Monday, December 31, 2007
our revolution won't be analog:

Elana Berkowitz braves the Ron Paul revolution in Iowa, and produces a compelling explanation for the phenomenon:

This utter consistency of Paul's ideology, where nothing comes in half-measures, seems like a utopian, self-contained universe where one improbable idea flows logically from the next. Adam Wood, a student from Kansas, explained that even [though] Paul's can't all realistically be implemented, he respected what he saw as the only hypocrisy free candidate in the Republican establishment, saying "For example, how can you be pro-life on abortion and then be pro-capital punishment? That's just political pandering."

Yeah. What does it say about the Republican field that the antidote to the onslaught of hypocrisy and cravenness of the other candidates, and of the Bush administration, is the display Elana captures? 

--Spencer Ackerman
Walk the straight and narrow track:

Tom recently worried that season five of The Wire would prove reactionary in its portrayal of the dying newspaper. The miracle of OnDemand has provided me with Episode One. Without spoilers -- really! -- I'm happy to report, preliminarily, that his fear might be misplaced.

I didn't see the promo that worried him, but his worry is understandable. For the uninitiated, each season of the show tries to answer the question of why urban America is irreparably damaged. The answers, appropriately, have to do with intersecting dysfunctional systems. Season one showed the drug trade and the degradation of the police force; season two showed economic collapse and its consequences for the working class; season three showed political corruption; season four showed the nightmare of the schools. Season five takes on the press. The promo that made Tommy uneasy posited (judging from his post) a simple dichotomy between Real Newspapermen and Internet Phonies. Sound the alarm: creator David Simon's background as a Sun newspaperman, mixed with his palpable frustration at progress's broken promises, could infuse the season with a treacly nostalgia for a dying newspaper industry. Treacly nostalgia -- Tommy, with characteristic wit called the current threat "inkstained hagiography" --  is the enemy of The Wire.

Episode One, happily, treats it as such. The Sun newsroom of The Wire appropriately mirrors the broken environments of the existing settings. Financial mismanagement, invidious editors, casual corruption, ingrained laziness, disincentives to excellence -- This Game Is Rigged. But under the freight of the collapsing system is the real journalist: rigorous, knowledgeable, fearless, euphemism-free, intolerant of all the bullshit, relentless. The distinction that matters is rigor/apathy, not internet/newsprint: Who's going to get in the car and drive to the fire, and who's going to watch the fire burn. (Sally, nothing could have made me prouder, and more wistful, than that one scene.) The Natural Police is now the Natural Reporter. His/her enemies are just as plain -- at least until season five surprises us.

Now, I'm talking past Tom a little. Episode One doesn't give us the opportunity to see how the show will treat an internet/newsprint distinction. So I could easily be hoping against hope that Simon won't take the easy way out. Maybe he'll portray the blogosphere as the repository of cheap and defiled and lazy journalism, the highest stage of journalistic decadence. If he's setting us up for that, he's going to be right in most cases, but crucially wrong in others. But if that's what Simon's up to, he wouldn't have given us the complicated portrayal of the newsroom that Episode One presents. He still could, as the season develops. Lord knows consistency has no policing power. But the episode gives reason for hope.

More importantly, here's the challenge for us internet journalists. Don't live up to the cheap stereotype. Watch that episode and ask yourself which character you want to be. And then live up to that. It won't do to whine about the MSM's laziness and then prove just as complacent. That means you're playing your part in a rigged game. Maybe we can't ever change the game. But can you live with yourself if you don't try?

This post is dedicated to Sally Goldenberg, Andrey Slivka, John B. Judis, Josh Marshall, Laura McGann and, now, Colin Asher.

--Spencer Ackerman
Saturday, December 29, 2007
No saviour for our sakes, to twist the internees of hate:

Yes, according to Jonah Goldberg, the American Legion are fascists:

It's also necessary to note that the American Legion was born under inauspicious circumstances during the hysteria of World War I in 1919. Although it is today a fine organization with a proud history, one cannot ignore the fact that it was founded as an essentially fascist organization.

But how can an "essentially fascist" organization have a "proud history"? And what does the American Legion think of such a characterization? THFTNR will find out.

--Spencer Ackerman
This is why events unnerve me: they find it all, a different story:
 The text will have its revenge. While Jonah Goldberg was busy working on his chapter about Woodrow Wilson, his argument unexpectedly set a trap for its author. Consider:

Wilson would later argue when president that he was the right hand of God and that to stand against him was to thwart divine will. Some thought this was simply proof of power corrupting Wilson, but this was his view from the outset. He always took the side of power, believing that power accrued to whoever was truly on God's side.

Stay with that, Jonah. Have courage! But your argument leaps off the page to rejoinder, in a subtextual whisper to your waxy, hirsute ear, "So does Woodrow Wilson's power-worship extend to his tireless postwar advocacy of the League of Nations? Was the League, then, in fact what Wilson said it was -- a new, anti-imperialist architecture, constraining the United States as it did other nations, but constructing what Wilson called 'a Covenant with power,' enabling a more sustainable, strengthened humanity and moving geopolitics beyond a zero-sum contest? Through the prism of your single, determinative theory of Wilson, how could it be anything else?"

So what does Jonah say about the League? Fittingly, nothing. He can only think himself into traps.

Update: Here's trap number two. Jonah's distaste for Wilson leads him to valorize Randolph Bourne, the great anti-imperialist and Wilson/Dewey/war critic, as a "brilliant, bizarre, disfigured genius." I'll spot Jonah my rook and concede that you can read his presentation of Bourne as descriptive and not normative. But it's still rather a unlikely characterization of a man who became, in death, a New Left apostle. (Casey Blake: "Student activists avidly read the young critic's polemics against John Dewey and The New Republic as a preface to their own attacks on Cold War liberals and the Johnson administration.") After all, Jonah believes in the Ledeen Doctrine: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." That's so Randolph Bourne! 

--Spencer Ackerman
This is the crisis I knew had to come:
Proposition: Woodrow Wilson is a fascist. Evidence?

Wilson's fascination with power is the leitmotif of his whole career. It informed his understanding of theology and politics, and their intersection. Power was God's instrument on earth and therefore always to be revered. In Congressional Government he admitted, "I cannot imagine power as a thing negative and not positive." Such love of power can be found in many systems and men outside the orbit of fascism, but few ideologies or aesthetics are more directly concerned with the glory of might, will, strength, and action. Some of this was on display in fascist art and architecture... [much like this for several sentences] [my emphasis]

That's the spirit! A panoply of alternative ideologies congruent with Wilson's alleged power-worship exist, but why not rely on the foolproof logic of:

Woodrow Wilson loves power

Fascists love power; therefore

Woodrow Wilson is a fascist

--Spencer Ackerman
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
God in his wisdom made you understand:
According to Wikipedia, Jonah Goldberg is 38 years old. I hold this book in my hand and think: a man on the cusp of his 40th birthday wrote this. A grown man, and not a boy, wrote this:

There was much about McCarthy that was fascistic, including his conspiratorialism, his paranoid rhetoric, his bullying, and his opportunism; but those tendencies did not come from the conservative or classical liberal traditions. Rather, McCarthy and McCarthyism came out of the progressive and populist traditions.


Today, liberals remember the progressives as do-gooders who cleaned up the food supply and agitated for a more generous social welfare state and better working conditions. Fine, the progressives did that. But so did the Nazis and the Italian Fascists. And they did it for the same reasons and in loyalty to roughly the same principles.

The real victim of this book isn't American liberalism. It's young Lucy Goldberg. Every child is endowed with the right to believe his or her father is the smartest man alive. To take that away is sheer brutality. 
--Spencer Ackerman
All this talk made no contact no matter how hard we tried:
Here we are. The unalloyed purity. Soft white with no Pyrex. Hitler.

What makes Jonah Goldberg the premier thinker of the age is that he isn't interested in advancing a thesis. He's interested in refuting a certain line of argument while simultaneously reaffirming it. In the case of Liberal Fascism, he argues that one mode of Reductio ad Hitlerum is incoherent ("conservatives are fascists") while another is informative ("liberals are fascists"). Positions like these can only be held by the subtlest of minds. Remember that as you read the following:

Consider William Shirer's classic, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which did so much to establish the "official" history of the Nazis. Shirer writes of the challenge facing Hitler when the radicals within his own party, led by the SA founder Ernst Rohm, wanted to carry out a "Second Revolution" that would purge the traditional elements in the German army, the aristocracy, the capitalists, and others. "The Nazis had destroyed the Left," Shirer writes, "but the Right remained: big business and finance, the aristocracy, the Junker landowners and the Prussian generals, who kept tight rein over the Army."

Now, in one sense, this is a perfectly fair version of events. The Nazis had indeed "destroyed the Left," and "the Right" did remain. But ask yourself, how do we normally talk about such things? For example, the right in America was once defined by the so-called country-club Republicans. In the 1950s, starting with the founding of National Review, a new breed of self-described conservatives and libertarians slowly set about taking over the Republican Party. From one perspective one could say the conservative movement "destroyed" the Old Right in America. But a more accurate and typical way of describing these events would be to say that the New Right replaced the old one, incorporating many of its members in the process.

It's as if you can actually see his brain sweat. Somehow Goldberg has convinced himself that superimposing one historical circumstance upon another creates an argument. The proper response to this mode of reasoning is laughter. But the reference to American conservatism is illustrative. Let's explore.

Goldberg presents several arguments for why Nazism is a left-wing phenomenon. For starters, "The Nazis rose to power exploiting anticapitalist rhetoric they indisputably believed." That's true, but only a retar-- um, only a person who's never made a Very Serious Argument In Such Detail Or With Such Care could possibly believe that all anticapitalisms are left-wing. Hitler's anticapitalism was predicated on the reactionary idea that bourgeois modes of existence sapped the vitality of the volk, an idea completely anathema to socialist internationalism. (Hence "national socialism," an opportunistic framing of something resembling state capitalism.) The bourgeoise were the handmaidens of the mongrel races that waged an eternal attack on Aryan vitality. Nothing could possibly be "left" about that, unless you only understand "bourgeois" as a right-wing phenomenon, which is a category error. Oh, oops: "[H]ow can you argue that Hitler wasn't a revolutionary in the leftist mold? Hitler despised the bourgeoisie..." 

Second, the Nazis competed for working-class support with the left, which Goldberg thinks poses a problem for those who view Nazism and socialism as antipodes. "After all, if the left is the voice is the voice for the poor, the powerless, and the exploited, it would be terribly inconvenient for those segments of society to support fascists and right-wingers -- particularly if Marxist theory requires that the downtrodden be left-wing in their orientation." Actually, all we need to do to reject this contention is ask What's The Matter With Kandern. Hitler realized that nationalism possesses a greater attraction for the working classes than does class theory, and exploited it, an exploitation enabled and amplified by his simultaneous rejection of decadent capitalism. Rightist demagogues worldwide took note, though few matched Hitler's anticapitalist rhetoric.

Third, and relatedly, Goldberg places quite a lot of emphasis on the "socialism" part of National Socialism. OK, OK, he writes, "even if Nazi nationalism was in some ill-defined or fundamental way right-wing, this only meant that Nazism was right-wing socialism. And right-wing socialists are still socialists." So there! Alas, for Goldberg, the Nazis didn't, for instance, institute an agenda of wealth distribution or property seizure as an economic program. The Nazi expropriations, as detailed in, among elsewhere, this volume, were a means of social repression, which is why they centered on Jews and other undesirables. Expecting Goldberg to understand the implications of his repeated references to how "the Nazis borrowed whole sections from the communist playbook" is simply asking too much.*

Why can't Goldberg understand it, though? Here's where his references to American conservatism come into play. "[I]n Austria, the basic animating passion [of pan-Germanism] was a decidedly un-conservative antipathy toward the liberal, multiethnic pluralism toward the liberal, multiethnic pluralism of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which accepted Jews, Czechs, and the rest of the non-Teutonic rabble as equal citizens," he writes. Well, un-conservative in one sense: the American sense. But in the European context conservatism means (or can mean, and, in the interwar period especially, did mean) never having to say "multiethnic pluralism." That's why European rightist parties generally cheered the destruction of the Hapsburg monarchy, rather than seeking its preservation. 

And here's what Goldberg is really after: looking at Nazism and fascism through the prism of American conservatism and finding it unfamiliar. "Certainly, to suggest that Hitler was a conservative in any sense related to American conservatism is lunacy," he writes. And he's right! Jonah Goldberg has successfully refuted Dave Dictor, the singer of MDC, who penned the 80s punk anthem "John Wayne Was A Nazi." To damn American conservatism with faint praise, it ain't Nazism. Only an idiot would say it is. And only a blithering motherfucking idiot would write spend hundreds of pages not only belaboring the point, but repeating the juvenile error that led Idiot Number One to posit an equivalency between Nazism and any American political tradition. 

* I've unfairly neglected another of Goldberg's arguments for why Nazism is Left. He writes, "Nazism also emphasized many of the themes of later New Lefts in other places and times: the primacy of race [What New Left accepted THAT?], the rejection of rationalism, an emphasis on the organic and holistic -- including environmentalism, health food and exercise -- and, most of all, the need to 'transcend' notions of class." To be didactic, remember the lesson about Socrates. But more to the point -- Bugs Bunny: Nazi!

--Spencer Ackerman
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
For entertainment they watch his body twist:
Jonah's chapter on Mussolini situates Mussolini on the left because Mussolini himself was a one-time leftist before denouncing leftism. Really. We get a lot of quotations from Mussolini before the March on Rome testifying to his socialism ("I am and shall remain a socialist and my convictions will never change!") because, back then, he was a socialist.

Naturally, Goldberg denies that Mussolini in fact changed. He places a lot of emphasis on Mussolini's reliance on the syndicalist George Sorel, which is appropriate, since Sorel's influence on Mussolini was overwhelming. What Goldberg doesn't credit is how Sorel's thinking merged with that of a French rightist, Charles Maurras. From Stephen J. Lee's European Dictatorships, 1918-1945:
He, too, believed that France should return to an earlier condition, again with a complete absence of political parties. The values of the republic were all wrong and therefore an aberration. The alternative was decentralization, stronger local government and dynastic monarchy. The two strands of Sorel and Maurras came together as their supporters wrote for the same journal Les Cahiers du Circle Proudhon.
That's what animated Mussolini. Socialism without internationalism, which is about an atavistic totalization of the state -- something that actual socialism can't tolerate, even if particular socialists were insufficiently socialist and supported the First World War. (Goldberg makes much of this historical fact, in order to envelop Mussolini within the left.)

It shouldn't be surprising, as well, that Mussolini's rhetoric about unions resonates within a socialist framework. Mussolini, like Hitler and other fascists of the early 20th century, were competing with the left for the same pools of proletarian support. Co-opting the left was an imperative. The rhetoric reflects the imperative. Jonah needs to think about this a little more deeply.

Also, liberals aren't socialists. So even if Jonah can bamboozle his readers about Mussolini's ideology, he still hasn't turned Mussolini into a liberal. My God, would Mussolini have rejected the conflation.

Finally, Goldberg himself is rather squishy on Mussolini, making it difficult to follow his attempts at portraying Il Duce as a wide-jawed Hubert Humphrey.
By the time Italy reluctantly passed its shameful race laws -- which it never enforced with even a fraction of the barbarity shown by the Nazis -- over 75 percent of Italian Fascism's reign had already transpired. A full sixteen years elapsed between the March on Rome and the passage of Italy's race laws. To start with the Jews when talking about Mussolini is like starting with FDR's internment of the Japanese: it leaves a lot of the story on the cutting room floor.
And Jonah wonders why some liberals might think he's soft on fascism.
--Spencer Ackerman
The gaps are enormous, we stare from each side -- We were strangers for way too long:
This is just brilliant. Jonah's talking about how William James' "moral equivalent of war" exhortation, often invoked in spirit by liberals, is commensurate with fascist militarization of society:
This trope has hardly been purged from contemporary liberalism. Every day we hear about the "war on cancer," the "war on drugs," the "War on Poverty," and exhortations to make this or that social challenge the "moral equivalent of war."
Now, which ubiquitous "war on..." formulation has gone unmentioned here?
--Spencer Ackerman
This is the way, step inside:
OK, lace your sneakers. Grip up. Shamrock gave me the green light to break the Christmas truce.

Goldberg is pissed off by the occasional juvenile liberal or lefty calling conservatives fascists. Before you can start talking about redistributing wealth upward or the virtues of the surveillance state (anti-fascism, remember), some bandana'd pischer shuts down the discussion. "In short, 'fascist' is a modern word for 'heretic,' branding an individual worthy of excommunication from the body politic," Goldberg writes. "... After all, no one has to take a fascist seriously. You're under no obligation to listen to a fascist's arguments or concern yourself with his feelings or rights." Given that observation, it follows naturally that the proper response is to... do the same thing to your political adversaries.

It's a tricky business, understanding fascism. Academics, Goldberg notes, have difficulty defining precisely what fascism is. Sowing problems for the book down the road, Goldberg offers this following definition:
Fascism is a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve that common good. It takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and well-being, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure. Everything, including the economy and religion, must be aligned with its objectives. Any rival identity is part of the "problem" and therefore defined as the enemy. (My emphasis.)
It's no accident, as the Marxistsfascists used to say, that Goldberg started out by shrugging at how difficult it is to define fascism. What he offers isn't a very serviceable definition, but rather one that can offer about 40 feet of bridge to cross the 50 feet of chasm between liberalism and fascism, in an attempt to get the reader to continue on into a Wile E. Coyote-esque act of intellectual gravity-defiance. Fascist regimes do not impose their wills by force "or" through regulation and social pressure. They systematize violence. There isn't anything at all fascist about a neighborhood noise ordinance, and nothing at all fascist about scrunching up your noise in discomfort when someone lights a cigarette. But this is how distinctions between statism and fascism collapse, a necessary move when redefining fascism to include liberalism. If Goldberg wants to posit that statism is fascism, then he'd really better aim his Glock at George W. Bush, champion of massively expanded state power. (Though, as we'll see, Goldberg is rather soft on fascism-qua-fascism for a determined enemy of liberal fascism.)

But stipulate Goldberg's definition for a moment. Re-read it. Toss it around in your head like it was mouthwash. Then read this:
Indeed, it is my argument that during World War I, America became a fascist country, albeit temporarily. The first appearance of modern totalitarianism in the Western world wasn't in Italy or Germany but in the United States of America. How else would you describe a country where the world's first modern propaganda ministry was established; political prisoners by the thousands were harassed, beaten, spied upon, and thrown in jail simply for expressing private opinions; the national leader accused foreigners and immigrants of injecting treasonous "poison" into the American bloodstream; newspapers and magazines were shut down for criticizing the government; nearly a hundred thousand government propaganda agents were sent out among the people to whip up support for the regime and its war; college professors imposed loyalty oaths on their colleagues; nearly a quarter-million goons were given legal authority to intimidate and beat "slackers" and dissenters; and leading artists and writers dedicated their crafts to proselytizing for the goverment?
An uncharitable reader might snicker at Jonah Goldberg criticizing other writers for "proselytizing for the government." (What might such horror look like?) But leave that aside. Put simply, a government that makes a lot of poor and invidious policy choices, many of dubious constitutionality, but still leaves power following a democratic election isn't fascist. ("Albeit temporarily" has to do a lot of heavy lifting in the above paragraph.) Fascist administrations do not allow opposition parties to take control over a portion of the government -- they tend not to be so hot on opposition parties, period -- as Republicans did the Senate following the 1918 election. Henry Cabot Lodge was not murdered in his bed for opposing the League of Nations treaty. Indeed, fascist governments do not submit to constitutional procedures for enacting their supreme policy priorities, as with Wilson and the League, nor would they accept defeats handed to them by the process.

But notice as well that the United States during World War I does not qualify as a fascist country even under the definition of 'fascism' favored by Goldberg. Ask, say, a southern sharecropper or an urban slum-dweller if the Wilson administration controlled "all aspects of life, including our health and well-being."

I'm starting to think Jonah Goldberg is not an intelligent man. And I'm only on page 24.
--Spencer Ackerman
Where will it end?:
Much like Shawn Carter, I can't stay retired.

Last night an angel named Phoebe delivered to me a copy of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. I would say that Christmas came early, but it was already, you know, Christmas. Kate and I cooked Christmas Eve dinner: this glazed ham(ham!), steamed green beans with garlic, swiss chard with bacon, scalloped sweet potatoes. Your favorite liberal bloggers attended.

Unfortunately, our attempt at holding a dinner reading of Liberal Fascism fell prey to our inability to focus our conversation. We occasionally made very serious and thoughtful arguments, but others had made some of them before in such detail, and still others had made some of them before with such care. Frustrated, we left for the Black Cat, where I noticed Billy Bragg's Talking with the Taxman about Poetry is on the jukebox. I sneered a mixture of disgust and pity at Billy Bragg's inability to recognize his fascism.

So the dinner party's loss is THFTNRs gain. I intend to sit here until at least the NBA doubleheader and blog Liberal Fascism. Although Yglesias correctly located "Holiday In Cambodia" as within the aural canon of liberal fascism, the soundtrack for my attempts at spelunking the caverns of Jonah Goldberg's intellect will be the Joy Division boxed set.
--Spencer Ackerman
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Patiently waiting, it's like an AIDS test, what's the result?:
Out of retirement, briefly, to ask a question. What happens when you're unfamiliar with the following intro-to-logic fallacy?

1. All men are mortal.
2. Socrates is mortal.
3. Ergo, Socrates is a man.

The answer: This. You might even be tempted to sputter, "But... but... Socrates is a man!"
--Spencer Ackerman