Wednesday, December 26, 2007
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
I think you've demonstrated pretty well how silly this book is. Still, on the primacy of race bit, what I imagine Goldberg is getting at is talk amongst lots of left-wing academics that "everyone is racist" or that reparations are owed to blacks, or that things along that line (e.g., some of Tommie Shelby's work). This is not to say that Goldberg is right to say that liberals IN GENERAL think of race as primary, or that, even if they did, that their way of thinking about it is relevantly similar to the ways the Nazis thought about it.
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