Liberal Fascism

Here is Henry Farrell on the book.  Here is Matt Yglesias.  Here is Fred Siegel.  Here is Arnold Kling.  Here is another review.  Here is Megan McArdle on the BloggingHeads version.  Here is the Amazon link.  I am closest to the CrookedTimber commentator who wrote:

Jonah’s book, at its heart, is geared toward popularizing the arguments of smart intellectuals/academics, from John Patrick Diggins to A.J. Gregor to Hayek to Erik Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn.

Or try this excellent book, or for that matter John T. Flynn’s As We Go Marching.  I divide the arguments of Liberal Fascism into three categories:

1. The oft neglected but obviously true: For instance Mussolini really was a precursor of the New Deal and he was initially regarded with fondness by many on the American left.  This sort of claim is the core of the book and it does stand up after you take all the criticisms into account.  I am pleased to see it upend traditional "feel good" narratives of politics.

That said, a "who cares?" response might be in order from a social democrat.  Good people can have bad ideas, so can’t bad people — namely the fascists — have had some good ideas?  After all, George Lucas borrowed from Leni Riefenstahl.

2. The false claims: Contrary to what Goldberg argues, it simply isn’t true that Hitler and Nazism were essentially left-wing phenomena.  Not all right-wing ideas are Burkean, and the mere fact that the Nazis were "revolutionary" does not make them left-wing.  Furthermore the Nazis busted labor unions and used right-wing emotive tricks for their racism and authoritarianism.  When all those old Nazis popped up in South America, where did they all find themselves on the political spectrum?  Overall fascism has much stronger roots in the Right than Goldberg is willing to emphasize.

I also would have put more weight on the aestheticization of politics than did Goldberg.  That would help us see why supporters of the War on Drugs, while they favor very violent and possibly unjust means, should not be regarded as fascists.

3. The true but possibly misleading claims.  Goldberg writes for instance that Hillary Clinton is not a fascist.  OK, but simply to write that she isn’t a fascist is reframing the terms of the debate, and not in a way I am fully comfortable with.  I’m sure it bothers many Clinton supporters more than it bothers me.

Goldberg insists he only wants to stop the slander of the Right and its long-standing identification with fascism.  I am fully behind this goal of tolerance, and I might add I recall fellow Harvard econ grad students calling Martin Feldstein (and perhaps me!) a fascist on a regular basis.  That simply shouldn’t happen.  The problem is that Goldberg’s book will be interpreted by its buyers and readers as a call to do the same to the left.  Take a look at the cover and the title, both of which Goldberg distanced himself from on Comedy Central (I can no longer find the YouTube link).  But they’re on the book nonetheless.

Is Goldberg "to blame" for how his book will be interpreted, especially if he requests an interpretation to the contrary?  That’s a moot point.  But it gets to the core of why I don’t like the book more than I do. 

The bottom line: As Arnold Kling recommends, all parties involved should read Dan Klein’s "The People’s Romance," and start the debate there.

Addendum: Some of the critical web reviews admit they have not read the book, but they rely heavily on Goldberg’s (apparently controversial) web writings.  I’ve never read Goldberg before, so I am coming at this book "fresh."


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