A few years ago, there was a dustup between the right and left sides of the blogosphere over each side’s books and intellectual history – the National Review crowd essentially declaring that because of writers like Hayek and Friedman, they had a stronger intellectual base (and therefore more ideological validity) than the Left, which tended to lack knowledge of its authors and thinkers. This ignored the common experience that many younger liberals have had with the Young Republican crowd, which tends to focus around having the same set of quotes from conservative authors tossed at you until they inevitably have to bring their ideological perspective into the here and now and Hayek gets reduced to a series of icky faces at the prospect of some dude wanting to bone them.
One of the central voices on that front was Jonah Goldberg, who foreshadowed a rather telling penchant for inordinate pride in being able to repeat what other thinkers had said without consideration for what it meant. This, of course, led to the nearly five-years-in-waiting production of Liberal Fascism, Goldberg’s augmentation of the conservative canon. For those of you who haven’t read it, it’s really not worth it – by the time you realize that World War II involved the fascist leader of America fighting the fascist leaders of Germany, Italy and Japan with Germany in particular also fighting against the fascist leader of the Soviet Union, you’ve rolled your eyes so much at the thesis that it’s a better use of your time to go see an optometrist and get the damage repaired than read about how Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and George Clinton are all the new standard bearers of Liberal Fascism.
But what Goldberg has done is provide intellectual cover for a growing meme: Obama is the leader of a new fascist revolution. Why, you may ask? Well, it’s all got to do with the defining downward of fascism towards a gooey puddle that virtually anyone not a movement conservative can step in. The Goldbergian view of fascism (and I’m sure he’ll deny it, which will then be followed by a criticism of my argument, which will in turn be fascist, which will in turn be the exact point he was trying make) is that the marriage of any measurable popularity whatsoever to any state action whatsoever outside the boundaries of Reaganite conservatism is de facto fascist. The point was never to explore fascism or provide an analysis of the phenomenon that cast new light on it – a feat of which Goldberg was summarily incapable – but instead to provide the exact utility we see on display now, and provide a way to brand any popular Democrat or liberal as the handmaiden of evil.
In a way, Goldberg lucked out (but he’s used to that) – Obama’s popularity and McCain’s plodding campaign provide the perfect stand-in for his argument. A Republican candidate with any stature, any devotion from the base, anyone who’s invested in seeing him elected for reasons that extend beyond his party affiliation, and it’s entirely ruined. A boring Republican running a bad campaign (Bob Dole, Gerald Ford) inevitably creates a fascist Democrat, not by anything they’ve said or done but by the simple act of showing up and not being a dumbass.
[Insert Goldberg quip here.]
The old knock against the left was that we overused fascism as an adjective. Our energy policy was quasi-fascist because it was written by Enron. Our post-9/11 discourse was quasi-fascist because it was predicated on the infallible greatness of George W. Bush and the inherent treason in criticizing our war policy in a time of crisis. Right-wing conservative Christians were quasi-fascist because their entire appeal was based on the creation of a false national identity, strict social regimentation and the continual scapegoating of anyone who dared to criticize them.
Like many things that conservatives complain about, the liberal “overuse” of fascism was adopted in whole by them, and then abused worse than a copy of Playgirl at a Young America’s Foundation meetup. The term has been neutered, left to describe nothing and everything at once and to turn even the most basic of campaign traditions – rallies, fundraising, sloganeering – into the drumbeat of tyranny. On the one hand, it’s an awful abuse of the concept of fascism, disrespecting the millions upon millions of people whose lives and livelihoods were destroyed because of the dream of nationalist identity and corporate power uber alles. On the other hand, it is remarkably entertaining to see them try to figure out how Barack Obama’s favorite ice cream flavor plays right into the hands of the fascist dream.
Glad to see you finally accomplished something, Jonah.