It has now been just a little over two years since the release of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. Despite its provocative title and thesis – and particularly its open challenge to the established historical assessment of the nature of fascism among academics – it was greeted largely with silence among those academic historians and political scientists.
Few spoke out, as Roger Griffin suggests, because they recognized that Goldberg’s book was more of an exercise in polemics than a historical work, and as such not really appropriate for academic consideration. Its use of history was so shoddy and propagandistic, and its claims so frankly absurd, that very few of them considered it worth taking seriously...
One of the more striking aspects of Goldberg’s dishonesty is how he manipulates his definitions in a self-serving fashion that lets him move the goalposts at will, as though we were playing Calvinball. John Cole calls this “the Goldberg Principle”: "You can prove any thesis to be true if you make up your own definitions of words." For instance, his operative definition of fascism is actually just the generic definition for totalitarianism, and it omits entirely the special characteristics that distinguish fascism from other forms of totalitarianism.
In 2008, when the shrill screams and whoops of "FASCISM" and "SOCIALISM" began making the rounds, I noticed that even some moderate/Republican friends of mine started echoing those cries on blogs, on Facebook, etc. It really got my goat, and now, two years later, I feel like I've become almost numb to these outrages. Back then, I was fairly persistent in engaging the clowns regurgitating stuff like that, and asking, point blank, what on earth do you think you're talking about when you throw around those words? Fascism and socialism (let alone Marxism) have specific, well-defined meanings in political theory. Do you think that you can define something however you want, just by screaming "ABRACADABRA?"
It's good that historians and political theorists are still willing to engage even those (like Goldberg) who aren't worthy of engagement. For the love of pete, Goldberg is basically a wingnut welfare trust fund kiddie who wouldn't have a platform if his mom hadn't gone all James O'Keefe on Linda Tripp back in the foaming-at-the-mouth days of the Clinton era.
It's also a reminder that all of us need to get back in the game; the right has gotten *way* too good at defining the terms of the debate in this country.