Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Unbearable Lightness of Jonah Goldberg

It's almost impossible to state just how fatuous, intellectually irresponsible and dishonest Jonah Goldberg's new book, Liberal Fascism looks like it is going to be. I've written about this book before and had quite the contre temps with Goldberg via email, who chided me for judging a book I had not read, even though my objection was with the title, which I had read, with the publisher's press materials, which I had read, and with the picture on the cover, which depicted the iconic liberal smiley-face with a Hitler moustache, which even a fucking retard could quite clearly read. (He also tried to get all historical on me, snidely mentioning that much of his intellectual foundation came from a book that in his snide words I "really ought to read," Alonzo Hamby's For the Survival of Democracy. One: Hamby's book does not even vaguely provide intellectual cover for him. Two: I was Hamby's research assistant on that book for more than two years. My name features in the acknowledgments and everything. So maybe, Jonah, you "really ought to read" Hmaby's book as well. Had you actually done so you might not have descended quite so far down the slippery slope of fucktardery.)

Well, Goldberg's book, which was supposed to appear a year-and-a-half ago, might be on its way. It seems that he has not tempered his argument all that much despite the delay. Here is the excerpt from his book jacket that has gotten a lot of attention in the blogosphere:

The quintessential liberal fascist isn’t an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade-school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore.
Now I have my issues with education majors and the very idea of most education departments teaching anything but early childhood ed. But this is so offensively, muddle-headedly, noxiously, stupidly insane that it boggles the imagination. Goldberg is of a type with lots of guys who have climbed the ranks of America's intellectual journals, right and left: He's smart but nowhere near as smart as he has come to conclude that he is. He's been given a lot but believes that those gifts are nothing more than a function of merit. And he is so used to a culture of shouting that in a situation where he is supposed simply to speak -- I'm speaking metaphorically about the responsibility serious people take when writing a book -- that he screams incoherently. I've long been unimpressed with Goldberg is my point.

If you want to see a sample of what other blogging critics have said about Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, I'd recommend starting with Andrew Sullivan and Matthew Yglesias, where you can get a sample of the screen captures of the dust jacket ( and see that not only female -- I've no idea why it is just female -- education majors, but also the Democratic Party, The New York Times, and Ivy League professors all fit into his "friendly fascist" category) and a link to more captures from Sadly, No. TNR's Jason Zengerle weighs in at The Plank here, citing Kieren at Crooked Timber, who helpfully points out that one cannot receive an education degree from Swarthmore. Jonah Goldberg sloppy with facts? now I've seen everything! I cannot wait to see who crawls up to defend Goldberg, who in this case really is beyond defense.


Matthew Guenette said...

About Goldberg I know little. But I do know this, his ludicrously glib book-jacket blurb captures perfectly that curious mindset expressed so often by folks on the right: to accuse others of the thing the self is most guilty of.

Happy Holidays, DCat. My wife & I are on the US road (Detroit, her family; Syracuse, mine) then off to Germany for beer and wurst...



dcat said...

Matt --
Goldberg's sin is one of the right, but of the left as well. It's sloppy ad hominem couched in the bare minimum of "research" to pursue polemic rather than any attempt at understanding. But this is such an extreme case it really will be hard for me ever to take Goldberg seriously again.

Safe travels and happy holidays. We'll mostly be shuttling between Odessa and San Antonio with a foray to Washington, DC in January.


g_rob said...

Fucktardery? Nice.

montana urban legend said...

it's pretty amazing that he thought he would take you to task with his recommendation to read the book that you had worked as a research assistant on.

enjoy the holidays!

dcat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dcat said...

MUL --
I think that exchange hits at the problem when most journalists write history -- they don't know what they don't know. So too often they give a cursory reading of only a small sample of the historical literature and think they've covered their bases. Most people simply have no clue what it means to begin to get a handle on historiography. That's why so many people think a PhD is just an advanced MA -- they just have no clue. Obviously I think an MA in history can be a fine and worthwhile endeavor, but even the finest MA's don't even begin to approach the depth and rigor of even a marginal PhD.

So to the case at hand, Goldberg tried to flex his historical reading to a historian. Suffice it to say, that reading was not especially impressive. And he chose a pretty bad book to use as his focus, because it is a book in which my name appears in the acknowledgments.

I REALLY hope I'm given an opportunity to review this book, let's just say that.

Ho Ho Ho --

montana urban legend said...

Not knowing what one doesn't know? Goldberg should take Rumsfeld's found poetry on the unknown unknowns to heart. Only, Rumsfeld was probably talking in broader and more humanistic terms than the specificity with which Goldberg's individual case of ignorance could be applied. And he can't stand that.

But I'm back to a YouTube discussion on whether or not John Stossel was being ignorant in claiming that Greenland was named for reasons other than misleading propaganda on the part of Erik the Red. Those conservatives sure like to apply the "unknown unknown" standard to matters of science and climatology. But not to what a viking implied in claiming a settlement that would soon die out from starvation and an inability to contend with the elements. Oh, my debate opponent is sure on that one. Which is a funny standard of selective application, I'd say.

dcat said...

The funny thing is that I'm sure we're all guilty at times of not knowing what we don't know. But I'd like to think that in those situations I try to approach it with less righteous certitude than some folks do. They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. of that i've come to have no doubt.


montana urban legend said...

mr. miyagi had no doubt about that either: "squash like grape!" (if you know karate 'so-so'...)

i'd like to think i could identify those situations in myself too. defining a good place to set aside for intellectual humility is always an interesting exercise.

I like what was observed about that in The Metaphysical Club, specifically conceptualized as certainty breeding violence...

dcat said...

One need look no further than the debate over the Iraq War to see the way certainty operates. in the leadup to the war a friend of mine, who had worked in the NSC and was at State said that anyone who was absolutely certain that either we should or that we should not go to war did not know what they were talking about. I incorporated that idea into my own formulation of ideas about the war, what we should do, what we should not, why and when.

I think it's ok to be certain. But the less one knows, the more one ought to be wary of certainty.