Friday, June 27, 2014

Nazi Analogies Ad Nauseam

Glenn Beck buried the needle on the irony meter again.

This time it was by comparing a Tea Party primary loss to the infamous anti-Semitic hoax  The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The irony being that Glenn Beck's paranoid exposé on George Soros sounds just like Protocols reads. Both posited a sinister conspiracy by "international financiers" to secretly control world events. Jon Stewart did a hilarious and brilliant critique of Glenn Beck's two episode event.

Admittedly, this is not novelty anymore. Almost every one of Glenn Beck's broadcasts is something like the Protocols warmed-over. He is always careful to say "liberals" instead of "Jews" but the rhetoric is otherwise identical. Indeed, do we really need to hear anything more about Glenn Beck? We all know what he is going to say and, as you can hear in the first link, he is audibly crumbling. His whole voice-cracking rant was a hopeless morass of paranoid rambling:
It's the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. That's really what we're turning into. What a surprise, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, oh, that's right, that was a Marxist-Communist thing. I forgot all about that.  How interesting it is that history always repeats itself. 
But Glenn Beck is no lone loon. Jonah Goldberg's book, Liberal Fascism, is an unoriginal compendium of longstanding conservative canards – from trying to equate birth control with eugenics to claiming that Adolf Hitler confiscated guns. Such rhetoric is nothing new, but it is everywhere today. Like traffic accidents and school shootings, Nazi analogies are so common that we have almost become inured to them. They are just woven into the ordinary fabric of things in American political life now.

So how did we get here? Why does this keep happening? What explains their favorite metaphor?

I wrote a chapter on this in my book. I quoted it a bit in the original version of this post. Unfortunately, the result was a somewhat choppy and unsatisfying collection of block quotes that only skimmed the surface of this issue. Recently, Donald Trump's draconian proposals have invited Nazi comparisons, which I think should be made cautiously - but still should be made when accurate. [Edit: And many are accurate now.] So, I finally decided to drop the whole chapter into this post behind the cut.

Let me provide some quick context beforehand.

One of my book's themes is that conservatives feel besieged in free society. Since they are ideologically allergic to the three interdependent ideals of liberty, equality, and democracy, their identity feels forever threatened. So they project and question others' patriotism. Yes, authoritarians the world-over obsess over loyalty and belonging, but this glaring contradiction makes American conservatives particularly prickly. It explains why their defensive narratives invariably go awry - and why so angrily.

The right's longstanding hostility to democracy is especially well-documented. Accordingly, the left had historically responded with anti-aristocratic rhetoric - especially against the rich. Mark Twain pointed out that Gilded Age robber barons loved medieval architecture. From the American Revolution to the New Deal, conservatives were often called monarchists and Tories. Of course, World War II changed that making it fashionable to call reactionaries fascists. But conservatives are still called Tories throughout the rest of the English-speaking world, and I ultimately argue that we should revive the label stateside.

So, without additional ado, here is the chapter:

8: Springtime for Goldberg

Behind the Right’s Bizarre Nazi Analogies

It is probably a positive thing that most people react to Nazi analogies with instant suspicion. Such comparisons are lurid, ridiculous, and nowadays ubiquitous. Today, Nazi-analogies pepper political discourse as never before. It has become the earmark of arguments that are lazy, crazy, or both – and there are plenty of those out there.

It would be good to have a moratorium on this metaphor, but unfortunately such a pact would probably not last. The reason goes beyond the loss of civility in political discourse. Conservatives cannot stop making Nazi analogies any more than they can stop questioning their opponents’ patriotism. Both are basically the same projecting. Twisting history is a defensive reflex. It is the result of their anti-democratic animus. And World War II is not the only historical period they distort – the Enlightenment, the Civil War, and the Progressive Era especially all go through their Orwellian meat grinder.

Conservatives really began hammering liberals with Nazi analogies in the 1990s. Rush Limbaugh called feminists “feminazis” by comparing abortion to the Holocaust while forgetting or ignoring that abortion was verboten in the Fatherland. Likewise, the militia movement used Nazi analogies while lionizing white supremacists like Randy Weaver. The use of this tactic has only grown since then.

This is not to say liberals have never played the Nazi card. Quite to the contrary, it admittedly has been a longstanding political tradition. But something fundamental has changed. There was once a sort of understanding in the badlands of political hyperbole that conservatives were called “fascists” and liberals were called “communists.” It was how each called the other extremists along the political spectrum of left and right. But now, right is left and vice versa. All history and ideology are turned inside out. Except that leftists do not call conservatives “communists” – at least, not seriously.(1)

How did we get here? I have a theory. After a century of conservatives red-baiting everything from the eight-hour work day to school desegregation, the communist label had lost a lot of its emotional traction. Civil disobedience behind the Iron Curtain had torn it down so Ronald Reagan’s old “evil empire” rhetoric rang irrelevant in a world with only one superpower. The crumbling of the Eastern Block made communists seem pathetic rather than scary. And since conservatives mostly motivate voters through fear, this geopolitical triumph posed to be a novel problem for them. They needed a new bogeyman.

Calling liberals “Nazis” was their solution. The beginning and end of their argument seems to be that the word “Nazi” was the German acronym for the National Socialist German Workers Party. Add a rant about big government to that and you have the sum total of their point. It is a compelling argument if you know absolutely nothing about Hitler’s rise to power or what he subsequently did with it.

From there, they argue that using government to do virtually anything is inherently fascist. It is ultimately an argument against modernity. This is why they claim that fascism had actually originated with the French Revolution. As we shall see, it is not just a rhetorical weapon against liberals, but a weapon against the concept of progress itself that equates social change with guillotines and gas chambers. Any modernity is automatically associated with state terror.

Traditionalists are predictably pretty addicted to this interpretation, and getting them into detox is highly unlikely. They are almost adorably proud of their “I’m rubber, you’re glue” argument. They decry Nazi analogies as if they had never done any red-baiting. But now they can do both at the same time and act like they are only hitting back.

Of course, conservatives pounce on any opportunity to turn the tables, however nonsensical – thus their favorite phrase “liberals are the real racists.” Nazi analogies are just another variant of this.

But, as I suggested before, there is more to their narrative’s attraction than that. Deep down, they know that their authoritarian, anti-egalitarian mindset is utterly un-American. Naturally, this contradiction creates tension and projection is their automatic response.(2)

And, once again, this is not limited to Nazi analogies. Conservatives are chronically on the wrong side of history, so they must constantly rewrite it – thus their many strange attempts to co-opt FDR, MLK, JFK, etc. Consider Ted Nugent claiming that Rosa Parks is one of his heroes when he is not calling President Obama a “subhuman mongrel.”

Conservatives are in a perpetual identity crisis. They are touchy because their sense of patriotism and belonging feel under constant assault. This is not only because of their fear of change, but also because they hate everything America stands for and cannot admit it. Thus, anything they say on the matter is an attempt to square a circle. But their Nazi analogies will be my central focus in this chapter because they define the current political zeitgeist and they say a lot about how conservatives think and operate.

Let’s begin with some debunking. Unfortunately, it is necessary.

The best place to start would be with the Nazi acronym. Initially, it appears to be a great inconvenience. The words “National Socialist German Workers Party” pretty much say it all, right?

Except that it does not because the Nazis were notorious liars. Adolf Hitler said that people will swallow a big lie more easily than a small one, and their party name was a whopper. I seriously doubt that they would have gotten too far in the Great Depression calling themselves the National Capitalist German Bosses party.

In fact, the far right often founds deceptively-named groups. Take, for example, Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University or Phyllis Schlafly’s Independent Women’s Forum. This is basically the same strategy behind company unions, phony abortion clinics, and polluter-funded “Astroturf” (as opposed to grassroots) green groups. “Truth in Advertising” is not a conservative strong suit and many contemporary observers had called out Adolf Hitler’s pseudo-socialism. As journalist George Seldes wrote in 1943, “He stole the word.”(3)

In fact, the party’s name was a mixed message which should have red-flagged the lie. Since when did nationalists and socialists get along? Socialism is internationalist, hence the “Internationale.” Therefore, socialists in every country had ideologically opposed involvement in World War I. Their slogan was “A bayonet is a tool with a worker on both ends.” True, many succumbed to emotional jingoism and betrayed their principles, but others worked hard to avert war. The issue had bitterly split them. For example, in Germany, Rosa Luxemburg scathingly criticized those who had voted for war in 1914.

By contrast, nationalists happily jumped in with unified, ideologically consistent agreement. Of course they would – war validates and magnifies their violent, tribal, “us vs. them” mindset, making society brutally hunt and punish any “traitor” who does not share it. Thus, it becomes a very handy excuse for attacking actual socialists, which the Nazis later did. Thus, their name combined phony socialism with actual nationalism.

Nazi rhetoric constantly changed like a chameleon. They talked an anti-capitalist line to workers, and a pro-capitalist one to their employers. In fact, all fascist parties used this technique. Italy’s dictator, Benito Mussolini, wrote quite florid pro-capitalist prose, reminiscent of the self-actualization business literature that management gurus later churned out throughout the 1990s. “Private property completes the human personality: it is a right and therefore an obligation.”(4) Ayn Rand could have written that line.

Of course, Adolf Hitler could also sound like Ayn Rand. In a speech to businessmen linking democracy with communism, he argued that great differences in talent justified great differences in wealth. Hitler wanted to communicate that he was no collectivist, and only a little pinch of religion distinguished his rhetoric from Rand’s:
This entire structure of culture, down to its foundations and in each of its building blocks, is nothing other than the result of creative talent, the achievement of intelligence, and [of] the industriousness of individuals. The greatest results are the great crowning achievement of individual geniuses endowed by God …(5)
Anticipating Ayn Rand’s producer/parasite rhetoric, Adolf Hitler blasted the “exploitation of creators, of geniuses, and talented men.” Turning back to the topic of democracy, he decried “subjugating the genius to the majority” and fumed, “This is not the rule of the people, but in fact the rule of stupidity, of mediocrity, of half-measures, of cowardice, of weakness, and inadequacy.” Naturally, Hitler did not give the same speech to factory hands or the angry unemployed.

The Nazis talked out of both sides of their mouths. This explains how they were both a political joke and attractive to desperate voters. Mixed messages capitalize on mixed feelings, which are widespread in times of crisis. They are political Rorschach tests in which people see what they want to see. And while such self-contradictions often turn off thinking people, those hungry to identify with something do not care. In fact, emotional voters rarely notice. They just think the speaker shares their mixed feelings. They see the speaker as “like me” and may even become protective of the speaker. As Adolf Hitler had bragged, “Confusion, indecision, fear; these are my weapons.”(6)

So, the fascists double-crossed everyone, right? Well, not quite. They remained very friendly to big business. During the Night of Long Knives, Adolf Hitler had any Brown Shirt leaders who took his anti-capitalist rhetoric seriously slain in their beds. He did not want to see any Aryan capitalists harassed. In fact, the Nazis and big business got along famously. They needed each other: Adolf Hitler liquidated the Reds, for which capital was grateful. And capital was essential to Hitler’s long-range plans because “mom & pop shops” do not make planes and tanks. For that, you need heavy industry. Once in power, Hitler outlawed labor unions – a longstanding wet dream of industrialists. Actions speak louder than words and Hitler’s actions showed that he was no socialist.

Again, bait-and-switch was a favorite fascist tactic. Benito Mussolini had pledged to enact land reform for Italian peasants. Great aristocratic estates were supposed to be broken up into small family plots for poor farmers. He proposed this to co-opt a land reform movement that had already been active in Italy since the end of World War I. Consider this quote that he made shortly after he seized power and was still solidifying his position. Note how he still felt it necessary to pay lip service to democracy:
I love the working classes. The supremest [sic] ambition and the dearest hope of my life has been, and is still, to see them better treated and enjoying conditions of life worthy of the citizens of a great nation. … I do not believe in class war, but in cooperation between classes. The Fascist government will devote all its efforts to the creation of an agrarian democracy based on the principle of small ownership. The great estates must be handed over to the peasant communities: the great capitalists of agriculture must submit to a process of harmonization of their rights with those of the peasants.(7)
For those who associate socialism with fascism, this quote is a smoking gun. But Benito Mussolini betrayed Italy’s peasants in less than two months. He not only stopped land reform, he even reversed it by returning land that the peasants had already taken for themselves. Of course, why would any dictator want to divide up property amongst the poor to create a Jeffersonian republic of small yeoman farmers? To paraphrase the Soup Nazi in "Seinfeld," no forty acres and a mule for YOU!

Instead, Mussolini built what he called the Corporate State, in which big business and government cooperated to ensure a docile populace and workforce.

Naturally, America’s captains of industry were in love. They asked, “How can WE get some of that sweet action?” As U.S. ambassador William E. Dodd warned upon his return from Berlin in 1937, “Fascism is on the march today in America. Millionaires are marching to the tune. It will come in this country unless a strong defense is set up by all liberal and progressive forces.”(8) He then elaborated:
A clique of U.S. industrialists is hell-bent to bring a fascist state to supplant our democratic form of government, and is working closely with the fascist regime in Italy and Germany. Aboard ship a prominent executive of one of America’s largest financial corporations told me point-blank that if the progressive trend of the Roosevelt administration continued, he would be ready to take definite action to bring Fascism to America. Certain American industrialists had a great deal to do with bringing fascist regimes into being in both Germany and Italy. They extended aid to help Fascism occupy the seat of power, and they are helping to keep it there.
Note the use of the word “progressive.” It does not mean what Glenn Beck thinks. And in a letter to senators published in the New York Times, Ambassador Dodd wrote:
There are individuals of great wealth who wish a dictatorship and are ready to help a Huey Long. There are politicians who think they may gain powers like those exercised in Europe. One man, I have been told by personal friends, who owns near a billion dollars, is ready to support such a program and, of course, control it.(9)
Some of these tycoons were coy about their fascist enthusiasms and some were not. For example, Henry Ford’s sympathies were quite overt. And he was not the only one. General Motors’ president William S. Knudsen told a New York Times reporter that Hitler’s Germany was “the miracle of the 20th Century."(10)

This is not to say that the press sat on the sidelines and simply reported. Publishers all over America adored Adolf Hitler and loathed Franklin D. Roosevelt. We are often told FDR’s fireside chats were meant to reassure a shaken nation in the depths of the Great Depression. But they were also the only way that he could make his case to the people undistorted. Most publishers were openly pro-fascist prior to Pearl Harbor. As George Seldes noted, William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers “published signed propaganda articles of Goering, Goebbels and Co.” (11) Hearst interpreted his status as a press baron pretty literally. He built and lived in a Bavarian-style castle in California. Therefore, cartoonists often drew him as a king. Fortune magazine’s July 1934 issue loved Benito Mussolini so much that Seldes called it “a song of praise for Fascism.”(12)

Much of the business establishment saw fascism as a solution to communism. But to those with anti-democratic, aristocratic attitudes, fascism was already attractive even without any communist threat. If you equated liberty and equality with chaos and longed for a strongman to defend tradition, your latent monarchism was already aroused. Simply put, fascism was monarchism modernized for the 20th Century – aristocracy made sleek, streamlined, and posh like an art deco Tamara de Lempicka painting. And the fact that workers were actually in revolt only added urgency, making political reaction seem hip, edgy, and relevant. To conservatives, the birth of fascism was an affirming breath of fresh air. They saw it not as a necessary evil but as a happy model to copy.

Jonah Goldberg is a big promoter of the notion that socialism is fascism. The National Review Online editor had written a column called “Springtime for Slanderers; Who are you calling a Nazi?” He later expanded it into a book called Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. Goldberg’s article pretends to be a plea against using Nazi analogies, but it is predictably littered with them. He closed his column with this curious challenge:
And one last point I feel compelled to point out. I’ve never met a real social-welfare state leftist who could answer the following question without having to think real hard: “Aside from the murder and genocide, what exactly don’t you like about National Socialism?” And I’ve never met a conservative who didn’t have an answer at his fingertips. So, who’s really closer to being a Nazi?(13)
Well, what can I say? I am speechless.

The obvious answer is “Everything” but Jonah Goldberg seems unlikely to accept that. He wants specifics and that is difficult because any specific thing I could mention pales next to genocide. Things like institutional racism, press censorship, outlawing labor unions, etc. are certainly all bad, but they are not genocide bad. That evil eclipses everything else. Thus, people are stunned, not stumped.

What makes Jonah Goldberg’s query especially absurd is the völkisch (folk-ish) “family values” voters who helped put the Nazis in power in the first place. The horrors of World War I had discredited the old Victorian order throughout Europe and the Jazz Age took its place. Germany’s conservative institutions were particularly hard hit. They had invested all their prestige and political credibility in eventual victory. Thus, with the ignominy of defeat, the monarchy, the military, and the church lost their all their cultural authority over society. Kaiser Wilhelm cowardly skipped the country and the blue-nosed Prussian prudery that had once rivaled Great Britain’s went with it. Germany finally let her hair down – and bobbed it. Berlin quickly eclipsed Paris as the id of Europe. There was gay and lesbian visibility and frank talk about sex as women got jobs previously reserved for men and demanded both the vote and the right to abortion. This was going on throughout the Western World, but in Germany the effect was far more jarring.

Of course, conservatives regrouped. Their attitude can be summed up in the title of Robert Bork’s Slouching Towards Gomorrah. They thought society was suffering from a deficit of discipline and equated liberty and equality with both spiritual and material ruin. They craved a return to order and a society where everyone knew their place. Thus, Hitler appealed to cultural conservatives. Like Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America,” Hitler promised national renewal in a nostalgic fashion. The only overtly welcome modernity was technology, especially military technology. All other modern ideas were considered poisonous foreign imports – infections to be purged from the German bloodstream.

This can be seen in their gender politics. They considered women’s true concerns to be “Kinder, Küche, Kirche” – children, kitchen, and church. But the three Ks had little appeal for young German women whose ambitions went beyond being hausfraus. Predictably, many older, traditional women were both jealous and horrified. Much like Phyllis Schlafly’s Independent Women’s Forum, these church ladies formed anti-feminist women’s groups in response. And, like Ann Coulter, they were anti-choice in every sense of the word – they thought giving women the vote was a huge mistake.(14) But once they had it, they had no problem using it to oppose more progress. For example, Nationalist Party Reichstag delegate Clara Mende was a longtime opponent of women’s suffrage, but of course that did not stop her from running for office once she could vote.(15) As Claudia Koontz noted in Mothers in the Fatherland, “these women wanted ‘Emancipation from Emancipation!’ – a slogan later taken up by Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg.” (16)Adolf Hitler stated, “[T]he term ‘women’s emancipation’ is invented by Jewish intellectuals, and its meaning was imbued with the same spirit.”(17) When these groups merged into one umbrella organization under the Nazis, their guidelines stipulated that they would eschew “the false steps of the democratic-liberal-international women’s movement which ignores the source of the woman’s soul that comes from God [italics in original] and nationality [Volkstum].”(18) They were basically Sarah Palin’s anti-feminist “mama grizzlies.”

This anxiety can be seen in Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent science fiction film Metropolis. Its message was that a return to church and tradition will save society from destructive class conflict. This was symbolized by the character Maria, the hot young church lady, bringing everyone together on the medieval cathedral’s steps at the film’s climax. When she repeatedly preaches that the heart must mediate between the head and the hand, she means between capital and labor. By contrast, her evil robot doppelganger dressed like a Ziegfeld Follies chorus girl and reveled in sex. The android false Maria represented the liberated, “selfish” New Woman, and her wanton thrill-seeking had almost physically destroyed Metropolis. The metaphor could not possibly have been plainer to German audiences, and Adolf Hitler loved this film’s affirmation of tradition and hierarchy.(19)

Where sexuality is feared, freedom is never safe and it was not hard for German conservatives to convert prudish discomfort into political reaction. Sexual liberty was depicted as both a symptom of social decay and a foreboding metaphor for freedom itself. Pat Buchanan summed up their attitude aptly because he shares it: “Homosexuality is not a civil right. Its rise almost always is accompanied, as in the Weimar Republic, with a decay of society and a collapse of its basic cinder block, the family.”(20) Traditionalists wanted somebody to make the gays go away and Adolf Hitler delivered – albeit more literally than they might have imagined. The Nazis immediately outlawed pornography and “degenerate art.” They made the punishment for abortion far more severe and birth control far harder to obtain.(21) There was a “Reich Headquarters for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion.”(22) Never was government so much in people’s bedrooms. But bedrooms are not boardrooms, so conservative enthusiasm remained undimmed.

Most people are probably not familiar with this history. If you asked them to picture women in Nazi Germany, they would likely think of a blond dominatrix wearing an SS uniform. No doubt this is exactly what Rush Limbaugh wants you to imagine when he says “feminazi.” He wants to make feminism threatening. And ignorance of this history is probably another reason why people draw a blank when Jonah Goldberg asks them what was wrong with the Nazis besides genocide.

Well, there’s one answer.

At this point, you might have noticed a pattern – the familiar marriage of economic and cultural conservatives. Now, I am not saying that being both automatically makes you a fascist. There are some other benchmarks as well. Contempt for democracy would be a big one, and racism would be another huge factor. But I am saying that fascists are both and that the idea that they are “actually socialists” had long been utterly debunked. To put it another way, all pit bulls are dogs, but not all dogs are pit bulls. But Jonah Goldberg would have you believe that a pit bull is actually a kind of cat.

George Seldes had weighed in on this issue back in 1938:
It is becoming more and more commonplace – despite the attack of purists and the students of semantics – to use the words conservatives and Fascist as synonyms. There are of course considerable differences, although every man who is a Fascist is ipso facto a conservative, and the reverse is not necessarily true. It is true, however, that the man who founded Fascism defined it as reactionary and anti-liberal.(23)
George Seldes was referring to Benito Mussolini’s article “Force and Consent” in the March 1923 issue of Gerarchia.(24) That was his party’s official publication. Its title means “hierarchy” in Italian. Of course, real socialists do not like hierarchy. As Robert Bork wrote, “Radical egalitarians necessarily hate hierarchies.”(25) By contrast, many conservatives admire hierarchy and mock democracy. Gerarchia’s subscribers would have no doubt nodded in agreement with Bork’s critique of liberty and equality, not to mention Samuel Johnson’s notion that subordination is “most conducive to the happiness of society.”(26) Despite this, Bork’s 1997 Slouching Towards Gomorrah is full of the same ass-backwards Nazi analogies that we hear from Glenn Beck today.

Conservatives’ confusing socialism with communism is somewhat saner because communism is indeed a form of socialism, just as a Manx is a kind of cat – and just as fascism is a kind of conservatism. Communism is an extreme form of socialism just as fascism is an extreme form of conservatism. But, likewise, the Islamic Republic of Iran qualifies as a republic by John Adams’s very broad definition, so does that mean that all republics are thus tyrannies? Also recall George Orwell’s opinion on the Soviet Union’s so-called “socialism.”(27) Sweden is a socialist country, but it does not have Soviet-style gulags. It is a free society and it has not invaded any of its neighbors in centuries.

As if anticipating all this nonsense, George Seldes put things in perspective in an interview a few years before his death. He mused:
I don’t think there is one American in a hundred that knows anything of the difference between socialism and communism. To me, to them, sometimes they even talk about the ‘-isms’ as if all ‘-isms’ were alike, including even fascism.(28)
Of course, if I were Jonah Goldberg, I would not ask “who is closer to being a Nazi,” when we can just play Six Degrees of Joseph Sobran. Goldberg edits the National Review Online, and Sobran had worked for the print edition for seven years while championing Holocaust-denying journals.(29) Eventually, Joseph Sobran’s anti-Semitic activities became a big enough liability that William F. Buckley finally fired him in 1993, but the two men later reconciled before their deaths. I should also note that Ann Coulter wrote a very warm obituary for Sobran entitled “Not Your Average Joe.”(30) Suddenly, Gore Vidal calling William F. Buckley a “crypto-Nazi” starts to seem slightly less hyperbolic.

Still uncertain? Then let me jog your memory.

In 1992, the National Review had actually endorsed Pat Buchanan for president. Recall that Buchanan had arranged Ronald Reagan’s Bitburg Cemetery visit in 1985. Reagan defended the visit by saying that the SS officers buried there “were victims just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps.”(31) (Conservatives sure have a gift for spin.) While working in the Reagan White House, Buchanan had also tried to get the Justice Department’s Nazi-hunting Office of Special Investigations closed.

Pat Buchanan has a lengthy record of defending fascists, so it is not necessary to review all the details. My point here is that the National Review cannot claim that they did not really know Buchanan before they endorsed him. As I mentioned in the last chapter, Pat Buchanan wrote for the Review. In fact, the magazine had helped shape his ideological foundations in his early 20s. He was deeply influenced by the Review’s racist foreign policy columnist James Burnham.(32) Both supported the white minority regime in Rhodesia. William F. Buckley himself was a McCarthyite. Yes, he was erudite, but he had thuggish politics – thus, he and Buchanan were pretty similar. Buckley might have regretted defending Jim Crow in the 1950s, but that did not alter his pro-Apartheid take on South Africa in the 1980s. Sounding a lot like Buchanan, Buckley had mocked “one man, one vote” as a “fanatical abstraction” that we should not foist on South Africa.(33) Therefore, there is no denying that Pat Buchanan was the direct product of this publication. Thus, the Review knew exactly who they were endorsing.

Of course, Jonah Goldberg says that Pat Buchanan is not really a conservative because of his reversal on free trade. He writes, “Buchanan calls himself a ‘paleoconservative,’ but in truth he’s a neo-progressive.”(34) Somehow I doubt that Buchanan embraces that label.

And, speaking of Pats, the National Review had even excused Reverend Pat Robertson’s anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and attacked his critics. When Michael Lind tried to drive Robertson out of the conservative movement, the Review drove Lind out instead.(35) That is taking a stand. Thus, methinks that Jonah Goldberg doth protest too much on the name calling front.

William F. Buckley is frequently credited with driving anti-Semites out of the conservative movement, but he actually harbored and defended them as long as possible. In his book, Jonah Goldberg wrote, “Liberalism, unlike conservatism, is operationally uninterested in its own intellectual history.”(36) And yet he is operationally uninterested in the intellectual history of his own magazine. In this light, his prickliness is pretty predictable.

Indeed, the very idea that liberals and leftists cannot face their history is absolutely hilarious. We are very adept at tearing down our own idols. That comes with practice. We are quite good at acknowledging that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves or that Franklin D. Roosevelt put Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II. In fact, I had first read that Woodrow Wilson was a racist from a progressive historian, James W. Loewen, in his best seller Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. My paperback copy has a cover blurb by Howard Zinn, author of the bestselling A People’s History of the United States: 1492 – Present. Jonah Goldberg is projecting a conservative trait because when liberals acknowledge such ugly facts, conservatives automatically accuse them of “hating America.”

What I have written thus far is largely a response to Jonah Goldberg’s article. His book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, is even loopier. Like Plan 9 from Outer Space, it is so bad that it is good. Yes, it is nauseating and dishonest; but it is often hard not to laugh.

For example, he actually argues that the film Dead Poets Society is fascist. To his Orwellian thinking, insubordination is authoritarian and encouraging people to think for themselves is starting a cult. I must admit that certainly can happen. But not everyone who tries to be a catalyst for liberty is Ayn Rand.

Jonah Goldberg’s credibility is already shot, so mocking his book seems gratuitous at this point. But there is more here than a car accident-like fascination with his ridiculous revisionism. His book is part of a far larger assault on the Progressive Era that has become increasingly visible in recent years. The Cato Institute had already been putting out books like Richard A. Epstein’s How Progressives Rewrote the Constitution for years before Goldberg wrote Liberal Fascism. Cato fellow Jim Powell wrote a Glenn Beck-like book called Wilson’s War: How Woodrow Wilson’s Great Blunder Led to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and World War II. It just barely beat Liberal Fascism to the shelves. Goldberg’s book is part of a genre.

As Jonah Goldberg said on Glenn Beck’s show, “I’m actually not the first person to say this. I’m actually taking a lot from other historians and putting it all in one place which you can’t find anywhere else.”(37)

That is one way to put it. But I think Chip Berlet was being more accurate when he called Goldberg’s book a compendium of John Birch Society articles published over the last fifty years.(38) Either way, these ideas are not new. But the Tea Party has breathed new life into them and Jonah Goldberg’s tome is your convenient one-stop shop for such thought.

Conservatives are hostile to every Progressive Era accomplishment. Newt Gingrich considers child labor laws to be “truly stupid.” U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) thinks they are unconstitutional. And Maine Governor Paul LePage (R) wants to loosen his state’s so that twelve year olds can work for two dollars less than minimum wage, which he calls a “training wage.” And, as I wrote before, both John Stossel and Arthur C. Brooks have defended robber barons. Ever since historians started pointing out the ugly similarities between our era and the Gilded Age, sweatshop apologists have had job security. And since the best defense is a good offense, they paint progressives as proto-fascists.

There is a tactical aspect to this approach as well. It is the path of least resistance. Those who loathe Franklin D. Roosevelt are a tiny minority. He was a very popular president and remains so today. Accordingly, conservatives have turned their guns more on the dour Woodrow Wilson because he is a much easier target. Defaming the New Deal is a pretty difficult trick, so they start with the less well-known Progressive Era instead. Obviously, this is their backdoor assault on the New Deal. But, as I shall show shortly, it is also their backdoor assault on the Enlightenment and America’s core liberal principles as well.

As I wrote before, conservatives make Nazi analogies because they are projecting. But their strategists have harnessed this defensive reflex and written an alternative narrative around it. Liberal Fascism is part and parcel of this far larger project. So, yes, I am going to keep mocking Jonah Goldberg. But his name is no more or less a punch line than, say, Glenn Beck’s or that of any Fox News host making the same insane claims. Goldberg is simply serviceable shorthand for the conservative movement as a whole at this moment.

Let us start with Jonah Goldberg’s strongest argument. He correctly mentions that some of the Progressive Era’s birth control advocates had briefly flirted with the eugenics movement which had advocated the forced sterilization of “undesirable” parts of the population, meaning poor minorities. (This is a favorite argument among opponents of birth control and abortion and therefore nothing new.) The eugenics movement had attracted people from across the political spectrum including, of course, conservatives. In fact, both groups had ideologically mixed memberships. As historian Jill Lepore noted of Margaret Sanger:
She really did court eugenicists; at one point, the American Birth Control League discussed a merger with the American Eugenics Society. But Sanger was a socialist, which often put her at odds with the eugenicists and with her own organization as well. A survey conducted of nearly a thousand members of the American Birth Control League in 1927 found its membership to be more Republican than the rest of the country.(39)
It was a case of odd political bedfellows that predictably did not work out. Eugenicists opposed voluntary birth control because they thought the state must decide who should reproduce. Sterilizing the “unfit” was only half of their plan. The other half was making sure the “fit” had children – whether they wanted to or not. Therefore, eugenics movement leader Paul Poponoe wrote that “birth control is the reverse of eugenics.”(40)

Jonah Goldberg at least admits that liberals do not advocate eugenics today. But he fails to mention eugenics’ endurance in some conservative circles. Take, Doctor Roger Pearson, for example. When he first visited the U.S. in 1958, he was the London-based organizer for the Northern League, a white supremacist group that included former SS officials.(41) He then founded, edited, and/or wrote for many racist publications, such as Northern World and Western Destiny. In his 1966 book, Eugenics and Race, he bluntly wrote, “If a nation with a more advanced, more specialized, or in any way superior set of genes mingles with, instead of exterminating, an inferior tribe, then it commits racial suicide.”(42)

Ugly stuff. But his activities were not limited to the fringes. For many years, he was on the editorial board of the Heritage Foundation publication Policy Review. And, in turn, many Heritage staffers had joined Pearson’s innocuously named Journal of Social and Economic Studies. In 1978, Policy Review dropped Pearson from its masthead when the Washington Post exposed him. But the linkage continued. As investigative reporter Russ Bellant wrote, “Heritage’s director for domestic issues, Stuart Butler, joined Pearson’s Journal, as did right-wing sociologist Ernest van den Haag of National Review.”(43)

Ancient history? Not quite. Roger Pearson’s work was the basis for The Bell Curve, the 1994 book that claimed intelligence is based on race.(44) The National Review openly championed that racist book. Indeed, today, one of its authors, Charles Murray, remains a regular contributor to the National Review and the National Review Online. What Charles Murray says today is obviously more relevant that what Margaret Sanger had said in 1927.

Indeed, Goldberg even defends Murray in his book Liberal Fascism. “But whatever the merits or demerits of The Bell Curve may be, the simple fact is the Murray and Herrnstein were making a deeply libertarian case for state nonintervention.”(45) In other words, racist junk science is A-Okay as long as government does not act on it.

Of course, I have grave doubts about racists resisting the temptation to use the state’s power when they get it. Murray Rothbard’s endorsing Pat Buchanan shows how slippery those deeply libertarian principles can be. The Tea Party loved Arizona’s “papers, please” law for harassing Hispanics and I do not trust those paleo-“libertarians” on abortion or gay rights either. Their political reflexes are anything but freedom-friendly.

Also recall that, in 1986, the National Review’s founder, William F. Buckley, had proposed that “Everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper forearm, to protect common-needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals.”(46)That policy does not sound terribly libertarian to me.

Again, the eugenics issue is Jonah Goldberg’s strongest argument. But it is still not smart for him to draw attention to it – not for him or for the conservative movement as a whole. Yes, it is particularly embarrassing for him, but the Heritage Foundation does not come off too much better. Well, Goldberg’s arguments only get worse from there.

Like Glenn Beck, Jonah Goldberg preys on his audience’s ignorance. He invokes obscure historical events and omits important context. Because Hollywood has largely ignored these moments, you either know about them or you do not. Most do not and Goldberg uses this as an opportunity to rewrite history.

For example, he says that progressives were responsible for loyalty oaths and the Palmer Raids without mentioning that these activities were both parts of the First Red Scare. These shameful incidents rarely make it into high school history textbooks. And where are you going to see the deportation of Emma Goldman depicted in film outside of Warren Beatty’s Reds (1981)? Was there a recent remake? Most Americans only know about the Second Red Scare, which is more popularly known as the McCarthy Era. So for them, the First Red Scare is a blank slate which Jonah Goldberg is happy to fill.

Woodrow Wilson was responsible for loyalty oaths and the Palmer Raids, but that does not make them progressive actions. By that logic, liberals must oppose social programs since President Clinton signed “welfare reform.” Indeed, Clinton’s pro-business policies included signing NAFTA. Does that mean that labor unions, a traditional Democratic Party constituency, favored the trade pact as well? Obviously not.

Clinton also signed the Defense of Marriage Act and “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell.” So, I suppose that makes conservatives champions of gay rights. Perhaps they will claim that when they next rewrite their movement’s history. Today, they compare themselves to Rosa Parks – so, perhaps tomorrow they will compare themselves to Harvey Milk.

Getting back to the Progressive Era, should we suppose that J. Edgar Hoover was a progressive for his role in the Palmer Raids? And did the conservatives of that era oppose any of Wilson’s actions? Of course not, because they were basically conservative moves.

Likewise, Jonah Goldberg alludes to the American Legion’s fascist links but not their anti-union violence. Simply put, the Legion was capitalism’s storm troopers. Goldberg quotes the Legion’s 1923 National Commander Alvin Owsley saying, “If ever needed, the American Legion stands ready to protect our country’s institutions and ideals as the fascisti dealt with the destructionists who menaced Italy.”(47) Except Goldberg neglects to mention that Owsley said these “destructionists” were all leftists – “[S]oviets, anarchists, IWW, revolutionary socialists and every other ‘red.’” Goldberg cites to two sources and both give the whole quote.(48) He mentions in passing that these leftists were targeted by other vigilante groups with Woodrow Wilson’s encouragement, but he does not acknowledge that the Legion did the same things. Their business was brutally pro-business.

Jonah Goldberg has a chronic habit of chopping off the important ends of historical quotes. Frequently, the very next sentence either contradicts or undermines his point. He wrote, “What appealed to Hitler about Ford was that he ‘produces for the masses. That little car of his had done more than anything else to destroy class differences.’”(49) Jonah Goldberg presents this as a socialist quote, but it is the opposite. Hitler’s next sentence was “You may envy the man who owns a better machine than yours, but you do not hate him.”(50) Hitler wanted to eliminate class antagonism, not class itself. By “differences” he meant conflicts, not distinctions, because other people will still have sweeter wheels.

Moreover, Hitler was making the familiar conservative argument that social change comes from markets rather than movements – products not politics. Pat Buchanan had said something similar about women’s liberation: “The real liberators of American women were not the feminist noise-makers, they were the automobile, the supermarket, the shopping center, the dishwasher, the washer-dryer, the freezer.”(51)

That Adolf Hitler quote about automobiles came from a fawning 1933 New York Times interview which is rich with interesting tidbits that contradict Jonah Goldberg’s thesis. Hitler almost sounds like he is addressing the Chamber of Commerce. In the next paragraph, we read that Hitler warned his followers “against weakening the economic forces of the nation by hounding and bullying employers.” And in the paragraph after that, the Fuehrer boasted, “We are cutting red tape drastically. We are plowing through the bureaucratic hierarchy that stifled us. We have to reduce the government’s cost and its size.” Sign that man up with FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth!

Jonah Goldberg also claims that progressives adore war because it supposedly allows them to advance their agenda. “Like [Theodore] Roosevelt, Croly and his colleagues looked forward to many more wars because war was the midwife of progress.”(52) He explains, “During wartime this country has historically done whatever it takes to see things through. But in peacetime the American character is not inclined to look to the state for meaning and direction. Liberals have responded to this by constantly searching for new crises, new moral equivalencies to war.”(53)

Really? Is that why we had the First Red Scare after the First World War and the Second Red Scare after the Second World War? If the Palmer Raids were “progressive” in nature, then the McCarthy Hearings must be too. Yet, I have difficulty imagining the left engineering or benefiting from either of these periods. Historically, wars make people more conservative. It is ludicrous to suggest any different, let alone the opposite.

And how many perpetual wars have conservatives started, stoked, or exploited? After the Cold War, the War on Drugs was the next excuse for expanding police powers. Then there was the War on Terror, which Dick Cheney said would never end.

Incidentally, the War on Terror is conspicuously absent from the index of Jonah Goldberg’s book, but the War on Poverty merits four mentions. It is an odd yardstick of liberal bellicosity. Goldberg does mention the War on Drugs, but he lists it as a liberal enterprise.(54) Perhaps he thinks that Nancy Reagan was Jimmy Carter’s spouse. And to pad his list of liberals’ wars even further, he mentions the “war on cancer.” That sounds like a pretty apolitical campaign to me, but Goldberg has a ready answer for that too. In the very next line, he suggests that exhorting people to “get beyond politics” is fascist.(55) Apparently, even centrists are Nazis, now.

Goldberg is, of course, projecting. Conservatives are ideologically incentivized to promote war. Psychological research shows that reminding people of death makes them more dogmatic in their beliefs and more punitive in enforcing them.(56) People in a life-or-death mindset are impatient with details, nuance, or shades of gray. Everything is “It’s either us or them,” which is not terribly conducive to tolerant, liberal thought. No wonder conservative pundits such as Stu Bykofsky, John Gibson, and Glenn Beck say we need another 9-11 to restore our sense of purpose. They are nostalgic for the power they had after the attacks. Of course, Goldberg sees no fascist attitudes there. But, if any “liberals” go along for fear of being labeled “too liberal,” that is damning proof of liberalism’s inherent fascist tendencies. By contrast, conservatives just want to give peace a chance.

Twisting history is hardly limited to Jonah Goldberg or Nazi analogies. At the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Ann Coulter said, “It’s just like a liberal, they import slaves, they hold slaves, they fight for slavery, they go to war in a civil war to defend slavery. They then install legal discrimination against blacks for a hundred years.” Whoa! Talk about reckless crazy talk. Obviously, she was off-message by admitting the Civil War was fought over slavery. Is she turning into a liberal?

I could point out that the two major political parties had traded regional bases since the 1964 Civil Rights Act or that the Republicans had made Richard Nixon’s race-baiting Southern Strategy a permanent fixture. But do I really need to? After all, you can hardly call yourself the “Party of Lincoln” after embracing Jefferson Davis. Yet, this remains a stock argument among conservatives who say blacks should still vote Republican. Of course, Ann Coulter did not say “Democrat” – she said “liberal,” therefore conservative Democrats are free from stain.

Jonah Goldberg plays the same sleight-of-hand in his book Liberal Fascism. When cataloging skeletons that he sees in liberalism’s closet, he pads that list by writing that “the Democratic Party was home to Jim Crow for a century.” Yes, it was also home to Strom Thurmond until he became a Republican for some reason. Gee, I wonder why.

Both Ann Coulter and Jonah Goldberg make the same dishonest stock argument. In fact, Coulter’s rant aptly parallels how and why Goldberg wrote his book: Their motives and techniques are identical. It is the exact same reflex.

Projecting ideological tendencies is often part of conservative distortions. Rev. Pat Robertson recently came out against the War on Drugs and stiff sentencing. His move would have been refreshing if he had not pinned both policies on liberals:
Every time the liberals pass a bill – I don’t care what it involves – they stick criminal sanctions on it. They don’t feel there is any way people are going to keep a law unless they can put them in jail. ... What we’re doing is turning a bunch of liberals loose writing laws – there’s this punitive spirit, they always want to punish people.(57)
So, to review, liberals are at fault for the military industrial complex and now the prison industrial complex too. Who knew?

Likewise, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Ted Nugent have all called President Barack Obama a divisive racist. These three media personalities have all made many outrageously racist statements themselves, but Obama has made none. So, where do you suppose that comes from? Obviously, it is projection. But it is not a purely spontaneous reaction: It is as organized as it is organic. This is just the latest variant of their “liberals are the real racists” argument that has become rhetorical motor memory. In short, “I’m rubber, you’re glue” has become another stock conservative argument.

A variant of this argument is hijacking liberal causes and figures. I think this began in the 1980s when anti-abortion protestors claimed they had inherited the mantle of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Today, the homophobic Westboro Baptist church makes the same claim as they wave their “GOD HATES FAGS” signs at funerals. As I noted before, Ronald Reagan imagined that Franklin D. Roosevelt would agree that government had gotten out of control. Likewise, Robert Bork had claimed that the past’s liberal icons would not recognize their movement today and conservative pundits have subsequently run with that assumption in the most shameless fashion.

For example, on the fiftieth anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination, some pundits took a brief break from Kennedy-bashing to claim JFK was a conservative.(58) Glenn Beck said that JFK “would be a Tea Party radical” today – and Rush Limbaugh implausibly claimed, “Kennedy was not a big believer in the Civil Rights Act,” which I presume is a good thing in his book. Since their audiences are primarily made of Baby Boomers, co-opting this nostalgia was probably predictable. This was a talking point echoed by Chris Wallace and Neil Cavuto of Fox News, as well as Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe. It was just as bizarre as the claim that Martin Luther King would have opposed affirmative action, an absurd argument made by Charles Krauthammer, David Horowitz, and Newt Gingrich. This is just what they do now.(59) Who is next? Perhaps Glenn Beck’s hatred of Woodrow Wilson will inspire him to reinvent Eugene V. Debs as a libertarian. If you can turn Thomas Paine into a Creationist, anything is possible.

Are their insane claims clinical or cynical? You have got to wonder if they believe their own spin.(60) Glenn Beck likes to point out that Woodrow Wilson was a huge racist. This is quite true. But, given Glenn Beck’s routine use of racist dog whistles, I question the sincerity of his outrage. And Ted Nugent is not the only racist comparing himself to Rosa Parks. Recently, seditious rancher Cliven Bundy did the same shortly after saying that blacks were better off as slaves.(61)

All these absurdities are familiar arguments, and this is why they sound so plausible to conservative audiences. These people already live in Opposite Land. They think that welfare causes poverty, affirmative action causes racism, and sex education classes cause teen pregnancy. They believe government efforts always backfire and that “liberal elites” conspire to hide the truth. So, forget the higher teen birth rates we see where “abstinence only” programs are taught. Never mind the rise of so many blacks into the middle class – to say nothing of twice electing a black president by landslide. And pay no attention to the drop in poverty after Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society programs started or its rise after Ronald Reagan slashed their budgets. If a government program does not completely wipe out a social ill, it must therefore be the cause – you know, the same way that having fire departments causes fires.

They are trying to rewrite the Great Depression too. As Thomas Frank wrote in Pity the Billionaire, they are using the iconography of the New Deal against the New Deal. The Dust Bowl photos of poverty that Glenn Beck used on his TV show were taken by government photographers to spur Congress to action. But Beck used them to essentially say “Look how proud and flinty we were before we got soft from government handouts.” The photos do show dignity. That was to counter the right’s stereotype that working class people were lazy and to build up sympathy for them. That era had its own callous Rick Santellis calling those who had lost their homes and farms “losers.” But unlike the stock market speculators who had crashed the economy, these people actually made things.

Indeed, the right had begun rewriting economic history even before the 2007 crash. You could see this in design and fashion. When people believed the market could never fall, art directors used Russian Constructivist fonts ironically. That was part of the 1990s’ Soviet kitsch that went with post-Cold War triumphalism, but things did not stop there. The retro look was in. There was an occasional nod to the posh and dapper 1920s; but the thematic emphasis was on strength, so the more muscular industrial aesthetic of the 1930s was favored. You often saw Works Progress Administration-inspired designs in business newspaper and magazine layouts. Remember, this was when suspenders and bow ties came back into style. It was as if we had reset the twentieth century and the New Deal had never happened – it was only acknowledged to mock it. We were now in an alternate universe that had skipped that particular period. In this different timeline, America had never disappointed Ayn Rand and Atlas enjoyed society’s appreciation and deference.

And when the market did crash, smug snark turned into spin. This iconography was no longer used ironically, but manipulatively. The rewrite continued, albeit with a tweak. Now, there was all the more reason to milk this particular imagery.

As a result of such gross distortions, Thomas Frank found some people think the era’s anthem “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” was actually meant as an indictment against the New Deal and Keynesian economics(!)(62) Never mind it was written by Yip Harburg, a socialist who was later blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Never mind it was written on Herbert Hoover’s watch before FDR was elected. Ideology trumps chronology.

This was no isolated absurdity. As Thomas Frank has documented in many books, conservatives have been co-opting populism for at least two decades. In their strange alternative narrative, social workers are elitists and billionaires are just ordinary folk. So, after causing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, doubling-down on this story was only logical for them. Obviously, they must obfuscate the past if they do not want to see a repeat of the New Deal, and so they brazenly conflate opposites.

But I see a larger pattern than Thomas Frank does. I have repeatedly stressed that liberty, equality, and democracy are the three interdependent pillars of America’s identity and documented conservative hostility toward each of them. After all, that is my thesis. I have also shown that America’s every ethos is problematic for conservative “patriotism,” hence their tendency to project and question other people’s patriotism. The right’s false populism compose one example of this reflex and their Nazi analogies form another.

A lot of classic Americana comes out of the Great Depression and World War II. This period both shaped and defined what is often called “The Greatest Generation.” Since conservatives like to think that they own patriotism, they probably would try to co-opt this era even without any economic incentive – although, the money definitely helps too. Remember Ann Coulter rewriting the U.S. Civil War. That was another nation-defining crisis that conservatives are desperate to redefine because it is so awkward for them. The right’s attempt to hijack Kennedy’s legacy and the Civil Rights Movement is just more of the same. One of the arguments that Rush Limbaugh made to claim that John F. Kennedy was a conservative was that JFK was “proud to be an American” – as if liberals are not.

Of course, Limbaugh’s obvious motive is that conservatives are not. Consciously or not, conservatives must rewrite history to hide the fact that their ideology is inherently un-American. Every historic moment that reaffirms our country’s commitment to liberty, equality, or democracy is going to be awkward for them. Once again, conservatives are chronically on the wrong side of history because their un-American temperament puts them there.(63)

Conservative “patriotism” is nothing but nostalgic tribalism, unencumbered by the high-minded liberal ideals that our country was founded on. It is only a deep need to be on a team and worship old things. But there is no real reverence for what those old things are supposed to mean. Conservatism’s self-appointed guardians of tradition rarely study history. Oaths and rituals substitute for scholarship, so when they try to instruct others, they are usually spectacularly wrong.

One thing in Jonah Goldberg’s book that I have not fully explored vividly illustrates this. For him, all forms of fascism are unified by the notion that the human condition can be improved. He writes, “Most of all they share the belief – what I call the totalitarian temptation – that with the right amount of tinkering we can realize the utopian dream of ‘creating a better world.’”(64) Forget Progressivism, this super-elastic definition of fascism stretches to fit around the very concept of progress itself.

Yet, perfection is a direction, not a destination. By striving for it, we improve things. Was the founding fathers’ forming “a more perfect union” fascist? After all, they had replaced the states rights-based Articles of Confederation with a much stronger central government. I guess those first jackboots had big, shiny brass buckles on them.

Astoundingly, Jonah Goldberg also poses as a champion of the Enlightenment against guys like Michel Foucault. Yet, Goldberg says, “The conservative or classical liberal vision understands that life is unfair, that man is flawed, and that the only perfect society, the only real utopia, waits for us in the next life.”

Um, that is certainly the Tory mentality, but it hardly defines the Enlightenment or the Patriot cause. The emphatically secular revolutionaries did not wait for the Rapture to address their grievances. They dealt with them kinetically, in the then here-and-now. That is, after all, what revolutionaries do. But Goldberg’s version of the Enlightenment stops just short of endorsing the Divine Right of Kings. Are you unhappy with your lot in life? Just be patient and wait. God will fix all after-the-fact.

Jonah Goldberg then develops this idea that he is fighting for the Enlightenment. He actually writes, “All major conservative schools of thought trace themselves back to the champions of the Enlightenment – John Locke, Adam Smith, Montesquieu, Burke.”(65) That is a pretty narrow pantheon of champions considering his highly elastic definition of fascism. I suppose I should credit him with omitting Cato. Although, I imagine he would get along much better with Samuel Johnson than anyone on his woefully short list. Are not Voltaire and Rousseau also champions of the Enlightenment? And why are there no American thinkers on his list? Like the Texas State Board of Education, I guess that Jonah Goldberg had found none whom he could truly admire.

And this is the key: Jonah Goldberg, Glenn Beck, and those other rightwing think tank writers are ultimately trying to hide the fact that the Progressive Era was a resumption of the Enlightenment after a period of romanticized reaction. It was a rebirth of reason and compassion after the Victorian Era’s selfish feudal enthusiasm which was epitomized by the “sham castles” that Mark Twain had mocked.

Certainly, Revolutionary Era feminists like Abigail Adams, Judith Sargent-Murray, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Marie Olympe De Gouges would have applauded women finally getting the vote. They argued that it was an inherent part of the Enlightenment’s ideology of liberty. As Abigail Adams had warned her husband John, “If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”(66) And across the pond, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote, “The divine right of husbands, like the divine right of kings, may, it is to be hoped, in this enlightened age, be contested without danger.”(67) Alas, she was wrong about that last part. The French government guillotined Marie Olympe De Gorges for writing her “Declaration of the Rights of Women.” (The Progressive Era’s suffragettes also faced violence in the form of beatings by police.) For some reason, these women did not make it onto Jonah Goldberg’s list either.

Conservatism is un-American in part because perpetual improvement is part of our national ethos. Like William F. Buckley, conservatives stand “athwart history, yelling Stop.”(68) Like Robert Bork, they have a problem with the very concept of progress. By contrast, Thomas Jefferson thought “We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” That is probably why he too is absent from Jonah Goldberg’s pantheon.

But do not look for Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Paine in there either since their social program proposals obviously disqualify them. And forget other spread-the-wealth advocates like Noah Webster and James Madison, for that matter. Goldberg’s “Champions of the Enlightenment” would make a disappointingly short trading card set.

Even a cursory survey of the founders’ efforts shows their progressive impulses. Benjamin Franklin constantly proposed new “improvements,” i.e. public works projects. Thomas Jefferson was the consummate technocrat and civil engineer. When designing the new national capitol, he laid out streets and sewer lines to facilitate sanitation and fight disease – which was quite important since Washington, D.C. was built on a drained swamp. These men were hardcore city planning geeks seeped in the spirit of idealistic civil servants. They would have thrilled to the heady, energetic days of the early New Deal. You know that Benjamin Franklin and Franklin D. Roosevelt would have hit it off. They would have been like twins! Both jolly men were charming, hard-partying policy wonks who got busy fixing things the next morning. Cartoonist Kate Beaton needs to commit this awesome team-up to paper right now.

Again, many of our founders were social engineers who always sought to advance the common good. Applying the latest scientific thinking in every area of life for the benefit of all defined both the Enlightenment and the later Progressive Era. Since the right cannot patriotically assault the first era, they must therefore assault the second. Conservatism is therefore the eternal enemy of the Enlightenment, and thus, the conservative assault on progressivism is ultimately an assault on America itself. It is the logical end product of William F. Buckley’s and Robert Bork’s thought. This is (and, in fact, has always been) conservatism’s inherent trajectory, whether articulated with dignified erudition or lurid Nazi analogies. Whatever the conveyance, the eventual destination remains the same.

Jonah Goldberg’s contribution to modern political discourse has both left its mark and met its goal. His goal was not the cessation of Nazi analogies, but to disassociate right wing politics from right wing politics and to assault the very concept of progress itself in the process. And he accomplished both by conflating political opposites.

This conscious confusing left with right taps into some troubling historical thought. Nazi propaganda had always conflated capitalists with communists by arguing that Jews secretly controlled both and were using them in a “two-pronged assault” on “Christian civilization.” If someone uses the labels “capitalist” and “communist” interchangeably, you can safely guess where they are going from there.

For example, in the late 1930s, Father Coughlin, “the radio priest,” claimed that Kristallnacht was ultimately the comeuppance to “Jewish bankers, Kuhn Loeb & Company of New York, among those who helped finance the Russian Revolution and Communism.”(69) Likewise, Pat Robertson claimed that “Wall Street bankers” had “enthusiastically financed Bolshevism in the Soviet Union since 1917.”(70) (Again, the National Review had excused this.) The use of this argument brings their probable politics into sharper focus. It is like when someone says we should have stayed out of World War II, as both Pat Buchanan and Joseph Sobran had.

Today, the Tea Party tries to co-opt populist rage against Wall Street and then redirect it against Washington, D.C. by arguing that rich liberals are plotting to destroy capitalism. According to Glenn Beck, rich liberals have been patiently planning this since Woodrow Wilson was president almost a century ago. Thus, the Tea Party is presumably trying to save capitalism from sinister capitalists. They have deftly harnessed anger against banks to fight any regulation of banks.

There is no exaggerating how bizarre their narrative is. As Thomas Frank explained in Pity the Billionaire, “For them, Democrats are devil figures; there was no contradiction in depicting them as both pawns of the banks and also the persecutors of them. Democrats were so malignant they could play both roles simultaneously.”(71) While describing a 2010 Rand Paul campaign advertisement, Frank quipped, “The viewer is expected both to hate AIG and feel compassion for it in the space of thirty seconds.”

As I noted before, mixed messages prey on mixed feelings. For decades, the religion of deregulation was preached by every talking head. Then, the financial crisis triggered a crisis of faith, leaving people angry and confused. Much like how traditionalist Germans felt after the Kaiser fled to Holland after World War I, their worldview was disgraced. Many had groped for any shabby rationalization to simultaneously cling to belief and be angry too. System failure was both indisputable and searing, but cherished certainties do not retire gracefully. They dig in, lie dormant, and wait for reinforcements to arrive with fresh rationalizations to reconcile their new reality with their old ideology.

Enter the Tea Party saying the financial crisis was not caused by too little regulation, but too much and that liberals deliberately engineer crises to make us more dependent on government – hence Glenn Beck calling billionaire investor George Soros “the puppet master” of a vast conspiracy to destroy America.

This thinking rings familiar for two obvious reasons:

First, the right has always tried to steer working class frustration away from rich conservatives and toward rich liberals. Before Soros, the Kennedy family was frequently the target of this treatment – and before them it was the Roosevelts. Any assault against “Hollywood liberals” is in the same vein. Indeed, the previous needle marks have since been replaced with a convenient valve. To conservatives, rich liberals are class traitors.

Second, Glenn Beck’s conspiracy theory sounds like a personalized version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the anti-Semitic tract that Hitler’s friend Henry Ford had promoted. Beck’s explanation of events only differs in that he is careful to say “liberals” instead of “Jews,” but his script is otherwise identical. It is meant to hit the same bigoted buttons. It is easy to see projection in Glenn Beck’s Nazi analogies, and I suspect that his love of wearing uniforms is not entirely ironic.

In fact, Glenn Beck has promoted fascist tracts himself. On his radio show, he praised a 1936 book called The Red Network: A “Who’s Who” and Handbook of Radicalism for Patriots. The book’s author, Elizabeth Dilling, was a rabid racist. Evidence of this is in the book itself. “Neither the races nor the sexes can ever be equal. They will always be different and have distinctive functions to perform in life.”(72) On the same page she had written, “God created separate races, but Communism insists upon racial inter-mixture and inter-marriage.” Perhaps that is why so many Tea Party members think that President Obama was a red diaper baby.

Elizabeth Dilling was an avid Nazi who attended rallies in both Germany and the U.S. She attacked the Allies after Hitler invaded Poland, and resisted the war effort after Pearl Harbor. Dilling later described President Dwight Eisenhower as “Ike the kike” and called President John F. Kennedy’s “New Frontier” the “Jew Frontier.”(73)

And speaking of “Who’s Who”-type books, Elizabeth Dilling has her own entry in the Encyclopedia of White Power: A Sourcebook on the Radical Racist Right. “To Dilling, Franklin Roosevelt was in all likelihood a Jew and his administration a Trojan horse for international communism.”(74) Simply change the word “Jew” to “Muslim” and that is exactly what many Tea Party members say about President Obama today.

And although obsessed with racial purity, Dilling liked to mix her terminology. She oxymoronically called herself a “Tory, patriot”(75) which is just as ass-backwards as calling someone else a “fascist-socialist.”

Elizabeth Dilling was a fringe figure, but today the fringe increasingly defines the debate. Forget, for one moment, the fact that Glenn Beck had Fox News’s highest-rated show. A 2012 poll found that 63% of Republicans still think that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction when we invaded Iraq in 2003!(76) Evidence does not sway them. In fact, it does the opposite and fortifies their faith in false beliefs. As I wrote in the introduction, they will respond to my founding fathers quotes the same way Creationists react to dinosaur bones. And once you think of the Creation Museum, how they arrive at their Nazi analogies becomes quite plain – they just stir everything together. Just as they drop dinosaurs into the Garden of Eden, socialists become fascists. Because why not? And if they ignore biologists and geologists, they will ignore historians too. I doubt they will relinquish their cherished Nazis analogies. After all, the Scopes Trail was back in 1925.

Adolf Hitler bragged that sewing confusion was one of his most effective weapons. Along these lines, conservatives have always conflated patriotism with nationalism and disassociated democracies from republics. Equating progressives with fascists is only their latest trick. The conservative narrative is Orwellian: bankers are Bolsheviks, doves are hawks, egalitarians are elitists, libertines are punitive, and Tories are patriots. Of course, once you decide that the Enlightenment boils down to the medieval idea of “life sucks and then you die,” none of this seems like much of a jump anymore.

Discredited beliefs may temporarily recede into the background noise, but then they resurge. Remember that Republican presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon had both dismissed conservative critics of the New Deal as irrelevant, isolated cranks. But when Ronald Reagan took office in 1980, the cranks came back and even took over the Democratic Party in the 1990s. We went from Richard Nixon saying “I am now a Keynesian in economics” to Bill Clinton declaring “The era of big government is over.” The reactionary fringe will always be waiting in the wings.

But then, there is everybody else. Another thing I wrote in the introduction is that politics is not the art of converting your opponent but of swaying the political middle. Fox News had had a minor, surprisingly respectful freak-out when Pope Francis called economic inequality “tyranny,” so I do not suppose they will have an open mind when I point out that many of our founding fathers had already said the same thing. Naturally, Rush Limbaugh’s self-identified “Ditto-heads” will probably not listen. But it gives the undecided something to think about and that is how politics actually works.

But, how can we talk about the right’s anti-democratic animus? After all, a literal monarchist metamorphosis is no longer in the cards and overuse has rendered fascist analogies nearly meaningless. So, how can we talk about this without mentioning kings and seeming quaintly irrelevant or mentioning Nazis and seeming utterly nuts?

Unfortunately, the frank answer is we cannot. Historical honesty demands context, as does our national identity. However, we can choose our point of emphasis, so I suggest we revive the word “Tory” as a stock insult. With only one word it acknowledges our revolutionary heritage and reminds everyone what America is supposed to stand for, or at least sparks a debate on the topic.

Of course, this action has two caveats.

First, I am not saying that we should never mention fascists. Obviously, Holocaust deniers who praise Franco and Pinochet qualify, so folks like Pat Buchanan and Joseph Sobran are still fair game. If you are talking about actual fascists, it is not an analogy anymore but a simple fact. You are not only safe saying it, accuracy actually requires it.

Second, we cannot stop conservatives from using Nazi analogies, so any liberal or leftist self-restraint will likely be a one-sided endeavor. No moratorium will enforce itself any more than the market will regulate itself. The right will still exploit whatever tactic is most effective for them. They will show all the scruples of a Joe McCarthy, Roy Cohn, Lee Atwater, or Karl Rove. Conservatives have the most to gain from this moratorium, and yet we all know that they would be the least likely to honor it.

I am not just talking about the right’s typical Nixonian dickishness, although that is a factor too. Nor am I talking about the difficulty of kicking satisfying old habits which have rewarded them with so much Pavlovian reinforcement. No, I am arguing that their reflexive projecting is ideologically hard-wired. They are pretty sensitive about their guilty history. Indeed, their playing the Nazi card almost sounds like a “cry for help” because rational self-interest does not explain that gambit. Throwing stones from glass houses does not even begin to describe their ingrained habit.

I am not exaggerating when I say their projecting is reflexive because I do not think that they can control it anymore. Blurting out bulletins from Opposite Land is just how they deal with the world now. Their feel-good history is oddly apocalyptic. But what else can you expect from authoritarians who think that they are libertarians?

We cannot stop conservatives from making Nazi analogies, but we can force a shift of venue by refocusing on the Revolutionary Era. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s talk of Toryism had reminded us who we were and the rough economic equality that so many founders thought was essential to a republic must be restored. We can accomplish this without Nazi name-calling. It is not only possible but promising. And given our history, this is the most logical course of action.

Here is an example of how we can do this. Take that famous Rev. Martin Niemöller quote which starts “When they came for the communists, I did not do anything because I was not a communist.” Strangely, a lot of conservative pundits have been invoking it lately. Some shorten the quote by dropping the communist part, so I struggle mightily to imagine them sheltering suspected Reds or any other opponent of Mussolini’s Corporate State. I would certainly hesitate to tell union organizers that Glenn Beck has their backs when the Gestapo or the American Legion shows up at their front door.

But, levity aside, we are still left with the question of how do we express this societal dynamic without mentioning Nazis? Well, do you remember that Thomas Paine quote on defending your enemies that I keep mentioning? “He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression: for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach unto himself.” This principle should not be limited to “card-carrying members of the ACLU.” And the fact that conservatives use that phrase derisively displays their complete contempt for free society.

Not every World War II idea or incident has a Revolutionary Era parallel. But when one exists, we should probably default to it, if it fits. And by studying our history we are better equipped to block conservative assaults on liberty, equality, and democracy. For example, it is important to know that the founders were mostly deists when would-be theocrats try to legislate their morality. This information does not dissuade the theocrat, but it is important for everyone else to know it. And if you can point to Thomas Paine’s social security proposal, those who associate social programs with jackboots have already lost because it effectively prevents playing the Nazi card.

Okay, perhaps “prevent” is not quite the right verb. After all, conservatives will still try. Moreover, the Nazi card is very emotional and distracting – and it is always to the right’s advantage to distract. But, if we stay on track, I think the Revolutionary Era argument may carry the day. And it might even wean those covert Roosevelt haters off Woodrow Wilson and back onto Thomas Paine. Perhaps.

But I do not want to create unrealistic expectations. Even if we could curb Nazi analogies, conservatives would still have the same reflexes. When not calling abortion “worse than the Holocaust,” they say abortion is “worse than slavery.” That is now a talking point for them. Sarah Palin had likewise equated the national debt to slavery and then faulted African Americans for objecting to her strange comparison. I am not sure how long that practice of theirs will last. Surely it creates some tension with their Neo-Confederate “states rights” wing. Perhaps they originally adopted Nazi analogies because they made a safer foreign comparison rather than an awkward domestic one. In any case, I still think that calling them Tories will raise the tone of the discussion.

Some will object to substituting one form of name-calling for another and ask how any insult can raise the tone. But, in politics, there is no avoiding labels or hurt feelings. And, as a sometime cartoonist and fan of satire, I recognize that insults can do good.

Calling someone a Tory in America would certainly be a direct challenge to their patriotism. I am not denying that. (That is, after all, the idea.) But, it would still be a pretty tame insult – almost a gentle rebuke. It would suggest that the target is antiquated and irrelevant. Indeed, it would almost make them cuddly, like Archie Bunker. And we already know that paleoconservatives do not strenuously object to being called political fossils. That or they do not know what the word “paleo” means. So, how strongly could they possibly object to being called Tories? They are opponents of progress and staunch defenders of tradition and hierarchy, so they would quite likely wear the label with great pride. And they are already big fans of Margaret Thatcher, so there is also that.

More importantly, calling someone antiquated is different from calling them evil incarnate which is what the Nazi label is meant to suggest. It is much easier to picture yourself reasoning with a Tory than with a Nazi. The Tory metaphor is admittedly Anglo-centric. However, it does, paradoxically, refocus our attention what America is all about. And we all know that conservatives do not really want to have that talk.

Again, Nazi analogies distract us from discussing America’s true identity, and that ultimately benefits conservatives. So instead, we should just call them Tories. After all, some of them already identify as “Tory Patriots.” And that oxymoron aptly sums up all the inherent contradictions in American conservatism.

1) Admittedly, it is amusing to point out Objectivism’s Maoist streak. It had a cult of personality and lists of banned or approved books and music. But nobody is saying that Ayn Rand’s acolytes were actually reds. Only conservatives reach that degree of total distortion. In his book, Jonah Goldberg plays an interesting game: If fascists ever used a particular technique or strategy, anyone else who uses the same is painted as a kindred spirit. This calls to mind a footnote in Richard Hofstadter’s essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” on extremists’ tendency to copy their opposites. “In his recent book, How to Win an Election, Stephen C. Shadegg cites a statement attributed to Mao Tse-tung: ‘Give me just two or three men in a village and I will take the village.’ Shadegg comments: ‘In the Goldwater campaigns of 1952 and 1958 and in all other campaigns where I have served as consultant I have followed the advice of Mao Tse-tung.’ ‘I would suggest,’ writes Senator Goldwater in Why Not Victory? ‘that we analyze and copy the strategy of the enemy; theirs has worked and ours has not.’” Although it is fun to imagine Barry Goldwater in a frumpy uniform waving a copy of Mao’s “Little Red Book,” it is not a vision I think anyone should take seriously.

2) I am certainly not the first person to notice psychological projection in politics. In “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” Richard Hofstadter wrote about it, albeit with a slightly different emphasis: “It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry. Secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations give the same flattery. The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy. The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through ‘front’ groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy. Spokesmen of the various fundamentalist anti-Communist ‘crusades’ openly express their admiration for the dedication and discipline the Communist cause calls forth.” Although I rely on the assumption of projection throughout the book, I am open to alternate interpretations of this behavior. It could just be that conservatives’ lack of empathy and imagination simply make it difficult for them to see things from other people’s perspectives or imagine anyone thinking in any other way.

George Seldes, Facts and Fascism (New York: In Fact, 1943), 25.

Benito Mussolini, The Corporate State, ed. Grafici A.Vallecchi, (Firenze: Viale dei Mille, 1936), 32.

Adolf Hitler, Hitler: Speeches and Proclamations 1932-1945: The Chronicle of a Dictatorship, ed. Max Domarus, trans. Mary Fran Gilbert (Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 1990), 1:92.

6) George Seldes, Facts and Fascism (New York: In Fact, 1943), 210.

George Seldes, Facts and Fascism (New York: In Fact, 1943), 42.

Ibid., 122. Seldes cited a Federated Press interview published January 7th, 1938.

William E. Dodd, “Letter of Ambassador Dodd to Senators,” New York Times, May 12, 1937, p. 4.

George Seldes, Facts and Fascism (New York: In Fact, 1943), 77. I must confess that I am amused by the New York Times’s October 26, 1938 headline: “KNUSEN WARNS LABOR ON OUTPUT: Production Must Be Kept Up if Hours Are Cut, He Says on Return from Europe: TELLS OF REICH’S GAINS: Calls It’s Transformation the ‘Miracle of the 20th Century’ – Musicians Arrive” They were on the boat as well.

Ibid., 44.

Ibid., 43. For some reason, that era’s plutocrats loved Mussolini the most. Was it because he had invented fascism or because of the former socialist’s shift from left to right? I have often heard Mussolini’s early socialism invoked to bolster the claim that socialists are fascists. I suppose the thinking goes, “Once a socialist, always a socialist.” But if that is how it works, then David Horowitz is still a 1960s campus radical and Ronald Reagan died a New Deal Democrat.

Jonah Goldberg, “Springtime for Slanderers; Who are you calling a Nazi?” National Review Online January 5, 2001.

“Coulter Culture,” The New York Observer, October 2, 2007. The quote goes: “If we took away women’s right to vote, we’d never have to worry about another Democrat president. It’s kind of a pipe dream, it’s a personal fantasy of mine, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. And it is a good way of making the point that women are voting so stupidly, at least single women.”

Claudia Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland; Women, the Family and Nazi Politics (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987), 105.

Ibid. To quote more fully, “Antifeminist women seized upon the rhetoric of rights, but twisted its meaning to mean the ‘right’ of women to remain in the domestic sphere. Many women, who had been apathetic about national issues before they could vote, used their newly won rights to mobilize against further change. Few grasped the paradox of their double mission of entering public life to defend women’s private family sphere. Without either education or upbringing that might have prepared them to take advantage of their new rights, these women wanted ‘Emancipation from Emancipation!’ – a slogan later taken up by Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg. Two-thirds of all married German women considered themselves primarily housewives. Swearing to reinforce, not threaten, male prerogatives, they set out to defend traditional morality against decadence, which they linked to large cities and poor people.”

Ute Frevert, Women in German History: From Bourgeois Emancipation to Sexual Liberation (Berg: New York, 1989), 207.

Claudia Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland; Women, the Family and Nazi Politics (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987), 116.

The film’s story was written by Fritz Lang’s wife who later became an ardent Nazi. Lang himself was not so enthusiastic and skipped the country for Hollywood shortly after Hitler came to power. His wife stayed, but he never regretted his decision. Shitty politics aside, the film is a visually magnificent, seminal science fiction masterpiece that later inspired Star Wars. Find the latest Criterion edition. Even the goofy-ass, quasi-colorized version with 1980s pop songs inserted is worth watching once.

Jeff Cohen, “In his own words: The history book on Patrick Buchanan,” FAIR, October 3, 1999.

Ute Frevert, Women in German History: From Bourgeois Emancipation to Sexual Liberation (Berg: New York, 1989), 231

Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1998), 751n.

23) George Seldes, Lords of the Press (New York: Julian Messer, Inc., 1946), 195.

24) Benito Mussolini, “Forza e Consenso,” Gerarchia, March 1923, 801-803.

Robert H. Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah (New York: Reagan Books, 1997), 201.

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, G.B. Hill. Rev. L.F. Powell ed., (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1887), 1:408.

Of course, conservatives do not have a monopoly on hostility to democracy. Soviet era Stalinists were just as openly contemptuous of the democratic process as any paleo-conservative on Free – just as contemptuous and just as confused, since Karl Marx had specified that economic equality required political equality to survive. Obviously, without democracy, you cannot keep those in power from taking a bigger slice of the pie, hence George Orwell’s pointing out that the Soviet leaders had become just another ruling class.

Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press, dir. Rick Goldsmith, 111 min., Never Tire Productions, 1996 and 2006, DVD. Quote starts at 1:30:47. Incidentally, every American has a patriotic duty to watch this documentary.

Jim Naureckas, “The Philadelphia Inquirer’s new spectrum: From centrism to anti-Semitism,” Extra!, November/December 1995.

Ann Coulter, “Not your average Joe,” Human Events, October 6, 2010.

Paul Slansky, The Clothes Have No Emperor: A Chronicle of the American 80s (New York: Fireside Press, 1989), 128-129. Start reading on April 11, 1985. Also, note the entry for February 16, 1984 on page 85.

John B. Judis, “White House Vigilante: Pat Buchanan takes matters into his own hands.” New Republic, January 26, 1987, 18.

William F. Buckley, “Meddling in South Africa,” Palm Beach Post, August 21, 1985. Buckley pointed out that we do not practice “one man, one vote” because the Senate gives equal weight to smaller states. However, we have unquestionably been moving toward that “fanatical abstraction” as the direct election of senators illustrates. And in 1985, we were certainly closer to it than Apartheid South Africa. Buckley’s argument was that we were in no position to lecture South Africa. On the contrary, we were in an excellent position considering our recent, similar experience.

Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 398.

Michael Lind, Up from Conservatism: Why the Right is Wrong for America, (New York: Simon and Schuster), 1996), 109-111.

Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 20.

“Glenn Beck talks with Jonah Goldberg, author of Liberal Fascism,”, Tuesday, January 15, 2008 (accessed February 13, 2014).

Chip Berlet, “The Roots of Liberal Fascism: The Book,” HNN Special: A Symposium on Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, (accessed 02/24/14).

Jill Lepore, “Birthright: What’s next for Planned Parenthood?” The New Yorker, November 14, 2011, 49.

As Jill Lepore expounded on her article on NPR’s Fresh Air, “She founds a journal called the Birth Control Review, and she asks [Paul] Poponoe, [the co-author of Applied Eugenics] to contribute to it. She goes to D.C. to debate Poponoe. These eugenicists that Sanger is courting are actually generally opposed to birth control because they considered it, and Poponoe writes at the time, that ‘birth control is the reverse of eugenics.’” Air date November 9, 2011.

Russ Bellant, Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party: Domestic Fascist Networks and Their Effect on U.S. Cold War Politics (Boston: South End Press, 1988), 60.

Roger Pearson, Eugenics and Race (London: Clair Press, 1966), 26.

Russ Bellant, Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party: Domestic Fascist Networks and Their Effect on U.S. Cold War Politics (Boston: South End Press, 1988), 61-63.

Jim Naureckas, “Racism resurgent: How media let The Bell Curve’s pseudo-science define the agenda on race,” Extra! January/February 1995.

Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 245.

William F. Buckley, Jr., “Crucial Steps in Combating the Aids Epidemic; Identify All the Carriers,” New York Times, March 18, 1986. But perhaps I see contradiction where there is consistency. After all, that was Buckley trying to be compassionate toward uninfected gays and drug addicts and Goldberg equates compassion with fascism. Maybe this is what he means when he says “We are all fascists now.”

Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 115.

The interview exchange goes: “If ever needed, the American Legion stands ready to protect our country’s institutions and ideals as the Fascisti dealt with the destructionists who menaced Italy.”
“By taking over the government?” he was asked.
“Exactly that,” he replied. “The American Legion is fighting every element that threatens our democratic government – soviets, anarchists, IWW, revolutionary socialists and every other ‘red.’… Do not forget that the Fascisti are to Italy what the American Legion is to the United States.”

Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 147.

Annie O’Hare McCormick, “Hitler Seeks Jobs for all Germans,” New York Times, July 10th, 1933, 1.

Pat Buchanan in His Own Words,” FAIR press release, February 26, 1996.

  Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 99.

Ibid., 160.

Ibid., 6. Amusingly, he does mention Christina Hoff Sommers’s book The War Against Boys much later on. But at least he does not call that a “liberal equivalency of war.” Doesn’t he realize that entry is going to be near the War on Poverty in the index?

Fascists did indeed preach getting “beyond politics” and finding a “third way” between left and right. But they meant getting beyond class conflict. I have already given a few examples – from Mussolini’s “harmonization” to Hitler’s enthusiasm for Ford’s affordable cars. This poses a problem for those who conflate fascism with communism. Obviously, the communists sought to stoke class conflict, not get beyond it. Of course, Goldberg ignores this and instead paints any urgent bi-partisan appeal as fascist. Absent this context, things morph into their opposites and any talk of class gets called fascist. In January of 2014, venture capitalist Tom Perkins predicted a “Progressive Kristallnacht” in a letter to the Wall Street Journal that compared the Occupy Wall Street movement’s criticism of the rich to the Nazis’ anti-Semitism. Two months later, billionaire Home Depot co-founder Ben Langone echoed Perkins’ attack on populist rhetoric, “[I]f you go back to 1933, with different words, this is what Hitler was saying in Germany. You don’t survive as a society if you encourage and thrive on envy or jealousy.” Actually, Langone’s last line was what Hitler was saying in 1933.

Abram Rosenblatt, et al., “Evidence for Terror Management Theory: I: The effects of mortality salience on reactions to those who violate or uphold cultural values,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 57, no. 4 (1989): 681-690. My thanks to Jordan S. Carroll for alerting me to this study.

The quote sandwiches a segment in which the CBN reporter conscientiously stressed that this issue is uniting unlikely allies on Right and Left. But Robertson ignores this, portraying being punitive as a liberal trait. Amusingly, conservatives have two central concerns in this matter: tax costs and shielding white collar crooks I guess Pat’s friends are terrified of being sent to “Club Fed.” This is an unexpected dividend of the era of Enron. Apparently, Wendy Kaminer was correct when she said, “If ‘a conservative is a liberal once mugged,’ then a liberal is a conservative once arrested.” A simple keyword search will turn up the video of Robertson.

Oliver Willis, “Stealing Kennedy: Conservatives Try to Hijack the JFK Legacy,” Media Matters, posted November 22, 2013 10:58 AM EST, (accessed November 26, 2013).

At one point, Jonah Goldberg sort of claims that liberals do the same, but it does not quite work. He writes, “As for Ronald Reagan, he is enjoying what may be the most remarkable rehabilitation in modern American history – as is Barry Goldwater, who all of a sudden has become a hero to the liberal establishment. It seems that American liberals can appreciate dead conservatives when they become useful cudgels to beat up on living ones.” (pg. 394) This sample of Jonah Goldberg’s deceptiveness is trivial but typical. Liberals began to soften on Goldwater way back in the 1980s when, like Ayn Rand, the Arizona senator had criticized Ronald Reagan’s association with the Moral Majority. This was also why liberals had liked Goldwater’s political protégé and successor, John McCain (R-AZ). The “Maverick” was also openly contemptuous of the religious right – at least until he began running for president. Goldwater’s stock with liberals grew even more in the 1990s. During Whitewater, he called a press conference to defend Bill Clinton telling his fellow Republicans to “get off his back and let him be president.” (Lloyd Grove, “Barry Goldwater’s Left Turn,” Washington Post, July 28, 1994.) Goldwater also wrote an op-ed advocating allowing gays to openly serve in the military and that sealed his reputation among both liberals and conservatives. Contrary to Jonah Goldberg’s ugly picture of liberals cynically using the dead, liberals befriended Barry Goldwater when conservatives shunned and punished him. “They want to change the name of the party headquarters from the Goldwater building to something else,” Goldwater boasted. “They want to take my name off the airport. They want to take my name off the high school. They want to take my name off the lake up north.” In fact, Barry Goldwater is today enjoying a postmortem political rehabilitation among conservatives – but only because the Tea Party’s phony libertarian rhetoric makes it necessary. Talk about grave robbing! And there is a big difference between heroicizing a figure and saying his ideological descendants are even more extreme. As I noted in the introduction, many prominent Republicans have said that not even Ronald Reagan could get ahead in today’s GOP. If Republicans can say this, why can’t liberals?

While reading Liberal Fascism, you keep expecting Jonah Goldberg to say that he is just kidding and that his whole 400 page book is just a clever exercise written to show how all Nazi analogies are only word games and should therefore be unceremoniously ignored. It never quite happens. Instead, his book is littered with disclaimers of dubious sincerity. Again and again he basically says “I’m not saying that liberals are Nazis, but liberals are Nazis. Just nice Nazis.” That is certainly his desired takeaway. Eventually, his frequent qualifiers take on an almost “I’m not a racist, but …” quality. There are two reasons for this. First is the fact that his disclaimers have zero impact on his argument. They exist only so that he can say they exist. As Michael Tomasky wrote in The New Republic, “As always in this book, the canard survives the complexities.” Secondly, actually taking Jonah Goldberg’s disclaimers at face value essentially renders his thesis meaningless. Reviewers across the political spectrum have noticed this. Tomasky asked in exasperation, “Isn’t all this at once so broad and so qualified as to be meaningless?” In The American Conservative Austin Bramwell wrote, “Goldberg does at times display a blush of shame. He qualifies his conclusions to the point of taking them all back, insisting that he does not actually mean to say that liberals are dangerous totalitarians. He grants that some of his points are trivial and others may appear outrageous, so that nothing he says should be taken as both true and interesting at the same time. He claims that movement conservatives also suffer from the totalitarian temptation, so that we are ‘all’ fascists now. Why then link liberalism in particular with fascism? Here Goldberg is surprisingly candid: because, he argues, liberals do it to conservatives all the time.” Tomasky suspects another motive besides revenge. “Lurking behind all these futile disclaimers may be Goldberg’s well-founded fear that intelligent or knowledgeable readers might conclude that he is crazy.” The two theories are not mutually exclusive. Just what Jonah Goldberg really believes is elusive, but it is clear what he wants his audience to think. The same dynamic plays out in his appearances on Glenn Beck’s show. Like Penn Jillette, Goldberg pretends to gently correct the audience’s misconceptions, but he is really only there to tweak and reaffirm them. Goldberg tells Beck that Hillary Clinton is not literally a fascist, but then says that she has fascist tendencies and resumes listing ways that he thinks that liberals are like fascists. This subtle distinction is no doubt lost on most of Beck’s audience and is ultimately meaningless even if it does stick since they will use it the same way that Goldberg does. But if Goldberg is worried about looking crazy, he might not want to write so many exclusive essays for Beck’s paid subscribers.

David Corn, “Cliven Bundy: I’m Just Like Rosa Parks,” Apr. 28, 2014. (accessed 05/08/14).

Thomas Frank, Pity the Billionaire (London: Harvill Seckler, 2012), 131.

I think that their highly defensive handling of racism exemplifies this. They grasp that being called a racist is a bad thing, yet they only partially register why. Racism is not simply impolite or politically incorrect, but fundamentally un-American. It is against our core egalitarian ethos. But bringing that up triggers multiple issues. For conservatives, patriotism is nothing but nostalgic tribalism. But when someone brings up principles, they bring up irksome responsibilities and unfinished business. One of these things is really thinking about America’s identity. There is a meaning beyond “GO TEAM!” and romanticizing the past. Even if you are not a racist, the subject matter itself is loaded with all these awkward, unwelcome abstractions. You may not hate outsiders or the “Other,” but you do not want to re-think patriotism either. And you sense that your belonging is somehow under assault even if nobody frames it that way because you have just been reminded that patriotism is a lot more complicated than you want it to be and that also means that it feels very different. The ground feels less certain beneath your feet and the result is a kind of “kill the messenger” hostility. Yes, some also lash back and project out of guilt because they really are racists and have been caught at it. Ted Nugent and his audience are an obvious example. But there are additional, invisible issues on the table, so the emotional stakes are higher than most people realize.

Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 15.

Ibid.,175. The two lines immediately before this are hugely amusing and typical of the silliness you find on every page. “For more than sixty years, liberals have insisted that the bacillus of fascism lies semi-dormant in the bloodstream of the political right. And yet with the notable and complicated exceptions of Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom, no top-tier American conservative intellectual was a devotee of Nietzsche or a serious admirer of Heidegger.” Apparently, Jonah Goldberg has never heard of Ayn Rand. She was a huge devotee of Nietzsche. Indeed, Nietzsche’s superman was the template for all of her heroes. This is an interesting oversight, given Ayn Rand’s hostile relationship with the National Review. The bad blood began with a negative review that Whittaker Chambers wrote about Atlas Shrugged. “From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: ‘To the gas chambers – go!’” Once again, Jonah Goldberg seems “operationally uninterested in the intellectual history” of his own magazine. Maybe, I should edit it instead.

Abigail Adams, The Feminist Papers, From Adams to Beauvoir, ed. Alice S. Rossi (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1973), 10.

Mary Wollstonecraft, The Feminist Papers, From Adams to Beauvoir, ed. Alice S. Rossi (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1973), 55.

William F. Buckley, “Our Mission Statement,” National Review, November 19, 1955.

Michael Lind, Up from Conservatism: Why the Right is Wrong for America (New York: Free Press, 1996), 114.

Ibid., 104.

Thomas Frank, Pity the Billionaire (London: Harvill Seckler, 2012), 59.

Elizabeth Dilling, The Red Network: A “Who’s Who” and Handbook of Radicalism for Patriots (Kenilworth, IL: self-published 1935), 37.

Glen Jeansonne, Women of the Far Right: The Mothers’ Movement and World War II (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 166-167.

Jeffrey Kaplan, Encyclopedia of White Power: A Sourcebook on the Radical Racist Right (Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press, 2000), 97.

Glen Jeansonne, Women of the Far Right: The Mothers’ Movement and World War II (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 10.

Andrew Sullivan, “One Party is Unhinged,” The Daily Beast, June 21, 2012.

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