Goldberg’s Response Fits His History of Evasion


David Neiwert is a freelance journalist based in Seattle. He is the author of The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right (PoliPoint Press, 2009).

When we first published that series of historians' critiques of Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism at HNN last week, we awaited Goldberg's response. Well, now we have it.

Goldberg really only deigns to respond in any depth to one of his critics -- Robert Paxton, whose essay on Goldberg's scholarly flaws is damning indeed.  I'll mostly let Dr. Paxton speak for himself in his own response, except that, as I'll explain, Goldberg's evasive reply is largely in line with the kind of exchange I've previously had with Goldberg.

The rest of us he airily dismisses.  Indeed, according to Goldberg, the entire enterprise was tainted by the fact of my participation:

Let me say up front that selecting David Neiwert to “introduce” the discussion – without telling me in advance – is pretty strong evidence that this symposium was intended a priori to discredit the book rather than honestly discuss it (usually, introducers at least pretend to be evenhanded).  The slanderous and absurd bile in some of these initial responses – comparing my book to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and me to a Nazi propagandist – runs completely counter to the spirit of open debate.  I would like to think that HNN didn’t know what it was getting into when it started this project.

So forgive me if I take all of this gnashing of teeth and rending of cloth over the polemical – as opposed to scholarly – nature of Liberal Fascism with a grain of salt.  Neiwert and Bertlet are deeply invested in their cottage industry of spotting fascism and Nazism in the Republican Party, talk radio and elsewhere.  In nearly every respect they are both caricature and embodiment of precisely the mindset I attack in my book (a mindset Professor Paxton claims doesn’t exist).  Heaven forbid I adopt a Marxist mode of analysis, but it’s fair to say that for them to treat Liberal Fascism respectfully would be like a Luddite welcoming the cotton mill.

I’ve dealt with Neiwert’s arguments before, so I won’t waste more time on him here.

Well, it's true that I previously had a brief running exchange with Goldberg, largely in response to my review for The American Prospect.  What you might miss from Jonah's link, though, is the the way Goldberg abruptly ended the discussion by dismissing me as no longer worth his time:

Here's my grand theory about this guy.  He's made his career hyping the terrible threat from the Posse Comitatus, Aryan Nations and American Nazi Party and so like the bureaucrats in Office Space who think TPS reports are the most important thing in the world, he can’t seem to grasp that they’re pretty trivial.

In other words, he came to his understanding of fascism by following bands of racist white losers in the Idaho woods while using some Marxist tract or other as a field guide to identify the various species he encountered.  In other words, he's internalized every cliché and propagandandistic talking point I set out to demolish in my book.  Moreover, his career depends on maintaining his version of the fascist peril.  So, he's banging his spoon on his highchair a lot because my book undercuts his whole reason for being.

... So, you want my short answer to why I don’t discuss, say, the Posse Comitatus?  Okay here it is:  Who gives a rat’s ass about the Posse Comitatus?

I’m sure Neirwert’s gorillas-in-the-mist reportage on these guys is top notch, and I’ll take his word for it their bad guys.  But being bad guys alone doesn’t in and of itself make them fascists.  Indeed, from my limited understanding of what these guys believe, they are radical localists, who don’t believe any government above the county level is legitimate.  Do I really have to spell out why that’s not exactly in keeping with hyper-statist ideology of Nazis and Italian Fascists? “Everything in Hazard County, nothing outside Hazard County,” has a nice ring to it, but the Hegelian God-State it is not.

Ah, yes.  The My Superior Mind Is Grappling With Great Metaphysical Questions While You Are Merely Wallowing In Insignificant Details dismissal.

Of course, I shortly responded in some detail.  Judge for yourselves, but I believe I pretty thoroughly demolished Goldberg's"Grand Theory" about me (he had nearly every detail wrong).

All for naught, of course; I had already been summarily dismissed by his Superior Mind:

After today, I doubt I will deal with Neiwert again — at least not at any length — for one simple reason.  Virtually every rebuttal to what he's said about my book can be found in my book.  He simply doesn't care what I say, he only cares about discrediting me at all costs.  There's no percentage in debating such people.

Besides leaving unanswered the specific responses to his counterclaims, Goldberg most of all refused to confront one of my ongoing and major points:

[L]et me first point out the fundamental dishonesty of this kind of argumentation:  I in fact provided a long list of clearly fascist American organizations -- only one of which was the Posse Comitatus -- who represent a very real manifestation of actual fascism, not simply because they're racist (as I said, that's not necessarily any kind of definitive trait of fascism anyway), but because they fully fit the description, both academic and real-life.

So yes, one might easily dismiss the Posse Comitatus, by any accounts a relatively small organization with a relatively limited immediate reach.  But one cannot so easily dispense with the entire American far right -- the bulk of which in fact is identifiably fascist or proto-fascist -- quite so readily.  The Posse Comitatus is just a small, though important, part of this continuum -- it was founded by one of Gerald L.K. Smith's disciples, William Potter Gale; and it in turn became a significant cornerstone of the Patriot/militia movement of the 1990s, perpetrators of the Oklahoma City bombing; who in turn gave birth to the Minutemen so fondly back-slapped by right-wing pundits like Jonah Goldberg.

I'm not complaining that Jonah missed discussing the Posse Comitatus per se; I'm complaining that he completely elides any kind of serious or thoughtful discussion of American fascists as we've known them historically.  Of course, any such discussion would probably have to include the Posse, but that's beside the point.

Tracking the activities of these groups has consumed a sizable chunk of my journalistic career, but Goldberg, rather than respecting that on-the-ground experience, dismisses it in a cloud of amusing innuendo ...

No, Jonah, being bad guys alone doesn't make them fascists.  But holding swastika and Dixie banners aloft, shouting"Sieg Heil," and ranting ad nauseam about how bestial colored people and queers and the Jewish media are destroying the country, and demanding that we start shooting Mexican border crossers -- well, that pretty clearly marks them as fascist, dontcha think?

Of course, all this was before two Posse-style"sovereign citizens" -- Scott Roeder of Kansas and James Von Brunn of Washington, D.C. -- made national headlines by committing violent acts of domestic terrorism: walking into a church and shooting a prominent abortion provider in the head, and walking into the Holocaust Museum and gunning down a security guard, respectively.

Of course, when that happened, Goldberg not only declined to discuss the Posse connection, but actually argued, alongside Glenn Beck, that these men were not right-wing extremists at all, but merely lone nutcases.

All this inspired Charles Pierce to observe at Altercation:

Pretty trivial, indeed.

I swear, if he were more of a tool, you could use him to spread mulch.

Since then, Goldberg has continued to pretend that he fully responded to my arguments, when in fact he only indulged in selective attacks on a handful of dubious points (note especially his continuing insistence that the Klan was nothing more than out-of-hand film cult) and completely ignored the central arguments, particularly the overwhelming historical evidence that contradicts his central thesis, to wit, that"properly understood," fascism is"a phenomenon of the left" and not the right.

Indeed, he continues to do the same in his response to Paxton.  Note especially that among all the words Goldberg expends on minor details (without a hint of irony, I might add) he utterly fails to properly confront this this passage from Paxton:

Goldberg simply omits those parts of fascist history that fit badly with his demonstration.  His method is to examine fascist rhetoric, but to ignore how fascist movements functioned in practice.  Since the Nazis recruited their first mass following among the economic and social losers of Weimar Germany, they could sound anti-capitalist at the beginning.  Goldberg makes a big thing of the early programs of the Nazi and Italian Fascist Parties, and publishes the Nazi Twenty-five Points as an appendix.  A closer look would show that the Nazis’ anti-capitalism was a selective affair, opposed to international capital and finance capital, department stores and Jewish businesses, but nowhere opposed to private property per se or favorable to a transfer of all the means of production to public ownership.

A still closer look at how the fascist parties obtained power and then exercised power would show how little these early programs corresponded to fascist practice.  Mussolini acquired powerful backing by hiring his black-shirted squadristi out to property owners for the destruction of socialist and Communist unions and parties.  They destroyed the farm workers’ organizations in the Po Valley in 1921-1922 by violent nightly raids that made them the de facto government of northeastern Italy.  Hitler’s brownshirts fought Communists for control of the streets of Berlin, and claimed to be Germany’s best bulwark against the revolutionary threat that still appeared to be growing in 1932.  Goldberg prefers the abstractions of rhetoric to all this history, noting only that fascism and Communism were “rivals.”  So his readers will not learn anything about how the Nazis and Italian Fascists got into power or exercised it.

The two fascist chiefs obtained power not by election nor by coup but by invitation from German President Hindenberg and his advisors, and Italian King Victor Emanuel III and his advisors (not a leftist among them).  The two heads of state wanted to harness the fascists’ numbers and energy to their own project of blocking the Marxists, if possible with broad popular support.  This does not mean that fascism and conservatism are identical (they are not), but they have historically found essential interests in common.

Once in power, the two fascist chieftains worked out a fruitful if sometimes contentious relationship with business.  German business had been, as Goldberg correctly notes, distrustful of the early Hitler’s populist rhetoric.  Hitler was certainly not their first choice as head of state, and many of them preferred a trading economy to an autarkic one.  Given their real-life options in 1933, however, the Nazi regulated economy seemed a lesser evil than the economic depression and worker intransigence they had known under Weimar.  They were delighted with Hitler’s abolition of independent labor unions and the right to strike (unmentioned by Goldberg), and profited greatly from his rearmament drive.  All of them would have found ludicrous the notion that the Nazis, once in power, were on the left.  So would the socialist and communist leaders who were the first inhabitants of the Nazi concentration camps (unmentioned by Goldberg).

Paxton has in these brief paragraphs utterly demolished Goldberg's thesis (and believe me, he is only briefly summarizing the mountain of concurring evidence in this matter).

What does Goldberg have to say?  Very little:  He excerpts only the portion pertaining to labor unions, and then claims that he's already rebutted this:

I find this argument bizarre.  First of all, how did independent labor unions do under Stalin?  Under Castro?  Under Mao?  Are those regimes not left-wing?  Hitler sent Communists and rival socialists to concentration camps.  This was evil, to be sure, but how was it right-wing?  Stalin liquidated the Trotskyites (and 31 other flavors of socialists) too.  Why is killing rival Communists and socialists right-wing when Hitler does it and not when Stalin does it?  If your answer is that Stalin was somehow “right-wing” when he did these things, then your definition of right-wing is simply “evil”—and that validates a big chunk of my book.

But in fact the matter of fascist attacks on unions extends well beyond the actions took after fascists obtained power:  These attacks were a fundamental aspect of the early rise of fascism as a movement, and clearly delineated that fascism was occupying political space on the right.  When someone engages in anti-leftist violence on behalf of established economic interests, that’s unmistakably right-wing activity.

Indeed, Goldberg has continued to claim that his thesis remains intact:

By any remotely similar definition, fascism belongs on the left – and to date, not a single critic of the book has even come close to rebutting this basic point.

Translation:"Lalalalalalala I can't hear you!"

I think it's safe to predict that eventually, Goldberg will haughtily dismiss even Dr. Paxton as somehow not worthy of the expenditure of effort from his Superior Mind.  Already, he's dismissed not just myself, but Roger Griffin, Matthew Feldman and Chip Berlet.  (Feldman has responded here.) On what basis?  Apparently, we're just too nasty.  Gearing up for the predictable kissoff, he says he was disappointed in Paxton's response, but adds:

Still he stands head-and-shoulders above some of the spittle-flecked ranters.

Indeed, his cohort Michael Ledeen -- who penned his own semi-admiring contribution for HNN, largely in tune with the admiring blurb he wrote for the book's cover -- similarly complained that we were nothing more than a partisan"mob" intent on destroying Goldberg:

When asked to participate, I hoped that maybe finally it was time for a serious debate on the nature of fascism, which has been impossible for more than half a century, mostly because of the Left’s refusal to look reality in the face.  Jonah’s crime was to look at it and say, as others (myself included) had said before him, that fascism came at least in part from a leftist revolutionary tradition.

Now, there are several deep ironies in this: First, all four of the essays in fact discussed the fact that fascism came at least in part from a leftist revolutionary tradition. And all four of them explained from various perspectives why this ultimately was a nonsequitur.

The second big irony is this:  In 1972, Michael Ledeen published a book titled Universal Fascism: The Theory and Practice of the Fascist International, a book built around interviews with Italian historian Renzo de Felice, whose thesis, as American Conservative magazine detailed a few years back, was that "Italian fascism was both right-wing and revolutionary".

Indeed, as the AC piece explores in some detail, the idea of a revolutionary right embodied in a"universal fascism" was a fetish of Ledeen's for some years.  And as far as I can determine, Ledeen has never disclaimed or explained this work in light of his more recent preoccupation with"Islamofascism" -- not to mention his current endorsement of Goldberg's thesis.

Goldberg and Ledeen are rather transparently hiding behind the claim that somehow his critics are a spittle-flecked mob that unfairly misunderstands his Superior Mind and Great Metapolitical Thesis, and instead is merely intent on burning him at the stake.

Nevermind that, when it comes to flecks of spittle, Goldberg was entirely unconcerned about Glenn Beck's frothing"documentary" calling the progressive movement a" cancer" and a"virus" responsible for most of the past century's great genocides.  Indeed, not only was Beck's entire thesis derived from Liberal Fascism, Goldberg played a prominent role as an interview subject for the"documentary," and actively promoted it beforehand.

In contrast, Goldberg spends much of his time in his response whining that the mean historians misconstrue his intent -- really, he's not trying to argue that liberals are taking us down the road to genocide.  He cites the text of the book itself:

Now, I am not saying that all liberals are fascists.  Nor am I saying that to believe in socialized medicine or smoking bans is evidence that you are a crypto-Nazi.  What I am mainly trying to do is to dismantle the granitelike assumption in our political culture that American conservatism is an offshoot or cousin of fascism.  Rather, as I will try to show, many of the ideas and impulses that inform what we call liberalism come to us through an intellectual tradition that led directly to fascism.  These ideas were embraced by fascism, and remain in important respects fascistic.

Well, if this is so, why does Goldberg participate in, and avidly promote, a fake"documentary" by Glenn Beck claiming that indeed liberals -- or more properly, progressives -- are the same thing as fascists; and that believing in socialized medicine is part of path toward genocide, as he did just last week? (See the video above.)

Terry Welch raised this issue in the comments to Goldberg's reply:

Goldberg seems to be saying that all those darn liberals are simply getting him wrong:  He never intended to suggest that American liberals are the equivalent of Nazis and to say he did is just being stupid.

So why is it that he ONLY argues this when liberals read his argument this way?  Many right wing nutjobs believe that his books thesis is"liberals=Nazis" (just look at the many, many signs to that effect at the tea parties or the Glenn Beck"documentary" in which Goldberg himself took part) and yet Goldberg seems content with their use of his oh-so-scholarly work.

If Goldberg only answers one more question -- and that's doubtful, considering that we have already cost him more effort from his Superior Mind than he would like -- I would like to see him answer that one.

HNN Special: A Symposium on Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism

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More Comments:

Anthony Zapata - 1/10/2011

Call me nuts but I find accurate history pretty important to a book that's in part titled "The The Secret HISTORY of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning."

Mark L Liveringhouse - 2/11/2010

Wow....these people can see racism in anything. Do you realize that the Civil War was fought 150 years ago, and from that was several amendments were made to the US Constitution? Not sure if you realize this fact, just would like you to know.

Maarja Krusten - 2/5/2010

Hi, N., I posted some observations on the other thread where you commented recently. See

Take care,


N. Friedman - 2/4/2010

Dr. Bob Dobbs,

I do not believe that I called the work "scholarly." The closest I came to that was to suggest that the book, in a way, reminded me of Terror and Liberalism, by Paul Berman. Berman's book, you will recall, is an interesting book about the impact of Islamism on the West. He made historical errors, in my view, but the book was still interesting, as political science but not as history. I would not call it scholarly because Islam and Islamism are out of his area of expertise. Like Berman's book, Goldberg's book is worth reading.

N. Friedman - 2/4/2010

Dr. Bob Dobbs,

Why your vehement opposition to Mr. Goldberg who has a thesis not much different from yours? On your thesis, there is no real distinction between left or right because the forces of evil have taken over.

Goldberg's is that progressives employ political themes that are not always very distinguishable from those asserted by fascists. That goes to the same place as you are in, yet you find his thesis troublesome. That, to me, is not very clearheaded of you.

Dr. Bob Dobbs - 2/4/2010

You've drunk the Flavor-Aid. By imagining that our government is composed of Left Democrats and Right Republicans is to accept a false precept. The government is occupied of corporatists who have abandoned the Constitutional form of government and replaced it with a fascist government. With very few exceptions, the Representatives and Senators represent corporations, not people. In essence they are all "right wing," and then only in shades of "right wing". To talk about "right" and "left" is to engage in a meaningless debate about two supposed "parties" who in actuality work for the same corporate and elite masters. Once you understand that electronic voting machines have allowed the multinational corporations to turn the act of voting into a complete farce, you will understand why the legislative branch is fearless and repeatedly puts on a big kabuki show about "the people", but when every bill is passed, it somehow only benefits the corporations, always to the utter detriment of the serfs. If there is a man or woman in the Legislature today who feared his reelection by the people, this could never happen. The corporations have bought and paid for the government. They've captured it. Coup-de-etat. Game over. Right vs left? Don't make me laugh. That's just pablum for the masses, the big propaganda deception, bubble gum for the ignorant sheeple to chew while the corporate think tanks and right wing elites rewrite the playbooks, guaranteeing that every penny earned by the masses will inure to their benefit.

Dr. Bob Dobbs - 2/4/2010

Well Friedman... At the time Mr. Mussilini died, he was being strung up by Anti-fascists. Of course he suddenly proclaimed he was a communist. He just didn't proclaim it in time to save his neck, though. Up until the day he realized his cause was lost, Mussolini was a dedicated fascist. By like most fascists (just like our banks) they love being fascists when the money is rolling in, but suddenly become liberals when their whole elitist scam falls apart.

And Mr. Goldberg's book is not a scholarly book on political science, nor is it a "Stupid book", in fact it is a dangerous book, since it is merely a propaganda hit piece based on false analogies and historical lies. You are being intellectually dishonest to dare to discuss it as being a valid scholarly work. It doesn't "see affinities," it uses false definitions and and ever-shifting set of precepts to evade truth, to hide truth and to re-write history. Mr. Goldberg is nothing but a right-wing propagandist, an apologist, trying to use newspeak to reverse the truths about his own right wing predilections, and to inflame the populist right wing base with false notions of what Liberals Ideals are, in order to attack the left, and make it easier for those on the right to feel cleansed of their inherent fascist ideology.

The notion that the left is substantially influenced by right wing ideas is just silly, unless you mean to say that those who are called democrats are really wolves in sheep's clothing - corporatists who pretend to be liberals but who actually are just fascist lite, pretend liberals as they bow to their corporate masters... as opposed to the neocon right, who are strict and proud fascists...

Dr. Bob Dobbs - 2/4/2010

Oh, my dear Mr. Liverhouse, you are so full of righteous, rightist nonsense. You say: "Yeah, the traditions that the "right" defer to are the traditions of the founders: individual liberty, respect for property, limited government, and a republican form of government.

That is Ronald Reagan conservatism. From the individual will come the actions that will make the country great. And, government policy should be that which minimizes its impact on individuals.”

Let's look closely at these "right wing values" shall we?

"individual liberty": This meant, at the time of writing constitution, exclusive liberty for land-owning white males."

"respect for property" - yes, which especially meant “property” defined as that owned by land-owning white males, including but not limited to the “property” of black skinned humans, aka slaves, aka “Niggers”.

"Limited government" which meant, at the time, the belief in the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the constitution which limited the right of the state to make any law in contravention of those innate, natural rights of the citizens, who were considered the sovereigns of the government, who were to hold the power over a government not of Kings, but of laws. The Bill of Rights was authored and tacked on to the Constitution not by "right wing property owners", but as a "left wing" or liberal response to British Empire's notion of “the people” being not men of liberty, but rather, "subjects of royalist rule". I’m sure Mr. Liverhouse and Mr. Goldberg could make the white-is-black double-speak argument that King George was a leftist and the Church of England was a leftist organization which represented the common man, and thus, the American revolution a right wing battle against the left... But that too would be complete and utter nonsensical BS. The revolution and drafting of the constitution was a left-wing conspiracy against the crown, a revolt against the monied royal families and corporate elites who used the East India Bay Company as a monopolistic, multinational corporatist weapon against small non-corporate enterprises in the American colonies. The "Boston tea party" was, if anything, a terrorist attack against a corporation. Lastly, ask yourself from where did this century’s full scale attack on the Bill of Rights come from? It arrived during the Coup of 2001, revealed in a document called the “Patriot Act” drafted by the Neocons and forced through congress by right-wing republicans. That document is an assault on and signifies the end of the Bill of Rights, an anti-liberal, anti-liberty tome against human rights and in favor of elitist, multinational corporations who, under the entirely false banner of “Free Trade,” engage in monopolistic state-protected enterprise.

“republican form of government” – here, we can see the seeds for the notion that the power to govern must come from the citizens, and not from the elite. Yet representative democracy, as drafted in the constitution, with the house elected by the people and the Senate elected by each state's legislature, favored the wealthy and feared the masses, and However, that notion, with black box voting, has been turned on its head. The public election process has been co-opted by corporate control and election rigging. There is no longer any such thing as “representative democracy” unless you think of it as “representative corporate democracy.” Today’s United States government no longer represents the people. Today, the US government is “of, by and for the corporations”. This representation of corporations, not humans, is also known as corporatism, or more fully fascism. And I, for one, have never believed that large, multinational corporations are “leftists” or “liberal” entities. They are, and have always been, for the most part, tools of the elites to amass economic power, engines of the right’s control over labor’s capital. Existing solely to make a profit, they exist to be masters of mankind, not servants of mankind.

Scott Yeager seemingly implies that regulation and control of the inhuman corporate entities, in favor of human rights is “coercion”. Business owners should, by his reasoning, be “free from coercion” to hire child labor in mills, “free from coercion” in the 8 hour wage law, “free from coercion” in paying overtime; “free from coercion” in requiring national banks to charge non-usurious rates of interest (pay day loans today charge 50 to 500% interest!)… All this assumes some make-believe notion that when a person bargains with a monolithic, vastly superior profit-driven entity whose economic power dwarfs that of the “common man” that they are equals in bargaining power, both free to enter into agreements free of any coercion. Tell that to the 65 year old retiree offered a job at McDonalds. He is, of course, free to not take the crappy, minimum wage non-union job and starve to death. And if there were no government providing even minimum wage, he would get paid whatever that monolith McDonalds could get away with, which, in a “free market” would probably be no cash and only two hamburgers a day. Yes, government can do good and should do good, and should protect us from the evil of private capital and a slave-owner mentality. I’m sorry, but just as days of yore, today’s slave-owners, sweat shop “entrepreneurs” and pimps are not “left wing” liberals. They are the exclusive creatures of right-wing mentality, elites and petty royalists who believe in the divine right of the wealthy and distain the rights of mankind.

It is in the best interests of the right to try and confuse fascism with liberalism, as does Mr. Liverhouse, when he makes the nonsense assertion that his “traditions of the founders” are somehow ennobled as being “traditions of the right,” and that “From the individual will come the actions that will make the country great. And, government policy should be that which minimizes its impact on individuals.”

Uh… you gotta ask, “Which minimizes the impact for which individuals?” Those that enslave the weak? Those that hire children to work in their sweatshops, or even worse, their houses of prostitution? Is that the “minimized impact” the freedom loving Mr. Liverhouse wants, is he truly opposed to a governmental policy that would maximize its impact on such individuals, who should be considered criminals in any civilized society? Of course not, so he must have some sort of sliding scale, which supports some laws, some role for government, but perhaps what he really means is he wants to suck up to power, to reward unquestioningly the only truly free citizens in America today: The top five percent, the elites who own 95% of our nation’s property, who hold 95% of its wealth, who have unlimited economic resources. For those “free citizens” who already have “economic liberty”, yes, says Mr. Liverhouse, get the government out of the way. Don’t tax them. Don’t require them to live by any rules. Taxes, laws, rules, government, that only exists for the economically disenfranchised. For them, the 95% of the disenfranchised lower castes, Mr. Liverhouse reserves the “coercion of the state.” And that is why, in America today, the land of the free, we have the largest per-capita prison population on earth. In prisons run by private corporations, I might add. All because of the phony “War on Drugs” which enriches, by $500 billion a year, an underground criminal elitist class. All because of the phony “War on Terror” which enriches, by $1 Trillion a year, the military industrial complex and is busy building the largest Security State ever seen. But the prisons are not filled with those who made over $500 billion in the drug trade, no sir, although it does catch the poor street sellers. The prisons are not for the cops, who use the drug laws to make sure the people in the ghettos are kept in factitious gang fights and can’t escape their poverty. The prisons are not for the Ollie Norths, the Eric Princes, the Lockheed Martins, the Dyncorps of the world, those who deal in drugs and gun running and murder and evade taxes all around the world. Nor are the prisons for those Banksters and bandits from Goldman Sacks in the Fed. No, the military cats just get those “Minimized governmental impact” illegal “no-bid contracts,” the police and Homeland Security get to violate daily the protections in the bill of rights, the Banksters get handed free money from the treasury which funds their “rights” to ignore fraud laws in ever state and foreclose on homes on millions of defrauded Americans. Yeah, the real “freedom” to clean out the treasury and expand the new American Empire, doesn’t belong to us, not to “we the people” the serfs, whose only purpose is to foot the bill for our corporate masters.

Ronald Reagan conservatism. You gotta love it.

Bob Harper - 2/4/2010

Brilliantly said, Mr. Liveringhouse! It's about coercion. The Left thinks it's necessary 'for our own good' that we should be FORCED to do A,
B, or C. You see, they know better than we do.

Well, no, they don't. And when someone points that out, they get quite huffy, as we have seen here.

N. Friedman - 2/3/2010


Delete this paragraph: It seems to me that this entire matter is not as simple as the analysis here have it. The Left and Right are not wholly distinct, easily distinguishable things.


It seems to me that this entire matter is not as simple as the analyzes on this website have it. The Left and Right are not wholly distinct, easily distinguishable things. Which is to say, there is more than an historical issue. There is, as Goldberg noted, a definitional issue as well. And, on top of that, there is an arbitrariness in the definitions but, on top of that, there is leakage between Left and Right. That it has become more obvious as of late does not mean it was not always there.

N. Friedman - 2/3/2010

Bernard-Henri Lévy notes an affinity, most especially at present, between portions of the Left and rightist thought. He cites evidence of leftists using rightist ideas. If, as your notion seems to have it, right and left are very different things that are responses to different historical events, what is the attraction to today's leftists in the ideas postulated by the extreme right?

I quote Lévy (Left in Dark Times, at page 97-98 of my copy):

In other words, a whole part of the Left, deprived of Marx, is now embracing Schmitt—seeking in the latter the reasons for thinking and acting that they can no longer find in the former.

A whole segment of the European—and notably French—intelligentsia is marching as a single man behind the strange and, the more one thinks about it, hallucinatory idea that we need a Nazi thinker to help the Left out of its gridlock.

And in the United States a whole swath of enlightened opinion feels the same way. Schmitt's influence on neoconservatives like Wolfowitz is well known. We know how well Schmitt's thought rhymes with the writings of Leo Strauss, just as it does with those of Alexandre Kojève—who claimed, at the beginning of the fifties, that Schmitt was "the only person worth seeing" in Germany. We know how, more recently, when he was cooking up his bad concept of "civilization," Samuel Huntington could not have not been thinking—just as he was of certain ideas derived from Spengler—of the notion of "Greater Space" (Grossräum) as it appears, among others, in Land and Sea. We are less aware of the deaf influence Schmitt's thought exercises on the other end of the political spectrum, on those known in the United States as "liberals"—or even, in certain cases, of the veritable war of appropriation raging between the two sides over the concept of decisionism. This is what Judith Butler is doing in her text about Guantánamo as a place of tension—very "Schmittian"—between the concepts of "naked life" and "sovereign power." Or Gopal Balakrishnan, member of the editorial committee of the New Left Review, penning a quite self-indulgent work called The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt in which he discusses precisely Leo Strauss's interpretation of Schmitt. Or Chantal Mouffe, inviting her readers, at the opening of The Challenge of Carl Schmitt, to "think both with and against Schmitt." Or William E. Scheuerman's insistence on the "disturbingly relevant" character, in post-9/11 America, of a Theory of the Partisan which has just been translated for the first time into English. Or of course Ellen Kennedy, the first to promote the idea of Schmitt's influence on the theoreticians of the Frankfurt School and then on the liberalism of the American Left, inviting her readers to find in the writings of the author of The Nomos of the Earth the theoretic tools required for a world that is no longer intelligible in the terms and concepts of traditional liberalism.
[Notes: footnotes omitted. Schmitt is the Nazi theorist Carl Schmitt.]

It seems to me that this entire matter is not as simple as the analysis here have it. The Left and Right are not wholly distinct, easily distinguishable things.

I might add that the rise of the right-wing left, to use Lévy's notion, has brought to the left some rather ugly ideas.

Mark L Liveringhouse - 2/3/2010

Yeah, the traditions that the "right" defer to are the traditions of the founders: individual liberty, respect for property, limited government, and a republican form of government.

That is Ronald Reagan conservatism. From the individual will come the actions that will make the country great. And, government policy should be that which minimizes its impact on individuals.

Liberals or progressives, whichever word they wish to use, counter this position with values that require a more coercive action from the state.

Surely, any fool can see that the latter is more associated with the statist views of the facsists than the former. This does not make them so, but on the political spectrum they certainly are cousins.

BUt, the rapid, left wing views of these HNN panelist simply let their own bias show in "discussing" Goldberg.

N. Friedman - 2/3/2010

No Jonathan, that is not what I did.

I reiterate what I have said elsewhere. Goldberg did not write (and, more than that, did not even try to write) a book of history. His book is about overlaps in thought and about one area of thought influencing another. By that form of argument, he finds, among other things, that fascism was influenced by the Left.

His book is political science, not history. His view may be wrong but to argue, as most of the writers here have, that his history is bad is to say essentially nothing of any consequence. It is no better than challenging a philosophy book (e.g. Hegel's Phenomenology - no comparison of quality intended -, which discusses history) as unhistorical. Well, Duh!!!

Goldberg notes - which is, of course, an historical matter (which most of his book, notwithstanding how you chose to read it, makes no claim to be) - that Mussolini was a member of the communist party and, as late as the time he died, said he was a communist.

If true - and not only that he said it but more importantly if he believed it (something I do not know) -, it is a rather interesting fact, one consistent with what many other writers have noted (e.g. the excellent socialist writer Bernard-Henri Lévy) that there can be a confluence of ideas shared by both the far left and far right. Think, in this regard, about the influence of Nazi political theoretician Carl Schmitt on contemporary left wing thought, which Lévy discusses at length. As Lévy notes, there is a "a right-wing left."

I also reiterate that people like Mussolini and the other leftists who joined in with fascism would certainly have carried their pre-existing ideas with them and would, if they are like most other human beings, consciously or unconsciously have added portions of their old ideas to their new ones.

Also, as I noted, that apostates tend to be hated by and to show vehement hatred towards their prior religion. So, Christianity, which has roots in Judaism, is not seen by either side as a Jewish religion. Yet - and this is my point about someone like Mussolini - Christianity has retained a great deal of Judaism's teachings, enough to make an argument of the type that Goldberg tries to make about fascism.

That fascism has origins outside of the people like Mussolini and arose due to other factors is entirely beside the point. That is history, not political science. That is not what Goldberg's book is about. It is about affinities. And, he is not alone in seeing them. And, given the fact that today's left has been substantially influenced by right wing ideas, as Lévy shows rather unequivocally to be the case in his fascinating book, Left in Dark Times, Goldberg's book is not the stupid book alleged by his various opponents at HNN.

That is not to suggest that his argument is correct. As I said, I think he is wrong on his own terms. And, he does at times in the book appear to have a political, not a political science, agenda. But, his argument is not ridiculous and lambasting it as wrong on the grounds that it is bad history is a pretty weak argument.

Jonathan Dresner - 2/3/2010

No, I didn't misread it. You're conceding to Goldberg a portion of the argument which he hasn't earned, and trying to find a middle ground where both sides can be partially right, when the facts don't justify it.

N. Friedman - 2/3/2010


I did not say that fascism has its origins in communism. I said that such is Mr. Goldberg's argument. My argument is that if such is true, that does not make Mr. Goldberg's argument correct.

So, other than misstating what I wrote, you are ok as well.

Jonathan Dresner - 2/2/2010

Like Mr. Goldberg, you're mistaking the protestations and posturing of fascist rhetoric -- and, in Mussolini's case, blatant opportunism -- for the reality.

And to argue that "fascism has origins in communism" is to ignore the realities of 19th century conservativism, nationalism, authoritarianism, paternalism, imperialism, and racism. Not to mention a fairly obvious misunderstanding of communism and socialism.

Other than that, Mr. Friedman, you're fine.

Carlos Roberto Aguilar - 2/2/2010

Fascism was about building anew and getting rid of pesky Christian mores standing in the way of progress. Yes, Hitler claimed to be looking for the "essential" Aryan culture, much of which was new age crap made up ex post in an effort to create a strong national identity without traditional morality, but this is not really a defense of tradition because tradition doesn't have to be discovered or made up. It exists among the people and it's believed to be generally good (shared norms of right behavior, as Hayek put it.)

N. Friedman - 2/2/2010

Mr. Neiwert,

I do not happen to agree with Jonah Goldberg's contention that fascism is inherently a left wing phenomena. On the other hand, I do not think you read his book very carefully.

Goldberg's argument is that the fascists believe things which correspond with leftist ideas - using, for example, Mussolini's "theories" as guidepost. Goldberg addresses certain progressive politicians and causes and discovers evidence that there is an overlap in belief, such as belief in positive Darwinism (e.g. arguments for the minimum wage, for forced sterilization and for abortion all based on the view of eliminating undesirables from society). The book makes interesting points about Mussolini the theorist but less so about Mussolini's long term rule.

The most interesting piece of "evidence" in Goldberg's book is that Mussolini evidently, to the day he died, thought himself a leftist and communist. That point ought give anyone pause in asserting that fascism is wholly not a phenomena of the left.

Where the book goes astray, apart from any factual errors that appear, can be seen from this analogy. Christianity has origins in Judaism. That, however, does not make Christianity a Jewish religion even though Christianity retains many Jewish elements. Rather, the two religions stand to each other as heretic/apostate.

Fascism may well, as Goldberg claims, have origins in communism, as Mussolini did. That, however, does not mean that fascism is a type of communism, even though there is at least some overlap in positions taken by both political ideologies. After all, when a person apostatizes from a religion, that does not mean the person throws everything from that religion out the door. Many things are retained. Fascism, however, went its own way and, whatever it started as and whatever overlap in positions taken, fascism did not stay on the left.

Scott Yeager - 2/2/2010

"Goldberg has defined "right-wing" in the current American context which is a fusion of libertarianism and deference to tradition, both of which are ideologically antithetical to fascism."

Really? The idea that fascism didn't have a deference to tradition is really strange. One of the ideas of it is to get back to the traditional and "real" and "pure" values of the nation and to get rid of all these "other" and "bad" influences that threaten it.

Carlos Roberto Aguilar - 2/2/2010

Mr. Neiwert writes that "when someone engages in anti-leftist violence on behalf of established economic interests, that’s unmistakably right-wing activity." That's an odd definition of "right-wing", particularly after a century of left-on-left violence that protected one form or another of economic interests. Departing from this flawed concept of left and right (basically, right equals evil), it's no wonder why Goldberg's thesis makes no sense.

Goldberg has defined "right-wing" in the current American context which is a fusion of libertarianism and deference to tradition, both of which are ideologically antithetical to fascism. They are also not necessarily akin to protecting established economic interests if these run counter to the free market and individual rights.

Also, Goldberg has defined current American liberalism as the ideology that sees the state as an instrument to improve society, to bring it closer to the utopia of liberals' dreams. Who can deny this is true? And isn't it, in this particular sense, more like disciplined fascism than conservatism with its boring faith in Hayek's spontaneous social order?

I still have not read a proper rebuttal of Goldberg's thesis using his definitions of right and left, nor a good reason why these definitions are inadequate.