Tuesday, December 25, 2007
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