Thursday, January 28, 2010

Historians who ignored Jonah "Jughead" Goldberg's trashbook "Liberal Fascism" now put their views on the record


by Ken

In a "reply" to a colloquium of historians organized on George Mason University's History News Network by our good friend David Neiwert to set the record straight about Jonah "Jughead" Goldberg's trashbook Liberal Fascism, our Juggy professes surprise and delight that suddenly, after two years of post-publication silence, everybody is talking about the book. This proves he's been right all along, right?

Um, no. It's true, as Dave points out in his introduction, that the book "was greeted largely with silence among those academic historians and political scientists." But there's a simple reason.
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 Juggy knows perfectly well why why his book is being talked about now, two years after publication, by people independent of the Right-Wing Noise Machine. (They've been screeching its lies all along.) It's because, thanks to the effectiveness of the loony-right propaganda effort, his big crock of doody, or rather the Right-Wing Talking Points version of it, has become an inspiration for the Hitlerite Teabag brawlers, whose brains have been pre-addled over these last four decades for just such confusion. It has become a sacred text for Glenn Beck in his crusade against sense and decency, and is now generally accepted wisdom among the lying heads of the Loony Right in their movement to bring down any U.S. government to the left of Haley Barbour.

Even Juggy acknowledges that what the book is really about is him being sick and tired of being called a fascist just because of his beliefs. (Okay, he may not admit that last part, but he's pretty free about the first part.) And so -- in the tradition, as I've pointed out, of the Holocaust deniers -- he set out on a historical pogrom, laying waste to the historical record and the work of responsible historians in search of bits and pieces he can use, or at least twist, to his revolutionary thesis that fascism was a movement of the Left, and never mind who and what the fascists themselves thought they were. To make the whole thing really, hilarious, he concocts his own utterly fantastic "definitions" of terms like "fascist" and "liberal" and "left" and "right." Of course, if you make your own definitions, you can prove almost anything. Unless you're our Juggy, in which case even with your own definitions you can't prove anything except that you're full of doody.

In his contribution to the HHN colloquium, "The Scholarly Flaws of Liberal Fascism," emeritus Columbia history professor Robert Paxton, author most recently of The Anatomy of Fascism, bends over backward to be fair:
[T]here really is a subject here. Fascism -– a political latecomer that adapted anti-socialism to a mass electorate, using means that often owed nothing to conservatism –- drew on both right and left, and tried to transcend that bitter division in a purified, invigorated, expansionist national community. A sensitive analysis of what fascism drew from all quarters of the political spectrum would be a valuable project. It is not Jonah Goldberg’s project.

The bottom line is that Goldberg wants to attach a defaming epithet to liberals and the left, to “put the brown shirt on [your] opponents,” as he accuses the liberals of doing (p. 392). He goes about this task with a massive apparatus of scholarly citations and quotations. But Goldberg’s scholarship is not an even-handed search for understanding, following the best evidence fully and open-mindedly wherever it might lead. He chooses his scholarly data selectively and sometimes misleadingly in the service of his demonstration.

Let me recall once again David Brock's startling realization (as reported in his account of his political awakening, Blinded by the Right), as he came to question (finally!) the kind of "journalism" practiced at The Weekly Standard and other organs of the Far Right, which had made him a star. He came to grasp that they weren't doing journalism, which involves going out and getting a story, which in turn means finding out what the story is. No, they started with the story all laid out in their minds, usually from current Right-Wing Talking Points, and then went in search of anything they could find -- snippets of facts suitable for twisting, lies (bought if necessary), whatever -- to decorate the preconceived story.

As I always point out when I recall this blinding revelation of Brock's, a lot of Infotainment Media News "reporters" indeed do something similar way too much of the time, which is why we scream so much about them. But they don't usually do it as a matter of journalistic doctrine. It's more laziness than ideological thuggery -- and the knowledge that if you're reporting the same sludge as all your peers, even if you're not right, you're almost surely safe.

Here's Oxford historian Roger Griffin, author of The Nature of Fascism and, more recently, Modernism and Fascism: The sense of a beginning under Mussolini and Hitler:
Goldberg’s book perverts historical and historiographical truth with the scarcely hidden agenda (perhaps the real ‘secret’ alluded to unwittingly in the subtitle) of tarring and feathering with negative, anti-democratic, and inhumane connotations a broad current of reformist policy and social justice campaigns which has for decades been a legitimate current of liberalism within U.S. democracy (and not exclusively the Democratic sector of it). It does so with the blatant aim of making this current guilty (by association) of some of the most heinous crimes ever committed against humanity. It is a work of sustained pseudo-historical calumny and defamation disguised under the (constantly slipping) carnival mask of an ‘alternative history’.

Matthew Feldman, senior lecturer in 20th-century history at the University of Northampton, begins his contribution, "Poor Scholarship, Wrong Conclusions," by quoting Mussolini himself on fascism's "absolute" opposition to liberalism. His take on the book:
[T]his is certainly not a book for anyone attempting a better understanding of fascist ideology, although it may be a useful barometer of the so-called "culture wars" in the contemporary United States. At points, Liberal Fascism even admits as much; for example, "one of the main reasons I've written the book [is] to puncture the smug self-confidence that simply by virtue of being liberal one is also virtuous" (317-8). Indeed, the book's first paragraph already sets out the real antagonists in Goldberg's account, namely "[a]ngry liberals" and "besieged conservatives." Regrettably, his hostility better characterizes the rhetoric of ideological rivals like fascism and communism -– radical right-wing and radical left-wing, respectively, despite Goldberg's sleight of hand -– rather than one end of a democratic spectrum. And you certainly wouldn't know that fascists and communists fought it out on the streets and battlefields for very different ideological doctrines. Instead, reading Liberal Fascism, you might think they rather liked one another.

Chip Berlet, senior analyst at Political Research Associates and co-author of Right Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, focuses on the historical lineage of Juggy's line of argument:
Jonah Goldberg does not list the John Birch Society as a major source, but he should have, since his book is like a compendium of JBS articles published over the last fifty years. These ideas are now ubiquitous among right-wing populists in the Tea Party movement. Am I suggesting that Birchers, the Christian Right, and right-wing libertarians have taken over the Republican Party? Yes, although old-fashioned conservatives and political pragmatists are putting up a splendid fight for control of the Party. Do I think right-wing TV, radio, and print media are awash with right-wing conspiracy theories pioneered by the Birchers? Yes, that’s what my research shows. . . .

No serious scholar of fascism disputes the fact that Italian Fascism and German Nazism borrowed themes and personnel from existing socialist movements. . . . Fascism, Nazism, Communism, the Roosevelt administration, and the modern Welfare State share degrees of government intervention in the economy. They are not equivalent, and there is no evidence that government planning leads to totalitarianism any more than drinking tea leads to opium addiction. This is a classic logical error. [Hannah] Arendt detailed how it was the totalitarianism shared by Hitler and Stalin that created similarities in terms of ruthless government repression.

Even a right-wing-stooge foreign-policy analyst like Michael Ledeen, who has provided a separate response for HNN, while doing his best to provide cover for Juggy, winds up digging him an even deeper hole. And he does it by offering a representation of the book that I think would astonish everyone who knows anything about it, after knocking down a bunch of straw men:
[H]e's not saying that liberalism is the same as fascism, or that fascists were really liberals [um, Mikey, he absolutely, unequivocally is saying that fascists are leftists-- Ed.], or any such thing. What he does say is that many of the iconic figures in American liberalism (and among the British left as well) greatly admired Mussolini. As well they might, he says, since he was really one of them in many ways.

And Ledeen is prepared to defend this much because he has a personal affection for a blazing right-wing "discovery" that links Mussolini to Robespierre and the radicals of the French Revolution (those famous liberals). This is mostly irrelevant bullshit, of course, involving multiple layers of obfuscation (if Mussolini started out as a socialist, what did Ronald Reagan and Whittaker Chambers and the entire Commentary crowd start out as?) and is certainly irrelevant to Juggy's arguments in Liberal Fascism. Even Mikey acknowledges:
While certain French revolutionary ideas played into the creation of the fascist movement, and while Mussolini started life as a socialist, and while various radical anarcho-syndicalists supported Mussolini from the very beginning (and some remained to the end), it is still a real stretch to say that fascism was fundamentally leftist. Mussolini came to power because his thugs won the street battles with socialist thugs, not because he won the support of left-wing voters. . . .

[W]hile there were fascists with leftist tendencies, they were alienated from the regime, embittered by its reactionary nature, and eventually went elsewhere.

What's more, it isn't really Mussolini Juggy is concerned about, it's Hitler. He uses not-so-fancy footwork dancing between them when one is especially inconvenient for the line of bull he's slinging at the moment, and Mussolini is often more useful this way. Of course he's also wildly misrepresented. Still, does anyone -- like the Teabaggers, for example -- really care now about the "authentic" fascism of Mussolini? Surely what's got Juggy down is being thought a Nazi. (When he's called a fascist, he knows that what's really meant is a Nazi.)

Whether it was his intent or not, his book has been used on the Right to equate liberalism with Nazism. The thugs of the Teabagger movement don't call the president "Mussolini," as Juggy, their figurehead pseudo-historian, knows this perfectly well. And even Mikey Ledeen notes, "The weakest part of the book has to do with the Nazis." Given how far Ledeen is prepared to stretch to cover Juggy's butt, this is seems basically to be saying that Juggy knows from nothing about Nazis.

I suppose we can give Juggy credit for seeing a market opening here: lots of other American far-right-wingers who, despite being unmistakably Hitler's Children, are sick and tired of being called Fascists or Nazis. It may not make for good history, but it's made for some good sales numbers. And neither buyers nor sellers have any sense of shame.

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At 7:31 AM, Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

For "Juggy," I suggest the replacement moniker "J-Dough," which preserves the sarcastic dismissal of Goldberg fils, and locates it in the same scheme of mockery and opprobrium with which the fat(uous) Kathrine Jean Lopez is so readily dismissed...

At 6:23 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

I like it, Woody!


At 3:14 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

FOX Noise is trying to make us swallow the utterly false assertion that Hitler and Stalin were not, as history has led us to believe, bitter enemies. The plain truth of the matter is that they were in bed with one another - ideologically speaking, that is. At one point in this silly program, Jonah Goldberg says, "The Nazis and the Bolsheviks in Germany was really a case of Coke vs. Pepsi." That is why when the Nazi Party was formed in the nineteen-twenties, they decided the swastika at the center of their flag needed to be surrounded by a bold field of red. They were trying to attract the Socialists, whose flag was the same color.

What is conveniently omitted is the fact that Hitler wasn't trying to forward the Socialist cause, he was trying to convert them or - at the very least - confuse them. According to Beck, the only reason Herr Hitler opposed Communism was because he disagreed with its "internationalism". This is utter nonsense which can be debunked by a cursory examination of every comment Hitler ever made (public and private) on the subject of Soviet Russia and Marxism.

HISTORICAL FACT: Here is something else Glenn Beck neglected to mention. It was not only the Jews who were consigned to perish in the Nazi death camps. Also marked for extermination were Gypsies, homosexuals - and Communists. Liberal my eye!

One segment of the program is subtitled, "THE GENOCIDE YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF". What genocide might this be, you may ask? It is the fact that millions of Russians were murdered by Stalin's regime. The Liberals, says Beck, don't want you to know about this and have deleted it from the history books. This segment might more accurately have been called: "THE GENOCIDE THAT GLENN BECK AND YOUR AVERAGE VIEWER OF FOX NOISE HAS NEVER HEARD OF". I don't know about you but I've known about the mass murder carried out by Josef Stalin ever since I started reading history in my early teens. What books (or book) is Glenn talking about? "My Life, My Loves" by Eddie Fisher perhaps? Come to think of it, old Eddie did omit that nasty little fact from his text. Coincidence? I wonder. He's hiding something, I know it!

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


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