Arnold Kling  

Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism

A Good Sentence... Harford Book Forum at Marginal...

My review of the book is here.

I would argue that it is many books, written by an author with Multiple Personality Disorder. There is Goldberg the revisionist historian, Goldberg the outraged conservative child, and Goldberg the troll.

...The most effective chapter is "Woodrow Wilson and the Birth of Liberal Fascism." Goldberg catches Wilson, Herbert Croly (the founder of The New Republic), Walter Lippmann, and other famous progressives of the World War I era with their hands in the fascist cookie jar. ...Above all, they saw war and military conscription as a positive force for molding citizenship and speeding the pace of progress.

I think that the rise of strong centralized governments that took place between 1850 and 1950 in many countries is an interesting phenomenon. I am enough of a technological determinist to believe that it had something to do with railroads and the telegraph (and later the automobile and the telephone), which made central authority easier to implement and more difficult to evade. It also had something to do with cinema, microphones, and radio, which facilitated mass propaganda.

Given the technological environment, the ideologies that emerged--Nazism, socialism, and progressivism--all had a strong centralizing flavor. Goldberg makes an important contribution in pointing out common elements, notwithstanding the aspects of the book that I found unsatisfying.

For more on the book, there is an online interview of Jonah Goldberg by Will Wilkinson. Apparently, I am not the only one who found the chapter on the Woodrow Wilson era the most compelling.

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COMMENTS (13 to date)
Lee writes:

From your nasty name calling review I conclude that Goldberg has nailed his topic. Curiously, your review aligns pretty well with the Amazon reviews by liberal fascists who acknowledge proudly that they are giving bad reviews to a book they haven't read.

Rochelle writes:

Don't overlook the introduction of compulsory education as to why big government came to be.

Arnold Kling writes:

I suggest you read my review. Then apologize.

Troy Camplin writes:

You should read Richard Wolin's "The Seduction of Unreason" as a followup. In it Wolin traces the origin of postmodern thought to fascism. He even has a chapter titled "Left Fascism." Then, if you want to read about how this form of fascism is prevalent in the modern universities in the West, read Lou Marinoff's "The Middle Way" == particularly his Part II.

8 writes:

If all the book does is muddy the water and weaken the unfair charge of fascism placed on the American right, I will view it as an accomplishment.

PrestoPundit writes:

Arnold -- You let your own profession of economics off the hook too easily. The AEA itself was founded as part of that Wilsonian movement of "progressives". More to the point, Hayek rightly argues that classical economics took a wrong turn in the late 1900s with John Stuart Mill's inability to understand the connection between "production" and "distribution", arguing that these could be understood adequately in separation. You also had the rise of the "Socialists of the Chair" in Germany -- who influenced economic and social thought in America. Then, of course, it was on to war socialism in Germany and Austria, and then later in America and Britian you get the pseudo-science of Samuelson and Keynes, as well as all the various here today gone tomorrow fads of mathematical economics.

So the economics profession actually has a lot to answer for -- and the moves both toward and away form statism in the 20th century can't be accounted for very well in terms simply of technological determinism. There's a good case for arguing that ideas had a lot more to do with it, actually.

Brad Hutchings writes:

This one's still on my list of books to read. The thing that fascinates me the most about Jonah is that he parlayed his Mom's periphery involvement in a Presidential sex scandal into writing this book! Think about it, his Mom was involved in three huge culturial/historic events of the past 40 years: Watergate, OJ, and Monica Lewinsky. In the wake of the Clinton cigar fiasco emerges this brash kid whose energy infused NRO from the start. He writes about politics with regular honest sounding references to his dog Cosmo, his couch, and working in his underwear. He introduces us to his new bride, new kid, keeps us apprised of Cosmo and his fruitless squirrel chases, and with this book, he probably emerges as the frontrunner for the Gen-X version of Bill Buckley. Back in the day, Jonah even found time to reply to just about every email thoughtfully and provocatively.

NRO today still has the most energy of any of the political group blogs -- left, center, right, or libertarian. I disagree with so much that I read on that blog, especially the boneheaded immigration restrictionist garbage, but I appreciate the energy. As I told Ted Balaker (Reason "Out of Control" contributor) awhile back, I read NRO first and often for its energy level, then Out of Control occasionally for deep, thoughtful stuff. Reason's main blog has energy, but is still miles behind NRO. And that's one indication that conservatism will continue its dominance of libertarianism.

At any rate, while the trolling and the "poor conservative kid" schtick may be annoying to old school types, that is what made Jonah Jonah. It's his brand. Libertarians would do very well to develop their own Jonah. It's a shame that we lost him. His longstanding critique against libertarians has essential been the "gay sex and drugs" critique. If we hadn't made an abrupt shift from dynamism, we night have been able to call him one of ours.

Steve Sailer writes:

I opened up the book at random and read the Wilson chapter and I couldn't see what everybody else is complaining about. That chapter is excellent.

Bill writes:

I saw Goldberg on TV recently, and I thought he got caught up on irrelevant facts, like that Hitler was a vegetarian and non-smoker, and jumped to an illogical conclusion, that he was therefore a liberal facist.

The idea that liberals want to force their views on others really only holds water if you consider "force" to be through acheiving said values through representative democracy. (I know many libretarians do consider this force, but even so, it does not approach facism, where the Nazi's never received more than a third of the popular vote.)

Ultimately, I don't think Goldberg addressed what turns wacky political ideas into a facist government, namely a blindly-following military, and a citizenry that is not sufficiently vigilant of its government.

Ivan writes:

it's interesting that you excluded statist ideology as a driving force in establishing big government in XX century...

Troy Camplin writes:

Bill, you're mistaking militarism with fascism. You don't have to have the first to have the second.

Bill writes:


I would disagree, at least as far as the word "fascism" is commonly used. Without a willing military to shoot or imprison undesirables and or dissenters, then what you have is just people who think they know what's best, trying to do what they think.

People thinking they know best and wanting to do whatever they think describes everyone, be it someone who wants to ban smoking or someone who wants to ban the income tax. It is the use of the military to do the convincing, that makes it fascist.

Troy Camplin writes:

Trying breaking any of those laws and see what happens to you. I do believe the police will show up and arrest you. You might object that with the smoking you will just be fined -- but then decide that you shouldn't be fined for smoking, and see what happens to you. Fascists don't have to have military parades all the time (or at all) for them to be fascists.

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