It's the End of the World

It must be, because I more or less agree with Michael Ledeen about something.

Here he is, reviewing Jonah Goldberg's book.
The great masterpiece that drew the blood lines from Robespierre to modern mass movements and regimes, is Jacob Talmon’s “The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy,” now nearly half a century old. There’s no evidence that Jonah has read it....

He’s got it right when he suggests—although this could have been much more explicit—that fascism was a revolutionary movement. But then he shies away from the consequences of that insight, because many of the people he wants to call “liberal fascists” are boring reformers, certainly not revolutionaries. And he shies away from the revolutionary nature of fascism for another reason, too: because it shows that revolution is not just a leftist political phenomenon. Jonah wants to have us believe that fascism was ‘of the left.’

While certain French revolutionary ideas played into the creation of the fascist movement, and while Mussolini started life as a Socialist, and while various radical anarcho-syndicalists supported Mussolini from the very beginning (and some remained to the end), it is still a real stretch to say that fascism was somehow leftist. Mussolini came to power because his thugs won the street battles with the Socialist thugs, not because he won the support of left-wing voters, which is what Jonah seems to believe....

Jonah, instead, says (pg. 80) “Fascism, at its core, is the view that every nook and cranny of society should work together in spiritual union toward the same goals overseen by the state.” That is not fascism; it’s absolute monarchy, it’s the Sun King in France, it’s the great enlightened despots like Frederick the Great. But it’s not Mussolini or his imitators, and certainly not Hitler, whose vision was global, not just national. The issue is “the same goals,” not just the methods of rule, and here’s where Jonah’s eccentric thesis, for all its provocative value, leaves history behind and strides into…vision, I suppose. Just a few lines later, he claims that “Woodrow Wilson was the twentieth century’s first fascist dictator,” and that’s just silly.
Ledeen makes a very important point in this review: that fascism was indeed a revolutionary movement, but that revolutionaries are not unique to the left. In fact, I don't know of many people on the left of the spectrum these days who are interested in revolution. The real revolutionaries tend to be people like Ledeen, who even describes himself as such.

Update: And here's Goldberg getting humiliated by Jon Stewart.

The thing is, Jonah's right when he says that the Progressives of the 19th and early 20th centuries were often racist. But he's dead wrong in implying that a loose affiliation of 21st-century people with a similar label are exactly the same as those 19th- and 20th-century people. For example, the early Progressives, like William Jennings Bryan, were also often fundamentalists who denied evolution. It's certainly not liberals or progressives who think like that nowadays.

Apparently, Jonah lacks the ability to understand linear time. That was then; this is now. Things change, and so do movements, people, and ideas. I still find myself baffled that some people (like Goldberg) have such a hard time understanding this.

Cross-posted at The Vanity Press.

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