Clumsy Critique

Jun 17, 2009
Clumsy Critique

By Jonah Goldberg

Michael Tomasky, reviewing my book, Liberal Fascism, in The New Republic, has performed a useful service. He combines every strategy the book’s critics have used to dismiss it. He runs down the supermarket aisles of the Left-wing blogosphere plucking every container of prepackaged piffle and throws them in his cart.

He concedes essential parts of the book’s argument while insisting that they are trivial, offers trivial objections as if they were essential, and throws in a few non-sequiturs, insults, and rank distortions to pad the piece. His one innovation is to extend his insults from me to my readers (who are said to have too much time on their hands), and then to conservatives generally. His review, though long, is a time-saver: Anyone who wants to know what the book’s liberal detractors are saying can consider it one-stop shopping.

Putting the Hack in Hackneyed
The insults are not especially entertaining. Tomasky leadenly says that the book “bored him out of [his] skull” and that it is “one of the most tedious and inane — and ultimately self-negating — books” he has ever read. Tastes differ, I suppose. I can take heart in the fact that Tom Wolfe, Thomas Sowell, Christopher Buckley, Paul Johnson, Richard Bernstein, and many other people whose judgment in these matters I respect, have found the book important, insightful, engaging, or at least enjoyable. Even David Oshinsky, a liberal historian who came to bury, not to praise, Liberal Fascism in the New York Times, nonetheless applauded the “witty intelligence” of its prose and called its final chapters “deliciously amusing.”

Concession Stand
After the insults come the concessions. “There is, to be sure, a little something to it,” he says and makes similar gestures elsewhere. Then follows the “we already knew this” argument that has appeared so often in the liberal reaction to the book. For instance, Tomasky writes that “we all understand that Mussolini showed little to no interest in oppressing Jews until quite late in his career.” Really? We all understand this? I’ve talked to scores of audiences about this book by now and had hundreds of conversations about this very issue (including with people who work for The New Republic), and in almost every instance people are surprised by how different the facts are from the conventional wisdom.

Tomasky continues:

Goldberg clearly means to shock us with these truffles that he has dug out of the woeful soil of the twentieth century. But very little of the story he tells is news to students of history. We had already heard that Steffens said of the Soviet Union, “I have been over into the future, and it works,” so it is not exactly a shock to read that he had kind words for a similarly regimented society. We similarly understand that the Wilson administration did indeed shut down The Masses and fan racism and xenophobia and round up radicals, and no liberal today thinks of these moves as things to be proud of or to duplicate. We are also acutely aware that some New Dealers were fans of the totalitarian Soviet Union. Roosevelt’s second vice president was one such, and he kicked Henry Wallace off the ticket in 1944 for just that reason. Since Roosevelt did not manage to keep Wallace’s expulsion out of the papers, it is not exactly a secret.

We have also recognized, since at least the 1950s and in some prescient instances even earlier, that certain consanguinities between the far left and the far right did exist in those days, and that the Nazi program was in some respects a left-wing program, appealing on a class basis — and, always, a racial basis — to German workers and the petit bourgeoisie. It was not called National Socialism for nothing. Goldberg goes into great detail on all this in his chapter titled — are you sitting down? – “Adolf Hitler: Man of the Left.”

It is true that most people are aware that there are similarities between fascism and Communism, in that they are both totalitarian. But the extent, origins, and significance of those similarities are not widely unde

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