If Books Could Kill

Liberal Fascism

July 27, 2023
If Books Could Kill
Liberal Fascism
Show Notes Transcript

Michael: The EQ for this show is different than the one for 5-4. So, you're like 6% sexier on this show. That's all me. You're welcome, Peter.

Peter: I've never had a girl email the 5-4 podcast saying that they have a crush on me, but it's happened twice now.

Michael: Every single one of our reviews is like, "Who's this sexy guy and why is the woman he's with so hysterical?"

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: These are the comments that I get on the internet. 

Peter: Who's that sexy jock and his data-obsessed female friend? 

Michael: [laughs] Okay. Tell me if this zinger is bad. 

Peter: All right. Michael?

Michael: Peter.

Peter: What do you know about Liberal Fascism? 

Michael: Is that the kind where there are mass graves, but they're only full of gas stoves? 

[If Books Could Kill theme]

Peter: Have you ever seen the cover of this book? 

Michael: Oh, God. Isn't it the smiley face with a Hitler mustache?

Peter: That is right. 

Michael: Ooh.

Peter: I got to say, it was a good idea. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: It stops being good after the cover, but the cover kind of rules, I have to admit. Yeah, it's a smiley face with a little Hitler mustache, and that is Jonah Goldberg, the author, telling you that Liberal Fascism is sort of fascism with a polite face.

Michael: Fascists are known for being too nice, too accepting. 

Peter: Now, this book, in the broadest strokes is about how it's actually liberals who are kind of fascists. Not just that, but fascism itself is a liberal project more than a conservative one.

Michael: Ooh, history teaches us.

Peter: So, if you've ever heard someone say like, "Did you know that Nazis were socialists?" 

Michael: Oh, yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: This book is like the origin story for a lot of those arguments. 

Michael: Oh, yeah. 

Peter: You can infer based on the basic description of the thesis that this is not a real history book, right? 

Michael: Right.

Peter: Jonah Goldberg is not a historian. He is a pundit. The project of the book is not to explain history. It is to provide arguments for modern conservatives who are being called fascists. He opens the book by talking about that, by saying that conservatives are recklessly targeted with accusations of fascism. His whole project is just turning those guns around and pointing them back at liberals.

Michael: This is ammunition for the arguments in your head that you're having with fake college sophomores.

Peter: Right.

Michael: The purple-haired feminists that exist exclusively on right wing websites and not in the real world, this is how to own those little chipmunks. 

Peter: A lot of our books are super popular with the public, but ignored by the serious people. This one is basically the exact opposite. It's not a mega bestseller. It sells well, but it's very popular among conservatives, especially conservative elites. Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House and Mitt Romney's running mate cited it as an influence back in the day. Ted Cruz said that he was a big fan in the 2016 campaign. It is a grueling book to experience, Michael, just like arduous to read, because every page is political philosophy, which you know I hate, and also history that you read and you're like, "That doesn't sound right," and you have to look it up and you're like, "No, I guess it wasn't really right." It was a nightmare to try to debunk this book. 

Michael: My indicator of how infuriating a book is, is how often I'm doing alt tab to go over to another window to be like, "Okay, I got to fucking google this now." This seems like a very frequent alt tabber.

Peter: Do you know anything about Jonah Goldberg himself? 

Michael: He's just like a generic national review guy, right? 

Peter: That's right. He's still, I think, anti-Trump Republican to this day, which I guess-

Michael: Adorable.

Peter: -shows some level of intellectual honesty or steadfastness relative to his peers. 

Michael: He's only against the liberal kind of fascism though. 

Peter: That's right. [laughs] Yeah.

Michael: He's not really animated by the fascism-fascism.

Peter: He's working on his "Trump is a liberal book" or something-- [crosstalk] 

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: He is a nepo baby. His mom was a literary agent and Republican activist who, fun fact, was the person who told Linda Tripp to record her phone calls with Monica Lewinsky.

Michael: God, if only the never Trumpers could harness 1% of the energy of the never Clintons. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: It's like fusion versus fission. 

Peter: All right. So, let's talk about the thesis here. He says that "Fascism is and always has been a phenomenon of the left. Many of the ideas and impulses that inform what we call liberalism come to us through an intellectual tradition that led directly to fascism."

Michael: Oh, okay. So, I'm already seeing the pattern here where it's like, the ideas, the impulses, the tradition, and not the outcomes. 

Peter: Yes. He uses the term echoes quite a bit. 

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: A huge percentage of this book is him being like, "Look, obviously, this isn't the same thing as the Brown Shirt Nazis, but it echoes a lot of the same ideas." 

Michael: When you think about it, me asking your pronouns and me putting you in the Gulag are roughly the same thing. 

Peter: It's incredibly funny how often he gives that caveat of like, "I'm not saying they're the same," and then we'll make a direct analogy to Nazi Germany.


Peter: So, a couple of big caveats up top. When he says liberalism, he is referring to modern progressivism, not classical liberalism, which he considers to be conservative, like libertarianism. He considers that to be functionally conservative. 

Michael: Right. 

Peter: That's important because Mussolini expressly said that he's anti-liberal, and what he meant was classical liberalism. So, obviously, Goldberg has to make sure that that's not what he's saying. He's talking about you, our democratic voting listener. 

Michael: This is an extended subtweet of Rachel Maddow. Let's be clear. 

Peter: Right. The whole book is very kitchen sink. He is constantly drawing every parallel he can between liberals and fascists and liberalism and fascism. He will find associations between historical progressives and historical fascists, some of which are legitimate, some of which are a stretch. And then he'll also just try to connect these ideals in very, very abstract ways. 

Michael: Do you know who else was a vegetarian? 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: I'm expecting that to come up. 

Peter: That will come up. Yeah. 

Michael: Okay. [laughs] 

Peter: That is not a small part of this book.

Michael: Impossible to satirize, he is making in advance. 

Peter: So, the single biggest issue with this book is that if you want to draw connections between liberalism and fascism, you probably need coherent and accurate definitions of both terms. 

Michael: Or, do you?

Peter: [laughs] So, I'm going to send you his definition of fascism. I'm sorry, I'm sorry that we are now reading a definition of fascism.

Michael: Fascism is a religion of the state. It assumes the organic unity of the body politic and longs for a national leader attuned to the will of the people. It is totalitarian in that it views everything as political and holds that any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good. It takes responsibility for all aspects of life, including our health and wellbeing, and seeks to impose uniformity of thought and action, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure. Everything including the economy and religion must be aligned with its objectives. Any rival identity is part of the "problem" and therefore defined as the enemy. I will argue that contemporary American liberalism embodies all of these aspects of fascism. It actually says liberal-sim, but I'm assuming that's your typo and not his. 

Peter: You assume incorrectly. 

Michael: Really?

Peter: That is a typo that is present in the definition of fascism-

Michael: Hell, yeah. 

Peter: -in the first edition of this book. 


Michael: Yeah, I'm willing to forgive a couple typos, but the thing that sticks out to me is this, whether by force or through regulation and social pressure. Because what people object to about fascism is the force part. If it's regulation, then we're just talking about like, "Yeah, the government has food safety laws and then we all don't get sick."

Peter: You can see that he's creating a definition such that he can bring in really mundane government regulation, and social norms changing, and things like that. 

Michael: And also, social norms are just irrelevant to this, because a social norm, like, I don't know, it used to be cool to smoke and now it's a lot less cool to smoke. There's no way that that's fascism that's just changing-- [crosstalk]

Peter: Oh, there's no way that that's fascism, Michael.

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: You're going to learn. He says, "Fascism is the religion of the state, where any action by the state is justified to achieve the common good." 

Michael: Oh, yeah.

Peter: I want to dissect this a little bit nerdily, because there is a problem here, which is that it's missing what most scholars agree is like the key component of fascism. 

Michael: [unintelligible [00:09:20].

Peter: Roger Griffin, a scholar of fascism, defines fascism as palingenetic ultranationalism. Palingenesis essentially means a national rebirth. The idea that we, as a people, were once great and have somehow lost our way, but that we will restore our former greatness. And then there's the ultranationalist part, which means that the national rebirth will center around a specific identity, a specific in group.

Michael: Wait, so Make America Great Again is like the perfect encapsulation of this basically? [laughs] 

Peter: Jonah does get a little bit owned by the fact that Trump's messaging is like relatively fascist. [laughs]

Michael: We've lost our national greatness. Let's restore it. 

Peter: He's also leaving out a lot of smaller things like, nativism, militarism, heavy reliance on the police, all common features of fascism according to scholars. I'm not trying to say this as like a gotcha to be like, "He got the definition of fascism wrong." I'm bringing it up because this is why fascism is considered right wing, right?

Michael: Yeah.

Peter: It's about hierarchy and tradition, authority and order. But he leaves all of that out of his definition because then you might start to realize why every scholar on Earth thinks that fascism is right wing. 

Michael: Right. He's basically leaving out all the parts that would make him sound like a fascist. 

Peter: Right.

Michael: Like, fascism is obsessed with tradition and hierarchy and the use of force. And also, you're a fascist, if you don't honor our brave first responders. 

Peter: Another little sleight of hand here is that, Goldberg says that fascism is about using the state to achieve the common good. 

Michael: Oh, yeah.

Peter: But as some scholars pointed out when this came out, it's distinctly not about the common good. It's about in group domination. It's the good for one group of people. Fascism is very bad for some specific groups of people. The whole point of Goldberg's definition is that it's designed from the bottom up, so that he can basically say that like, "Anything the government does or any attempt to do anything for the common good is a little bit fascist, while also leaving out the elements of fascism that are just very obviously right wing." 

Michael: Right. 

Peter: Throughout the book, he defines conservatism as laissez-faire libertarianism, which is a very convenient way to define it if you're trying to avoid accusations of fascism. 

Michael: So, he's clearly backfilling this to fit his conclusions. He's basically like, "The dictionary defines fascism as a woman with short hair with a talk show where she talks about the Russia investigation."

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: Just doing Merriam-Webster here. 

Peter: Maybe the single wildest part of this book is that, despite it being half of the title, he does not at any point just sit down and clearly define liberalism. 

Michael: Oh.

Peter: He says that he's referring to modern American liberalism, but he never concisely defines what that means to him, which again just allows him to evade the fact that if he just listed out the tenets of modern progressivism, you might notice that many of them are not compatible with fascism, commitment to egalitarianism, pluralism, democracy, all parts of modern progressivism. 

Michael: Right.

Peter: I think all things you'd have a hard time squaring with fascism, which is distinctly anti-egalitarian, anti-pluralistic, because, again, fascism is about the ascendance and domination of the in group.

Michael: Right. 

Peter: That's just like big picture philosophy words. There's also human rights. [laughs] 

Michael: What if not torturing prisoners goes too far? Fascist much? 

Peter: So, yeah, right now, we're like 25 pages into this book. We are starting off with a definition of fascism that does not align with any scholarly definitions of fascism. He does not define liberalism at all. And yet, I am contractually obligated to continue reading.

Michael: [laughs] How many pages was this, Peter? 

Peter: It's like 500. 

Michael: Jesus Christ. Really? 

Peter: I don't understand why this keeps happening to me. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: I've got to start looking up page numbers before I agree to do a book.

Michael: How do you stretch an argument this bad to that long? It's impressive honestly. 

Peter: One big feature of this book is that Goldberg is constantly saying like, "Liberals in the mainstream media never talk about this."

Michael: Oh, yeah, great. 

Peter: But he doesn't actually ever provide any evidence of the information being ignored or suppressed or whatever. It often seems like stuff that's either common knowledge, or at least well known to people who are loosely familiar with history. For example, a huge part of the book, a big theme throughout, is pointing out that the early progressive movement had ties with the eugenics movement, which is entirely true, and also something I learned in junior year history. 

Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Peter: It's like, when someone says, "Did you know that it was Republicans who freed the slaves?" 

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: It's like, "Yeah, I paid attention in 10th grade, you fucking dumb ass."

Michael: Right. Did anything relevant happen in the 150 years since then that we want to mention or we're just going to do that and then skip to now? 

Peter: Now I want to send an example. It's a nuanced one and I'm genuinely interested in your reaction here. 

Michael: Oh, my God. "Consider the infamous Tuskegee experiments, where poor black men were allegedly infected with syphilis without their knowledge and then monitored for years." I have some comments already. "In the common telling, the episode is an example of Southern racism and American backwardness. In some versions, black men were even deliberately infected with syphilis as part of some kind of embryonic genocidal program. In fact, the Tuskegee experiments were approved and supported by well-meaning health professionals who saw nothing wrong or racist with playing God."

As the University of Chicago's Richard Shweder writes, "The study emerged out of a liberal progressive public health movement concerned about the health and wellbeing of the African-American population. If racism played a part, as it undoubtedly did, it was the racism of liberals, not conservatives." But that's not how the story is told. Ah, Peter.

Peter: All right, let's break this down, because I think this is a nice archetypal Goldberg anecdote. He ascribes a preexisting liberal narrative to this. He's like, "Everyone blames this on Southern racism, but it was actually liberal institutional racism." It's like, whoa, whoa, whoa, the way that it's taught, in my view, in my experience, has been that it's an example of institutional racism. He's just being like, "Liberals might have taught you that this was the fault of racist Southerners. It's like, no, I don't think that they did, dude. I don't think that anyone who genuinely learned about the Tuskegee experiments viewed it like this. You've just ascribed a narrative to it and then debunked that straw man narrative. 

Michael: I realized he's saying this before Twitter, but it's very similar to a lot of conservative arguments now, where it's basically people on Twitter are saying this, but that's not true. 

Peter: Right.

Michael: It's like, well, what's the authority that you're pointing to? 

Peter: Then you throw on top of that, his references to how maybe these men were purposefully infected with syphilis-

Michael: Which isn't true.

Peter: -which is, in fact, a common myth.

Michael: Me and Sarah did two episodes on the Tuskegee experiments, and they were basically inspired by this liberal idea of like, we have to help black people. This was before there were any effective treatments for syphilis. It was done by large scale philanthropy. So, you could say that it was liberals, but also, racism was so fucking bipartisan at that point. It's not like the liberals were like, "Let's do this to black people." And there were conservatives being like, "No, that's against Friedrich Hegel" or whatever. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: Everyone thought that syphilis was different in black people than it was in white people because black people were less evolved. 

Peter: Yeah.

Michael: That was like a universal fucking belief at the time. 

Peter: I think this is a really good example of how a bunch of his anecdotes work where there's a real truth in there, but he frames it in a really dishonest way. 

Michael: But that's not how the story is told. 

Peter: Yeah, and then also he mentions like, maybe these men were purposefully infected with syphilis, which is a myth, and just unveils how hollow his commitment to the actual truth is. 

Michael: Right. It's like Wikipedia level mistake. 

Peter: Right.

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: So, one of the first substantive chapters is about Mussolini. 

Michael: Ooh. 

Peter: It starts with a similar sort of framing, which I will send you. 

Michael: "Mussolini was bad and liberals don't want to talk about it." I feel owned. I feel pre-owned like a Toyota by this quote that you're about to send me. 

Peter: [laughs] All right. 

Michael: He says, "If you went solely by what you read in The New York Times or The New York Review of Books or what you learned from Hollywood, you could be forgiven for thinking that Benito Mussolini came to power around the same time as Adolf Hitler, or even a little bit later, and that Italian fascism was merely a tardy, watered-down version of Nazism." What? 

Peter: Does The New York Times ever say that? Has The New York Review of Books ever published that Mussolini came to power after Hitler?

Michael: Yeah, the liberal media doesn't want to admit like, the basic timeline of when people became the heads of state. 

Peter: It's very baffling to me. But again, he needs to insert this framing such that he is telling you the real version of history. 

Michael: Right. 

Peter: I would be shocked if he could find a single example of either The New York Times or The New York Review of Books implying or saying outright that Mussolini came to power after Hitler.

Michael: That basically, Mussolini was NSYNC to Hitler's Backstreet Boys?

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: Or, worse, a B version.

Peter: That is a real-- I actually don't know which one was technically first, even though I view Backstreet Boys as the OG. If someone told me actually NSYNC was founded first, I wouldn't know that that was wrong. 

Michael: Well, that's because you can't read it in The New York Times or The New York Review of Books, or Hollywood. They don't want to tell you-

Peter: They don't tell you. 

Michael: -if the Backstreet Boys were first. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: They won't admit it. 

Peter: So, the Mussolini chapter is actually a really good microcosm of how the book operates in general. A lot of it is just describing a smattering of progressive people and institutions who showed various affinities for Mussolini in the 1920s. So, Goldberg is naming journalists, and politicians, and educational institutions, etc., that admired Mussolini in some regard, which is not inaccurate. Mussolini was actually quite popular in America in the 1920s. Now there is no actual data nor is there an effort to show that Mussolini's popularity was something limited to liberals or even predominantly liberal. And so, I went to his source. His primary source is John Patrick Diggins, a historian who wrote a seminal book in the early 1970s called Mussolini and Fascism: The View from America.

Michael: Okay. 

Peter: The heart of Diggins' book is just giving examples of literally hundreds of American people and institutions who were either supporters or opponents of Mussolini. Diggins makes it clear that this was from across the political spectrum. To give some examples, he talks about how the largest profascist outlet in the 1920s in America was probably a conservative paper, The Saturday Evening Post, massive circulation.

On the other hand, The Nation, the liberal magazine, was one of the most vociferous antifascist publications of the decade, and The New York Times was one of the first major publications to identify Italy as a dictatorship. What Goldberg is doing is going through that book and handpicking out the progressives who supported Mussolini and just ignoring the conservatives. And it's clearly intentional, because there's no way you could read Diggins in good faith and just miss them. 

One of the most notable pro-Mussolini figures in the country at the time was Richard Washburn Child, a Republican political operative who would go on to help ghostwrite Mussolini's autobiography. Then there's the fact that the conservative Coolidge administration coordinated with Mussolini's government to prosecute anti-fascist labor activists in America, and then only back down after a campaign of pressure from liberal media outlets and labor. I could just cherry pick a few anecdotes like this and write a whole book called Conservative Fascism or whatever, and it would be just as dishonest as what Goldberg is doing. 

Michael: He's casting it as accepted by one side, but it's actually accepted by everybody. 

Peter: Oh, God. [laughs] 

Michael: I've been sitting on that. I haven't been listening for the last couple of minutes. I've just been sitting on that. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: I'm always struck with these arguments that it's like it's so much less fucking interesting.

Peter: That's the thing. I ended up reading Diggins' book almost in full and it's fascinating. People should read it. You're not going to learn anything from Goldberg, because Goldberg is sitting down trying to get from point A to point B, and that means expressly ignoring a shitload of the history that he's reading. 

Michael: I like that you do retain the capacity to enjoy books that isn't bad.

Peter: Well, I was reading it out of anger. 

Michael: [laughs] The best reading.

Peter: I went to the source and I was like, "I knew he was lying, this motherfucker." And then I continued to read, being like, "I got you, you motherfucker. [Michael laughs] You lying piece of shit." I can only read if I'm doing it with the purpose of trying to feel smarter than the author of another book. 

Michael: Yeah, the way to get Americans reading again spite.

Peter: I'm going to hit you with another chapter title here. 

Michael: Okay. [laughs] Chapter 2, Adolf Hitler: Man of the Left. 

Peter: Hell, yeah. 

Michael: Other than the vegetarianism, how the fuck is he getting there? 

Peter: What do you mean other than the vegetarianism, Michael?


Peter: So, yeah, this chapter is dedicated to the idea that Hitler and the Nazis were leftists. He has a few different discrete arguments. He says, "Hitler deserves to be placed firmly on the left because first and foremost, he was a revolutionary."

Michael: What? 

Peter: "Broadly speaking, the left is the party of change, and the right, the party of the status quo."

Michael: Ah.

Peter: "For the left, revolution is always good." 

Michael: What? Again, who, where?

Peter: A lot of the chapter is just about how Nazis in Germany often adopted anti-capitalist rhetoric, especially early in their rise to power, which is absolutely true. But again, another instance where it's instructive to look at what he does not talk about, he doesn't talk about how both the Nazis and the Italian fascists led violent campaigns against labor unions from their inception. He doesn't mention that Hitler abolished trade unions in 1933. He doesn't mention that the first death camps were for socialists. He also does not talk about the fact that the Nazis were adopting, for example, religious rhetoric early on before they abandoned it and in fact became much more expressly antireligious. 

Michael: Another thing that makes fascists bad is that they fucking lie to get into power when they have no interest in doing any of the stuff?

Peter: That's the thing, that's the thing is that, there are scholars who point out that the heart of fascism is attaining power. And therefore, you should be looking at their actions much more than their rhetoric, because their rhetoric is necessarily dishonest, right?

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: One of the most interesting things I read about fascism when I was doing the research was that it's not actually inherently authoritarian either. It's just that over time, in order to retain power, it will almost inevitably become authoritarian, because there is no other way to hang on to power. 

Michael: No, that's another reason why these regimes oftentimes become really conspiratorial is because they make all these promises that they don't actually intend to keep. They get into power and then eventually their voters are like, "Wait a minute, you promised us all this great shit." And they're like, "Oh, there's a conspiracy against me." This is where we get the deep state stuff. This is what Milošević did as soon as he was in power. He's blaming, "Ooh, the people around me can't be trusted blah, blah, blah." They're just saying again. They're just saying what they need to say to stay in power. They don't actually have a coherent description of what they want. 

Peter: I'm going to send you something. 

Michael: God, I'm getting fired up, Peter, I'm sitting up in my chair. 

Peter: I knew that philosophical discussions of fascism would get you going.

Michael: I know. You mentioned the Tuskegee experiment and Hitler like I lived in Berlin for seven years. I feel very strongly about this stuff. 

Peter: All right, I just sent you something. 

Michael: He says, "Consider the explosion of health and New Age crusades in recent years from the war on smoking to the obsession with animal rights to the sanctification of organic foods. No one disputes that these fads are a product of the cultural and political left, but few are willing to grapple with the fact that we've seen this sort of thing before." Oh, fuck.

"Heinrich Himmler was a certified animal rights activist and an aggressive promoter of natural healing. Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy, championed homeopathy and herbal remedies. Hitler and his advisors dedicated hours of their time to discussions of the need to move the entire nation to vegetarianism as a response to the unhealthiness promoted by capitalism. In profound ways, the Nazi anti-smoking and public health drives foreshadowed today's crusades against junk foods, trans fats, and the like. A Hitler youth manual proclaimed, nutrition is not a private matter, a mantra substantially echoed by the public health establishment today." 

Peter: So, as the cohost of a health and wellness podcast, I'm interested in your thoughts. 

Michael: Well, the thing is, a lot of people don't know that Hitler actually coined the phrase, "Don't Mess with Texas" as an anti-littering campaign.

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: He was also very against littering. That's how you know he's a liberal.

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: God, this is fucking bleak though, dude. 

Peter: It's just the thinnest guilt by association reasoning you can comprehend. 

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: There were generally, relatively aggressive health and wellness campaigns in Germany. There were animal rights protections that were relatively progressive, shall we say. So, there's truth here. Hitler became a vegetarian in something like 1937, 1938. There are mixed reports of how dedicated he was. One of the most consistent reports across multiple sources is that he continued to eat liver dumplings.

Michael: Eww, oh.

Peter: However, it does seem to be true that Hitler was a vegetarian and that his primary reason eventually became animal rights to some degree that he really struggled with the idea of animal suffering. Very sort of Tony Soprano, the animals are innocent and pure and human beings are corrupt and debased.

Michael: Yeah. What's interesting is, all of this stuff is based on this weird hierarchical view of the world, hierarchies of species and hierarchies within humanity that people who are strong and masculine are the most superior humans. This is where we get the stuff about killing people with disabilities, and this idea of weakness and scrawniness being the next group that was going to get targeted by these fucking purges, because the whole thing is about establishing a ladder of superiority. So, after you wipe out one group, you just start looking at who's left. The whole thing comes from a fascistic worldview, not from a liberal worldview.

Peter: Right. So, he says that this is all about the fascist obsession with the organic order. But is his position that there is no public interest in health at all? It's just convoluted. He mentions Hitler Youth multiple times when talking about health and like, "Membership in Hitler Youth was mandatory." You know what I mean? This is not the same thing as a commercial telling you to eat your vegetables or some shit that's put out by some government funded health organization. The book is about collapsing these distinctions and making it seem as if this is all on one spectrum.

Michael: He's basically acting as if any public health measure would be fascist. 

Peter: This is one of themes of the book. Remember, I mentioned that he defines conservatism as libertarian essentially. Anything that involves the conception, even the contemplation of the public sphere and the common good, he would categorize as being a little bit fascist.

Michael: Right. If you categorize basically all large-scale government efforts as an echo of fascism, then like, "Yeah, liberals are extremely fascists." [laughs] 

Peter: Right.

Michael: If you're defining it in this totally incoherent way. 

Peter: So, let's talk about racism, which is part of his Nazi section. He also has a separate chapter about liberal racism. Again, it's just this idea that the recognition of racial differences is either racist or upstream of Nazism in some way.  Sure. 

Michael: I do feel like this argument comes up all the fucking time in reactionary centrist things now. It's literally like, aren't the people trying to eradicate minorities the same as people trying to empower minorities? It's the dumbest fucking thing. 

Peter: When you recognize that racial differences are real, you're doing step one. 

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: That's what their view is. It's like, step one is you say those people are different than me. Step 25 is the camps. 

Michael: Right. [laughs] 

Peter: That's how they're conceptualizing it. Whereas the obvious retort is like, it's not that we are recognizing racial differences per se. We are recognizing that people are treated differently based on these perceived differences. That is not the same fucking thing. 

Michael: Right. He's conflating the anodyne generic first step of a process with a very specific odious outcome. He's basically saying like, "Oh, a guy drove to a place where he killed a bunch of puppies. And so, when you drive, you're echoing the puppy killer."

Peter: Right.

Michael: I don't know if he realizes that this framework would essentially invalidate all human behavior. 

Peter: So, Goldberg says-- Well, first of all, brace yourself, a content warning. "The Nazis played the same games against the Jews that today's left plays against whiteness." 

Michael: Oh, my fucking God. [laughs] 

Peter: Later he goes on to say, "The white male is the Jew of liberal fascism."

Michael: Oh, Jonah-

Peter: Later in the paragraph-

Michael: -slow it down.

Peter: -he says, "Now, this is not a genocidal movement. No one is suggesting that white people be rounded up and put in the camps. But the principles, passions, and argumentation [Michael laughs] have troubling echoes." I told you, I told you this should be echoing. 

Michael: Oh, my God, in the same way that Thomas Friedman did not understand metaphors. It's not clear to me that Jonah Goldberg understands comparisons.

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: It would be really weird to be like, Mike and Peter are just like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Now, I'm not saying they want to shoot up a school. There are specific reasons why historical figures and events are well known. If you're going to make the comparison, then you have to be drawing a parallel to that central reason. I would not compare Jonah Goldberg to Ben Shapiro unless I was talking about his inability to make his wife wet. 

Peter: Even putting aside how dumb the comparison is, it always cracks me up. People on the left do this too. When people say something like, "This is a less severe version of Nazism." Because it's the severity that really made the Nazis unique, wasn't it? 

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: They're not the first racists or something. That's not what was happening with the Nazis.

Michael: Also, if we're doing slippery slope arguments, isn't he saying like, the identity politics people are similar to the Nazis? Isn't he also on the same slippery slope? 

Peter: Oh, shit, you got him. You're right. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: He is saying that we need to be stopped like the Nazis were stopped, right? 

Michael: God, I hate how talking about his book is making me as stupid as his book. 

Peter: The Nazi parts of this book and the discussions of racism are so fucking tiring, because he's always weaving between these abstractions and these cherry-picked anecdotes to show vague ties between Nazis and the left, but Nazis still exist. When they have rallies, they don't call them the Unite the Left rally. You know what I mean?

Michael: Yeah [laughs] 

Peter: Not only that, but there were tons of historical American fascist groups. There's the Silver Shirts who were Nazi supporters, who were active during the 1930s. The American Nazi Party from the midcentury, The National Alliance. You'd think that if you wanted to do an actual survey of the landscape of American fascism, you'd want to take a look at the groups that openly identified as fascist. 

Michael: Right. 

Peter: But Goldberg does not mention any of these groups. Nor, by the way, does he mention the fact that National Review, the publication that employs him, was founded in the 1950s and immediately took up the cause of segregation very famously writing that whites were the advanced race, which does feel like a glaring omission when the whole premise of the book is that liberals are obscuring their problematic history and need to start being honest about it or whatever. 

Michael: Yeah, you can go and just ask Nazis like, which ideology are you aligned with? And they're not going to be like, "Ooh, vegetarians and feminists."

Peter: I consider myself a modern progressive in the vein of Hillary Clinton. 

Michael: [laughs] Did you see Maddow last night, bro? 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: Great shit. Hand me that tiki torch. 

Peter: One of my pet peeves is people speculating about things that we have actual data on or that are at least measurable. We know which political party is more racist, Michael. 

Michael: Yeah, I know. 

Peter: There are a couple of ways to measure this. One is by surveying, what's called, racial resentment, which inquires into whether you think racial disparities are the result of systemic causes or work ethic. 

Michael: Right. 

Peter: Then there are surveys of what's called old fashioned racism, which is just measuring express forms of racism by surveying things like opposition to interracial marriage.

Michael: Right. 

Peter: By both metrics, Republican voters are more racists. 

Michael: Yeah.

Peter: The interesting thing about this is that it actually wasn't really true until the Obama era, and it has intensified since then. Goldberg publishes this in 2008. So, in a sense, you could say, at the time he couldn't have known better. In another sense, you could say that he wrote this and then was immediately proven wrong by history. 

Michael: Right. 

Peter: Again, this is another situation where there's some real nuance. This is not a situation where express racists were always more conservative Republican, for example. It's something that did not align along partisan lines. So, cleanly, until the mid-aughts, when you have a combination of debates about immigration and Obama.

Michael: You won't read about that in The New York Times, [Peter laughs] except for the 50 fucking times you've read about it in The New York Times. 

Peter: Yeah, the actual place that you find this data is in the work of liberal scholars, for the record, but whatever. 

Michael: Yeah [laughs] 

Peter: I can't cover everything in this book, as we've discussed. But I do want to give you a sense of what I'm skipping over. 

Michael: Okay.

Peter: There are extensive arguments that Woodrow Wilson was a fascist, and in fact, that the United States under Woodrow Wilson was briefly a fascist state. 

Michael: Wait, what did Wilson do that was fascist? I don't even know anything about Wilson. 

Peter: Well, so, part of the reason he gets away with this is because no one knows anything about Wilson.

Michael: Okay.

Peter: Wilson exercised a lot of aggressive war powers. He had some authoritarian impulses, and so did FDR, who, of course, Jonah Goldberg believes is fascist. There are bits of this that are about how the New Deal and Great Society are fascists. The idea behind that is basically what we've discussed, the idea of A, the common good, the subjugation of the individual to the will of the state. Those are themes that ride through these portions of the book.

In 2010, I started to notice conservatives talking about Woodrow Wilson and I was like, "Why the fuck is everyone talking about Woodrow Wilson?" This is why Jonah Goldberg has- [crosstalk] 

Michael: Oh, really? 

Peter: -to us. Yeah, for sure. He was making this case that, Wilson is the first progressive. You can trace modern progressivism to him and he's also an evil fascist. I had some conservative acquaintances who, all of a sudden, started bringing Woodrow Wilson up in arguments, and I was like, "What the fuck is going on?" [laughs] 

Michael: The most shocking thing about this is that you have conservative acquaintances. 

Peter: I did back in 2009, 2010, because they were just people I went to high school with. 


Michael: That is over. 

Peter: Absolutely. I have lost touch with them. Not invited to the wedding. [Michael laughs] So, that's the shit that I'm skipping past. If someone wants to say that I am not giving him enough credit on those points, I don't give a shit.

Michael: This is the fundamental challenge of this show is that, if you debunk everything, it'll be really fucking boring. 

Peter: Yep. 

Michael: Then if you skip over stuff, they're like, "Peter didn't even address the Woodrow Wilson fascism."

Peter: No, I will just concede all of these points. I agree that Woodrow Wilson, FDR, the New Deal, and the Great Society are all fascists. That is the official position of the podcast.

Michael: Giving people jobs, giving people salads. Not the worst.

Peter: So, I do want to talk about a couple emblematic digressions in this book. One is, what can only be described as light apologetics for the Ku Klux Klan. 

Michael: Okay.

Peter: He says that, "The second Klan was certainly racist, but not much more than society in general."

Michael: What? 

Peter: And then he repeats later that it was, "Less racist than we've been led to believe."

Michael: Oh, no. Well, we've been led to believe that they're like level 100 racism, so anything under that. They were only level 99. Okay.

Peter: Yeah. There is, again, something resembling truth under this. To give some historical context, the first Klan of the Reconstruction era was almost exclusively anti-black terrorist organization. The second Klan arises in the 1910s and is much more complex. It's anti-black, yes, but it is anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, pro-prohibition. But it's still extremely racist. They carried out racist lynchings across the country severe enough that they were prominent fights over federal anti-lynching legislation.

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: Maybe I shouldn't have to say this, but the Ku Klux Klan was racist. 

Michael: I mean, they weren't as bad as like vegetarians. 

Peter: No, there are tiers.

Michael: They weren't as troubling as people that like animals. 

Peter: He says it was a misnomer that the second Klan was rural and fundamentalist, and he says that it was actually quite cosmopolitan and modern thriving in cities like New York and Chicago.

Michael: What?

Peter: He is doing a little bit of like, "Well, maybe it was the big city libs." Now, in reality, the second Klan was largely midwestern. 40% of their membership in the early 1920s was Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois. I spoke with the historian, Kevin Kruse. He said that about two-thirds of membership was located in towns with populations under 100,000. So, no, it was not particularly cosmopolitan. It was actually rural and fundamentalist.

So, it's just a weird little digression in the book. I think the only reason it's in here is because Robert Paxton, a very prominent scholar of fascism, has basically said that the Klan was the first fascist organization. And so, I think that Goldberg felt an obligation to address them and he didn't really know what to do with them. So, he's like, "Well, they weren't that racist, and also, maybe they were liberal. I don't know." It's a bizarre digression in this book. 

Michael: It's also amazing, this focus on the echoes is in the tradition of, and he's like, "Oh, banning trans fats is somehow fascist." But also the KKK, which is just straightforwardly conservative, he's like, "Oh, I don't know about that you, guys."

Peter: Right. 

Michael: It's just one methodology he's aiming at the left and a completely different methodology he's aiming at the right. 

Peter: Another dishonest portion of the book, his vignette about the Willard Straight Hall takeover at Cornell. The basic story is that, in 1969, there are disputes at Cornell between black students and administration. The disputes were about black studies programs and about some black students who are being disciplined for their involvement in a protest. In the midst of that, someone burns across in front of the black girl's dorm on campus. And in response, members of a black student association seize Willard Straight Hall, forcibly removing occupants and occupying the building for about 36 hours until a settlement is reached with administration.

The way that Jonah tells the story, he doesn't tell you who or what it's about, and he tells a story of a group of thugs armed with rifles and shotguns who were demanding an ethnically pure educational institution.

Michael: Oh, so, he's not telling you this with the race of the participants. 

Peter: He does not tell you the details at first, and then he's like, "What does it sound like? Does it sound like Berlin in 1933? Well, guess what? It was Cornell."

Michael: [laughs] Did you see this coming? You must have known. It's so clunky when they do this shit. 

Peter: I had, by coincidence, just read a bit about this a couple of weeks ago. And so, he started saying this and I was like, "This is Cornell." [laughs] 

Michael: Yeah. There's only five of these anecdotes too. They always recycle the same fucking anecdotes, because there's actually a very finite number of these little events on college campuses that confirm their worldview. So, it's this weird greatest hits, like, a cover song. You're like, "Oh, it's hallelujah, I fucking know this one." 

Peter: So, he also says, it was later revealed that the cross burning was a hoax perpetrated by the students themselves, and Goldberg then compares it to the Reichstag fire. 

Michael: Oh.

Peter: Yeah. 

Michael: Wait, is that true? 

Peter: Great question. Michael will circle back in a quick second. 

Michael: That doesn't sound true. 

Peter: On top of the facial absurdity of these characterizations comparing this to the Reichstag fire, there are some key omissions here. It's true that these students were armed. That is because after they occupied the hall, they were aggressively confronted by a white fraternity, and so they went to arm themselves afterwards. Within the next year or so, one of the black studies research buildings that resulted from the agreement with administration was burned down.

Michael: Right.

Peter: So, I'm not going to say that I condone the tactics of these students or whatever they're 20-year-old radicals in 1969. I don't know. But if you're going to accuse them of being fascists because of their use of violence, it might be worth pointing out that their opponents were also quite violent. It makes sense that they would anticipate needing to violently defend themselves. And to your question, Michael, it has never really been revealed that the initial cross burning was a hoax. As far as I can tell, there is one source for that and one source only, the speculation of the local police. 

Michael: Oh, okay. 

Peter: Another emblematic Goldberg anecdote, "Leave out the key information that explains a lot of what's going on here. Make a direct comparison with Nazi Germany and move on." 

Michael: But what if I told you that the armed radicals later tried to ban trans fats and bring smoking rates down? 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: What about then? 

Peter: I don't know. If there were a picture of a black nationalist with a gun eating a salad somewhere in the public domain,-

Michael: [laughs] Cover.

Peter: -there would have been the cover of this book. [laughs] 

Michael: That's replacing the emoji. Yeah. 

Peter: All right. We're in the final stretch here. Most of the latter half of the book is him just trying to squeeze his modern political grievances into the context of this liberal fascism idea that he's now created. At one point, he says that Che Guevara killed more people than Mussolini. 

Michael: What? 

Peter: That just seems unlike like. Mussolini had a notoriously brutal military campaign in Northern Africa. So, I was like, "Are you counting that?" Also, Che Guevara's body count is widely disputed and debated. It would be very unlikely that that is true. But also, the context of that complaint was that he was mad that college students wear Che shirts. 


Michael: You are like, "What's the point in debunking this?" 

Peter: It wasn't like a substantive complaint about Che Guevara per se or about the revolution in Cuba. It was a cultural complaint about college students and how he's mad that college students wear Che shirts and yet call him the fascist, right?

Michael: Right. 

Peter: His goal of giving this grand explanation of political philosophy and history is actually subjugated to his goal of winning a cultural argument. So, you get a lot of complaints about affirmative action, like a shocking number of complaints about affirmative action, which, of course, he thinks is racist, abortion, which is, of course, eugenics adjacent in his mind. 

Michael: What?

Peter: And then you hit this chapter. I will send you the title. 

Michael: Oh, no. Chapter 9, Brave New Village: Hillary Clinton and the Meaning of Liberal Fascism. 

Peter: This is the Hillary Clinton chapter of this book about fascism. 

Michael: Oh, my God. 

Peter: Brave New Village is a combination of the title of Brave New World and Hillary Clinton's 1996 book, It Takes a Village. 

Michael: It Takes a Village.


Michael: One of the most anodyne tedious political books. I read that when I was in high school. It's so fucking boring. 

Peter: The audacity of Fahrenheit 451

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: Most of this chapter is built around his claim that Hillary Clinton wants to abolish the legal distinction between children and adults. 

Michael: What? 

Peter: Oh, you're skeptical? 

Michael: Wait, is this even a thing? I've never even heard of this as even a weird right-wing myth. 

Peter: This is basically all built around a wildly dishonest reading of a paper that she published on the state of children's rights in the early 1970s, right after she graduated from Yale Law.

Michael: Oh, my God.

Peter: She published this article titled Children's Rights Under the Law, which basically laid out the current state of children's rights law and advocated for clarifying the legal status of children. So, she talks about balancing the protection of children against the rights of parents, the need for clear legal standards in cases of abuse and neglect. Nothing particularly outlandish, but it was portrayed by conservatives as her belief that government should replace the family unit.

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: He says that her proposal for employer provided daycare is fascist. He says that she wields children as ideological weapons, and generally, that she believes in usurping the family and the individual with her conceptions of the common good. 

Michael: But that's what's so ironic about that too is that's actually antifascist. Fascists are all about the traditional family. And so, to actually upend that and do this like, It Takes a Village thing, that's actually antifascist.

Peter: Well, this is the thing is that this shit is so fucking abstract that if you just tried to pull out individual political positions, you can make the case that anything is fascist or not fascist.

Michael: Maybe this is the core problem with the entire framework is that fascism is more of a methodology than a coherent set of principles.

Peter: It's like narcissistic personality disorder. It's a combination of things, and everyone thinks Donald Trump has it, but no one actually knows. [Michael laughs] But I am being somewhat serious in that fascism has all of these different components. If you cherry-pick your components, you can say that anything is fascist, right?

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: It needs to be a critical mass of those things before you can realistically call it fascism. 

Michael: This is actually why I nope out of the debate about whether Donald Trump is fascist or not, because if people want to say that, I don't particularly mind. I don't do a lot of scolding about that. But also, if people don't want to use that term because they reserve it for very specific circumstances, I also don't really mind that. You can just look at the situation and see that it's so self-evidently bad.

Peter: Right.

Michael: If we can all agree that it's bad, then we can easily move forward on that basis. People are going to differ on the terminology, but I just don't care that much what people call it. It's just very bad. 

Peter: It shouldn't matter except as a matter of scholarly interest, which it's fine to be nerdily interested in that. 

Michael: Yeah, I love that. I honestly love this shit, but I don't care. 

Peter: I don't even want to talk about it because I'm so fascinated by the debate about whether Trump is fascist and that it makes me feel like a big fucking loser. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: The final chapter of this book is called The New Age: We're All Fascists Now. And it's about how liberalism is trying to impose its cultural agenda on conservatives. 

Michael: Here we go. 

Peter: This is mostly just rambling about culture war pet peeves and he's-

Michael: Love it. 

Peter: -almost entirely dropping the pretense of talking about fascism. 

Michael: Hell, yeah. 

Peter: I've picked out some choice pieces here. He says, "Hip hop culture has incorporated a shocking number of fascist themes."

Michael: Oh, my God. [laughs] 

Peter: I know you're excited. I got excited too. [Michael laughs] He actually does not extrapolate on this at all. He just moves on. 

Michael: Oh.

Peter: He's just riffing. He's just like, "Oh, you didn't like my chapter about Hillary being fascist? Fuck you, hip hop fascist. I'll say whatever." He talks about Hollywood, of course. He says, "Is there any doubt that a young Hitler would have given Dead Poets Society a standing ovation?"

Michael: What? Dead Poets Society

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: Of all the movies he could get mad at, he gets mad at Dead Poets Society

Peter: I was like, "Is there any doubt that Hitler would give it a standing--" Yeah, I think there's some doubt that young Hitler-

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: -would give Dead Poets Society a standing ovation. I wouldn't bet on it either way, I don't think. No, look, Dead Poets Society is about this stuffy conservative institution and some kids that like poetry. 

Michael: Yeah, but the whole thing is reifying Shakespeare being good and shit. That movie is profoundly conservative. Now we're just debating whether Dead Poets Society is conservative. 

Peter: Literally, he talks about Dead Poets Society for three pages. 

Michael: No way. 

Peter: I'm not kidding. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: I was just reading the whole thing being like, "I couldn't possibly give a shit. I'm not going to do fucking analysis of Dead Poets Society. I'm sorry." 

Michael: Is there any doubt that Hitler would love Minions, if he was around now? 

Peter: Chapter 11, The Fascism of Despicable Me 2.

Michael: This is like the doubt that thing too. Conservatives are so obsessed with movie shit.

Peter: I don't get it. 

Michael: It's so weird.

Peter: He calls 300 fascist, which is probably the only correct diagnosis of fascism he makes.

Michael: That's fucking true. [crosstalk] 

Peter: -fascism he makes in the entire book. I was like, "Preach, Jonah." 

Michael: Yeah, fair. You got to give him one or two things. 

Peter: That was his broken clock hit on fascism.

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: Okay. There's also a portion of this chapter where he tries to argue that Nazis were not as anti-gay as people generally think, but were actually kind of gay themselves. 

Michael: Both of those are true. 

Peter: He says, "Nazi attitudes toward homosexuality are also a source of confusion. While it is true that some homosexuals were sent to concentration camps, long pause, it is also the case that the early Nazi Party and the constellation of Pan-German organizations in its orbit were rife with homosexuals.

Michael: Read a book, Jonah. Read any book about minority groups. 

Peter: His citation for this section is a 1995 book written by a couple of antigay American activists called The Pink Swastika, which was a famously pseudohistorical piece of antigay propaganda-

Michael: Oh, my God.

Peter: -that claims essentially that Nazi crimes were driven by gay men and perhaps linked to homosexuality in some way. 

Michael: What? Ah, fuck off.

Peter: The book claims, just to give a taste, that Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Goring, Rudolf Hess, all gay.

Michael: What? 

Peter: Yeah.

Michael: But there was the one high up. Wasn't it Ernst Röhm- 

Peter: That's correct.

Michael: -who was gay and was killed in The Night of the Long Knives? 

Peter: So, Ernst Röhm was gay and was killed in The Night of the Long Knives, presumably, because he was maintaining a power center of his own in different factions of the Nazi Party. And on top of that, 1920s Berlin, for example, was a place where gay people operated with a relative amount of openness compared to a lot of comparable cities around the globe. So, were there people who were probably more open about their homosexuality in the Nazi Party in the 1920s than you might have seen, for example, in the United States perhaps? Maybe. Was the Nazi Party notably gay by population? Almost certainly not. There's no real evidence and the people that have tried to make that case are out and out homophobes.

Michael: But that's just like anytime you have demonic little white twinks making life worse for everyone, some of them are going to be gay, partly statistically and partly because of internalized homophobia of like, "If I'm really aggressively trying to fit in, they won't come for me." Some of the biggest opposition within the FDA during AIDS crisis to fast tracking medications was from closeted gay men in the FDA. This is something that happens wherever you have invisible minorities they will push back against minorities who are fighting for visibility, because they're like, "If I can do this, you should be doing this too."

Peter: Again, he's citing this insanely homophobic book. He knows that and so he creates a little bit of weird distance. He quotes that book and here's the quote. "The National Socialist Revolution and the Nazi Party were animated and dominated by militaristic homosexuals, pederasts, pornographers, and sadomasochists."

Michael: Oh, my fucking God. 

Peter: That's the quote he uses. Then Goldberg says, "This is surely an overstatement, but it is nonetheless true that the artistic and literary movements that provided the oxygen for Nazism before 1933-

Michael: Oh, my God. 

Peter: -were chock-a-block with homosexual liberationist tracks, clubs, and journalists."

Michael: What does that mean, provided the oxygen? 

Peter: He wants to quote that insane book, but he knows that you can't quote it without some sort of qualification. So, he's like, "Well, that was probably an over--" Yeah. Are gays solely responsible for The Holocaust? That's probably an overstatement.

Michael: Right.

Peter: But--

Michael: But-- 

Peter: But-- Come on, man. 

Michael: Let's pick a middle ground between historical reality and these deranged psychos. 

Peter: Elsewhere in the book, he acknowledges that gay marriage is likely inevitable in the country and keep in mind this is 2007, 2008, and says like, "And that's probably a good thing." So, these are your Republican allies.

Michael: Yeah.

Peter: Gay marriage? Look, I'm a bit of a libertarian, so I say yes. 

Michael: Right.

Peter: Gays did cause The Holocaust, however.

Michael: Putting gays and pederasts in the same sentence, "Eh, maybe a little 5% too much. That's a little too much. Let's turn it down a little bit."

Peter: The Holocaust echoes gay. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: So, that is essentially the book. As I mentioned, I have condensed and cherry picked my favorite portions,-

Michael: Wow.

Peter: -just like Jonah did. 

Michael: Isn't debunking the worst parts of this book an echo of the book burnings that the gays did? 

Peter: I have never claimed that I was intellectually honest. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: In our bonus episode about the Success sequence, we discussed how there are no serious conservatives. 

Michael: Yes.

Peter: They complain about being left out of academia, but they have no real interest in academics per se. There are all these serious scholars of fascism, many of whom popped up to be like, "This is not correct." And Goldberg responded to them basically just accusing them all of being dishonest, and taking very few of their critiques seriously, and dishonestly framing the responses as if they were ignoring what he was really arguing, etc., etc.

Michael: This reminds me of, in 2017, I spent a year and a half working on a long article about how millennials are screwed, like, the objective economic conditions of millennials are worse than they were for our parents' generation. And after it came out, Chris Rufo wrote an article in the National Review just being like, "No, it's not."

Peter: [laughs] Right.

Michael: He didn't do any work. He was like, "Millennials are lazy."

Peter: Right.

Michael: Then he challenged me to a debate. I was like, "Well, no, I did work and you didn't do work. This is not serious."

Peter: It's certainly not limited to conservatives. There are liberals who are just hacks. But what continues to jolt me about the modern conservative political movement is the absence of non-hacks.

Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's wild. 

Peter: That's not to say that there's none, but there appear to be very few to the point where the leading conservative scholar on fascism is probably fucking Jonah Goldberg. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: I don't get it. I am intrigued by the widespread project on the right of whitewashing history. I have different little half-baked theories bubbling around in my head. One is that, if you're like a reactionary, you're a status quo defender, you are anti-progress. Over the course of your life, you will almost, by definition, be viewed negatively by history in certain regards. This is true of anyone, but sharp reactionaries more than anyone. Progress will march forward and your views will appear increasingly antiquated. And so, if you want to preserve the image of their movement, they need to be engaged in constant historical whitewashing. They need to be constantly reframing history. Otherwise, it will be obvious that they are history's antagonists to some degree. 

Michael: Right. 

Peter: It does feel notable to me that there are liberal historians who will very readily confront the fact that progressives had deep ties to the eugenics movement. Yet, Republicans are just crafting elaborate lies about how they are history's good boys and liberals have actually always been the bad guys. If you find bad guys that are conservative, no, they're actually liberal, right? 

Michael: Right. 

Peter: It's just so transparently dishonest that it's hard to take seriously. It's hard to confront. It's hard to dissect. 

Michael: I think the core problem is that conservatism isn't an outcomes-based or values-based ideology. It's methodologically based. It's, I don't want change. 

Peter: Yeah. 

Michael: It would also be equally incoherent. It'd just be like, "I want society to change."

Peter: Even though that does appear to be what Jonah Goldberg thinks progressivism is. 

Michael: Yeah, and that's a satire of progressivism, because it's like, well, some directions of change are good and some directions of change are bad, but you have to actually view them on the merits. But the problem with conservatism is that you can't view things on the merits. It doesn't rely on values other than preservation of existing society. 

Peter: It's an impulse more than an ideology. It's quite literally a reaction in the sense of an almost physical chemical reaction to the prospect of change, the prospect of disruption to your status quo, which you feel safe and protected in. 

Michael: Something that I'm resenting more and more as we talk about this book is the way that his stupid framework makes us be like, "No, you're the fascist."

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: Because going back through history and saying, my political enemies have been the villains of every historical atrocity of the last 100 years is kind of fascist. 


Michael: I don't actually believe that. I don't think that he's doing a fascism, but also, he's the one that set up this asinine framework where it's like, we should look at the echoes and the rhymes of fascism.

Peter: Yeah. 

Michael: Well, okay, Jonah. Looking at the echoes, whatever you want to say about the philosophy of conservatism, like, organized conservatism as it exists today in the United States is engaged in a large-scale history revision project.

Peter: You can read more about this in my book, Liberal Fascism Fascism [01:02:41] about how this book [Michael laughs] is fascist.

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: Fascism is a very abstract thing. What's really happening when scholars are studying fascism is that they are looking at this era of political history and trying to identify exactly what this was. They've identified a set of phenomena, because they are engaged in a good faith effort to try to understand what happened. What Jonah is doing is then being actually fascism is something else. It's like, well, no, it necessarily isn't something else, because all that they're doing is putting a helpful label on a set of phenomena that we're all witnessing. 

Michael: Right. 

Peter: There's something so inherently dishonest about the approach here where he's just like, "I actually have my own definition of fascism."

Michael: Right.

Peter: Who the fuck are you, dude? 

Michael: It's such a great cheat code. We could write a book called like Books Are Dumb, and we could provide examples of that. There's plenty of dumb books in the world. But you couldn't debunk the central premise, because the central premise is just so fucking stupid and broad. 

Peter: Let's think about a better title, because I want to do this. What about the last book you'll ever read? 

Michael: Ooh.

Peter: The whole concept is like, books are stupid. They're making you dumber. Let this be your final one.

Michael: Now you're just pitching a book that we should write together, which is where this podcast is going. 

Peter: And then it should be twice the price of your average book, because we're actually saving money in the on the long run.

Michael: For the last one. It's actually an investment. 

Peter: yeah.

Michael: You're paying yourself first.


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