Confronted, not merely dismissed

I have yet to offer my deep thoughts on Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism. When I read big and serious works like this I just can’t seem to find the time and focus necessary to offer a discussion worthy of the book.  I still hope to comment on it and maybe even post a Q&A with Jonah, but for now let me agree with this from Colby Cosh’s review:

Jonah Goldberg’s controversial new book Liberal Fascism has all the faults you might expect from a book by Jonah Goldberg. It is written in a breezy, beseeching personal style better suited to the Internet, where Goldberg has made a name for himself as one of the blogosphere’s top conservative pundits, than to a permanent work between covers. Some of the historical examples he uses will age fast and be confusing to future readers (which “L.A. riots” is he talking about, Dad?). The inflammatory cover art works at cross-purposes with Goldberg’s serious intentions. And, yes, the book does overreach in advancing its central hypothesis that there is a recurring menace of nationalistic state-worship in American leftist politics.

But it doesn’t overreach too far — certainly not nearly as far as liberals go every day in associating the contemporary right with fascist traditions. Don’t trust those who “review” Liberal Fascism by writing off National Review’s Goldberg as a boyish goofball riding the helter-skelter of conservative intellectual decline. This book deals with the concept of “fascism” in a serious, informed way, acknowledging it as a phenomenon easier to recognize than to define. It relies on the established, and frankly decisive, argument that fascism was, in practice, communism without the internationalism — a revolutionary, anticapitalist, antibourgeois phenomenon of the left that belongs on the same side of the political spectrum as communism, not at the opposite end. And much of what Goldberg has to say about the fascist strain in “progressive” politics from the late 19th century to now requires the author to be confronted, not merely dismissed.

This is exactly the argument I have made all along.  There are plenty of ideas and arguments in the book to debate and discuss, but simple dismissal avoids facing the serious points that book highlights.  Cosh notes what many have pointed to as the book’s best chapter:

But how can any decent modern liberal deny that Goldberg’s identification of Woodrow Wilson as a proto-fascist is accurate? Goldberg’s chapter on Wilson is near-essential reading for all students of American history, whatever their political stripe. It is only because his own voluminous poli-sci works are not read anymore that we ignore Wilson’s racism, his fawning over authoritarian models like Bismarck, his preference for a unitary state over the divided powers distributed in the Constitution, his belief that the bovine masses needed unrestricted leadership, and his contempt for individualism. This became more than mere theory during the War, a forgotten time in America when patriotic street gangs ran amok, peace advocates were jailed for “sedition,” the economy came under an unprecedented degree of state control, and the free press was openly crushed — all at the behest of a president who believed himself divinely inspired to restore moral health to the nation, and indeed the world.

As I have said before, even if you don’t agree with it anyone who is open minded will find much food for thought in the book. Civil and intelligent debate is what is needed not snide and vulgar commentary.  

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season – oh, and watching golf too).

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