Category Archives: Jonah Goldberg


As we head toward the Fourth of July, perhaps some might enjoy the following definition of patriotism from Jonah Goldberg (via Whiskey Fire):

Definitions of patriotism proliferate, but in the American context patriotism must involve not only devotion to American texts (something that distinguishes our patriotism from European nationalism) but also an abiding belief in the inherent and enduring goodness of the American nation. We might need to change this or that policy or law, fix this or that problem, but at the end of the day the patriotic American believes that America is fundamentally good as it is.

It's the "good as it is" part that has vexed many on the left since at least the Progressive era. Marxists and other revolutionaries obviously don't believe entrepreneurial and religious America is good as it is. But even more mainstream figures have a problem distinguishing patriotic reform from reformation. Many progressives in the 1920s considered the American hinterlands a vast sea of yokels and boobs, incapable of grasping how much they needed what the activists were selling.

Why "must" it involve such echoes of state religion (i.e., fascism)?  No one knows.  Goldberg doesn't bother to say.



Jonah Goldberg is determined to outdo himself in the category of dumb:

I find Darwin fish offensive. First, there’s the smugness. The
undeniable message: Those Jesus fish people are less evolved, less
sophisticated than we Darwin fishers.

The hypocrisy is even more glaring. Darwin fish are often stuck next to
bumper stickers promoting tolerance or admonishing that "hate is not a
family value." But the whole point of the Darwin fish is intolerance;
similar mockery of a cherished symbol would rightly be condemned as
bigoted if aimed at blacks or women or, yes, Muslims.

He’s right about the undeniable message.  But I don’t think it’s saying what he thinks it is.  For evolutionists, the fish represents the connection between life in the sea and mammalian life.  According to their story, God ordered the fish to rise up from the sea and walk on earth, so that, eventually, the fish would become man (without the God part).  This is an alternative to the literal creationism of some Christians which has a couple of different stories each involving a sea.  I would even venture to guess that many Darwin fish cars are owned by Christians–many of whom are dedicated evolutionists. 

The ridiculous thing about Goldberg’s remark is the charge of hypocrisy.  The point, obviously, of the Darwin fish is to insist on scientific evidence over the unsupported factual assertions of a religious text.  The evolutionists, in other words, challenge fact with fact–the literal creation story (which for some reason very many Christians believe isn’t true at all).  Many Christians do believe this story, however.  They believe it with such a vengeance they think it ought to be taught as fact in science classes in place of or at least alongside of the evolution "story."  In some places, they have even succeeded in undermining the teaching of evolution on the grounds that it’s just a "theory."  That view, of course, is absolutely preposterous–and ignorant and intolerant of basic scientific knowledge. 

Here’s the really dumb thing. To believe in the literal truth of Genesis in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence is not the same as being black, female or Muslim–unless being those things involves embracing obviously false assertions about reality.  To believe in the literal truth of Genesis (and the sometimes consequent belief in the immorality and falsity of evolution) is not even the same thing as being Christian.    


Die Goldberg-Variationen

Some may remember Jonah Goldberg's thesis that liberals are the real fascists because (a) they share some ideas with the fascists and (b) they think government ought to make people do stuff for the common good–such as have health insurance, not pollute, not abuse their children, among other things.  The former point of course is just a variation on the fallacy of the undistributed middle–some liberals are vegetarians, some nazis were vegetarians, and, as the Medieval philosophers would say, ergo etc.  The latter however asserts that any application of government's coercive power constitutes fascism.  Not really.  It depends on how that coercive power is asserted–as a matter of fact, one might argue that the differing means of coercion are what distinguish one type of government–or one type of constitution, as the Philosopher might say–from each other.  So it's not what you do, it's how you do what you do that makes you a fascist.  

Goldberg's silly thesis–decried justly by many as an intellectual abomination–had always struck me as eerily reminiscent George Will's basic shtick.  For those familiar with Will's work, he has a couple of basic arguments against liberals.  You'll notice, by the way, the much of his work consists in arguing against liberals–perhaps on the mistaken assumption that such an argument would establish anything about his conservative view.  That, dear readers, would be as silly as me saying George Will's crippling illogic establishes the cogency of my liberal politics.  It doesn't, obviously.  But sometimes I need to repeat that.

Back to his basic arguments.  The more prominent of these is the ad hominem–preferably the tu quoque.  This fallacy, as you know, consists in accusing someone of hypocrisy when such a charge is irrelevant to the particular point that person is making.  True to form, this is how Will opens is piece today:

Judging from complaints by her minions, Hillary Clinton considers it unfair that Barack Obama has been wafted close to the pinnacle of politics by an updraft from the continent-wide swoon of millions of Democrats and much of the media brought on by his Delphic utterances such as "we are the change." But disquisitions on fairness are unpersuasive coming from someone from Illinois or Arkansas whose marriage enabled her to treat New York as her home and the Senate as an entry-level electoral office (only 12 of today's senators have been elected to no other office) and a steppingstone to the presidency.

Even if Clinton considers it "unfair" (which isn't the argument–oh the distortion!–another basic Will tactic), her situation has nothing to do with whether or not Obama deserves his current success.  What he deserves–in treatment by the press and the voters, is, after all, the more likely interpretation of her complaint.  She may or may not have a point on that.  Considering how the press treats her (Cackle anyone? Accusations of murder?), she's probably right.

We see another variation on this a little bit later.  Since the Democrat's moronic adherence to a principle of pure formal equality is unsustainable, they are forced by reality into hypocrisy:

So superdelegates — party dignitaries, most of them elected officials — would have to be. What ethic should guide their decisions? Should each of them vote as did their state or congressional district? Or for the candidate who won the most votes nationally? Or should they think like Edmund Burke?

On Nov. 3, 1774, Burke, an intellectual founder of modern conservatism, delivered a thank-you address to people who, upon hearing it, perhaps wished they had not done what he was thanking them for. They had elected him to represent them in the House of Commons. He told them he was duty-bound to represent the national interest, as he understood that. He said he owed them not obedience but his independent judgment of the public good — independent of "local prejudices" or "local purposes."

Burkean superdelegates among the Democrats? What fun.

This is entertaining first because there's an implicit charge of hypocrisy–how could Democrats act in the way a conservative luminary said he was going to act a long, long time ago?  They're hypocrites because they don't adhere to absolute direct democracy!  Of course, as any sensible person knows, such an accusation is purely moronic.  Direct one-to-one representation isn't any more a Democratic notion of representation as it is a Republican one.  

But it's doubly moronic because of the Goldberghian implication that sharing a view with someone of another political party (a) constitutes some kind of contradiction or (b) means that you share all of your political views in common.  So the Democrats may seem to share a political view with Edmund Burke–a conservative of sorts.  Does this make the Democrats conservatives?  Obviously not. 

It's triply moronic because Will frequently accuses Democrats of too much federalism of the kind Burke describes–too much thinking, in other words, about the common good (as they see it).

Will has other basic tropes–such as the straw man, usually involving selective and distorting quotation–but we'll save that discussion for another time.  Or you can just look at the archives

The Goldberg variation

It seems to me that affirmative action need not be derived from essentialist claims about racial identity.  But's its convenient that some do, because then people who oppose affirmative action programs can claim their opponents are the real racists, because essentialism is a variety of racism (they claim).  One might call that the Goldberg variation, as you turn–speciously–the accusation of racism (or fascism, or whatever) around. That said, the following claim seems to me to be a Goldberg variation:

The conventions that govern America's racial discourse derive from the odious "one drop" rule. According to it, anyone with any admixture of black ancestry — one drop of black "blood" — is black. So, Connerly is an African American. One of his grandparents was of African descent, one was Irish, a third was Irish and American Indian, and the fourth was French Canadian. Two of the grandchildren of Connerly and his Irish wife have a Vietnamese mother. Are these grandchildren African Americans?

Will the superstitions surrounding race ever fade away? Not before governance is cleansed of the sort of race-based policies opposed by Connerly, who intimately knows the increasing absurdity of racial classifications and the folly of government preferences based on them.

In addition to the Goldberg element (and really, I think Goldberg's schtick is strongly reminiscent of George Will's), you have a kind of feigned and convenient skepticism: who's to say what race is anyway?  Who really counts as Black?  And any answer to that question will invite charges of racism.  See–if you answer Will's question, you're a racist.  But not him.  He's colorblind.


Had occasion to revisit this George Will piece arguing for the election of George Bush this morning.  Poor Jonah, he can't even build a weaker straw hominem than George Will:

THE CASE for electing George W. Bush begins with a mundane matter: A president fills several thousand policy-shaping positions in the executive branch. The two parties have very different talent pools from which the next administration will be staffed.

The Democratic pool swarms with people who share Al Gore's bossiness, his regulatory itch and his hubristic belief that clever people like them can wield government as creatively as Rodin did his chisel. The Republican pool is disposed to regard government as a blunt instrument. Which is to say, a Gore administration would have the mentality of Washington's Northwest quadrant; a Bush administration would have a West Texas attitude.

Congress's drunken sailor approach to the surplus makes the political case for Bush's tax cut: Leave the money in Washington, it will disappear like water into sand. The economic case for the cut is that Bush's advisers, who fortunately include some people capable of bearish thoughts, think the economy may need energizing sooner than many people think.


Five thumbs up

If you look at the website for Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, you'll find a lot of email from alienated college students, praising the bold and cogent thesis of the book, and commending its author for the way he handled himself on A Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  You'll also find its author responding to negative reviews:

It's something of a cliché to complain that a poor book review says more about the reviewer than it does about the book. Sometimes this is clearly just a defense mechanism offered by authors who've written bad books. Other times it happens to be true. Matt Yglesias' “serious” review of my book is one of those times.

And he goes on to attack the reviewer:

In short, his review is a piece of theater used to disguise his own cognitive dissonance. Nothing to see here folks, no need to read this book, no need to do any heavy thinking whatsoever. Indeed, thinking is the last thing Matt or his friends on the left want to do when it comes to my book. That is why the default response in those quarters has been to call me stupid or partisan (or both — or worse). No reason to rethink your basic premises if a book can be dismissed as mere partisan hackery.

That's not the only time.  Goldberg can't seem to address any negative criticism of his argument without maligning the motives or the seriousness of the reviewer.  Ok, one last example:

On Thursday, I said that David Neiwert’s review of my book, Liberal Fascism, in The American Prospect was the sort of “shallow, cliché ridden, attack-the-messenger stuff that I would expect Ezra to find so persuasive.” But it turned out I’d misquoted Neiwert, for which I apologized. I also said I was bleary from the slog of promoting the book and maybe I was too harsh. Well, now — as they used to say of Nixon — I’m tanned, rested and ready (minus the tan). So with fresh eyes let me say that Neiwert’s review is the sort of shallow, cliché ridden, attack-the-messenger stuff that I would expect Ezra to find so persuasive.

I love the phrase, "attack-the-messenger" as it is here quite inappropriate.  One attacks the messenger who is merely bringing bad news–you attack the journalist who reports on bad news.  This book isn't a work of journalism, and Goldberg isn't a messenger. 


Dux nobis

If a prize were given for sophistry, Jonah Goldberg would win, not because he's good at it, but because he earnestly believes his own nonsense.  The entire thesis of his recent book, Liberal Fascism, rests (judging by his frequent descriptions of it) on the following hodgepodge of fallacies: the formal fallacy of the undistributed middle; equivocation on the word "socialist"; ignorance of the origins and meaning of the term "fascist"; and various straw persons of "progressive positions" (to name the most obvious).  By the way, if you haven't seen his interview with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, go see it.  It's hilarious.

Just for fun, and because it bears repeating how this fellow has no business writing books on fascism or any subject for that matter, take the following explanation of why Mussolini is called a fascist:

To sort of start the story, the reason why we see fascism as a thing of the right is because fascism was originally a form of right-wing socialism. Mussolini was born a socialist, he died a socialist, he never abandoned his love of socialism, he was one of the most important socialist intellectuals in Europe and was one of the most important socialist activists in Italy, and the only reason he got dubbed a fascist and therefore a right-winger is because he supported World War I.

Not so much.  Maybe it's because Mussolini founded the doctrine of fascism.  Here's a taste of Mussolini's own description of his view: 

In the Fascist conception of history, man is man only by virtue of the spiritual process to which he contributes as a member of the family, the social group, the nation, and in function of history to which all nations bring their contribution. Hence the great value of tradition in records, in language, in customs, in the rules of social life (8). Outside history man is a nonentity. Fascism is therefore opposed to all individualistic abstractions based on eighteenth century materialism; and it is opposed to all Jacobinistic utopias and innovations. It does not believe in the possibility of "happiness" on earth as conceived by the economistic literature of the XVIIIth century, and it therefore rejects the theological notion that at some future time the human family will secure a final settlement of all its difficulties. This notion runs counter to experience which teaches that life is in continual flux and in process of evolution. In politics Fascism aims at realism; in practice it desires to deal only with those problems which are the spontaneous product of historic conditions and which find or suggest their own solutions (9). Only by entering in to the process of reality and taking possession of the forces at work within it, can man act on man and on nature (10)

And he continues:

Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal, will of man as a historic entity (11). It is opposed to classical liberalism which arose as a reaction to absolutism and exhausted its historical function when the State became the expression of the conscience and will of the people. Liberalism denied the State in the name of the individual; Fascism reasserts The rights of the State as expressing the real essence of the individual (12). And if liberty is to he the attribute of living men and not of abstract dummies invented by individualistic liberalism, then Fascism stands for liberty, and for the only liberty worth having, the liberty of the State and of the individual within the State (13). The Fascist conception of the State is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism, is totalitarian, and the Fascist State a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values – interprets, develops, and potentates the whole life of a people (14).  No individuals or groups (political parties, cultural associations, economic unions, social classes) outside the State (15). Fascism is therefore opposed to Socialism to which unity within the State (which amalgamates classes into a single economic and ethical reality) is unknown, and which sees in history nothing but the class struggle. Fascism is likewise opposed to trade unionism as a class weapon. But when brought within the orbit of the State, Fascism recognizes the real needs which gave rise to socialism and trade unionism, giving them due weight in the guild or corporative system in which divergent interests are coordinated and harmonized in the unity of the State (16).

Yet, despite these well known documents, that Mussolini never thought himself a fascist and that he was really a socialist is somehow the basis of this silly book.

Liberal Fascism

This book refutes itself. But, while we’re at it:


Image courtesy of Sadly, No! as well.  Anyway, that’s something like the fallacy of the excluded middle–a formal fallacy, a rare thing, by the way, for the Non Sequitur.  It goes like this:

1.  Some Nazis were vegetarians

2.  Some liberals are vegetarians

3.  Ergo, etc.  

Now, purely for the sake of repeating another funny Sadly, No! item (in case that strikes you as utterly incomprehensible, this site will explain it): 




It depends on what the meaning of “waterboarding” is (courtesy of Digby):

>DAVID RIVKIN, MILITARY LAW EXPERT: Incidentally, it is not a debate about whether torture is permissible, at least in my mind, it’s what things amount to torture. And with all due respect to my friend Charlie, there are several forms of waterboarding. Waterboarding is a very capricious term, it connotes a bunch of things. There are clearly some forms of waterboarding [that are] torture and off the table. They may well be some waterboarding regimens that while tough and useful in extracting information are not torture. My problem with the critics is that they don’t want to have, contrary to what Senator Edwards said, we are ought to have a debate as a serious society about what stress techniques of interrogation and what to do with it. Let me point out one thing, we actually waterboard our own people. Are we torturing our own people?

That silly and convenient relativism is matched only by an even more ridiculous sophistry:

>FOREMAN: But we’re waterboarding our own people to give them an idea of what they would encounter if they were captured by somebody else.

>RIVKIN: Well, forgive me, as a matter of law and ethics, if the given practice like slavery and prostitution is officially odious, you cannot use it no matter what our goals is, you cannot even use it to volunteers. So, if all forms of waterboarding are torture then we are torturing our own people, and the very same instructor who spoke before Congress the other day about how it’s torture, is guilty of practicing torture for decades. We as a society have to come up with the same baseline using (inaudible) in all spheres of public life instead of somehow singularizing this one thing, which is interrogation of combatants and we need to look at it in a broader way.

Um. So, in order to teach preparedness for torture, the military has used its methods on its own people, but in using these methods, by definition, they are not torture, because you cannot torture someone who is a volunteer. But if it was torture, then the instructor is guilty of torture. So it follows that these people are either guilty of torture, or since no one wants to be guilty of torture, their students learned nothing about torture, since waterboarding isn’t torture.

On a similar theme, Glenn Greenwald discusses Jonah Goldberg’s agony over the definition of torture.

Two pundits

The lack of ideological "balance" among the distribution of syndicated columnists (pointed out by Media Matters) ought perhaps to be considered in greater depth. (This is not to say, by the way, that "balance" is some kind of objective worthy for its own sake). Eric Alterman pointed out the other day that the "progressive" pundits tend to be far less ideological and much more prone to argue against "progressive" positions than ideological conservatives will argue against conservative positions: >Were I writing about it in detail, and I may, I would note that many of the top "liberal" columnists, including particularly Richard Cohen, Maureen Dowd, Nicholas Kistof, Susan Estrich, and Nat Hentoff, among others, are the kind of "liberal" columnists who feel no sense of loyalty whatever to liberals and liberalism and actually enjoy bashing them whenever possible. This is not true of the conservatives. And so the balance is actually much worse than it looks from these numbers and graphics. George Will, for instance, has remarked on a few occasions that the war in Iraq has been an unmitigated foreign policy disaster. Count how many times, however, liberals such as Joe Klein attack the progressive left. That's a good point. But there's more. E.J. Dionne spends most of his time on meta-political navel gazing: >As Virginia goes, so goes the Senate — and the nation? >The decision of former Virginia governor Mark Warner to run for the seat of retiring Republican Sen. John Warner is more than just bad news for the GOP. It reflects fundamental shifts in the balance of political power in the country, the growing force and volatility of suburban voters, and the fact that the old red-state-blue-state maps are becoming obsolete. That's really political reporting. What it's doing on the op-ed page is a mystery. Here's Jonah Goldberg, in another paper: >For years, some of the shriller voices on the left have argued Sept. 11, 2001, was a classic example of blowback from our support of the mujahedeen's struggle against Afghanistan. But the fact is, we didn't "create bin Laden" — he largely created himself. And to the extent that any superpower can claim credit for him, it's the Soviets. It was their withdrawal, not our support, that convinced the foreign fighters that their pinpricks felled the Soviet bear. >Today, a new blowback thesis is in the works. The Washington Post, Time magazine and The Associated Press are just a few of the news outlets that have asserted the U.S. is arming the Sunnis in Iraq. This is simply not true, Gen. David Petraeus insisted in congressional testimony Monday. But it's no surprise that many people are leaping to that conclusion because the familiar blowback story line is the only plausible one for millions of people who've made up their minds that the war is, was and forever shall be hubristic folly. Similarly, opponents of the war denounced Petraeus' testimony before he said a single word, not because they know the facts better than Petraeus — please — but because anything that doesn't fit the narrative of an ever-worsening quagmire must be a lie. Many war supporters have certainly forced reality to kneel before faith in recent years. But reality can't stay on bended knees for very long. Many Democrats, too, have been grudgingly breaking from their base's otherworldly narrative of late, though they continue to insist that a "political solution" can be had in Iraq without a concomitant military one. Even the Sunni insurgents are coming to grips with the fact that Al Qaeda doesn't have Iraq's best interests at heart. >But there is one group that is under no inclination to nod to reality: Al Qaeda. The jihadis' mission, as always, is to create a new reality. If the bin Laden of the late 1980s could convince himself that his motley crew delivered the death blow to the Evil Empire, leading to the formation of Al Qaeda, one can only imagine what lesson he and the bin Ladens of tomorrow would take from America's defeat in Iraq. That's a story line we should all hope won't be written. However full that passage is of sophisms (pick them out if you want), you have to admit that Goldberg has the courtesy to use the op-ed page in attempt to advance a thesis.