Blogs > Cliopatria > Associate Professor Herr Doktor Burke Relays Fuhrer Directive #24 From the Pearson Education Program Bunker

Dec 19, 2007 10:42 pm

Associate Professor Herr Doktor Burke Relays Fuhrer Directive #24 From the Pearson Education Program Bunker

Or as Jonah Goldberg would say, fascism fascism fascism fascism. Fascist! Fascism. Fascistically!

There really isn't anything to say besides mockery, is there? I'd call it butchery of the English language AND of the discipline of history, but that would imply that Goldberg actually scores wounds on both rather than just hacking into his own flesh.

This might be a better test of where the boundaries of political mania lie than voting for Alan Keyes in the last Illinois Senate race: who will try to argue that there's "something to Goldberg's argument"?

I used to think that we all ought to simply ignore this kind of thing, to act as if it's beneath us. Certainly trying to muster a serious response in which two generations of historical and philosophical writing about fascism in 20th Century Europe are part of the response seems beside the point. But I've learned that the shamelessness of a number of commenters out there doesn't have any limits, and that Olympian disdain just allows more rot to fester and eat away at whatever decency and honesty is left in American public culture.

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Grant W Jones - 12/23/2007

Learn to read Ralph, the "and" in my last sentence serves to seperate Wagner et. al from more obscure folks. Haeckel is hardly a household name. I doubt if many SA thugs were big on studying the Nineteenth Century Romantic philosophers. Although, Horst Wessel did acquire a university "education." What was he taught there???

Have a Merry Christmas.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/22/2007

I think I'll bow out of this "conversation" with your claim that nobody but specialists ever heard of Wagner, Nietzsche, Chamberlain, [and Haeckel]. We're talking about cultural literacy, not specialization.

Grant W Jones - 12/22/2007

Defining "fascism" is almost as slippery as defining "feudalism." You could have supplied one yourself, you know. Mussolini's fascism was a combination of socialism and nationalism. To say it is authoritarian is too vague and would therefore make almost all governments "fascists." Sometimes Franco's Spain is judged as fascist, but I'm not so sure.

As I stated earlier, my books are on a slow boat in the Pacific so I can't look up specifics beyond Google. I had thought Hegel's connection to fascism and Nazism was widely recognized. If I remember correctly, Karl Popper had a few things to say on that connection. William Shirer in the "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" made the same point about Hegel's influence on German attitudes on the proper relationship between the state and the individual.

German Romanticism was a revolt against the Enlightenment and its placing reason as man's means of knowledge. If your Young Hegelians didn't note Hegel's state worship and thought him a "liberal," that is their mistake, not mine. Do you include early Marxists with the "anti-authoritarians?" It should not be a surprise to you that the neo-Platonism of Kant and Hegel led to bad things. Giovanni Gentile had it right, metaphysical idealism leads to some form of authoritarian political system, since it is the abstraction, such as "society," that is truly real.

Ralph, I understand that my criticizing Progressive icons could set off your biases. Apparently, you are more comfortable believing that fascism, including its Nazi variant, was the result of some weird aberration caused by Wagner, Nietzsche, H.S. Chamberlain and people nobody but specialists have ever heard of. It wasn't.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/22/2007

There's really *no* having a reasonable conversation with you, *if* a) like Goldberg you won't define fascism, except as everything you dislike; and b) you deliberately misconstrue my comment about Hegel's far-reaching influence. It could, to be sure, undergird far-reaching claims for state-authority, but it also undergirded the impulses of the 19th century's anti-authoritarian revolutions. Anything that explains everything explains nothing, so to hold German romanticism responsible for fascism is near meaningless. Use some definitions that give boundaries to whatever the hell you're talking about.

Grant W Jones - 12/22/2007

I would hold Hegel, Kant, and German Romanticism largely responsible for modern totalitarism precisely because it is so far reaching.

I did not write, or and least didn't mean, that Royce and Croly are responsible for modern fascism. I stated that they were influencial regarding the growth of American statism. And yes as an advocate of individual rights and a mere individual, I find their collectivism repugnent.

"Wagner or Nietzsche or Haeckel," these men certainly thrived in the orgy of Romantic unreason, but they did not create it. Those who did were influential on both sides of the pond.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/21/2007

This may be understandable from your libertarian individualist position, Grant, but it is really ludicrous. Hegel 's and the German philosophical tradition's influence is just so far-reaching that you can't hold him or it responsible for all forms of modern totalitarianisms. And, if you follow Goldberg's refusal to be clear about what fascism is, you can use the term to refer to everything you don't like, but you're not talking about anything in particular, except your personal biases.
Worse, yet, is trying to blame Josiah [sic] Royce or Herbert Croley [sic] for modern fascism. That is so profoundly ignorant that I hardly know where to begin. I say that as someone who has read all of Royce's books -- I don't rely simply on a quote from a secondary source.
If you want to find the origins of fascist thought in Germany, you can look to Wagner or Nietzsche or Haeckel, but there aren't direct lines from any of them to contemporary American liberalism.

Grant W Jones - 12/21/2007

Tim, thank you for your first paragraph. I have to admit that on some level I couldn't help but take the statements personally.

Regarding the growth of executive power, both parties have a great deal to answer for on that score. Hillary Clinton's apparent belief of the omnipotent state as Santa Claus is downright scary. Although the focus should not be exclusively on the executive branch, 535 (or nine)tyrants may be no better than one. The country has been sliding towards socialism for decades with all that that portents. Both Canada and the EU demonstrate contempt for the individual rights that we still hold dear in America. We are losing our freedom by slow rot. The loss of liberty in America won't be the result of one dramatic event such as the Iraq War or a particular Bush Administration policy.

I will withhold judgment on Goldberg's book and thesis until I have the time to at least browse through it. However, there is a grain of truth here. Hegel was immensely influencial with both European fascists, praticularly of the Italian variety, and with American progressives. Philosopher Joshua Royce believed "that the individual can be "saved" only by ceasing to be a mere individual, that is, through loyalty to a community that involves practical devotion to a goal or an ideal of humanity." (Thomas Bowdin, "Cambridge History of Philosophy 1870-1945" p. 334). Herbert Croly, of course, ran with this in his "The Promise of American Life." Virginia Postrel wrote an excellent overview on Croly's connection to modern liberalism:

Postrel doesn't go into progressivism's Germanic roots, but they're there. However, she does note that Croly's influence and attitudes cut across party lines.

Timothy James Burke - 12/20/2007

I think it's fair to flag that passage as overwrought. I'd tone it down a good deal if I were writing it now. Both because I think there is a growing distress about our involvement in torture and because of the us-them rhetoric of the passage.

I stand by the concern, however. I was and am worried by the numbers of my fellow citizens who seem to tolerate or even endorse the fact that our government actively sought to sanction torture as an instrument of national policy, and even by the not-insubstantial fraction of the population who appear indifferent to the human costs of the war in Iraq as long as those costs aren't visited upon Americans. I'm not any less worried or distressed about that.

I'd also suggest that the thrust of both of my analogies, but especially the South African one, is precisely to underscore the need to "respect the philosophy of the Founding Fathers" against what struck me and still strikes me as a horrifically dangerous attempt to concentrate power in the executive branch and lock in an electoral advantage to boot. Rove's attempt to lock in electoral advantage doesn't seem to have held, but the changes to executive power strike me as very much in the balance. I'm not terribly confident that most of the Democratic field can be counted on to reverse that transformation, which worries me enormously.

What wearies me as a side issue, Grant, is the unwillingness of someone like yourself to concede that both of those limited analogies, neither of them terribly long, are different in type, form and substance from a book-length attempt to claim that all American liberals are not merely analogous to fascists but are substantively the creation of and continuation of 20th Century fascism. I'm not sure what it gets me to try and stay in the conversation, be fair-minded about your criticisms (because I do think it's fair to underscore some of the overwrought rhetoric of my writing after the election) and so on if all I'm going to get for my troubles is just more invective.

Grant W Jones - 12/20/2007

If you can't see just how absurd your sweepging analogies from 2004 are it is you, however "precise," who does not understand how ideas affect historical causation. Collectivism crosses party lines and politics is not its cause. As to American "liberalism" and fascism, starting quite early in our history American intellectuals (of the "left" and "right") went to Germany to lap up the latest Hegalian poison. Sorry, my library is in transit so I can't look up specifics.

In reality this nation's best hope are the people who still respect the ideals of the Founding Fathers and their genuine liberal philosophy. For decades the American left and right have been accusing each other of being fascist and authoritarian. And they are both correct.

You wrote in May 2004:

"The reason this raises the specter of 1930 and the question of what Germans ought to have done against Nazism for me is that I now have a new appreciation for how hard it might have been to know what to do then, because I don't really know what to do now. What does one do when one becomes aware that a significant plurality of one's fellow citizens seems to believe that it's right to torture people and pursue an exterminationist or brutalist strategy of conquest? I honestly have no idea."

"Against leaders or parties or even bloggers, I think I have some idea of what to do. Against millions of other Americans with whom I might share many things in common--people I go to the mall with, play computer games against, watch films in theatres alongside, walk the streets next to, root for baseball teams with--I feel powerless. Fight them in the streets? What good would that do? Write blog entries? Do they read them, and are they persuadable by anything I might say? No. March on Washington? They don't live inside the Beltway."

Seriously, you still stand by this?

Timothy James Burke - 12/20/2007

Big difference between arguing about analogy and arguing that there is a literal line of historical descent, Grant. Goldberg isn't arguing that some aspects of liberal ideology have an analogous relationship to some aspects of fascism. He's arguing that fascism WAS liberal, and that contemporary American liberal politics has a continuous line of lineal descent from Nazism and Italian fascism.

If you can't see the difference between those two kinds of argument, then seriously, you're illiterate about historical reason. Not to mention that I think there's a big difference between the limited and precise ways in which I make those analogies and the sweeping character of Goldberg's claims.

Ralph E. Luker - 12/20/2007

I don't speak for Tim Burke, Grant, but he's been here and gone. May not think you're worth the time of day.

Grant W Jones - 12/20/2007

And here I was all worried and waiting for the Republicans to turn the USA into Nazi Germany or Apartheid South Africa.

"There really isn't anything to say besides mockery, is there?" Agreed.

David H. Noon - 12/19/2007

Look. There's arguable misapplication of political terms, and then there's a book -- "written" by someone who, without his mother's assistance, would be eating ding dongs in her basement -- arguing that we see a filial relationship between Musso-freaking-lini and contemporary elementary school teachers.

There's no apples-to-apples comparison here. It's apples-to-methamphetamines.

Timothy James Burke - 12/18/2007

I want all political and social discussion to be more precise, more intellectually fair, more respectful. But I have to say that I'm feeling more and more like a chump when I try to convene discussions that way in the public sphere, because most people seem only to call for that kind of respect for evidence and precision when it's their own pet causes that are being roughed up.

Steven Horwitz - 12/18/2007

Whatever the merits of Goldberg's argument, I hope my friends on the left now have some empathy for how libertarians like me feel when corporatist arrangements like Halliburton's contracts in Iraq are referred to as "the free market" or, how "capitalism" is used and Milton Friedman abused in Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine."