Booknotes: Liberal Fascism, Ship of Fools, McCarthy and His Enemies

A. Jonah Goldberg. Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Change. Crown Forum, 2009.

Conservative writer and pundit Jonah Goldberg argues that fascism and National Socialism have parallels with the American left, although, of course, leftists use “fascist” as an epithet for right-wingers. While William Shirer depicted Nazism as an aristocratic, pro-business movement, Goldberg argues that fascism and Nazism were collectivist in that they supported the use of the State to improve the economy, provide economic security, and ameliorate disparities of wealth. Among other parallels that Goldberg identifies are: the use of State power to encourage nutrition, environmentalism, corporatism in which the government picks winners and losers, and hostility to religion as a competitor with the State. Goldberg also maintains that there are fascistic tendencies that the Left, and American society, have reflected: a belief that a leader embodies the general will of the people, a preference for emotion over reason (Goldberg criticizes the movie The Dead Poets Society on that one), and revolutionary impulses. Moreover, Goldberg documents that the American Left historically embraced controversial Nazi ideas, particularly eugenicism. This book is a repository of information, including factoids one might not expect: did you know that Joe McCarthy, apart from his anti-Communist crusade, had left-wing political and economic ideas? Having been written in 2009, it is a bit dated: the main Vermont politician Goldberg identifies is Howard Dean, when people today would mention Bernie Sanders. A criticism I have is that Goldberg gives the impression that certain ideas are wrong simply because the Nazis and fascists held them. Goldberg also criticizes the Nazi and fascist attempt to seek a third way between the extremes of capitalism and socialism: apparently, for Goldberg, you have to choose. You either select laissez-faire capitalism or socialism. There is no “third position.” Why does the choice have to be so stark, though? Even the United States has elements of both.

B. Tucker Carlson. Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class Is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution. Free Press, 2018.

This was an ironic book to read after Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism. Goldberg argues that the American left historically held fascist and Nazi ideas. Tucker Carlson laments that the left has abandoned its historical principles. Environmentalists historically recognized that unprecedented levels of immigration could hurt the environment; nowadays, such a position is stigmatized within the environmental movement. The ACLU used to be practically absolutist on the issue of free speech, championing the right of Nazis to march through a Jewish neighborhood. The ACLU has backtracked from that absolutism when it comes to white nationalists, even as the left practices its own form of censorship of conservative ideas on Facebook and Twitter. Feminists in the nineteenth century were against abortion; now, they champion it. This book is the sort of paleoconservative manifesto one might expect, a criticism of massive illegal immigration and foreign interventionism. Particularly intriguing was when Tucker tried to probe the motives of whites who hire illegal immigrants: they feel better about hiring the friendly immigrant who has been through a lot, over the pot-bellied American Trump supporter. Tucker is also vivid about the negative consequences of war.

C. William F. Buckley, Jr. and L. Brent Bozell. McCarthy and His Enemies: The Record and Its Meaning. Regnery, 1954.

William F. Buckley was a conservative icon. L. Brent Bozell was the brother-in-law of William F. Buckley, Jr. His son is L. Brent Bozell III, a conservative columnist and Family Guy critic. This book is essentially a defense of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Buckley and Bozell argue that McCarthy was basically urging the State and Justice Departments to enforce their own stated security standards for employees. They go through people McCarthy has asked questions about. Sometimes, they see serious reason for concern. Sometimes, they give the accused person the benefit of a doubt, even highlighting where the accused person is heroic and inspiring. Either way, they believe that McCarthy’s concern was understandable and that these people should not have fallen through the cracks as easily as they did. Buckley and Bozell also extensively explore the question of how many Communists or security risks McCarthy said were in the State Department in his infamous Wheeling speech, for critics allege that McCarthy contradicted himself over the course of his career and thus was a sensationalist seeking political gain. Buckley and Bozell look at primary sources about the Wheeling speech and other speeches McCarthy made. Occasionally, Buckley and Bozell discuss the relevance of McCarthy’s concerns to American foreign policy: how Communist infiltration into the State Department contributed to Stalin’s strategic gains in Europe and the fall of China to Communism. Overall, Buckley and Bozell portray McCarthy as more reasonable and measured than his critics allege. This book is not exactly a juicy read. Not everyone, even those who like a good story about American history, will enjoy this book, since it gets into details that are not as important to people nowadays. I personally enjoyed the book, however, since I liked reading the authors’ reasoning, plus the profiles had a storytelling quality.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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