Taking The Challenge
So Publisher’s Weekly has reviewed Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism and given it generally good marks. It is a brief review (located all the way at the bottom of the page), and the points that it highlights mostly sound like a conventional right-liberal/conservative analysis of fascism. I don’t say that dismissively. I think right-liberal and conservative analyses of fascism that identify it as a leftist ideology are absolutely right, but this is also not a terribly new interpretation. Recognising the similarities between American progressive eugenics and Nazi eugenics or between the New Deal and fascist corporatism is all well and good (as we all know, the latter derives from Old Right critiques of Roosevelt), and if these things can be popularised more that will be a real contribution. I remain skeptical that it will make the kind of fine distinctions that such a subject needs, but then I am hardly a Goldberg fan. Still, goodness knows that it can’t hurt to acquaint a modern audience with a somewhat more rigorous understanding of fascism in an era where such nonsense words as Islamofascism prevail.
If the book does describe JFK’s “cult of personality” as something that “reeks of fascist political theater,” as the review claims, I think Goldberg will have a hard time making that claim stick. The Fuehrerprinzip and a cult based around the Leader are defining elements of fascism, but what really distinguishes fascist cults of personality is the staged mass “political liturgy.” Unless we keep that distinction in mind, there is nothing to distinguish democratic, communist or authoritarian cults of personality from the fascist version.
From what the review tells me, it is pretty much what I expected. Back in March I wrote:
Goldberg’s argument will probably end up making a certain amount of historical sense, because he will largely be echoing what other students of this question have already said.
There may be something new in the book that makes it the “very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care” that Goldberg has said that it is. He has said that previous writers “never carried the argument out as far as I have in the American context nor, needless to say, have they accounted for more recent American politics.” For that reason I will gladly take up the challenge, even though I think my criticisms of the book–based on the description available to the public–have already been among the more informed and, for the most part, among the more generous.