January 15, 2008

In a review of Jonah Goldberg’s recently published book, Liberal Fascism —the cover alone which caused a minor blogospheric dust-up in the months prior to publication—Matt Yglesias writes on his Atlantic blog:

“Beyond specific errors, lapses in logic, etc. the biggest problem with Goldberg’s book is actually that Goldberg himself has the wrong ideology. A certain strand of libertarian, perhaps Justin Raimondo from AntiWar.com, could have credibly written a book with the form of argument “today’s liberals rightly identify fascistic strands in contemporary conservatism, but ignore the fascist mote in their own eye” and deliver a diatribe against statism in general and seek to tar everyone, left and right, with lax deployment of the brush of fascism. But that’s not Jonah Goldberg. Goldberg is, instead, a loyal foot soldier in the Republican Noise Machine.”

Aside from pointing with glee to the fact that I’ve been cited by one of my favorite liberal bloggers, I should mention that Yglesias thinks the very idea of “liberal fascism” is not only oxymoronic, but also plainly and obviously moronic—so this isn’t exactly flattery. What he’s essentially saying is that only a nut-job like Raimondo could possibly believe such a thing.

I want, however, to defend Jonah, and not myself. Now, we aren’t exactly the best of friends, and I certainly want to keep it that way, and yet it isn’t fair to label him a partisan hack. It’s awfully hard, after all, to be a party liner when there is no line and the party is fracturing. Goldberg may occassionally come up with a real lemon—e.g. his idea that we ought to invade Africa—and of course he supported the war: he’s even growled that libertarians ought to “police” their movement better, so as to keep out trash such as your’s truly, but I have to say that Senor Goldberg has grown. Lately, he seems to be going beyond the party-lining neoconism that squeezed all the juice out of conservatism, and has even had some intellilgent commentary about the Paul campaign. Unlike the Bill Kristols of this world, whose answer to the Ron Paul challenge is hateful epithets, Goldberg realizes that the future of the American Right is going to be very different from now on—and Kristol and his shrinking band of discredited ideologues aren’t in the drivers’ seat anymore.

Some paleos have mocked “The Goldberg Review,” a slight that Jonah took as a reference to ethnicity and which was actually just goodnatured kidding around, at least on my part. In reality, Jonah is really far from the worst of the “movement” conservative pundits: i.e. he’s no David Frum. The Frums and the Kristols are out to destroy their poliitcal opponents, and by any means necessary: their response to the rising Paleoconservative insurgency is to smear and enlist the left in a hate campaign against the “far” right, i.e. Paul, Buchanan, and anyone to the right of … well, of Bill Kristol. At least Jonah is willing to have a civilized discussion.

As to Liberal Fascism, the book, I haven’t finished it yet, but I can say that I was impressed by how much he seems to have been influenced by Old Right authors, such as John T. Flynn, because of course any critique of modern liberalism as a form of proto-fascist ideology has to start with Flynn, and his classic As We Go Marching. Having gone through this whole literature, of which Flynn’s works are the exemplar, Goldberg understands the Old Right’s fear of a home-grown American fascism that would take on the surface characteristics of “one-hunbdred percent Americanism.” An empire would have to mean the end of the old Republic, and the beginning of our long slide into imperial decadence. Yet he vainly tries to refute this, with arguments I won’t go into here.

To return to my point: at least one can have an interesing discussion with Goldberg. For the deadliest sin of the neocons—and that’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it?—is that they’re deadly boring. I once went to a neocon-controlled National Review conference—invited by mistake—and I have to say it was as exciting as a Soviet party conference. The deadly unanimity, the hectoring ideological tone, the party-lining speeches, ad of course the denunciation of heretics: a real snoozer. Guys like Goldberg, however, at least have something Bill Kristol can’t even conceive of having, and that is a sense of humor. Whether intentionally funny or otherwise.

At any rate, I’m reading his book and will come through with a report as soon as I can recover from my flight back to San Francisco. I’m blogging in JFK, right now, and time for my plane.


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