Jonah Goldberg's 'Liberal Facism' Brings Historical Revisionism to Comical New Heights
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About five years ago, I imagine that Ann Coulter, Dinesh D'Souza and Jonah Goldberg went out to a local bar and subsequently got into a drunken feud over who among them could write the most comically stupid right-wing attack book.
"I'm-a gonna write two books, one callin' libruls TRAITORS and the other one callin' 'em GODLESS," cackled a sauced Coulter while sipping down her gin and tonic.
"Pfffffft, anyone can call 'em godless traitors," said D'Souza. "I'm-a write a book that blames libruls fer 9/11"
Not one to be outdone, Goldberg pounded his Amstel Light on the table and rose to his feet.
"Tha's nothin'!" he shouted. "I'm-a write a book that calls all libruls FASCISTS!"
Coulter and D'Souza burst into laughter.
"Tha's shameless e'ev fer you!" said Coulter. "Yer own magazine used ta make a habit of praising Franco!"
"I can too write a book about librul fascism!" said an indignant Goldberg as he trudged off to the men's room. "I'll show you! I'll show you all!" And that, in my mind, is how Liberal Fascism was born.
For the uninitiated, Liberal Fascism is a new book by National Review editor Jonah Goldberg that contends that Hitler and Mussolini were committed left-wingers, and that today's liberals are fascism's natural intellectual heirs. While this may sound like yet another Coulteresque quickie aimed at prying some money out of Dittohead Nation, Goldberg insists that it is actually a Very Serious Work that "isn't like any Ann Coulter book" because it presents an argument that "has never been made in such detail or with such care. Goldberg also goes to great lengths from the start of the book to say that he's not really saying liberals are fascists, but hey, here are 400 pages of similarities between liberals and fascists, and if you start associating the two of them by the end of the book, then that's not his fault.
But despite Goldberg's protestations and caveats, "Liberal Fascism" is indeed a remarkably silly work that's jam-packed with the same sloppy logic and dodgy research that we've come to expect from today's conservative pundit class. On page 2, for instance, Goldberg admits that he doesn't really know how to define fascism and that "not even the professionals have figured out what exactly fascism is." But as anyone who's followed Goldberg's career can tell you, lacking knowledge on any given subject in no way impedes him from writing over 400 pages on it. Indeed, not providing a concrete definition of fascism is essential to his case, since it allows him to define fascism however he pleases. Goldberg puts this conceit to good use throughout the book, as everyone from the French revolutionaries to Teddy Roosevelt-era Progressives to the New Dealers to communists to the '60s New Left to Hillary Clinton is linked with fascism at one point or another. By the end of the book, Goldberg comes off as a lonely, belligerent drunk who shouts obscenities at people leaving his local 7-11.
"You're all fuh-fascists!" you can picture Goldberg hollering on a city street corner. "Every damn onea ya's a fuh-ffffffffascist!"
But what in the world do Hitler's Germany, Soviet Russia and America under the Roosevelts all have in common, you ask? For one thing, Goldberg contends that all of these regimes gained popular support by using sinister populist rhetoric that painted wealthy capitalists in a negative light. Through sheer ignorance or ideological blindness, Goldberg never explores why trashing wealthy plutocrats during the Gilded Age and the Great Depression had become both politically profitable and morally sound. Rather, he deems all populist rhetoric as a key piece of the anti-individualist "totalitarian political religion" that American liberalism shares with Communism and Fascism.
Later in the book, the connections between liberalism and fascism grow even flimsier. For instance, did you know that "Hitler claimed to be a dedicated vegetarian" and that he would "talk for hours about the advantages of a meatless diet and the imperative to eat whole grains?" Sounds a lot like that long-haired hippie uncle who drives that hybrid car to family reunions every year, no? And gee, did you realize that the Nazis had a vigorous animal protection program, just like what the vegefascists at PETA are advocating? Oh sure, Goldberg says, you could argue that "animal rights activism was a major concern of pre-Nazi Germany" and that "the animal rights movement shouldn't be associated with Nazi Germany." But that doesn't get animal rights activists off the hook, because their "conventionally leftist views were held by the Nazis," which suggests that "Nazism isn't as alien to mainstream progressive thought as some would have us believe." (To appreciate how absurd this comparison is, try applying it to a local store that has a "no shoes, no service" policy. As in, "Sure a lot of people wore shoes in pre-Nazi Germany, but the local store owner's insistence that his customers wear them shows that Nazism isn't as alien to his views as some would have us believe.")
While a lot of this stuff is easy to laugh off, some of Goldberg's historical revisionism is downright sickening. In one particularly grotesque passage, he tries to obfuscate the Nazis' treatment of homosexuals by calling their attitudes toward homosexuality "a source of confusion." Oh sure, he writes, "some homosexuals were sent to concentration camps," but it's also true that the early Nazi party was "rife with homosexuals." I'm sure the 100,000 men who were arrested for being homosexuals in Nazi Germany, as well as the thousands more who died in concentration camps, were proud to see their brethren so well-represented in the SS.
Most stunningly, Goldberg completely glosses over the American Right's support for any fascist governments, stating that "no leading conservative intellectual or scholar celebrated fascist themes or ideas" and that "to the contrary, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Regan, William F. Buckley Jr. and the conservatives around the National Review dedicated themselves to restoring the classically liberal vision of the Founders." He must not have read Buckley's "Letter from Spain" dated Oct. 26, 1957, where he praised Gen. Francisco Franco as "an authentic national hero" who was "not an oppressive dictator" but rather "only as oppressive as it is necessary to be to maintain total power, and that, it happens, is not very oppressive, for the people, by and large, are content."
In a lot of ways, this kind of nonsense shouldn't be surprising coming from Goldberg, since it's the same lazy brand of inherited thinking that defines today's conservative movement. For like his contemporaries William Kristol and John Podheretz, Goldberg was raised by prominent figures within the right-wing movement and was trained from the start to be an influential public "intellectual." And just as Kristol and Podheretz's writings closely mirror the neoconservative views espoused by their parents, Goldberg's penchant for attacking liberals in the most shameless and slimy ways imaginable is unsurprisingly similar to the style of his mother Lucianne, a right-wing literary agent who first came to national prominence when she helped Linda Tripp break the Monica Lewinsky scandal to the press. Indeed, I imagine Lucianne training young Jonah to hate Democrats by repeatedly bopping him over the head with a frozen bratwurst meant to represent Bill Clinton's penis.
"Woof! Clenis bad! Clenis bring pain!" I picture the beleaguered pundit-in-training yelping as his mother's stern hand reared back and prepared to deliver another hit.
In a lot of ways, this book feels as though it was published two years too late, and not merely because it came out more than two years after its initial release date. In the panicked years between 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, many Americans mindlessly gobbled up silly polemics that trashed the wicked, nasty, all-powerful Left who wanted nothing more to see America lose to the terrorists lurking in the shadows. But with the collapse of the Bush presidency and with the GOP's loss of Congress, it seems that the American public's patience for zany right-wing antics has finally run out. In the future, Liberal Fascism may be seen as the Bush Right's version of Abbey Road: it's a last gasp of fun before an impending crack-up.