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Ashbrook Center

Jonah Goldberg

Was here yesterday.  Spoke to a lunch crowd of over 400, and then talked with the Ashbrooks for an hour, then a smoke with faculty at my place, then dinner with friends.  The poor fellow must have talked most of the day.  But that's good for he was always more interesting and thoughtful than anyone else in the room (I'll have his speech up by tomorrow), proving that he is one of the finest journalists working.  It is certainly the case that his mind is both nimble and deep.  I should also mention that there was a skirmish of wit between us, here and there, off and on, during the whole of the day.  And I also have to note that I lost each skirmish and battle; he really is the cause of wit in other men.  Great pleasure to be with such a man, such a mind.  A minute or two after a student dropped him off at the airport, he blogged on his visit.
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Discussions - 13 Comments


Considering both how popular and how controversial Goldberg's polemic has been, it really would have been to everyone's benefit - most especially the Ashbrook Scholars - if a debate of some sort could have been set up for his appearance.

Perhaps Dr Matthew Feldman, a Senior Lecturer in 20th century history at the University of Northampton could have been called?

That would have been bold - and interesting, and probably much more educational for everyone.

As it stands, Goldberg's argument has been thoroughly debunked by actual scholars of fascism, Nazism, totalitarianism, and 20th century history. Thoroughly:

(Careful, that link goes to a project of the wildly liberal George Mason University - the same school that offers this outlet for typical, unhinged leftism:

www dot

Broken links.

The links work. The first 2 should be no problem (they just worked for me when I checked them).

The last one there required you to replace the word "dot" with a "." - the kind that's used in web addresses - and make sure you don't include my final parenth.

I did that because the blog automatically rejects any comments that have more than 2 links; I guess that raises the spam suspicion level.

Here's the link:

Craig, perhaps you would have been better off supplying broken links for want of better ones. The first fellow seems to be upset that Goldberg is hurting the public discourse by linking to a hyperbolic and deranged email. Now that is some solid analysis.

The second fellow seems upset that some "teabaggers", when being Nazi-baited by politicians on the left, respond by Nazi-baiting in turn. Somebody should be looking at the log in his own eye it seems to me.

Where Mr. Neiwert does engage in something resembling historical inquiry he goes off the rails. It is off topic to argue that fascism found "space" on the right. The question was whether certain shared qualities between fascism(s) and various movements of the left (political romanticism, statism, and an orientation to applying military-type regimentation to social life in general) made them more alike to each other than to free market-oriented and constitutionalist classical liberalism. I think Goldberg's thesis is problematic but neither fellow linked laid a glove on him.

Perhaps Ashbrook did not invite the poor fellows because they did not want to embarrass thoughtful liberals. Really, there have to be better critiques of Goldberg out there.

Neither of those critics (Neiwert or Feldman) needs any defense from me - their critiques are entirely sound - what I was actually linking to there was not, by any stretch, the entirety of their dissections of Goldberg.

I linked to Neiwert because what he wrote served as an introduction to a whole series of critiques of Goldberg's book by scholars of fascism. If you scroll to the bottom of the Neiwert piece, you'll see the links to the critiques proper, by no less than fascism experts such as Roger Griffin and Robert Paxton, for starters. Here they are directly:



I linked to that particular item (invitation) by Feldman because he expressed interest in debating Goldberg. If he is so weak in his argumentation, let Goldberg be the one to highlight that. If Goldberg (with his bachelor's degree from a non-Ivy) can take down a research fellow from Oxford, who wants to debate him - he should.

"Perhaps Ashbrook did not invite the poor fellows because they did not want to embarrass thoughtful liberals."

That's a good one. Such humane, divine restraint in the face of one's enemies!! Hard to believe it's the same branch of the right that embraces the National Enquirer for the results it can get any way it can get them.
noleftturns dot

Alternate theory: perhaps Ashbrook didn't invite Feldman because they didn't want to see the rising star of wingnut welfare get blown to bits (arg!! manly warfare!!) in an actual debate in front of the young Ashbrook Scholars. "[S]uch a mind," indeed.

Craig, Paxton is better, but he ignores (and spends too much time complaining about) the history of the term liberal fascism while arguing in favor of irrelevant points like the good intentions of liberals (see, we're GOOD and he called us BAD!) He is right about how problematic it is to apply Goldberg's template to social liberalism but that means he has to virtually ignore Wilson, FDR, etc.

Griffin asserts rather than refutes Goldberg's basic point by writing "The illegitimate stretching of fascism and totalitarianism to embrace progressive liberalism is the hallmark of the illiberalism at the cold heart of Goldberg’s thesis" To argue that one's political opponents have elements in common with other more statist and politically romanticist ideologies is not illiberal - especially when it is in service to a more limited government ideology and not part of any program of political persecution, but instead an attempt to better understand political taxonomy.

Emotion makes all of these fellows unable to make the obvious point. That the currents of political romanticism, statism, and attempts to assert military-like control over civilian life were powerful in the first half of the 1900s and influenced many ideologies and persons all over the left/right political spectrum, but that differences are more important than similarities. Of course that makes those who claim to want a strict use of the term fascism while defending calling "teabaggers" brownshirts either foolish or despicable. Or both.

One way to tell the difference between the seriousness of scholarship and the motivations behind the authors (the critics I linked to, vs. Goldberg) is that the fascism books by the academics were not promoted by think tanks and websites with axes to grind (DU, DailyKos, etc.), whereas Goldberg's book was rather clearly promoted and marketed as something akin to a work of schoolyard revenge.

Sure, the scholars who have actually studied fascism and the pertinent phenomena that revolve around it reacted to Goldberg's book, but when they wrote their definitive accounts of fascism, earlier - and note that they weren't titled "Conservative Fascism" or "Fascism: Just Like Bush and Gingrich!" - they didn't seek to promote or market their (much more complicated, nuanced) works in such a way. They did not have a goal to write some provocative best-seller that appeases a certain audience and gets them on tv and makes them a bunch of money telling people what they want to hear (e.g. When was the last time you saw Griffin, Paxton, or Mann on MSNBC, or heard them even on NPR?) They just did their scholarship.

Craig, it would be impossible to discern an axe to grind from the organizing of the response to Goldberg by a guy who calls conservative activists "teabaggers" and defends comparing them to Timothy McVeigh. It also allows one not to think about the partisanship, special pleading, and strategic issue avoidance of the responses. All because they weren't done under the auspices of the American Enterprise Institute.

The thing is that there are reasonable responses to Goldberg that involve admitting that the ideological commonalities that he found were real, but that any definition of fascism that leaves out attitude to multiparty democracy, military force for the sake of domination, and abolition of basic political freedoms is incomplete. The problem with that kind of critique (that acknowledges the real similarities between fascism and other left and right ideologies of the first half of the 1900s) while maintaining a sense of proportion would condemn the charge of fascism against small-d democrats altogether.

Which is to say that David Neiwert would have written an article explaining that Goldberg had made a plausible, partly correct, but ultimately unconvincing argument and that Brian Baird is just a jerk.

There shouldn't really be a problem with use of the term "teabagger," since the concept of "teabagging" as part of this recent political protesting came from the protesters themselves. They gave themselves that name; if their opponents have enjoyed calling them by the name they gave themselves, well, I think that mostly just indicates that people should be careful when deciding on a general name for their faction(s). The response of feigned, prim-and-proper, pollyannish shock and outrage at being called teabaggers after they'd called themselves the same is just silly. Even before they used "teabag" as a verb (when the idea was to send teabags to congressmen), I thought it was a pretty wacky tactic, and not because of the name.

Baird may well be a jerk, but he was right to point out that the town hall protesters were way out of line, and they were attempting to physically intimidate. If Baird's descriptions of the people in the mobs (who had no interest whatsoever in civil debate and discourse, and apparently had forgotten of the old classic "elections have consequences" line, so beloved from 2001-2008) were a bit exaggerated, they weren't so bad as those of one of the protesters, David Hedrick, who was ever so serious when he claimed "National Socialism is very much what we see today in this administration. It's a policy on what's line for line -- it's the same economic policy, it's the same political policy. And so if they want to talk about Nazis, then they better be careful about that conversation, because they might find that the swastika is on their own arm." Problem with that of course, is that Hedrick and his crew would show up to town hall meetings to shout and "surround" (a la Beck) and intimidate and "shut down" the meetings, whereas Hedrick could, of course, go to any sort of tea party meeting he wanted, without fear of Baird or Pelosi sending anyone with any authority to act in a similarly coercive fashion at their meeting.

Sorry, but there is no "sense of proportion" or "plausible, partly correct argument" offered by Goldberg, whose thesis of the book is this:

"[F]ascism, properly understood, is not a phenomenon of the right at all. Instead, it is, and always has been, a phenomenon of the left. This fact -- an inconvenient truth if there ever was one..."

(Did you catch that - a little jab at Al Gore while he was at it! There's no mystery to why this guy and his book became such a media darling by all the conservative media blowhards, most especially Glenn Beck)

And that is why Glenn Beck (also an honored Ashbrook guest, who also received similar praise from Mr. Schramm) has been so happy to host Goldberg, and to promote his historical revisionism. It's not accurate (just like so much that Beck touts as simple "truth"), but that's not the point - it mobilizes people in the r/Right direction. Not surprising that this would be applauded by Straussians.

Craig, on " teabagger" if by "they" you mean an infinitesimal number of (fairly obscure) people out of a movement that seems to include tens of thousands or more than you really are applying a David Neiwert level of intellectual dishonesty to the discussion and you (and really the vast majority of respirating people) are better than that. It is of a piece with the habit on many liberals of finding anyone who attends a tea party and painting all conservative activists with that brush. It is what hyper-tribal partisan hacks do, but as analysis it does have problems. Imagine if we applied that analysis to all the people who have supported President Obama or with whom he had cordial or friendly relations. No doubt you could find people on the right to play that game with you but life is too short.

You are right that liberal activists would never resort to loud disruptive tactics. Oh wait,

Well at least liberal activists would not violently attack people who disagree with them Oh wait,

The reality of course is that the vast a majority of political activists (both liberal and conservative) are peaceful folks and attempts to stigmatize whole swaths of them (while pretending to just be referring to "some") as terrorists is deplorable.

I'm not sure what you mean when you wrote that Baird's comparison of conservative activists to McVeigh was "a bit exaggerated. Did you mean that they had only murdered half as many people as McVeigh? That kind of overheated rhetoric is probably (somewhat) inevitable, but one could expect better of members of Congress than from talk show hosts and such.

This whole discussion has not actually produced (or linked to) a single argument that addresses the actual arguments that Goldberg makes in the book in linking fascism to other ideologies of the first half of the 1900s. It has linked to a bunch of outrage, denial, self-praise, and partisan venom, but no analysis of whether the commonalities that Goldberg finds are true and if true, to what degree they are salient. This is primarily because any thoughtful (as in not "fascists are on the right and so therefore...) and consistent critique of Goldberg that disassociates statist and politically romanticist left-ideologies from fascism would also rule out charges (or implications) of fascism against classical liberal and natural rights-derived variants of American conservatism.

I think that wouldn't be a bad place for the conversation to end but up that seems like too much for some folks. In the meantime, I guess we will have the Beck's and the Bairds and the Neiwerts and such having an unedifying conversation. But let's not pretend we are addressing the actual arguments in Goldberg's book.

"Craig, on " teabagger" if by "they" you mean an infinitesimal number of (fairly obscure) people out of a movement that seems to include tens of thousands..."

Pete, I do not know what percentage of tea partiers ever sent tea-bags to Congress or applied the term teabagger to themselves, but some did. That's why the moniker seems fair. But if you prefer the term(s) "tea party protester" (which sounds ambiguous) or "tea partier" then I can use that term.

When it comes to the health care town hall disruptions it wasn't a matter of just an infinitesimally small number of obnoxious people trying to intimidate, it was whole groups and crowds. They even distributed a memo on how people should shout down the Congressmen:

Kenneth Gladney and the "SEIU thugs" case??? You're trotting that thing out, really? Nothing better to be found?

That's pretty weak. I would LOVE to know how it turns out though.

also, see these:

mediamatters dot org/blog/200908080004

wonkette dot com/410464/uninsured-conservative-mauled-by-seiu-thugs-actually-does-have-insurance-perhaps

I see you also offered a BigGovernment link. That's Andrew Breitbart's shop, which is the shop that gave us James O'Keefe (You HAVE read the latest about that troubled kid, have you not??) And they are not, I'm sorry, even remotely credible.

I didn't come here to MAKE the arguments (If I would, ArtDeco will start doing his word counts, and admittedly if something's longer than a John Lewis post in the NLT comments section, well, why bother - nobody's reading or caring about what I write here anyway) - but I did pass along the arguments made by serious scholars of history and fascism - Griffin, Paxton, and Feldman.

Neiwert lacks the credentials that they have, but seems to understand what they've written more than well enough to comment in an intelligent, if not always friendly, fashion. Goldberg's book, on the whole (aside from a few specific, largely tangential matters), is not a serious scholarly work, and the critiques by Griffin and Paxton, alone, should make that abundantly clear.

Goldberg wrote a book barely above Limbaugh grade, designed to provoke and incite and stir things up, but not designed to enlighten or edify, and his lies of omission and cherry-picking are beyond shameless.

(I'd also recommend you look into how well Goldberg's book has been received - i.e., not very - in countries that actually lived under fascism, or were overrun by fascist forces. Let's just say that Lucianne's Boy would be laughed out of Munich)

Craig, perhaps this would make it clearer. It seems that the recent vaguely pro-Democrat/pro-Left/pro-Obama (in the same sense that the Beck thing was the opposite of those) One Nation working together rally was cosponsored by the Communist Party USA.

So would it make sense to call Obama supporters and well-wishers Communists, Stalinists etc.? I wouldn't just because some very small fraction of the group who showed up did. You seem to be confused about why exactly you think it is okay to use a collective sexualized slur.

I'm not sure what you think you have proved by the links on the fellow who says he got involved with the SEIU. Even the Wonkette lady seems to think he really was assaulted. When I first heard the story I thought is as some tiny numbers of people getting overexcited. The worst that can be said about the behavior of the tea partiers is that they acted as badly as the Harry Reid supporters at the joint appearance with Sharron Angle. Now I wouldn't generalize from the behavior of the SEIU members, or Reid's supporters to argue that liberal activists in general (or even the very people misbehaving) were like fascists or like Tim McVeigh. I especially wouldn't do so in the course of chiding someone else for too loosely using fascism as a pejorative. It would look pretty stupid and partisan.

Neiwert's credentials are not of interest. He doesn't need any to have an informed and cogent opinion. And a dozen doctorates would not salvage the arguments he actually made.

As for the rest, I've talked about what I found problematic about their assessments and we haven't had any engagement on those points.

There isn't much to comment about on your last two paragraphs. The second-to-last is just a repetition of your starting position plus a gratuitous reference to Limbaugh. The last paragraph has no bearing on Goldberg's actual arguments.

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