Things One Should Not Forget: The Quickening
Jonah Goldberg rather dramatically misses the point thusly about why people look askance at his assertion that Mussolini was not on the political right:
Again and again people are throwing a few Mussolini quotes at me where he talks about being on “the Right” and therefore — case closed — he was on the “Right.”
Since I’m one of the people tossing the quote, and he name checks me in the entry previous to that one (in which he admits that he hasn’t read what I’ve written but nevertheless opines that I clearly haven’t read a great deal about fascism, which is a neat trick, I have to say), let me clarify this for him, at least from my point of view.
The reason I tossed the quote at him is because in an interview he made the really very silly statement that Mussolini was called right wing only because he supported World War I. The Quote, however, rather elegantly contradicts that very silly statement, because it showed that Mussolini viewed himself as being on the right, politically, thus offering another possible reason as to why people might think of him as right wing: Because he said he was. And who’s going to argue that point to Mussolini? Especially in 1932?
Again, if Goldberg’s going to make stupid and easily refutable statements, he should expect people to smack him down for it. This was one of those statements. And thus, the smackination. Goldberg deserved it, he got it, done.
However, if you didn’t notice, Goldberg’s trying pull to a fast one here by suggesting that all people have to argue that Mussolini was on the right were a few quotes where he says “hey, I’m on the right.” Point of fact, he’s not just on the right, cased closed, because he uses the word “right.” Context matters, and the context for the quote in question is the Doctrine of Fascism, in which Mussolini (or his ghostwriter, whose work Mussolini then signed off on) makes a pervasive case as for why his movement is a right-leaning movement, and why it stands in contrast to, and in opposition to, socialism, liberalism and democracy. Mussolini doesn’t have to write “Hey! I’m on the right! Look at me! Right! Wooo!” every single paragraph; that devil — the awful, nasty, autocratic devil — is all there in the details. It’s not a matter of a “few Mussolini quotes” here and there; it’s a document in which Mussolini explicitly details what Fascism is, and what it stands against. Mussolini explicitly declaring fascism to be a right-focused movement is just the sparkly, obvious jewel mounted in a setting of pervasive “right” rhetoric.
Now, as I understand it from the article linked above, Goldberg wants to argue that Fascism was really on the left, on the argument that back in the day, everyone was so left, and in such a massive way, that just being a little left let you claim you were actually on the right, and that’s where Mussolini was. Well, it’s an argument. It does seem from what I’ve read that Goldberg is conflating “collectivist” with “leftist,” which makes things easier for him, but I don’t have any problem with letting him ride that pony. I just wouldn’t bet on it in a race.
Goldberg says “if you can get beyond my critics cherry-picked quotations from texts and speeches they never read until last week, and look instead at the anatomy of fascism, it becomes most clearly part and parcel of the collectivist, leftist tide during the first half of the 20th century.” This is nice snark, but inasmuch as Goldberg himself couldn’t actually seem to remember much about the “Doctrine of Fascism” when he was asked about it and had material quoted to him from it in his Salon interview, it falls, well, a bit flat and calls into question his own research on the subject. “It’s been about three years since I’ve read it,” is his fairly lame excuse when exhibiting his total noncomprehension of it. Really, Mr. Goldberg? A seminal treatise on what Fascism is, from the guy who invented the movement, and you can’t recall even a little bit of it, in a discussion of your book about fascism? Really?
You know, it’s pretty short. It’s no Das Kapital. You could tuck it in in about an hour. I think you might consider reading it (again). Especially since people are pwning your words up and down the Intertubes with it. Just a suggestion. Mind you, I don’t expect it to change your mind any — you’ve got a book to promote and it wouldn’t do for you to have a Saul-on-the-way-to-Damascus moment on the subject — but at the very least I would feel more confident that you weren’t just pulling all “liberal fascism” stuff entirely out of the air, holding it up to the light and saying “look, I’ve picked myself a cherry.”
Mr. Goldberg, you haven’t read me but suspect I don’t know much about fascism. Well, I am reading you, the parts where you’re shucking and jiving on the Internet, anyway, and I have to say, I’m getting pretty much the same vibe about you.