Rating: 8 out of 10
It is one of the ironic, but unfortunate facts of publishing reality that the commentators who make a living writing about politics are almost uniformly unable to write serious and significant book-length works of non-fiction. The overwhelming majority of books published by members of the mediacracy are as banal as they are ephemeral; the ability to dash off pithy rhetorical sallies seldom translates well into an aptitude for constructing detailed arguments supported by documented evidence.
This may be due to the baleful influence of talk radio and sound-bite television, or perhaps it is simply a question of perspective and not being able to see the forest for the trees. But regardless of the reason, it comes as a delightful surprise to discover that it is none other than the cheerful joker of the conservative commentariat, whose most notable previous accomplishment was offending the entire nation of France by quoting a cartoon, who has written the most ideologically significant work of political non-fiction since Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind.”
Although the left will surely react to it with its customary hysteria, “Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning” is not a polemic in the style made fashionable by Ann Coulter and Al Franken. Goldberg’s restraint in avoiding cheap shots and resolutely sticking to the documented facts of his subject matter is remarkable, especially for those familiar with his political columns and Corner posts at National Review Online.
Unlike most of his maleducated peers in the media, Goldberg rejects the historically ignorant view still dominant in American pop culture that perceives Fascism and National Socialism as right-wing political phenomena. Goldberg correctly identifies both revolutionary ideologies as being inherently of the political left; more importantly, he provides substantial documentary evidence proving his case beyond any rational doubt. And in doing so, he exposes six decades of intellectual fraud committed by American academics, 60 years of university professors averting their eyes from the historical realities and teaching the literal Stalinist line to multiple generations of college students. This is a book that not only needed to be written; it is one that is long overdue.
At 496 pages, “Liberal Fascism” is also a long march. Nor is it always an easy one, since Goldberg takes what is perhaps best described as a biographical approach to the subject rather than a methodical one; the case is made effectively, but not efficiently. However, the chaotic structure of the book is at least partially due to the historically fluid nature of fascism itself; for as Goldberg notes, the Italian Fascists were eminently pragmatic political animals, led as they were by an audacious, highly intelligent man of outstanding political gifts who was about as concerned with ideological purity as William Jefferson Clinton. It is somewhat disappointing to discover that this structural synchronicity is not a brilliant literary metaphor, but merely a fortuitous coincidence.
While it will be very difficult for even the most stubborn leftist to take serious issue with Goldberg’s proper placing of historical fascism on the political spectrum, it is the controversial connection he draws between European fascism and American progressivism, which he references as the source of both Hillary Clinton’s “politics of meaning” as well as George Bush’s “compassionate conservativism,” that will provide legitimate grounds for argument. Goldberg presents a reasonable case for this aspect of his argument, but not an entirely conclusive one, and it is clear that a more methodical approach would have likely served him better on this particular point.
It must be noted that this is Goldberg’s first book, and at times, it shows. I would have liked to have seen more extensive citations from the historical sources in the text, especially the Italian ones, as well as a more detailed examination of the connection between fascism and feminism, from the famous Mitfords and the first plank in the Fascist platform to the grim lesbian blackskirts surrounding Hillary Clinton today. Nevertheless, “Liberal Fascism” shows that Jonah Goldberg fully merits his position as the most widely syndicated columnist of his generation and provides fair warning of his development into a significant intellectual figure of the future on the American right.
I highly recommend “Liberal Fascism” for anyone who has ever been called a fascist, has ever called anyone else a fascist, or simply wishes to understand the history of the ideologies that pervade modern American politics.