In the previous post about Sadly No!, I mentioned that the site had been engaged in the satirical skewering of Jonah Goldberg’s inane new book, Liberal Fascism. Quite frankly, I don’t think the book is worth serious critique. Nevertheless, David Neiwert northwest author, researcher and blogger at Orcinus, has decided to tackle the job and Jonah is finding himself in over his head.
If you follow the links from Orcinus to Goldberg’s blog (scroll down to the heading “Neiwert’s list”) back to Neiwert’s fascinating 15 part essay on fascism you will encounter immediate evidence of Goldberg’s intellectual dishonesty. Goldberg claims that:
Neiwert offers one endless cliché on fascism. It’s got nearly every single myth and hackneyed observation my book dispels. Rush Limbaugh and Father Coughlin are even paired alongside each other at the top of page one (talk about guilt by association!).
On the next page we get a fairly commonplace fascist checklist – borrowed, and heavily distorted, from Umberto Eco. The italicized bits are his key ingredients of fascism. The parts in brackets are Neiwert’s attempt to illustrate how these things are on display on the American right. I’ve added my own comments in red in an attempt to show how sophomoric Neiwert’s understanding of these things is.
If you actually go to Neiwert’s essay you find a nuanced discussion of the historical construction and reconstructions of the meaning of fascism.
In a historical sense, fascism is maybe best understood as an extreme reaction against socialism and communism; in its early years it was essentially defined as “extremist anti-communism.” There were very few attempts to systematize the ideology of fascism, though some existed (see, e.g. Giovanni Gentile’s 1932 text, The Philosophical Basis of Fascism). But its spirit was better expressed in an inchoate rant like Mein Kampf.
It was explicitly anti-democratic, anti-liberal, and corporatist, and it endorsed violence as a chief means to its ends. It was also, obviously, authoritarian, but claiming that it was oriented toward “socialism” is just crudely ahistorical, if not outrageously revisionist. Socialists, let’s not forget, were among the first people imprisoned and “liquidated” by the Nazi regime.
Goldberg must depend upon the fact that his blog readers don’t actually go to the source and read it because if they did they would find that, contrary to Goldberg’s claim, 1) Neiwert ascribes the “checklist” of fascist characteristic explicitly to Eco
One of the more popular recent essays on the subject was written by Umberto Eco, who is a cultural scholar, of course, though not what I would consider a genuine expert on fascism.
and 2) places the Eco article in it’s historical context as a unsatisfactory attempt to define fascism based upon “descriptive” characteristics.
The first attempts to study fascism were largely conducted from a Marxist point of view, which predictably explained it primarily as a reaction against the “communist revolution.” In many ways, that’s what it was — though of course, it was also a great deal more. Many of these early studies, not surprisingly, reduced fascism to an aggressive form of capitalism. In the years after World War II, when fascism had largely been eradicated as a form of governance, studies of it expanded the definition considerably and created a far more realistic, nuanced and accurate understanding of it.
The bulk of these studies essentially defined it descriptively — that is, as a series of various traits that were found to be pervasive among fascist systems. (This was the approach Umberto Eco attempted in his “Ur-Fascism” essay.)
But, as Neiwert points out, these descriptive definitions failed because they did not take into account the ways in which fascism morphed over time
History demonstrates that fascism itself, as Mr. Skinner suggests, has behaved more like a mutagen, shifting shapes constantly while maintaining certain core animating impulses.
It is impossible to characterize Neiwert’s analysis through a few quotes (please read the whole 15 part series), but two things are apparent. Neiwert’s understanding of fascism is far from sophomoric and Goodberg is intellectually dishonest.
Neiwert has promised his readers a thorough critique of Liberal Fascism and I, like Tristero at Hullabaloo, can hardly wait.
Headline— Orcus, the killer whale, eviscerates Jonah!