Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Liberal Fascism, pt II

I thumbed through some of Jonah's book at the bookstore today. Supposedly it is very successful commercially, top ten in Amazon in this category, top ten in the New York Times in that. Frankly, it's a little surprising to me, why so many people would be interested in this subject, and in particular Jonah's treatment of it. I'm reminded a little bit of Allan Bloom's surpise at the success of _The Closing of the American Mind_ , paraphrasing,
"I thought the book would sell at most five thousand copies, almost all of
them to my personal acquaintances."

The point is, I gather, that there are a large number of Americans of some moderate or conservative persuasion who are manifestly tired of the other team using "fascist" as a cheap epithet, and want a full understanding fascism and American culture instead.

For me, the book is somewhat disappointing. I have no quarrel with Jonah's research or any of his arguments, but I think his critics are correct to say that it is disjointed and has no real point. There so many disparate threads that it's not clear, to me at least, what conclusions Jonah wants us to make regarding the nexus between fascism and liberal American thought. And that's a substantial shortcoming because it represents the the raison d'etre of the book in the first place.

It's plausible to argue, for example, that nationalism is fascism, that fascism is socialism, and socialism is communism. But clearly, all of these things are not interchangeable with each other. Fascism has several models, and each model has several aspects, so that any number of things could plausibly be held to be fascist. In that case, we should take care that we are just as ready to argue that this or that is not fascist (in comparison to the affirmative case), or else fascism becomes an empty tautology.

Specifically, student radicalism at Cornell was very similar in appearance to the radicalization of German universities in the 30s, but has no fascist political connections. Whole Foods is a total fascist red herring, as I mentioned in my prior post. There is a substantial amount of fascist-inspired eugenics underlying liberal thought on abortion, stem cells, euthanasia, etc. But the demand for individual autonomy, mostly sexual autonomy, motivates liberal thought at least as much, a profoundly unfascist premise.

On the other hand, the nanny state in general and the interference of the nanny state into child rearing and family matters has real fascist roots, historically, intellectually, and politically.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced Ledeen's review is misguided. Clarity is at a premium, not chewy analysis. This is a subject where conclusions must be stated, and judiciously. The train of thought leading up to them is much less controversial.

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