Some people seem to think we hate Jonah Goldberg.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. First of all, the Doughy Pantload has given us hundreds of hours of entertainment; in his official role as Village Idiot of the Internet, he never ceases to amuse us with his falling off of walls, tumbling into ditches, and trying to come up with smart things to say when he’d really rather be at home watching Deep Space Nine DVDs. He’s so clearly ill-suited for the role in which he was thrust, he’s almost like a Terry Southern character: General Ripper with a bottle of GameFuel instead of grain alcohol and rainwater, the gun-wielding redneck at the end of Easy Rider gone to Goucher College, Mark Noonan with a rich mom.
But beyond that…we kinda feel for ol’ Jonah. There are even times, when he’s all wound up from talking about Battlestar Galactica with his soul-mate John Podhoretz and just needs to go run around in the yard for a couple of hours, that we almost like him. After all, aren’t his troubles our own? Haven’t all of us been forced into a position we can’t possibly live up to, possibly by our dagger-wielding harridan of a mother? Haven’t all of us at some point felt like a bit of an intellectual fraud? Haven’t all of us, once or twice in our lives, stood before the world, feeling doughy and bearing in our metaphorical trousers a reeking, sticky pantload of our own making?
The difference between us and Jonah, though, is that we know our limitations. We don’t keep up the pretense that we are something that we’re not. Having produced the occasional pantload, we do not strip off our trousers, turn our boxers inside out, and present it to the world as if it were a basket of flowers. Jonah Goldberg is a clown, but he’s a clown who thinks he’s a lion — or, worse yet, a lion tamer. When people like you and I make fools of ourselves, we quietly own up to it, make what amends can be made, and go on with our lives, determined to either better ourselves or at least avoid such humiliating circumstances in the future. When Jonah Goldberg makes a mistake — even a 496-page mistake that retails for $27.95 — he goes around the country on a media blitz telling everyone how awesome it is, and that if they think it’s a mistake, that’s not his problem because they’re clearly not smart enough to understand it. His job, in short, is to sell people shit and tell them it’s sugar.
His latest sales pitch comes on the electronic pages of Salon magazine, where the inhumanly patient Alex Koppelman does what very few of us would have the wherewithal to do: sit there nodding politely while Jonah Goldberg makes a gigantic ass out of himself.
The interview is a real pip, perhaps the purest distillation outside of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Dracula to All the Baldwin Brothers Except for Stephen itself of the unbelievably shoddy thinking, half-assed research, bogus equivocation, pathetic defensive self-aggrandizement and total inability to defend even the simplest premises of his own work that characterize the book. In order to make this entry serve not just as a review of the article, but as a consumer ranking — of the sort that appeared on the book’s Amazon page before they mysteriously disappeared [Gavin adds: Although I was wrong in reporting their disappearance on the book's publication date, life soon caught up to art] — we will rate some of Jonah’s choicer comments based on overall incoherence, dishonesty and sad-little-clownitude, using the symbol of which the Doughy Pantload himself is so fond.
What’s the book about?
It’s a revisionist history. It’s an attempt to reconfigure, or I would say correct, the standard understanding of the political and ideological context that frames most of the ideological debates that we have had since, basically, World War II. There’s this idea that the further right you go the closer you get to Nazism and fascism, and the further left you go the closer you get to decency and all good things, or at least having the right intentions in your heart.
Jonah comes out of the box strong, claiming the phrase ‘revisionist history‘ as if it were something to be gamely proud of, instead of something popularly associated with people like David Irving. Bonus points for his highfalutin’ hopes that he alone can rectify sixty years of bad history, and his implication that the misunderstanding about the right-wing nature of fascism arose soon after the defeat of an axis of right-wing fascist dictatorships in WWII by liberal democracies.
For 60 years most historians have been putting fascism on the right, or conservative, side of the political spectrum. What are you able to see that they weren’t?
There are a lot of historians who get fascism basically right. There are a lot of historians who don’t. I think the Marxists have been part and parcel of a basic propaganda campaign for a very long time, but there are plenty of historians who understand what fascism was and are actually quite honest about it.
Nothing too special here, although he does score for not mentioning any particular historians lest he be exposed as even more of a putz than usual. What the Crazy Commie Conspiracy has to do with anything is a tad baffling — have they been going around poisoning historians’ water with fluoride so they can’t see how essentially liberal the history of fascism is? — but it’s not until his next paragraph that he really grunts and squeezes:
To sort of start the story, the reason why we see fascism as a thing of the right is because fascism was originally a form of right-wing socialism. Mussolini was born a socialist, he died a socialist, he never abandoned his love of socialism, he was one of the most important socialist intellectuals in Europe and was one of the most important socialist activists in Italy, and the only reason he got dubbed a fascist and therefore a right-winger is because he supported World War I.
Now, let’s leave aside the idiocy of the conception of “right-wing socialism”. Let’s leave aside the fact that Mussolini abandoned socialism the second he was in power (though we’ll return to that point). Let’s leave aside even the downright jaw-dropping characterization of Mussolini as a ‘socialist intellectual’ — Christ, he wasn’t even a fascist intellectual. Let’s instead focus on that last sentence, which I’d like to repeat for emphasis:
the only reason he got dubbed a fascist and therefore a right-winger is because he supported World War I
There you have it, folks: that right there is what we call an A-bomb of idiocy. The only reason, says Jonah, that Benito Mussolini got dubbed a fascist is because he supported WWI. HEY, JONAH, DO YOU THINK MAYBE HIS FOUNDING THE NATIONAL FASCIST PARTY HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH IT? DO YOU THINK POSSIBLY THE FACT THAT MUSSOLINI ACTUALLY COINED THE TERM “FASCISM” AND OPENLY IDENTIFIED HIMSELF AS A FASCIST FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS MIGHT HAVE PLAYED A PART? I dunno, it’s worth thinking about maybe!
You write about militarism being central to fascism, and a militaristic strain remaining in today’s liberalism — the war on cancer, the war on drugs, the War on Poverty. Why include the war on drugs formulation with liberalism? It was Richard Nixon who declared it, then it withered under Jimmy Carter and then Ronald Reagan really brought it back and was the drug warrior.
I think that’s probably a fair criticism. But I should start at the beginning … What appealed to the Progressives about militarism was what William James calls this moral equivalent of war. It was that war brought out the best in society, as James put it, that it was the best tool then known for mobilization … That is what is fascistic about militarism, its utility as a mechanism for galvanizing society to join together, to drop their partisan differences, to move beyond ideology and get with the program. And liberalism today is, strictly speaking, pretty pacifistic. They’re not the ones who want to go to war all that much. But they’re still deeply enamored with this concept of the moral equivalent of war, that we should unite around common purposes. Listen to the rhetoric of Barack Obama, it’s all about unity, unity, unity, that we have to move beyond our particular differences and unite around common things, all of that kind of stuff. That remains at the heart of American liberalism, and that’s what I’m getting at.
Jonah turns the slickest intellectual trick of which he’s capable here: he clearly understands that any sensible person, realizing how central to fascism militarism is, would immediately identify it as a signifier of the right, seeing as the right is so fond of, you know, actually starting wars and stuff. So he defines militarism — indeed, the fascistic element of militarism — not as actual militarism, but as uniting people behind social causes and attempting to instill in people a bipartisan attitude towards problem-solving. So, since everyone who has ever written about militarism identifies it as characteristic of the extreme right, he just flips the script and comes up with a definition of militarism that doesn’t actually have anything to do with the military. It’s brilliant, in a sad, crazy way.
[Gavin adds: It's even persuasive to a degree. You start thinking about the idea of detourned militarism and popular movements in America, and it seems there might be a certain insight to it. Until all of a sudden you're like, Hey, wait just one single, solitary cotton-pickin' second here -- because you realize that Jonah is surrounded, personally and professionally, by actual, literal militarists of the non-metaphorical right-wing sort. The dude pals around with war-whooping missile-dicks like John Podhoretz, V.D. Hanson, and Mark Steyn, for Jesus sake. At this point you're forced to sort of stand gaping in awe.]
As for the war on drugs part, I think you make a perfectly fine point, except I would argue that Nixon was not a particularly conservative guy. Measured by today’s standards and today’s issues, Nixon would be in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.
He knows there’s no way he can bail Reagan out on this one, so he focuses instead on the high-larious notion that Nixon was a closet liberal who would be perfectly at home toward the left of today’s Democratic party, what with its constant attempts to play up racial division, disenfranchise minorities, prolong foreign wars, and throw protesters into prison.
You’ve talked about Mussolini remaining on the left and remaining a socialist, and in your book you’ve got a lot of quotes from the 1920s about that, but I’m wondering — how does that fit in with what he wrote and said later, especially “The Doctrine of Fascism” in 1932?
I’d need to know specifically what he wrote in “The Doctrine of Fascism.” It’s been about three years since I’ve read it.
We’re now getting into a lengthy stretch of the article where Jonah — who after all has written an entire book based on the argument that since Hitler and Mussolini were socialists, modern liberals, as heirs to the ideology of socialism, are likewise followers in the fascist footsteps of Hitler and Mussolini — illustrates quite clearly that he has no idea what Hitler or Mussolini believed. Hence this whoopsy-doodle ‘Gosh, you know, it’s been so long since I read it’ dodge that’s the surest way to spot phonies and poseurs. But it gets better: since Koppelman, who actually does know what he’s talking about, is aware that Mussolini despised socialism and came to power after repudiating socialism, unleashing his fascisti on the streets to attack socialists and communists, and forming a government from which socialists were excluded, is going to make him look like a huge jackass, he needs to get back to the only move he’s got, which is defining things so that they mean what he says they mean instead of meaning what everyone else thinks they mean. Let’s watch!
He says, for example, “Granted that the 19th century was the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy, this does not mean that the 20th century must also be the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy. Political doctrines pass; nations remain. We are free to believe that this is the century of authority, a century tending to the ‘right ‘, a Fascist century.”
Yeah, I’m perfectly willing to concede there’s a lot of stuff Mussolini says, but you’ve got to remember, by ’32, socialism is starting to essentially mean Bolshevism.
Jonah is “perfectly willing to concede there’s a lot of stuff Mussolini says”! Wow, that’s downright magnanimous of him, to admit that Mussolini said a lot of stuff! What a stinging rejoinder to the deployment of a statement that makes him look like a complete fraud! Sure, Mussolini might have said things in his most famous essay that completely contradict Jonah’s claims about his beliefs, but hey, he said a lot of stuff. That is some robust argumentation there, folks.
And if you get too caught up in the labels, rather than the policies, you get yourself into something of a pickle.
Jonah probably got so distracted here thinking about pickles, and how much he would like to eat one, that he failed to consider that if you actually do look at Mussolini’s policies, despite his absurd claim later in the interview that “in terms of the policies he implemented and where he came to, once again, at the end of his life, he always clung to the policies that were associated with the left side of the political spectrum”, they were, of course, almost entirely rightist. Aside from his contempt for socialism, his hatred of communists, his marginalization of leftists, his promotion of social intolerance, and his rampant militarism, he was a right-winger in nearly every respect: he passed legislation that favored high industry and wealthy farmers, he privatized state-run services and industries, he liberalized rent laws, he completely shut down unions, he increased police powers, he cracked down on dissent, he favored a corporatist system, he favored production of cash crops, and he made public displays of piety to get religious people on his side. Jonah is completely full of it and he knows it, and this — this is the best he can come up with:
But isn’t it easy to distinguish, since Mussolini repudiated the central doctrine of Marxism?
Well, I mean, I bet you if you gave me an hour I could find places where he once again says nice things about Marxism in 1933 or 1937.
Because he said a lot of stuff, you know? (Not to mention all the things that were said about him — when will Jonah respond to the charges that Mussolini bit his weenie and now it doesn’t work?) Jonah can’t actually remember any of the times Mussolini said anything good about Marxism, even though Mussolini’s being a dedicated socialist is an intrinsic part of his whole argument — but hey, what is this, anyway, quiz time? He said some good stuff about Marxism! Jonah is sure he can find it if you just give him an hour! But you can’t see the book he’s getting it from, because it lives in Canada.
But he repudiated historical materialism, dialectical materialism.
Yeah. But I think the problem is you get into one of these sort of overly doctrinal, “let’s go to the text” approaches where words get confused for things.
This is totally awesome in its pure, life-hating, anti-intellectual ballsiness. What Jonah is saying here is that you can’t rely on things that Mussolini actually said, because then you will get confused and start to doubt Jonah Goldberg’s interpretation of what Mussolini, in fact, meant. Say what you will about the Pantload, that takes a lot of stones, to make that argument.
Payne also says that a “fundamental characteristic” of fascism was “extreme insistence on what is now termed male chauvinism and the tendency to exaggerate the masculine principle in almost every aspect of activity.” How does that fit in with contemporary liberalism, especially Hillary Clinton, who was at one point in the subtitle of your book?
It’s a great question. I’ve actually thought a lot about that, and I wish I had quoted that thing from Payne, because I say at the end of the book that the classical fascisms of mid-20th century were essentially masculine phenomena. They fit in the Orwellian dystopian vision of the future, where you have the strong father figure…but there’s another dystopian understanding of the future, which we get from [Aldous] Huxley’s “Brave New World.” That was a fundamentally American vision.
Points for flitting around like a butterfly on kitchen-sink crank, unable to figure out if what he means by ‘fascism’ is ‘socialism’ or ‘liberalism’ or ‘communism’ or ‘(any) dystopian vision.’ Triple kitty bonus points for referring to Brave New World (written in London, set in London, penned by an author from Surrey) as “fundamentally American.”
[T]he vision of the Huxleyian “Brave New World” future is one where everyone’s happy. No one’s being oppressed, people are walking around chewing hormonal gum, they’re having everything done for them, they’re being nannied almost into nonexistence. That’s the fascism in Hillary Clinton’s vision. It’s not the Orwellian stamping on a human face thing, it’s hugs and kisses and taking care of boo-boos. It is the nanny state. That is a much more benign dystopia than “1984,” but for me at least, it’s still a dystopia. An unwanted hug is still as tyrannical or as oppressive — not as oppressive, but an unwanted hug is still oppressive if you can’t escape from it.
Jonah rambles on a bit here, but you gotta love how he says in the second sentence that in Brave New World no one’s being oppressed and in the last sentence that it’s very oppressive. He also gets credit for actually seeming to realize, mid-sentence, that he’s completely full of shit and correcting himself after saying that getting an unwanted hug is just as bad as being shot in the back of the head. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.
How do you feel about the reaction to your book so far, especially from the liberal blogosphere?
I think most of them should be ashamed. I think it’s been fairly idiotic; you look at — Who’s that weirdo, the guy with the “Too Hot for TNR” blog? Spencer Ackerman. That’s absurd, and it’s childish. Type my name into Daily Kos. As hilarious as some people might think it is to call me a “Doughy Pantload,” at some point if that is the crux of your objection to a 500-page book that Tom Wolfe says is the best and most important revisionist history in a very long time, that says a lot more about those people than it does about me.
We’re so hurt that Jonah didn’t mention us by name that we’re not even going to point out that we called Jonah a doughy pantload long before he wrote this idiotic book. However, if he doesn’t find that hilarious, we’re sure not going to interrupt his self-aggrandizement to point out that he is also known, in Mussolini’s homeland, as Il Carico Pastoso, as die Dick-Gesicht Wohlfahrt Königin in Hitler’s Germany, and “??????????”, or “foolish political figure who watches too much television”, in Tojo’s Japan.
I would love to see some serious liberals take on the book in a serious way, I really would. I am sure I get things wrong, I know there are counter-arguments to be had, I’ve heard some of them from very sharp conservatives that I admire, but so far the response from the left-wing blogs I just ignore, because it’s childish.
Here, Jonah pulls out the argument, much beloved by J. Lileks of Fuddles, MN, that he knows there are legitimate arguments to be had against his views, but he has certainly not heard any of them from liberals. One might suggest that’s because he isn’t listening; one might also suggest that there is only one way to respond to a clown, and that is by laughing. And one might be right. But wait, Jonah’s gonna teach us a thing or two about being serious:
But the cover has the smiley face with the Hitler mustache. Does that undermine that message and lead to some of these reactions?
Well, I’m perfectly glad to concede that people who do judge books by their covers or think it’s more important to read a title rather than read a book will be confused and jump to conclusions. But these are people that I don’t generally respect. The cover was Random House’s invention, and I’m still sort of ambivalent about it, but you make covers to sell books, you make titles to sell books, even though my title comes from a speech by H.G. Wells … The cover, the smiley face with the mustache, is a play on something I explain on basically Page One of the book, and it’s a reference to what George Carlin and Bill Maher call smiley-face fascism. [Gavin adds: Yes indeed. And it certainly does not at all come from Bertram Gross.] And if you can’t get past the cover and the title, then you’re not a serious book reader and you’re not really a serious person.
“So, in conclusion: first of all, the cover wasn’t even my idea. Second of all, you are totally judging a book by its cover, and you suck. Thirdly of all, there is absolutely nothing juvenile or provocative or unserious about putting a cartoon of Hitler on the cover of my very important and well-researched book, nor is there anything childish or inflammatory about giving it a title that implies that liberals are fascists and compares Hillary Clinton to Benito Mussolini. And if you can’t see that, you’re the one who’s not serious, not me.”
You know what? We take it back. I guess we kinda do hate Jonah Goldberg.