The Progressives, the Left, and President Wilson

[Discussion of Jonah Goldberg’s book, Liberal Fascism]
Several issues which come up repeatedly on Jonah Goldberg threads (in enormous numbers of posts by two or three guys) can be rather easily dealt with.
During the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century, many leftwing groups were openly racist. President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, was extremely racist and also (during World War I) highly authoritarian. American Progressives during the first part of the Twentieth Century were authoritarian, explicitly racist, and suspicious of foreigners. And finally, several famous progressives of the statist persuasion (for example, H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw) had sympathies with Mussolini. All these things are true.
I am now 61 years old, and all this happened before I was born. World War One ended ninety years ago. World War Two ended sixty years ago. During that time, a lot of things have changed. The Progressives (who were Republicans as often as they were Democrats — think Theodore Roosevelt) ceased to be a factor about 1940. Whatever Mussolini had seemed to be at the beginning, and however he portrayed himself, as he gradually showed himself for what he was (a Fascist in the strict sense of the word) he lost support.
While it may be true that many Nazis and Fascists were ex-radicals or ex-Communists, the prefix “ex-” is important here. (There’s even an old joke about this: “An anti-communist? I don’t care what kind of communist he is!”) At crunch time, most traditionalist conservatives in Italy and Germany supported the Fascists and the Nazis — against the Communists, of course, but also against the Social Democrats who were the nearest European analogue to American liberals. And of course, the Nazis and Fascists learned violent tactics from the leftists — but what that means is that they killed leftists. Killing a leftist isn’t the same thing as being one.
Finally, during the civil rights movement forty or fifty years ago (during my lifetime, at least), there was a major political realignment in the United States. Authoritarian Woodrow Wilson racists like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms switched to the Republican Party, where they became important leaders and were highly honored.
Goldberg and other conservatives use events in the distant past to prove that liberals are Fascists, or like Fascists, or something (Goldberg is extremely evasive about exactly what he means), while at the very same time not only ignoring recent and contemporary cult-of-personality proto-fascism, but actually strongly affiliating themselves with it. This is really beneath contempt. (The Democratic Party is more than 200 years old, and awhile back I wrote a little satire using President Van Buren’s indecisiveness during the 1838 Aroostook War with Canada to prove that Democrats are unable to handle foreign policy. I’m sure that Goldberg would have sneaked that into his book if he’d thought of it.)
All this is just more evidence that the argument about Jonah Goldberg’s book Liberal Fascism is a waste of time. Goldberg’s significance is in the media space he controls, rather than in his ideas or in what he writes. Wingers will continue to throw all the shit they can find at liberals, hoping that some of it will stick, and Goldberg and others will continue to debase the American political discourse with ignorant slander without being called on it.
— John Emerson

2 thoughts on “The Progressives, the Left, and President Wilson

  1. It makes little sense to slander Republicans as racists and then charge Jonah with slander. You do correctly note the real problem for liberals here is in many of the facts Jonah presents. They are very damaging to liberal pretensions of moral superiority, especially as regards 20th century Presidential History. The key word above is facts.
    What the current generation is finding out is that the prior few generations of historians were essentially liberal propagandists. 99.9% of liberals calling GWB a fascist have not a clue of the authentic histories of Wilson or FDR. Or for that matter JFK. It’s always good for the actual facts to come out so the readers can judge for themselves. With just a cursory understanding of Wilson’s record even the most hysterical of liberals would agree GWB is a boy scout by comparison.
    I think your problem here has less to do with Jonah and more with the democracy of the new media. Jonah can only be successful if he publishes supporting facts. We all have our own opinions. Some are persuasive, some silly. But facts are decisive. George Clooney can lament the passing of the 3 anchors controlling the flow of the facts but no serious people would agree.
    I would use as exhibit A of my proof of the advantage of the advanced media the candidacy of John Kerry and specifically the SBV’s. They did a brilliant job exposing his mendacity regarding Xmas in Cambodia and his ruthless, cowardly smear of Veterans before Congress. It’s rather humorous he told the story of Xmas in Cambodia over 30 years and the MSM never questioned a single fact. The SBVs quickly proved he was wrong on every fact. The most egregious and embarrassing of course was his claim President Nixon lied to the American people on Xmas Eve of 1968. Over several Senate campaigns and decades of re-tellings not one single MSM reporter figured out Nixon wasn’t President in 1968. Kerry got every other fact on that story wrong as well giving us a clear example of his character.
    It’s something we never would have found out prior to 2000 and the Internet. We learned for a fact he made it up.
    Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit wrote a book titled “An Army of Davids” detailing the emergence of the new media and the ability of previously censored ‘facts’ to spread to better support our Democracy. Jonah (and you) are part of this army and you are 100% correct to fear the distribution of his ideas and the facts he presents to support them.
    That you would describe this as debasing says more about you than Jonah. Kudos to you however for stating Wilson was a racist. Few liberals know it and fewer yet would ever admit it. As a result, the history of the Presidents is getting a complete rework and substantial re-ranking. For example FDR was listed with Washington and Lincoln while Wilson was near 6th and JFK near 10th. Wilson dropped out of the top 10 a decade ago and along with JFK will fall out of the top 20. Wilson will fall out of the top 30 as the true history of the 20th century becomes more fully understood.
    Aren’t we better off knowing the facts? Slander is when someone like you calls me a racist for being conservative. It’s also comically silly. Printing facts is not slander.

  2. Hi John,
    I know this is a big question, but I’m no expert on it, and the discussion of Goldberg’s book has aroused my interest. What would you say the book differences are between fascists and socialists? it seems to me that fascists tend to glorify violence as intrinsically good, emphasize nationalism, economic corporatism, and some traditional values. Socialists emphasize economic equality, international rather than national themes, and are often hostile to traditional values. Is this fair?
    I wonder because I can very well imagine defining a socialist differently: e.g., as someone who strongly emphasizes economic equality of opportunity and, to a lesser degree, of outcome. Such a socialist–which is opposed to capitalist rather than fascist–could be nationalistic, emphasize traditional values, and not think much about the Internationale, for instance. If this is possible, then I imagine it could be easy to blur fascism and socialism, especially because, at least according to the one book I read on fascism (by Stanley Payne), fascist movements don’t have a list of traits they all share in common but instead have a family resemblance to each other. (Obviously, though, the paradigm historical examples of fascism and socialism would still be very different.)

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