Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Why My Laughter at Jonah Goldberg's Risible Book Rings Hollow

Jonah Goldberg's book Liberal Fascists is now out, and various left-wing blogs -- especially Sadly, No!, which is definitely the go-to blog on this particular topic -- are having themselves a roar of laughter over it. (Actually, left blogs have been mocking it since well-before its publication; but more so now that they've got the book in hand, unsurprisingly.) And, of course, they're right -- any book that includes chapters titles like "Adolf Hitler: Man of the Left" deserves little more than simple laughter and mockery. It's patently silly at best. I mean, it's like people took seriously ridiculous things like stories about the world being six thousand years old and dinosaurs co-existing with humans...

Oh, wait.

Which is why, funny as I find all this stuff, I can't quite get behind the spirit of mockery. I mean, I know that they're probably right -- that (apart from simply ignoring it) mockery is probably the best response to stuff like this. But I actually find it quite disturbing that this sort of up-is-down-ism will likely seep into the national discourse... and that soon newspapers like the NY Times will be reporting on the issue in their classic "opinions on the shape of the Earth differ" fashion we've all come to know and love.

(It's worth remembering here that Goldberg himself is hardly a marginal figure in our national discourse: in addition to being an editor at the National Review, Goldberg is a columnist in the L.A. Times.)

And I'm remembering stories like this:
I have now received three (3) student papers that discuss Iraq’s attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11. All three papers mention it as an aside to another point. I’ve had two papers on the virtue of forgiveness that argue that if we had just forgiven Iraq for the 9/11 attacks, we wouldn’t be at war right now. I just read a paper on the problem of evil which asked why God allowed “the Iraq’s” to attack us on 9/11. The thing that upsets me most here is that the the students don’t just believe that that Iraq was behind 9/11. This is a big fact in their minds, that leaps out at them, whenever they think about the state of the world.
And I worry that John Cole is right about the likely outcome of all this:
The most depressing thing about Jonah Goldberg’s new book is that this whole “liberals are fascist” argument is going to morph from something idiot frat boys would argue after three credit hours in poly sci. and a dozen Mickey’s Big Mouth and would be laughed out of the room to something that idiots like Peggy Noonan and David brooks will peddle with straight faces on Hardball.

Our national historical memory is messed up enough as it is. So even if Goldberg's book is worth nothing but scorn, I can't quite laugh whole-heartedly at it. Too many of us are too likely to swallow this nonsense whole... and then we'll have to battle with these falsehoods the rest of our lives.

I don't know what we can do. Ignore it, I guess (obviously I'm failing at that one!). I'd also like to see some comments on the book that take the time (and have the stomach) to actually demonstrate what nonsense it is, and not simply assume (as Sadly, No is doing) that it's just obvious. (I'm looking forward to Dave Neiwert's forthcoming review; and I hope there will be a lot more.) Since while it should be obvious, if it were that obvious it wouldn't have been published. And if obvious truths were so easy to uphold, our national discourse would be a lot healthier than it is.

Update: David Neiwert offers a small beginning of a serious demolition (rather than mocking demolition) at the link; more is promised soon. Meanwhile, mockery continues apace: Michael Berube may not match Sadly, No! for quantity (their ongoing look at the book continues here and here), but he gives them a run for their money in quality. Worth a look. In other Goldberg blogging: Ezra Klein has a nice quip: "Even after accounting for the fact that Jonah Goldberg's book is worse than you can imagine, it's still worse than you can imagine. " And finally brief-but-scornful reactions from Tim F., Matthew Duss and Andrew Sullivan.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Robert Graves in "I, Claudius", from where Claudius consults the Delphic Oracle about the fate of Rome:

"Who groans beneath the Punic Curse/
And strangles in the strings of purse/
Before she mends will/
Sicken worse."

Sorry if I quoted that before here. But, that was Rome, not America. The acts of the next administration (in my mind, as a Canadian, undoubtedly to be Democratic) will tell the tale. The evangelical coalition that brought Bush to power is, in my view, destined to fear there. The only real question is, whether or not America's public institutions have the will to recover from his Presidency's excesses.

Sorry, I'm a bit of a boring guy.