On re-reading Liberal Fascism: Defining Evil Down

Two years after reaching to the top of the non-fiction bestseller lists, Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism remains an influential book on the right.  If you blog on topics that overlap with its subject matter, especially if you argue in any way against its thesis, conservative commenters will link you to it, seemingly under the presumption that, if only you had fully imbibed of its wisdom, you could never be so complacent about the evil ones on the other side of the American discussion.

As for that other side, Goldberg may at least have made leftists a bit more self-conscious about dropping the political f-bomb on their opponents, perhaps because those opponents have learned a set of comebacks.  In fact, partly due to the work of those who have taken up Goldberg’s arguments and run with them, the thesis has been taken a step further than the author claimed he wanted to go.  Goldberg writes insistently that, of course, he didn’t really mean to suggest that liberals are the same, or virtually the same, or as bad as, the real fascists.  Yet it’s not hard to find that thinking, in pretty much those words, on the internet right.  In part by lending his services to popularizers, but also by virtue of the argument as he set it down in 400-plus pages, Goldberg has encouraged that development.

Here’s Goldberg’s “working definition” of fascism, from LF‘s  first chapter “Everything You Know About Fascism Is Wrong”:

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 the 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.  I will argue that contemporary American liberalism embodies all of these aspects of fascism.

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Posted in Books, Featured, History, Politics Tagged with: , ,

Paul Ryan on Real Progressivism

Many people believe Democracy obsolete.
They are wrong.
Obsolete is the one thing
Democracy can never be.

R. Buckminster Fuller – “No More Secondhand God”

In responding to Rep. Paul Ryan’s speech to the Oklahoma Council on Public Affairs on March 31, even some of the constitutional conservatives on the HotAir headline thread and then again around the Quote of the Day gave both speech and speaker rave reviews. The general reaction to Ryan verges on “presidential boomlet,” and, really, why couldn’t this man be president, and as soon as we need him to be? He’s as qualified as… Woodrow Wilson was. He’s certainly as qualified as… Abraham Lincoln was. More qualified in many ways than various presidents any of us could bring up…

When people ask, as they often have over recent months, what I mean when I refer to “progressive conservatism,” I have often pointed to Paul Ryan. He’s not the only exemplar I could name, but he’s one of the best. Consider the entirety of his approach – and also consider passages in his speech like this one (our Contention of the Day bonus from last Friday): Read more ›

Posted in Miscellany Tagged with: , , , , , ,

It wasn’t a very good year: 1938 – Hitler’s Gamble by Giles Macdonogh


Considering the centrality of “Munich” to American thinking on foreign policy – and the centrality of the war that followed to what America has become – there’s an argument for considering 1938 to be as important to our understanding of ourselves as other American milestone years – 1776, 1787, 1860, 1929, 1945, and so on.

What makes 1938 unique on such a list is our own absence from the critical scenes. The effect in Giles MacDonogh’s month by month, sometimes day by day and hour by hour chronicle is a portrait of American leadership traced out as though in a photographic negative.

The cloudy, black and gray surface reveals the following: A world without American leadership is a world that can fall prey to the “gambles” of upstart second-raters and maniacs. A world without American leadership is a world in which secretive, shifting alliances, immoral deals, territorial larceny, and brute force lead, step by step, to chaos and conflagration. It’s a world in which everyone can choose to look the other way when a monster and his brood are appeased, and appeased again, at the expense of races, religions, and nations. It’s also a world in which anyone can get in on the action while the getting seems good, not daring to think that he might be next.

In other words, 1938 marks the last historical moment up to the present day during which other nations could pretend to solve matters of great importance without significant American involvement. For nearly three more years, the U.S. avoided formal entry into the developing conflict, but the last pretense that the world could take care of itself on its own ended a few months into 1939. Soon, the argument for acting “while dangers gather,” instead of waiting for whatever day of infamy, would have 60 – 100 million direct casualties and a rubble of nations weighing on its side. Read more ›

Posted in Books, History, International Relations Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How little you know: The Deniable Darwin by David Berlinski

The Deniable Darwin collects essays written from 1996 to 2009 mostly on the same general theme: That the insufferable pretensions and aggressive self-certainty of science ideologues prevent us from justly appreciating how much we actually have learned about the natural world, and how wonderfully little that is. David Berlinski applies his dauntingly well-informed, remorselessly cogent skepticism to several fields of study – theoretical physics, mathematics, linguistics, molecular biology, and so on – but it’s his dismantlement of Darwinism that he takes to center stage for a virtuoso recital.

The program’s highlights include two name-taking essays, the book’s title piece and another (“Has Darwin Met His Match?”) from seven years later, presented along with full replies from most of the named and regiments of their supporters, and extensive rebuttals from the author. Giving the impression of deep familiarity with the professional and popular literature, and advancing his critique in a richly literary style, Berlinski argues that the Darwinists remain very far from demonstrating and evidencing how evolution via random mutation and natural selection could explain what the evolutionists claim it explains – that is, everything.

Berlinski’s ideas have been taken up by some Intelligent Design and Creationist writers and activists – including the sponsors of the Discovery Institute Press, which published this book – and that fact leads the Darwinists to accuse him, in brief, of the thought-crime of religious faith. The maneuver conveniently relieves them from confronting his argument on its own terms, particularly his denial that the only logical alternatives to Darwinian evolution are Biblical literalism and its cousins. Read more ›

Posted in Books, Science Tagged with: ,

A journey to delicious and beyond…

This is one of the greatest TV Commercials of all time.

Friskies Adventureland Commercial

It makes me proud to live in a country where TV Commercials like this one are produced.

And if you disagree, then you’re worse than Greg Gutfeld.

Posted in Art, Pets Tagged with:

The Real Progressives

In a comment at my home blog, and in related comments at her own blog, J.E. Dyer has ably encapsulated the negative responses of numerous conservatives to my post on “The Point of Being Annoyed with Glenn Beck.” J.E. concedes some of her own hesitations regarding Beck (as she did, implicitly, throughout “Beck and the Legacy“), but also expresses incomprehension regarding one of my main criticisms:

How is it dehumanizing invective to refer to progressivist political ideology as a cancer on the American polity? It would be one thing to say the metaphor is inapt. I don’t think it is, but one could argue the case dispassionately. Another criticism that wouldn’t necessarily be a reach would be that it’s hyperbolic. Again, I don’t think it is. I am convinced that progressivism is antithetical to limited, constitutional government. I think Beck is correct that progressivism and limited, constitutional government can’t coexist. One of them has to recede, be defeated, dissolve over time. They can’t occupy the same space.


I really don’t see what’s out-of-bounds about putting this in metaphorical terms as the operation of a “cancer.” Is it the metaphor, or the basic proposition, that you find so offensive…?

Well – both – except that I never expected anyone to care whether I personally was offended by GB and the to me unfortunate resonances of his rhetoric. My concerns initially were that Beck’s approach might be politically counterproductive and potentially dangerous, and that it would be rightly taken as offensive and extreme, or just plain nuts, by others. I see no gain in making Frank Rich and David Neiwert look relatively reasonable, however briefly. I am equally concerned, however, about how “the basic proposition” may be taken and acted upon by us – by conservatives.
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Posted in Politics Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

I'm a cancer, he's a cancer, she's a cancer, we're a cancer…

Last night, J.E. Dyer replied to “The Point of Being Annoyed with Glenn Beck” (at HotAir here), and to related comments at her blog The Optimistic Conservative. (For anyone new to the discussion, “The Point…” was itself framed as a response to J.E.’s “Beck and the Legacy,” which had referenced my short “Bennett vs. Beck” entry of last Monday).  At Zombie Contentions, we’ve had a wide-ranging discussion in the comment thread, but I’d like to consolidate the dialogue with J.E. rather than try to advance it in two or more separate venues amidst multi-sided group discussions.  This approach is further justified because J.E. is such an able and articulate spokesperson:  If I were Glenn Beck, I would be delighted and grateful to have J.E. speaking up for me and forcefully extending my arguments.  She also concisely expresses the responses of many who disagree either with the big name/high level critics or, rather a different thing, with me.

I also think that the discussion, whose implications go well beyond what anyone thinks of Glenn Beck, or thinks of someone else for what he or she said about Glenn Beck, can be usefully divided into style and  substance – even if, in the end, the two have to be considered together.

In this post, I will focus on style – that is, political rhetoric and presentation.

In the ZC comment, J.E. concedes some of her own hesitations regarding aspects of Beck’s approach (as she did, implicitly, in her “Legacy” post), then expresses incomprehension about one of my central complaints: Read more ›

Posted in Miscellany Tagged with: , , ,

The Point of Being Annoyed with Glenn Beck

In a post at the Optimistic Conservative, also featured on the HotAir main page, our friend and colleague J.E. Dyer asks, “What’s the point of being annoyed with Glenn Beck?” Obviously, J.E. is asking the question rhetorically, in order to respond to conservative criticisms of Beck that have been launched since his CPAC keynote speech: Her post actually tells us why we should be pleased with Beck, and I agree with most of what she says in it.

But I think her question deserves an answer.

It was, of course, William Bennett, writing over the weekend at NRO, who first spoke up loudly and incisively in reaction to Beck’s performance at CPAC. He focused on one of Beck’s customary themes:

To say the GOP and the Democrats are no different, to say the GOP needs to hit a recovery-program-type bottom and hang its head in remorse, is to delay our own country’s recovery from the problems the Democratic left is inflicting. The stakes are too important to go through that kind of exercise, which will ultimately go nowhere anyway…

Jonah Goldberg replied at NRO along somewhat the same lines as J.E., stressing that, if Beck may have overdone things, it was to motivate the troops and scare the wayward straight. Soon, however, Peter Wehner was joining his colleague Jennifer Rubin to second Bennett, and in addition was raising the ante: “If Glenn Beck were the future of conservatism,” he wrote, “it would become a discredited movement.”

Wehner went on to disclaim much concern about either part of that proposition, but, by the beginning of the week, both Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin were each worried enough to devote significant attention both on- and off-air to Beck and his arguments. Read more ›

Posted in Politics Tagged with: , , , , ,


I ordered Lord Mahon’s The Life of Belisarius on a recommendation at NRO The Corner from Victor Davis Hanson.  For the amateur history buff, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book, which was first published in 1829, is its depiction of a 6th Century Mediterranean world riven by competition and war, still under the shadow of Rome well after the conventional date for the eclipse of the Roman Empire.  Though the last Western Roman Emperor had long since given up the imperial purple, classic Roman institutions like the Senate, in Rome itself, and the Consulship, awarded in Byzantium, persisted up to this period.  The former fell victim to a war in Italy that might have restored the old imperial heartland, when the old Senatorial families were taken hostage and in large number executed.  The Consulship was by this time a merely honorific position, but had retained enough of its old aura to excite the jealousy of Emperor Justinian, who emerges in the tale as the very embodiment of vain and unwise leadership (he “imposed his name on no less than nineteen cities, and of these not a single one has served to prolong his memory”) – especially against the character of Belisarius, who is depicted as a great and good general, the very embodiment of loyalty and patriotism.  The book is filled with marvelous characters and great events largely forgotten to history (outside of specialist realms), but the chief pleasure of reading it may be in Lord Mahon’s aphoristic asides and wry turns of phrase, reminiscent of Gibbon:

The national altar and the national throne cannot be merely foreign and indifferent to each other; if not allied, they must be hostile.

…he was invested with Patrician dignity, and spent the remainder of his days loaded with honors and contempt.

It is rarely that men reject any tale, however fantastic or improbable, provided it tends to show that their own sect or country is the peculiar favorite of heaven.

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Posted in Books, History Tagged with: , ,

In a world of their own: Conservatives and Avatar

Having immensely enjoyed the audio-visual orgy of James Cameron’s Avatar, as the kind of out-of-body experience that big movies are for, I find myself feeling sorry for the many conservatives – published critics, self-publishing bloggers, and commenters – who have blanketed, one might say wet-blanketed, the right side of the internet with their complaints and indictments.

Hollywood has given our anti-nonsense reflexes a lot of exercise in recent years, but I had still expected greater enthusiasm for this movie, or at worst neutrality, from my fellow conservatives.  Regardless of how some people feel about Cameron personally, or about any statements he may have made about Avatar‘s intended messages, he remains the same director who gave us  Terminator, Terminator 2, Aliens, and True Lies.  By the day that the Avatar trailer played to a national NFL TV audience and on the gigantic new video screen at Cowboys Stadium, it was clear to millions that an audacious effort was under way to re-vitalize the great American movie spectacle – a $400 million gamble by one of our leading auteur-entrepreneurs, in the shape of an advertisement for democratic capitalism at its most innovative, for the creativity and vitality of American culture during a time when American declinism and every other brand of pessimism about our future have been spreading to an extent not seen since the 1970s.

Those on the right who have been impotently and priggishly attacking the movie, their small-spirited wishes for its failure decisively dashed by a quick $1 Billion in worldwide ticket sales, have not just been embarrassing themselves and their political-cultural allies.  They may even have been doing harm to the conservative movement, at least as much as the movie itself may do with its incidental Gore- and Obamaisms.

Read more ›

Posted in Movies

Noted & Quoted


Trump actually congratulated Erdogan on the outcome. Trump apparently thought it was a good thing that, despite all the flaws in the process, a bare majority of Turkey’s citizens voted to strengthen their populist leader. I don’t think any other post-Cold War president would have congratulated a democratic ally that held a flawed referendum leading to a less democratic outcome. This is not that far off from Trump congratulating Putin on a successful referendum result in Crimea if that event had been held in 2017 rather than 2014.

Public disquiet and behind-the-scenes pressure on key illiberal allies is an imperfect policy position. It is still a heck of a lot more consistent with America’s core interests than congratulating allies on moving in an illiberal direction. In congratulating Erdogan, Trump did the latter.

For all the talk about Trump’s moderation, for all the talk about an Axis of Adults, it’s time that American foreign policy-watchers craving normality acknowledge three brute facts:

  1. Donald Trump is the president of the United States;
  2. Trump has little comprehension of how foreign policy actually works;
  3. The few instincts that Trump applies to foreign policy are antithetical to American values.
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He sensed that the public wanted relief from the burdens of global leadership without losing the thrill of nationalist self-assertion. America could cut back its investment in world order with no whiff of retreat. It would still boss others around, even bend them to its will...

There was, to be sure, one other candidate in the 2016 field who also tried to have it both ways—more activism and more retrenchment at the same time. This was, oddly enough, Hillary Clinton... Yet merely to recall Clinton’s hybrid foreign-policy platform is to see how pallid it was next to Trump’s. While she quibbled about the TPP (which few seemed to believe she was really against), her opponent ferociously denounced all trade agreements—those still being negotiated, like the TPP, and those, like NAFTA and China’s WTO membership, that had long been on the books. “Disasters” one and all, he said. For anyone genuinely angry about globalization, it was hard to see Clinton as a stronger champion than Trump. She was at a similar disadvantage trying to compete with Trump on toughness. His anti-terrorism policy—keep Muslims out of the country and bomb isis back to the Stone Age—was wild talk, barely thought through. But for anyone who really cared about hurting America’s enemies, it gave Trump more credibility than Clinton’s vague, muddled talk of “safe zones” ever gave her.

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As they war with the right, though, Trump and Kushner would gain no quarter from Democrats—unless Democrats were allowed to set the all the terms. This is Bannon’s central point. Democrats have no incentive to prop up Trump’s presidency for half-loaf compromises that many will suspect are contaminated with seeds of Trumpism. Trump can adopt or co-opt the Democrats’ infrastructure platform outright if he likes, but he can’t easily entice them to compromise with him, and he can’t entice House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to advance a trillion dollar direct-spending bill filled with environmental and labor protections that the GOP exists to oppose.

Which is just to say, Kushner wants Trump to chart a new course that leads to a substantive dead end for at least another 19 months. Bannon’s path, at least, preserves the hope of keeping his base consolidated through the legislative ebb. He can deregulate, scapegoat, and unburden law enforcement to turn his Herrenvolk fantasy into reality—all while keeping congressional investigators at bay.

There’s no real logical rebuttal to this, except to point to three months of chaos and humiliation as indicative of the futility of continuing to do things Bannon’s way. That is really an argument that Trump should get rid of both of his top advisers, but Trump is unlikely to grasp that in a contest between loyalists, both might deserve to lose. Family loyalty, and the beating his ego will take when the stories of his first 100 days are written, will pull him toward his son-in-law. And that’s when the real fun will begin.

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State of the Discussion

+ Wade, your last paragraph is crucial to your argument. Certainly it expresses economically the source of the weight of a country's foreign policy, and [. . .]
Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. – The Atlantic
CK MacLeod
Comments this threadCommenter Archive
+ Not sure where you got the idea that I ever wrote “[President Trump] doesn’t know what he’s doing!!!!!!" - bob's idea for a possible rallying [. . .]
Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. – The Atlantic
Wade McKenzie
Comments this threadCommenter Archive
+ The conversation that you and Bob were having at the time that I wrote my comment had everything to do with the recent missile strike [. . .]
Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. – The Atlantic