January 17th, 2008


We have correspondence

Jonah Goldberg has published his book, "Liberal Fascism" in which he tries to convince people that FDR was equivalent to Mussolini, and the Democratic Party to Nazis. I wish I were being hyperbolic, but he's made those comparisons. I've looked at it, in the store, and not been impressed enough to check it out of the library.

There are lots of detailed critiques of Golberg's thesis. Orcinus gets into the weeds. But he's been looking into fascism for a long time. There's also a great discussion going on at John Scalzi's Whatever (nb: Scalzi isn't dissecting the book, he's not read it. He was making observations about how Goldberg is defending himself against his critics. The conversation in comments is where the various arguments about the book take place; some of which is people who seem to refuse to accept that what is being discussed isn't the book, per se). There is some follow up, because Goldberg linked to it here.

My favorite quotation from the Scalzi's follow up is here, he admits that he hasn’t read what I’ve written but nevertheless opines that I clearly haven’t read a great deal about fascism, which is a neat trick, I have to say.

Ok... I have a point here (other than just disagreeing with the idea that because Mussolini was once some sort of Socialist, and Hitler's party called itself National Socialists, and Communists were on the left, and all of them were totalitarians, therefore "liberals" are really fascists because fascism is, QED Socialist; which seems to be the sumation of Goldberg's argument).

In the course of reading various bits of this sorry story, I saw people who said they'd sent e-mails to Goldberg, and gotten responses. In, and of itself, this isn't shocking. What was shocking was the nature of the alleged responses. They were petty; almost to the point of being caricatures of junior high school notes.

So, in part because I wanted to see what would happen, and in part because it seemed possible that all the people who read his book, and critiqued it, were engaging in gross misrepresentations of his actual arguments, I sent him a piece of e-mail.

The response was amazing.

Most of the missive from George Orwell's "The Lion and the Unicorn"; where he discussed the differences between Socialism and Fascism, in 1941.

I confess, I was confrontational (I've read a lot of Goldberg, it's not endeared him to me), the header and footer to that quotation weren't as polite as I might have liked to get.

Mr. Goldberg,

I've looked into your book. It's nonsense, from the premise, to
the "supporting evidence."

More to the point, the premise has been previously investigated, and
the answers are; as so many are saying, in direct contravention of
your position.

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Not that, based on watching your schtick, I expect you to actually
pay attention to the people pointing out the flaws in your arguments,
but it seemed the least I could do (which is to say that one should
not mock the foolish, one should educate them, that they cease to be

The response I got wasn't as offensive as my note might be seen (and while confrontational I am sure that Goldberg gets letters which are far more unpleasant than being called something of a fool, and accusing him of having a schtick. I know that this blog gets me some which are more offensive than that, and I'm not as notable as he is). It was, however, enlightening.

The bulk of the academic literature leans against this these days. Moreover, this reasoning would render casto, stalin, pol pot and mao fascists, which pretty much proves my point.

Wha? This is right up there with his saying, "I've not read Scalzi, but he's obviously not read up on fascism." Orwell is refuted by the bulk of academic literature, and therefore you shouldn't pay attention to it."

Ok. It would be nice if he pointed to some of that literature, but if he wants to make that assertion, fine.

It's the next bit which is precious. Despite the passage being obsolete, it's also proof that Golberg is right, Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin, and Castro are all Fascists, just like Hitler, and the modern members of the Democratic Party in America (because Fascism is a Liberal Idea).

That's a neat trick.

So I sent some follow up (because a decent argument is almost a good as a debate, and I really wanted to see some real defense of this position. It's possible he's got people who can support such an assertion).

If, "the bulk of academic" literature is against it, why was your
book needful? If the academics are against it, how is it the, "trade
guild" of history professors is unaware of it?

Because the number, and detail, of those who are pointing out your
errors are citing from the academic literature you are claiming to be
showing the errors of, so where are the historians (not economists or
novelists) who are making up the "bulk" of the literature?

The response....

nice try, but the critics are cherry picking. Maybe if they didn't devote 90% of their time to personal attacks and 10% to ideas they'd make a better case.

Ok, if he's trying to snipe at me, it's not completely out of line. I was presumtive when I said he was acting the fool. But I've read the critiques, and some (Sadly No) are mocking him. Scalzi could be seen as mocking him (though what, it seems to me, he was doing was looking at what Goldberg's flub said about his scholarship, then making fun of Golberg, per se [though some of it was a case of petard, own; hoist]). But the one's I'm paying attention to (and the comment thread at Whatever) are looking at the arguments. Goldberg is ignoring them, and saying the attacks are personal.

It's a convenient trope; he gets to argue his book is true, and he's being victimised for telling the truth.

But I don't buy it. I sent him one more e-mail.

But you are doing worse than cherry picking, you are saying that
things don't mean what they say. Look at your first reply to me. You
say 1: The bulk of the literature (which literature you haven't cited,
merely asserted) is against the defintion Orwell presented. Then you
say 2: that Orwell's argument supports you.

So, which is it? Is Orwell wrong, discredited by the recent
understandings, or is he supporting you? If he's wrong, tell me who
says it. If his argument supports your saying that Stalin and Hitler
and Pol Pot and liberals are all of the same stripe (and it's not that
Stalin, Pol Pot, et al. aren't evil, but that why, they did what they
did, and how they came to power; and the aims they were after were
different. Soldiers have been known to kill more than any serial
murderer, but we don't condemn them for it; why because the intent was
different. So to the difference between Pol Pot and Hitler, Clinton
and Stalin).

Again, you say the "bulk" of the literature supports you; so who are
the historians supporting your version of what fascism is. Where are
the people who disagree with Payne, Eco, Paxton (whom you cherry
picked). Where is the explantion of how Hitler hating communists,
socialists and progressives is, "liberal". How do you account for
Mussolini taking money to beat up farmers and leftists and
progressives in Italy's Po Valley?

I really want to see your arguments, not just assertions that you
are right, and accusations of dishonesty against your critics.
Because so far, reading your book, and looking at your defenses of it,
you aren't convincing me.

To that, he has sent no reply.

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