Friday, January 29, 2010

More on History

In this post I took up the issue of the misuse of history by Baltic ultra-nationalists who are promoting the notion that fascism and communism are equivalents, rather than being contrasting variants of totalitarianism, in order to hide politically inconvenient complicity in the Holocaust. Now, David Neiwert, a journalist specialising in the American right, has pointed to the recent expansion by a Glen Beck documentary/rant on Fox News of a long-standing thesis, which argues that fascism sprang from the socialist movement, into one that goes much further, asserting that American liberalism and fascism are intrinsically linked. And yes, just to complete a full house of false analogies, they did manage to wangle the word 'holocaust' into the title ("The Revolutionary Holocaust: Live Free Or Die").

It is a very easy trick to play. First of all make your definition as wide as possible. A precise definition will not catch all that you want to be caught by it. Then blur important distinctions and assert that anything that is vaguely authoritarian, or even statist, is objectively fascist. Highlight all the commonalities, ignore all the differences and thus 'prove' that they are the same. In that way you can make nonsense appear credible.

It also helps if there is a vague connection to some reputable history and there have been scholarly studies of the origins of fascism and its relationship to all kinds of radical and ecological thought. These overlaps are interesting. However, a few shared assumptions or common origins do not make ideologies identical and, as ideas and movements develop, very different beasts emerge.

The current basis of all this is yet another piece of best-selling polemical history, Jonah Goldberg's oxymoronic Liberal Fascism (to my horror given a surprisingly appreciative review by Nick Cohen). The book has long been a target of Neiwert's and now George Mason University's History News Network has invited a scholarly response. There is little support. The latest contribution to be posted, an open letter from Matthew Feldman in response to Goldberg's self-defence, is utterly damning.
So let me be totally clear in rejoinder: I have no agenda, and genuinely have no desire to slander you personally. But it needs to be said, loud and clear: your book is just ridiculous.
More substantial contributions, including Feldman's original review, can be read here, here, here and here.

Whilst Michael Leeden mounts a partial defence, he admits that the book "is
a work of political theory, not a history". Leeden also reckons that, "Despite the provocative title, he's not saying that liberalism is the same as fascism". Beck and Fox quite clearly have no such scruples, mounting an exercise in guilt by association and using this as a platform to question the legitimacy of the Obama presidency. After the Muslim terrorist death panel angles, they can now claim that he is a Marxist and a fascist simultaneously.

It is this deliberate, systematic and infectious undermining of Obama, sometimes based on lies, innuendo, breathtakingly false analogies and closet racism, that drags this debate about the merits of a book into the political arena and highlights this comment of Feldman's:
Furthermore, I believe, Liberal Fascism is also dangerous. ... I say again: your book is manna from heaven for actual, ideological, revolutionary, radical right-wing, ultra-nationalistic fascists.
Once again, history is being misused as a justification for a wild and vicious political assault. Sometimes the debate becomes so absurd that you can't imagine anyone taking it seriously. However, you then read things like this:

The onward march of Fox News, the relentlessly rightwing channel that has revolutionised American television news by making it overtly partisan, has been boosted by an opinion poll that suggests it is the most trusted news operation in the country.

Almost half of all Americans surveyed in the poll of 1,151 registered voters said they trusted Fox News. That is a notably larger vote of confidence than the 39% who said they trusted Fox's great rival CNN, and vastly more than the credibility ratings of the traditional news networks ABC News (31%), CBS News (32%) and NBC News (35%).


Obama strikes me as a cautious centrist with some social democratic leanings, hardly deserving of the ludicrous rhetoric, conspiracy theories and monstrous distortions of the raving right. I suppose they haven't 'discovered' a link between him and Charles Manson yet, but give them time. And as the mood music changes, disillusioned liberals are joining in the chorus, making me distinctly uneasy that a deliberate attempt to sabotage the first African American presidency may yet prove successful and dash the hopes of a small amelioration of the lives of the poor. And in this instance a defence of the legitimacy of an elected president is also a defence of the proper use of history.


Will said...

"It is a very easy trick to play. First of all make your definition as wide as possible. A precise definition will not catch all that you want to be caught by it. Then blur important distinctions and assert that anything that is vaguely authoritarian, or even statist, is objectively fascist. Highlight all the commonalities, ignore all the differences and thus 'prove' that they are the same. In that way you can make nonsense appear credible."

See --- Olly Kamm (a cunT), HP Sauce, (cUnTs), fuckwits too many to mention...

"I suppose they haven't 'discovered' a link between him and Charles Manson yet"

They have and did a long time ago.

Will said...

e.g -- see expounded in more detail here:

Will said...

"The current basis of all this is yet another piece of best-selling polemical history, Jonah Goldberg's oxymoronic Liberal Fascism (to my horror given a surprisingly appreciative review by Nick Cohen)."

I lost all respect for Cohen in 2001 (not that I'd heard of the fucker before that like).

The tone of outraged moral superiority is the same, but was, at that time, directed against different targets.

He opposed that year's Afghanistan war and, in November 2001, argued that Tony Blair had "pinned a large target sign on this country" in his alliance with the U.S. in the 'war on terror'.

In short -- a liberal -- not to be trusted on matters of import.

Oh -- and BTW -- for any thick as fuck Yank readers -- when I use the term 'liberal' I don't mean what you think it means.

Will said...

The Plump said...

A busy night Will.

1. Manson ... I should have realised, bloody hell.

2. Kamm ... I stopped reading him when he defended Macarthyism and then said that Thatcher was right to crush the miners. I always thought that he rightly criticised the left for assuming that everything the west did was wrong but by the equally daft method of saying that (nearly) everything the west did was right. Some forensic analytical qualities but not as good a historian as he likes to think he is (then neither am I). And an ultra Blairite.

3. Cohen ... I have a personal stake in this. Let me explain. The article you link to and the position he took have both been repudiated by him openly and in print. He opposed the war in Afghanistan back in 01 and has written that he is ashamed of the stance he took. This is where the personal bit comes in. I too opposed it at the time, I too took the orthodox leftie line, and I too am ashamed at my stupidity. It was Nick Cohen's journalism that started me thinking differently after he began writing about his epiphany. It took me longer to find my brain. Are we both to be condemned forever by our earlier mistakes?

Cohen is also the only UK journalist who I can think of who maintained an opposition to Blair's domestic policies whilst supporting his foreign policies. I like his writing (moral outrage appeals) though on occasions, like all of us, he can produce a stinker (unlike me who is perfect in all respects).

4. Pedantry. If you had never heard of the fucker before you read this you couldn't have had any respect to lose.

In general, totalitarian theory is an important analytical tool. What it isn't is a clumsy and lazy device for saying that all totalitarianisms are the same. Each are dangerous, frequently murderous, and occasionally genocidal. And effective opposition requires an analysis of the specifics of each.

Will said...

Blah blah blahddy blah.


blah blah blah.



I am Oliver Kamm's mam and you shouldn't read too much in to his articles.

He always had difficulties with girrls and he essentially tries to be 'provocative' to get some attention.... and he still wets his bed.

And he has ebola... or I wish he had it. And other flesh eating diseases of which i can't remeber the names of at the moment.

Anonymous said...

The "connection" between Obama and Manson seems to be a single sign that reads "Manson was a community organizer." That is clearly meant to be an exxageration. There are serious points to be made against Obama, and those who make them do not really believe he is similar to Manson.

Is this guy Will the same idiot who posted a DSTPFW? If so, let me once again say what I always tried to say at his blog, but this time without a censor around. You are a dick, and you know yourself to be a dick, and you can fuck yourself with your dick, and I would cut your dick off if I thought you had a dick, and your a dick.

And keep writing in camEl-cAsE, Will. That's soooooo clever.

Anonymous said...

And don't bother taking that prick's advice about American "cowboy" doctors performing unnecessary amputations. I've researched it, and this is all I've found:

"Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders, MSF) "have carried out caesareans and amputations. MSF's experienced medical staff say they have never seen so many people with such serious injuries," the group said in a statement issued in Paris.

Another French aid group, Medecins du Monde, said it would have to amputate hundreds of people whose limbs had been crushed in the earthquake and its doctors had no electricity to work by.

"Unfortunately, we are carrying out an enormous number of amputations," said one surgeon quoted in a statement by the group. He expected about "400 (amputations) over the coming days."

Le Monde, a few notches lower than the Guardian, is the only outlet saying the amputations are being done by American doctors only.

The Plump said...


There will be a censor around if you write sentences like that about another commenter. Will is many things but the one thing he isn't is an idiot. We have agreements and disagreements, come from different perspectives, and often end up on the same ground. And we argue on and off site, and make each other laugh from time to time.

Did you know that I used to contribute to DSTPFW?

I don't know if you are one of my regular anons. All are welcome and are treated with due courtesy by myself even if I disagree with what you say and the way you say it. I actually enjoy the debate. However, if the comments boxes are going to degenerate into obscene, content-free abuse then I will start deleting.

Double standards? Perhaps. But not any longer. Then again, it is my blog.

Overtired and emotional said...

I am normally Anon but for the purposes of this post, I have adopted a new persona.

I have watched some chunks of Fox, and odd it was. Maybe it's an American thing, but there are whole programmes which are pure polemic. A succession of bricks thrown at Obama was one thing, but what struck me was the absence of a coherent view on the part of the polemicist of what he actually wants.

Obama's budget deficit was awful, but he was a cunT for cancelling an expensive NASA programme. They urged the preservation of liberty, with copious references to the founding fathers, but no hint of what liberty means. Obama was wrong to restrict bank bonuses, but the damage done to liberty, as the founding fathers would understand it, by financial oligopolists was ignored. And so on; nothing joined up.

Fox is a global channel, so all this is not just a game. We can see what they don't want, but what do they want?

Oh, and before you think I've gone soft, Lady Thatcher was quite right to crush the NUM; it's a pity the miners were squashed between them.

The Plump said...

Renamed anon

On the miners. Far too neat. It ignores the reality that to crush the NUM necessarily meant crushing the miners as it was their union and their jobs that were to be lost in the closure programme.

There is a broader point. Even if the restructuring under Thatcher was necessary (I think we might have different views on this too), the fact that it was unmanaged was appalling. As communities collapsed and jobs were lost, innumerable human tragedies happened. It marked a failure of a government's duty towards its citizens. Managed structural change, retraining and reinvestment (such as in renewable energy for instance), as happened elsewhere, could have prevented much of this. And a by-product was the structural imbalance in the economy and the de-industrialisation which contributed to the banking crisis and left us so vulnerable to it.

As far as Thatcherism was concerned, Bakunin was wrong. The urge to destroy was not a creative urge too, it was mainly destructive.

None of which has much to do with this post.

Overtired and emotional said...

I saw Scargill's war as primarily political, but as to the rest, there is nothing between us. Even Geoffrey Howe now acknowledges that he let too much manufacturing go 79-82.

Of course,as you observe, we must live, with the consequences of skewing the economy towards financial services.

Why do our governing classes so hate manufacturing?

The Plump said...

Partly political and partly industrial. The political bit was that the timing of the strike, the long-term preparation for it, the methods of policing it and the actions that provoked it were all the government's. The NUM chose to fight back without the preparation, timing and organisation. They lost as was intended.

Why do they hate manufacturing? Who knows? But the prejudice was justified by spurious, fashionable nonsense, such as the idea of the New Economy, to seduce the faux-left, whilst it was shored up by the dosh the financial sector was stuffing in the elite's pockets. History will not be kind to that generation of political leaders and the current crop look even more inept.

John said...

Was Bakunin referring to Thatcher when he said that? I know his predictive power was more impressive than that of Marx (he was even right in his predictions about Marx), but I didn't realize he'd hazarded a go at 1980s Toryism. ;-)

I always thought the miners' strike was about class war. That's how it felt.