Jonah Goldberg, who has never once used someone else’s verbal flubs for mocking purposes, ever, gets annoyed that people are amused that during a talk at the Heritage Foundation (update, 2:13pm: actually, in this Salon interview; he apparently himself forgot where he said it, and this is what I get for following his memory on the subject; editing now to reflect provenance) he momentarily forgot why Mussolini was called a fascist, i.e., because he was the founder of the Fascist Party:
Any fair minded person would agree that I simply misspoke. Instead these bandersnatches ignore the rest of the entire speech and focus on this unfortunate but entirely innocuous flub as “proof” of my total and complete ignorance and dishonesty.
My apologies for giving these buffoons the ammo, but anyone persuaded by this and this alone is beyond reasoning with anyway.
Jonah, dude, I don’t doubt that you misspoke. That’s pretty obvious. But, really. How does one — particularly one purporting to write a book on fascism — forget, even for a minute, that Mussolini was called a fascist because he was a Fascist? And not just a Fascist, he was the Fascist; indeed, the Platonic Ideal of a Fascist. Maybe you were nervous about being interviewed — you do it so infrequently, after all — but it’s kind of a big goof. We Americans may not know much about Mussolini, but we know three things: He made trains run on time, he bore an unsettling resemblance to George C. Scott, and that he was a goddamn Fascist. It’s not something one easily forgets, nor should forget, especially when one is, say, talking about fascism to the press. Try to do better next time, Mr. Goldberg. You’ll look less of an ass.
So that’s taken care of. Now I want to make the point that, aside from the fact that Goldberg had a mental burp when he forgot Mussolini was called a fascist because he was a fascist, OG style, yo, he was also way off with the rest of the statement in question. Which is:
Mussolini was born a socialist, he died a socialist, he never abandoned his love of socialism, he was one of the most important socialist intellectuals in Europe and was one of the most important socialist activists in Italy, and the only reason he got dubbed a fascist and therefore a right-winger is because he supported World War I.
Well, out here beyond the conservative event horizon, we’re pretty sure Mussolini, at the top of his authoritarian game, was happily right-wing and not a socialist. We know this because Benito — old school Fascist, fascist before fascist was cool — tells us so in the document in which he lays out the doctrine of Fascism:
Granted that the 19th century was the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy, this does not mean that the 20th century must also be the century of socialism, liberalism, democracy. Political doctrines pass; nations remain. We are free to believe that this is the century of authority, a century tending to the “right”, a Fascist century.
Now, I know it’s not the fashion to prefer the original sources to current, revisionist views of history, but what can I say, I went to the University of Chicago, and we’re old fashioned that way. So when Benito Mussolini — Fascist before Fascism became so popular no one went there any more — describes the “Fascist negation of socialism, democracy, liberalism” as a doctrine of the right, I tend to give credence to the man’s word.
Which is to say: not only was Mussolini dubbed a fascist because he formed the Fascists, Fascism is a right wing doctrine because Mussolini, who founded the movement, designed it to be. Therefore, Mussolini: right-wing and fascist! And self-admitted to both. You can read it for yourself.
I know, I know. Why should I believe anything Mussolini said? Dude was a fascist. We all know how they are. He probably called himself right-wing just to mess with the liberals and socialists. But when you remember that he dealt with liberals and socialists by actually killing them and then bragging about it on the floor of the Italian Parliament, you figure pulling literary pranks of this sort might have been a little subtle for him. Mussolini — fascist back when being fascist meant something, damn it — was all about the action. He’d tell you that himself, were he not eventually whacked by firing squad while trying to sneak out of the country and then hung upside down by meat hooks in the Piazzale Loreto for the general populace to abuse.
(To be fair to Goldberg, Mussolini did indeed do time, and prominently so, as a socialist. But eventually he stopped being one. You know why? Because he went and created the Fascist Party. Which was anti-socialist and right wing. Just ask the founder of it. I’ve not read Goldberg’s book so I’m not entirely sure what alchemy he uses to argue that a right-wing, anti-socialist political movement is and always was actually a left-wing socialist political movement, but I do suspect whatever argument it is, Mussolini himself would have found it less than satisfying, and being as much the political journalist as Goldberg is, would likely have offered him fair argument on the point, if he didn’t just have him, oh, shot.)
So. What have we learned today?
1. Fascism: Right wing authoritarian movement. Says so right there on the label.
2. When speaking in public about fascism, try not to forget why Mussolini, founder of Fascism, arguably a fascist movement, was called a fascist. Even for just a minute or two.
3. When declaring someone is a lifelong socialist and not right-wing, it helps not to have that person’s own words and writings (and actions, really) actively contradict you.
4. Original sources are jazzy and fun, and everybody should read them!
5. If you’re going to complain about people snarking without substance, don’t give them something substantive to snark about, too.
Done for now. Comments open. Behave.
(Update, 8:11pm — this entry is getting linked various places, and some new folks are coming in, so, new folks: try at least skimming the comments that are already here before posting your comment/criticism/argument. You might find the point you want to make has been discussed, and you can spring off of that. Believe it or not, the discussion is substantive, with lots of excellent comments from many points of view. Thanks.)