sic) model.)

    In fact, Sagan would most likely have had no problem with the above post for two reasons. 1: It posits a very simple chain of correlation, and identifies it as such. a: Goldberg calls liberals fascist. b: Lots of conservative yahoos have done so since the 1930s. c: Goldberg has one quality that distinguishes him from other mud throwing conservative yahoos: he has an association with an organization that has a long history of embracing fascist heroes. d: that record is really bad, embarassing. e: (by implication) this would be funny if Goldberg were taken seriously by too many as a participant in elite discourse.

    You might try to argue with different steps in the argument, (I think you’d be wrong, but that’s a different question) but the actual sequence of claims does not contain any of the sins Sagan warned against, and hence he would not have found the logical or rhetorical structure of this piece objectionable.

    And then there is the other reason: I knew Carl Sagan; on occasion I did a little bit of work on a couple of his projects. I can tell you, JKP: you are no Carl Sagan. (Sorry — that’s what Sagan correctly labeled an ad hominem attack, but in this political season I just channeled a little Lloyd Bentson). The Sagan I knew would have dumped on Goldberg a mighty wave of incredibly articulate ridicule, and when he wasn’t delivering that stuff himself, he would have cheered on those who were.

    Good stuff:

  19. Leo wrote: “Then I thought about it some more and I realized that TODAY it would be the left that would be all up in arms about Israel’s illegal kidnapping of Eichman. NR would be the first magazine to defend Israel, as it has been for quite some tim on a variety of issues. So to me, at least the point about Eichman and American Nazi’s, is moot.”

    This is completely false. War Crimes trials are still going on. Those who argue against the legal prosecution of war criminals are almost always right-wingers (most prominently Pat Buchanan, a onetime contributer to National Review). And National Review has defended Buchanan’s stance on these issues: see their editorial of August 23, 1993 (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1282/is_n23_v45/ai_14753238).

    I can’t think of a single prominent left-winger who has criticized the prosecution of Nazi war criminals.

    During its first decade and a half of existence (1955 to 1970) National Review was very anti-Israel. This stance started to slowly change after 1967 and by the mid 1970s the magazine became generally pro-Israel. But this change has nothing to do with how the magazine regarded the moral legitimacy of the Jewish state. The major consideration was realpolitik. After the war in 1967 Israel proved itself to militarily strong and a good ally for the United States in the Middle East. If Israel were ever to prove to be determinal to American interests in the Middle East, National Review would revert to its anti-Israel stance.

  20. Dom wrote: “Re: NR’s defence of Rockwell’s right to speak freely. I don’t know what the ACLU said at the time, but I imagine it would be the same as NR’s.”

    But there is a significant difference between the ACLU’s defense of Nazi’s free speech rights and National Review’s making the same arguement. The ACLU defends free speech for all: Nazis, communists, civil rights activicists, liberals, conservatives.

    National Review was very critical of this sort of “First Amendment absolutism” (as they called it). They explicitly opposed the right of civil rights activists in the south and communists who wanted to speek on campus. So their defense of George Lincoln Rockwell can’t be chalked up to any genuine committment to free speech.

  21. Whenever this topic comes up — that NR was once fascism’s buddy — I’m always surprised that no one mentions Noam Chomsky. Here is someone who defended a Holocaust denier, found excuses for Pol Pot, embarrasses himself by misquoting sources (and sometimes misquoting himself), seems to make up American History as he goes along, etc, etc. And yet he is still THE source for anyone on the left who wants to appear liberal.

  22. Dom wrote: “Re: NR’s defence of Rockwell’s right to speak freely. I don’t know what the ACLU said at the time, but I imagine it would be the same as NR’s.”

    But there is a significant difference between the ACLU’s defense of the free speech of Nazis and National Review’s making of the same argument.

    The ACLU defended the free speech rights of everybody: Nazis, communists, liberals, conservatives, civil rights activists.

    National Review explicilty rejected this sort of “First Amendment absolutism”. The magazine argued that whites in the South had the right to use the power of the state to reign in the civil rights movement. They argued that the free speech rights of communists (to lecture on campus, for example) deserved to be abridged. This was a fundamental part of the magazine’s politics in the 1950s and 1960s (see the writings of Willmoore Kendall on free speech).

    So there was something more than a committment to free speech at work in National Review’s defense of George Lincoln Rockwell.

  23. Dan said, “I heard my grandparents periodically use the N-word growing up. I guess by the logic of this piece any attitudes I have involving race must therefore be suspect.”

    You would be suspect if you started claiming, “Swedes are n-worders.” Then people might suspect that you don’t know the meaning of the word. A similar situation appears to be the case with Goldberg’s book.

  24. The defenders of this blog post claim that it is merely being “ironic” in accusing people other than Goldberg of defending fascists in the past, it is completely inapposite to any of the points made in Goldberg’s book. It is obviously very difficult to refute the similar philosophies and public policies advocated by the Nazis, Mussolini and modern liberals. All three, regardless of their rhetoric, believe in nanny state control over the individual with strictures determined by the elite. You have to eat only the right food, think only the right thoughts, learn only the right lessons in school, get the health care that the state decides you need, etc. etc. The post is nothing more than and ad hominem attack via guilt by association. Even if we stipulate that everything in the post is accurate regarding past articles in the National Review, modern liberalism is scarily similar to other totalitarian systems and modern liberals are trying to avoid this ugly fact.

  25. The ACLU defended the free speech rights of everybody: Nazis, communists, liberals, conservatives, civil rights activists.

    Are you serious? How many campus speech codes has the ACLU challenged?

  26. 1. Without a doubt, NR was at one time implicitly or explicitly racist/antisemitic. Nash’s history of the intellectual conservative movement in America does a good job of explaining the context of NR’s founding, when the “fusionist” New Right (social conservatism cum classical liberalism) was just beginning to supplant the Old Right (which included all sorts of beliefs and sensibilities, some of them being very much racist). Thankfully, the good guys, as far as the American Right is concerned, won, and all the paleo cranks ran off to Vdare/AmConMag land, where they now devote 80 percent of their time to expostulating why and how National Review and their allies (Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard, all those other “neocon” rags) are the spawns of Satan.

    2. Franco and Pinochet are of a very different species than Hitler and Mussolini. They are all “Fascist” in name, mostly deriving from the fact that they were all “anti-Communist” dictators. But whereas the former (eventually) saw the state as a kind of conservative protector of an already existent capitalist civil society, the latter saw the state as a revolutionary, all-encompassing replacement to previously existing civil society. Kirkpatrick, in her famous essay, deemed this the authoritarian/totalitarian difference, and, at least at the descriptive level (I have my doubts as to her political prescriptions, given this theory), I still find her argument convincing.

    3. NR’s present or past sympathies for anti-communist authoritarians pales in comparison to left/liberal periodicals’ sympathies for marxist/postcolonial totalitarians. The left/liberal treatment of Pinochet — a murderous dictator who nonetheless planted lasting seeds of political decency, i.e. notions/institutions of limited government, in his country — vis-a-vis Castro — a far more murderous dictator who enslaves his people to this day — serves as a microcosmic reminder of leftist/liberal hypocrisy.

    4. Jonah’s book, among other things, demonstrates that the left/liberal sympathy for totalitarian leadership ventures beyond the so-called “left side” of the so-called “political spectrum,” and in doing so, displays the flaws and contradictions of the very “political spectrum” it relies upon. Our present politics is complicated, and Jonah is not hard enough on the neocon adventurism and social gospelism of the American Right (although he does give it a try). But something Jeet Heer’s post has not and can not deny is that the collectivist, statist impulse resides far more comfortably on the contemporary American Left than the contemporary American Right. If you believe this is hogwash, then I suggest you read Jonah’s book as a way of challenge. If you still believe it is hogwash, fair enough.

    5. I like you Jeet Heer, mostly because you’re a fellow Phillip Roth fan, but also because you’re a smart observer of ideas and how they interact with different personalities and movements. But ever since discovering you in those Strauss-obsessed days, I’ve watched time and again as your otherwise careful demeanor has been bullied into sloppy, unfortunate commentary by a partisan streak. Don’t get me wrong — there’s a place for the popular and partisan (I’m defending Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism” after all!). But just as I was inclined to go to, say, Mark Lilla instead of you during the Strauss wars, simply because he seemed to offer a more informed, honest, fair-minded critique of the neocons, I’m now more drawn to someone like Sheri Berman (who I would love to see comment on “Liberal Fascism” directly, although I know she won’t), or at least her new history, which I’m confident will provide the kind of retort/corrective I’m looking for. You’re, on the other hand, just preaching to the choir. That’s a shame.

  27. In response to Finn:

    1. I don’t buy this distinction between the good conservatives of National Review/Wall Street Journal/Weekly Standard versus the bad conservatives of The American Conservative/VDare. For one thing, who is more likely to defend pre-emptive war and torture? I’d say those you consider to be the good conservatives.

    2. Franco and Pinochet weren’t as bad as Hitler and Mussolini but that’s hardly a good defense of the former. Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s essay on the authoritarian/totalitarian distinction was absurd when she wrote it and has become more so over time. For one thing, she argued that the communist regimes in Eastern Europe (Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia) couldn’t democratize themselves (they were totalitarian, you see); less than a decade later they did just that. (By the way, the idea was hardly original to Kirkpatrick: James Burnham made the same argument in National Review circa 1974, in the course of defending the apartheid regime in South Africa.)

    3. It makes no analytical sense to conflate leftists and liberals as you do: American liberals are not, by any reasonable global standard, leftists. There are some leftists who defend Castro, but very few liberals. In any case, this may surprise you but it’s possible to be both anti-Pinochet and anti-Castro. If you look up the back issues of journals like The New Leader, Dissent and New Politics you’ll find social democrats and socialists who have been both anti-Pinochet and anti-Castro (which is better than people like you, who are pro-Pinochet and anti-Castro). This is incidental to the whole argument but I would also note that while Castro might arguably have been a worse ruler than Pinochet, the Cuban tyrant is by no means the biggest monster of the Western Hemisphere. You should investigate the activities of various right-wing regimes in Guatemala (from the 1950s to the 1990s), El Salvador (in the 1970s and 1980s), and Argentina (in the 1970s and 1980s). What happened in these countries was horrifying beyond the imagination’s ability to comprehend, and many of the criminal who did ruled there are still free and powerful. And it was all defended by your friends at the National Review (and the Wall Street Journal, and Commentary).

    4. “But something Jeet Heer’s post has not and can not deny is that the collectivist, statist impulse resides far more comfortably on the contemporary American Left than the contemporary American Right.” I can deny this very easily: the biggest “collectivist, statist” activity known to humanity is war. The American Right is very militaristic, and constantly arguing for pre-emptive wars against various putative enemies of the state. Those who are more prudent about launching wars are inherently less “collectivist, statist” than those who rush into war. Torture is also a “collectivist, statist” activity and one much defended by contemporary conservatives.

    5. You’re free to believe that I’m more “partisan” than Jonah Goldberg, the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left. Mark Lilla’s essay on Strauss was quite good and he was lucky enough to publish it in the pages of the New York Review of Books (my own thoughts on the same matter were somewhat cramped in the pages of the Boston Globe). But I did think that there was a tendency on Lilla’s part to whitewash Strauss, due in part to Lilla’s own neo-conservative ties (he used to work for The Public Interest and wrote for The American Spectator and Commentary). Strauss was politically far more sinister than Lilla allowed: for one thing, Strauss had a soft-spot for J. Edgar Hoover, hardly a good liberal democrat. But there I go, being “partisan” again…

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  29. 1. I was responding to your guilt-by-association/hypocrisy charge concerning NR. The historical context is much more complicated, and makes your implication much less convincing. As for war, torture, etc., I’m more on your side than you think. Unlike you, I attribute most of our (and our world’s) war machine problems not to evil neocons, perse, but to the unfortunate entrapments of the modern state. As Jonah shows, American history, well before the neocons prevailed, has been plagued by similar (in fact, far worse) foreign policy blunders and war-related excesses, much of it at the hands of liberal heroes, from Wilson to FDR to Kennedy to LBJ, and to a lesser extent, Carter and Clinton.

    2. I was endorsing the totalitarian/authoritarian distinction. I think it was an astute observation. It is relevant to the subject at hand because, again, it makes your charge of hypocrisy less convincing; whereas Jonah points to examples by which leading liberals and leftists willingly (sometimes fanatically) embraced the very ideologies and systematic practices of brutal rulers as some form of “progress,” the conservative counterexamples you recite are clearly matters of lesser evil, realpolitique, pragmatic compromise. They do not at all get at the heart of the contemporary American Right, which while complicated by socially conservative concerns, is very much skeptical, even hostile, to collective, mass politics. As for your silly commment about eastern european democratization, you are absolutely correct: Kirkpatrick did claim that such REGIMES would not be susceptible to internal democratic reform. Such reform could only (and did only) follow revolution, that is, the deposition of such communist regimes. Interestingly enough, revolution was not needed in Franco’s Spain or Pinochet’s Chile. Here’s what Kirkpatrick actually says, by the way: https://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/Dictatorships–Double-Standards-6189?page=all

    3. I never argue it is impossible to be both anti-Castro and anti-Pinochet, or that most liberals aren’t this, or that Pinochet is a good guy (I call him a murderous dictator), or that liberals are the exact same thing as leftists (although I do believe they tend to share the same impulses). Nor do I deny the atrocities committed by the Argitinian junta, et al. You are conversing with a strawman (as you did when confronting Jonah’s book, which you would be well-advised to actually read). I do, however, find your easy assumption that Castro is not the worst caudillo of the century somewhat mystifying…perhaps this is the case, but it does not at all seem obvious. For starters, all the other nations you mention are now thriving — relatively speaking — just another point for Kirkpatrick if you ask me). To repeat myself, I am responding to your original post, which attempts to paint Goldberg as a shameless hypocrite, by associating him with such a terrible magazine. But the magazine’s positions — once the paleos had been expelled, once the thinking of the anti-communists are contextualized — are not as terrible as you make them out to be, and the positions of your favorite publications haven’t been so innocent through the years (Your claim that most liberals are respectably anti-Castro is laughable).

    4. Liberals and leftists (as well as conservatives and rightists…think Clinton years) are very good at preaching for peace and civil liberties when they are out of power. When they are in power, however, they resort to the same measures, if not to worse measures, than their predecessors. You write as if the past century did not take place, as if Wilson, FDR, Kennedy, LBJ, Carter and Clinton were never born (not to mention the endless array of “progressive,” “postcolonial” leaders abroad folks like yourself are so fond to commend). And if you are so insistent to claim yourself a “liberal” as opposed to a leftist, then please explain to me why the vast majority of “liberal” congressmen, congresswomen and senators in Washington supported the war you seem to find so obviously unjust, in addition to the bulk of the civil liberties intrusions you find so obviously inhumane (I say this as someone who opposes much of Bush’s war and civil liberties record).

    5. Never do I even come close to saying you are more “partisan” than Jonah. That would be ludicrous. I only said that your partisanship occasionally gets the best of your otherwise fascinating intellectual histories. From a classically liberal perspective (one that finds much wrong with the contemporary american right), I don’t believe you always approach your subjects with a generous mind…often, it is an actively suspicious one. This fact leads you to cut corners, leave out important context, details, draw manichean pictures, and ultimately leave arguments that can only, in the end, be applauded by those who already agree. This post is a case in point. For those that believe the American left and/or liberal experience (yes, there is a difference) is clearly more innocent than the american conservative and/or right experience, your post seems perfectly reasonable. But for someone like myself, who finds both histories fairly atrocious, to the extent that they both involved statist thinking and practice (admittedly, i will stick to my guns here and say at least the contemporary american right *pretends* to pay attention to the Hayekians) , your post strikes one as lopsided, and more to the point, unconvincing.

    6. You write as if the american right is the obvious war party. Bush himself (along with Condi Rice and others) was a near-isolationist prior to 9-11, and a significant portion of his party still is. The current nature of Republican foreign policy has much more to do with 9-11, than any warmongering impulse inherent in conservative (read: “fusionist”) political philosophy. Jonah’s book is about political philosophy and its direct impact on policy this past century. It is that terrain you should travel, perhaps beginning with reading the actual book.

  30. This is in response to Finn’s post. WARNING: It’s extremely boring.

    I’m not sure if this debate is very productive but I’ll make a few notes to clear up some confusion:

    Let me introduce a general principal (let’s call it the Goldberg rule): if you extol Franco or Mussolini, you don’t have a right to call other people fascists. We can add an ancillary: if you praise Pinochet, you don’t have a right to lecture other people on freedom.

    You write “whereas Jonah points to examples by which leading liberals and leftists willingly (sometimes fanatically) embraced the very ideologies and systematic practices of brutal rulers as some form of ‘progress,’ the conservative counterexamples you recite are clearly matters of lesser evil, realpolitique, pragmatic compromise. They do not at all get at the heart of the contemporary American Right, which while complicated by socially conservative concerns, is very much skeptical, even hostile, to collective, mass politics.” This is absolutely untrue on two counts. First of all, the National Reviewers did not reluctantly accept Franco as a “lesser evil”; rather, they exuberantly praised him as a positive good. Look at James Burnham’s words again: “Francisco Franco was our century’s most successful ruler.” That is to say, Franco was more successful than Churchill, De Gaulle, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Nehru. This is the language of hero worship, not lesser evildom. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, there was a strong contingent of National Reviewers who looked upon Franco’s Spain as a sort of Catholic utopia: a society where the traditional verities of Christendom were kept alive. That’s why guys like Bozell and Wilhelmsen spent a lot of time living in Spain: to suck in the incense-filled air of the true faith. Franco’s dictatorship wasn’t a lesser evil for them; it was a good regime. The same applies for the ways in which National Review wrote about the Jim Crow South and apartheid-era South Africa: these were societies worth emulating. (Read the back issues of National Review from the 1950s and 1960s and you’ll see what I’m talking about). Secondly, to say that the American right is “complicated” by social conservatism is an understatement verging on falsehood. The social conservatives (particularly the pro-life movement) represent a genuine mass movement. They have a strong agenda: to outlaw abortion. Now, whether you think this is a good idea or a bad idea, but it is certainly a “collectivist, statist” idea: to outlaw abortion would involve massively increasing the powers of the state (see for example contemporary El Salvador, where this is the case).

    Parenthetically, I would ask why you are so hostile to “collective, mass politics”? If it wasn’t for “collective, mass politics” the British would still rule India, Jim Crow would still be in place in the American South, apartheid would still be the law of the land in South Africa, women would still not have the vote, gays would still be in the closet. Going backs away, in the 18th century and 19th century it was “collective, mass politics” that gave us most of the rights we enjoy today: Wilkes and liberty, and all that. Do you think that people can achieve rights without fighting for them?

    “And if you are so insistent to claim yourself a ‘liberal’ as opposed to a leftist, then please explain to me why the vast majority of ‘liberal’ congressmen, congresswomen and senators in Washington supported the war you seem to find so obviously unjust, in addition to the bulk of the civil liberties intrusions you find so obviously inhumane (I say this as someone who opposes much of Bush’s war and civil liberties record).” This is probably boring to most people but I should make it clear that I am not a liberal in any sense of the word: a classical liberal or a contemporary American liberal or a supporter of the Liberal party of Canada. I’ve never voted for any Liberal politician and if I were an American I wouldn’t support the Democratic Party. So I’m not sure what it means to say that I’m a partisan on behalf of liberalism. Perhaps you’re reading more into my writing than is there. Whenever I’ve written on liberalism I’ve been very critical (see the blog posts on liberalism and ethnic cleansing, as well as the one on Mises).

    It’s precisely because I’m not a liberal that I wanted to make the distinction between liberals and leftists clear: liberals are not leftists, leftists are not liberals. There is no point in conflating the two. The entire problem with American liberalism is that it’s virulently anti-leftist: that’s why Woodrow Wilson locked up Eugene Debs, that’s why Truman created the framework that allowed McCarthyism to flourish, that’s why liberal democratic presidents have supported a host of right-wing dictatorships. So please, don’t consider me an apologist for liberalism.

    “You write as if the past century did not take place, as if Wilson, FDR, Kennedy, LBJ, Carter and Clinton were never born (not to mention the endless array of ‘progressive,’ ‘postcolonial’ leaders abroad folks like yourself are so fond to commend).” I’m not sure what you’re talking about here: can you point to a single instance where I’ve praised a “progressive” “postcolonial” leader abroad? It is true that I think imperialism is a bad thing (sorry for being so simple minded). I don’t like it when powerful nations bully poor nations. And I don’t think the anglo-saxon nations are inherently decent and represent the pinnacle of human history. Is that wrong?

    About Pinochet and Castro, a further thought. I know many leftists who are anti-Castro (see the work the gay rights movement has done on Cuba or read the excellent socialist journal New Politics); I haven’t met many conservatives who are anti-Pinochet. Most of them, like you, will find some silver lining in his tyranny. And I have to say there is a particular reason why Pinochet is so hated: prior to the coup of 1973, Chile was a functioning democracy, which is not true of Cuba prior to Castro’s rule. So for those of us who live in democracies, Pinochet is a dire example of how our rights can be taken away from us.

    About the relative terribleness of Castro’s Cuba. I hate to bring this up because it sounds like a defense of Castro, which is not how it’s meant (he’s a tyrant and I want his regime to democratize the same way the East European countries did). But as far as I can tell, nothing Castro has done is anywhere near the near genocidal massacres that took place in Guatemala in the 1980s, or the mass killings in El Salvador and Argentina. We’re talking about places where entire villages were wiped off the face of the earth. It really calls to mind the horrors of Hitler and Stalin. Are you not familiar with this history? Try reading Greg Grandin’s Empire’s Workshop.

    As for Goldberg’s book, as I said in my original post he’s making an argument that has been many times before in the past. In fact, the strongest critics of liberal authoritarianism were the New Left historians that emerged in the late 1950s and 1960s: Gabriel Kolko, William Appleman Williams, Christopher Lasch, et cetera. Also writing in this vein are various good libertarian and conservative scholars: Robert Nisbet, Murray Rothbard, John Lukacs. Having read Goldberg’s writings in National Review, I really sincerely doubt that he could make the same argument that these writers have made any better than they’ve already done. I just don’t find Jonah Goldberg to be a very interesting mind: mea culpa!

    “Kirkpatrick did claim that such REGIMES would not be susceptible to internal democratic reform. Such reform could only (and did only) follow revolution, that is, the deposition of such communist regimes.” In the real world that we live in, there was a strong push for “internal democratic reform” from within the Communist regimes themselves: perhaps the words perestroika and glasnost might remind you of something, along with the name of Gorbachev. By Kirkpatrick’s theory, someone like Gorbachev could never possibly arise; so much the worse for her theory. (As I noticed in an earlier post, Commentary magazine in 1986 argued that Gorbachev was more dangerous than Stalin; they wrote this bit of insanity precisely because they were beholden to the idea that Gorbachev could not be a true reform and that totalitarian regimes could not reform themselves).

    “Your claim that most liberals are respectably anti-Castro is laughable.” Jesus Christ, most liberals in the Congress and Senate support the embargo and a liberal president (John F. Kennedy) repeatedly tried to kill Castro. What more do you want?

    “You write as if the american right is the obvious war party. Bush himself (along with Condi Rice and others) was a near-isolationist prior to 9-11, and a significant portion of his party still is.” The American Right was isolationist a long time ago, in the days of Robert Taft in the 1940s. But since the start of the Cold War, conservatives have been far more militaristic than liberals. If there is an isolationist contingent in the American right it is very small (Ron Paul seems to be stuck at 8 to 10% of the vote and the circulation of The American Conservative is probably less than 20% of what National Review is). In any case, you’ve excoriated the small minority of anti-War conservatives in your earlier comments against the paleo-cons.

    Finally, on the issue of partisanship. I’ll note that I’ve written appreciative, respectful essays on three very conservative thinkers: Hugh Kenner, John Lukacs and Joseph Epstein. Finn: I challenge you to write with the same degree of respect (and the same honesty) about Noam Chomsky, E.P. Thompson, and Terry Eagleton (or Fredric Jameson).

  31. There are plenty of leftists, liberals, etc. I would be glad to write glowingly about; Richard Rorty, Michael Walzer, Ian Buruma, Paul Berman, Kazin, Gitlin (pretty much the whole of the Dissent crowd), and hundreds of other writers I read on a daily basis who I find to be both great writers and honest observers (Chomsky and Eagleton, however, not so much). This even includes yourself, at your best. And even though I stridently disagree with most of what you have just written, and I am particularly peeved by some clever sleights of hand, debate-wise, I’ll let you have the last word on this one. This is your blog, after all. Thank you for taking the time to engage.

  32. Hi Finn,

    Thanks for the gracious reply. Now that I look at your list of leftists you like, I think the real dividing line between us is the issue of empire. The list you’ve provided (“Richard Rorty, Michael Walzer, Ian Buruma, Paul Berman, Kazin, Gitlin”, as you say the Dissent crowd) are all basically men who support the American empire, either during the Cold War or in the War on Terror. I like Dissent well enough, but it was very late in opposing the Vietnam War and has been reluctant to criticize American foreign policy in the Middle East.

    Let me make my point-of-view or bias clear: I was born in India, so like most people from that background have no fondness for the British empire. The American empire is a successor to the British in many ways and like it’s predecessor, it’s a bad thing.

    In my experience, most people in North America are really blind on this issue: the havoc wrought by empire in the lives of the vast majority of the Earth’s population. If your opposed to “collectivist, statist” politics, you should be anti-empire too.

    I think any decent politics has to be anti-imperialist. It seems like you can’t abide thinkers who oppose the American empire. Whatever flaws they have, Chomsky and Eagleton are against empire and therefore would be especially valuable for you to read. In William Blake’s words, they bear witness against the beast. I would also add Mike Davis (in his book Late Victorian Holocausts) and Greg Grandin to the list.

  33. Thank you for the recommendations. I will likely look into them, especially Grandin. I openly admit a certain cognitive dissonance; domestic anti-statism cum (reluctant) support for American power abroad. This, alas, is the product of a highly complicated, tragic world, inhospitable to my own clean live-and-let-live philosophy. I.E., as much as I wish for a stateless world, the world is very much plagued by statism, to the point where I do not find Hoppe’s (Ron Paul’s) “Fortress America” tenable. I do believe American power should be rolled back, although I haven’t a clue how far or in what way. If all this makes an “imperialist” of me, so be it.

    My question for the anti-imperialist left is this: if empire is wrong because it is a form of global control, cultural/political/economic standardbearer, etc., then why is domestic imperialism (i.e. statism at home) okay? I know many on the left, Chomsky, the “third left” your “New Politics” magazine speaks of, claim their own prescriptions somehow represent an escape from statism — a new syndicalism, localism, whatever. I don’t buy it. It all seems like just another form of social control, perhaps a more disperse, less obvious one, but one in which eccentric, stubborn individuals are still screwed. And as much as I hear about all the social control that comes with corporations, capitalism, I don’t understand how these radical alternatives signify improvement in the context of social control. From what I can tell, Foucault eventually came to this same conclusion (in his later writings on care of self). He, of course, didn’t have to bother with recommending anything practical, but he sure came close to sounding like a capitalist…

    I’m just babbling now. I see you Grandin and raise you Richard Flathman. He wrote a book called “Reflections of a Would-Be Anarchist” (pretty much sums me up): http://www.amazon.com/Reflections-Would-Be-Anarchist-Institutions-Liberalism/dp/0816630623/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1200465382&sr=8-1

    Perhaps our mutual recs will make us both more skeptical of political and social control, both at home and abroad.

  34. Finn asks, “My question for the anti-imperialist left is this: if empire is wrong because it is a form of global control, cultural/political/economic standardbearer, etc., then why is domestic imperialism (i.e. statism at home) okay?”

    The answer: many of us believe that government derives just power from the common consent of the governed. A democracy which imposes laws by majority vote differs dramatically from an empire which rules subject nations that have no vote.

    The desire for a government appears to be inherent in human beings. People in gated communities who inveigh vehemently against “statism” seem happy to accept homeowners associations, complete with a constitution (“covenants and deed restrictions”) and government (“board of directors”.) As evidence, consider that squabbles over the homeowners association generally seek control of the board, not its abolition.

    Capitalism in the absence of any other government would simply be a democracy in which power is proportional to dollars rather than to heads. Recently I spoke with an acquaintance who regretted that he could never visit his birthplace because the town was gone. I supposed that the residents had abandoned it: not so, he said, they were forced to leave. He explained they had no voice: it was a coal company town, and when the company decided the economic value of the town was less than its value as a dumping ground, all the houses, schools, and shops were buried. If you think you would like government by capitalism alone, it’s a pity you can’t try out life as a coal miner’s child in a company town in the late 1920s.

  35. I agree with the second commentator. The National Review is similiar in my eyes to The Nation or The New Republic in that it is a magazine with decades of history and a plethora of differing writers. It would truly be an amazing coincidence if all the writers in its history shared the same viewpoints that Goldberg currently holds, and since that is not the case, pulling old articles out of its history is a bit irrelevant.

  36. MOP: normally I would agree with you, but you have to consider the context of my comments. Goldberg’s entire book is built around holding contemporary 21st century liberals responsible for things progressives said 80 and 90 years ago. That’s why he quotes so extensively from people like Herbert Croly (1869-1930) and H.G. Wells (1866-1946). So if it’s fair for him to posit an ideological identity between progressives and fabians of the 1920s and liberals of 2007, I say it’s equally sporting to link him to what was published in National Review in the 1960s and 1970s.

  37. Jeet Heer, I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, but I have to take issue with two (and it was hard to narrow it down!) of your points

    1) “And I have to say there is a particular reason why Pinochet is so hated: prior to the coup of 1973, Chile was a functioning democracy, which is not true of Cuba prior to Castro’s rule. So for those of us who live in democracies, Pinochet is a dire example of how our rights can be taken away from us.”

    It was a democracy prior to his coup, but not IMMEDIATELY before it. Allende had long since ruined Chilean democracy. And if you don’t believe me, check the August 22, 1973 statement from Parliament on that. Or, you can ask Eduardo Frei Montalva, Sr, former president of Chile and a darn good one from what I can gather, who supported Allende and turned against him because he was such a rotten leader and encouraged the military to revolt.

    2) “About the relative terribleness of Castro’s Cuba. I hate to bring this up because it sounds like a defense of Castro, which is not how it’s meant (he’s a tyrant and I want his regime to democratize the same way the East European countries did). But as far as I can tell, nothing Castro has done is anywhere near the near genocidal massacres that took place in Guatemala in the 1980s, or the mass killings in El Salvador and Argentina. We’re talking about places where entire villages were wiped off the face of the earth. It really calls to mind the horrors of Hitler and Stalin. Are you not familiar with this history? Try reading Greg Grandin’s Empire’s Workshop.”

    First of all, according to Professor RJ Rummel, Castro is responsible for more deaths that the gov’ts of Guatemala, El Salvador and Argentina put together. But if you want to see evidence of exactly the kind of thing you say Castro never did, I suggest you type “Escambray Rebellion” into a search engine. It’s a story about how a group of dirt-poor, half-starved rebel peasants, deprived even of the meager supplies the US airdropped to them for a few months, carried the fight to Castro for five years, only to be destroyed by Cuban army units armed with flamethrowers and commanded by Russian officers (some of whom were veterans of Stalin’s counterinsurgency campaigns), who burned hundreds of villages and herded the population of the Escambray highlands into concentration camps in the western tip of Cuba.

    And I’m familiar with the book you speak of, and how flawed it is. And you don’t have to take my word for it.

    go to http://www.paulbogdanor.com and find out for yourself.

  38. To Mr. Heer,

    This was an interesting post, providing context for Goldberg’s book, which surfaces with annoying regularity in blog comments and in places like YouTube. Thanks for posting this!

    To “Attackdog”,

    R. J. Rummel is known for giving more liberal estimates of deaths from democide in communist regimes (e.g. 43 million in the USSR under Stalin, well above the more commonly accepted 20 million). If we are to accept Rummel’s figure of 70,000 deaths under Castro (by executions, camps, and the deaths of refugees, or “boat people,” trying to escape the island), this still pales in comparison to deaths in Guatemala alone, over 200,000 during a similar time frame (1954-1996) in a country with a smaller population than Cuba. Jeet’s point (“nothing Castro has done is anywhere near the near genocidal massacres that took place in Guatemala in the 1980s, or the mass killings in El Salvador and Argentina”) is still right on the money, even if Rummel’s figures (using the high-end estimate for Cuba, and lower-end estimates for right-wing Latin American dictatorships) are accepted.

    Anti-communists have long undermined their cause by endorsing or at least tolerating mass killing under right-wing regimes while condemning it in leftist dictatorships of all sorts. I guess I’ll never understand the need to make up wildly exaggerated bullshit numbers to attack communist regimes; shouldn’t the fact that Stalin is responsible for 20 million deaths be enough?

  39. I believe some of Attorney General Palmer’s methods reasonably could be compared to those of later fascists. But I don’t see what was liberal about them. They mostly served to help wreck the IWW and otherwise meddle with the organized labor movement, essentially turning the Justice Department into a strike-breaking arm of private industry. I don’t think most scholars of American history would consider liberal either the Palmer Raids or the slacker sweeps that preceded them. But I’m pretty much convinced that “liberal” for the last 20 years or so is whatever a self-described conservative such as Goldberg decides to dislike regardless the reason.
    J. Edgar Hoover, a Palmer underling, at the time, cut his teeth on the “fascist” methods then used by the Justice Department.
    Haven’t read Goldberg’s book yet, but does he also brand J. Edgar Hoover a liberal?

  40. late to the party, but a sore thumb is a sore thumb – i’m not often the sharpest knife in the drawer, so the “sleights of hand” Finn alleged (sans example) in [his] i’ll-give-you-the-last-word not-quite-parting-shot must be far too clever for me to observe… i’m laboring under the impression that [he] merely walked into the simple trap of false dichotomy/single continuum/et al. that perpetually awaits any mind that fancies its geopolitical savvy to be boldly balanced/objective/what-have-you. sure, as Finn says, partisanship has its place. so does presumption. that doesn’t make a misstep any less disappointing/embarrassing – let alone cumulative ones.

  41. I hardly leave a response, but i did some searching and wound up here Goldbergs Fascism and the Real Thing | sans everything.
    And I do have 2 questions for you if you tend not to mind.
    Could it be simply me or does it look as if like a few of the
    comments look like they are written by brain dead visitors?😛 And, if you are writing on additional online
    social sites, I’d like to keep up with anything fresh you have to post.
    Could you list of all of your communal sites like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

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