Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Review of "Liberal Fascism: From Mussolini to the Politics of Change"

I admit defeat.

Not in the sense that this book changed my mind and I'm now a die-hard conservative, or even that it softened my attitude to the book's thesis. I mean in the sense that it defeated my will to finish it.

Beyond the factual errors, or selective citations of facts, a subject which others have thoroughly covered, Goldberg's writing style is just atrocious, full of logical leaps, snarky asides, and irritating rhetorical devices.

The first logical section of the book on the history of the fascist movement and the interplay of American left-wing politics with it is actually not all that horrible, and is what made me feel it was worth grinning and bearing. Yes, it brought up a lot of the more uncomfortable skeletons in the collective closet of liberalism. No, none of it was actually condemning from a policy angle. He did himself a great disservice, however, by making snide comments about how liberals THINK history went, and how it is hypocritical of them to call conservatives fascist. It essentially took a break from actually informing to simply construct a contemporary liberal straw-man to be torn down just as quickly on more than one occasion. If he was looking to convince a liberal, he would have lost the more dogmatic liberals within a few pages with this tic.

Even within the history portion, he took to psychiatrist-couching progressive leaders, casting them in a very negative light through their upbringing, early influences, etc. While this is interesting with regard to the ostensible thesis of the book, you can't help but shake the implication that these influences clouded their judgement or somehow twisted them, which is a boon to his underlying obvious goal of discrediting liberalism. He was engaging in ad hominem attacks in all but a direct sense. These flaws made the book largely unremarkable, but not unreadable.

As he pivots to the latter half of the century, he starts making fairly contradictory claims about the motives and base premises of liberal thinkers. In one paragraph he will decry the iconoclasm and rejection of knowledge, history, and elders during the upheaval of the '60s, and the next he will claim that we are all out to replace rule by the people with rule by experts. He rails on about how the pro-choice and sexual liberation movements were anti-Black, but then goes on about Black supremacists and how liberals are in cahoots with them. Maybe these contradictions are his point, but he doesn't make it lucid enough to seem anything but an unintentional consequence of chaining incompatible attacks together. He seems to be mistaken in what liberalism, as it is today, is: a conglomeration of different groups with different motives. Just as I would be hard-pressed to lump together the social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and moderate Republicans, he should find himself equally as hard-pressed to conflate the populist left, the socialists, the fascists, etc.

This is about when my will broke. After looking up yet another uncited claim that seemed unlikely, and determining that he was flat-out wrong on the matter, I read on in hopes that he might elucidate his reasoning that lead him to make this claim. No reasoning followed, merely letting his point stand on an appeal to correlation. At that point, I safely placed Goldberg in my box of conservatives who don't know how to interpret statistics, or deliberately misinterpreted them, and was simultaneously incapable of making even a cohesive intuitive argument, and removed the book from my Kindle.

If I wanted to read another couple hundred pages of tenuously linked drivel, I would go read conservative blogs. If this is all that intellectual conservatives have to offer, I am deeply disappointed.

To be clear, if you can stomach the obvious propagandizing that becomes a growing portion of the text as the book goes on, it's not a bad look at history if taken with a grain of salt. I think more liberals would do well to know some of the things about the origins of progressivism that he discusses. However, I can only watch a well-researched writer attack the weakest the left has to offer for so long.

No comments:

Post a Comment