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. 


4 thoughts on “Five thumbs up”

  1. Since The NonSeq has become, perhaps deservedly so, the /Logic contra Goldberg blog/ of late, I thought I’d try and defend the poor guy. And about the only point on which I stand a chance of doing so is with your critique of his use of “attack-the-messenger.”

    I think the phrase has become rather divorced from its more strict historical origin, and it can cover any instance of someone being told news (which already existed) that you didn’t want to hear. Whether it took the marathon running of an ancient Greek messenger to finally bring these facts to you, or the “genius” of Goldberg to piece them together and confront you with them, its still a case of pre-existing truth being relayed by a third party. Thus, “messenger.” Thus, attacking him/her.

    Goldberg: 1, The NonSequitur: 28

  2. I see what you mean about the phrase being detached from its origins (Shakespeare, according to Wikipedia, but then again, according to Wikipedia). I think there is perhaps some sense in which this can be applied to more cases than just messengers–but, not to play on the news angle too much, it is usually limited to instances of bearers of undisputed truths you don’t want to hear. It may be the case that some refer to ad hominem arguments as shoot the messenger, but I think that’s just incorrect. One doesn’t bear the conclusion of an argument as a message. Besides, there’s a perfectly good way of saying what Goldberg wants to say–ad hominem.

    In any case, I appreciate your sticking up for Goldberg–if only he’d do it for himself.

    By the way, I only had two posts about him in the last week–and 20 total (according to my archives). I’d hardly therefore agree with your characterization of the focus here.

  3. I suppose ad hominem might work (and better, perhaps). But “attack-the-messanger” seems to have the rhetorical implication that there is a valuable message being delivered. And I would disagree with you and argue that conclusions of arguments do qualify as messages. But I’m not sure its an argument worth making. Cheers!

  4. Ad hominem would be what he ought to say. Someone, however, a propos of this post suggested to me that the phrase shoot the messenger means rather that you bring the news of someone or something else: “don’t yell at me, I didn’t write the law,” for example. That seems to me to be a much better way of using the phrase. But I agree that perhaps this isn’t an argument worth having.

Comments are closed.