Sunday, January 27, 2008

Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism": Some Big Problems

Jonah Goldberg is not wrong about everything in his mostly annoying book, _Liberal Fascism_. Thus, the term "fascism" has been too readily thrown about by many on the left; there were racist eugenicists among American progressives, with Hitler particularly copying the forced sterilization laws first pushed in the US by Woodrow Wilson, and indeed Mussolini was originally a socialist, and Italian fascism in particular had some socialist elements about it. That said, the book is crawling with numerous mislabelings and errors. I note only two here, at least one of which has not been pointed out so far by others.

That one involves the Church and corporatism. Goldberg identifies fascism as being against traditional Christianity. However, the central core economic doctrine of fascism was corporatism. The unequivocal origin of corporatism was encyclicals of the Roman Catholic Church in the late nineteenth century. I will also point out that a core concept held by all the fascist parties was to oppose democracy. Goldberg likes to label the American progressives as "fascist," (including Richard Ely, co-founder of the American Econmic Association), but none ever opposed democracy, and I am unaware of any current US politician who might be labeled a "liberal" who does either (or any who ever was who did). On the basis of these two points, Goldberg's book amounts to largely a partisan screed.

Barkley Rosser


Bruce Webb said...

I don't know that Mussolini self-associated explicitly with the Catholic church but certainly the Fascist Regimes of Spain, Portugal and South America did.

It is one of the most annoying features of those parts of the Right like Krauthammer, Goldberg, and Will who have been handed platforms. These people are not unlearned doofuses who could expect to not understand the elementary facts of modern history, instead they cynically exploit the fact that a certain portion of their audiences really are so ignorant that many cannot pick out the US on a world map, and that many others are cynical enough themselves to happily hand along the talking points.

There are legitimate ways to argue that even Nazism had elements of socialism in it. From my perspective 'socialism' is a method of organizing individuals in ways that further group ends. My preferred version is to organize those individuals through democratic means to achieve a joint end of economic justice on pragmatic greatest good principles. Hitler preferred to organize all elements of society including the church and corporations to achieve a joint end of Permanent Empire in the national interest of Germany. But it was socialistic in the exact sense that it was not individualistic, everyone from bottom to top was supposed to put the National Interest ahead of individual interests. As long as corporations and the church went along and literally followed the Party Line nobody got hurt (except of course the ones that disappeared in the middle of the night and never came back). But 'Socialist' did not appear in the name of the Party as some sort of crude propaganda move. Take Socialism, extract democracy and Enlightenment, throw in a Big Man component, and endorse mass murder of political opposition, and you can still have a society organized along lines of individual cooperation to further group ends.

One way to visualize this is to think of German industrial corporations as being just individual members of one big Cooperative taking final orders from a largely unelected Board. National Socialism in action. (I was in a large national union organized along those lines. We were socialist in organization but authoritarian in action.)

Jack said...

It is just that cynical exploitation of others that is the ear mark of the current Administration and its propagandists and apologists. Whether from the so-called punditocracy or the think without thinking tank industry, these people play the role of dissemblers. The very fact that their deceit is discussed in open forums aids in the spread of their deceptions. Yes, we may understand and benefit from our discussions of these leeches, but the public is too often the ass. When a lie is discussed as just that, without significant reference to the facts that call out the liar, the average reader can simply assume that his favorite liar is being unfairly criticized by the big bad liberal wolf. it is that much of a fairy tale, but life can be that tale too. said...

I have debated this matter with a bunch of very self-righteous conservatives on some other blogs, and I am only now kind of figuring out what has me really annoyed about this. Clearly it is an ideollgical screed that is going to be used very widely and nastily. But it took me a while to kind of really figure it out. Of course, at the bottom line Goldberg basically says when challenged that this is just payback to all the leftists and liberals who have called conservatives "fascists" for so long, so nyah nyah nyah nyah if people do not like it.

OTOH, he wants to be taken seriously. He has footnotes. He has defined things. This means he is brilliant and everybody should bow down and kiss his a**...

Now part of this claim by him that he should be taken seriously is that he has been very careful to define and describe this so-called phenomenon of "liberal fascism." On the one hand, he defines "fascism" as totalitarian statism, basically. But then he claims that by modifying it with the adjective "liberal" this allows him to use it in the context of people who may not be full-blown totalitarians, "nice" fascists like Gore, Hillary, and Obama, as he put it in an interview.

The problem, of course, is that even if he were playing it straight, which I doubt, all kinds of people reading his book say, "Ah ha, liberals are fascists," and then proceed to apply the term without any modification where it is completely inappropriate.

An example of somebody who should know better is the libertarian Arnold Kling over on econlog, whom I generally respect, even while often disagree with him. However, he has put up a post inspired by Goldberg about Richard Ely labeled "Founding Fascist: Richard Ely." Not "Founding Liberal Fascist" or "Founding Nice Fascist." Just plain "Fascist," with the post also identifying Nicholas Stern as a just plain "fascist" also, with no moderating modifiers (which is a bit ironic given that in New Orleans, Stern gave the Ely Lecture at the American Economic Association meetings).

I have a funny link to all this in regard to the term "corporatism." In my book with my wife, Marina, _Comoparative Economics in a Transforming World Economy_, the first edition of which appeared in 1996, we described Sweden as practicing "liberal corporatism" in its nationally collectivized labor-management wage bargaining process, which we distinguished from the "authoritarian corporatism of the fascist states. Before the book was published I sent a draft of the chapter to a former professor of mine, the late Jack Barbash of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who had published several papers on the Swedish labor-management system. He was quite upset at this use of terminology, basically on the grounds that he so deeply associated the terms "corporatism" and "fascism" with each other that he could not stand the idea of the term "corporatism" being applied to Sweden, even with the distinguishing adjective "liberal." We kept it anyway, given that there was a considerable literature on this matter that used this terminology and made these distinctions.

Ours was a scholarly work, not setting out to allow people to yell "fascist!" at Sweden or its system or its citizens. But Goldberg is clearly just setting things up so that all kinds of wingnut commentators will be able to do so, and they will. We have not begun to hear the end of this.

Brenda Rosser said...

I thought the following history of the approval of the food additive aspartame provides a very good example of how our governments operate today. (A possible CIA link with Monsanto is interesting).

1966 – Aspartame discovered during a search for an ulcer drug.

Early 1970s– Dr Arthur Hayes (the future FDA Commissioner that quickly approved aspartame) served in the US Army’s Chemical Weapons division under the Nixon Administration.

1970 – Dr John Olney (a renowned neuroscientist) performed studies on aspartic acid. Aspartic acid is 40% of aspartame. He found that it caused lesions in the brains of mice.

1973 – Brain cancer in humans started to rise steadily in industrial nations. About 0.7% per year. Among the elderly, however, brain cancer was increasing 2.9% each year.

1973 – GD Searle, the pharmaceutical manufacturer of apartame sought approval for the chemical from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A long controversy ensued. Some scientists within the FDA suspected that aspartame might cause brain cancer in laboratory animals.

1974 – FDA approved aspartame for certain food uses. Two citizens challenged the decision.

1974 – An FDA task force set up to examine aspartame and GD Searle says it uncovered serious deficiencies in Searles operations and practices. The task force report concluded with the recommendation that G.D. Searle should face a Grand Jury "to identify more particularly the nature of the violations, and to identify all those responsible."

1976 - An FDA "task force" brought into question all of G.D. Searle's aspartame testing procedures conducted between 1967 and 1975. The final FDA report noted faulty and fraudulent product testing, knowingly misrepresented product testing, knowingly misrepresented findings, and instances of irrelevant animal research.

1977 - Dr. Adrian Gross, a pathologist working for the FDA, uncovered evidence that G.D.Searle might have committed criminal fraud in withholding adverse data on aspartame.

1977 – The US FDA wrote a 33 page letter to US Justice Department Attorney Sam Skinner. It requested that Skinner’s office convene a Grand Jury investigation into apparent violations of the Federal Food, Drug and Comsmetic Act by Searle. At least some of the complaints were in relation to Searle’s apartame ‘science’. Searle, it was alleged, knowingly misrepresented data, concealed material facts and made false statements in aspartame tests. In February Skinner met with Searle attorneys at the Chicago law firm of Sidney & Austin. Suddenly, newly elected President Carter announced that Skinner would not remain in office, and Skinner thereafter announced that he would be hired by Sidney & Austin. Obviously, Skinner then had to recuse himself from the Searle prosecution. The case was taken over by US Attorney William Conlon, who essentially sat on the case, despite complaints from the Justice Department, which was urging that a grand jury be convened to prosecute Searle Company for falsifying Nutra-Sweet test data. Failing to perform his duty, Conlon also joined Searle's law firm in January 1979. The Statute of Limitations on the aspartame case expired. In total three FDA Commissioners and eight other officers took jobs in the aspartame industry.

1977 – March. GD Searle hired Donald Rumsfeld as their CEO. Rumsfeld soon hired several of his Washington cronies as top management.

1980 – October 1st. The Public Board of Inquiry (PBOI) issued its decision on aspartame saying “the evidence suggested aspartame ‘should not be approved for marketing until further animal testing was conducted to resolve the brain tumor issue’”.

1981 - The FDA revoked Searle’s license to sell aspartame.

1981 – January. Donald Rumsfeld, CEO of Searle, stated in a sales meeting that he would push for aspartame’s approval using his political clout in Washington, rather than scientific means, to ensure its approval.

1981 – Ronald Reagan became US President. .

1981 – Later that year a new FDA Commissioner, Arthur Hayes Jr, appointed by President Reagan’s transition team (that includes the membership of Donald Rumsfeld). Hayes reversed the decision of the PBOI and licensed aspartame for “dry” uses as a substitute for sugar. No new studies were initiated to shed light on the brain cancer question. The FDA simply reinterpreted the data of previous studies under the guidance of Arthur Hayes. Shortly after aspartame's approval by the FDA, Hayes joined NutraSweet's public relations firm under a ten year contract at $1,000 a day.

1983 – FDA Commissioner Hayes extended Searle’s apartame license to include its use as a sweetener in “diet” soft drinks. Aspartame sales took off.

1984 – January. The chief scientist for the FDA task force investigating Searle said publicly on a CBS Nightly News broadcast that Searle company officials made “deliberate decisions” to cloak aspartame’s toxic effects.

1985 – June 1st. Donald Rumsfeld became the first person in Searle’s history to serve as chairman of the board who was not a member of the Searle family.

1985 – Monsanto bought Searle. Monsanto aggressively markets Nutrasweet.

1986 – The Washington Post reported that the Supreme Court refused to consider arguments that the FDA had not followed proper procedures in approving aspartame. The Bush-nominated Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, is a former attorney for Monsanto. There are indications of ties between Monsanto and the CIA.

1987 – More than half of 69 medical researchers polled by the FDA said they were concerned about aspartame’s safety.

1989 – The FDA received over 4,000 complaints from people describing adverse reactions. Because the FDA lists aspartame as a “food additive” it removes the legal requirement for adverse effect reporting to any Federal agency and the necessity for safety monitoring processes. An article in the Palm Beach Post on 14th October 1989 described several recent aircraft accidents involving confusion and aberrant pilot behaviour caused by ingestion of products containing aspartame.

1990 - The intake of calories per person per day in the US was 3,700. Up from 3,300 in 1970. High doses of aspartame instil a craving for calorie-laden carbohydrates. The American Cancer Society confirmed that users of artificial sweeteners gained more weight than those who didn't use the products.

1991 – All military personnel in the Gulf War were provided free supplies of aspartame-laced soft drinks.

1993 – A study shows that aspartame can be nitrosated and therefore might be expected to become a N-nitroso compound in the human stomach. N-nitroso compounds are potent carcinogens, some linked to brain tumours.

1995 - On average, Americans ingest 38 grams of aspartame per person per year.[12].

1996 – November – A published study suggests aspartame (marketed as Nutrasweet and Equal) may be implicated. At least 50% of the American people expose themselves to diet food products and soft drinks that contain aspartame.

1996 – The FDA stopped taking complaints from consumers of their adverse reactions to aspartame and denies the existence of a report it once used to send to all inquirers that listed 92 adverse reactions from 10,000 consumer complaints.

2004 – December. Aspartame Information group set up..

The Australian Government has, of course, approved aspartame for widespread use here.

ProGrowthLiberal said...

Footnotes? Ann Coulter's books have lots of footnotes. Read the original sources and you'll learn that Ann tends to misrepresent what her sources really have said. As far as Jonah "momma's boy" Goldberg's book - I've read enough of his oped (including alas those in the LATimes) to realize how much of a waste of time he truly is.

Jack said...

We can see in Goldberg's, and others of his ilk, the process that the psychologists refer to s projection. His screeds certainly have the flavor of stooge of the fascists than do any others of a more liberal to left orientation than one can identify. Of course Goldberg is not alone iin htis regard. Others of his ilk, remember. Bald faced lies, obfuscation, half truths exaggerated rhetoric, are all tools of the propagandist or publicist trade that they practice.
Did not Nixon make clear that a lie repeated often enough becomes a part of the political lexicon of the day. Goebbels could have learn from the current crop of practitioners, and because they are many they co-opt the truth by repetition and support of otherwise bad ideas.

YouNotSneaky! said...

Another instance of 'socialist fascist', in the true sense of the term, would be the Spanish Falange, at least until Franco purged them when they stopped being useful to him.

Anonymous said...

i thought it was interesting that a common quote defining fascism as a merger of business and government was actually not due to mussolini (see wikipedia). somehow this idea got popular and obscured some aspects of the original variant. (I see it as a kind of secular theocracy, in between the religious versions and the veblen/adbuster succesor.)

apparently, the most positive aspect of fascism is that now there are millions of books/articles being sold on the topic (the various subspecies of Naomi, the goldbergs, etc.)

for intellectuals like myself, its allways good to know that the publishing industry is sufficiently well paid that at least we don't have to worry about those street corners. also, maybe ideas will trickle down as Eve Smith predicted (she was plagiarized the same as what happened to einstein's first wife----the male chromosome is actually just a broken shrub off the main branch of Herstory).

as part of my duties as a public intellectual (me, ayn rand, the rand corporation, and chomsky, all do the heavy lifting and the social welfare) i participated by tuning in and heard goldberg on talk radio today (whatever happened to glen beck? dissapeared, like iraQUI journalists?) its important to do our part in civic culture.

i also did my more heavy research. one review (a quarter page, looked like all equations)said Goldberg basically brought it all down to Locke vs. Rousseu. Private property versus primitive communism and the nanny state. (Where does the Higgs, or Hume fit in ? maybe goldberg's theory is incomplete?) I forget where the fascism came in, except its considered all that is bad --- maybe secular evil, and devils?

i tend to follow the approach of quantum computational cognitive neuropsychoimmunologicaleconomics, so see see fascism as a fundamental degree of freedom like charm (leprechauns), color (e.g. Obama), spin (O'Reilly), and charge (Napolean, Tesla, w. Reich) of all superstrings (or quanta), following schrodinger. (My group, PETBL, people for the ethical treatment of bosons and leptons, takes an activist approach towards shrodinger's physico-ethics promoting the conservation of energy and spacetime; bioethics is merely a corrolary).

So Fascism can even be seen in cute cuddly polar bears, and rats, though they may not have 'the' universal grammar.

I guess liberals like Murray gell-man might see Goldberg as eurocentric, and propose taoism following the 8-fold way, to derive the USA. (And now we got E8surfer physics--de lisi.) Geoffrey Chew even promoted 'particle democracy' but this is no longer in favor, perhaps due to the rise of neo's liberal fascism due to more recent versions of the matrix.


badri said...

i tend to agree with sentiment " mama's boy " when comes to jonah . all i can think of his achievements is pedaling lewinski's stained dress . even that mama has to procure it for him .
here is an example of how lazy and second rate thinker he is ..
Wanted: Herbert Spencer Expert [Jonah Goldberg]

I'm working on a chapter of the book which requires me to read a lot about and by Herbert Spencer. There's simply no way I can read all of it, nor do I really need to. But if there are any real experts on Spencer out there — regardless of ideological affiliation — I'd love to ask you a few questions in case I'm missing something.