Il Duce’s Teacher Certification Program

According to Crooked Timber, Jonah Goldberg’s new book claims to reveal that the typical “liberal fascist” in contemporary America has studied in Swarthmore’s Education Program.

You can’t get angry, exactly, at the shamelessness and silliness of this kind of writing. You can get depressed, however. Soon the Jonah Goldbergs and Ann Coulters will run out of over-the-top words from ordinary English, and be forced to use their own variety of doublespeak.

A look ahead at Goldberg’s writing in a decade: “Billion billion Naziliberal welfare queen chardonnay!! Swarthmore lesbian Marxopomo Muslimoporno taxtaxtax!! Doubleplus badness atheism!”

This entry was posted in Politics, Swarthmore. Bookmark the permalink.

52 Responses to Il Duce’s Teacher Certification Program

  1. kieran says:

    Tim, you’re a fascist.

  2. Timothy Burke says:

    No, you are.

  3. Timothy Burke says:

    Oh, wait, I am.

  4. paul spencer says:

    You may remember their prototype – we’d have “double secret probation” for all of you liberal fascists. Ah, Dean Wormer – if this was only a silly movie, too – although some days it looks like one.

  5. Derek Catermole says:

    Hi Tim,

    Nice comment over at Critical Mass ( I’m banned from posting there, so I thought I’d send my comment over to you. Maybe you’d like to post it for me. Probably get you banned too. So maybe another time. Here’s the comment. If it annoys you, please take it down with my apologies.

    So there you go dittoheads. Don’t do like the left and fake your hate crimes. Approach hate crime with integrity and sincerity. Everyone knows leftists always fake hate crimes. Be a real conservative and commit real hate crimes.

    “viewpoint discrimination”? Is that like “lifestyle choice”?

  6. David says:

    Come on. Jonah can be a more serious a thinker than that. Coulter and Goldberg aren’t remotely playing the same game.

  7. hestal says:

    I can’t stop laughing.

  8. Timothy Burke says:

    David: you think this book is a more serious bit of “thinking” than Coulter’s work? I grant you that Goldberg thinks he’s more serious: the excerpts so far drip with the kind of sincerity that a well-meaning, slightly dim 14-year old who believes himself to be an intellectual can exude. Coulter’s strictly playing it for laughs, very self-consciously malevolent. But that’s what makes this all the more disastrous. There’s just no excuse for writing something this exceedingly dumb if you’ve spent more than ten minutes on it.

    If there’s something that I would think conservatives and liberals (or just about anybody) ought to agree on, it’s that ideally, knowledge is cumulative. The reason historians footnote obsessively is only secondarily about academic honesty. Primarily, it’s about trying to build something of lasting value, taking what has been said and bringing some new contribution to it. So coming into a long-running, profound, rich and deep body of scholarly and general literature on European fascism in the 20th Century and defacing it wildly by using “fascism” as a word with no more specific a meaning than the definite article “the” is a bit of small, despicable vandalism. It’s not even worth getting into the liberal v. conservative issues here, because this is a worthless waste of time long before one gets to that terrain.

    I normally work really hard to try and salvage something of genuine value and interest even in writings and arguments with which I profoundly disagree. But I’m not playing that kind of game here, because this isn’t worthy to be treated that way. One can make arguments about the state, statism, paternalism, utopianism, and so on, that indict aspects of contemporary liberalism or left practice. John Grey’s done it. James Scott has done it. If Jonah Goldberg wasn’t prepared to do some thinking, or as appears to be the case, was incapable of it, he should have stuck to scrawling on the little walls of the blogosphere.

  9. back40 says:

    “If there’s something that I would think conservatives and liberals (or just about anybody) ought to agree on, it’s that ideally, knowledge is cumulative.”

    Well, no. It isn’t. Science, for example, isn’t only about accumulation, it is also revolution, disproving the known things that ain’t so. Knowledge does increase, but it isn’t only accumulation.

    Then there’s cruft, the stuff that does accumulate but that degrades the system rather than enhancing it. The trick is to tell one bit from another.

  10. Timothy Burke says:

    Ok, fine, but even then, revolution is about the improvement of knowledge, and is keenly aware of what went before. It’s not innocent or ignorant.

  11. nord says:

    Jonah and Ward Churchill, co-teaching a seminar on liberal educational facism … now that’d be a course I’d make a special major to attend. Made-up facts, made-up words, lots of noise, not much signal.

  12. David says:

    I’ve been reading Jonah for years and I really don’t think you are treating him fairly without having seen anything besides the table of contents and the book jacket. You will probably disagree vociferously but the core of his book had to of occurred to more than a few folks along the way which is that socialist part of fascism and national socialism are not so very different from the socialism of the communism and the more radical social democrats.

    It never made sense to me, at least, to posit a left-right continuum with fascism and communism at the edges and liberal democracy in the middle. Fascism and socialism/communism are two peas in a pod (along with the welfare state or at least Kotkin tried to make that argument in Magnetic Mountain) and belong together with some definition of libertarianism at the other end.

    I’m not saying Goldberg’s book is on par with Von Ranke but my sense is that it deserves more attention than the latest screed from Coulter or Savage or the like.

  13. withywindle says:

    So much scorn for lack of a proper copy-editor! Goldberg’s point is completely disproven by the fact that you get an education minor or concentration at Swat, not a major! Gosh, when I was a student in the way-back, we casually referred to people as being Education majors, because, you know, they were taking a lot of Ed courses and planning on becoming teachers. So foolish we were. Next we’ll discover there’s a typo on page 37 of Goldberg’s opus; that doubtless will disprove some other thesis of his.

    As for liberal fascism–I need to read the book, but the precis sounds interesting. Certainly there is a broad illiberal, authoritarian streak in modern liberalism. It would be astonishing if it had no relation at all to fascism–the two movements are, after all, broadly part of the same civilization. As for the salience of the particular comparison–debatable, doubtless, but worth reading the argument. Bit too late to put Goldberg’s book on my Christmas list; perhaps for my birthday?

    Me readum Paxton. Me readum Payne. Me readum Fascism scholars, last names no begin with P. Me think, with me little bit of scholarship, liberal Fascism not strange concept. Me remember, back in Fascism seminar in college, talk about “paisley shirts,” argue Hippy-dips and Fascists have some similarities. Me not even conservative then! Me not yet Bizarro-Burke, all now know and love! Maybe is natural thought.

    And, golly, skipper, some of my research is now touching on the possible intellectual linkages between liberalism and fascism. I’m looking at how they regard phronesis–and, yeah, maybe there is some relevant similarity. The argument that liberalism and fascism have a historically significant relation doesn’t strike me as implausible. Stay tuned, and I’ll see if I can get you a version of Goldberg with footnotes, peer review, and all that jazz.

    As for history as knowledge–doesn’t Hayden White critique that point of view in Metahistory?–historicize it, anyway? Aside from that, no, that point of view–the modern connotations of that language, anyway–is to make history imitate a science, to use positivistic models of knowledge, to try to compress knowledge of humans into the model of knowledge of rocks, and hence (theory becoming praxis) to try to make humans more like rocks. History is in its genre origins, and should continue to be, rhetoric, narrative, persuasion–what accumulates in the practice of history (as elsewhere in human life) is not knowledge in the scientific sense, but knowledge as argument, knowledge of human beings, solidifying into (historiographic) experience and (historiographic) tradition. We build upon prior arguments, not upon prior facts–or perhaps one should say the facts have no meaning until embedded in argument, in words, in language. The accumulation of historical argument opens up new historical arguments; it doesn’t just constrain them in a positivistic cage.

    (I’m playing up the dichotomy of argument and fact a bit here. Argument should be rooted in fact, and one doesn’t have the license to just make stuff up. But when speaking of history’s dual dependence on fact and argument, I think one ought to empasize argument.)

    (Incidentally, it’s perfectly possible to criticize Goldberg using my vocabulary and philosophical assumptions. Prove that he lacks knowledge of prior arguments rather than knowledge of prior facts, and I’ll happily agree that this weakens his argument.)

    Have you read Goldberg’s book yet?

    Your condemnations of Goldberg speak much of your anger and disdain and little of him. They are not worthy of you.

  14. Josh says:

    Your condemnations of Goldberg speak much of your anger and disdain and little of him. They are not worthy of you.

    Right, it’s not like Goldberg has an extensive written record with which we might be familiar, which could possibly influence our judgment as to how likely it is his book is actually worth anything. I mean, the man’s a nobody.

  15. Timothy Burke says:

    Go read some of the pages being posted at Sadly, No. Don’t worry about the snark for the moment, just read the pages. I think maybe the excerpt where Goldberg makes something of the fact that organic honey was made at Dachau especially caught my eye, but there’s a lot of silliness in all the pages that have been posted so far.

    It’s kind of a test, I think. Somebody who wants to argue that maybe Goldberg’s got a point after seeing some of those pages–or even just the table of contents–doesn’t care much about intellectual honesty, scholarship, accuracy, just about crude ideological ranting. There’s not much point to pretending that as scholars we all respect certain kinds of common values of craft and practice regardless of our political convictions if crap like this is going to get a favorable hearing among conservative scholars. As I said, there’s a book about authoritarian strains in various uses of the state that’s perfectly valid (James Scott wrote it already, in my opinion–though notably, that book isn’t about ‘liberals’ or ‘conservatives’, but about concrete cases, actions, practices that span the political spectrum.) You can write about the authoritarian consequences of utopian thought. You can do a lot of things. But just making “fascism” mean whatever you want it to mean, and arguing that everything bad ever is “liberal” is just silly and stupid.

  16. Timothy Burke says:

    Though forget the longer quotes. If writing with a straight face that grade-school teachers educated by Swarthmore are more “fascist” than S.S. storm troopers (forget the trivia of whether you can major in education at Swat) didn’t convince you right off the bat that you’re dealing with a silly, pointless (not to mention offensive) book, what’s going to?

  17. withywindle says:

    1) The link to “Sadly, No” doesn’t work. Found it though. No, the pages read as a polemic, but not silly. The only literary test of this nature I take with any seriousness is Auden’s, who tested people’s worth by their reaction to Tolkien–and, frankly, even Auden was a little uncharitable in the application. I saw the bit where he describes the French Revolution as Fascist–and that is a thought-provoking way of putting things. Probably the use of the word “Fascist” clutters up the analysis with anachronistic connotations, but I think I know what he means, and it’s an arguable claim to make. And it reminded me of the scene in Whittaker Chambers’ Witness where Chambers and the other refugee from the Comintern trade the insight, “The Soviet Union is a Fascist State.” If you like, he’s using the word “fascist” as a crowbar to whack the illusions of the left–and if the crowbar isn’t perfect history, it is perhaps a tool to better history, given how pervasive and distorting the said illusions are. And I judge historical polemics on different grounds from my judgments of academic history–they are different genres.

    2) The relevant quote is “The quintessential liberal fascist isn’t an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade-school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore.” This is very different from saying “grade-school teachers educated by Swarthmore are more “fascist” than S.S. storm troopers.” The sloppiness of your reading here is unworthy of you.

  18. Timothy Burke says:

    Give me a break. Any old crowbar is evidently good enough for you if it’s whacking on the right targets. Well, it’s nice to know just how indiscriminately you’ll salute if the appropriate flag gets run up the flagpole.

  19. withywindle says:

    My discrimination consists of a desire to read the book before condemning it. Not to read snippets of it on a website, attended by vitriolic commentary–certainly not to judge it on that basis. Please note, incidentally, that I did provide in an earlier comment the means by which I would critique Goldberg, should his book prove lacking. I am committed to a historical method which I believe can be used by any person of any political persuasion to critique any other political persuasion. A tool for universal critique is a somewhat different creature from an indiscrimate salute.

  20. Timothy Burke says:

    To David above:

    I think there is a perfectly apt critique to make of:

    authoritarian tendencies in modern political movements
    shared philosophies of state action
    shared beliefs about the uses of civic institutions to create ideology
    shared ideas about agency and personhood

    and so on that would connect some varieties of left-wing politics with some varieties of mid-20th Century fascism.

    But as I find myself suggesting in despair often enough, those are difficult, subtle arguments that call for nuance and make demands upon an author’s ability to read evidence and texts with sensitivity. A case made too broadly becomes universal; a case made too specifically stops being comparative. A case where the terms of the comparison are cut to fit a prior argument not only lacks curiosity and honesty, but descends rapidly into silliness.

    It’s one thing to say that the French Revolution inaugurated a particular conception of the state, or embodied a particular belief about the utopian uses of national culture and patriotism whose traces can be found in Nazism as well as in some forms of high-modernist liberalism or statism throughout the 20th Century. That claim makes some degree of sense, or can be sustained in various ways. But made at that level, the claim certainly includes many forms of conservatism over the last century, not the least of which would be contemporary American neoconservatism. Nor can you push that argument too far in terms of making the same kinds of moral claims about each instance of that tendency. Like Scott, I can see an authoritarian approach to the state that links Le Corbusier’s urban planning, Nkrumah’s villagization in Tanzania, and the bureaucratic apparatus of the Holocaust. But I wouldn’t for a minute flatten out all those instances to make parallel moral claims about them. Le Corbusier’s vision helped create shitty unliveable cities and blighted low-income housing, but that’s not the same as burning millions of people in death camps. But that’s the level of moral simplicity that Goldberg proposes to operate on, and apparently Withywindle accepts as legitimate. The fact that he wants to parse a sentence that is patently intended to compare grade-school teachers (however patronizing or smarmily liberal any given one might be) to SS troopers in the vain hope of producing some absent nuance is a pretty clear indicator that there are double-standards being handed out with abandon.

    It seems increasingly pointless to me to try and lift the burden of that kind of nuanced argument in the public sphere (blogs or otherwise) or to expect people to apply some of their arguments in a fair-minded way to their own convictions, to look for any kind of exploration or curiosity. I’m really beginning to wonder if there’s any point to blogs, or scholarship, or anything much at all besides just getting on with life quietly and tending my own garden as best I can. I’ve constantly admonished people who approach political debate as a blood sport and talked about my belief that there was some kind of core tendency towards decency out there somewhere in the American majority. I’m really beginning to think I was wrong. Maybe I’m just in a bubble and overreacting to a few isolated comments or tendencies. But it seems to me to be such an unexceptional point that using “fascism” in this way is an insult to the specificity of analytic language, to the substance of historical argument, and to meaningful debate about politics that I’m honestly stunned to find anyone, anyone at all, saying otherwise.

  21. Timothy Burke says:

    Let me take, for example, the argument that because Hitler was a vegetarian and some Nazis supported “healthy eating” connected to vegetarianism, this makes Nazism and contemporary organic-food eating among liberal Americans a historically linked condition.

    This is a great indicator that the book is going to be absent anything like a careful argument. To make it work as a connection, you would have to do one of the following:

    1) Argue that this is an example of the use of an authoritarian state apparatus to attempt to produce a change in the daily culture, lifeways or practice of a national population for their own good, and that this links Nazism with contemporary American liberalism. From the excerpts, this appears to be Goldberg’s attempt. But then:

    a) This ignores the HUGE, and I mean, HUGE structural, substantive and felt differences between the nature of the Nazi state and the nature of the American state at any time in the history of the latter including the present. If the argument is that any modern state which attempts to influence the behavior, cultural practices or consciousness of its own population is “fascist”, all modern states are fascist. If the argument is that any modern political movement or party which argues on behalf of such policies is “fascist”, all modern political movements and parties in all nations are fascist.

    2) Or it’s a smarmily-made argument that because Hitler was a vegetarian and some American liberals are vegetarians, they must be culturally alike, that vegetarianism is an exterior sign of a cultural taste for “fascism”. If this was The Onion and it was being played for laughs, fine. As an argument? It doesn’t even qualify as something worth discussing.

    3) Or Goldberg wants to have it both ways and anyway that allows him to say “liberals are fascists”. E.g., he’s on a panty raid through history looking for everything and anything that links what he calls “liberals” with anything and everything that’s been called “fascist”. Which, again doesn’t qualify as something worth discussing. When I see a student paper that is that desperate to make an argument and therefore completely misunderstands the nature of reasoned argument, I tend to give it low marks (whatever its ideology). As I should.

    So either it’s an argument being made dishonestly or it’s an argument being made incoherently. You take your pick, either or both are possible.

  22. SamChevre says:

    If you want the book that makes the argument the JG, on the most charitable reason, might be trying to make, I have a recommendation: get “Leftism: from de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse” by Erik Von Kuehnelt-Leddihin. At least you’ll be reading someone who abserved much of what he talks about, and is well-educated; the author is an Austrian, born in 1909, who I’d describe as a monarchist libertarian. (I haven’t read “Leftism Revisited”; it may be great, but I don’t know.)

  23. jpool says:

    Let me take, for example, the argument that because Hitler was a vegetarian and some Nazis supported “healthy eating” connected to vegetarianism, this makes Nazism and contemporary organic-food eating among liberal Americans a historically linked condition.

    No, you’re just missing the prior argument: Vegetarians are evil. See? Boom, done.

    It’s kind of a test, I think. … There’s not much point to pretending that as scholars we all respect certain kinds of common values of craft and practice regardless of our political convictions if crap like this is going to get a favorable hearing among conservative scholars.

    I think this is a good way of looking at it, but with an emphasis on the test part. Scholars of whatever political stripe who can agree that lazy and dishonest crap like this is only worth examining as an example of public culture, not as an actual argument, are worth talking to, whatever disagreements we might have, because we can at least agree on the terms of the discussion. Those who start making excuses are, at their core, ideological hacks.

    The most charitable way to treat the visible argument here as a polemic, is an uncharitable version of the book jacket: “You’re calling me a fascist? Well you’re the fascist!” (I love the way even the book jacket dumbs it down, “hence the term ‘National Socialism.'”) It’s an interesting cultural moment where (putative) liberals are being subjected to the same kind of sweeping demonizations that (putative) Communists were mid-last century.

    To correct the obvious typo, Nkrumah’s villagization in Tanzania s/b “Nyerere’s villagization in Tanzania.”

  24. Timothy Burke says:

    Whoops! My mind skipped a beat there.

  25. David says:

    I’d rather address the core of the argument than continuing on about Goldberg. He can pr cannot defend himself, I’m more predisposed toward him than you, but that is neither here nor there. Any attempt to undermine the common left to right argument tool either described as ad Hitlerum or ad fascisti (which has a similar right to left parallel of ad communisme or ad Trotsky/Mao) has value to me. The game being that when you have run out of good reasons or energy or whatever call the other side a fascist, communist, Nazi, Maoist, or similar folks. If the conversation about this topic did nothing else besides undermining the value of the word fascist then I think it accomplishes something. Of course, the counter should also be true that right-wingers should avoid where possible accusations of communism where none exists. The difference being that fascism had a historical specificity to a specific time and place and was de-historicized first by the communists and then by some left-liberals, whereas communism lasted longer and had a more profound effect on the nature of politics and perhaps parts of academe and continues to have supporters in the contemporary world, see Chavez, Venezuela.
    You are clearly despairing over the nature of political discourse at least in its blogworld version. I’m not sure its so different than most political activity besides the fact that it is fast, usually underthought, and can be anonymous. I just finished teaching the American 1850s and I don’t think the vitriol in the blogworld is half as bad as it was then and that was mostly in newspapers (whose editorial pages often resembled little more than the blog post of today). The Cincinnati newspaper scene of the 1850s was fantastic on this. I have seen a blog caused riot . . . yet. Mary Ryan is probably the best on this.

    I’ve spent a fair bit of time in German historical circles and the Sonderweg argument always seemed deeply wrapped up in the question about whether historians should go looking in imperial and Weimar Germany and later in the Adenaur and early East German regime for continuities that show that fascism (or National socialism) is not so abnormal. The argument over what to make of Vichy France is similar.

    I’m not sure I’ve advanced the argument but it is late in exam week and student papers have clouded my mind.

  26. MMGood says:


    Try a thought experiment. Say some liberal bomb-thrower–Michael Moore, for example–wrote a book called Communism: From Marx to George W. Bush. And to make his argument he cherry-picked some associations, from the simplistic–hey, there’s communists, and conservatives claim to be interested in _community_, coincidence?–to the more substantive–George Will, for one–a conservative himself–has noted that policy toward China promoted by conservatives is a kind of Marxism in Brooks Brothers.

    No matter what evidence Moore used, no matter how many times he made a reader say, hmmm. . . there _is_some similarity between communism and American conservatism, the book would still be complete and utter crap. The many issues that had to be left out to draw the connections would make the book worthless, even as polemic. And _as polemic_ it would be clear that the real point of the book was not to offer some interesting argument but only make it justifiable to call conservatives a horrible name: Stalinist.

    I think that even without reading such a book you would be completely happy dismissing it.

  27. alkali says:

    MMGood says:

    I think that even without reading such a book you would be completely happy dismissing it.

    Look, there’s room for everyone here: there will be those who dismiss the book without reading it, those who dismiss the book after reading part of it and flinging it across the room in disgust, and those who dismiss the book after reading the whole godforsaken thing.

  28. hestal says:

    I have no idea what you guys are talking about, but it is always fun to watch. Throw me a crumb. Did Hitler do what he did because he was an atheist or what?

  29. withywindle says:

    MMGood: The interesting argument, over among the paleoconservatives, is that there is a line connecting the Trotskyites and the neoconservatives. This, I think, is not entirely wonky, and I would be interested in reading a book, whether polemic or academic history, that argued the point. To the extent that George Bush is comfortable presiding over a redistributionist welfare state, any good libertarian would take him as not that far off from Marx. I might not put such a book at the top of my reading list, but I’m not immediately tempted to sprinkle it with holy water and say “Devil! Devil!” Now, I’ll give you an example that does bite a little closer to the bone to me: Mearsheimer et al on The Lobby. Emotionally, I think my immediate reaction is something like Tim’s re Goldberg: that if you’re the sort of person who takes that stuff seriously, you have immediately failed some sort of test. But perhaps my emotions are not entirely reliable? Perhaps dispassionate dissection–of the sort conducted by reviewers of Mearsheimer in every opinion magazine in the country–is the better way to go. At any rate, I’m reasonably sure that if and when I do engage in that sort of out-of-hand condemnation, I will be doing nothing more than preaching to the converted–which, to be sure, feels good, but doesn’t necessarily have much else to recommend ti.

  30. paul spencer says:

    Tim – take heart, man. Despite withywindle’s last comment, you are not “preaching to the converted” – you are speaking past the speakers. Blogs are fun and gratification for the bloggers, but they are one of the new News forums for the passive readers. They are contributing to a more democratic dialogue; they are influencing opinion; they are a means of organizing action. During the Viet Nam war era, it was one-on-one and mano-a-mano. Now is better – and faster.

    I have to agree with withywindle in one sense, concerning the possibility of fascist tendencies in some people who would be labelled ‘liberals’. Part of it, as in all argumentation, is definition. On the one hand I might say that to be a ‘liberal’, one must be open to diversity – not usually associated with definitions of fascism. OTOH one might say that a ‘liberal’ is one who espouses certain policies. In that case there are all sorts of possibilities as to other tendencies.

    My take is more primitive than academic and derives somewhat more from simple rules, such as the Golden Rule (old version – not ‘those who have the gold make the rules’). I don’t really see a spectrum from left to right; I just see policies and programs. Philosophies and personalities no doubt inform these to some degree, but it just comes down to trying to help, as best I can. Oh wait – that’s a liberal attitude.

    As to Goldberg vs. Walt & Mearsheimer – I can understand the emotional reaction, but, please, withywindle – let’s not try to equate the content or the effect. As you say, let’s look at the reviews.

    Last remark – ‘whack with a crowbar’ – hmm. Sounds a little fascistic to me.

  31. dnexon says:

    I’ve harped on these points in a couple of places, but….

    1. As Tim is certainly well aware (we’re both veterans of the same usent group), David’s actually right when he notes that:

    “You will probably disagree vociferously but the core of his book had to of occurred to more than a few folks along the way which is that socialist part of fascism and national socialism are not so very different from the socialism of the communism and the more radical social democrats.”

    But that’s precisely the point. This has occurred to tons and tons of people before. Nothing I’ve seen out of Jonah’s book isn’t something you can’t find articulated by random people, but particularly right libertarians, on usenet over a decade ago. And I mean *nothing*. That’s what I find so infuriating: that not only does this seem like insanely bad argumentation, but it isn’t even remotely original. The pages I’ve seen could be a cut-and-paste job; they certainly read like one.

    And the fact is that most serious scholars of fascism are well aware of its relationship to social-democratic thought. Fascism was, in many ways, its offshoot. But fascism changed a great deal in the process.

    In other words: yeah, the modern SPD is kind of like the Nazis, except for, among other things, the latter’s hyper-militarist conception of the community, virulent anti-semitism, and hostility to electoral democracy. And Women’s Studies majors at Swarthmore are kind of like the S.S., except for the whole mass violence, genocide, savage suppression of their political opponents, and extreme embrace of traditional conceptions of gender roles thing.

    As many people have pointed out, we could play the same game with any non-fascist political movement in the United States. All we need are enough false syllogisms and false analogies.

    2. Goldberg’s perfectly capable of refuting his own style of reasoning when it serves his purpose. Here’s his take on why the United States isn’t an empire:

    “Critics of American foreign policy point to the fact that the U.S. does many things that empires once did – police the seas, deploy militaries abroad, provide a lingua franca and a global currency – and then rest their case. But noting that X does many of the same things as Y does not mean that X and Y are the same thing. The police provide protection, and so does the Mafia. Orphanages raise children, but they aren’t parents. If your wife cleans your home, tell her she’s the maid because maids also clean homes. See how well that logic works.”

  32. MMGood says:

    On your blog you say you’re smooth, like butter on ice, and there’s certainly some of that in your response: you don’t answer my question, but one you like better, and then pretend as though you answered my question. I didn’t ask if you would enjoy a book that connected certain lines of Trotskyist though to certain lines of neoconservatism. Such a book would be careful and historically delimited. What my proposed Moore book would do is, Redefine all conservatism as communism–just as Goldberg is redefining all fascism as liberalism (“Hitler: Man of the Left.”) That should do more than engender certain emotions–trustworthy or not–that should tip you off to the fact that the person writing the book did not know what he or she was talking about. Any claims that suhc a polemic was just a crowbar to pry away the wrong ideas about communism and lead us to better history would be–and should be–ridiculed mercilessly, no matter one’s ideological leanings.

  33. withywindle says:

    Re proposed Moore book: I suppose I’d roll my eyes. I trust I wouldn’t make it into some test of professional or personal virtue.

  34. Derek Catermole says:

    Hi Tim,

    I hope you didn’t hang yourself in your garden shed yet. I love you. Your thinking and writing are very very skilled. I don’t know why to tell you to go on, except to say that as long as you’re doing your good work, at least one person is.

  35. Timothy Burke says:

    “I hope you didn’t hang yourself in your garden shed yet.”

    And yet, that would be such a fascist thing for me to do, wouldn’t it? Well, at least when the angry mobs of my citzenry come howling for vengeance.

  36. Timothy Burke says:

    That quote of Goldberg being fastidiousness about false comparisons is priceless. Good catch.

  37. withywindle says:

    “And the fact is that most serious scholars of fascism are well aware of its relationship to social-democratic thought.”

    And how many outside the world of serious scholars of fascism? For a popular audience, which may not be up on the latest on Fascism scholarship–which may only have heard Fascism as the “I don’t like right-wingers” blunt instrument, this may be new, and worth saying–even if it’s repetitious to a small community of academics. But every popularizing book contains material that repeats stuff known to a small community of academics. So?

  38. MMGood says:

    Withywindle–Because even without reading the book, it’s clear that Goldberg’s aim is not to make the case that fascism has a relationship to social democratic thought. His aim is to argue that Nazism was a movement on the left, full stop (“Hitler: Man of the Left”) and that current progressive politics are fascism, full stop, which is a very different kind of enterprise—so different, in fact, that I doubt Goldberg cares about making the nuanced argument that fascism branched off of social democratic thought, and if he did would have buried that nugget under so much bs it was not worth excavating.

  39. hestal says:

    I still can’t follow all this. Are we about to be overrun with fascists, or what?

  40. back40 says:

    Always already happening. It seems that we are all fascists, for sufficiently small values of fascist.

  41. jpool says:

    Withywindle wrote,
    I trust I wouldn’t make it into some test of professional or personal virtue.

    OK, you’re clearly trolling here. First of all, you, in your comments on this site, have not only proposed any number of things as tests of personal or professional virtue, you’ve suggested that the profession as a whole has already failed such tests, and therefor deserves what it gets (or what Horowitz, et al are trying to give it).

    Let’s go back for a moment to the Trotsky to Neo-conservatives example that you proposed as legitimate for a moment. I’m going to say right off the bat that no, that comparison is dumb too. I’m guessing that the “line” folks are speaking of is the world-wide revolution one. The problem is that that’s a structural similarity, not a line. One can use that structural similarity to advance a critique of all movements that advocate such a strategy (that they are essentially utopian, relying on some massive, traumatic and hitherto unexperienced historical conjuncture) or one can argue that this structural similarity is, in and of itself, valid, but that differences between the aims sought or the groups who would be carrying out such a world-wide revolution would make one approach valid and the other not so much. (I suppose that one could also take a “Hooray! Blood and fire!” position that embraces all world-wide revolutions equally, but this seems less likely.) None of these would establish a “line” meaningfully connecting Trotskyites and neo-conservatives, and it certainly wouldn’t mean that neo-conservatives are the contemporary manifestation of the Fourth International.

    Again it’s not that one couldn’t make a meaningful connection between historical fascism and contemporary political formations that would never think of themselves as fascists, it’s that Goldberg clearly isn’t doing anything that even comes within spitting distance of that. I’m guessing from the phrasing of the title and its position in the book, that the chapter on race is going to be mostly about bussing and affirmative action, but if he wanted to pursue the eugenics thing other than instrumentally, he could make the point that any halfway honest leftist would freely cop to: that progressive movements, convinced of their privileged access to the greater good, produced their share of horror shows. This is, however a very different argument from the one that says eugenics was, exclusively, a liberal movement, or the one that says that anti-smoking campaigns are the modern equivalent of forced sterilization.

  42. ikl says:


    You usually make intelligent and interesting comments here. We have been on the same side of some of the discussions here before but even when we have not I’ve enjoyed your comments. But you are really embarrassing yourself in this thread.

    Goldberg’s book gives no appearance of any intellectual seriousness and the excerpts out on the internet are comically dumb. You should really read it before defending it.

  43. withywindle says:

    MMGood is clear on what’s in Goldberg’s work “even without reading the book.” Once I’ve read it, I’ll see whether it lives up to MMGood’s expectations.

    Ikl thinks I should read the book before defending it. I have been arguing that one should read the book before condemning it. I think it is comically dumb to condemn a book based on excerpts from the internet. I assure you, once 8 January comes, and the book (theoretically) is in the bookstores, I will buy it ASAP. If a critical attitude demands anything other than neutrality before reading, I would fancy it is charity.

    JPool says I have been inconsistent over the totality of my writings. I fancy I have–has anyone here had the perfect memory and logical mind to make everything they wrote totally consistent? I don’t believe, however, I have said (as Tim has about Goldberg) that one’s reaction to one particular book is a determinative test of professional virtue. If you can remind me when I have said that, I will see whether I can tease out a consistency, or figure out what to retract.

    The Trotskyite-to-neocon line, incidentally, argues a specific intellectual history where Trotskyites become anti-Stalinist, then anti-Communist, then actually become positively conservative as the neo-conservative movement, but with something of a utopian streak remaining, an idealistic, expansionist brand of American patriotism/nationalism that reflects Trotskyite heritage–I believe you’re supposed to look at people associated with Partisan Review, Commentary, the Kristols, etc., and talk about specific lines of intellectual influence. So, no, not mere historical similarity. The argument is perhaps tenuous, but not structural.

    As for trolling–I do genuinely think your collective attitudes toward Goldberg are not just. I suppose I should only say so once, then cease to peep–but I confess to being talkative, argumentative, conceivably too fond of seeing my words on the computer screen. But since I don’t engage in capital letters or personal insults, and I do try not to argue simply for the case of arguing, I trust I am a little short of trollish behavior on the whole.

    (What I should do, I suppose, is simply write BURKE UNFAIR TO GOLDBERG! Which sounds like an old joke … )

  44. Timothy Burke says:

    Look, being a historian does require making discretionary judgements about what questions to investigate, what records to consult, and what historiography to care about. Which means we do have some skill at deciding not just what to read but what not to read, and some need to be able to defend with confidence our considered judgement that something wasn’t worth our time. In this case, I just think there is plenty of reason to not only think it’s not worth our time, but that the book isn’t worth anyone’s time. I grant you that there are plenty of times where it would be a good idea to look at something more closely (not the least of which being when a critic demonstrably errs in characterizing something they haven’t seen or read: e.g., the film “True Lies” as light-hearted family fare.) But let’s not argue that we never, ever ought to make judgements based on a light selection of excerpts or material about the likely content of a larger document or text.

  45. jpool says:

    OK, on that version of the Trotsky to neocon line, I’m still not seeing it, even on its own terms. But that particular supposed “line” is about something becoming, by whatever stages, something completely different from what it started as. You might as well argue, from the careers of Eugene Genovese and Elizabaeth Fox-Genovese, about the line connecting academic Marxism to conservative Catholicism.

  46. ikl says:


    There is actually a fair amount posted on the site that Tim suggested that you look at. It ranges from seriously misleading to flagrently stupid. It pretty much has hackery written all over it: sloppy, one-sided, force fits the facts into a pre-existing narrative, etc. Given this and the broader context, it is completely reasonable to form some beliefs about the book. You haven’t really come up with much reason to believe for anyone to believe otherwise. So yes, you really should go read the book before asserting that people shouldn’t conclude that something that looks like a stupid isn’t a stupid hack job. Because the existing evidence favors them.

  47. Timothy Burke says:

    Right, if there’s a connection between Trot beginnings and neocon endings, then that story is also a story of transformation. E.g., I might say that there are some root level ideas about political organization and political struggle that some neocons learned from being Trots (in my mind, bad ones) but I would also argue that there are a lot of things that change about them, their contexts, their activism, and so on. Tracing lines of intellectual and political descent is a fragile, delicate kind of history.

  48. Derek Catermole says:

    Apologies if you’ve already noted this piece, Tim, but here’s an article by Naomi Wolf that provides a clear and practical assessment of some of the actual developments that characterize actual fascist regimes. Read to the end to see why it’s not a paranoid rant, but a very smart answer back to the paranoiacs who see fascism lurking around every corner:,,2063979,00.html

  49. Ralph says:

    To JPoole, There is a certain kind of continuity in the Fox-Gen’s’ transformation. Whether as Marxists or as Catholics, they were communitarians, as opposed to individualists; and, in both phases, liberal individualism was always the enemy.

Comments are closed.